Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The contradictions of Fraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is upset with this passage, from my blog about statistics yesterday:
A similar, but even more toxic, disjunction from reality is seen in those who claim that poverty is not about money. For example, Fraser Nelson frequently claims that the Labour government saw poverty solely through the lens of numbers, and that the Brown strategy of attacking child poverty by redistributing money to the poor via tax credits was simply manipulating numbers on a spreadsheet. 
Fraser says:
You quote me saying “poverty is not about money”. I’ve never said that. My point: it’s not JUST about money. Please correct.
Fraser can read and isn’t stupid, so he knows perfectly well I didn’t “quote” him directly saying “poverty is not about money”; rather, I attributed that view to him (among others). And I linked to his Telegraph article, in which he says this:
At the heart of the Child Poverty Act lies an agenda which has arguably done more damage to Britain’s social fabric than any idea in modern history. It is based on the Eurostat definition of poverty: an income 40 per cent below the national average....instead of fighting poverty, the Labour government spent billions manipulating a spreadsheet – to catastrophic effect.
Tax credits boosted the incomes of low income families and reduced poverty as measured by low income.  It is therefore, as a matter of simple logic, impossible for Fraser to admit that, as he did yesterday, that “low income is the most important measure of poverty”, and at the same time stand by his earlier view that billions were spent on tax credits “instead of fighting poverty”. 
    
If Fraser’s point was that at least some of the money spent on tax credits could have been spent more efficiently on addressing poverty in other ways – that is, that what Labour did was not necessarily the best way of fighting poverty - then he could have said that. But he didn’t. Instead, he claimed that money spent on tax credits made absolutely no difference to poverty – and indeed, in some undefined sense, had a “catastrophic” impact.  And just in case anyone thinks I’m quoting him selectively, nowhere in his entire article is there anything remotely consistent with his admission yesterday that low income is indeed the most important measure of poverty..

Now it may be that the obvious contradiction between Fraser’s article and what he said yesterday means he’s changed his mind. In that case he should say so. Or maybe he never really meant what he wrote, but went over the top in his hyperbole, Again, he should say so. What he shouldn’t do is try to pretend he never made an argument he – rightly – describes as “repugnant”. 

Finally, Fraser decided to invoke the Independent Press Standards Organisation, resulting in this exchange:




He has declined to take me up on it. The offer remains open. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Spreadsheets are people too: statistics and reality

One of the occupational hazards of taking data and statistics seriously – and using social media to do so – is frequent accusations that my focus on hard numbers means that I have my head in the clouds, or buried in a computer, and am therefore somehow detached from “reality”.  I’ve lost count of the number of times a Twitter link to a chart, research paper or ONS data release, making a point about what the evidence shows, is greeted by some version of “why don’t you stop looking at spreadsheets and get out into the real world?

This is particularly the case for immigration.  The response to the overwhelming evidence that, in the UK, there is no measurable impact of immigration on employment, and only a very modest impact on the wages of the low-paid, is often an anecdote, a reference to (perceived) personal experience, or just an injunction that I should spend more time in the pub.  Here’s a recent typicalexample (amazingly and embarrassingly, from a lecturer at King’s, my own university, in a scientific discipline):
Jonathan Portes gave an accomplished performance, asserting that immigration has boosted society, and that it hasn’t depressed wages. Such thinking may be lapped up by a forum of intelligentsia, but try telling that to my landscape gardener friend, who has been severely undercut by waves of east Europeans. 
I was reminded of this by a tweet, attached to a passage in David Goodhart’s new book.  This, Daniel Bentley at Civitas argued, is a “really underappreciated point”

In recent years the falling relative pay for basic jobs, the overwhelming stress on mobility and educational stress, the hourglass labour market and the apartheid system created by a mass higher education system have all made it harder for the mainly Somewhere people doing routine jobs to feel valued and dignified in the modern economy.

