💶 | Saying Yes to Everything

April 19, 2023 in Uncategorized


💶 | Saying Yes to Everything

Progressive spending needs focus<!–

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This is a weekly(ish) newsletter about the Political Economy. See more or subscribe at petertanham.com



💡 What’s the New Idea?

New and notable progressive economic ideas from around the world.

Too Many Goals Make it Hard to Say No

One of the best reads this month has been Ezra Klein’s “The Problem With Everything-Bagel Liberalism”, in which he discusses the causes of our inability to build infrastructure – railways, bridges, wind farms and, most of all, homes. In particular, what role liberal and progressive politics have to play.

Liberalism is much better at seeing where the government could spend more than at determining how it could make that spending go farther and faster.

He shares many examples of how liberals and progressives try to achieve too much from infrastructure spending – sustainable materials, local union jobs, gender and ethnic diversity in the workforce, local suppliers, low cost and fast delivery – so that it becomes impossible to meaningfully optimize any one of them.

Government needs to be able to solve big problems. But the inability or the unwillingness to choose among competing priorities — to pile too much on the bagel — is itself a choice

When the President, Prime Minister or the Senior government official in charge of a project doesn’t set singular goals it leaves the project teams completely unequipped to prioritise or make difficult trade-off decisions. 

It reminds me of the famous Steve Jobs quote on focus:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.

Does this mean that the policy goals of union employment, diverse teams or carbon neutral developments are bad goals? Of course not. But using infrastructure projects to try achieve all of them doesn’t work, no matter how nice it would be if it did.

NYT: The Problem With Everything-Bagel Liberalism Link
Nikasen: Why Buy America Is Bad Law Link
Noah Smith: Industrial Policy Doesn’t Have to Succeed Right Away Link

“Greedflation” is Mainstream

This will be the last week for a while I talk about the “greedflation” narrative, which highlights that about half of our recent inflation has been driven by corporations raising prices far in excess of cost rises, banking historic profits. Earlier this month we spoke about how the ECB finally (and seemingly grudgingly) accepted the truth to the narrative. This week, most mainstream financial reporters were talking about it.

As early as last May, Aidan Regan wrote “Corporate profiteering is at the root of the inflation crisis, not wage demands” in the Business Post, and took a well deserved victory lap last week with another great piece on the topic.

Bloomberg: We’ve All Been Way Too Accepting of Inflation Link
Fortune: One of the world’s oldest and largest investment banks warns ‘Greedflation’ has gone too far Link
Guardian: Greedflation: are large firms using crises as cover to push up their profits? Link
Business Post: Corporate profiteering is a clear case of greedflation Link (€)



Jobs Remain High

Interest rates have been rising throughout the world, but in every developed country (from what I can see) employment numbers remain at or near historic highs.

In the US, there are more young men employed than at any other point in history.

The CO2 Decoupling

Every country in this chart has reduced their CO2 emissions while also increasing income (as measured by GDP). The rich countries, of course, have historically high emissions per capita to begin with, but I still think it’s worth remembering that being prosperous and sustainable aren’t contradictory goals. There are reasons for optimism.

Source: Our World In Data Link



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💶 | Top Up Tax

April 3, 2023 in Uncategorized


💶 | Top Up Tax

Goodbye 12.5% Corporate Tax Rate (for some)<!–

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This is a weekly(ish) newsletter about the Political Economy. See more or subscribe at petertanham.com



📰 Trending News

Irish economic news, in summary and context.

House Prices are Flat, Hooray!

According to the latest Daft Report:

Listed prices nationally fell by 0.3% in the first quarter of 2023. This is the first time since 2013 that prices have fallen between December and March and the largest Q1 fall since 2012.
This is good news, showing a softening in demand (which I speculated last week could be driven in part by layoffs in the tech industry). Mortgage Interest rates still haven’t been rising very rapidly in Ireland, so any increase here could soften demand further.

On the flipside, however, the central bank increased their lending ceiling to 4x salary (for first time buyers) in January, which will add pressure on the average sale price as the year progresses, if not the number of sales.

This is a small but welcome reprieve, especially in the week that the eviction ban is being lifted. There is a real risk, however, that the supply of housing starts to decrease, when we desperately need it to continue growing at pace.

