“But the sheer size of the survey […] makes it of interest…”

One of the most common errors in interpreting polls and surveys is the presumption that because something has a really huge sample size it is more meaningful. Or indeed, meaningful at all. Size isn’t what makes a poll meaningful, it is how representative the sample is. Picture it this way, if you’d done an EU referendum poll of only over 60s you’d have got a result that was overwhelmingly LEAVE… even if you polled millions of them. If you did a poll and only included people under 30 you’d have got a result that was overwhelmingly REMAIN… even if you polled millions of them. What matters is that the sample accurately reflects the wider population you want them to represent, that you have the correct proportions of both young and old (and male & female, rich & poor, etc, etc). Size alone does not guarantee that.

The classic real world example of this is the 1936 Presidential Election in the USA. I’ve referred to this many times but I thought it worth reciting the story in full, if only so people can direct others to it in future.

Back in 1936 the most respected barometers of public opinion was the survey conducted by the Literary Digest, a weekly news magazine with a hefty circulation. At each Presidential election the Digest carried out a survey by mail, sending surveys to its million-plus subscriber base and to a huge list of other people, gathered from phone directories, membership organisations, subscriber lists and so on. There was no attempt at weighting or sampling, just a pure numbers grab, with literally millions of replies. This method had correctly called the winner for the 1920, 1924, 1928 and 1932 Presidential elections.

In 1936 the Digest sent out more than ten million ballots. The sample size for their final results was 2,376,523. This was, obviously, huge. One can imagine how the today’s papers would write up a poll of that size and, indeed, the Digest wrote up their results with not a little hubris. If anything, they wrote it up with huge, steaming, shovel loads of hubris. They bought all the hubris in the shop, spread it across the newsroom floor and rolled about in it cackling. Quotes included:

  • “We make no claim to infallibility. We did not coin the phrase “uncanny accuracy” which has been so freely applied to our Polls”
  • “Any sane person can not escape the implication of such a gigantic sampling of popular opinion as is embraced in THE LITERARY DIGEST straw vote.”
  • “The Poll represents the most extensive straw ballot in the field—the most experienced in view of its twenty-five years of perfecting—the most unbiased in view of its prestige—a Poll that has always previously been correct.”


You can presumably guess what is going to happen here. The final vote shares in the 1936 Literary Digest poll were 57% for Alf Landon (Republican) and 43% for Roosevelt (Democrat). This worked out as 151 electoral votes for Roosevelt and 380 for Landon. The actual result was 62% Roosevelt, 38% for Landon. Roosevelt received 523 in the electoral college, Landon received 8, one of the largest landslide victories in US history. Wrong does not nearly begin to describe how badly off the Literary Digest was.

At the same time George Gallup was promoting his new business, carrying out what would become proper opinion polls and using them for a syndicated newspaper column called “America Speaks”. His methods were quite far removed from modern methods – he used a mixed mode method, mail-out survey for richer respondents and face-to-face for poorer, harder to reach respondents. The sample size was also still huge by modern standards, about 40,000*. The important different from the Literary Digest poll however was that Gallup attempted to get a representative sample – the mail out surveys and sampling points for face-to-face interviews had quotas on geography and on urban and rural areas, interviewers had quotas for age, gender and socio-economic status.


Gallup set out to challenge and defeat the Literary Digest – a battle between a monstrously huge sample and Gallup’s smaller but more representative sample. Gallup won. His final poll predicted Roosevelt 55.7%, Landon 44.3%.* Again, by modern standards it wasn’t that accurate (the poll by his rival Elmo Roper, who was setting quotas based on the census rather than his turnout estimates was actually better, predicting Roosevelt on 61%… but he wasn’t as media savvy). Nevertheless, Gallup got the story right, the Literary Digest hideously wrong. George Gallup’s reputation was made and the Gallup organisation became the best known polling company in the US. The Literary Digest’s reputation was shattered and the magazine folded a couple of years later. The story has remained a cautionary tale of why a representative poll with a relatively small sample is more use than a large poll that makes no effort to be representative, even if it is absolutely massive.

The question of why the Digest poll was so wrong is interesting itself. Its huge error is normally explained through where the sample came from – they drew it from things like magazine subscribers, automobile association members and telephone listings. In depression era America many millions of voters didn’t have telephones and couldn’t afford cars or magazine subscriptions, creating an inbuilt bias towards wealthier Republican voters. In fact it appears to be slightly more complicated than that – Republican voters were also far more likely to return their slips than Democrat voters were. All of these factors – a skewed sampling frame, differential response rate and no attempt to combat these – combined to make the Literary Digest’s sample incredibly biased, despite its massive and impressive size.

