Down to zero
Sir: Paul Collier’s siren call to take advantage of near-zero interest rates to go on a massive government infrastructure splurge is one Jeremy Corbyn might welcome but Conservatives should resist (‘Back to Plan A+’, 16 November). Japan tried what he is proposing when its bubble burst in 1990. The result: $6.3 trillion debt and two wasted decades. As Harvard’s Edward Glaeser has noted: ‘No one can look at the Japanese numbers and conclude that the money has ramped up the growth rate.’
Apart from anything else, politicians are poor allocators of capital. In a 2009 paper, ‘Survival of the unfittest’, Bent Flyvbjerg, professor of major infrastructure projects at Oxford University, concluded that rich countries can afford infrastructure white elephants, but did not become rich by building them: ‘They do so when they have become rich.’ The most damaging consequence of Sir Paul’s proposal would be to lock Britain into near-zero interest rates. Weighed down by debt from bankrolling unproductive megaprojects, the government will want to keep interest rates at rock bottom indefinitely — likely condemning Britain to its second wasted decade. If the Tories cannot grasp this, then we really are in deep trouble.
Not just folktales
Sir: In an otherwise reasonable article about governments using negative interest-rate bonds to build necessary infrastructure, Paul Collier states: ‘Germans are atypically susceptible to debt phobia because of folktales of hyperinflation.’
Following the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, Germany was loaded with heavy reparation payments and began to suffer from galloping inflation. As the value of the mark fell, more than 30,000 people became employed in printing and processing money to keep pace with demand. Many issues were overprinted as increasingly higher denominations were needed. My own modest collection of banknotes show those issued by the Reichsbank range from a 500 mark note issued on 27 March 1922 to a 1 billion mark note issued on 1 November 1923. If Paul ever visits Sydney, he’s welcome to browse the folktale collection.
Double Bay, Australia
What a pudding!
Sir: I read with interest George Osborne’s laudable electioneering efforts in Chorley (Diary, 23 November). Perhaps a factor in his lack of success was confusion to which constituency he was actually in.
Had he wanted to purchase ‘its famous black pudding in the market’, he would have to travel 20 miles east to Bury: Bury Market lies in the marginal seat of Bury North. I’m sure black pudding forms a staple on the breakfast tables of Kensington, but it appears that despite his stint in Tatton, George has yet to familiarise himself with the delights of northern cuisine.
Bolton Percy, York
The meaning of the corn
Sir: ‘The Cornfield’ (1918) accompanying Peter Parker’s review of Andrew Lambirth’s John Nash: Artist and Countryman (Books, 23 November) is, Mr Lambirth suggests: ‘An image of plenty gathered in… a celebration and giving thanks for having survived the war.’ In the context of the austere and unpeopled landscape, the stooks of corn appear to my mind less a celebratory sigh of relief, more a restrained valedictory reference to the harvest of death reaped by the machine guns of the Western Front. But as Peter Parker himself says: ‘The greatest strength of this book is that it makes you look again at Nash’s paintings, which are often a good deal less straightforward than they at first appear.’
East Twickenham, Middlesex
Too weighty Crown
Sir: William Shawcross is right about The Crown (Arts, 23 November). I loved the first two series, which seemed to me to be full of understanding of the impossible situation the royal family often finds itself in. Maybe it was their youth, or the lure of the 1950s and 1960s, which seem to have been full of beautiful clothes, opportunity and potential freedom.
Fast forward to the 1970s and we’re immersed in drudgery and brownness. And the Queen: dour, unsmiling and without a glimmer of humanity to be seen. The stories feel more negative and more exaggerated. Am I starting to despise this series because I remember this time better, and its portrayal on the screen doesn’t tally with what it felt like at the time? Or is it because the Queen, who has stoically done her duty throughout my life, is being portrayed as a dull and miserable person amid her deranged family? I love the sets, the clothes and the acting. It’s such a shame that I can’t enjoy the story.
It rhymes with youth
Sir: Henry Jeffreys (Books, 16 November) asks if vermouth should be pronounced ‘vermuth’ or ‘vermooth’. I can’t go past Cole Porter’s song of ‘Two little babes in the wood’, who discovered that ‘the fountain of youth is a mixture of gin and vermouth’. Vermooth it is for me.
Sandringham, Victoria, Australia
Sir: Regarding the pronunciation of ‘vermouth’, I strongly maintain that it should be ‘vermuth’. A resident of a well-known Dorset seaside resort would not say that they lived in Bournemooth, nor would a Geordie pleasure-seeker spend a beach holiday at Tynemooth.
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