March 25, 2017

Would Britain want to settle to be a nation of marginal improvers, as BoE’s Andy Haldane seems to propose?

Sir, Tim Harford quotes risk Andy Haldane with “As Olympic athletes have shown, marginal improvements accumulated over time can deliver world-beating performance” “Sweat the small stuff but always dream big” March 25.

Harford is rightly skeptic and writes “In a data-driven world, it’s easy to fall back on a strategy of looking for marginal gains alone, avoiding the risky, unquantifiable research… I’m not so sure that the long shots will take care of themselves”

Of course, no one can doubt the benefits of any improvements, even if marginal. Using the term already implies that. Nonetheless the winners will still be those that, unafraid of risk-taking, produce the revolutionary steps forward, those which later can have all their juices extracted with marginal improvements.

Harford explains “The marginal gains philosophy tries to turn innovation into a predictable process: tweak your activities, gather data, embrace what works and repeat.” As that would clearly indicate a risk avoiding growth strategy, it could just be Haldane building up a defense of the current risk weighted capital requirements for banks; that which so much promotes refinancing the safer past, over lending to the riskier future.

Sir, would you like your grandchildren dream to become marginal improvers? Not me… that’s clearly insufficient… “aim for the stars even if you don’t reach them” goes a Chinese proverb.