In a set piece speech a couple of weeks ago, the leader of one of our major political parties set out five goals that would characterise his party’s economic policy should they win the next election:
· restore trust in Britain’s institutions
· create a skilled workforce
· an industrial policy for good private sector jobs in every region
· tackle the culture of short-termism
· reform financial markets
I have three remarks.
More of a quiz question actually. Can you guess which leader uttered these gems?
What does it tell us, even if you already know the answer, that it really could have been any of them?
I can’t remember where I first heard or read it, but somewhere along the line I learned that a useful test of the meaning of a marketing claim was to consider its negation. If the negation is clearly ridiculous, then the claim itself is probably vacuous. Let’s take a look:
“Our future economic policies will be:
· to develop untrustworthy institutions
· to reduce the skills and capabilities of the British workforce
· to foster meaningless work everywhere except London
· to discourage long term thinking and planning
· to reduce regulation of financial markets and allow them to do whatever they want”
Which is by way of saying: these goals are meaningless. They are bland truisms uttered in an attempt to defuse an imagined resistance that serve only to confirm the validity of public indifference.
In any case, what are these goals actually for? Why would we want them? What would they give us?
The probable answer would be something like “to deliver an efficient and competitive economy” or “to support the economic growth that will enable us to fund vital public services” or “to put the country on a sustainable economic footing” or somesuch.
To which my response is, firstly:- see my Second Remark, above.
Secondly, and more substantively – how about setting out (in simple terms, nothing too complex or technical) what it is you’re aiming for, what sort of outcome or world you want to head towards; and then set out five goals that manifestly help to get there.
We would like an economy that enables all of our citizens to flourish and feel valued; in which ‘wealth’ is both more broadly defined and more evenly distributed; that makes a positive contribution to the development of a just and peaceful world; and that functions in a manner that is consistent with the realities of living on a single, finite planet
A bit softy liberal eco-utopian, maybe, but you get the gist: and, from that, we get:-
· We shall prioritise investment, and encourage investment, in health and related sectors that contribute to well-being
· We shall develop and introduce a range of incentives to encourage the growth of low-environmental impact sectors, and to encourage other sectors to move rapidly towards peaceful activity that is consistent with living on a single finite planet
· We shall reform corporate law so as to oblige commercial organisations to pursue broader goals of responsibility for, and care towards, the citizens and locations with which they engage
· We shall re-orient income-side taxes so as to raise the value (and thus income) of work that involves providing direct care for others, and to restrict the earnings available from speculative and/or casino-style financial activities
· We shall reform the consumption-side tax system so as to encourage demand for goods and services that are demonstrably sustainable and/or healthy, with a view to facilitating a national debate about a longer term strategy to free us from the debt-based, anxiety-inducing, divisive and unsustainable strictures of ‘consumerism’
There we go; five goals, with a point.
A flight of pure fancy, obviously, with absolutely no chance of having traction anywhere ‘serious’.
But that’s not the same as being ‘wrong’.