Irish Times: Asking prices for homes in Ireland fall for first time since 2013 Link
Daft: House Price Report Q1 2023 [PDF] Link


“Top Up” Corporate Tax Rate

A big story this week will be the increase in our Corporate Tax Rate this year. According to the Business Post, the Finance Minister will bring a proposal to cabinet this week for how we will raise the tax rate from 12.5% to 15%, but only on large multinationals with a turnover of €750m or more.

They’re calling it a “Top Up Tax.”

We’re doing this to align with the OECD agreement that all participating countries will charge at least 15%. This move poses a risk to the Government’s revenue from Corporate Taxes, which now runs at a whopper €22 billion(ish) per year. But the risk is unclear, and it’s even possible that the rate increase, because it happens everywhere, not just here, leads to an increase in our tax revenues.

The Department of Finance have some estimates of the loss we might face, but they mostly stress how difficult it is to calculate. Even their worst estimate would only bring us back to 2019 levels.

I’m looking forward to reading more about the proposal during the week. In particular why we’re taking the “top up” approach. We are going increase the tax rate for what I assume is the highest “flight risk” revenue, so why not do it for all?

In the mean time, this is a great thread from Ciarán Casey on how Ireland ended up with our 12.5% corporate tax rate.

Business Post: ‘Mammoth’ task as McGrath moves on new 15 per cent corporate tax rate Link
RTE: ‘Historic’ corporate tax changes to take effect from next January Link
Irish Times: Ireland set to avoid implementing 15% headline corporate tax rate Link


Is Holly Right? Redux

Last week’s main story was the discussion of Holly Cairn’s observation that she is “a member of the first ever generation who will be worse off than my parents”. The debate rumbled on with Prime Time dedicating an episode to it during the week.
Aidan Regan, professor of political economy in UCD, says that it depends on what you mean by worse off. “What does it mean to say someone’s better off? I suppose we typically think about that in very material ways. And we could talk more broadly about whether or not Ireland is a better place to live today compared to previous generations. And I think they’re two very different things.”

RTE: Is this generation really worse off than their parents? Link

💡 What’s the New Idea?

New and notable progressive economic ideas from around the world.

The Slipperiness of Many Goals

In a previous newsletter (“Should Companies Be Political?”) I said the following:

Popular conceptions of capitalism are shifting, with many people considering a company’s responsibility to a wider group of stakeholders, like employees, local communities, the environment and the wider economy.

My personal politics likes a lot of this. In particular, the increasing acknowledgment that environmental sustainability is a responsibility of corporations too. However, I don’t think we acknowledge the trade-off we’re making and the risk we’re creating if we advocate a multi-stakeholder approach.

Often the winner in this move is the CEO and senior management. In a more “1980’s” version of capitalism, when we measured CEOs against a single goal of maximising shareholder value, it was a crude yardstick, and didn’t produce ideal societal outcomes, but it had the distinct advantage of being simple and measurable.

Whereas before the CEO could get fired when the share price dropped, they now have the flexibility to argue that they’re doing a good job because they were balancing shareholder value against the interest of some other group of stakeholders. It’s a lot of extra wiggle room, which reduces accountability and concentrates power.

There is huge uncertainty in the shift from a single metric to a multitude and the trade-offs involved. Most of these trade-offs manifest as a power struggle. There is simplicity in a single metric, but multiple-metrics give space for the question of who gets to decide what metrics are important, and how they rank against one another.

I worry about this when we (rightly) point out the flawed over-reliance on GDP as a single metric and propose to replace it, for example.

This week the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US published new research that documents this trend and substantiates the idea of multi-metric approaches as deflection.

Using natural language processing, we identify corporate goals stated in the shareholder letters of the 150 largest companies in the United States from 1955 to 2020. Corporate goals have proliferated, from less than one on average in 1955 to more than 7 in 2020.

We find goal announcements are associated with management’s responses to the firm’s (possibly changed) circumstances, with the changing power and preferences of key constituencies, as well as from management’s attempts to deflect scrutiny.

Goals also do seem to be announced opportunistically to deflect attention and alleviate pressure on management.

NBER: What Purpose Do Corporations Purport? Evidence from Letters to Shareholders Link


Central Banks are Recognizing “Greedflation”

Many times this year we’ve discussed the success of “Corporate Greed is Causing Inflation”, as a counter-narrative to “Wage Spirals are Causing Inflation”. This has been the view of prominent progressive politicians, commentators and economists, but not so much of central banks. It seems there have been some small changes on that front. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Fabio Panetta, member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank said

“There’s a lot of discussion on wage growth,” Mr. Panetta said in an interview this week. “But we are probably paying insufficient attention to the other component of income — that is, profits.”

