Episodes

  • Some countries have legalised cannabis, often with the hope of kick-starting a lucrative new source of tax revenue - but just how profitable has it been?

    Aside from a few fact-finding trips, the prospect of legalising cannabis is not on the political agenda here in the UK - but could it be missing out?

    Advocates say it's a bad call to let criminals continue to profit when legal businesses and the government could reap the financial rewards instead. Opponents counter that no amount of money is worth the associated public health risks.

    But in the past decade countries including Canada, Malta, Uruguay and parts of the United States have decided to embrace the so-called green rush.

    But how is it working out for them economically and what lessons could other places considering legalisation learn?

    Reporter Datshiane Navanayagam talks to:

    Christopher Snowden, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs

    Adam Spiker, executive director of a cannabis trade association in California

    Amanda Chicago Lewis, a US based investigative reporter covering cannabis

    Laura Schultz, executive director of research at Rockefeller Institute of Government in New York

    Rishi Malkani, Cannabis Leader at Deloitte

    Charlotte Bowyer, Head of Advisory at Hanway Associates

    Producer: Ben Carter
    Editor: Richard Fenton-Smith
    Production co-ordinators: Helena Warwick-Cross and Maria Ogundele
    Sound engineer: James Beard

  • In late February, three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a landmark speech in the German parliament, the Bundestag. The invasion, he declared, represented a 'Zeitenwende' - a turning point.

    The speech has been much discussed since - was Mr Scholz referring simply to the fact of the invasion, or to the way Germany needed to respond to it?

    The speech contained a number of policy statements, the boldest of which was the commitment to set up a 100 billion Euro fund to re-equip Germany's outdated armed forces.

    The question now is whether Germany will live up to Mr Scholz' promises, or will the cultural, political and economic bonds that have tied Germany and Russia together get in the way?

    Presenter: Caroline Bayley
    Producer: Tim Mansel

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  • Digital advertising fuels the digital economy, but is it all based on smoke and mirrors?

    Ed Butler investigates what some claim is a massive collective deception - a trillion dollar marketing pitch that simply does not deliver value to any of those paying for it. He asks, do online ads actually work, or could it be that some of the biggest names in global tech are founded on a false prospectus?

  • Arguments over the value of nationalism seem to have been raging for centuries, even though the nation state as we know it has only become widespread in the last two hundred years.

    In this programme, David Edmonds tracks the emergence of the nation state and the debate surrounding it. From post-colonial Ghana to contemporary Britain, we hear what nationalism has meant to different people in different contexts, as well as the social and philosophical principles that underlie it.

    Contributors:

    Professor Michael Billig, Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at Loughborough University,

    Professor Richard Bourke, professor of the history of political thought, University of Cambridge.

    Elizabeth Ohene, former Minister of State in Ghana.

    Dr Sandra Obradovic, Lecturer in Psychology, The Open University.

    Professor Tariq Modood, director of the Bristol University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship.

    Dr Sarah Fine, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Cambridge

    Producer: Nathan Gower
    Studio Manager: James Beard
    Editor: Richard Fenton-Smith
    Production Co-ordinators: Maria Ogundele and Helena Warwick-Cross

  • As Russia’s brutal war with Ukraine enters its fourth month, Edward Stourton asks who Russia's allies and friends are and looks at the nation's influence overseas.

    While President Putin has made no secret of his belief that Ukraine should be part of a “greater Russia”, what is less apparent is how far Russia’s influence is spreading in other parts of the world.

    These include sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. With the West having left a vacuum in parts of Africa, President Putin has been able to offer military help in unstable countries such as Mali and the Central African Republic.

    This follows Russia's intervention in Syria's civil war on the side of Bashar Al-Assad's government, with implications for the wider geopolitics of the region.

    And in Latin America, Russia is accused of using soft power tactics through its media channels to polarise society and spread anti-US and anti-Western propaganda.

    Edward Stourton asks to what extent this shows that Russia is trying to rebuild the old Soviet-US spheres of influence of the Cold War.

    Producer: Caroline Bayley
    Editor: Richard Fenton-Smith
    Sound Engineer: James Beard
    Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Helena Warwick

  • In the wake of the greatest crisis to hit Europe since the Second World War, former Moscow correspondent Tim Whewell examines the president, people and processes that led to that momentous decision, and others like it.