Underappreciated, perhaps, because it’s wrong.  Leaving aside the truly bizarre apartheid analogy (Mr Goodhart has a habit of this sort of thing, as I've noted before) the claim that “in recent years” relative pay has fallen for basic jobs is simply false. It’s true enough that earnings inequality did widen sharply in the 1980s and early 90s.  But this isn’t exactly “recently”, and has absolutely nothing to do with the post-1997 immigration Mr Goodhart blames for much of the UK’s contemporary problems.  Indeed, over the last decade, if anything, boosted by increases in the National Minimum Wage, it has improved somewhat, as this chart shows:



Now I would argue that this point – that workers at the lower end of the earnings distribution have done particularly badly - is pretty fundamental to the entire argument Mr Goodhart is making (indeed, the importance of this paragraph to Mr Goodhart’s thesis is presumably why Mr Bentley highlighted it). So you might think that getting it wrong matters rather a lot.  But I have no doubt what Mr Goodhart’s response will be.  As with my review  of his earlier book, “The British Dream”, which listed (very much non-exhaustively) a number of his more glaring factual errors, he wouldsay that I am “sniping in the footnotes” and that I spend too much time with databases and not enough in the “real world”.

But there is a fundamental problem with the argument by those like Dr McCrae or Mr Goodhart that “spreadsheets” or “databases” are somehow divorced from reality, while the experiences of  (selected) individuals represents it.  In fact, spreadsheets – or at least the ones used by labour market economists and, indeed, quantitative social scientists more broadly, are far more closely connected to the “real world” than any individuals’ experience can hope to be.

Consider the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the primary data source for economists analysing the UK labour market. Each quarter the LFS samples 40,000 households, covering 100,000 individuals, a representative sample of (broadly) the UK resident population; lengthy interviews are conducted in person (and subsequently by phone) and cover a wide range of topics in considerable detail, from education, earnings and employment to age, marital and family status, country of birth, and disability.

So when I say that the evidence is clear that immigration doesn’t impact on the employment of UK-born residents, this analysis is formulated in terms of numbers on a spreadsheet or data points in a regression. But behind those numbers are what tens of thousands of real people have told professional interviewers, and in a way which means that the results are in turn representative of lived experience of the UK population as a whole.  

So the statement that, say, the bottom decile of full-time workers have recently seen their pay rise faster than average is not (just) a statement about numbers, or a claim that Mr Goodhart has failed to read the right ONS spreadsheet.  It is a statement about what has – contrary to Mr Goodhart’s claim - actually happened to the pay packets of several million people.  It is the spreadsheet, not what my nephew looking for a job, your cab driver, or Dr McCrae’s landscape gardener friend say that best reflect the real world.

A similar, but even more toxic, disjunction from reality is seen in those who claim that poverty is not about money. For example, Fraser Nelson frequently claims that the Labour government saw poverty solely through the lense of numbers, and that the Brown strategy of attacking child poverty by redistributing money to the poor via tax credits was simply manipulating numbers on aspreadsheet:
Someone who is nudged just above this threshold, with an extra £10 a week, is deemed to be “lifted out of poverty”, although the people concerned would be astounded to hear themselves so described. If they had a family, then their children would be described as being “lifted out of poverty”. So, by precision-bombing the right people with tax credits, you could claim to have lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.,, instead of fighting poverty, the Labour government spent billions manipulating a spreadsheet – to catastrophic effect.
[UPDATE: Fraser Nelson doesn't like this description of his views. I discuss his contradictions here]

And indeed it is true that this approach was shaped and driven by numbers on spreadsheets – numbers which represented hundreds of thousands of low-income families with more money in their bank accounts to spend on food, shoes or the occasional holiday. There’s plenty of evidence that’s exactly what happened, with commensurate improvements in child welfare.  A comprehensive review by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concluded – unsurprisingly to anyone who knows anything at all about the topic:
Children in low-income households do less well than their better-off peers on many outcomes in life, such as education or health, simply because they are poorer 
In other words, despite Mr Nelson’s rather convenient assumption, the spreadsheet-driven policy – by ensuring that low-income parents had enough money to look after their children - worked in the real world. 

