Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Podcast: migration, cities, Brexit

November 3, 2017

(c) 2014 uncovention

I did a Centre for Cities podcast on migration, urban economies and Brexit a few weeks back, with Andrew Carter (CFC) and Nicola Headlam (Oxford Uni).

Here’s the blurb:

From the benefits of cognitive diversity in the workforce to the success of the entrepreneur program, our guests offer insights from their own research on the less publicised impacts migrants have on the economy. They go on to discuss the big question; does net migration have an overall positive or negative effect on the UK economy? Finally they consider how Brexit might affect migration patterns and examine what benefits diasporic communities can have on facilitating trade links with new markets.

You can listen here – it’s about an hour in total.

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YouGov called the election right. How?

June 30, 2017

This General Election has been full of surprises. So I’ve been digging into the YouGov MRP voting model, pretty much the only one that got the 2017 Election result correct.

Given all the current humble pie and book eating by pundits who didn’t spot the result coming, this seems worth doing. I also think there are also some useful takeaways for cities, especially as devolution rolls on.

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YouGov’s MRP (multilevel regression and post-stratification) method not only got the national result right, but correctly predicted results in 93% of seats. Compare this to most other polls [£, and chart below]. The model somehow also predicted the Canterbury result, where Labour won for the first time since 1918.

It turns out that earlier versions of an MRP model also spotted the Leave vote in 2016, and did pretty well in the US 2016 Presidential Election. Though this version seems to have worked better, for reasons I’ll come back to.

Remember, this is a predictive method — how might people vote in the future? — that did about as well as the main exit poll — which asked people *how they just voted*. (John Curtice has more on how UK exit polling is done here.)

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So how does the MRP model work? Here’s an overview: this gives us the main features but not surprisingly, doesn’t reveal all the datasets or the functional form/s. YouGov describe this as a Big Data approach; it seems to involve bespoke data and data science methods, but also lots of public datasets, aka ‘administrative Big Data’. The key steps seem to be:

1/ YouGov have weekly individual-level data on voting intention and detailed characteristics (including past voting). They run around 50k online interviews per week, and anyone can sign up;

2/ They use this to build a typology of voter types;

3/ For each voter type, they then fit a model that predicts voting intention;

4/ For each constituency, they then estimate how these types are spread (using public resources like the British Election Study and other ONS resources, perhaps these);

5/ They work out how the vote should go in each constituency.

By contrast, traditional polls tend sample about 1,000 people, then project direct from respondents to the whole UK, using weights to compensate for demographics, voting intention and so on.

This helps us see why an MRP approach might work better than conventional methods.

First, MRP has a much bigger starting sample. More observations = sharper results.

Second, MRP is micro-to-macro: it models each constituency individually, so stands a better chance of picking up local issues (such as the hospital closure crisis which helped drive the Canterbury result).

Third, MRP is both fine-grained and high-frequency. The only pundits to pick up on the reality of #GE2017 got out there on the ground. Given the complexity of UK politics right now, we also need methods to get at this complexity in a structured way.

Fourth, MRP methods should get better over time. you end up with loads of high-frequency training data, and this progressively makes the model better.

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This doesn’t mean that conventional polling has had its day – e.g. Survation were also on the money. But it’s notable that most conventional polls fell over this time, just as they did in the 2015 General Election.

I suspect that these four factors helped YouGov pick up higher turnout for younger voters faster than most pollsters (and many mainstream journalists), as well as shifts in other age groups. This post by Ben Lauderdale, one of their chief modellers, seems to supports that. (Note that we won’t know turnout by age for sure until the next BES in a few months. If modelling can get us to a decent understanding faster, that’s very useful.

As Sam Freedman points out, it also helps show precisely, and in close to real time, the huge damage the Conservative manifesto did to the party’s chances.

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Micro-to-macro techniques like MRP could beuseful for Mayoral elections and city politics. With a 50k in sample, could you train the model on a city-region like the West Midlands using public data? If so, this feels much more useful and adaptable than one-off traditional polling.

YouGov say their model works at local authority level, so some version of this could probably be done now. However, I suspect that even a big national sample might be too sparse for very local analysis, say at neighbourhood level. In this latter case, you could also imagine building a richer, locally-specific model for a whole conurbation — like the West Midlands or Greater Manchester — using a big base of local respondents.