    Radical advisers, tame oligarchs, intelligence agencies scared to tell Putin the truth and the domestic repercussions of NATO’s political moves - Tim brings together the variety of causes that have led to deep dysfunction and the concentration of power in a single man who risks becoming synonymous with the state itself.

    Interviewees include investigative journalists Catherine Belton and Andrei Soldatov, and former NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

    Producer: Nathan Gower
    Sound: Nigel Appleton
    Production Coordinators: Siobhan Reed and Sophie Hill
    Editor: Hugh Levinson

  • As tax rises hit pay packets next month is this an end to traditional Conservative low tax policy? The UK government has so far defied calls from across the political spectrum to shelve the planned 1.25 per cent increase in National Insurance, despite millions of households grappling with a rising cost of living at a time of great economic uncertainty as war rages in Ukraine. A greater proportion of the nation’s income will go to the taxman than at any point since the 1950s. Yet Brexit was billed by some as the UK’s chance to go it alone and create its own economic model, a “Singapore on Thames” – a low tax, light touch economy to attract outside investment. Instead, corporation tax is to increase from 19 percent to 25 per cent by 2023, while a new £12 billion annual levy to fund the NHS and social care comes in from April, initially in the form of higher national insurance payments. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has broken his election manifesto pledge not to raise such taxes to meet, he argues, the cost of supporting the economy through the pandemic. His chancellor hopes this will permit future tax cuts. But with policy priorities such as levelling up and a transition to net zero, and the realities of an ageing population, BBC Economics Correspondent Dharshini David asks whether we're seeing a fundamental shift in traditional Conservative low tax philosophy and whether that's a temporary choice - or an unavoidable permanent reorientation?
    Guests:
    Sir John Redwood MP
    Sir Charlie Bean, professor of economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science
    Lord Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury
    Dame DeAnne Julius, distinguished fellow, Chatham House
    Dr Jill Rutter, senior fellow, The Institute of Government

    Producer: Caroline Bayley
    Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Jacqui Johnson
    Sound: Graham Puddifoot
    Editor: Hugh Levinson

  • Is a world without violence possible? Violence blights the lives of countless individuals each year. The Crime Survey of England and Wales suggests there were 1.2 million incidents of violent crime in the year ending March 2020.

    Sonia Sodha focuses on one category of violence – gender-based violence – and assesses the global progress in tackling this issue. Statistics show that most perpetrators – and victims – of violent crime are men. As a result, many violence prevention initiatives have traditionally focused on reducing men’s propensity for violence. But how effective is this gender-based approach? And does it provide any clues for the best way to reduce violence in society as a whole?

    Presenter: Sonia Sodha
    Producer: Dan Hardoon
    Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Jacqui Johnson
    Sound: James Beard
    Editor: Hugh Levinson

  • Chris Naylor asks if there's a better way to deliver public services. Many of these were designed nearly a century ago to address the challenges of that time; from cradle to grave, offering help and support during times of need - just enough to get you back on your feet. But as we approach the quarter-way mark in the 21st century, our context today is radically different to that of 100 years ago. Dig a little deeper and some of the other assumptions that underpinned Beveridge’s vision of a welfare state no longer hold either: full employment; economic and fiscal growth; the presumption of unpaid domestic care (then done by women) and of affordable housing. Little wonder that services designed to respond to momentary problems in a person or household life can’t cope with the tsunami of demand that comes when those problems last for decades. And if our public services can’t cope with collective demand, the worry is this is contributing to a collapse in the trust we place in our public institutions and therefore in our politics too. As the years go by, as trust declines, so the problems get harder and harder to resolve.

    So what are we going to do about this? Is there a better way to deliver public services? Chris Naylor, the former Chief Executive of Barking and Dagenham Council assesses the need for public service reform, meeting innovators and talking to those who design and use public services. Is it time for a radical rethink?