Ultimately, it’s not the size that matters in determining if a poll is any good. It’s whether it’s representative or not. Of course, a large representative poll is better than a small representative poll (though it is a case of diminishing returns) but the representativeness is a prerequisite for it being of any use at all.

So next time you see some open-access poll shouting about having tens of thousands of responses and are tempted to think “Well, it may not be that representative, but it’s got a squillion billion replies so it must mean something, mustn’t it?” Don’t. If you want something that you can use to draw conclusions about the wider population, it really is whether it reflects that population that counts. Size alone won’t cut it.


* You see different sample sizes quoted for Gallup’s 1936 poll – I’ve seen people cite 50,000 as his sample size or just 3,000. The final America Speaks column before the 1936 election doesn’t include the number of responses he got (though does mention he sent out about 300,000 mailout surveys to try and get it). However, the week after (8th Nov 1936) the Boston Globe had an interview with the organisation going through the details of how they did it that says they aimed at 40,000 responses.
** If you are wondering why the headline in that thumbnail says 54% when I’ve said Gallup called the final share as 55.7%, it’s because the polls were sometimes quoted as share of the vote for all candidates, sometimes for share of the vote for just the main two parties. I’ve quoted both polls as “share of the main party vote” to keep things consistent.

475 Responses to “Size alone is not enough – the tale of the Literary Digest”

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  1. @Anthony

    Thank you for an excellent article and a lesson from History. I too think this should be sticked on the site somewhere.

    @Alec @BFR @Laszlo @Chris Riley – On Nutall & Stoke

    I agree with you there has been a consistent pattern of claims and then retractions which doesn’t pass the sniff test at all.

    The Labour candidate’s checkered history of tweets is hardly inspiring either.

    The Tories have been campaigning in Stoke, just in a more low key manner than Copeland. I expect their vote to hold up and that will probably deny UKIP the numbers they need to overturn Labour.

    Farage reckons that turnout will only be 30% and UKIP will win because their voters will turn out en masse.

    Looking at turnout figures for by-elections that 30% figure is certainly possible. http://www.ukpolitical.info/by-election-turnout.htm

    Whether the rest of his assertion is proven correct is another matter. Though he’s got good prediction form at the moment.

    @Saffer @Allan Christie

    May’s locals are looking dire in Scotland for Labour, but are just reflecting the new reality there. If they really end up around 15%, and there is nothing to suggest they won’t, then Dugdale surely must resign.

  2. Apparently, Farage and Nuttall have fallen now out… but with their closeness to Trump campaigning, it may be a decision to bury the old bad news under new bad news.

  3. @Danny “Head deciders went Remain, heart deciders went leave. And I undertand their sentiment, but I dont want to end up picking vegetables in the rain.”

    You could always hum Jerusalem when picking those spuds!

    But seriously. Even if we lost a massive 50% of our exports to the EU and we did not increase any elsewhere (taken together, highly unlikely) we’d only be approximately 5.5% in GDP terms worse off.

    The last recession was considerably greater than that.

    So I don’t buy these armageddon arguments.

  4. I thought this was an early April Fool’s joke but apparently Momentum are doing a tour of Labour Northern Heartlands starting on April 1st.

    It’s called, “The World Transformed” to make sense of Brexit.

    Abbott and Lewis will be joined by Rachael Maskell and John McDonnell.

    Talk about tone deaf. Why would you have two people who resigned the Shadow Cabinet over Article 50 plus Abbott of all people to do this?

  5. @Sea Change

    The largest Q on Q fall in the last recession was 2.2%.

    If you consider the upheaval the last recession caused, a 5% drop in GDP could reasonably be expected to destroy UKIP, utterly discredit the Eurosceptic cause and thereby end the coalition between pragmatists and idealists that constitutes the modern Conservative Party.

    The event we ought to all be watching closely are the French elections. A Le Pen victory would embolden the Right.

    However, the increasingly likely event of a Macron victory would be much more interesting as the current political Establishment, especially on the Right, appear to be feverishly trying to maximise the chance of an En Marche style movement developing and driving a coach and horses right through the middle of the dysfunctional status quo. I, for one, would greatly enjoy being part of that happening.

  6. Sea Change,
    You forget the multiplier effect. GDP is money changing hands, which it does repeatedly. That is how a government can borrow, spend into the economy and get back as much or more in extra revenue than it borrowed.

    If Brexit eradicted exports to the value of 5% GDP, then that money would fail to go to employees, suppliers, etc, who would fail to pay taxes upon it, sack their own employees, not buy things and on and on and on. The drop in exports (and potentially also in imports) would be a catalyst eating its way through the economy.

