We need more London

So let's build it.

The Economist's Ryan Avent has a great turn of phrase when discussing London's sky-high house prices, and the supply constraint which has caused them:

The world craves London and is willing to pay vast amounts of money for a piece of it. And there are few logistical limits to making more London: a process that would generate huge flows of income and employment for Britons… One could free building rules dramatically (lowering the shadow tax rate) and raise actual property taxes to help fund new infrastructure, and still have everyone come out ahead.

Or almost everyone, I should say. Property owners would not. And that's the reason there is a problem in the first place. London property owners, as a class, are effectively an incredibly successful rent-seeking operation greedily sucking up the economic surplus generated by the city's economy.

London is a limited commodity. Not everyone can live there, it's true. But it's not actually as limited as it seems. We could build a lot more London than we do. Avent, with the incision of an outsider turning his eye to matters bogged down in local politics, offers some pretty good reasons to do so, and some responses to the most common reasons against. Worth a read.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year - or almost £300m per week - as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash  higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.