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Weekend reading: We might have bigger problems than a bad Brexit

Trigger warning: Thoughts on Brexit and politics more widely, followed by the week’s good reads.

The few innocents who still believed Jeremy Corbyn could be a Bobby Ewing [1] character to wake the country from its bad Brexit [2] dream have had a nightmare week.

The Euro-sceptic Labour leader wrote to Theresa May setting out a Brexit compromise, and as the FT [3] [search result] puts it:

The letter not only shows how the Labour leader is trying to wriggle away from a second referendum, to the frustration of shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.

It is also a symbolic moment that gives succour to the many Labour MPs who are tempted to back the government because they fear a no-deal exit.

Labour MPs are turning on one another, while the right of the long-fractured Tory party is playing some kind of Keyser Söze [4] move against itself.

As this two-year farce approaches a head, you’d find more trust among slip-sliding latecomers to the Red Wedding [5].

No wonder the exasperated EU let slip the pretense [6] that it believes it is negotiating with grown-ups who know what they’re doing.

Surely even the most sensible and sober-minded sovereignty-seeking Leave voter must be embarrassed by now.

Yet Remainers can’t gloat.

Two years in and the Brexiteer MP Kate Hoey is still able to label [7] elected MEP Guy Verhofstadt an ‘unelected bureacrat’ to social media applause, with no effective push back from Remainers or the press.

Meanwhile other Brexiteer MPs state [8] nonsense like “no Marshall Plan for us, only for Germany” – when Britain was the chief beneficiary of the Marshall plan – only to get slapped on the back by a dad’s army of Barry Blimps [9] desperate to stockpile cabbages [10] in an old Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden.

The civil service is paying particular attention [11] in its no-deal contingency planning to those same regions that cheered on Brexit – because those areas will be hardest hit by the no-deal that many of them seem to desire.

And our negotiating strategy? It’s come down to shouting “the EU will sacrifice their politics for economic reasons” whilst defending our Brexit as “more important than economics”.

Honestly, at this point party politics seems irrelevant.

Indeed expressing a view on Brexit nowadays is not so much like revealing something about yourself through a Rorschach test as playing a bookish version of Cards Against Humanity [12].

We’ve gone beyond parody.

Won’t anyone think of the capitalists?

Negotiating Brexit through Parliament has devolved into constitutional Jenga [13] played by blindfolded drunks over a fire pit.

But when the dust settles we’ll (presumably) still be a functioning capitalist democracy – and then the old questions that helped fuel Brexit will return.

Among the most important: What can be done to bring ‘the people’ back to capitalism, and pronto?

To some Monevator readers over the years, my concerns about, say, income inequality [14] or environmental degradation [15] have sounded excessively socialist.

Which is ironic given that among many of my friends and most my family, I’m caricatured as a Vulcan-like free marketeer who knows no such thing as society and only barely has time for Building Societies.

The truth is – insert cliche – somewhere in-between.

I believe capitalism is a force for good, but it must operate within constantly reworked rules designed to spread the bounty of its golden eggs without killing the goose that laid them.

Whenever you propose a new rule – or even just a rule tweak – the laissez-faire ultras accuse you of being a confused Marxist with a share dealing account.

But I’m pragmatic.

There’s abundant evidence that well-regulated capitalist economies lead to huge wealth creation.

So regulate we must.

In contrast, planned economies lead to surplus tractors and starvation, and unfettered capitalism leads to surplus oligarchs, overpaid CEOs, cronyism, and bad taste [16].

Nobody except the oligarchs and CEOs want that, but that’s what we seem to be getting more of.

Few true believers

So I think it’s fair to say capitalism has seen better days in the West.

It works for me and it probably works for you.

It works-with-bells-on for the 1%.

But too many feel left behind, and a fair chunk with good reason.

Rising nationalism – Brexit, Trump – and the daily internecine battle that is politics on Twitter are signs of ebbing faith that capitalism is working.

And given capitalism is the greatest economic tool we have for fostering productivity, innovation, and higher living standards, I find that mildly terrifying.

My article How To Be A Capitalist [17] was my own small attempt to win back some of Thatcher’s childish children [18] (and grandchildren) who sneer at markets and vote for Corbyn while jetting around the world taking selfies on iPhones whilst decked out in designer brands.