None of this means that talking to people – or, more relevantly for these topics, rigorous qualitative research, which is generally not what the critics mean – is not useful and sometimes necessary to get a full picture.  But suggesting that data doesn’t represent reality as well as personal experience is simply the opposite of the truth.   If you want to know what’s actually going on in the real world, look at the data.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

EU citizens’ rights: the Brexit Committee report

The report of the Commons Committee on Exiting the EU (known to its friends as the Brexit Committee) on the rights of EU citizens resident here, and UK citizens resident in other EU countries, is a welcome contribution to a debate that has so far generated rather more heat than light.

The headlines will be for its recommendation that “the UK should now make a unilateral recommendation to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK” (in other words, that the government should accept at least the spirit of the Lords’ amendment passed last week).

This is entirely sensible; the government’s line that we need to hold back on this commitment to use as a “bargaining chip” (regardless of what you think of the morality of this approach) is flimsy at best.   For it to be a useful bargaining chip, we would need a credible threat; since there is neither the political will or the administrative capacity to deport large numbers of EU citizens, this does not exist. 

In the meantime, the government’s refusal to commit is damaging the UK, both directly and in terms of the UK’s image.  In fact, this line is dictated far more by domestic politics – in particular, the need to show that it is the government, not Parliament, that will shape our approach to Brexit – than by the Article 50 negotiation strategy.

But the report is perhaps most useful for its thorough and detailed explanation of the administrative and bureaucratic hurdles that will remain even when a solution is agreed in principle. As I wrote back in August:
The practical issues involved are formidable..There aren’t any ideal options – just less bad ones. But anybody who thinks that with the best will in the world this will be an easy issue to resolve is living in a fantasy world.

The Committee echoes this, and calls on the government, as a matter of urgency, to either reform or (preferably) replace entirely the current permanent residency application process:
The current process for consideration of permanent residency applications is not fit for purpose and, in the absence of any concrete resolution to relieve the anxiety felt by the estimated three million EU citizens resident in the UK, it is untenable to continue with the system as it stands. We recommend that the Government set out whether it intends the permanent residence system to be the basis for EU nationals to demonstrate their eligibility to reside in the UK once the UK leaves the EU. If so then it needs to set out as a matter of urgency, how it will reform the permanent residence application system. If not, then it needs to set out what an alternative system will involve and what will be expected of EU nationals to demonstrate their eligibility to reside in the UK once the UK leaves the EU.

Importantly, there is absolutely no reason for the government not to start on this now and to say so; in practical terms, it wouldn’t commit the government to doing anything it won’t have to do at some point anyway. The fact that it hasn’t reflects a combination of bureaucratic inertia and political unwillingness to accept the inevitable consequences (for Home Office resources, for employers, and for individuals). But reality has to kick in sometime.  The sooner this happens, the smoother the process will be, and the less unnecessary damage that will be inflicted.  The Committee has a large number of detailed and practical recommendations (on the need for any process to be simple, without unrealistic  administrative or technical  hurdles, and for data-sharing).  The government would do well to listen.

Separately, the Committee also discusses the post-Brexit immigration system, without coming to any particularly firm conclusions. But it does make two important, related points. First, that “taking back control” when it comes to immigration policy/free movement doesn’t have much to do with border control per se.  The Committee quotes me:
Ending free movement immigration control is not going to be enforced at the borders at all. It simply is not. We are still going to let people in, at Stansted and Heathrow, with French passports. They just will not have the right to work here, and that right to work will be enforced at the workplace.”

This point is fundamental – it is employers (and landlords, public services, universities, etc) who will be at the sharp end of changes to free movement.  As the Committee says, “any new system will add to the regulatory burden.”  Or, as I put it:
When it comes to immigration, “taking back control” means expanding the size and role of the state.

