Sunday, 29 May 2016

A better-mannered debate

The first fifteen minutes of this morning's Sunday Supplement was occupied by a discussion by Patrick Minford and Vicky Pryce of the economic benefits (or the opposite) of leaving the EU.

The main point at issue was the importance of manufacturing. Pryce asserted that UK manufacturing would disappear on Brexit because other nations' tariff barriers, including those of our former partners, would go up. Minford disputed the extent to which this would happen and in any case maintained that traditional manufacturing was a thing of the past and that the future was hi-tech.

One recalls Mrs Thatcher saying very much the same sort of thing. When she, Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine caused the death of mainframe computer manufacture in Britain, she claimed that manufacturing jobs would be replaced by higher-value programming work. In reality, the jobs of the writers of the software needed to make those machines usable disappeared with the computers. The direction of software development was taken over by the USA and the UK left to fill niches.

Patrick Minford implied in a eulogy three years ago that business services would take over as a mainstay of the Welsh economy. But what happens to the workers by hand in this hi-tech future? And how does Professor Minford square his vision of the future with cutbacks like this, which seriously affect our local economy?

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