Is it really the case that Economic success is negatively correlated with Sporting success?

Wednesday, 30 April 2014 - 6:00pm
Museum of London





Overview

The lecture will look at the links between sporting success and economic progress. It will look in detail at the Ashes cricket context, just after two Ashes series have been completed. It will also look at rugby and soccer.

 






Transcript of the lecture

30 April 2014
 
Is it really the Case that Economic Success 
is Negatively Correlated with Sporting Success?
 
Professor Douglas McWilliams
 
 
Introduction
 
May I first apologise for having been unwell at my last lecture and unable to deliver the lecture. I am very grateful indeed to Charles Davis who delivered a talk on the Budget in my place. I will include some of the key elements of the talk that I had intended to give in March in today’s lecture – though it will be interesting to see how I can blend a discussion of Ashes cricket with one on public spending.
 
This is my last lecture and I am very grateful to those of you who have stayed the course. It has been rather harder work than I had predicted but one of the unexpected benefits has been that I have learned a lot more about some of the subjects that I have tackled.
 
The lecture is planned to have four parts. The first two will take about fifteen minutes each and the last two about five minutes each.
 
The first part of the lecture will look at sports and the economy with particular reference to Ashes cricket. My theory – which I have discussed before – is that there can be a negative link between the economy and sporting performance. I will look at the evidence for this from Ashes cricket.
 
The second part of the lecture will pick up some themes from my whole lecture series, which I think, are worth highlighting. I will go into some detail on the relationship between public spending and the economy.
 
The third part of the lecture will deal with the issues and consequences of Scottish independence. I have been asked about this in the Q&A session after just about every lecture and feel that I have not yet given a satisfactory answer. I will try to do so in this part of this lecture.
 
The final part of the lecture will link some of the earlier parts. One of the arguments, which I have developed in my lecture series, is that some of the economic consequences of globalisation are likely to be difficult for many to accept politically. Yet if democracy is to survive, people have to accept that – as the Rolling Stones put it – ‘you can’t always get what you want’.
 
I will therefore put forward some suggestions for resuscitating political tolerance under the general theme – ‘Is it possible to have democracy if you do not play cricket?’ 
 
Obviously – before you decide in advance that the answer to the question is clearly ‘no’ – playing cricket is used in a metaphoric sense in this case!
 
Economic Prowess and Sporting Success
 
There are two opposing stories on the relationship between economic performance and sporting success
 
1) GDP growth and sporting performance positively correlated (Olympic medals etc)  
 
2) Sport as a route out of poverty.
The theory that GDP growth and sporting performance are positively correlated is mainly associated with studies of Olympic Medal performance.
 
There have been many studies of this (Kiviaho and Makela 1978 ; Baimbridge 1998 ; Condon et al. 1999 ; Kuper and Sterken 2001 ; Hoffmann, Ging and Ramasamy 2002, 2004 ; Tcha and Pershin 2003 ; Bernard and Busse 2004 ; Johnson and Ali 2004 ; Matros and Namoro 2004 ). The researchers utilised Olympic medal counts as a dependent variable, to represent Olympic success, and socio-economic variables as independent variables. Some authors tried to improve on the methodology of the previous studies by utilising weighted medal counts, modified regression analysis, and accounting for heteroskedasticity (Condon et al. 1999; Tcha and Pershin 2003; Bernard and Busse 2004). 
 
These studies find that ‘Two macro-economic variables, namely GDP and population, were consistently associated with sporting success’.
 
Supporting this has been China’s rise up the Olympic medal tables as the economy has taken flight.
 
The alternative theory is that people’s focus on sport is enhanced by poverty . The argument here is that if people have few alternatives for becoming successful economically but one of the routes open to them is sport, a significant proportion will chose this route and this will improve the national performance at sport. As one of the major books on sport and society points out ‘Historically, sport used to be a possible route out of poverty in the Western world’ .
 
So different theories could be consistent either with Ashes cricket performance being positively correlated with economic success or negatively correlated.
 
So much for theory – what about the facts.
 
Let us look first at the recent experience.
 
The slide here shows Australia’s GDP relative to UK GDP as globalisation started to affect things and raise the prices of natural resources. You can see that Australia’s GDP has risen from about 25% of the size of the UK economy to over 50% and is still rising, though there was a ‘blip’ from 2009 to 2013 when the commodity boom overshot while at the same time the industrial economies slumped with UK GDP down 5% in 2009 in real terms.
The next chart shows the levels of GDP in current prices.
 
