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  1. Wealth
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April 3, 2012

Richard Oldfield

By Spear's

In The Iron Lady Meryl Streep is, in unanimous opinion, magnificent and the film is excellent, and the only dissension is over whether the film should have been made now: surely not.

IN THE IRON Lady Meryl Streep is, in unanimous opinion, magnificent and the film is excellent, and the only dissension is over whether the film should have been made now: surely not. When the defenders say that it is perfectly legitimate to make a film like this about a public figure, they are setting up a straw man with the ‘legitimate’: nobody is suggesting it should be illegal, just that it is a nasty and tasteless speculative intrusion, ironically at a time when media invasion of privacy is a big issue.

Most people would say that a film about someone with advanced cancer should only be made with the person’s permission. The idea that dementia is different because the person concerned can’t give permission and won’t know anyway is a snivelling sort of argument. Those who go to see Mrs T and have seen the film are likely to feel a bit uncomfortable about that. The film-makers should feel uncomfortable, too.
acknowledged that there was no nonsense about Mrs T. In the business world Sir William Purves, ex-chairman of HSBC, not at all a dour Scot but certainly a gruff one, is about as no-nonsense as you can get. He is said to prefer the lowlands to the highlands because the English don’t bother to stop in the lowlands.

He celebrated his 80th birthday recently with a big dinner. There were lots of affectionate tributes, many of them concentrating on his frugality. The former chief executive of the Hong Kong Jockey Club said that when Purves was appointed chairman of HSBC the Jockey Club decided it ought to make him a steward. The Jockey Club eminences were not sure whether Purves knew anything at all about horses, however.

In due course Purves rang to ask to see the chief executive, who duly drove along, making use of the special pass he had been given to get into a road otherwise blocked off and the accompanying car park pass. He reassured Purves that he had a package of information to brief Purves about the Jockey Club. ‘Never mind about that,’ said Purves, ‘it’s your car park pass I want.’
IN THE KOREAN War, Purves, aged 19, was awarded a DSO. Those in the know say that it would have been a VC had Purves been a regular rather than a national serviceman. Over the years people have tried and failed to get him to talk about the episode which led to this award. The head of Hakluyt, the political intelligence firm Purves chaired, said that one night in Hong Kong, after a few wee beers, he thought the moment was right to ask. ‘The most dangerous thing I have ever done,’ began Purves, and his interlocutor leant forward expectantly, ‘is to share a room with a whole lot of English public schoolboys.’
me are expected to make forecasts, especially at this time of year. Fifty years ago, Brian Epstein said that guitar music was over. (He changed his mind.) Seventy years ago, Tom Watson of IBM said that there was demand for maybe five computers in the world. (So did he.) A hundred years ago Marshal Foch regarded aeroplanes as ‘interesting toys, but of no military value’.

A few months ago I went to listen to President Carter speaking in London. I thought about this on a trip to New York recently. When I lived there between 1979 and 1981, Carter was President, inflation was 14 per cent, interest rates over 14 per cent, US workers had been taken hostage in the embassy in Tehran, and US helicopters crashed in the desert trying to get them out. It was a time when America’s self-esteem was at rock bottom. Yet ten years later, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, America was the only game in town. This is an illustration of unpredictability.

Kenneth Arrow, twice winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, was employed by the US Air Force in the Second World War as a meteorologist. He quickly realised that his medium and long-term forecasts were no better than random and asked if he could stop producing them. The reply came back: ‘The Commanding General is well aware that your forecasts are no good. However, they are essential for planning purposes.’
SO HERE, FOR planning purposes, is my namby-pamby forecast. There is a good chance for stock market returns over the next ten years to be decent. Economic circumstances around the world, especially in Europe, now appear horrible. The result of that is that stock-market valuations are driven down, and it is from low valuation levels that over the medium to long term you get the best returns. Of course, it does not feel like that at the time, because circumstances are horrible. 

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