In the week that their own research showed that corporate profits “increased by 9.4% [in Q4] and contributed more than half” of inflation, you may think the statement “we’re probably paying insufficient attention” from a single executive board member is a little bit tepid… and you’d be right!

But it’s nothing compared to the wishy-washy statement from Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey in an interview this week:

“When companies set prices I understand that they have to reflect the costs that they face. But what I would say, please, is that when we are setting prices in the economy and people are looking forwards we do expect inflation to come down sharply this year and I would just say please bear that in mind.”

Compare that to his comments last year ago about wages:

“I’m not saying nobody gets a pay rise, don’t get me wrong, but I think, what I am saying, is we do need to see restraint in pay bargaining otherwise it will get out of control.”

“We are looking, I think, to see quite clear restraint in the bargaining process because otherwise, as I say, it will get out of control. It’s not at the moment, but it will do.”

Of course, ensuring markets are competitive and profiteering isn’t destructive isn’t the role of the central bank, but what they say about inflation and its drivers carries huge weight.

Guardian: Bank of England boss urges firms to hold back price rises or risk higher rates Link

FT: Central bankers warn companies on fatter profit margins Link

NYT: Are Big Profits Keeping Prices High? Some Central Bankers Are Concerned Link

CBS: U.S. companies just had their best year since before most of us were born Link

ING: Never waste a good crisis – a profit-price spiral in Germany Link

ECB: “Interview with The New York Times” Link


The Banking Crisis Rumbles On

Silicon Valley was the second largest banking collapse in US History. The third largest also happened in March, the collapse of Signature Bank. Joseph Politano describes:

although both banks had concentrated depositor bases, a large share of uninsured deposits, and had sustained significant losses and deposit outflows in recent quarters, Signature did not make the same kind of large unhedged bets on long-term assets that crushed SVB when interest rates rose. Instead, it had a more concentrated exposure to New York commercial real estate and private equity lending markets and was a key player in the crypto industry, all of which made it weaker than most but stronger than SVB in the current market environment.

As a sign of the heightened level of fear, more than $286bn has flooded into money market funds, presumably out of deposit banks, as they are presumed to be safer. Given that the largest run in US History was on money market funds, this doesn’t make me feel much safer.

Joseph Politano: What Killed Signature Bank? Link

FT: Money market funds swell by more than $286bn amid deposit flight Link

The Economist: “After Credit Suisse’s demise, attention turns to Deutsche Bank” Link



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Faux Metrics

April 17, 2016 in Essays, Uncategorized


Vanity Metrics

Faux Metrics

Singular Focus

My Kind of Thinking – July 2009

August 4, 2009 in Uncategorized

1. The limits of control

Studies show that people feel more confident they’ll win at dice if they toss the dice themselves than if others toss them, and that they are likely to bet more money if they make their wager before the dice are tossed than afterward (where the outcome has been concealed). They’ll value a lottery ticket more if they can choose it than if it is given to them at random

2. Some of the comments on that article are well worth reading.

3. Seth Godin – The Confusion

4. Mike Masnick discusses The Psychology Of Externalities and it’s implications in a digital economy – how people perceive a situation to be unjust if another person benefits “too much”, even if it has no material impact on them.

5. Also from Techdirt – Is It Cheating Or Is It Collaboration?

In NO industry is collaboration considered cheating. Only in SCHOOL is this a problem. What are we teaching our kids?

6. A video, for anyone interested in future business models for the music industry.

NARM 2009 Keynote Interview With Ian Rogers from NARM on Vimeo.

Sounds Like Advertising

July 27, 2009 in Essays, Uncategorized

In a similar vein to my last post about “Content as advertising“, I’ve been thinking about how this concept could be picked up on and used by the music industry. Think “music video as advertising“, but hopefully without the corporate-sellout overtones!

The Pirate Bay

These days, a lot of artists are realising that the free distribution of digital music, which the internet provides, is more advantageous than it is damaging (think “Youtube viral” rather than “Napster file sharing”) and that obscurity is a much bigger threat than piracy.