As for the cricket, well Australia held the Ashes from 1989 until the 2005 series but won them back again 5-0 in Australia in 2006/07. I was in Australia for that series, occasionally staying in the same hotel as the team, and observed two things – England were an absolute shambles with too many wives, children, girlfriends, coaching staff and remarkably little focus on the cricket.
 
But after that disastrous tour, things improved for the England team as the economy deteriorated. They won the Ashes in 2009 in England while the economy was slumping and then beat Australia by a lot in 2010/11. And repeated the success with a little bit of luck in 2013 before being obliterated in a 5-0 defeat last winter.
 
Now if you look at the graph you can see that the unusual period when England won three Ashes series in a row coincided with the ‘blip’ when the commodity economy overshot while the industrial economies slumped and Australia’s GDP rose very sharply in relation to that of the UK.
 
And England’s 5-0 defeat last winter came as Australian GDP was falling back after the commodity overshoot came to an end and also as the UK economy started to recover. We are now forecasting more than 3% economic growth for the UK this year.
 
So it looks as though the theory works as a useful explanator of the recent period.
 
Let us look back a little further so see what it shows.
 
Obviously for the historic data we are reliant on our data sources of which the best is the Groningen University Centre for Economic Performance data which gives GDP measured at purchasing power parity using 1990 Geary Khamis dollars which for the technically minded are probably the best measure of purchasing power across a range of countries over a long historical period.
 
Because Australia’s population was initially so much smaller than that of the UK it is best to look at GDP per capita.
 
The early economic history of Australia is astounding. Australia had become the wealthiest economy in the world in GDP per capita terms from as early as 1852 and remained so for the whole period till the slump in 1891/2. The 1850s were the step change in the development of Australia – the population spurted and doubled during the decade from 600,000 to 1.2 million. 
 
In 1891/92 there was a huge agricultural slump, the economic effects of which were exacerbated by widespread bank failures, and Australia was in major economic difficulties for 15 years. The economy started to recover in the run-up to the First World War, slowed down in the early 1920s and then boomed in the late 1920s before suffering another dreadful slump after the 1929 Wall Street crash.
 
What happened to the cricket?
 
The Ashes were created in winter 1882/83 (the series was drawn 2-2) and England then went on to win them in seven consecutive series – at a time when Australia remained remarkably prosperous.
 
But then Australia won – in 1891/92, the same year as the Australian economy slumped! GDP I n 1892 in Australia fell in real terms by 12%, its largest ever fall.
 
But in the early 1890s there was a huge agricultural slump, the economic effects of which were exacerbated by widespread bank failures, and Australia was in major economic difficulties for fifteen years. The economy started to recover in the run up to the First World War, slowed down in the early 1920s and then boomed in the late 1920s before suffering another dreadful slump after the 1929 Wall Street crash.
 
Australia dominated the Ashes series of the first half of the 1920 and England won the two series in the second half of the 1920s. Then the age of Bradman started and England won only one Ashes series (the infamous bodyline series) from 1930 to 1953. The age of Bradman coincided with the Depression which hit Australia disproportionately. The Australian economy only really recovered with the War. Living standards in Australia in the late 1930s were no higher than the early 1890s. But while their living standards were depressed, their cricket was spectacularly good.
 
Post war, the relationship between the Ashes and the economy has been less closely linked until recently when the commodity based boom in the Australian economy has created the opportunity for England to start to win again.
 
But of course all this is impressionistic.
 
What do the econometrics show?
 
As my econometrics are a little rusty I have begged the assistance of my Cebr colleague Chris Evans who has done the hard work here – thank you Chris.
 
The next slide shows the correlation matrix between England holding the Ashes and relative unemployment in the UK and Australia, relative GDP per capita in England and Australia and England playing at home.
 
It shows that GDP and holding the Ashes are negatively correlated, unemployment and holding the Ashes are positively correlated and playing at home is positively correlated.
 
Turning this into a regression, the coefficients on GDP and home advantage don’t quite pass the significance test but the unemployment term is strong and statistically significant.
 
