Books: Statistics that lie - Lord Howell debunks old economic nostrums in his provocative credo, says John Redwood. The Edge of Now by David Howell - Macmillan pounds 18.99

Books: Statistics that lie - Lord Howell debunks old economic nostrums in his provocative credo, says John Redwood. The Edge of Now by David Howell - Macmillan pounds 18.99 - David Howell was a good Minister of the Crown who was dismissed abruptly in 1983

by JOHN REDWOOD
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

David Howell was a good Minister of the Crown who was dismissed abruptly in 1983 before he had given all that he had to contribute. He sets out his credo in this new book. He believes in free enterprise and markets, but knows that markets also need a social dimension and a strong framework of law for them to function well.

Howell tells us that 'trust, honesty, mutual respect, adherence to commitments undertaken, concern for reputation' are all needed for a successful capitalist society. They were all qualities he had as a politician, only to be outwitted by those operating the blacker political arts from baser motives.

His main thesis is that globalisation is rushing upon us, but it does not mean the end of the nation state. He favours neither the left-wing view that all markets are evil, needing ever stronger regulation to prevent abuse, nor the right-wing view that all markets are best left free of all state involvement.

He sees privatisation as the big idea with much more power left in it.

He favours the Nicholas Ridley view that it is easier for government to control or influence businesses it does not own.

The most riveting part of the book is the author's impassioned attack on modern economics, monetary authorities and statisticians. He makes telling points about how wrong the numbers are and how misleading they can be to those making economic policy or setting interest rates. The book comes to life in an amusing section in which he exposes the follies of central bank monetary policy committees.

The book produces a pacy attack on black-box economics and on the unreliability of most national statistics. It sets out why organisations like the Commonwealth and Nato are the way forward in a networked world, and how people will want to retain the moral, cultural and government certainties of their present nations all the more as the economy goes global. He sees the world fragmenting as people respond by retreating to the local and the particular. He makes a sensible and strong plea to keep nations, where they cohere and make sense as the border-free world of global capital.

Howell has written a provocative and lively book. His assault on monetary economics and modern national statistics is a brave and fine piece of prose. His defence of the nation is the more successful for being based on our future needs rather than on our past achievements.

John Redwood is a Conservative MP and head of the Tories' parliamentary campaigns unit.

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