Things aren’t as bad as you thought. Top of the Charts 12 January 2024 Torsten Bell Afternoon all, And a belated happy New Year. 2024 is going to be better than 2023. Why am I confident? Because reversion to the mean is a powerful thing. As we covered a fortnight back, it’ll be messy but at least there’ll be winners, as well as the losers we’re all used to being over the past few years. To tip the balance between the two, let’s start by creating some of our very own winners from… the Resolution Foundation Christmas quiz. Well done to Tom Johnson and Jon Tabbush who came in first and second respectively. There was a three-way bunfight for third. We want the numbers of winners up and inequality down, so all five are getting the same prize – a hard copy of Ending Stagnation is in the post. What says winning more than that? My mum isn’t feeling like a winner right now. She had a hip replaced this week and is currently in the ‘this is rubbish’ phase, when you need reminding that better times lie ahead (i.e. ones where you can actually walk). So the reads this week have a bit of a “things aren’t as bad as you think” vibe to them. COTW even brings news that one form of long-Covid – our pandemic induced booze binge – may come to an end this year.* We’ll see about that. Have a great weekend, Torsten Chief Executive Resolution Foundation *Thanks to Colin Angus at Sheffield University for the chart inspiration and the alcohol toolkit study for making the data available. Voter value. As part of being rubbish, 2023 saw several democracies undemocratised via military coups. This year we’ve got shed loads of elections coming, but the Trump trauma risk means no-one is chillaxed democracy-wise given loads of people might vote for a guy not so keen on it. But before we get too down, thinking everyone’s gone a bit post-democracy, read this new paper which examines how much citizens in the US, France and Brazil value democracy. The answer? A lot. Residents are sufficiently attached to democracy that they would need, on average, their income to increase three-fold to live in a country without proper elections. Democratic values, or at least valuing democracy, isn’t totally out of fashion just yet. Totally tubular. I’m not saying I’m part of the liberal metropolitan elite, but I’m a sucker for these charts that answer that existential question: how under-ground is the underground? They make a strong case for kicking the District and Circle lines out of the underground all together – they’re basically over-ground, people. The Northern and Piccadilly lines deliver the big U shape you’d expect – deeper in centre-ville and rising into the hillier suburbs. Where should you head for the big dipper of tube journeys? The Victoria line roller-coaster. It’s where the cool kids are. Before you get angry, note we’re data/chart (not London) centric. To prove it here’s something even better. A very clever chap has crunched the numbers from The Office of Rail and Road to produce passenger flow maps for every single rail station in Britain. Although on second thoughts maybe this doesn’t help… given lots of them make London look like an Octopus, with tentacles smothering the rest of the country…. Powerful punters. There’s an extensive literature on the rich getting their way policy-wise. But for balance, and continuing our things aren’t always rubbish theme, here’s a new paper that finds the preferences of poorer households are what matters in driving levels of redistribution. Looking across 93 countries that cover 87 per cent of the world’s population, it finds that the preferences of lower socio-economic groups are most predictive of actual redistribution policies (they pitted the bottom five per cent against the middle five per cent and top five per cent). Take that metropolitan elites. It’s interesting, although the authors don’t tell us much about what those different groups’ preferences were or offer any reconciliation of their findings with the wider literature. So non-conclusive food for thought. (Im)pecunious Putin. We’re two years into the war in Ukraine – and two years into the unprecedented economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. Disappointment has been widespread that they haven’t swiftly crippled the Russian economy as hoped (Russian GDP grew by 3.5 per cent last year, at a faster clip than the global economy). But are things really that rosy for Putin? An optimist’s take is in the latest Foreign Affairs. It’s more impressionistic than data heavy, but points to one principal short term danger – overheating of the economy as the Kremlin tries to combine a war economy (over a third of Russia’s growth last year came from defence-related industries sucking labour out of other sectors) with consumers still getting what they want. And lots of longer-term ones, not least the reliance on volatile oil revenues. Not normal is what the author of a great recent blog would like us all to remember we are. In the context of human history that is. It starts off by pointing out that homo sapiens have been around for 200 to 300,000 years, but jet lag was first experienced in 1931 – making it younger than Sean Connery. Then it takes a whistle-stop tour of how not normal we are, from transport revolutions that let us make journeys that used to take a month in a day and technology that changes so fast that kids teach their parents how to use it rather than the other way around. The focus is on how different things are, rather than whether everything is better or worse (although far lower extreme poverty definitely means I’m for the former view). It’s a short, perspective enhancing, read.