Merryn's Blog

Why our politicians are like crisp pickers – in a bad way

If you hire people, they need stuff to do. If they don't have useful things to do, they'll do either pointless things or stupid things. Maybe both. That's why we need fewer politicians.

No one likes to find caramelised or discoloured crisps in their bags, so manufacturers make a huge effort to make sure that they don't. How? They use pickers.

After the crisps have been fried they pass along a conveyor along which workers stand picking out the ones that don't make the grade. The question is simply how many pickers you need to make sure all the substandard crisps are removed. I am not entirely sure how I got into this conversation with Sir Michael Darrington (ex CEO of Greggs) this morning, but I did.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

He tells me that at one time Greggs used to make crisps for two different food brands: one low-end and one high-end. The crisps were fried in the same fryer. However, their paths then diverged. The low-end conveyor belt had two pickers. The high-end just to make absolutely certain there would be no caramelised crisp issues had six.

You'd expect the six to pick out fewer crisps each than the two, but that isn't how it worked. All their hands moved all the time: the eyes of the six didn't just pick out black brown or green crisps, they went for the least perfect crisp in their vision area at any one time and the hands removed those too.

The point is simple: put more people on to a job and they do more, whether it needs doing or not. It is something, Darrington and I agreed, that fund managers and politicians might like to think about or rather those of us that employ them ought to think about.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Fund managers famously trade far too much in the name of 'doing something', they buy and sell stocks pointlessly, usually making their performance worse and their costs more outrageous along the way.

And politicians and ministers? The more of them you have, the more interference and the more regulations you get. No politician can ever be seen to be doing nothing. Everyone has to do something, even if it isn't of any use. That doesn't make any sense.

Just as your mother always used to tell you that if you couldn't think of something nice to say, you should say nothing at all, it is surely right that politicians, if they can't think of something to do that is certain to make a situation better, should do nothing at all.

In this context, consider the idiotic new housing policy. I wrote about this yesterday and spoke on it on Newsnight last night. But even I haven't yet listed all the things wrong with it.

Capital Economics make some more excellent points, including the fact that the supply of mortgage finance available in the market isn't likely to rise as a result of the policy. Wholesale funding is getting more expensive and banks are supposed to be boosting their reserves so it is entirely possible that the policy will merely result in the redistribution of funds from non-first time buyers to first time buyers. Which isn't much help really.

The whole thing represents a desperate need to be seen to be doing something about the housing problem in the UK. But that's all it represents: it won't actually do anything useful about it.

We just don't need this kind of meddling mini-intervention. They don't work for anyone except for the crisp pickers of politicians we have landed ourselves with and in this case the housebuilders.

It is time we let our politicians know that we'd prefer them to spend their days thinking, not doing. And if they can't do that, we'd like them to cut their numbers and retire to use their ill-gotten parliamentary pensions to boost consumption in the countryside somewhere.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/519858/how-long-can-the-good-times-roll
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
Visit/516758/beyond-the-brexit-talk-the-british-economy-isnt-doing-too-badly
Economy

Beyond the Brexit talk, the British economy isn’t doing too badly

The political Brexit pantomime aside, Britain is in pretty good shape. With near-record employment, strong wage growth and modest inflation, there is …
17 Oct 2019
Visit/economy/uk-economy/601098/coronavirus-big-brother-widens-his-embrace
UK Economy

Coronavirus: Big Brother widens his embrace

The coronavirus crisis has led to a massive expansion of the state into all areas of daily life. Should we be worried?
4 Apr 2020
Visit/investments/property/601081/three-things-matter-for-the-uk-housing-market-now-and
Property

Three things matter for the UK housing market now – and “location” isn’t one of them

The UK housing market is frozen. And when it does eventually thaw out, the traditional factors that drive prices will no longer apply. The day of reck…
1 Apr 2020

Most Popular

Visit/investments/property/601081/three-things-matter-for-the-uk-housing-market-now-and
Property

Three things matter for the UK housing market now – and “location” isn’t one of them

The UK housing market is frozen. And when it does eventually thaw out, the traditional factors that drive prices will no longer apply. The day of reck…
1 Apr 2020
Visit/investments/property/601065/what-does-the-coronavirus-crisis-mean-for-uk-house-prices
Property

What does the coronavirus crisis mean for UK house prices?

With the whole country in lockdown, the UK property market is closed for business. John Stepek looks at what that means for UK house prices, housebuil…
27 Mar 2020
Visit/investments/stockmarkets/601101/has-the-stockmarket-hit-rock-bottom-yet
Stockmarkets

Has the stockmarket hit rock bottom yet?

The world's stockmarkets continue on their wild and disorientating rollercoaster ride. Investors are still gripped by fear. So, asks John Stepek, have…
2 Apr 2020
Visit/investments/commodities/energy/oil/601107/oil-shoots-higher-have-we-seen-the-bottom-for-the-big-oil
Oil

Oil shoots higher – have we seen the bottom for the big oil companies?

Just a few days ago everyone was worried about negative oil prices. Now, the market has turned upwards. John Stepek explains what’s behind the rise an…
3 Apr 2020