    RollsRoyce seems to have managed to lose £4bn on currency deals related to manufacturing only generating £1bn of profit, all as a consequence of Brexit. Thats just a side effect, weakening the company: They are in a still weaker position if they lose european preference on their products if hard Brexit actually takes place. If they lost half their european business they would likely be bust.

  7. @Neil A

    Maybe some stuff can be outsourced but with current tech it’s prolly difficult to investigate a break in from an office in India. Of course one day when we have robots for everything…

    Regarding basic income, you might be interested to learn that it was announced last month that Finland have begun their trial…


    “Finland has become the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens an unconditional monthly sum, in a social experiment that will be watched around the world amid gathering interest in the idea of a universal basic income.

    Under the two-year, nationwide pilot scheme, which began on 1 January, 2,000 unemployed Finns aged 25 to 58 will receive a guaranteed sum of €560 (£475). The income will replace their existing social benefits and will be paid even if they find work.

    Kela, Finland’s social security body, said the trial aimed to cut red tape, poverty and above all unemployment, which stands in the Nordic country at 8.1%. The present system can discourage jobless people from working since even low earnings trigger a big cut in benefits.

    “For someone receiving a basic income, there are no repercussions if they work a few days or a couple of weeks,” said Marjukka Turunen, of Kela’s legal affairs unit. “Working and self-employment are worthwhile no matter what.”

    The government-backed scheme, which Kela hopes to expand in 2018, is the first national trial of an idea that has been circulating among economists and politicians ever since Thomas Paine proposed a basic capital grant for individuals in 1797.

    Attractive to the left because of its promise to lower poverty and to the right – including, in Finland, the populist Finns party, part of the ruling centre-right coalition – as a route to a leaner, less bureaucratic welfare system, the concept is steadily gaining traction as automation threatens jobs.

    A survey last year by Dalia Research found that 68% of people across all 28 EU member states would “definitely or probably” vote in favour of some form of universal basic income, also known as a citizens’ wage, granted to everyone with no means test or requirement to work.”

  8. Seems like there are rather more trials in the pipeline…

    “Basic income experiments are also due to take place this year in several cities in the Netherlands, including Utrecht, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Wageningen and Groningen. In Utrecht’s version, called Know What Works, several test groups will get a basic monthly income of €970 under slightly different conditions.

    One will get the sum as unemployment benefit, with an obligation to seek work – and sanctions – attached. Another will get it unconditionally, whether or not they seek work. A third will get an extra €125 providing they volunteer for community service. Another will get the extra €125 automatically, but must give it back if they do not volunteer.

    The Italian city of Livorno began giving a guaranteed basic income of just over €500 a month to the city’s 100 poorest families last June, and expanded the scheme to take in a further 100 families on 1 January. Ragusa and Naples are considering similar trials.

    In Canada, Ontario is set to launch a C$25m (£15m) basic income pilot project this spring. In Scotland, local councils in Fife and Glasgow are looking into trial schemes that could launch in 2017, which would make them the first parts of the UK to experiment with universal basic income.”

  9. @Danny

    “The model would be taxation of companies or their Uk owners who operate factories abroad. If the concept of globaliation is that work moves elsewhere, well thats just fine so long as we all still get paid. If we don’t still get paid, then the globalisation model isnt going to work.”


    Well that’s quite handy if we can make it work. I suppose if it proves quite costly we might need that mechanism alongside more people in work. I worry a bit about all these zero hour, gig economy jobs not paying enough, plus the overpopulated elite thing. And it would help to drive down costs of rent and essentials. But it’s early days…

  10. @RAF

    “When historians look back on the 1980s with fresh eyes they will lament the speed with with we destroyed our old industries without giving a thought to the fact that somewhere down the line an over-reliance on the services sector would come back to haunt us.”


    Indeed, especially given the popularity of our language, such that there are many, many people abroad to outsource our call centre, and many other service sector jobs to….

  11. “And it would help if we drive down costs of rent and essentials.” Is less ambiguous…

  12. @Syzygy

    I have just listened to the Stoke Central hustings and tbh Paul Nuttall was not impressive … and that was before he agreed that he would be prepared to water board a 10y terrorist for information!

    The 25y old Tory candidate and Gareth Snell for Labour were far and away the stronger candidates.

    I would not be surprised by the Conservatives doing a great deal better than expected in Stoke. I remember how their campaigns in the 2015GE 40/40 strategy were very hidden but it is impossible to know what sort of local data base they might possess to facilitate their micro-targetting.

