Since OPEC decided not to cut production at its meeting last week the tumble in the oil price has generally been considered a good thing for the consumer. What no-one has concentrated on is the fact that declining oil wealth, particularly in the cash-rich Middle East, could make banks in the UK more vulnerable should we get hit with another financial crisis.
Remember 2008? Back then the world’s major banks faced collapse and rushed to find deep-pocketed investors to bolster their balance sheets. This was partly financed by the likes of the Qatari Investment Authority, which is designed to manage the funds from Qatar’s oil and gas reserves. The biggest recipient of the Qataris’ generosity was Barclays, and at one stage the Qatari Investment Authority owned more than 12 percent of the British bank.
With six months to go until the next general election and a few days from an all-important by-election, Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the global economy is at risk from another recession. This came less than a week after the Bank of England said that the UK economy is likely to grow at a healthy 3.5 percent this year and it could even weather the storm from weak growth across the Channel.
So who are we to believe: Cameron or the Bank of England, and should we be afraid? In terms of trust, you are brave to trust a politician, regardless of what they say. Regarding the Bank of England, they are renowned for changing their economic forecasts, so it’s always best to take their views on the future of the economy with caution.
The list of catastrophes that would befall Britain in the event of Scottish independence continues to grow. If you believe the latest reports then money is being withdrawn from cash points around Scotland at a rapid clip – the next thing will be a plague of locusts.
Of course a vote for independence is not going to be a walk in the park. The issue of what currency Scotland is going to use remains a mystery, the market is still pondering the possibility of global investors ditching the rest of the UK on the back of such political uncertainty, which could cause a financial crisis akin to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Aside from economic questions, the UK’s standing in the world could be damaged if there is a win for the Yes camp.
Should the EU head honchos in Brussels be quaking in their boots at the prospect of a less United Kingdom come September 18? The repercussions of a yes vote could cause a domino effect that may eventually lead to the break-up of the European Union.
This may seem dramatic, but how someone decides to vote in Glasgow could alter the course of modern history. The prospect of a not-so Great Britain could make it easier for the Conservatives to get re-elected at next year’s General Election. One of the Tories’ pledges, if they do get re-elected, is to hold a referendum on UK membership to the EU in 2017. Without a pro-EU Scottish voter base, there is a real chance that the UK could vote to leave the EU.
In the aftermath of Liverpool and Uruguay footballer Luis Suarez biting an opponent yet again, and with such aggression that he scarred the player’s arm and hurt his own teeth, FIFA has banned him for nine games, and psychologists are trying to justify his behaviour by saying that Suarez must have been humiliated and frustrated in his youth. I, in contrast, am asking whether Mark Carney and co. should learn to be a little more like Suarez?
Let me make this clear, I am not advocating that members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee give each other a good bite if they disagree on policy (imagine the bite marks at the ECB if that was socially acceptable), but they should metaphorically pull a few Suarez’s from time to time.
Up until Monday, Italy used to be known as the sick man of Europe. It has huge debts, sclerotic growth and had been ruled by a billionaire prone to a bunga-bunga parties. It was at risk of becoming the laughing stock of the currency bloc. The relationship in recent years between Italy and Germany has been dreadful. But could things be about to change?
Italy could become the best man of Europe after the EU elections last weekend. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party won an impressive 33% of the vote, beating off competition from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Beppe Grillo. Silvio Belusconi’s Forza Italia was left straggling in Renzi’s wake with only 18% of the vote.
Not that long ago everyone was lamenting the slovenliness of the British public. We didn’t work hard enough, took too many holidays and anxiety was rising about how we would ever keep up with our harder-working, more productive peers in China and the East. However, the tides is changing and, guess what, slovenliness is back.
Slovenliness is not quite accurate, but these days we can’t read a paper without being told that we need to get more sleep, be more mindful, take better care of ourselves and quit our technology addictions. Apparently, our need to tweet, check email and watch the latest Game of Thrones is literally killing us. Experts from Harvard, Cambridge and Surrey Universities have put together a report on humans and our need for sleep, and have come to the conclusion that we are arrogant to ignore our circadian rhythms.
The web-based Heartbleed bug has dominated discussions about online security in recent days. We’ve been told to change passwords, and if you were a regular user of Mumsnet then you’ve probably had your data stolen, the forum said in a message earlier this week. While I was reading all of these articles not once did I think to actually change any of my passwords. This is not because I think that I am immune to Heartbleed and its evil ways, but rather I don’t think the data this super bug could steal from me would be of much use to anybody.
Take my email. First it started with my personal email, an account I have had since 2001, provided by a major internet company headed by an extremely glamorous CEO. For years now it has been hijacked by marketing types. I get hundreds of emails every day, all adverts. It’s worse than watching an episode of Game of Thrones in the US. There are literally adverts coming at me every minute of the day. Some even use my name in the subject line. Just today I have had a cleaning company asking me if I am ready for Easter (who gets ready for Easter???), a website telling me the secret to perfect “standout eyes” and an Easter gift from a clothing site.
A central pillar of George Osborne’s 2014 budget was the announcement that pensioners will no longer have to buy an annuity upon retirement and that they would have more control of their pensions pots, including the freedom to withdraw cash without incurring penalty tax changes.
This is a true blue move that has Conservative values right at its heart – giving retirees the right to do what they want with their money. While in most instances being freed from the shackles of government is something to be celebrated, in this instance a little government paternalism can be a good thing.
A fascinating study from the U.S.’s National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) entitled “How does Age Affect Scientific Genius” was a breath of fresh air for those of us hurtling towards middle age. Images of precocious youngsters going to university at age six and making their first million in their early teens are, thankfully, few and far between. It is mid-career when your genius peaks, according to the paper written by Benjamin Jones, EJ Ready and Bruce Weinberg.
While it gave this author a boost to know that her best work may not be behind her, age, demographics and your chosen field of study can all impact when you reach your peak performance. For example, creativity peaks earlier in abstract fields, while it peaks later in fields with context, for example history. Hence why Sergey Brin and Larry Page could co-found Google when they were both PhD students at Stanford. The internet itself was a young and relatively unexplored field that lent itself to “discoveries” and breakthroughs in the garages of young geeks.