Tuesday, 29 November 2011


growth of the economy

"Do not be deceived — 1% growth in GDP means 4% shrinkage of the economy."

For my previous aperçus regarding Greek Debt and Bank Capitalization see my Occidentis blog. I am now puzzling over the terminology in which the government and hence the media discuss growth of the economy. We are told day-after-day, week-after-week that the only way to get out of deficit is "Growth", and that the Office of National Statistics has downgraded estimates for past quarterly growth from  0.5% to 0.4%; while the Office for Budget Responsibility  has similarly downgraded its forecasts for future growth. We 'Small-is-Beautiful' people, i.e. those of us who have no ambition to conquer the world economically, might wonder why we should not be content with the status quo. Why do we need always to grow? But wait!

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) attempts to measure the total productivity of a country and is defined by an agreed formula usually written as the sum of gross private consumption + government spending + businesses' capital investment + net exports (or exports minus imports):

GDP = C + G + I + NX

Data is widely available stretching back decades and it is clear that since the second world war there has been an almost logarithmic growth in British GDP, with a doubling time of about 10 years. However, data on inflation show that the cost of a standard and agreed mix of purchases such as the Consumer Price Index (which has replaced the slightly more inflationary Retail Price Index) has shown an almost identical growth over the same period.

In other words gross domestic production (as opposed to GDP) has NOT incresased by more than a whisker in the last several decades if we correct for inflation. The increase in the 30 years from 1980, corrected for inflation is not 4 fold; it is a mere 1.1 fold; i.e. a 10% increase in 30 years. It further means that, with current inflation running at 5% (per annum) and current GDP increasing at a mere 1% p.a., the economy is not in stasis — it is shrinking. Do not be deceived; 1% growth in GDP means a 4% shrinkage of the economy. So maybe we do need see a rising GDP expresed, as it is, in a shrinking currency.

When I was a boy it was not uncommon to see a working horse with 'blinkers'; leather patches attached to the bridle such that the horse could not see to left or right, and only obliquely could it see ahead where it was going. I was told that this was so that the horse would not be alarmed by passing traffic. I think politicians have put blinkers on us the public, so that we do not get alarmed at what is going on. Recession to the BBC (Radio 4 World at One pm) means negative growth in GDP; to me it means negative growth in 'real terms'; i.e. any growth in GDP that is less than inflation.

On the other hand, a dramatic decline in gross private consumption does not worry me particularly, even when measured in real terms, for we were consuming far more than we were manufacturing during those boom years; we were busily spending money imagined for us by the financial sector and now imagined away again; dream money (see Bank Capitalization). What should worry us is not a decline in living standards, for we are still absurdly well off, but high youth unemployment. As a nation we have to find a product that the world want to buy, and settle down to make it at a price that tempts buyers. We are most of us sitting around waiting for someone else to think up what that product is and build the requisite factory, so of all people we waiters cannot complain. We can only wait patiently, and hope that somebody, somewhere, it doing the thinking.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Programme Notes

Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No.3 — Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

i.   Allegro con brio, ii. Adagio, iii. Scherzo, allegro, iv. Allegro assai. 

This sonata, published in 1796, is the 3rd of Beethoven's published sonatas and bears a dedication to Franz Joseph Haydn. In July 1792 Haydn persuaded Elector Maximilian of Bonn to give Beethoven 2 years' leave so that he could study composition with Haydn in Vienna. In 1794 Haydn returned to London for his second visit leaving Beethoven in Vienna, no longer supported by the Elector but earning his own living, by playing, teaching and composing. (His Op. 1 trios, published in 1795, earned Beethoven enough money to support him for the best part of a year.)  Our Op. 2 sonata, 3rd in the set and the most virtuosic, is strongly Haydnesque (humorous, extrovert, classical, and rhythmically vigorous), yet it is clearly Beethovian also, thematically inventive, experimental in key changes and departures from sonata-form; and in expressing more emotion than Haydn. (You may hear an interesting discussion of the sonata by Andras Schiff at http://audio.theguardian.tv/sys-audio/Arts/Culture/2006/11/01/SonataCOp2No3.mp3)