    Labour are only beatable by a concerted joint UKIP/Conservative effort.

    UKIP seem to have stumbled from crisis to crisis around Paul Nuttall, which does not help one bit in their efforts to take the seat.

    I read a New Statesman article about the difference in the postal vote/GOTV operation between UKIP and Labour. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are very good at this, and it makes a real difference. UKIP’s GOTV operation has been shown to be much less effective – witness the failure of UKIP to get their star man, Mr Farage, elected on numerous occasions, even in strong UKIP areas. They are simply not competitive enough on the ground when fighting constituency elections to tip the seat their way.

    I know from personal experience the difference a good postal vote/GOTV operation makes. A few years ago in a Council election (standing as a Green), on ballots from the regular votes I was neck and neck with the Conservative for second in a strong Labour seat (Labour polling at 60%). Then the postal ballots turned up and the Conservatives doubled their vote.

    It seems to me that Labour are heading for a winning margin of about 10% in Stoke. Copeland looks a harder fight fort Labour, and I think that is 50/50 in the balance for them.

  13. @Sea Change – I think your attitude of how things might be if we suffered a GDP loss is rather quaint. What I don’t think any leavers actually realise is the deep weakness the economy is currently suffering from.

    We celebrate when GDP growth reaches 2% – despite the fact that this is well below trend and population growth is running at around 0.6% anyway. This is still with a stonking great deficit, a record debt, and interest rates lower than ever before in the 400 year history of the national debt. The economy has been on life support since 2008.

    Aongside this, presumably your optimism blinds you to the fact that education, NHS, mental health and social care services, prisons etc are all collapsing under the weight of austerity, with much worse to come.

    I’ll tell you this now – a loss of 0.5% of GDP following Brexit will feel like Armaggedon, against this backdrop.

    As ever, it’s the unanswered questions that astonish people like me. As Rafael Behr puts it in today’s Guardian – “What will you do on the morning of formal separation from the EU that you could not have done the day before?”

    There will be negative impacts from Brexit, of that should have no doubt at all. Sadly, no one stopped us from addressing the critical issues we face which have caused the concern that lead to Brexit. Leavers will be a sorry bunch once these chickens come home to roost.

  14. @Alec

    We celebrate because in the context of expectations, and of global growth rates, 2% is a handsome achievement.

    If we are doing it wrong, so is most of the rest of the world, and they’re not Brexiting.

    I do agree that there will be tangible pain from Brexit, but I am not hubristic enough to make predictions as to how much. It will largely depend on decisions that haven’t been taken yet. I very much doubt that “Leavers will be a sorry bunch” however. Polls appear to show that most UK leavers expect the pain and support leaving anyway.

    As to Behr’s comment, I think it’s a bit puerile. Day to day life for ordinary people goes on pretty much monotonously whatever their constitutional status. What could Americans do the day after Cornwallis surrendered that they couldn’t do the day before? What would Scots be able to do the day after seceding from the UK that they wouldn’t be able to do the day before?

    This for me illustrates the reality gap on the left. Ardent remainers are pining for, and campaigning for, things that are pretty much alien to many of their target audience. Your average family in Stoke is not that bothered as to whether their son or daughter will be able to study nuclear physics in Austria or whether they can hire staff from Romania.

    For what it’s worth I too disagree with Sea Change’s assessment of how bad a large GDP drop would feel to the UK, and I agree that some ardent Leavers are overly sunny about prospects.

  15. Alec

    “There will be negative impacts from Brexit, of that should have no doubt at all.”

    and there will positive impacts of Brexit of that you should have no doubt.

    Just to keep the site in balance IMO

  16. Neil A

    A balanced view i can totally agree with. Off to the allotments have a good day all.

  17. @Chris Riley “The largest Q on Q fall in the last recession was 2.2%.”

    Yes but the recession as a whole over several quarters was far greater and the country survived.

    Remember the likelihood of us losing 50% of our EU exports is extremely unlikely even with tariffs due to the drop in the pound.

    My point was in 2008/9 we suffered the worst recession since the 1930s and I don’t believe the worst case scenarios for Brexit can be as bad as that.

    Obviously I have a more optimistic view of what will happen. I believe this country will stand on its own two feet just fine. And yes it will be worth some short term pain if it comes to that.

    Re: The French Election.

    It’s certainly interesting. Remember we have the Dutch elections next month first.

    Le Pen’s economic policies are protectionist, statist and mainly left wing. Many would be a disaster considering the anemic state of the French economy. She want’s to lower retirement age, introduce trade barriers and further protect the already obscenely protected French civil servants.