Looking at unemployment alone there is a clear and highly significant relationship between England holding the Ashes and the unemployment ratio. If the unemployment rate in the UK gets one percentage point higher and that in Australia stays unchanged, the chances of England holding the Ashes rise by roughly 10% (normally the chances are about 29% so a 10% rise is important).
 
My own pet theory is that as Australia becomes more dominated by the urban activities it will lose some of the toughness that made Australian cricketers so formidable. 
 
You only have to visit rural Australia to realise that genetic selection would force you to be tough and resourceful and to act as a team with your neighbours. You simply wouldn’t survive without these qualities. And as recently as 2006, two thirds of the Australian cricket team came from the 10% of the population that lived outside the cities. But urban Aussies are different beings with what appears to be a fetish for nannying and ‘health and safety’. You can only get watered down beer (max strength 4%) not only at cricket grounds but in any bar within walking distance when a Test match is on. A person pouring a gin and tonic at a Test Match at the Gabba cricket ground in Brisbane got attacked by a SWAT squad of about 30 policepersons after he was seen on close circuit television.
 
So it does seem that when either economy is doing badly and the other one doing well, the one doing badly is more likely to hold the Ashes. Since the Australian economy is forecast to do well in the medium term, it is good news for the England cricketers.
 
The key results of my previous Gresham lectures and their implications
 
My earlier lectures have built up a story, the gist of which is that globalisation makes the world a much tougher place for people like us Westerners who had previously been remarkably privileged. Even poor people in rich countries were pretty well off by the standards of even middle class people in most of the rest the world before the current phase of globalisation started in the late 1960s.
 
My inaugural lecture pointed out that the scale of economic development taking place as China and the emerging economies industrial is unprecedented and also its pace is exceptionally rapid.
 
Because of the speed, whole countries are moving from poverty to respectable middle-income levels in a generation.
 
Because the West developed relatively slowly, our attitudes and culture adjusted as we developed. We developed a taste for a welfare state, for working shorter hours and taking longer holidays.
 
But the East has developed more rapidly and they have not developed a welfare state or started to work shorter hours. In Singapore and Hong Kong GDP per capita is higher than in the UK and yet they still work as many hours a year (effectively about five months more than us!) as they did when they were poorer.
 
They also live longer than just about everyone else in the world, even though in neither case do they have a national health system. Indeed, Singaporeans spend only about 5% of GDP on health – about half what we do – and most indicators suggest that they are healthier than the British.
 
My second lecture pointed out the economic and environmental consequences of most of the world trying to live in the same sort of way that previously was enjoyed by less than 10% of the world’s population. Pressures on the supply of natural resources means that we will have generally higher commodity and energy prices than before, even if the price of oil falls somewhat from where it has been recently.
 
My third lecture reinvented Keynesianism for the 21st century. I pointed out that one of the major constraints on Keynesian policies now was the need for the balance of payments to balance without so large a devaluation as to create inflationary difficulties. This theme was picked up in my ninth lecture which pointed out that then new Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s policy of forward guidance had failed and that the Bank should have a target for money GDP. It was also picked up in my eleventh lecture that pointed out that for the UK to succeed, exports would have to double from their current share of GDP of 30% to 60% by 2050.
 
My fourth lecture looked at making Western economies more competitive. I argued that a policy focus in Western economies had to shift to bringing down the cost of living so that we can have decent standards of living when our pay is squeezed by competition from the emerging economies. I focussed on housing, energy and taxation as spectacular own goals where public policy was pushing up the cost of living when if anything it should be trying to bring that cost down.
 
The fifth lecture looked at the impact of the Chinese savings glut and pointed out that this looked likely to be a medium term feature. In return that means that long-term interest rates will remain low even when they are not distorted downwards by quantitative easing. Which means in turn that asset prices will remain high – so the current prices for art and classic cars are not a bubble (in general) contrary to the article in this week’s Spectator.
 
The sixth lecture identified those economies likely to win and those likely to lose. There was some overlap between the latter category and those covered in my twelfth lecture which was on the euro – which pointed out that although the euro hadn’t helped, it wasn’t the prime cause of the disastrous state of the European economy, which was a much more fundamental lack of competitiveness. This lecture also showed how China had bailed out the euro and how China is using Europe as its Trojan horse in the West, partly in an attempt to weaken American hegemony.
 