However, one potential advantage of this point – that what we do at border controls is not necessarily determined by what we do about individuals’ right to work in the UK – is reflected in the Committee’s acceptance that there could, in principle, be a geographic component to future policy – a Scottish work permit, or a London one.  Those who say that this would require border controls at Hadrian’s Wall or the M25 simply miss the point.


There’s lots more detail on this and other issues in the report, which is certainly the best summary of this set of issues produced so far; it is well worth reading in full. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Immigration is falling. Be careful what you wish for..

Today’s immigration figures are the first with any meaningful data after the Brexit vote. And they show – as I predicted back in August – a fall in EU migration to the UK, particularly those coming from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (the “EU8”) that joined the EU in 2004; in the year to September, net migration from these countries fell by about 20,000.   Meanwhile, the number of new National Insurance registrations in the year to December was flat, but again numbers from the EU8 fell.  Broadly, the figures are consistent with the fall in the number of EU nationals in the UK workforce that I highlighted last week.  Non-EU immigration also fell, particularly for students, now at the lowest level since 2002.




So what’s going on? After all, nothing has changed in law or policy terms– we are still a member of the EU, and will be for some time, and we still have freedom of movement.  But it’s not just today’s law that matters to existing and future migrants.  I also warned back in August that even if politicians behaved sensibly, dealing with the status of EU nationals already here was likely to be an intractable bureaucratic tangle. Since then, the government has done little or nothing to reassure them, nor to streamline the process. It is hardly surprising that some are already choosing to leave.

More broadly, if people cannot plan with any confidence, not just about themselves but their families, they are both less likely to come and less likely to stay. Small wonder that employers – not just farmers, but sectors ranging from the National Health Service to universities – are finding it far harder to persuade EU nationals to take up jobs in this country.  And this, once again, illustrates a vitally important point; migration is not just a matter of the UK choosing migrants; migrants have to choose us. Even if we wish to remain open to skilled migrants from elsewhere in the EU post-Brexit, they may not choose to come here (or remain here).

It is still very early days – forecasting migration flows, particularly at a time of policy change, is extremely difficult.  But we can already begin to sketch out the long-term implications. If, as my previous research predicts, net migration from the EU falls by more than half over the next five years, the economic impact on the UK will be significant; the resulting hit to GDP could be about 0.6 to 1.2%, with a GDP per capita reduction of 0.2 to 0.8%. Over the period to 2030, the resulting reduction in GDP per capita could be up to 3.4%. By contrast, the increase in low-skilled wages resulting from reduced migration is expected to be relatively modest.  


So those who – from both sides – have argued that Brexit will not lead to a substantial fall in migration, especially from the EU, are wrong.  Indeed, the government’s target of reducing migration to the “tens of thousands” is not nearly as unrealistic as many think – particularly if the labour market weakens significantly over the next year or two.  But the government – and those who support an end to free movement – should be careful what they wish for.  Perhaps it will ease very slightly pressure on the wages of some low-paid workers; but this will be far outweighed to the cost to us all in growth and tax revenues. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

A(nother) debate on immigration: how about starting with the facts?

Launching the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on immigration, Yvette Cooper called for a "national debate" claiming that immigration "was was one of those things that people just thought was a bit too difficult to talk about".  As Stephen Bush points out, virtually the only plausible explanation for this nonsensical assertion is that Yvette is somehow stuck in a Star Trek style time loop.  I first started working on immigration issues in the Cabinet Office in late 1999; migration, in one form or another, hasn't been out of the news since.  The paper I wrote then was published in early 2001, accompanied by considerable publicity, precisely because Tony Blair (and some of his Ministers, like Barbara Roche) wanted a constructive debate on immigration.  Sadly, they largely failed, as Yvette's intervention today and countless others like it from politicians who should know better show.  