This would be expensive — but for a local university, or a group of them, it would be a super interesting (and public-spirited) long term investment.

Birmingham University’s city-regional lab City-REDI will be exploring this further in the coming months.

Citizen Jane

May 8, 2017

Like a boss.

We went to see the new Jane Jacobs documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. It’s pretty good, with plenty both for Jacobs fans and those who don’t know her work. It pulls in some big-name contributors, including Saskia Sassen, Michael Sorkin, Mindy Fullilove, Mike Davis (!) and Geoffrey West (*). But it also – perhaps unintentionally – shows up some of the limits of Jacobs’ thinking as it applies to today’s cities. Here’s a review of sorts.

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The film has two particular strong points. The first is the precis of Jacobs’ most famous work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Director Matt Tyrnauer nicely summarise the key ideas: cities as organised complexity; street life as a ‘dance’ of uses and users; the rebellion against modernist city planning, cities for the car, and high rise living; the importance of ‘eyes on the street’, mixed uses, old and new buildings, and short blocks – concepts now hard coded into masterplans and design standards in cities across the world. Crucially, these ideas developed over many years’ close observation of New York streets and neighbourhoods, and through test runs in Jacobs’ journalism: her first book arrived in the world fully formed and ready for use.

 

 

The film’s other big plus is its retelling of the epic struggle between Jacobs and city planner Robert Moses in 1950s and 60s New York. With minimal resources, Jacobs somehow turned around Moses’ big money plans to bulldoze and run roads through Washington Square Park, the West Village and ultimately Lower Manhattan itself. These are perhaps the most gripping parts of the picture. Moses is a monstrous figure – see also Robert Caro’s 900-page biography, summarised here by Jackson Lears – while Jacobs is revealed to be a total badass.

Machine politics, corruption and the abuse of power run up against agile and well-networked social activism: we see Jacobs wearing a ‘Mailer for Mayor’ badge, organising a series of brilliant publicity stunts and photo opportunities, and roping in Susan Sontag, Margaret Mead and Eleanor Roosevelt to help out.

 

 

The gender dynamics are striking. Moses summons an army of besuited male planners, and notoriously dismisses Jacobs’ female-led network as ‘just a bunch of mothers’: fatally underestimating his opponents, but also, as a talking head points out, ’you’d only say that if you thought people didn’t matter at all’. Jacobs’ publisher sends Moses a copy of Death and Life: he returns it in a terse note (‘Sell this junk to someone else’); Lewis Mumford dismisses the book as ‘Mother Jacobs’ Home Recipes’.

The filmmakers link Jacobs’ tactics and successes to other 1960s social struggles: feminism, the environmental movement, civil rights. There’s an important point here about shared repertoires of protest tactics. It’s also true that Jacobs was both a feminist and an environmentalist. But I needed a bit more convincing that the bigger links really held together.

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The racism in US post-war urban planning is still shocking to see. James Baldwin appears in the film to point out that ‘urban renewal means negro removal’, with housing projects and highways used as tools of segregation. The minority urban poor were pushed into badly designed blocks at the city’s edge, just as in France the following decade – with similarly grim results for the victims.

The film starts to connect these practices to Moses’ development model, which raised land values in redeveloped zones, and leveraged huge federal budgets. I was left wanting to know more about the political economy: was this racial redlining? Patronage politics? Or some toxic mixture of the two?

The Cross-Bronx Expressway (1948-72) is perhaps one of the most notorious Moses schemes, literally cutting the neighbourhood in half and blighting lifechances for years afterwards. As Mike Davis points out, it’s ‘perhaps the single most damaging urban development in US history’. Jacobs was active in New York at the time, and the film is curiously silent about this. Was she involved in opposing this? If not, why not? Did she try and fail? (Was her model of protest anchored in the neighbourhoods she knew? Did construction help spur her into action elsewhere in the city?)

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If the film is sometimes in danger of reifying Jacobs’ older ideas, it also misses out some of her newer thinking. That’s a shame: The Economy of Cities (1969) is a foundational text in urban economics, with important ideas about how cities help innovation to happen, long term growth and urban resilience. Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1985), which posits cities over nation-states as the key unit of development, feels ahead of its time. And her environmental work – which I know less well – also looks increasingly prescient.