    Producer: Jim Frank
    Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Jacqui Johnson
    Editor: Hugh Levinson

  • How can the planning system adapt so we can build new homes without alienating voters? Barrister and author Hashi Mohamed investigates, focussing on the system in England. The government has pledged to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s to ease the country’s housing crisis and increase home ownership. But wide-ranging planning reforms to make it easier to achieve were shelved following the Conservatives’ shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election last year. So is it possible to create a politically acceptable planning system in this country? Deadlock between local communities and big developers is commonplace, with planning policies taking years to realise through a local government system that lacks vital resources and expertise. And what has to change for enough new homes to be built? Hashi Mohamed asks how the planning system, and the way we live and build, needs to adapt.
    Producer: Caroline Bayley
    Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Jacqui Johnson
    Sound: Graham Puddifoot
    Editor: Hugh Levinson

  • Probing the results of a major study into our unequal society. Faisal Islam, BBC Economics Editor, talks to two leading experts on inequality, who have together been working for several years on a research project for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He asks Paul Johnson, IFS Director, and Nobel laureate Sir Angus Deaton what the findings reveal about the UK now, and how these issues can be addressed.
    Producer: Xavier Zapata
    Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Jacqui Johnson

  • What do we owe future generations? Everyone who is alive, has rights. And governments have obligations to their citizens. But what about people who are not yet born? Should their interests be taken into account - even though they don’t yet exist? David Edmonds draws upon the thinking of the late philosopher Derek Parfit to address this vexing question, which has consequences for real-world policy now in areas such as climate change.
    Presenter: David Edmonds
    Producer: Nathan Gower
    Editor: Hugh Levinson

  • Can scientists develop a vaccine which can combat the coronavirus and all its variants? There have been three lethal outbreaks caused by coronaviruses this century: SARS in 2002, MERS in 2012 and now SarsCov2. Scientists predict we will eventually encounter SarsCov3. That’s why the race is on to develop a universal vaccine to combat the coronaviruses and variants we know about, and the ones we have yet to confront. But attempts to create a universal vaccine for viruses such as influenza and HIV have been going on for decades - without success.

    Before 2020, proposals to create a vaccine against coronaviruses were not thought important enough to pursue since many just cause the common cold. Now that we understand their real threat, can scientists succeed in creating a vaccine to fight this large family of viruses,?

    Produced and presented by Sandra Kanthal
    Editor: Emma Close
    Production Coordinators: Maria Ogundele and Jacqui Johnson
    Sound: James Beard and Rod Farquhar

  • Finding things out during the pandemic has been hit and miss: there’ve been miracles, and there’s been junk. What matters is not just what we think we know about how to intervene to improve human health, but how we think we know it. Methods can be inspired, flawed, or both. Michael Blastland tells the short and still-changing story of how science has been trying to get better at finding things out.

    Contributions from:

    Professor Sir Angus Deaton, Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs Emeritus at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department at Princeton University.
    Maria Popp. Department of Anaesthesiology, Intensive Care, Emergency and Pain Medicine, University Hospital Wuerzburg.
    Professor George Davey Smith, Director of the Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol.
    Sheena McCormack, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at University College London

    Producer: Ben Carter
    Editor: Jasper Corbett
    Sound Engineer: Graham Puddifoot

  • Birth rates in many countries, including China, Japan, Italy and the UK have dropped below replacement level. Clare McNeil asks if we should be concerned about this, and the burden it will place on taxpayers and the young, or welcome it as a good thing for climate change, where some think that the fewer consumers and CO2 emitters the better. But with fertility rates of 1.58 in England and Wales, and only 1.29 in Scotland, society is aging, with the higher healthcare and pension costs to be borne by the taxpayers of working age. What role could or should the government play in increasing the birthrate?

    Presenter: Clare McNeil
    Producer: Arlene Gregorius
    Editor: Jasper Corbett

    Speakers:
    Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, the University of Sheffield
    Lord David Willetts, President of the Resolution Foundation
    George Monbiot, environmental campaigner and author
    Felix Pinkert, Assistant professor of Philosophy and Economics, University of Vienna
    Jacob Hacker, Professor of Political Science, Yale University
    Jade Sasser, Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of California, Riverside
    Ronald Lee, emeritus professor of Demography and Economics, University of California, Berkeley

  • The shortage of HGV drivers has been hitting the headlines, but other sectors are affected by a lack of staff too, from care homes to restaurants. This despite wages going up, and the end of the furlough scheme. What's going on? Could it be that power is shifting away from employers to workers, for perhaps the first time since the 1970s?
    Since the 2008 financial crisis public opinion has increasingly been unfavourable towards globalisation, immigration and big corporations. This has been reflected in a shift away from an assumed pro-business stance among the mainstream political parties too. Philip Coggan speaks to a range of experts to find out what's been happening, whether workers really will gain more power, and what that might mean for the economy.