Given that this is the case, and many artists are using free music to create and grow a fanbase, they should try keep their costs as low as possible to start off. But they also want a good music video, something that compliments the track and that people can watch on Youtube. So why not let a company create your music video? This way the company can get some genuine content to help them advertise (not just some old jingle) and the band get money, exposure and a free video.


Have a look at the YouTube stats, a huge proportion of the top videos are music videos – with the top spot going to Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend with 122,399,477 views. On the other hand, the advertisements with the best songs are generally the top viewed, e.g. O2’s most popular Irish youtube video is the one with the new Florence + The Machine song Cosmic Love. The ad was released a month before the single, making the ad the only place people could go to hear it, and quick skim through the comments (e.g. “i love this song :)”) shows that people are watching it to hear the song. It’s a win-win: Great exposure for both O2 and for the song (now in the Top 10 in the Irish iTunes chart).

I Want My AdTV

The next step up from “great song meets great ad” is an advertisement as a music video. I know that to some this will sound like a very ugly combination, but I’m sure it can be done in a way that is tasteful and doesn’t compromise the integrity of either the artist or the song. In fact, that’s the beauty of this approach, if it was too corporate or all about the advertisement then no one would want to watch it! It is in the company’s best interest to leave the art as uncompromised as possible.

As before, I can’t find any good example of this having being done yet, but I think this video below (found via a fluffy link) could have been a perfect example, if it was slightly more music video and slightly less advertisement.

Three Wise Men

July 5, 2009 in Essays, Uncategorized

I’ve taken three interesting posts, from three wise men, and combined them to ask one very challenging question. Each are well worth a read, but I’ll do my best to provide a quick summary if you don’t have time.

1. David McWilliamsExposing the lie of the land

The real fair value means that, in a world where house price speculation is over, Irish house prices will have to fall on average by 50 per cent from where they are today to be worth buying. Madly, even after a year of house price contraction, the P/E for the average Irish house stands at over 29 times – twice the historical average for property.

2. Seth GodinIgnore sunk costs

You have tickets to the Springsteen concert. They were really hard to get…… On your way into the event, a guy offers you $500 cash for each ticket….. If you wouldn’t be willing to PAY $500 for these tickets then you should be willing to sell them for $500. Spend $250 on dinner and go buy better tickets for tomorrow night’s show.

3. Ronan LyonsIs it cheaper to buy or rent?

Taking the three posts together we are presented with these observations:

  • Property prices are most likely going to continue to fall
  • If you sell your house now and rent for the next few years, you won’t be significantly out of pocket cost wise.
  • If you chose not to sell your house now, and agree with David McWilliams, then you should treat the drop in house prices as a real cost. As in Seth’s example, if house prices are to drop by 50%, the question you need to ask is “would I be willing to pay 50% more for this house than I did?”

Which leaves us with an almost uncomfortable conclusion – If my house could sell for €400,000 today, and I assume that the drop will be only half as bad as David’s estimate (25%), am I willing to PAY €100,000 for the luxury of home ownership over the next 3 – 5 years?

My Kind Of Thinking – May 2009

June 1, 2009 in Uncategorized

1. Tweenbots – where robots meet science meet art (found via digitology)

Could a human-like object traverse sidewalks and streets along with us, and in so doing, create a narrative about our relationship to space and our willingness to interact with what we find in it? More importantly, how could our actions be seen within a larger context of human connection that emerges from the complexity of the city itself? To answer these questions, I built robots.

2. “Pirates” buy more music than those who don’t engage in filesharing.

3. An old article from the NY Times – What a Terror Incident in Ancient Rome Can Teach Us.

4. How David Beats Goliath – A fantastic tale of innovation by Malcolm Gladwell

5. The Credit Crunch of 1294. An interesting historical comparison to modern day events.

6. David McWilliams thinks there could be a further 50% drop in house prices in Ireland, I think he may be right.

Video: Larry Lessig talks about Culture, Networks and Copyright:

Social Media

May 9, 2009 in Essays, Uncategorized

Facebook, Bebo, Youtube, Twitter… you know what I’m talking about when I use the term “Social Media”, but how accurately does it describe this collection of online spaces, sites and applications?

I Hate It

Part of me hates the term, because I know what it implies and how so many marketers use the term. When we think of “Media” we think of newspapers, TV and Radio. Media have always been broadcasters of information with large captive audiences, and because of this they’ve always been a brilliant medium for businesses to communicate their message to consumers (via advertising).

