Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Economical with the truth

I am not an economist, or the son of an economist, but I have spotted a few aggravating untruths which are being either assumed or actively preached in much of the current debate over the British economy.  Rather than allow my annoyance to build up to levels where I am in danger of bursting every time I watch the news, I thought I'd vent here.  Thanks for listening.

1.  In the normal course of things, we can expect to get continually richer.  This has left- and right-wing versions, although increasingly they sound pretty similar.  The gist of both is that if only the other guys hadn't done something wrong - fiddled with the market, or failed to fiddle with the market - then the good ship capitalism would be sailing along quite happily providing more and more wealth to more and more people.  This is twaddle.  There is no guarantee that we will get richer - no "British promise".

2.  There has been a catastrophic failure in the system, but we can fix it.  The system hasn't failed.  What we are going through is a painful market adjustment, which is what the market is meant to do.  If something is over-valued, even if that thing is the whole of the British economy, then eventually the bubble will burst.  This is the system working.  Maybe we don't like the system - you're welcome to propose a better one - but let's not pretend that this is some sort of aberration.  It is business as normal.

3.  We are poor.  No, we're not.  In the grand scheme of things, I imagine everyone reading this is stupendously rich by global standards.

4.  People in the public sector are paid less than people in the private sector.  There is no evidence that this is true.

5.  You have to allow people to be paid stupid sums of money or they will take their business overseas.  There is no evidence that this is true.

6.  The rich don't pay enough tax.  Actually, the top 1% of earners pay a whopping 27% of all income tax.

7.  We can have it all.  No, we can't.  If we live longer, we have to pay more.  If we want more money, we have to work harder.

8.  Wealth will make us happy.  And that's the big one.  The whole debate is predicated on the idea that becoming more wealthy is the goal.  Theologically, this is the idolisation of money, but even putting this to one side it's pretty stupid, and yet utterly pervasive.  Money won't make you happy and it won't fix our social ills.

Here endeth the rant.  That feels much better.

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