‘In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,’ proclaimed Ronald Reagan in his inaugural speech as American president. Forty years on, the leaders of the G7 have reversed this mantra. In Cornwall last week they declared that the government, and more specifically its $12 trillion of economic support, had not only been the answer during the pandemic but would continue to be the answer during the recovery.
Britain’s economy is growing at the fastest rate in 200 years. Job adverts are 29 per cent above their pre-pandemic levels and employers say they can’t reopen because they can’t find staff. Wages are rising at the fastest rate in ten years. But here’s the question: how much more support does the economy need from the Bank of England’s printing press? Should the BoE stick to its pledge to bring QE up to £895 billion or stop £50 billion short? Its members met to discuss this last week and decided (as they always do) to press ahead — by eight votes to one.
On the walls of the Chancellor’s office hangs a print of Eric Ravilious’s lithograph ‘Working Controls while Submerged’ (1941). Two engineers in blue overalls heave the levers of a submarine. A third slumps asleep on a bench. An image, perhaps, of the ship of state, several hundred feet underwater, but by no means sunk yet. We might picture Rishi Sunak in the Treasury control room, changing the gears, working the pumps, keeping the country bumping along even at the bottom of the economic ocean.
I am a litter picker. No, not one of those high-minded volunteers who have proliferated of late with litter-picking sticks and black bags, but a professional: I am paid to empty the bins and collect the debris left by the public in a small park in Middle England. And I’m angry, not with the great British public who leave the stuff but with the real litter louts who are the root cause of the problem. As summer approaches and people who have been stuck indoors crowd into the beauty spots and on to the beaches, litter becomes a hot topic and it is important to be clear where the blame lies.
So, having been promised that normal life would recommence on 21 June, we are once again frustrated by the Covid scientists. The trouble is, of course, that as far as we know the virus is never going away, so according to the logic of the scientists, there is no reason ever to allow us to return to our old way of life. And although it looks as if we are thereby being sensible and ‘following the science’, what it actually reveals is that we are fools to follow a few boffins in white coats, rather than following the received wisdom of the human race over the past 4,000 years: namely that death is an inevitability and even if we do not die of Covid-19, we are going todie of something else.
A couple of weeks ago Ally Ross, the longtime TV critic at the Sun, was summoned to the managing editor’s office. Such confrontations normally involve expenses. At the Daily Express in the 1950s one Middle East correspondent submitted his — one camel: £125. The narrow-eyed managing editor pointed out that if the camel was bought, it must have been sold, and they would be grateful if the claim was adjusted. Another form turned up 30 minutes later — burying a dead camel: £200.
Netflix is not signing up subscribers at the rate it once did. Disney+ has stalled. At Boohoo, growth is not as red hot as it was just a few months ago, while Deliveroo’s float on the London stock market was quickly dubbed ‘flopperoo’ by City wags. Zoom’s shares price has stopped, er, zooming, at least in the upward direction.
A random collection of snippets of business news? Well, to some degree. But there is also a common theme to all these stories, and one that is significant for investors.
Bitterns are booming, both literally and metaphorically. These handsome brown birds from the heron family make a noise quite unlike anything else in Britain and we are lucky to be able to hear it. If there is such a thing as a birding bucket list then hearing a bittern’s ‘boom’ — the loudest bird call in the country — should be on it.
Before the bittern starts booming he performs a warm-up ritual called grunting. He strengthens his throat muscles, which expand to turn his gullet into an echo chamber.