    Macron offers a slightly more liberalised economic vision than Hollande’s and is basically the status quo candidate in my view.

    @Alec I’m well aware of the fact that the country needs to rebalance its economy and also needs to take some some hard decisions on sustainable funding of its services. I certainly think ever increasing numbers of younger immigrant workers is unsustainable both environmentally and culturally.

  18. @neil A – “If we are doing it wrong, so is most of the rest of the world, and they’re not Brexiting.”

    No one is wrong here, and if you read my post carefully, I do say ‘we celebrate…’, with no reference to Brexit or leavers. The point is that 2% is historically very weak growth, and we haven’t got back to trend since 2008, so any loss of growth from this weak point will feel painful. There is a need to point this out when people like @Sea Change imply that losing 5.5% wouldn’t feel so bad as it was less than the last recession. My point is that we are now feeling the real pain from that last recession.

    I also didn’t fully explain Behr’s point, which is why you’ve missed the point of that. In his article, it was effectively addressed to the government, rather than the British people. He is saying that we have deep systemic problems which need addressing, but none of the leaders of the leave campaign have been able to explain what government measures we could initiate on Brexit Day +1 that we can’t initiate now.

    So, for example, on day 1 after ceding from the UK, Scotland could change it’s tax policy, funding for health care, change completely the entire planning system, etc etc.

    What is it about the EU that stops the UK having functioning prisons, properly funded schools, houses at affordable prices for those that need them, a decent health service, care for the elderly, a mental health service that functions and helps ill people?

    If you can’t provide short and simple answers to these questions, then leavers need to say so, and then explain how their supposed benefits from leaving will make a difference.

    Otherwise, as Behr says, there will be trouble ahead. And this is absolutely not a puerile argument – it’s just a basic, central requirement for those claiming Brexit will be good for us. How?

  19. Just before I go, for those interested, the latest from the ONS:-

    ONS Employment Data – Main points for October to December 2016

    Estimates from the Labour Force Survey show that, between July to September 2016 and October to December 2016, the number of people in work increased, the number of unemployed people was little changed, and the number of people aged from 16 to 64 not working and not seeking or available to work (economically inactive) decreased.

    There were 31.84 million people in work, 37,000 more than for July to September 2016 and 302,000 more than for a year earlier.
    There were 23.29 million people working full-time, 218,000 more than for a year earlier. There were 8.55 million people working part-time, 84,000 more than for a year earlier.

    The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 74.6%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

    There were 1.60 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work), little changed compared with July to September 2016 but 97,000 fewer than for a year earlier.
    There were 877,000 unemployed men, little changed compared with July to September 2016 but 48,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

    There were 720,000 unemployed women, little changed compared with July to September 2016 but 50,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

    The unemployment rate was 4.8%, down from 5.1% for a year earlier. It has not been lower since July to September 2005. The unemployment rate is the proportion of the labour force (those in work plus those unemployed) that were unemployed.
    There were 8.86 million people aged from 16 to 64 who were economically inactive (not working and not seeking or available to work), 31,000 fewer than for July to September 2016 and 61,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

    The inactivity rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were economically inactive) was 21.6%, slightly lower than for July to September 2016 (21.7%) and lower than for a year earlier (21.8%).

    Latest estimates show that average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (that is, not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2.6%, both including and excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

  20. @Sea Change – “@Alec I’m well aware of the fact that the country needs to rebalance its economy and also needs to take some some hard decisions on sustainable funding of its services.”

    OK, but don’t dodge the question. What will you be able to do about this after Brexit that we can’t do now?

  21. Interested to catch up with the inflaation data yesterday, and there are some points worthy of note.

    The headline CPI at 1.8% was pretty much all that was reported on, but the ONS also announced that from March, a new headline rate, the CPIH, will become the main measure of inflation. The CPIH measure includes costs of owner occupied home ownership. The ONS have been providing this measure for some time, and it is consistently higher than the CPI – currently running at 2.0%.

    Another interesting nore is that the RPI, which used to be the standard measure of inflation, is now running at 2.8%.

  22. gene editing


    too late for many but so much nonsense is about to be swept away

  23. ALEC

    @”well below trend ”

    Any trend which preceded the credit crunch & banking crisis is now meaningless……………..except to remind us what an economy built on cheap credit & unsustainable debt looks like.

    Mind you we shouldn’t need too much reminding because we are, in many ways, still in it.

    The answer to Raphael Behr’s question is-vote for a Government which has the power to freely choose to legislate in UK without intervention by EU insdtitutions.

  24. Daibach

    “There are those who only receive their news from unreliable news sources, and are therefore susceptible to fake news.”