The eighth lecture was by far the hardest – I looked at how the combination of technological change and globalisation was increasing inequality of incomes. But the good news is that at the same time, global poverty on the standard definition has been reduced by three quarters. Moreover, development aid and charity has had a minimal effect on this. The world’s most successful globalising economy was the one that had least aid – China. This is one of the scary truths that the global aid industry tries to hide from the public – indeed most anti-poverty campaigners are still promoting socialist policies that would make poverty worse not better.
 
My tenth lecture said that Karl Marx was nearly right – global capitalism meant exploiting the workers and one of our problems in the UK has been not enough exploitation which, up to a point, is actually good for economic growth.
 
A key themes is that the UK is an increasingly small part of the world economy, while emerging Asia is an increasingly large part and that we should no longer compare ourselves only with other European economies or indeed other Western economies but look at Eastern economies as well.
 
It is perfectly true that just because something is done differently in the East does not automatically mean that we should copy them. 
 
Some things that work in the East would not work in the West. 
 
And – provided that we are prepared to pay any costs associated with our choices for public policy – there is no logical reason why we necessarily need to make the same choices as people in other countries, whether in the East or the West.
 
But since we all compete in international markets, we do need to pay our way in the world and that means that any costs that impact on the comparative costs of our internationally traded goods and services need to be absorbed through lower costs elsewhere or through accepting a devalued currency with its impact on the domestic costs of imported goods, services and more especially raw materials and hence on inflation. 
 
But – and this is critical - one of the crucial points emerging from this lecture series is the point from my third lecture that in practice the boost to inflation from the devaluation for some Western economies to be competitive might not be acceptable within any reasonable monetary target. If this is the case, then the economy might not have the choice of simply absorbing the costs of – say – higher public spending without damaging its trading and growth prospects. 
 
Because the emerging economies are offering goods and services at ‘supercompetitive prices’ and also improving their skills and hence productivity very rapidly, the risk of being caught in a trap where it is not possible to cost in a higher public sector without losing competitiveness is considerable. This seems to have been part of the problem in many of the EU economies to which I drew attention in my last lecture which were suffering from long-term low or negative growth.
 
In countries like these, it is simply not possible to afford a high ratio of public spending to GDP without doing considerable damage to growth that, in turn, puts upward pressure on the public spending to GDP ratio. The only solution is lower public spending. If that creates a problem of inadequate demand, taxes can be cut to offset the lower spending, provided that the budgetary situation permits.
 
I showed last time that the UK was set to decline from just under 5% of world GDP around the turn of the century to 2.6% by 2028. Meanwhile the East Asian economies are rising from about 20% of world GDP to 32.6% which by then will be more than double the size of the Western European economy which by then will be only 14.5% of world GDP.
 
This is why we increasingly have to measure ourselves against the driving forces of the world economy in Asia rather than lazily comparing ourselves just with other European economies.
 
Public spending and economic growth
 
The seminal work suggesting that public consumption spending hindered economic growth was by Robert Barro in 1991.
 
His study showed that ‘for 98 countries in the period 1960-1985, the growth rate of real per capita GDP is positively related to initial human capital (proxied by 1960 school-enrolment rates) and negatively related to the initial (1960) level of real per capita GDP. 
 
‘Countries with higher human capital also have lower fertility rates and higher ratios of physical investment to GDP. Growth is inversely related to the share of government consumption in GDP, but insignificantly related to the share of public investment. Growth rates are positively related to measures of political stability and inversely related to a proxy for market distortions’. 
 
There is also an interesting concept called the Scully Curve . This is like the Laffer Curve but has a stronger scientific basis.
 
What it says is that there is a quadratic relationship between economic growth and public spending as a share of the economy. Economic growth varies positively with the share of public spending and negatively with the square of public spending. This gives a curve where initially growth rises with higher public spending but as the quadratic term starts to dominate, the relationship between growth and public spending first levels out and then shows lower growth for higher public spending.
 
When public spending is too low, the economy lacks the public infrastructural support to grow strongly. When it is too high, public spending crowds out the entrepreneurial sector and causes taxes to be so high that they destroy incentives. The latest estimates of the Scully Curve from the Fraser Institute in Canada show that the difference between public spending at 25% of GDP as in much of Asia and 45% as in the UK can be the difference between GDP growth at 1½% per capita per annum and growth at 3%. If this really is the case, it heightens the need to bring the public sector in the UK down as a share of the economy. 
 
