Wednesday 8 January 2014

Keynes Has Never Left The Building

They're Big
When you step back from the detail, all the arguments about how HS2, Hinkley Point and all the other white elephants are justified are just so much empty sophistry.

Certainly the civil servants will always come up with complex calculations about how every minute of saved journey-time adds to GDP, ditto every car-passenger-mile that is converted into a rail-passenger-mile.  It's a great game for all concerned.

But at the end of the day, it's the civil engineering lobby that turns up in Downing Street and says: listen, we only exist because of the Channel Tunnel, Crossrail, the Olympics, T5, HS1, the Jubilee Line extension, the Ring Main etc etc etc to the end of time.

Yes, JM Keynes has never left Whitehall.  Keynsian doctrine is the only conceivable rationale behind gigantic programmes such as the onshore and offshore wind-farm mania.  It works for the civil engineers - and the consultants, and the lawyers, the financiers, the lobbyists - all good British service industries.

I wouldn't mind quite so much if the hardware content was more local.  My understanding is that we have a world-class tunnelling industry in this country, so Crossrail (e.g.) is pretty good in this regard (though don't enquire too closely where the worker-ants hail from).  But the wind-farms ... OK, let's not get started on that one.

So -  back to the topic in hand.  Severn Barrage, anyone ?



dearieme said...

This blog

has written a lot over the years of how a lot of tunnelling would make a lot of sense, particularly in Scotland. Of course, the tunnellers would have to perform to Norwegian standards, rather than, say, Edinburgh tramway standards, or Cambridgeshire guided busway standards.

Demetrius said...

And what pray about the John O Groats to Kirkwall and Lerwick Tunnel?

Anonymous said...

@"Yes, JM Keynes has never left Whitehall."
Not really he believed in balanced budgets in the good times, which sadly very politicians seem to now.

hovis said...

Take all the subsidies out of the picture and the economic landcape would look very different, especially if you take away socialised risk we have in the much of the economy. Many large corporates and "important" growth industries would be seen to be the chimera's they ca change.

DJK said...

> though don't enquire too closely where the worker-ants hail from

ditto the tunnelling machines. But the concrete lining for Crossrail is made locally (although I bet with Chinese aggregate and cement).

BrianSJ said...

Dig for Britain only hi-tech.

Rather than centralized nonsense run by Sir Humphrey, perhaps we have local bottom-up initiatives e.g. for healthcare software, local smart grids etc.

James Higham said...

Tunelling machines made in Germany?

Electro-Kevin said...

Are 'renewables' actually renewable ?

Nick Drew said...

Kev - in brief, and without getting theological or raising silly objections

(and making no comment on whether or not actually economic or rational to deploy ...)

Hydro: yes
Solar PV: yes
Solar thermal: yes, but no-one much interested in this any more
Geothermal: yes
Tidal, wave: yes
Wind: yes
Landfill gas: yes, provided we keep filling land (but this is steeply declining in many countries)
Energy-from-waste: yes
Sewage gas: yes
Biomass: covers a huge range including anaerobic digestion, some yes, some (the largest-scale stuff) emphatically no - but some of that still qualifies for the big subsidies!
CHP: complicated, depends on fuel
CCS: dead on arrival, issue is moot

one can ask the parallel question about 'sustainable', which quickly gets quite theological

Anonymous said...

Last year I watched a huge tracklaying train (Plasser and Theurer) relaying track on a mainline. A Network Rail guy said most of the staff onboard were flown in from Austria or Czech.

Budgie said...

ND said: "... all the arguments about how HS2, Hinkley Point and all the other white elephants are justified are just so much empty sophistry."

They are not all the same. The country would carry on without HS2 (how much we would lose or gain is controversial, and not really knowable until we had done it).

However the UK would grind to a standstill without enough electricity (under the current policy mix) whichever generation methods are used.

We would be foolish to rely entirely on imported gas (all our eggs in one basket), and until CAGW is confined to its grave it is not a live proposition anyway.

The subsidies to Nuclear are pretty similar to Onshore Wind. But the difference is Onshore Wind needs almost 100% backup, increasing its actual cost by 50-100% (depending who to believe) over Nuclear. Offshore Wind and Solar are as intermittent as Onshore Wind and their subsidies are worse.

So Gas Coal and Nuclear it is. And if our energy policy was more patriotic we wouldn't have to pay the subsidies to Jonny Foreigner.