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Campaign for Truss-Less Growth

by on 2022/10/06

John M Bryden

October 2022

I was fulminating about – and cogitating on – the growth obsession of Liz Truss, the new leader of the Tory government in Westminster following the coup d’etat of the far right wing in the DDUK (Disunited Disfunctional United Kingdom). Truss has returned to the ideology of Thatcher and Reagan that has been so globally destructive during the past. She is clearly a “true believer” in her own neo-con neo-liberal religion, which she and they dress up as ´economics´.  

Her formula to get “growth” in the UK is to reduce taxes for the rich, reduce public spending, and reduce welfare payments to the needy. This she claims will attract rich investors, or keep them at home because high taxes cause them to leave.

I have never believed in this religion, although I am a very well trained political economist from Adam Smith’s own university (Glasgow) and other worthy establishments. After those many years (40+) of neo-liberalism, I still do not believe it! Because it flies in the face of all the evidence, all my practical experience, all my research, and all my instincts.

“Growth” to Truss, and the far right think tanks that provide the religious foundation for her policies, means growth of GDP. This indicator can of course be useful, and when GDP grows it can sometimes improve the quality of life of human beings. But it is quite wrong to suppose that there is a direct correlation between growth of GDP and growth of quality of life for everyone. It all depends on how it is achieved, what the both measureable and less measureable outcomes are, and how these (both good and bad outcomes) are distributed between people.

I am not going to argue for “zero growth” or “de-growth”, because I think those arguments depend on such questions – what is the composition of growth, what are its specific costs and benefits (including less measureable ones like human stress and conflicts, health, climate impacts, biodiversity impacts, ), and how are these distributed between different people (and different generations) both at home and elsewhere in the world. Growth that is based on investment and rent-seeking by the wealthiest people in any society (and in the world), and on making poor or vulnerable people suffer is very unlikely to have positive impacts on the environment, health, peace, or quality of life for the majority. But growth that is based on providing better health, social welfare, education, and environment for everyone is much more likely to have positive impacts on quality of life for all. One of my own activities is to promote more local musical performance, and more participation of all ages and ethnicities in such performance, in our mainly rural locality. Sometimes this means concerts or workshops where performers get paid, participants pay, and money spent is not spent on plastic baubles. To my mind, any small growth that comes from this is “good growth”, while it is in my mind certain that quality of life of those taking part has increased, and there have been few negative environmental or climate impacts. Gardening has some similar features, as does cycling, sailing, swimming, painting, education itself, and all sorts of other activities. BUT Liz Truss and her tribe are not talking about that sort of growth, and that is the biggest problem!

I have lived in three Nordic countries since 2008, and all are social democracies with a written constitution, multiple parties, proportionate representation, frequent coalitions, and no houses of Lords or other second chambers. No party that hopes to be elected would campaign on reducing welfare benefits, public health, public education or in favour of such things as fracking. It is no accident that these countries have had steady economic growth in the past 50 years, and that this growth has continued despite high taxes, and a good distribution of income and wealth when compared to the neoliberal champions the UK and USA. In terms of climate action, environmental protection,  volunteer and other action in relation to cultural activities, and municipal government, these countries lead the world. These factors lead to people being the happiest – and enjoying the highest quality of life – in the world. They also boast quite a few rich people who do invest in local industries and local causes, and most of whom do not send their income or wealth to tax havens (some do, of course!). There are of course lessons for the UK and the US in this, but their leaders do not want to recognize that, and their journalists are for the most part too timid to get out there and argue with their leaders, especially in Truss’s UK where those lovely “foreign investors” she loves so much have taken over the media, and so much else!

So I am campaigning for “Truss-less Growth”, Nordic style!

We must ask hard questions about the motivations, content, outcomes and distribution of costs and benefits of growth activities and policies! Not all growth is good, and much of it is not. But not all growth is bad either, especially for people who do not have so much! We can and must make choices.

From → Rural policy

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