    I was watching the Democrat party convention on twitter – some free lance guy wandering around filming the Sanders people protesting about Clinton – he followed them after they left the convention and went to a local park to dance around.

    Next day TV news – forget which one – left out the Sanders protests completely but showed the dancing people except they said they were celebrating Clinton’s nomination.

    total pack of lies

    another example was when Clinton collapsed and the media said it was nothing but some guy filmed it and uploaded it to the internet so they had to come clean

    stuff like that – where the mainstream media’s lies get caught out by social media is why they’re pushing this “fake news” line

  25. @TOH

    One aspect of the employment data you missed:

    “Other figures showed that the number of non-UK nationals working in the UK increased by 233,000 to 3.48 million compared with the same period a year ago.
    There was a small rise in the number of workers born outside the European Union, but a small drop in the number of workers born in other EU countries.”

    In other words, employees from areas where the government has full control of immigration increased, while those enjoying EU free movement fell. A straw in the wind?


    You suggest a 5.5% hit to GDP from loss of EU exports wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    You forget the catastrophic effect this would have on our already disastrous trade deficit. We export about £220bn a year to the EU. A 50% drop would increase our overall trade deficit from £40bn to an unimaginable and unsustainable £155bn (ceteris paribus)

  26. @mrjones

    “gene editing”


    yep, it’s pretty amazing stuff…

  27. RAF

    “And yet they chose as the one to address this broken system one of its chief beneficiaries…Who promptly stuffed his cabinet fully of several others!”

    would doing anything about it stop sexism! would doing anything about it stop racism!
    Hilary Clinton (from memory so not exact)

  28. @Alec

    What will you be able to do about this after Brexit that we can’t do now?

    The answer is simple: not much. As someone pretty ambivalent about Brexit, I think we are making far too much of its significance. I think things will run along in much the same way.

    The biggest problem, as Portillo recently said on This Week, is that government is preoccupied with Brexit and is not concentrating on the tasks in hand.

    And TM is allowed to do this because the Opposition is so useless.

    Why on earth don’t Labour say that they would reduce the deficit, fund social care and the NHS, and much else, by cutting HS2, Heathrow 3 and Hinkley Point?

    Brexit? A lot of fuss about nothing.

    Greece? Now that’s a big deal.

  29. MILLIE

    @”Greece? Now that’s a big deal.”

    It should be!

    But how many times have we said that-only for the EU/ECB/IMF to lend ( more) & pretend ( they can repay)?

    What would make things really interesting is if Trump tells the IMF that USA taxpayers ( it’s biggest funder) are no longer interested in keeping Greek non-taxpayers in the manner to which the EU has made them accustomed .

  30. @Colin

    As you say, we’ve been here before. And if I recall correctly, we both knew that the last ‘solution’ wouldn’t work. There is no way that they can repay the debt, so the quicker this is acknowledged, the better for all.

    Greece and the migrant crisis undoubtedly led to Brexit. Plus the insulting treatment handed out to Cameron’s renegotiation.

    Of the three, Greece is the most unforgivable.

  31. Universal Basic Income:

    This report from LSE blogs is worth a read:


    One of the features of this idea that I find interesting, is that it’s not only the rich countries that are beginning to take it seriously. I’ve seen references to proposals /trials in both Nigeria, and India.

  32. MILLIE

    I agree -there is no way. The problem is that IMF cannot lend to borrowers who cannot repay-so they keep on asking for Greece to squeeze spending & raise taxes more & more .

    The disaster was caused when Greece entered the EuroZone after repeatedly failing to meet EU “economic criteria”.

    We will see what happens on Feb 20th.

  33. Globalisation:

    The discussion above reminded me of the “elephant graph”, that some people have described as “the most powerful chart of the last decade”. This shows that globalisation has done very well for people in developing countries, and for the wealthier people in rich countries. The working classes in the developed world have not seen any benefits. In relative terms, they’ve been left behind.

    The BBC has a report at

    There are also plenty of other reports, elsewhere.

  34. “Greece and the migrant crisis undoubtedly led to Brexit. Plus the insulting treatment handed out to Cameron’s renegotiation.”

    I think we can pretty much all agree on that. As I have said for years now, the only solution for greece is for the EU to recognise that a sensible debt relief package is essential, and the IMF has been telling them this for a good long while now. One of the positives of Trump’s election is that the US may well now force the issue. If the IMF pulls out, then the EZ nations will need to either take full responsibility for future bail outs or accept the inevitable.

