In Houston last November I spent an evening at the city’s industrial-scale food bank, where I heard a presentation on the Houstonian tradition of offering hospitality to refugees, including 200,000 displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. We were also given some positive spin on the strength of co-operation, in time of crisis, between the region’s major oil companies and its state and city governments. Now Houston itself is the victim of Hurricane Harvey. With the prospect of $50 billion worth of damage, the world is watching first to see whether the combined response is more humane and effective than the Katrina shambles, in which protection of property seemed to rank well ahead of the safety of the poor, and secondly whether President Trump’s visit helps or makes matters worse.
I also took a boat cruise through the Port of Houston, passing the many oil depots and refineries that have been disrupted by the storm. The afflicted region accounts for a third of US refining capacity and some 3 per cent of US gross domestic product, so the disaster constitutes far bigger economic news than the weekend’s other major event — the conclave of central bankers at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
There, neither Janet Yellen of the US Fed nor Mario Draghi of the ECB offered any hint as to the next phase of monetary policy — though Yellen did indicate willingness to fight Trump’s plans for financial deregulation, at the risk of not being reappointed by him next year. Mark Carney didn’t even show up, sending instead his least dull deputy, Ben Broadbent, who we might assume to be his favoured successor for 2019.
This column was early to argue that higher education should be treated as an export sector in which the UK has an excellent product to exploit, and that Theresa May’s clampdown on non-EU students entering the UK, counting them like any other category of immigrant, was an exercise in pig-headed economic self-harm.