Blog Archives

When snow is a red herring: the UK economy contracts

I am sure I am not the only person to snort with disgust when the media report today’s figures, from the Office of National Statistics, that show a “shock” contraction of 0.5% in the UK’s economy in the last quarter of 2010?

How can it be a shock when ever since the Coalition cobbled themselves together in May they have been taking money out of the economy, meaning that most of us have less to spend, and that what we need to buy costs more.  It’s a simple equation that means we consumers cannot afford to grow the economy out of recession.  And because our version of capitalism has been so closely linked to excessive consumerism – I’d say the model is in trouble.

From April more public sector workers will hit the scrapheap; that will take more money out of circulation and so on until down the plughole we will go.  Shrinking the state has been one of George Osborne’s long-standing ideologies before he got his mitts on the public purse and his dogged persistence in pursuing that aim, before industry is in a position to expand to fill the gap, is at best short-sighted and at worst downright vandalistic.

The equation is simple about our own spending and so is the model of swift action by the coalition: they want to get the pain out of the way in time for the country’s economy to have taken a turn for the better in time for the next election.  George can’t afford to hang about because he wants the glory run.  I don’t think it’s coming.  The devastating effects of the cuts and inflation are kicking in now and private enterprise is not going to be able to pick up the slack in time for there to be a quick upturn in the economy.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the state of the economy has given the coalition carte blanche to viciously shrink the state in short order not just for our own good and to pay off the nation’s debt (economists say we are not even going start touching that for another 5 years), but to fit with certain politicians’ pre-existing ideas about how economies and countries should be run which are then blindly applied.  A scientist would look at the experiment so far and observe that it isn’t working in the way they had predicted.  Unless Osborne knows that we (yes us, not just some thing called the economy) are going to go through this and is lying.

Instead  Osborne just blames the snow for the downturn in the quarter that included Christmas: well you may as well just say leaves on the line George, leaves on the line…


Measure for Measure II

What I would say to yer man (that’s my polite term for the PM) is this: why don’t you visit a drive-through McDonalds and talk to the talking post there; measure the post’s wellbeing. Then you can go to the first window where the person takes your money. They can’t actually interact with you when they are conducting the financial transaction because they are the disembodied voice in the post and they are now “talking” to the person behind you. They won’t really be able to look at you and you won’t really look at them. So you have one person, employed, hopefully healthy and with friends and family who might go home and volunteer and care and read Kafka for all I know (ticking yer boxes Dave), but in this role they talk to you through a post, and avoid all eye-contact. How is impersonating a talking post and not acknowledging each other’s humanity a measure of happiness?

Is it quicker for me to talk to the post and then hand over my money silently through the window as the employee talks to the car behind? No, it is not. There is not less talk or speedier talk, in fact, if anything, it is slower because I am deaf and can’t lip read the frickin post. What it does do is dehumanises us all. Just like the self-service checkouts at supermarkets, the petrol station cashiers who have to ask me every day if I want random doughnuts or coffee with that? I don’t, I never do, I never will. Caffeine is just so never an impulse buy when I am in here nearly every day of the week and live one minute away. Just like the banks that don’t want to talk to you or help you, or the teachers that are forced to invest as much time in the paperwork as their learners. Just like the parents that have to leave their children with low-paid childcare workers for 10 hours every day just to not afford a holiday and hardly ever see their children.

Measure the effects of all that Mr Cameron and you will know why modern society is an unhealthy and unhappy place for many people to live in. But those people who really aren’t very “happy” probably won’t ever answer your damn survey and so you’ll never know. So wouldn’t it be far better to spend your rabbit out of hat £2 million on finding ways to reduce the mental unwellbeing in the UK? We are, according to Oliver James, twice as likely to have a mental illness as our European neighbours, a statistic he puts down to “our materialistic values, heavily stimulated by the fact that for 50 years, we have spent twice as much on advertising to our population.”

Twice as much advertising = twice as much mental illness? Well it’s possible and looking at that would be a much better activity than asking the fucking obvious.

That is so obviously the last word isn’t it? But by way of a postscript I will share the parting shot of the ONS consultation questionnaire. It’s this gem:

Which of the following ways would be best to give a picture of national well-being?

Please choose one option only.
Economic measures
Single measure of overall life satisfaction/happiness
Small selection of indicators
Large set of indicators
Single index of national well-being (lot of information combined into a single number)