However, one major achievement of that report was to kick-start funding and other government support for academic research on immigration, and in particular the economics of immigration, that had up to then been largely absent.  We now know quite a lot about the impacts of immigration on the UK economy and labour market; as my contribution to the ongoing debate, I've tried to synthesise the evidence in my written testimony to the inquiry (this also formed the basis for much of my oral evidence to the Exiting the EU Committee earlier this week). In my view, the key points are:

  • immigration doesn't appear to have any negative impacts on the employment prospects of native workers (indeed, the employment rate is at historic highs).  While the evidence on wage impacts is less conclusive, the emerging consensus is that recent migration has had little or no impact overall, but possibly some, small, negative impact on low-skilled workers.  But other factors, positive and negative (technological change, policies on tax credits, the National Minimum Wage) were far more important.
  • recent migrants, especially those from the EU, are likely to have a positive fiscal impact; however, positive net impact on public finances at the national level does not preclude significant impact on demand (and hence cost) at the local level. Broader concerns about the potential negative impacts on public services appear to be largely unsubstantiated.  This does not mean, of course, that citizens do not associate their experience of deterioration in public service quality and availability resulting from other factors with immigration ; the fact that migrants' fiscal contribution could, in principle, at least provide enough funding to cover their marginal impact on demand is not much comfort in practice if those revenues are in fact being allocated elsewhere, for tax cuts or deficit reduction, as in fact has been the case
  • the impact of immigration on productivity and hence (per capita) growth is methodologically harder to estimate. But there is growing empirical evidence, based on cross country data, of positive impacts from migration on productivity and per capita GDP.

I also discuss some of the common misperceptions about changes to the UK immigration system post-Brexit. Briefly, ending free movement 
  • might reduce migration to the tens of thousands, especially if accompanied by a much weaker labour market; 
  • doesn't in itself mean a "hard border" between Northern and Southern Ireland; 
  • will reduce high skilled as well as low skilled immigration; 
  • will involve considerably greater burdens on business, as "immigration control" is about workplaces much more than borders; 
  • and is likely to reduce GDP, GDP per capita/living standards, and worsen the UK's fiscal position.
A useful "public debate" might begin with this evidence base and move on from there.  We can but hope. My full written testimony, with references, is here





Monday, 16 January 2017

The weather is not the climate: predicting the economic impacts of Brexit

Interviewed for ITN/Channel 4 News, I was asked – very reasonably – why anyone should listen to economists’ views on the economic impacts of Brexit, when many short-term forecasts that a Brexit vote would lead to a sharp slowing of the economy had been proved wrong.  This was my response: 
“Short-term economic forecasting is very unreliable. Just because the weatherman gets it wrong about whether it’s going to snow tomorrow doesn’t mean that the scientists have it wrong about whether climate change is going to make the planet warmer over the medium to long term”
I think it’s worth explaining this.  The forecasters – including City economists and independent research institutions like NIESR and IFS, as well as the Treasury and the IMF - who predicted economic gloom as a direct result, not of Brexit itself but of the referendum result, did so on the basis of the expected impact on financial markets, business and consumer confidence:  “Our research shows that a vote to leave would increase uncertainty and, at best, reduce growth”.  

But they were (mostly) wrong.  On the markets, while the pound did indeed fall much as expected (which is actually good for economic activity in the short-term; the exchange rate acts a shock absorber to the expected long term hit to the economy by making UK exports cheaper) market interest rates didn’t rise and the stock market didn’t collapse (although UK companies have certainly underperformed). More importantly, after an initial shock to confidence, businesses and consumers appear to have decided that nothing has happened yet and nothing much will happen for a while; so it’s business as usual. Research on uncertainty, it turns out, isn’t exactly a certainty.

We can dismiss a couple of excuses for this failure. It’s true Brexit hasn’t happened yet – but the forecasts were explicitly related not to Brexit, but to the uncertainty and expected future impact of Brexit.  It’s true some (but not all) of the forecasts assumed immediate Article 50 notification, but that was not central – and if it was uncertainty that was supposed to drive economic weakness, delaying notification merely prolongs the uncertainty.  And it's true there was a policy response from the  Bank of England - but if anything could have been forecasted it was that.