The analysis of public spending and growth has developed more dimensions since the initial work. In general, the latest research suggests that educational spending can boost growth and that infrastructural spending at least does not hinder growth, but that other areas of public spending remain generally negative for growth.
 
And they confirm that the damage to growth from public spending rising as a share of GDP grows substantially as the share rises from 40%.
 
We in the UK currently spend close to 45% of GDP though the public sectors although last week’s budget told us that there are plans to bring this down to around 40%. This will be some feat.
 
The latest estimates of the Scully Curve from the Fraser Institute in Canada show that the difference between public spending at 25% of GDP as in much of Asia and 45% as in the UK can be the difference between GDP growth at 1½% per capita per annum and growth at 3%. If this really is the case, it heightens the need to bring the public sector in the UK down as a share of the economy. 
 
What can be done to achieve this?
 
There are examples in Asia of successful economies like Singapore and Hong Kong where they spend around 17% of GDP on public spending as opposed to our 45%. What is interesting is that no one before has tried to work out what we would have to do to match them. I have started this analysis for my lecture tomorrow night and it is most revealing.
 
Obviously Singapore’s 17% does not compare directly with our 45%. Singapore has a Central Provident Fund (CPF) which is not included in the official figures for public spending but whose receipts in 2012 were just over 7% of GDP. This paid for pensions and some sickness benefits. Singapore spends relatively little on its state health system and one should also adjust for that – if you adjust for both, Singapore is actually spending about 28% of GDP on those things on which we spend 45%.
 
But within this the Singaporeans spend twice as much as a share of GDP as we do on defence; three times as much on housing, twice as much on education and five times as much on transport. So many of the critical public services in Singapore are much better funded than they are in the UK.
 
Where they save money is that they spend about half as much on health (though they have lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy than us!) and spend virtually nothing on social security though of course pensions are taken account of through their CPF contributions. In addition they do not spend money on miscellaneous areas of public spending like leisure and agriculture while their law and order costs are half ours.
 
Obviously this is just a cursory analysis and it would be very interesting to look at it in more detail.
 
But what it does suggest is that there is a lot more to be done to bring public spending under control in the UK if we are to return to persistent strong economic growth. As things stand, the economy is likely to grow strongly for a year or two but without better underpinnings the growth could peter out after then.
 
Scottish independence and its implications
 
I have been asked more questions about Scottish independence in recent years than on any other subject except the euro.
 
As a Scot who is intensely proud to be British, I am amazed that my fellow countrymen have any desire to be independent. Certainly the examples of the two areas where Scotland already has independence – the Scottish football team and the Scottish rugby team – are not encouraging to put it mildly. Though the Scottish football team have bounced back in the world rankings to no 22, their typical ranking is about 40 and they have dropped as low as 86th in recent years.
 
The Scottish rugby team is the 10th ranked in the world, comfortably behind any of the other home nations, below Samoa but above Fiji and Tonga.
But I think Tony Blair sold the pass. I am sure he hoped that Scottish home rule would be a destination in itself. But anyone with a working knowledge of history could see that it could only work while the same party controlled both the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament.
 
As someone with a family home in Scotland who visits regularly, it is hard not to notice that the Scottish media behave as if Scotland were independent already. That and that most historically inaccurate film Braveheart have created the groundswell of support for Alex Salmond. And there is an historic separation between Scotland and England – the area north of Newcastle and south of Edinburgh is one of the most sparsely populated parts of the British Isles. My parents live in East Lothian on the northern fringes of the Lammermuirs which is just on the edge of the Borders and I have walked twenty miles due south from their house without seeing any signs of human habitation at all (and of course with no mobile phone signal).
 
Scotland has a traditionally collectivist culture. For much of the past 400 years this has worked well and right up to the 1960s someone who had obtained a number of ‘Highers’ in the school exams in Scotland could be expected to be rather better educated than someone with a degree from one of the lesser English universities (and that is before they turned the polytechnics into universities!). The Scottish education was the envy of the world and contributed to the Scots genius for invention that prepared the way for so much of the modern world.
 
