Politicians and many an economist want growth. Growth of anything. Growth of anything because people producing means consumers consuming; means profit for the employers. Trickle down…
But, that there are so many earning below the tax threshold means the Treasury gets less revenue. The low waged and no-wage workers require subsidies from the government to make up the shortfall. This is paid for by the taxpayers. There are fewer taxpayers. And, naturally, then, less money around to buy stuff.
How is growth to be made suddenly possible in the hands of those who, after years of failure, plan to stick to what so obviously hasn’t worked? What on earth makes anyone think the NeoCons can hold back another recession when it is by their neoliberal policies, that it is ensured, at least for us Lilliputians? And what exactly is it hoped or intended that we “grow”? More of the dubious financial services of salesmen and gamblers? More plastic crap made by serfs that fewer and fewer can afford to buy anyway because increasingly, the consumers of yesterday are the serfs of tomorrow? Are we still such fools that the mere supply of something should be counted on to lead a demand?
No matter how much it is being pointed out that it doesn’t work, the prevailing ideology is for more austerity for those who really can’t afford it. This is further complicated by a mix of collusion and self-preservation with other individual Nations, geographical blocs, corporate players and the attentive voting demographic. This has translated into politically expedient tax cuts and devastating wounds to public services both of which exacerbate the general state we are in.
Few are brave enough to talk about raising income taxes to pay for the day-to-day running of the public services we want and need. Hardly anyone wants to talk about capital spending; of economic stimulation by direct, publicly funded investment. Most would prefer to keep tinkering at the edges with any idiotic notion of false economy than contradict flat earth orthodoxy.
Politicians and, subsequently, journalists, all tell us we have to get the deficit down and live within our means but continually citing this mantra as our most urgent priority has come to sound like a doctrine of nonsense. Our country’s economy is not analogous of a private household. There is a ‘magic money tree’ because ours is a sovereign fiat currency and all we have to do is press a few keys to create some. The Government also has access to ridiculously low interest rates so there’s been no better time to ‘borrow’ it, than in the last few years, has there? The problem is surely not that we kept quantitatively easing but the who that we kept easing. And surely it matters more what magicked or borrowed credit/debt is spent on than the fact that it was borrowed? There is concern for balance and sensible mindfulness of consequence and then there is foolish procrastination and plain daft ideology, isn’t there?
Like the myths that the private sector is the backbone and driver of recovery and the public sector is a utopian drain. Wish and delusion. The private sector is in its business for the profit and the ego first. They also either don’t have any money to invest or they are sitting on it, waiting for better times or for government to incentivise them. Very few are creating meaningful new employment or a product of actual value.
Now, I don’t have an issue with private business or profit. Or individuals getting rich. I have a problem with profiteers and the lack of democratic accountability in those that provide the very utilities and services we need. I have a problem with enrichment and empowerment that comes at the expense of another’s. Rather, let the private sector be in its Market-bound realm, subject to relevant laws of practise and standard and let it thrive or die according to its merit; let what should be in the public realm for the better service of common need and good be under the ownership and jurisdiction of the State – the Democratic State as in We, the People (Yes, of course, in an ideal world). And when they meet or overlap, let the circumstances be authoritatively subject to State regulation and a test of public good. (And, yes, of course I’m imagining a competent administration)
The corporate side of the private sector, wants autonomy, authority and exclusivity as well as obscene profits with little accountability and yet still expects the investment in upkeep and development to be subsidised by the public coffers for its trouble. Poor babies! How awful to be so jammy as to be perpetually supported in greed and uselessness! The small-medium end of the private sector can’t or won’t achieve any growth of tangible difference – even growth of irrelevant items and services – because it can’t get the loans it needs and anyway can’t necessarily be sure if anyone will buy if they do because consumers are becoming thin on the ground. Then there are those private businesses that are terrified of legally enforced decent pay and conditions for their staff because the absence of these is the only thing making their business appear viable.
Should it not fall, therefore, to the Government to pick up the slack? Shouldn’t the State be the employer of at least last resort? Is that not one of the first duties of a responsible, caring government? It is certainly within their power and should be in their comprehension and political will.
If the Government willingly invested in public infrastructure, (designed for the public good rather than for the interests of profiteers) in new projects like housebuilding (and its associated amenities) and all those vital but long neglected repairs and refurbishments, we would be an industrious little nation in no time and there would be employment aplenty. There would then be money circulating throughout the economy. The private sector would then respond and begin to invest, likewise. Industry, goods and services would be stimulated into movement. Consumers would start to spend (including paying off their considerable debts). People, being paid a decent wage – enough to pay tax and still live well – would start to feel confident and hopeful. Unemployment would truly go down rather than the fractional employment giving the shallow appearance of it. Innovators and entrepreneurs would emerge with more confidence and Employers would have to make their offers more attractive to keep their staff. Trickle up…
If, rather than selling off our nationalised industries over the years, we had invested in them ourselves, we would probably have just as modern an infrastructure, more independence, be better able to keep bills reasonable and retain any eventual profits for ourselves to reinvest or as a bolster elsewhere. Instead, we sell our assets off cheaply to the corporate private realm and then subsidise their new owners to do it. We are then held to ransom and pay through the nose for extra.. what? A lack of accountability, mostly.
If all those services and utilities upon which we commonly depend, were owned again by the State – that’s us, remember – the State would also be an employer of first resort. If the Government took this responsibility seriously, decent training opportunities would be de rigueur and it would be more difficult to run out of nurses, doctors, policemen, plumbers, electricians, dustmen, care workers, teachers etc, etc. Even if, some years we have more than we need, it must still be cheaper for us to employ an extra, dare I say, even superfluous worker than to pay him/her unemployment and sundry other benefits. It’s got to be healthier, at least, hasn’t it?
Growth and the pursuit of it, in its current form: from conflict to financial services to unnecessary outsourcing: from sweatshop clothing to yet another upgrade of some device, fuels the infinite greed of corporations and maintains global reliance on the current systems. This depends on the exploitation of physical resources, be they water, fossil fuels, rare minerals or people and the belief that these are both cheap and limitless. This wastes a lot of natural resources and energy and inhibits serious alternatives. I don’t think this is what we should be so hell-bent on growing.
Rather than strive for ever more expansion of mostly rubbish out of dwindling and/or entropic materials in a finite space, shouldn’t we be striving to grow the things we all need first? Stuff like real food, quality education, quality health and social care, houses, real apprenticeships, real jobs of value, communication, connective transport and probably everything else you’re thinking of, right now. And, whether or not you believe in climate change and the human impact on our environment, is it not eminently sensible to respect the environment upon which we all depend for Life itself and look after it anyway?
Shouldn’t we try to build an ethical and sustainable economy as the foundation upon which contentment and security may foster growth in the creativity, co-operation, invention and richness of culture that makes us such an amazing species? And let the growth reflect expansion in consciousness and conscience; in empathy, integrity, trust and compassion; in equanimity, cohesion and common interest. And let those qualities be reflected in our institutions, systems and socio-economic policies. Because we should. Because we can.