The film also skips some chances to reassess that legacy. Jacobs was a progressive and a futurist – but not a fan of big government. Her anti-planning stance has made her popular with the libertarian right: it’s the antithesis not just of the government cynicism that produced Pruitt-Igoe and Ronan Point, but also the state-funded optimism that gave us the LCC and Park Hill.

Sure, the Lower Manhattan Expressway would have been a concrete stake through the city’s heart. But I dare you not to look at the renderings and at least wonder what a Brutalist icon it would have made.

 

 

Some of the limitations in Jacobs’ vision become clearer in the second half of the film, which lays up Jacobs’ neighbourhood prescriptions against urbanisation outside the West. As Saskia Sassen puts it, the pace and style of urbanisation in the urban cores of China and India are ‘Moses on steroids’ . ‘How can we apply Jane Jacobs’ thinking to these cities?’, asks another contributor.

Good question. The film drops some hints: successful urbanisation can’t shut out the public realm; cheaply-built towers are a terrible false economy; existing urban settlements, however visually shabby or informal, embody their own ‘dances’ and should be valued by planners, not bulldozed away (see Stewart Brand for more on this).

Nevertheless, the film can’t escape the conclusion that Death and Life … has plenty of say about preserving old neighbourhoods in old cities, but rather less about building new ones:  Jacobs’ New York was losing population, as their heavy industry began to be globalised away; the cities of the BRICS are growing at speed. Equally, today’s New York is struggling with an affordable housing crisis; other US cities are still feeling the aftershocks of de-industrialisation.

As Jacobs put it in 1958: ‘the best way to plan a downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them.’ Today’s urban crises need urgent solutions, and significantly, by her death in 2006, Jacobs didn’t seem so interested in these issues: as her last interviews show, she had moved on to other things.

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The film is a great appreciation of Jane Jacobs’ finest hour. Her elegant and radical thinking was inevitably a product of its time. But bettering our contemporary cities may require both a re-tooling of Jacobs’ ideas, and new thinking from other voices.

Estate renewal and neighbourhood regeneration

March 8, 2015

(c) Max Nathan 2012

At the end of January the What Works Centre on Local Economic Growth, where I’m a Deputy Director, released its review of estate renewal programmes. For many of those who’ve worked in regeneration policy, and (like me) want such programmes to succeed, the results were deeply disappointing.

The team found that

1/ Estate renewal programmes do a good job of improving housing, public space and physical amenities.

2/ Estate renewal programmes lead to increases in property and land prices and rents, although not necessarily for nearby properties that do not directly benefit from improvements.

3/ Programmes tend to have a limited impact on the local economy in terms of improving income or employment.

4/ Programmes tend to have a limited impact on the local area in terms of reducing crime, improving health, wellbeing or education.

Worse, we found no evaluations that were able to unpick effects on existing residents, as opposed to people moving into an area. This matters, because it means that – for example – area-level improvements in employment rates might simply be driven be people moving into the area, rather than real improvements in life chances for people already living there.

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A few thoughts on this.

First, as Ruth Lupton points out, we have to be careful to assess such programmes on what they set out to achieve. The main aim of estate renewal is usually to improve the quality of housing supply, the built environment and other local amenities. The review shows programmes are pretty good at achieving these. An important result.

Where such programmes score less well is on broader objectives. New Labour broadened estate renewal into a wider ‘neighbourhood renewal’ agenda – programmes like the New Deal for Communities included economic as well as social goals. The review included a number of independent and officially-commissioned NDC evaluations, and the results on these wider goals are not great. As John Haughton suggests, this is consistent with a larger body of evidence on ‘people’ vs ‘place’ interventions, and where views cut across the political spectrum.

It’s worth thinking a moment about why this might be. Urban economies are complex, and adjustment is hard to predict, sometimes chaotic. There’s clearly space for for neighbourhood regeneration programmes to try and deal with co-ordination problems, provide public goods, and try to mitigate some of the problems facing people in deprived areas.

