Paul Seabright on The Supply of Shirts

If there were any single person in overall charge of the task of supplying shirts to the world’s population, the complexity of the challenge facing them would call to mind the predicament of a general fighting a war. One can imagine an incoming president of the United States being presented with a report entitled The World’s Need for Shirts, trembling at its contents, and immediately setting up a Presidential Task Force. The United Nations would hold conferences on ways to enhance international cooperation in shirt-making, and there would be arguments over whether the United Nations or the United States should take the lead. The pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would issue calls for everyone to pull together to ensure that the world’s needs were met, and committees of bishops and pop stars would periodically remind us that a shirt on one’s back is a human right. The humanitarian organization Couturiers sans Frontières would airlift supplies to sartorially challenged regions of the world. Experts would be commissioned to examine the wisdom of making collars in Brazil for shirts made in Malaysia for re-export to Brazil. More experts would suggest that by cutting back on the wasteful variety of frivolous styles … [Read more...]

Paul Seabright on the Supply of Shirts…

If there were any single person in overall charge of the task of supplying shirts to the world’s population, the complexity of the challenge facing them would call to mind the predicament of a general fighting a war. One can imagine an incoming president of the United States being presented with a report entitled The World’s Need for Shirts, trembling at its contents, and immediately setting up a Presidential Task Force. The United Nations would hold conferences on ways to enhance international cooperation in shirt-making, and there would be arguments over whether the United Nations or the United States should take the lead. The pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would issue calls for everyone to pull together to ensure that the world’s needs were met, and committees of bishops and pop stars would periodically remind us that a shirt on one’s back is a human right. The humanitarian organization Couturiers sans Frontières would airlift supplies to sartorially challenged regions of the world. Experts would be commissioned to examine the wisdom of making collars in Brazil for shirts made in Malaysia for re-export to Brazil. More experts would suggest that by cutting back on the wasteful variety of frivolous styles it … [Read more...]

Recovering the Economy

Listening to the various party conferences you would think that the politicians THIS time have learned the lessons of boom and bust and are now going to revamp macro-economic policy, remake the relationship between state and citizen, write off large chunks of eurozone debt and lead us into a brave new world of social justice and prosperity. Yeah! Right! Because the truth is that any levers that the politicians have in a modern market based economy are generally pretty ineffective.  They may pontificate about grand capital projects like high speed trains, tramways, arenas, flood defences and so on, but this is pretty much a combination of political posturing and feeding the professional and financial beast which we call the 'regeneration industry'.  I sometimes think that 'Degeneration Industry' would be a more accurate moniker.  As this refreshingly honest trader put it, 'Governments don't rule the world: Goldman Sachs do'. Recovering the economy is not primarily a function of politics, but a function of enterprise.  About people using their skills and knowledge to provide products and services that people want, marketing and selling them effectively at a price that adds value to the customer and makes a profit. … [Read more...]

Governments don’t rule the world; Goldman Sachs do…

Unexpected candour on the BBC from this stockmarket trader.... Gordon Gecko is alive and well.  Or have The Yes Men struck again? And, worryingly, does it matter.... … [Read more...]

The Leeds LEP Summit…

Last Friday, 700 people descended on Saviles Rooms in Clarence Dock, Leeds to attend the Local Enterprise Partnership's Summit on Realising the Potential. I wish I could say it was a day full of surprises.  Of innovative and critical thinking.  Of real insights about how enterprise works in the region and beyond and what can be done to make it work better.  I wish I could say that we were listened to, engaged, given the chance to shape, not only 'The Plan' but also how it might be put into action.  But I can say none of these things. It was the usual formula of a stage sequentially inhabited by a series of be-suited folk advocating their politics, or their research, or in some cases their business interests.  But generally, far too much politics and macro-economics, a sprinkling of economic development orthodoxy (clusters, sectors, high growth) and hardly any enterprise at all.  And where differences in ideology or strategy were clearly apparent there was no attempt at analysis or synthesis. It just came down to 'we're in charge now - so we'll do it our way'. The importance of SMEs was mentioned several times, but they were talking about 10+employee, high growth startups willing to put together funding bids and set up … [Read more...]

A Compass for LEPs…

LEPs are of course Local ENTERPRISE Partnerships. But enterprise cannot be developed without full attention being paid to its wider impact on nature, society and personal health and well-being.  David Cameron has talked more than once about economic progress needing to be balanced with progress in well-being.  Pursuing the growth of GDP outside of this wider social context would seem to be a fool's errand. An enterprise policy that grows GDP, but increases illness or is not environmentally sustainable or increases inequality in our society may not be a good thing. So, how about developing a simple compass that can form the basis of a practical evaluation for new enterprise proposals?  I was very taken by this simple framework that Danone use when evaluating their innovation projects... N = Nature – will the development respect natural limits?  Is it environmentally sustainable? S = Social – will the development lead to improvements in society?  Fair wages, good governance, increased equality, better access to finance to all  etc.  Will the goods and services produced enhance life in our communities? E= Economic – will the project work economically? What payback periods are we looking at here?  How can we encourage … [Read more...]

A Plea to LEP Board Members

Do you ever question the belief that more economic growth is the only route to recovery? That we can consume our way to a 'better' future by simply consuming more stuff, more quickly? Do you ever consider that perhaps it is time to at least be open to the merits of leading in a different direction? I am neither anti-capitalist, nor anti-growth but recognise these are double edged swords rather than cure-alls. Working with Danone recently they introduced me to their compass test of business development, where any change has to meet the challenges of the four compass points. N = Nature - can the proposed development be sustained in a one planet scenario? Does it fit with the laws of nature? S = Social - will it lead to a socially just and improved situation? E = Economic - will we see a return on investment? Usual investment and payback protocols apply and can be flexed W = Wellbeing - will the proposed project increase health and wellbeing for the most people Yes, the E matters. But not at any cost. So please encourage the LEPs to explore scenarios much more interesting than just the accrual of GDP. Be more than just mere 'whipping boys' for the Treasury, and help us to find a genuine New Deal. … [Read more...]

Building a 21st Century Economy

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