I’d like to make three propositions:
 
First, whether we like it or not, Scottish independence looks very likely. The only circumstance in which I would see it not happening is if there is a very large No majority on 18 September. In many ways a small ‘No’ vote is the worst of all worlds, since unless the SNP lose power, they will keep holding referenda until they either get a yes or a sufficiently large No vote to give up. If you believe as I do that one of the most damaging things is the uncertainty over Scotland’s status, a small No vote is a vote for continued uncertainty.
 
Second, the initial financial negatives for Scotland from independence are much larger than they might appear. The fiscal issue is much smaller than most people think. Scotland actually roughly pays its own way in that the Scottish deficit if Scotland were independent would be much the same per cent of GDP as the UK deficit currently is. The fiscal benefits of North Sea oil are well known. But Scotland has a second hidden fiscal benefit which is its low life expectancy. If Scots lived as long as the English, and everything else were unchanged, Scotland would have a budget deficit about 3% higher as a percentage of GDP than it currently is. Life expectancy in the Calton district of Glasgow rival the lowest in the world at 54 for men – this compares with say Iraq’s 67. 
 
Some industries in Scotland would be boosted by independence. One suspects that tourism industry for example will ultimately benefit. But finance is highly likely to suffer. Although the Scots will probably still use the pound when independent, there is unlikely to be either an economic union or a banking union and it is likely that about a third of Scotland’s financial service jobs will ultimately move south because the bulk of these jobs depend on customers in the rest of the UK. We estimate that without a banking union between 20,000 and 40,000 could move to England, especially to the City of London.
 
Third, many Scots seem to think they are not voting for independence from the rest of the UK but for independence from the laws of economics which they seem to think have been imposed on them by the English. Unfortunately for those who think this, the laws of economics are not subject to referenda and will continue to exist beyond Scottish independence when it occurs.
 
I suspect that an independent Scotland would learn about economics the hard way. There could well be an initial slump as Scotland had to adjust fiscal policies and faced the knock on effect of the damage to some of its key sectors like financial services. Also the rest of the UK has been treated pretty roughly by the pro-independence campaign and I suspect will be in no mood to be especially generous in the divorce settlement. Then there might well a period of tax and spend socialism with its normal negative implications for economic growth. Finally, like Ireland in the 1960s there might well eventually be an economic revival when policy makers, having tried everything else, start to apply common sense. It took the Irish 40 years and cost them about 30% of GDP before they started to apply sensible economic policies post-independence. The Scots consider themselves to be more realistic than the Irish but those Scots who stay in Scotland seem particularly parochial and it might take them some time before they see how it looks from the outside. But by the time they see the light they might have lost as much as 10% in growth and living standards from the slower growth compared with the situation had they stayed in the union.
 
But I should point out that economics has its place – it is not the be all and end all. If I were an enthusiast for Scottish independence I would be quite prepared to pay the costs which I have estimated. 
I have not time to develop my final point so I will just leave it as an observation. Scottish independence will affect the rest of the UK much more than we imagine. I think the Welsh will be particularly badly affected. Welsh independence is not a serious proposal. But the Welsh will start to feel a bit lonely without Scotland. Scotland and Wales got home rule at the same time and while to some extent it has worked in Scotland, in Wales it certainly hasn’t worked economically. And England will look surprisingly different. The extent to which the North of England will be dominated by the affluent South will get greater. Without Scotland, the rest of the country will probably move to the right politically, which may or may not seem a good thing depending on your point of view.
 
But at the same time we should not forget that the ‘Rest of the UK’ (hopefully someone will think of a better name) has a GDP that is still 92% of the GDP including Scotland. Our forecast is that even without Scotland, the rest of the UK would only take another 3 years to overtake France again and would overtake Germany to become Europe’s largest economy about 10 years later than it might have if it included Scotland.
 
Can you have democracy if you do not play cricket?
 
Clearly cricket is a metaphor here. But I was struck by the thought while touring the United States in my classic Aston Martin last year. I had noticed the growth of political partisanship there on both sides. People on the left tend to think of partisanship as only applying to the right-wing. But actually the thing I heard in the US that most saddened me was the comment by one of my old family friends that it was ok for President Obama to abuse the IRS (that is HMRC to those who don’t know the US) to investigate people who are politically opposed to him. I was surprised that a generally sensible fairly liberal minded man could say such a thing.
 