    I also think that the critique of the EU’s attitude to Cameron’s renegotiation needs to be slightly modified. They didn’t treat it with very much respect, only because he didn’t. I was posting at the time, just before he presented his proposals, how awful he had been in the process. He actually said publicly that he wanted the UK to stay in the EU, before he had even presented his package of measures.

    No wonder he was treated like an irritating child who wasn’t worth spending any time on – he had already told them he wanted to stay.

    I do hold other EU leaders partly responsible, as they could have foreseen the wider sense of anxiety within the EU electorate, but we can’t blame them for the fact that we sent a gloriously unprepared PM to negotiate with them who everyone knew just wanted to get a few crumbs to satisfy enough voters to deliver a remain vote that would keep his party quiet.

  35. @Alec
    re: Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’

    Completely agree.

    As for Greece, I am reminded that Ireland’s banks did not foreclose on their ‘bankrupt’ developers when the market collapsed. Instead, they allowed them to continue to trade, but required no interest payments.

    This meant that the property market in Ireland did not spiral further downwards, the companies continued in business and finished the houses they had started, and the banks eventually recovered a lot of their money when things improved.

    I would tell the Greeks something similar. You still owe the money, but we will let you repay, free of interest, when your economy improves. This would save the euro, give the Greeks some breathing space, and give the lenders the best chance of recovering their debt.

  36. The ‘elephant graph’ and the universal basic income experiment are two interesting aspects of Brexit, I think.

    One is a pretty damaging example of the adverse effects of globalisation, which has been seen both in and out of the EU.

    The other is an experiment at making lives better now being run in several places, both in and out of the EU.

    To my mind, both of these demonstrate that in or out of the EU is something of a red herring – it doesn’t cause our problems, or prevent us from dealing with them, and leaving won’t end those problems or permit any new solutions we don’t already have.

    It does, as has already been pointed out, absorb endless amounts of government time, that could have been put towards finding the solutions, so in that regard, even without the negative direct effects of leaving, we can agree that it is damaging.

    I do find it interesting that has been a deafening silence to that fundamental question – what can the PM do on Brexit Day+1 that she can’t do now to make the UK better?

  37. @Alec

    In the short-term, not a lot apart from having more control over VAT. In the medium term reforming regulations and having new trade deals. The state pension age is clearly unsustainable and will have to rise quite dramatically. Some treatments on the NHS are not going to be free for all in the future as new advanced treatment costs escalate and the population lives longer. Perhaps one day medical science will end up reducing the costs of health but not in the short to medium term.

    We as a country still have not come to terms with living within our means. We have the farcical situation that we are giving away close to 14 billion in foreign aid a year that we don’t even have. We have to borrow this money to then give it away.

    There’s nothing wrong with foreign aid, health for all etc but it has to be sustainable.


    You are looking at things as if they would be frozen in aspic. Clearly we would start trading more with others and might import less from the EU. I’m saying a 50% reduction would be as about as bad as it could possibly get but this doesn’t mean we would face catastrophe as some people like to claim. I certainly don’t think Danny will have to dig up vegetables in the rain!

  38. @SAFFER

    Yes that is the elephant in the room. There has been wealth redistribution from the working and middle classes to the developing world.

    People were okay with it if their standards of living also went up. And they did because consumables dropped steadily in price over the last 25 years.

    I remember when a VCR was considered a luxury and was expensive. Before they were phased out they were going for 30 quid.

    The issue now is most day to day items have already been commoditized so there are fewer areas to find savings. Plus the wages in the developing world are rising, increasing production costs now.

    Therefore only real income increases are going to offset this decline in the West. How to do that is the issue.

    43% of working adults have now been taken out of the Tax bracket again giving them an increase in standard of living. But that is a one-off bonus.

    You don’t need to be a genius to work out that we face a serious problem.

  39. @Alec

    You know my answer.

    End freedom of movement from EU countries to the UK, with the intention of reducing net population growth in the UK and thereby easing the demand for new housing and infrastructure.

    As that’s pretty much the only thing I was/am hoping to get from Brexit that’ll do me.

    In a way its the wrong question. It’s like asking what the purchase of two new aircraft carriers will do to reduce waiting times for hip replacements in Bournemouth. Nothing whatsoever, but that’s not what it’s intended for…

  40. @Carfrew ” 68% of people across all 28 EU member states would “definitely or probably” vote in favour of some form of universal basic income, ”
    I’m late again, but suppose that 68% also decided not to work?

  41. SeaChange: “You are looking at things as if they would be frozen in aspic.”

    Well, indeed. That’s why I added ceteris paribus (all other things being equal). You have to have a starting point before tweaking other variables.