On the other hand, these programmes are microsolutions for megaproblems: the economic elements of NDC are trying to roll back huge structural trends that two decades of national intervention under Labour more or less failed to shift. I’ve got a chapter coming out in this book, edited by Dave O’Brien and Peter Matthews, which talks more about these ‘regeneration expectations’.

Second, as John also says, it is important to understand in more detail *why* some estate renewal programmes have not delivered on their objectives. John suggests a few reasons: lack of community ownership, a lack of learning culture in the ‘estate renewal industry’, and shifting / conflicting central government priorities (a point also made by Ruth and others).

To dig into this, we need better quality impact evaluations (the What Works team used just 21 out of over 1,000 candidate studies). We also need to look through the complementary literature on programme process, implementation and management. The Centre has now started to do this – across a range of policy areas – and will be reporting back in the coming months.

Third, we need to set our expectations for such policies in the future. As a whole, regeneration programmes involve an implicit contract with communities, as Lee Pugalis and David McGuinness argue, and there remains a strong equity case for such initiatives. However, effective urban and neighbourhood policy is hard to design: neighbourhoods and cities are complex systems, which adjust in messy and uneven fashion. This creates space for policymakers – dealing with market and co-ordination failures – but also implies that impacts are likely to be incremental at best. That means presenting a realistic positive case for regeneration and estate renewal, rather than asserting economic transformations that stand little chance of coming about.

Spaces of Evidence seminar, 26 September

June 27, 2014

(c) richard serra / max nathan

I’m speaking at Goldsmiths in September, at one of the ESRC Spaces of Evidence seminars which will look at different types of economic evidence, their characteristics and limitations, and their uses in policy-making.

Will Davies, the organiser, has put together a nice lineup including Angus Deaton (Princeton), Suzy Moat (Warwick), Martin Giraudeau (LSE), Tiago Mata (UCL), Zsuzsanna Vargha (Leicester) and Vera Ehrenstein (Goldsmiths).

Here’s the blurb:

Economics and economists have a long history of providing a scientific basis or justification for public policy decisions. Concepts derived from welfare economics, such as ‘market failure’, have provided a language through which politicians and government officials can understand where and why the state might (and might not) intervene in market processes. The efficiency of potential regulation can be tested through the use of models, based on neo-classical assumptions.

However, events such as the financial crisis have thrown a renewed scepticism upon the capacity of orthodox economic theories to adequately model situations. At the same time, a new empiricism has emerged, which makes a bold appeal to data and field trials, which are purportedly less cluttered by normative assumptions about causality and probability. ‘Big Data’ and randomised controlled trials are at the forefront of new efforts to probe economic activity, in search of policies which ‘work’. The distinction between ‘model’ and ‘reality’ is abandoned, and the economy becomes treated as a zone of experimentation and data-mining, such that behavioural patterns can be discerned.

The seminar will explore the implications of these new directions in economic evidence, and ask what they mean for the authority of public policy, how they reconfigure expertise, and what types of epistemological and political assumptions they conceal.

It’s open to all, but you’ll need to register. Full details are here.

Agglomeration, clusters and industrial policy

November 25, 2013

Sou Fujimoto, Serpentine Pavilion. (c) Max Nathan 2013

I have a new article out in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, joint with Henry Overman. It’s part of a special issue on ‘Government and Business’, with other contributions by Jonathan Haskel, Stian Westlake, Dieter Helm, Francesca Froy and Phil McCann.

You can see the whole lot here, and (for the moment) PDFs are free.

My piece with Henry is a constructive-critical take on clusters and the urban level of innovation policy. Here’s the abstract:

This paper considers the appropriate spatial scale for industrial policy. Should policy focus on particular places, targeting clusters of firms that are spatially concentrated? Or should it, instead, be ‘space neutral’, refusing to discriminate between different areas unless absolutely necessary? We provide an overview of the literature and identify two waves of literature that argue strongly in favour of a cluster approach. We argue that this approach rests on shaky theoretical and empirical foundations. In contrast, we suggest that more attention should be paid to the appropriate spatial scale for horizontal interventions. What can policy do to make cities work better, in ways that help firms to grow? That is, what is the appropriate role for ‘agglomeration’ rather than ‘cluster’ policy? Finally, we consider the possibility that some horizontal industrial policy objectives may be better served by specifically targeting particular places or from decentralized design or delivery.

