How To Spend It

The bonuses earned by the bankers, hedgers and various fund managers arise as a result of making fast, smart decisions about price movements in currencies, commodity prices, food, energy and key resource shortages, mergers and acquisitions and the like. The quick returns from such deals ensure that mini speculative bubbles keep getting inflated, and the smarter fund managers make money when the bubbles burst as well as when they inflate. And the smartest and biggest fund managers are able to create bubbles and control their inflation and bursting, that is except the really big, conglomerate bubbles that gather once in a while. So speculative trading continues to grow and the problem of how to spend the resulting bonuses keeps on growing too. It really is quite a problem.

It’s not as though it’s a one off. And it comes on top of a basic salary which very much more than pays for living expenses at quite a generous level. You can do the Veblen thing and go for some conspicuous consumption – conspicuous waste is really not regarded as attractive today even if one was so inadequate as to find it intrinsically appealing. But conspicuous consumption is still seen as admirable. The Financial Times ‘How to Spend it’ Saturday supplement provides some ideas. For example, £81,000 for the Philip Treacy hat as worn by Princess Beatrice (??) at the royal wedding, except it looks so silly. Or £78,000 for the ex-Kate Middleton St Andrews dress. Or a wrist watch, amount spent depending mainly on the weight of gold and diamonds. But really such spends, even if one felt desperate to bolster one’s identity that way, could only provide relatively minor contributions to solving the problem.
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The Lesson of Southern Cross

(Originally posted 10.6.2011)On 1st September, 1976, Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago University, economic theoretician and Nobel laureate, addressed the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. The title of his talk was “The Road to Economic Freedom: The Steps from Here to There”. Friedman, being the quintessential free market fundamentalist, took a dim view of the mixed British economy with around 60% of national income then being spent by government. He prescribed the ‘shock treatment’ of low flat rate taxes and wholesale privatisation which a few years later Margaret Thatcher implemented.

His justification for privatising provision of education and healthcare was simplistic in the extreme. ‘There is,’ he argued, ‘a sort of empirical generalisation that it costs the state twice as much to do anything as it costs private enterprise, whatever it is.’ Friedman didn’t actually have any data to support this contention, but added that ‘My son once called my attention to this generalisation, and it is amazing how accurate it is’ (See Friedman, M, 1977, From Galbraith to Economic Freedom, London: Institute of Economic Affairs, p57).
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