Whiners and losers

Soft cheese, hard Brexit and the joys of talking trade theory.

Like most people, I am wearied with this whole Brexit thing. It got particularly bad when Thomas became obsessively anxious about the future cost of his favourite cheese, Epoisses. He surmised a no-deal outcome would see tariffs erected to protect our delicate farmers.

He was just about to buy a new fridge for stockpiling this cheese, when I put my foot down. The French even ban Epoisses from public transport as its smell is so unpleasant. How Josephine coped with Napoleon’s love of it before the invention of refrigeration, I shall never know. Perhaps the famous quotation was in fact: “Not tonight Josephine?”

Thomas would not let this go and set up a “no deal” planning committee for the building, hoping he might get agreement to cheese stockpiling in our common kitchen. To make peace, I agreed to be the committee’s expert adviser.

“It is amazing the range of different ways you can cook lamb. Unfortunately they all have lamb in them.”

My first bit of advice was that there was likely to be a “lamb lake” as our hill farmers face increased tariffs from the European Union, their main market. The committee duly bought a lamb recipe book. It is amazing the range of different ways you can cook lamb. Unfortunately they all have lamb in them; I have never been keen on it.

Still it is fun to be back thinking about trade theory – one of my favourite subjects. The elegance of Ricardo’s proof that free trade always benefits all countries however useless they are, is quite breathtaking. Ricardo may have been a swindler and a cad (see Box), but he was certainly an economic genius.

Robena, Thomas’ new best friend, has now asked me to talk to her nephew, Rupert, our local Brexiteer MP. She was quite worried about him getting into a twist about free trade. He wanted “proper” free trade agreements but his farming constituents were not so keen.

Rupert came to tea in his best three-piece tweed suit. He is quite charming with his old worldly ways but clearly a bit thick. I took him slowly through trade theory while he sipped his tea and he looked a bit bemused particularly when I came to the point that, of course, free trade only benefited a country’s inhabitants on average. I reiterated slowly “on average”.

This of course means there are likely to be winners and losers. As I explained, economists then assume that the winners will compensate the losers, but unfortunately in real life this rarely happens due to the incompetence of politicians. He seemed to get that last point.

Rupert didn’t seem overly grateful for my advice so I don’t think he will be coming back for more, which is a pity. He could certainly do with some more education in this area.

The following day I got another invitation to lunch from my old student, Crispin McDonal. Now he certainly understood trade theory and a lot else beside.

“Rupert came to tea in his best three-piece tweed suit. He is quite charming with his old worldly ways but clearly a bit thick.”

I had heard he had been making a lot of money recently out of the Brexit turmoil. He had been betting heavily against the UK economy ever since he gave a huge dollop of funds to the Brexit campaign. Initially he took losses, but now his strategy seems to be paying off.

I suppose he wanted to tell me all about this at length to show he really was my star pupil. With the lingering memory of the exploding chocolate patisserie and his pawing of my décolletage at our previous lunch, this did not fill me with total delight.

Still I find it very difficult to turn down a free lunch, particularly in the excellent restaurants he patronises.

Ricardo's Record
Ricardo made his fortune, and I mean fortune, out of the battle of Waterloo. He had an observer on the battlefield who duly reported the English victory to him before anyone else. He rushed into the stock exchange shouting “sell, sell” and everyone assumed we had lost. He bought tonnes of shares at rock bottom prices and then cleaned up when prices soared following accurate news of victory.

Of course he then had to make a swift exit and hide out for a bit. Still this gave him a chance to write his great work, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. I suppose he maybe was the first to use “fake news” to his advantage – a true innovator.

Miss Ettie Kett
This month Conflicted writes from Chelsea

Dear Ms Kett
Wealthy friends have invited me to attend an opulent corporate charity ball at Claridge’s. The evening expenses will include purchasing a gown, a dinner and bidding on a lavish auction. Is there a polite way to decline without appearing uncharitable?

Dear Conflicted
Doesn’t it seem to you that were some of these large corporations more ethical in paying their taxes, they’d need to salve their consciences less? There would also be fewer people needing charity. This kind of philanthropy seems hollow. I suggest you make your contributions direct to charity and avoid the back-slapping tedium of events like the one you are pondering attending. Then get some new friends.
Sincerely yours
Ms Ettie Kett

Ms Ettie Kett provides advice on modern manners. Please send your requests for advice to msettiekett@

Verity Bastion

Verity is an emeritus professor of economics now living in a retirement apartment with her husband, Thomas, after a distinguished career. She writes a regular column for The Mint on …

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