The London Eye

By Ben Walsh
March 10, 2014

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“In their capital city, the English are no longer calling the shots. They are hirelings”. That’s Ben Judah’s description of present day-London, in a NYT op-ed which went viral over the weekend. To Judah, London is a place filled almost exclusively with Russian oligarchs, Qatari princes, tottering post-colonial diplomats, Eastern European laborers, skyscrapers, and slums. Its mission is to placate Russians and their money, most recently in the form of Ukraine policy. Judah sees the Shard — which is Europe’s tallest building and will be filled with offices, Michelin-starred restaurants, and mega-residences — as an emblem of London’s decline. As it seems he intended, Judah elicited strong feelings by lacing his piece with hyperbole and caricature.

The Telegraph’s Sean Thomas skewers Judah’s Shard-as-symbol thesis:

What did you do over the sunny weekend? If you are a Londoner, you probably drank a crate of champagne with your best friend Ivan and several nude escorts, in your flat on top of the Shard. Or so the New York Times would have us believe, according to a rhapsodically stupid article published on Friday.

Thomas also points out that Judah’s image of a Shard filled with plutocrats and prostitutes isn’t accurate: its apartments are unoccupied, and won’t go on sale until the summer.

Allister Heath fisks Judah’s argument and finds seven big problems: among them, Kensington and Chelsea are in fact among the most densely-populated areas in England, and “on most metrics London is astonishingly well integrated”.

The FT’s John McDermott says Judah puts forth “three lazy stories” about London. The first is the idea that the city is becoming less dense. It isn’t, and the real scandal, McDermott, says is the suburbanization of poverty. The second is that foreigners are the cause of London’s problems. The cause, McDermott writes, is ultimately homegrown: “Another way of looking at the Londonograd meme is as investment in our own public policy mistakes”. Third, McDermott disagrees with Judah’s idea that any poverty “in inner London is prima facie evidence of a decadent capital”.

Spear’s sticks up for Judah not on the basis of the “decorative-tile facts”, but because of Judah’s core assertion, which is “dead on the money”. If Britain really “wanted to ‘bankrupt the Putin clique’,” they write, “we probably could, or at least give them a serious kneeing in the balls”.

Felix argues that London is, in fact, becoming more unequal — as global financial centers are wont to do. But, he writes, there’s nothing wrong with welcoming investment into London’s increasingly expensive real estate market. — Ben Walsh

On to today’s links:

Rebuttals
“Cities do better economically when affluent and educated people choose to live there” – Demos

Alpha
Lobbying for alpha: Ackman’s campaign against Herbalife and the “bidding war” for victims – NYT

Explained
Behind the Fed’s 6% dividend payment to banks – David Dayen

Deals
“More than 80% of the global banana trade is controlled by 4 [soon to be 3] companies” – WSJ

Ugh
America’s new manufacturing jobs: temp workers, lower wages, and grueling hours – Lydia DePillis
Eurozone industrial production still hasn’t returned to pre-crisis levels - Jason Karaian
Financial education is a sham – James Kwak

Russia
“What to do when your creditor invades?” – Mitu Gulati
Russia’s per capita income is 3.6 times higher than Ukraine’s – Tyler Cowen

The Fed
“It is likely that wages will emerge as the indicator that matters most for the FOMC” – Gavyn Davies

Headline of the Day
People Are Starting To Worry That A Site Called PonziCoin Might Have Been A Scam – Rob Wile

Study Says
The most beautiful math formula is e^iπ + 1 = 0 - Scientific American

Yikes
The most corrupt little town in Florida – Gawker

Politicking
Marco Rubio’s new budget will contain a “National Regulatory Budget” – WSJ

Oxpeckers
Shares don’t equal reads – Tony Haile

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