So what forecasters fundamentally got wrong was their judgement about the short-term behaviour of millions of individuals interacting in a very complex system, where (as we know from the analysis of such systems) relatively small changes in a few variables can lead to quite different outcomes.  The claim that “the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas” is poetic license – but the inherent difficulty of forecasting short to medium term perturbations is true both of the economy and the weather.  

Now, despite these difficulties, weather forecasting has got considerably more reliable over the last 20 years, so there’s plenty of room for economic forecasters to improve – but  explaining how the economy will do in the next few months is always likely to be very challenging. That’s true of economic forecasting in “normal” times: but it’s even more so the case when trying to assess the short-term impacts of a political event on the psychological attitudes of consumers and investors.

By contrast, predictions about the long-term impact of Brexit – like climate science  - are based on quite different reasoning, about how changing one key factor – our openness to trade, or the degree to which the earth’s atmosphere retains heat – changes the long-run properties of the system.  The methodologies used are well-established and robust – and while of course the detailed modelling of their impacts requires considerable expertise and huge amounts of data, the basic mechanisms at work are well-established and easy enough to explain.  The operation of the greenhouse effect can be demonstrated in a school lab.

Similarly, the basic insights of the “gravity model” approach to predicting international trade – that trade between two economies depends on how big each is, how far apart they are, and historical, cultural and policy factors including the existence of special trade arrangements like the EU – are common sense, and their empirical and practical validity is not seriously in question.  More CO2 will make us hotter: less trade and migration will make us poorer.  

Now, economists’ forecasts of the long-term impacts of Brexit could still be wrong – or inaccurate- just as climate scientists could be wrong about the path of climate change. First, our scenarios could be wrong; Brexit could turn out very differently from the options (hard or soft, clean or chaotic) most people are trying to analyse; similarly, sudden technological advances could change the path of CO2 emissions.  Second, the numbers are probably more uncertain even more than the models (which already incorporate some forms of uncertainty) suggest – some forms of uncertainty are simply impossible to model.

So while we can predict that Brexit will reduce growth and CO2 will warm the planet, we should take the quantitative modelling on just how large these effects are with a large pinch of salt.  In particular, feedback effects could either amplify or dampen the impacts – and it is very difficult to guess which. But the basic point - that reductions in trade and migration will reduce growth and productivity, relative to what otherwise would have occurred – is very unlikely to be disproved, any more than the greenhouse effect.

So how should that translate into how we actually make decisions?  Well, I listen to the weather forecast: but, like most Londoners, whatever it says, I always carry an umbrella.  On the other hand, that doesn’t mean I’d buy a house on a flood plain. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My predictions for 2017 (from the FT Economists' survey)

The Financial Times annual survey of leading British economists' predictions, views and forecasts for the year ahead was published on January 3. Last year (that is, in January 2016) this is what I said about Brexit: 
Q2: Brexit: If the British electorate vote to leave the EU in 2016, how would that: a) change your views about prospects for next year? b) Change your views about medium-term prospects?
I'd divide this into three:
a) short-term: relatively little visible impact. No doubt there would be some turbulence in financial markets, but I doubt we'd see much impact on the real economy in the very short-term (ie next year).
b) medium-term (ie the period of the negotiation over terms of exit and post-exit relationship between the EU and the UK, lasting at least 2 years). Significantly negative. These negotiations would be protracted, complex and probably acrimonious, leading to considerable uncertainty for both UK companies trading with the EU and international investors (not to mention EU citizens resident in the UK and vice versa). All this would be likely to have a substantial and negative impact on business confidence, business investment, FDI, and possibly trade and migration.
c) longer-term (post the negotiations and any transition) — impossible to forecast with any precision at this point, given we have very little idea of what the outcome of the negotiations in b) would be. The UK could undoubtedly survive and prosper outside the EU, and in some respects (flexibility on some aspects of trade and migration policy and regulation, reduced contributions to the EU budget) might benefit; but there are obvious and serious risks, in particular to trade in services (including financial services) which are vital to the UK economy and will become even more so in the next few decades.
Below are my detailed predictions from this year.  I'm not a forecaster (and we have seen this year just how unreliable short-term forecasts can be) but they represent my best effort at providing some meaningful analysis of what we can expect over the next year.  Come back next January...
1. Economic prospects
How much, if at all, do you expect UK economic growth to slow in 2017? Please explain your answer.
I would expect it to slow somewhat in the first half of the year. What happens in the second half depends very much on developments with the Brexit negotiations (as well as events in the US and elsewhere in Europe). We could see reasonable if not spectacular growth, but downside risks are large

