Voting with your head

There is a sentiment that goes back to at least the 1700s that says that if you're not a socialist when you're young, then you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative when you're old, then you have no head. The idea of 'voting with your head' in reference to voting for the Conservatives is one I've heard at least once in the run-up to this year's general election and it surprised me when I did. Then it surprised me that I was surprised.

That adage is centuries-old so why, in the face of the upcoming vote, do I feel that it no longer applies, at least from an economic point of view? I think the answer lies in the application of 'austerity economics' that was brought in by George Osborne shortly after appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2010.

Austerity means that essential public services are defunded in the name of saving money in order to reduce the national debt. The idea was roundly debunked by economists at the time but the surest proof that this is a terrible economic idea is that the Conservative government has been running a record-high deficit since the end of 2013.

To put that in context, the deficit hit a record £17million in the aftermath of 2008's financial crisis - the largest financial disaster since 1929. Since mid-2013, however, the national deficit has been consistently at or above this level every single quarter bar one with it surpassing £25million in at least 4 separate quarters and, unlike with the period immediately after the financial crisis, there's no obvious external reason for it. What is especially egregious is that, in their recent election campaign, the Conservatives have suggested that Labour would increase the national debt. With the data at hand, I find this to be disrespectful to and borderline contemptuous of the electorate.

(Source: UK Balance of Payments Time Series - ONS)

We are faced with a government whose economic policy has systematically defunded essential public services while doing the exact opposite to the national purse than the policy's intended effect. It is both cruel and decisively economically ineffective. So why would someone vote for the Conservatives?

After studying behavioural economics for 6 years, I am convinced that the vast majority of people in this world do not intend to be bad people - however, there are a number of cognitive biases that people are subject to that can lead to seemingly cruel behaviour.

In this particular example, I refer to cognitive dissonance. This phenomenon describes the effect whereby someone makes a decision that ultimately contradicts a belief, idea, or value, that they think they have. The result is that the individual convinces themselves that it was indeed the correct decision because to think otherwise would be to contradict their own internal view.

In the example of the Conservatives' economic policy, the essential idea is that "I don't want to defund essential public services but it is important to do so because it is more important that we have a robust economy". When it is revealed that defunding essential public services leads to a less robust economy, this leads to a doubling down of the original idea because to admit otherwise would be a contradiction of the individual's internal consistency, beliefs, and values.

Numbers don't lie and it's clear that when it comes to the economy, 'austerity' doesn't benefit anybody. I sincerely believe that in 2017's UK general election, an elected Conservative government would result in a continuation of this cognitive dissonance and a continued degradation of the UK economy.

This post refers only to the Conservative party and economics. I'll accept that there are many factors in play and different parties may encounter similar problems should they take power in June. However, I would argue that the old adage that voting Conservative implies voting with your head does not apply in this election.

Playing Blackadder

From last Thursday until yesterday, I had the honour of playing Edmund Blackadder in a stage adaptation of Blackadder II with a cast of extremely talented and hard-working actors. The play was a massive amount of fun and the response from the audience was wonderful every single night. In many ways, it's a shame that we only did four shows and, in this respect, I'm relishing taking my art to the next level and becoming professional.

Taking on a role like Blackadder, however, was described to me as being either extremely brave or extremely foolish, between which I don't personally think there's much difference and both are to be celebrated in their own ways. Playing Blackadder is not like playing Hamlet. Both are iconic for different reasons but the second has been played famously by lots of different people. If asked who your favourite Hamlet is, you might say Richard Burton, Kenneth Branagh, or David Tennant. At least one person just said Mel Gibson.

But if you ask who your favourite Blackadder is, well, that's kind of a silly question, isn't it? I have to admit, when the project was suggested to me and I accepted the role, it crossed my mind that this could end up being a spectacular failure. But it wasn't, and for the 90 minutes we were on that stage, the original sitcom didn't exist. This was theatre and it was treated as such. The material was ingrained in the minds of a few of our audience members but to see it with a fresh pair of eyes was worth the foolish bravado and I'm glad I was that fool.

I'm hoping to put some clips from the play on this website soon and I'll let you know when I do. I'm still looking for a casting agent, probably in Paris or London, so if you think I'm up to it, please send them my way. As I said, I'll try and get those clips up as soon as I can.

My PhD

This year, if all goes well, I will defend my PhD thesis on the 6th September. As a writer and performer, it may seem unusual that I should have written a doctoral thesis on finance, but it speaks more to my approach to life than anything else.

When I started, I had no intention of doing a PhD and least of all in finance. I suppose, had I been serious, I would have chosen mathematics or philosophy. However, through a series of coincidences, I was told that, were I to apply for the PhD, I would get it and, frankly, I saw no harm in the proposition.

What ended up happening was that I wound up studying psychology and neuroscience, which now features heavily in my final thesis. I learned about something called a utility function, which converts explicit value into implicit value. For example, imagine $10. The implicit value between $0 and $10 is substantially more than that between $1,000,000 and $1,000,010, even though the explicit value is the same. A utility function incorporates this effect.

But from there you start to learn all the other ways in which people consistently misvalue things and suddenly, the connection between money and psychology becomes overwhelmingly fascinating. Is it possible to construct an equation that puts the correct price on things and if not, why not? The law of one price is a central underpinning of the current structure of the global economy but, in general, it doesn't really work.

Now that my PhD is nearing its end and I'm working on becoming a professional writer/performer, I hope I get the opportunity to share my work with everyone and engage people on the subject. Most of the people I see explaining economics on television today are professional journalists who are put in front of a camera. If I get the chance, I would like to be one of the few people who are directly engaged in explaining economics and finance to everyone. I think this is really important.

Please contact me if you'd like to find out more.

My new website

Hi,

This year I want to really push myself as a creator and, to make it official, I've launched a new website where I can show off the interviews I've done for TV, any films I make, and pretty much anything else that comes out of my head.

In Clips you can find short videos of my acting which I hope to update with some amateur stuff soon and perhaps more professional stuff later on.

In Writing you can find a full, totally edited and tested, one-act play available for you to download for free. The one crucial piece of feedback I got for it was that it needed a second act, hence the unusual way it's labelled, however, I do encourage you to download it, read it, and perform it should you feel the desire. If you like it and wish to give me some coin to help me along, you can do that with the Support button at the bottom of each page.

I'll be gradually filling this website up with more and more stuff. Please keep coming back for video clips, scripts, and blog posts.

Best, Chris.