The North Americans are amongst the few English speaking people in the world who don’t play cricket, and I wondered whether the growth in political partisanship was caused by the fact that they didn’t play cricket. The Scots don’t play cricket either in the main part – this may explain a figure as deeply partisan as Gordon Brown!
 
The greatest of all cricket writers, Sir Nevill Cardus wrote in a similar vein to my theory ‘If everything else in this nation of ours was lost but cricket – her constitution, and the laws of England of Lord Halsbury – it would be possible to construct from the theory and the practice of cricket all the eternal Englishness that has gone into the establishment of that Constitution and the laws aforesaid.’
 
Most cricket at club level is played with lousy umpires – the problem is worse with rugby where the incompetence extends to international refereeing. International cricket umpires are surprising good – when they introduced a decision review system with tracker technology into international cricket the thing that surprised most observers was how many decisions international umpires got right – typically over 90%.
 
But it is driven into you at an early age that you cannot play cricket if you argue or attempt to argue with the umpire. Their decisions have to be taken as final. If you think the umpire has made a mistake, it is a mark of honour not to indicate that you think this, even if you are a batsman whose only chance to shine gets foreshortened by an umpiring mistake first ball. And this is excellent training for life. You learn respect for your opponents and to play within the rules and conventions.
 
The relevance of all of this to my Gresham lecture series is that globalisation is going to deliver results that are quite hard to accept for some of us in the West who so far have had it pretty good for generations. 
 
It looks as though the Age of Equality is over. I think many imagined that the progress towards equality was unidirectional. But technology and globalisation have proved them wrong. In the 1960s I used to be amazed at how little extra bosses earned over the workers even when the workers were unionised and used their ingenuity to find ever newer ways of avoiding work while the bosses worked much harder and behaved much more responsibly. But now the income distribution is being stretched out and this process will continue.
 
The public do not really like this and as a result politicians are now competing with each other to impose higher taxes on the rich. Ed Miliband is proposing a return to the 50% top tax rate even when he knows that it will reduce tax revenue because of equality. The Liberal Democrats are proposing a Mansion Tax even though the UK already has the highest taxed residential property in the world because of high stamp duties and capital gains tax on all but your main residence.
 
The electorate will also have to cope with redistribution from household incomes towards corporate profit and with consumer spending growing less fast than GDP.
Meanwhile, as politicians get even more expert in following public moods, they learn to appease these moods by supplying political policies that are like giving sweets to children or McDonalds hamburgers to people of adult age (even if they lack adult tastes).
 
The changes brought about by globalisation mean that the electors can get fewer goodies, But in the age that invented instant gratification, the public want these goodies. If the politicians fail to supply them then they might not be re-elected. Yet if they try to supply them, particularly through taxing wealthier people and companies, they risk removing the oil that keeps the engines of the economy going.
 
There is no easy answer to the problem. But I sense that part of the problem is lack of respect for opponents and for the rules of the game.
 
Whereas in the US, it is normal to blame those on the right of politics for political partisanship, I’m fairly convinced that in the UK the left are the main culprits. They seem to demonise their opponents, thus justifying any foul trick they play on them or most things that they say about them. Hence the attitude to taxing the rich – tax them even if it reduces revenue. Labour and the Lib Dems conspired together to prevent the boundary changes that try to keep Westminster elections reasonably fair from coming in. I was shocked by this and even more shocked that none of the political commentators who might normally be expected to hold politicians to account seemed to think this was immoral. Alex Salmond has been allowed to extend the referendum on Scottish independence to sixteen year olds to try to fiddle the vote in his favour. No one has stopped him. The postal vote is a rich seam of electoral fraud and yet is still allowed with few restrictions – the requirement to vote in person is fundamental to democracy, since it makes fraud much more difficult.
 
Unless we obey the rules and try not to change them to our own party’s advantage; unless we treat people with whom we disagree with respect for their opinions and achievements (even if they are richer than us). Environmentalists have made eco-warrior a term of approbation. Yet those who wish to make war on decisions made by elected governments should be treated with contempt.
 
To accept that the economic system will generate outcomes for areas like equality that are unsatisfactory requires considerable self-discipline. If the country is to cope with economic outcomes that many people will find disappointing, it will need to rediscover such reserves of self-discipline. And one of the few areas where this is ingrained into you is on the sports field, playing cricket.
 
 
 
 
© Professor Douglas McWilliams, 2014