    But you haven’t addressed my central point: the massive loss of exports to the EU that you posit as a worst case scenario would lead to such a massive trade deficit that something close to economic collapse would ensue. Others here with knowledge of economics might like to speculate on the impact of a £150bn trade deficit. A really huge depreciation in the £, for starters (£1=50 cents? Something like that). 1970s style inflation as a consequence. Unemployment doubled, perhaps. IMF bailout with Greek-style conditions.

    We don’t want to go there.

    @ Alec: “I do find it interesting that has been a deafening silence to that fundamental question – what can the PM do on Brexit Day+1 that she can’t do now to make the UK better?”

    Well, it’s been called puerile by one poster here, which is one way of handling an awkward question. And Sea Change has offered a couple of suggestions, viz:

    “more control over VAT. In the medium term reforming regulations and having new trade deals.”

    Stirring stuff! If the government’s ability to set vat where it wants it is constrained by the EU, you would expect to see the rates bumping up against the limits now, but they aren’t.

    And suggestions as to which regulations will be binned have been thin on the ground. Andrea Leadsom had a go, promising a ‘bonfire of red tape’. All she could come up with was:

    “No more 6ft EU billboards littering the landscape,” she said. “No more existential debates to determine what counts as a bush, a hedge, or a tree. And no more ridiculous, bureaucratic three-crop rule.”

    The only billboards I’ve seen littering fields are the “Vote Leave” ones. But it’s good to know that in future there will be no difference in the definition of a hedge, tree and bush. As for the three-crop rule, that was agreed by all EU agro ministers (including the UK) in 2013 to get large monoculture farms to introduce a bit of crop rotation for biodiversity. If we opposed it so much, why didn’t we vote against it? And why wasn’t it an issue in the UK media and parliament in 2013?


    @” But it’s good to know that in future there will be no difference in the definition of a hedge, tree and bush”

    Actually , the subject on which you touch-albeit with the flippancy of ignorance-is , for me, one of the most important topics on which UK Governments will have to expend great thought as they grapple with post their new post Brexit legal “competence”

    Replacing the CAP regime with something which rewards real environmental conservation outcomes, rather than mere possession of acreage, whilst thinking through from scratch UK’s consumption & production of Food in a Global Marketplace will test DEFRA severely.
    Civil Servants & Politicians alike will need to think very deeply ( for once) about this area before presenting voters with something they haven’t had for decades-a UK Policy for the use of Agricultural Land & Environmental Conservation on it.


  43. Agriculture in the United Kingdom uses 69% of the country’s land area, employs 1.5% of its workforce and contributes 0.62% of its gross value added The UK produces less than 60% of the food it eats.


    No doubt Andrea Leasdom & her Shadow are busy crafting a post Brexit Policy on this matter for UK voters to consider :-)

  44. Alec – “The point is that 2% is historically very weak growth, and we haven’t got back to trend since 2008, so any loss of growth from this weak point will feel painful.”

    Actually the bulk of the slow growth in 2016 was in Q1.

    Q1 0.3%
    Q2 0.6%
    Q3 0.6%
    Q4 0.6%


    Post referendum we were above trend, and it looks like that will continue.

  45. “Agriculture in the United Kingdom uses 69% of the country’s land area, employs 1.5% of its workforce and contributes 0.62% of its gross value added”


    I bet if we used some of the land for storage it’d do better than that…

  46. …………and then Civil Servants & Politicians can start to think about Post Brexit Regional & Industrial Policy :-


    Frankly I don’t think they know what will hit them when they have to start thinking about the expenditure of billion of pounds of taxpayers money , which hitherto they just sent to Brussels for recycling in UK.

  47. Alec – “What is it about the EU that stops the UK having functioning prisons, properly funded schools, houses at affordable prices for those that need them, a decent health service, care for the elderly, a mental health service that functions and helps ill people? ”

    Being unable to plan due to unexpected fluctuations in population?

    For example, planning for schools funding used to be done by looking at birth records and estimating when you needed to expand (or reduce) school places. But if you have planned on that basis, and a whole bunch of people suddenly turn up in your town from the EU with children in tow, and without giving you several years notice that they would be arriving, then your planning gets stuffed, doesn’t it?

    Ditto prison population, housing and everything else.

  48. @DAVE

    “I’m late again, but suppose that 68% also decided not to work?”


    Well that’s what I was saying in some of my posts. We might need quite a few to work for the numbers to add up.

    However, it’s complicated. Some might choose to be carers, which might pay for itself. Some might do useful voluntary work that could save money, flood defences etc….

    With no penalty for working, more might choose to work as well. It’ll be easier to build up a career starting part time, without tax credit nightmares etc.

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