If you needed someone to cheer you up, would you not want my evil twin brother Tyrone? Well, Tim Harford is a privileged fellow. Tyrone read Tim’s recent FT column “Is life in the UK really as bad as the numbers suggest? Yes, it is“, and thought Tim could use a real bucking up. Tyrone is such a cheery fellow himself, and I so thought I would let him jolly along Tim. Here is Tyrone’s proposed letter to the FT:
Britain, Britain, Britain — how tears come to my eye each time I swim the Atlantic and stride on shore. How many times have I returned and with such joy?
The high land rents in Britain are the first and foremost a sign life is really good there. You get what you pay for! And in Britain you pay a lot. You must get a lot too. For sure, the value of living here can be no lower than the entry fee. Even much of northern England is not so cheap anymore, and calling it “tea” isn’t going to change that fact.
I hear you all screaming “NIMBY!” while eating your bangers. Well, NIMBY is one reason why Britain — or some parts of it — are expensive. But NIMBY doesn’t detract from the quality signal embedded in those high prices.
Let’s say you had a luxury hotel that mismanaged its staff, and so it only opened up three rooms when it should have opened up 300 rooms. Furthermore, those three rooms are rented out for $3000 a night. You wouldn’t say the guests paying $3000 a night are miserable in the hotel. In fact you would conclude they really enjoyed the hotel, to the tune of at least $3000 a night. They could be enjoying it more at lower prices and higher capacity, but that is like saying the Beatles should have put out more albums. Both claims are true, but you wouldn’t conclude Britain had a miserable musical life.
If nothing else, the hotel analogy shows Britain has the potential to get oh so much better yet.
GPT tells me that before Brexit, 1.8% of the British population lived in other EU countries, with Spain being a clear first destination. Was that outflow so high? The sign of a ruined society? Or a mark of complacency with a pretty good thing? A lot of that was (or still is) retirees of course, yet another sign of how splendid British life can be. What could be better than earning enough in Leeds to spend your declining years in Tavira, yet close enough to fly home and see the grandkids on Boxing Day?
It is not so hard for many British people to migrate to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or sometimes even the United States. Northern Ireland beckons too (and the homes there are pretty cheap). Those acts of migration don’t require a new language, and you might keep the royal family on your money and also on your bestseller lists, wait no they are not the royal family any more.
Chat tells me that in 2019 the net migration from the UK to Australia was about 16,000, hardly a major rebellion against economic servitude. In that same year, 26,800 Brits decided to leave the barbie and return home — clearly they missed something. Brit migrants to Australia, unlike those to Provence, are not usually the wealthy.
Tyrone has not only met Tim, but he has observed Tim living and working and succeeding in the United States. Since Tim left America, presumably he prefers Britain and the superior curries, country homes, and memories of empire. Not to mention the bookshops. Amenities! Tim is hardly the only one moving into southern England. The UK population more broadly just keeps on rising. We would gladly have Tim back, but it seems he won’t have us, stars and stripes for never.
Maybe you think some of the high rents in Britain are due to foreigners buying up property. That is true in some parts of London, but for the country as a whole? Besides, if London and Oxford give some foreigners the risk protection benefits of their real estate, is that not the cosmopolitan policy my Effective Altruist friends have been urging on me? It would be easy enough to tax them more for those benefits, any time the Brits need to.
Southern England seems geared to help the world, what with its vaccines, DeepMind, and the data on dexamethasone. How many regions are grander than that? No wonder people want to pay so much to live there. Like yours truly — Tyrone, not to mention Tim — they most of all want to help other humans.
Besides, the UK has a higher birth rate than Switzerland, Norway, or Luxembourg — so where do the real riches lie? Especially over time.
Put aside some minor problems with the health care system — my friend the very healthy Robin Hanson says it doesn’t matter much. The evidence keeps mounting that the non-pecuniary benefits of being British hardly could be higher. And they don’t even tax you on them. Strawberry Fields Forever.
TC again: Is this the most serious Tyrone has been? Is he turning over a new leaf? Have all those weekends in the Lake District rubbed off on him? But alas, he does not go to the Lake District, he prefers the darker corners of northern New Jersey. As Herodotus noted, all men consider their own ways to be best, Tyrone not excepted. And if Tyrone does not live in Britain, how can it possibly be best?
Tim Harford, I weep with you, put Tyrone out of your mind. The fish and chips is better in New Zealand anyway.