2. Brexit
Compared to what you thought 12 months ago about the UK's long-term economic prospects outside the EU, are you now more optimistic or more pessimistic than you were?
   

Please explain your answer.
The strong consensus amongst economists is that Brexit will make the UK significantly worse off in the medium to long term - not disastrously so, but significantly. This is backed up by a considerable body of theoretical and empirical evidence. Of course, this evidence is based on historical data, and past is not necessarily prologue; there is a high degree of uncertainty. But the probability must be that Brexit will make us worse off. It is also important to note that while economic developments since the referendum have certainly not borne out the pessimistic forecasts of some institutions, that really tells us almost nothing about long-term impacts - short-term forecasts are made using very different methodologies to those used to estimate long-term impacts, and (paradoxically) are much less reliable.

3. Inflation
Inflation has started to increase in recent months. To what extent do you expect inflation to rise in 2017?
If the exchange rate stays where it is to about 3%. However, if it falls a lot farther inflation could rise more (or conversely)

4. Monetary policy
In December, the Monetary Policy Committee said the next interest rate move could as easily be up as down. Will there be a shift in this monetary policy stance by the end of 2017? Please explain your answer.
It is difficult at the moment to see the next move being down , even if the economy worsens. Barring negative shocks (which are quite possible) I'd expect the next move to be up.

5. Immigration
Immigration is likely to be central to the Brexit negotiations in 2017. How much do you think immigration will change and what effect do you think this will have on the UK economy?
My recent research suggested that EU migration to the UK could fall by well over half over the period from now to 2020, resulting in net EU migration falling by more than 100,000. Both the state of the economy and the existence of free movement of workers are significant determinants of migration flows. In particular, free movement with the UK results in an increase of almost 500% - that is, by a factor of six. It follows any significant restrictions on free movement will reduce those flows. I also used the existing empirical research on the impact of migration on productivity, growth and wages to estimate the broader economic impacts of such a reduction. Over the period to 2020, the resulting reduction in GDP would be about 0.7 to 1.3%, with a GDP per capita reduction of 0.3 to 0.8%. By contrast, the increase in low-skilled wages resulting from reduced migration is expected to be relatively modest.

6. Fiscal policy
Philip Hammond is expecting government borrowing to fall in 2017. His new fiscal rules provide headroom for more borrowing than currently forecast. To what extent will he need to use it and why?
The OBR's fiscal forecasts look relatively pessimistic; however the economic ones may be too optimistic. Moreover, current spending plans for health and social care (and perhaps education) look unrealistic. The NHS is clearly significantly underfunded (it is basic economics that a richer, older society should, from the point of view of overall welfare or wellbeing, spend a greater proportion of GDP on health over time - the reverse has been the case over the past few years.) It is not clear that such spending increases should be financed by borrowing, but the government is unfortunately committed to a set of tax cuts that have little economic rationale and will mostly benefit the relatively better off. Some discretionary increase therefore seems likely.

7. Donald Trump
How do you think Donald Trump's presidency will affect the UK economy in 2017?
This is exceptionally uncertain, for obvious reasons. However, it does look likely that US interest rates may now begin to rise steadily. This will put some downward pressure on the pound and upward pressure on UK long-term rates, which may well be unwelcome.