    Guests:
    Ben Clift, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick
    Dame DeAnne Julius, Distinguished Fellow for Global Economy and Finance, Chatham House
    Kate Bell, Head of Rights, International, Social and Economics at the Trades Union Congress
    Rob Ford, Professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester
    Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Policy at King’s College, London
    Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality
    Shereen Hussein, Professor of Health and Social Care Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
    Gerwyn Davies, Public Policy Adviser and Senior Market Analyst at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

    Producer: Arlene Gregorius
    Sound: Gareth Jones

  • Splitting up where children are involved is tricky. Especially when it ends up in the family courts. It’s even more tricky when a child decides they don’t want a relationship with one of the parents.

    Over the last two decades a controversial psychological concept has emerged to describe a situation where children - for no apparent reason - decide they don’t want to see one parent. It’s called parental alienation.

    Women’s rights organisations argue parental alienation is used to gaslight abused women. Fathers’ rights organisations claim that some mothers make up allegations of abuse to prevent them from seeing their children. And children are caught in the middle.

    Sonia Sodha explores the polarizing concept of “parental alienation” and asks how a contested psychological theory has evolved into an increasingly common allegation in the UK family courts.

    Producer: Gemma Newby

  • When you listen to a radio programme, watch an animated film, or even receive a phone call, it’s unlikely you’ll question whether the words you’re hearing are coming from the mouth of a human being. But all that could be about to change thanks to the rise of ‘voice cloning’.

    Elaine Moore is a tech columnist at the Financial Times and she’s interested in the ramifications of this new technology. Thanks to artificial intelligence, cloning a human voice can be achieved with just a few minutes of recorded audio. As the technology becomes more sophisticated and its use more widespread, how will this affect our society, our politics and our personal interactions? And is it time we were able to control what happens to our own voice both now and when we die?

    With contributions from:
    Carlton Daniel, lawyer at Squire Patton Boggs.
    Tom Lee, co-founder of LOVO.
    David Leslie, Ethics Theme Lead at the Alan Turing Institute.
    Rupal Patel, founder & CEO of VocaliD.
    Tim McSmythurs, AI Researcher and creator of Speaking AI.
    James Vlahos, co-founder of HereAfter AI.

    Producer: Craig Templeton Smith
    Editor: Jasper Corbett

  • This summer's hasty and poorly executed withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan caused shock and profound unease among Washington's allies, just as they hoped the unilateralism of the Trump era had been left behind. But anxiety about America's position on defence only intensified with the unveiling in September of AUKUS - a trilateral security pact involving Australia, the US and UK covering the Indo-Pacific region. The exclusion of France from that deal not only enraged Paris but also further alarmed European allies about American intentions.

    So what next? Can the Biden administration be trusted to uphold the security guarantee which underpins NATO? Or, as France's President Emmanuel Macron argues, do these and other actions by the United States show that the 70 year-old Alliance is effectively "brain dead" and that Europe has to set about achieving "strategic autonomy" without depending on Washington's whims?

    In a lively forum with key players and thinkers about European security from both sides of the Atlantic, Edward Stourton considers what should happen now on European defence and whether seemingly divergent views about it can be reconciled.

    Those taking part: Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director of the Royal United Services Institute in London; Nathalie Loiseau, MEP, former French Minister of European Affairs and Chair of the European Parliament's Sub-committee on Security and Defence; Dr Constanze Stelzenmüller, expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic Relations in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.; and Linas Linkevicius, former Foreign and Defence Minister of Lithuania.

    Producer: Simon Coates
    Editor: Jasper Corbett

    Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

  • What keeps a nation together? For political scientist Benedict Anderson, it was the idea of the 'imagined community'. Although people from different backgrounds in a country might not know one another, they could imagine themselves as part of the same larger story.

    Peter Pomerantsev looks at how we can survive as a society when the idea of the 'imagined community' is under strain. Is it too late to find any commonality? Or are there other ways of imagining the future of the nation?

    Producer Ant Adeane
    Editor Jasper Corbett