Read the whole thing here.

Policy-based evidence making

March 25, 2013

(c) BBC 2013Heads up: on 30th May I’ll be in Warwick to help give an advanced training session on  ‘Knowledge for Policy, Knowledge of Policy’, organised by the university’s Centre for Interdiscplinary Methodologies.

Evidence-based policymaking was a central trope of New Labour’s time in office.  The idea’s gone in deep: the Coalition is regularly taken to task for ideological policymaking – perhaps one reason  why the Cabinet Office has just announced a major network of ‘What Works’ Centres.

One immediate objection to evidence-driven policy is that evidence doesn’t tell you what you ought to do.  Political values and judgements – even ‘ideology’ – have their place, especially if the alternative is the apolitical solutionism that Evgeny Morozov has been taking to pieces recently.

There’s also an important role for an experimental state which builds an evidence base where none exists.  Sometimes this is pretty uncontroversial, as in the small nudges being tried out by the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team. It’s tougher to make the case in bigger areas of policy – such as devolution to local govt and communities, which has  never been seriously tried in the UK, where the risks of failure are massive, and where there are limits to what we can learn from abroad.  Here, the need for careful piloting is running up against Ministerial enthusiasm for transformational change.

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What does this mean for researchers, especially academics? It’s important to have a clear sense of the policymaking process,  especially the invisible work which goes on between formal consultations and policy events; how policymakers treat different  kinds of evidence and actors in those processes, and the shifting positions of academics and think tanks in the ideas market.

I’ve co-founded a think tank, worked in central government and am now working in academia, so I’ll be bringing some of  these experiences to the seminar.  Also speaking will be Dave O’Brien (City University) and Will Davies (Warwick), who’s organising the session.  Both have similarly heterodox experiences, so it should be a fascinating day … see this post by Will, for instance.

Details here.

High Speed Two, cities and the North-South divide

January 28, 2013

(c) The Guardian 2013

The Government has just unveiled the route map for the UK’s high speed rail network. So will HS2 help the cities on the line? Will it narrow the North-South divide, as some Ministers claim? And what about places left out?

Here’s what I wrote back in 2010, when the detailed modelling was done, and drawing on the international evidence. The punchlines are:

So what does HS2 mean for cities? Urban firms and travellers are the big winners, which is good news for cities if more productive businesses raise wages or employment. Some cities get the kudos of being on the line, and may get a regeneration boost from new stations – although that could turn into a windfall gain for developers. But fairly few firms will relocate, and agglomeration impacts will be pretty small.

On this basis, HS2 isn’t likely to fundamentally change the UK’s economic geography. Rather, it will speed up the economic geography we already have.

… Those who gain from HS2 (business, core cities, those in ‘the North’) are strongly in favour; those who lose (communities and homeowners along the line) are vehemently against. Local opponents of HS2 are hardly irrational – quite the opposite. So rather than handing a windfall gain to business by pegging HS2 fares to conventional fares, HS2 tickets should be pricier – at least in first class.  That provides another way for taxpayers to recoup some of the initial outlay. … The agglomeration benefits for Phase 2 (Manchester and Leeds) seem much larger than Phase 1 (London to Birmingham). Why? Rather than connecting two relatively distant cities, Phase 2 links a lot of nearby places (e.g. Sheffield/Meadowhall to Leeds in 20 mins), and provides indirect access to big cities not on the line (e.g. from Manchester to Liverpool). The fact of HS2 thus strengthens the case for complementary investments like the Northern Hub, which will bring Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds closer together.

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Two other points. First, as John Tomaney argued on radio 4 this morning, the evidence suggests HS2’s economic impacts are pretty complex, and the net effect isn’t clear. Like him and others, I’m basically an agnostic.

Second,  to repeat – it’s crucial to spend money on better links between Northern cities and more London-centric high speed lines. As Richard Leese suggested in the same piece, for policymakers this is not an either/or. Thankfully Ministers agree, and are feeding cash into boring but important investments like the Northern Hub, as well as the bigger and shinier HS2.

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Update, May 2013: The National Audit Office has published its own report, which echoes many of these points.

