Friday, January 29, 2010

VC and employment

New research from Dr Horst Feldmann at the University of Bath on relations between the availability of venture capital in various industrial countries, and employment statistics:
The study estimates that if venture capital availability in Italy, where it was most difficult to obtain during the sample period, had matched the United States, where it was in best supply, Italy’s unemployment rate might have been 1.8 percentage points lower; its long-term unemployment share 9.0 percentage points lower; and its employment rate 2.7 percentage points higher.
On average over the sample period, venture capital availability was rated 3.1 in Italy and 5.8 in the United States on a scale of 1 to 7. The United Kingdom was rated at 5.3.

The exact methodology may be questionable - data on the availability of VC is taken from surveys of business executives (the World Economic Forum’s annual ExecutiveOpinion Surveys), so seems likely to have some subjective element. Feldmann does say, in the full paper (published in Kyklos) that the survey data can 'permit better coverage of the various facets of venture capital financing than hard data'. But, when tested against data on 'venture capital investment as per mil of average GDP', the correlation coefficient is just 0.29.

That aside, it's an interesting paper that will doubtless be welcomed by BVCA, EVCA, et al, as they argue against extra regulation.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Forteans out for a Burton

The following is a letter I've written to the Fortean Times regarding the editorial column in the current issue (258). The FT is a magazine which I've read for close to 20 years, and contributed many book reviews to, and which generally has high standards of factual accuracy and impartiality. This editorial, mostly a summary of 'controversies' around climate change, failed to meet those standards, being a largely fact-free witter deploying a lot of spurious arguments and biased language familiar from many common denialist sources - whether that was intentional, or just the result of sloppy writing, I don't know. I could have launched into a general argument about the column's bent (especially as I've recently been reading Hoggan and Livermore's Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, a well referenced exposé of the industry lobby groups behind much denialist blether), but decided to settle for a factual rebuttal of some of its central claims. For general reference, here's what I wrote:

Dear Editors,

I was disappointed to find that your reporting and commentary in the editorial column of FT258 on Justice Burton's legal ruling on philosophical belief is inaccurate and misleading in a number of respects. The inaccuracies are very similar to those seen in a lot of the newspaper commentary on the ruling at the time, but I would expect better of FT.

You say that: 'Mr Justice Michael Burton concluded that "a belief in man-made climate change... is capable... of being a philosophical belief for the purposes of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations."'

Those obvious elisions led me to seek out the actual ruling, to see what you'd missed out - a natural sceptical response, I'm sure you'd agree. I found the full text of the ruling with a few moment's googling (via Bindmans).

Here's what the ruling's summary actually said:
"A belief in man-made climate change, and the alleged resulting moral imperatives, is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations."

As the full ruling explains in some detail, it's those "alleged resulting moral imperatives" that make it a philosophical belief under the terms of this law, not the belief in climate change per se. Those 'moral imperatives', as stated by the claimant Tim Nicholson, are not necessarily accepted by everyone who gives credence to the overwhelming evidence for man-made climate change.

Your 'inevitable conclusion' that the case for man-made climate change is 'not a matter of scientific fact but of faith' is anything but inevitable. According to the ruling, the scientific nature, or otherwise, of the basis for the belief is irrelevant in judging whether it is a 'philosophical belief' in the terms of the law. Burton says: "In my judgment, if a person can establish that he holds a philosophical belief which is based on science, as opposed, for example, to religion, then there is no reason to disqualify it from protection by the Regulations."

You say that 'our belief in atoms or electricity has required no such special status'. That would be because they've not been subject to any similar proceedings under this law. However, Burton rules that other scientific theories may also be the basis for philosophical beliefs. With reference to the case "exemplified in the play Inherit the Wind", he notes: "Darwinism must plainly be capable of being a philosophical belief, albeit that it may be based entirely on scientific conclusions (not all of which may be uncontroversial)."

Equally, he says that Creationism could also be a philosophical belief for the purposes of these regulations, as could belief in political philosophies such as "Communism or free-market Capitalism". The way is already open for Flat-Earthers, or even climate change Denialists, to seek protection under the same law, so long as they can show that their beliefs are "genuinely held". There could indeed be some interesting cases ahead.

The ruling is a great deal more subtle, and arguably fortean, that you give it credit for. No doubt it could be criticised from a legal or philosophical viewpoint, but misrepresenting the contents of the ruling does nobody any favours. At the least, it's a very disappointing lapse from FT's usual standards of accuracy and impartiality.

At the time of the ruling, some newspapers did predict that it would likely be distorted by the denialist lobby to use as a rhetorical weapon against the scientific consensus. A similar thing happened with a previous ruling from the same Justice Michael Burton, in which he ruled against an attempt to prevent the film 'An Inconvenient Truth' from being shown in British schools. Burton approved the film for educational use, on the proviso that it be accompanied by notes highlighting nine instances where it potentially overstated the scientific consensus - a judgment that was spun by the denialist lobby to seem like a condemnation of the film and its arguments, even though the plaintiff (backed by industrialist and political activist Robert Durward) decisively lost his case. For details, see

As ever, it's worth looking at the primary material (the text of the ruling, in these cases), rather than just depending on contemporary media coverage.


Tim Chapman

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Prosperity without growth

In this iciest of new years, you might as well curl up with a good book and hope for sunnier times. A good candidate, if you're at all interested in some of the economics ideas occasionally aired here, would be Tim Jackson's Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (thanks to publishers Earthscan for the review copy).
Based closely on Jackson's report for the Sustainable Development Commission (published in March last year, and freely available from the SDC site), the book is a painless introduction to the case against that impossible totem of conventional theory, endless economic growth.
Jackson begins with a sketch of ecological limits - it is a small world, after all - and overview of the most unsustainable aspects of our current global economy, addressing the usual objections about the necessity of eternally growing GDPs. Bracingly, Jackson debunks the familiar calls for a 'decoupling' of economic growth and ecological cost - the basic numbers just can't add up.
A broader reconsideration of some of the fundamentals of society is needed, Jackson reckons, particularly what he calls, pace Weber, 'the iron cage of consumerism'. The book argues the case for the now-familiar if ever elusive Keynesian 'green new deal', as well as a new form of ecological macro-economics which relaxes that old presumption of perpetual consumption growth as a prerequisite for stability.
It's all presented as plainly as is possible for such an inevitably complex topic - a little handwavey at times, but there's abundant references for anyone who wants to dig deeper. The arguments are sound but, in the depths of this post-Copenhagen winter, it's too easy to doubt whether they'll ever be usefully heard.

Labels: ,