There have always been other channels of communication, such as word of mouth or customer service, but they’ve never proven as powerful as traditional media. In a disconnected world, word of mouth was rarely as powerful, and never had the reach of traditional advertisement.

This created some unfortunate economics – once a product reached an adequate level of quality, it was usually more efficient to invest in a good advertising campaign than in improving the product further. Leaving morals aside, it was often a smarter move to plaster “David Beckham uses this product” all over the TV and papers, than it was to invest the time and money into making your product truly remarkable.

Because of this, when many marketers hear the word Media, they think one way communication and mass market advertisements, rather than conversations with people. As we’ve all seen, when this thinking is applied to “Social Media”, the results are hideous – boring ads on youtube, using twitter to spam followers and using social networks to fling marketing materials at users.

I Love It

Word of mouth“, recommendations from a friend and plain old conversations with customers have always been a medium of communication for companies, but for the reasons laid out above they were never considered to be part of The Media.

Nobody (on either side of the company/customer relationship) has ever loved advertising, but with communication channels being what they were, it was the most efficient way to get messages to large amounts of people.

With the advent of the internet, other mediums of communication, such as talking directly to customers, or customers talking to one another, have become much more efficient, more economical and more wide spread. These channels have always been media of communication, (even if nobody called them The Media), and that’s why I think the term Social Media describes them so well.


I’m going to keep using the term Social Media. Mostly because I can’t think of another term that describes it better.

In an ideal world business people would see Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc. and realise their power and potential, and then, upon hearing the term Social Media, would fundamentally re-evaluate their concept of “Media”, realising that it’s no longer as limiting as it once was, and that communications are becoming immensely richer.

In practice, however, I assume the opposite will continue to happen for the next while. Marketers will hear the term Social Media and will use all the same practices they’ve used with traditional media – by communicating at people, by assuming one directional, mass advertisements are still the most efficient way to convey a message, by presuming that listening to customers is still too costly and cumbersome –  and will taint our lovely Social Media term in the process.

But not to worry, it just means a bigger advantage for the people who understand what Social Media really means!

note: obviously with all media any message can be communicated. Social Media could be about bands talking to fans, or politicians to their constituents, or even just friends and family talking together, but this is a blog about business and marketing, so that’s what I talked about.

How to Get Free Twitter Notifications to Your Mobile

March 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

Following the recent announcement from Twitter and Vodafone in the UK, I thought it might be useful to share a tip for how I get free text alerts when some one @’s me on Twitter. I only know how to do this with Vodafone Ireland, but I’m sure it should be possible with many other operators in Ireland and worldwide.

1. A Vodafone.ie email account

Vodafone Ireland give all their customers a free email account. By default it’s you’re mobile number @vodafone.ie, e.g. [email protected]

To set yours up, log into vodafone.ie, and click on Vodafone Mail:


This should allow you to chose your own username (e.g. [email protected]).

2. Email Text Alerts.

Under the preferences you should see a “notification” option which offers to send you a text each time you get an email. Switch that on.


3. Notify.me


Visit notify.me and set up a new account using your newly created @vodafone.ie email address. You can skip through most of the set up proccess until you get to the sources tab.

notifyme-tutorial-sources Now you’ll need to open up a new window or tab and go to search.twitter.com. Search for replies to you. For example, my username is petertanham so I searched for @petertanham.

twitter-searchpetertanham-twitter-searchOnce the search results appear you should see a box on the right hand side with a link to “feed for this query”. This link is the feed that will update anytime someone sends you a tweet on Twitter, and this is what we need as our notify.me source. You can right click on the link and select “copy link location” or click through and copy the url from the address bar.

Now go back to the source page on notify.me and paste in the url for your twitter feed. Once the feed is added make sure to click the email icon to activate email notification.


4. Fin

And that’s it! Now anytime someone replies to you on Twitter, you will get a text notification so you can log in and check it out. Personally, I leave this switched off most of the time because I’m always on Twitter (addict!), but when I know I’ll be away from a computer for a while I log into notify.me and toggle the email notification back on.

Other countries/networks

I haven’t got any login details to try this on other networks, but if you do please leave a comment letting us know if it works!

This also works for any service, for example Facebook or Bebo. For those just change your registered email address to your vodafone.ie address and you’ll get text alerts for new friends, comments on your profile etc.