I saw Jacob Taylor, the author of The Rebel Allocator [19], express a similar view in a Q&A on Abnormal Returns [20] this week:

“Capitalism itself is under attack. I believe this to be a mistake, perhaps even an existential one for those of us in the US.

It’s easy to take for granted the little everyday ways capitalism conspires to make our lives better.

When was the last time you went to the grocery store and all of the shelves were barren? How do we coordinate to make sure we make the right amounts of everything without too much waste and rarely shortage?

I’d call that a miracle hiding in plain sight.”

There’s a disconnect between the system that supports us and how many of us feel about it.

That’s dangerous. Living with an incoherent and economically pointless Brexit could yet be the least of our concerns.

From Monevator

Our updated guide to help you find the best broker – Monevator [21]

From the archive-ator: Coping with the guilt of losing money – Monevator [22]


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1 [23]

UK watchdog puts property funds on daily watch as outflows surge [Search result]FT [24]

Halifax: UK houses prices already falling in 2019… – City AM [25]

…number of new builds declines sharply on Brexit jitters, too – Guardian [26]

Brexit uncertainty scars prosperity, says Bank of England – BBC [27]

Number of young adults living with parents up 26% in 20 years – Guardian [28]

Gold-plated dilemmas for half a million who opted for pension freedoms [Search result]FT [29]

Japanese pensioners are pursuing financial independence by going to jail – BBC [30] [h/t Luca]

No-fault divorce to become law – Guardian [31] [32]Your regular reminder that most active managers don’t beat bad markets – Indexology [33]

Products and services

Lloyds’ new open banking app feature shows rival products under one roof – ThisIsMoney [34]

A pitch for using a low-volatility emerging market ETF – BlackRock [35]

Ratesetter will give you a free £100 [and me a cash bonus] if you invest £1,000 for a year – Ratesetter [36]

Poundland has sold 20,000 £1 engagement rings – Guardian [37]

A look at ‘Green Bonds [38] [aka Climate Bonds]DIY Investor UK [39]

Comment and opinion

The patient investor sees the world more clearly – Pragmatic Capitalism [40]

Do you really need to chase the market’s return to hit your goals? – Demonitized [41]

Buffett’s Betas – Morningstar [42]

Managing retirement drawdown – Retirement Investing Today [43]

The real cost of raising a child – The Humble Penny [44]

Should pension funds invest in riskier assets, just because they can? – Young F.I. Guy [45]

Where big leaps happen – Morgan Housel [46]

Classic cars as an asset class – CXO Advisory [47]

Why now’s the time to sort out your PPI – David Sawyer [48]

Work Bitch – The Escape Artist [49]

Using free cash flow to find safer dividends – John Kingham [50]

No pain, no premium – Flirting with Models [51]

There’s no good reason to trust blockchain technology – Wired [52]


No-deal Brexit risks rise as UK-Japan trade talks stall [Search result]FT [53]

New ‘Brexit Party’ backed by Nigel Farage gets the go-ahead – Mirror [54]

Britain’s financial heartland unbowed as Brexit risks deepen – Reuters [55]

Government’s Brexit crisis command centre starts hiring civilians – Guardian [56]

Imperial College researchers [tenuously] claim Brexit could cause more heart attacks – I.C. [57]

Kindle [58] book bargains

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – £1.99 on Kindle [59]

ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever by Jason Fried – £1.99 on Kindle [60]

Unscripted: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Entrepreneurship by MJ DeMarco – £0.99 on Kindle [61]

Off our beat

My disabled son: “The Nobleman, the philanderer, the detective”BBC [62]

The battle for the future of Stonehenge – Guardian [63]

No thank you, Mr. Pecker – Jeff Bezos [64]

If you’re a fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History as well as Game of Thrones, you’ll love this [Podcast] – via YouTube [65]

The death of a dreamer – Quillette [66]

Ghost apples [Image] – via Twitter [67]

And finally…

“Just about everything you learned in school about life is wrong, but the wrongest thing might very well be this: Being well rounded is the secret to success.”
– Seth Godin, The Dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit [68]

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  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”. [ [72]]