7 Fantasien, Op. 116   ———   Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

In 1890, after writing his 2nd string quintet, the 57-year-old Brahms decided to give up composing. However, he soon resumed, writing (in his remaining 6 years) 4 works for clarinet, 4 sets of short piano pieces (Opp. 116 – 119), and some vocal music. He died in April 1897 (11 months after Clara Schumann). These later sets, like his earlier forays in the genre, may represent in some respects a backward glance at the integrated cycles of short piano pieces that were among Schumann's most characteristic works. Brahms' style is a lyrical, but carefully structured, romanticism; he avoids the 'flying trapeeze' virtuosity of Liszt, and the 'story-telling' romanticism of the Liszt/Wagner school. Though not himself polemical, Brahms was often put forward as the antithesis of Liszt/Wagner romanticism. Opus 116 (composed 1892) comes 13 years after his immediately preceding piano work – the 2 rhapsodies of Op.79. The Op.116 set is not so rich in tunes as either the earlier or the later sets; there is a slight tendency to wooden chords, and a quaint reliance on instructions to play with the "uttermost intimateness of feeling", or "sweetness". The  piano writing lies well under the hands – if you have very big hands. (The pieces end as often as not with a 10-note chord; literally 2 hands full.) Compared with Op. 79 there is much rhythmic innovation and complexity (notes across-the-barlines, 3-beats-against-2, etc.). It might be said that, with Op. 116, Brahms was exploring and developing a form he perfected in Opp. 117, and 118. It contains 7 pieces; the capriccios are fast and energetic, the intermezzi slower and more relaxed.

1. Capriccio — Presto energico (D minor);  2. Intermezzo — Andante (A minor); 3. Capriccio — Allegro passionato (G minor); 4. Intermezzo — Adagio (E major); 5. Intermezzo — Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentimento (E minor); 6. Intermezzo — Andantino teneramente (E major); 7. Capriccio — Allegro agitato (D minor)


Piano sonata No. 1 in B minor  —————  Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

The B minor sonata is considered by many to be Liszt's greatest work for solo piano, and is remarkable in his oeuvre in being 'pure music' (i.e. not programmatic, not depicting fountains, or runaway horses.) It was written in Weimar in 1852-3 where Liszt had retired from his peripatetic life as a virtuoso to concentrate on composition (at the urging of Princess Carolyne Wittgenstein with whom he spent the last 40 years of his life). It is dedicated to Robert Schumann, who had 16 years earlier dedicated his Op. 17 Fantasie to Liszt.  Though there are tempo markings and key changes indicating distinct sections, the 30 minute work is played as a single continuous whole. It is held together by its themes, of which there are 5 that recur in different forms — now heroic, now lyrical. Given the lifelong artistic antagonism between Brahms and Liszt, it is amusing to note that in May 1853 the 20 year old Brahms, touring with the violinist RemŽnyi  and fatigued from travelling, fell asleep while Liszt played through the barely completed and still unpublished B minor sonata. (The following year Liszt seems* unaccountably to have lost the manuscript of an early Brahms sonata for violin & piano which Brahms had left with him!) The dedication to Robert Schumann seems nowhere more relevant than in the final 20 bars, where the Lento assai sinks gradually into silence, for that calls to mind the similar ending of Schumann's Kinderszenen. This was not Liszt's original ending, as can be seen in the facsimile score (see: International Music Score Library Project) where a FF ending is crossed out in red ink and the PPP ending substituted; maybe when the Schumann dedication was decided upon. (In support of this suggestion, let me quote Liszt's letter* to Schumann, 5th June 1839 "As for the Scenes of Childhood, I owe to them one of the keenest joys of my life.....") (*La Mara's Letters)

(Programme notes complied from various sources by Ian West.)