Bigger, more urban, more diverse

December 12, 2012

(c) Andy Gilmore

The latest Census data confirms three things we already knew. First, Britain is becoming a bigger and more culturally diverse society. Second, net migration is one of the main drivers. Third, this diversity is largely urbanised – especially in London.

Beneath these headlines are many complications. Diversity is shifting across a number of dimensions at once – country of birth, ethnicity, religion and language. Official ethnic groupings are increasingly inadequate to capture what’s going on: see the huge growth in ‘other white’ and other ‘other’ categories.

Many of these trends will continue, with Leeds University researchers projecting a 20% minority ethnic population by 2051. But there is no obvious evidence that diversity is eroding national identity – 91% of residents identify with at least one UK national identity.

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These demographic changes are among the most profound of our lifetimes. So what are the economic and social impacts of these shifts?

My research is taking first steps towards answering the economic questions. European Urban and Regional Studies have just published this piece, which gives you a nice overview.

There is more detail in these working papers on the economics of super-diversity, the long term impacts of migration in cities, ethnic inventors, and diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in London firms. This last piece, joint with Neil Lee, is coming out shortly in Economic Geography.

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We’re only beginning to understand some of these long term, dynamic channels. So it’s an exciting – and important – time to be working in the field.

Many of the key people will be in the UK in April for the 2013 NORFACE Conference. If you’re around, I’d encourage you to join us.

Olympic Economics

September 14, 2012

Back in the spring – remember? – a lot of people were getting annoyed by the Olympics.

For Londoners, Dan Hancox wrote, “it’s as if someone else is throwing a party in our house, with a huge entry fee, and we’re all locked in the basement.” Roll forward to September and it feels as if a gigantic, city-wide, four-week bender has finally petered out. Everyone had a good time, and nobody fired any missiles.

As the weather turns, though, more sober assessments of the Games are appearing. The Centre for Cities has published a careful five-point legacy plan. And the Economist Intelligence Unit has put out Legacy 2012, a collection of essays on the summer’s economic and social repercussions.

You can download it here. I’ve got the lead piece, written pre-Games, which (post-Games) now seems a bit grumpy.

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Here are the headlines, and some reflections with the benefit of hindsight:

First, the direct economic benefits of 2012 to London are pretty small. This is the overwhelming message from the economic evidence, and the experience of past Games. Predictions of a hit to local retail and tourism also turned out to be correct.

Second, the major hard gain is the physical regeneration of the Olympic site. We can argue about whether winning the Games ‘created’ this, or just accelerated it. But some Londoners (homeowners, certainly) got more out of it than others.

It’s telling that the Centre for Cities suggests a ‘separate’ employment and skills strategy is needed for East London – so what positive effect did the Games have on local people’s employment chances?

Third, the indirect economic effects on the UK may be pretty big – as they have been for Korea, China and Spain. Hosting the Olympics is a massively powerful policy signal, and the Games are a platform from which to tell a story about the UK’s place in the world.

Work by Rose and Spiegel, published in the Economic Journal, suggests that on average, Olympic host countries get a whopping 20% trade boost. (Amazingly, even losing bidders pick up some positive trade effect.) The host city stands in for the nation at Games time, so that London effectively was the UK for foreign viewers. Boris clearly understood this before David Cameron.

More prescient than he knew, Tony Blair is fumbling for the political economy argument in this Vanity Fair interview (thanks to Will Davies for the spot):

For a country like Britain, it’s a great thing for us to have the Olympics here. We can afford to do the Olympics. We’re Britain. We’re not some Third World country.

For countries like Korea and China the story is ‘we’re arrived’. For Britain, perhaps – ‘we’ve still got it’?

So perhaps we’ve all been looking in the wrong place. If the message is the legacy, the biggest economic impacts of 2012 may be the long term boost to British soft power.

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The other takeaway  is that economists vastly under-estimated the intangible benefits from the Games. Pre-Games analysis suggested the ‘willingness to pay’ was dwarfed by the £9.3bn budget, but our medal hauls in both Games have clearly changed the calculus.

Perhaps we should have spotted this coming – Goldman Sachs suggest that host countries typically win 54% more medals than usual. That sporting success doesn’t come for free, as Will points out here. But Team GB’s glorious performances are likely worth several billions in – fleeting? – goodwill.

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