We are lurching from crisis to crisis

The cost-of-living crisis is not just a question of increasing prices. The reason the current inflation can be considered such a crisis is that the UK has not been creating enough wealth for people to afford these higher prices. And while the recent dislocations and disruptions caused by the lockdown reopenings and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have had a huge impact on prices, the British government still seems incapable of acknowledging that things were not going well economically both before the war and before the pandemic.

Even when the current rapid pace of inflation eventually slows, many households will still be struggling to meet those higher prices of essentials like food and energy. And even if those particular costs began to subside, many people would continue to live on the edge, until the next shock sends them deeper into privation. These scenarios reveal that today’s cost-of-living crisis is not just a product of price increases.

Why have the increased costs become so unbearable for so many households? Why is there so little capacity at an individual, business or societal level to cope with these price spikes? Without addressing these historical issues underlying the current hardship, we are likely to see a continuation of crisis management rather than a durable fix.

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Who will save Britain from its never-ending slump?

The huge hole at the centre of the Autumn Budget goes beyond any of the fiscal measures announced. The substance of the statement made clear that this government’s bold talk about economic renewal does not translate into a serious pro-growth plan that might address the fundamental challenges of low investment and poor productivity.

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How to bring about a high-wage economy

According to some pundits, the empty petrol stations and gaps on supermarket shelves are a forewarning of another ‘winter of discontent’ – a reference to 1978-9, when widespread strike action brought the UK to a standstill.

In the energy crisis, some see a return to the oil crisis of 1973-4, when OPEC imposed an oil embargo on the likes of the UK and the US because of their support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

And, as prices rise across the board, there is a great deal of speculation about a return of 1970s-style ‘stagflation’, when economic stagnation co-existed with sharply rising prices, precipitating a cost-of-living crisis.

As evocative as these trips down economic memory lane are, they do not help us understand what is going on today. The general fashion for reaching for old labels, such as new New Deals or new Cold Wars, to describe the present often obscures what is distinctive about the contemporary moment – and this certainly applies to our current economic situation.

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A ‘rebound’ to the Old Normal is not good enough

At the end of April, Barclays boss Jes Staley was forecasting that 2021 would see the strongest boom in Britain since the aftermath of the Second World War. The emerging consensus among economists is only a little less ebullient in anticipating the fastest pace of growth since 1989. The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, captured the upbeat mood: ‘As I’ve been saying for months – drawing on the economics of coiled springs, and crouching tigers, and “Chicken Lickens” – I do think more likely than not we are [set] for a rapid-fire recovery. That is coming, and I think that is coming soon.’

The upgraded forecasts for Britain’s economic growth this year and next from the likes of the IMF and the EY ITEM Club are quite feasible. However, it is short-sighted to think a rapid bounce-back over the next year or so will mean a robust long-term recovery. Moreover, talk of a ‘great rebound’ could also reinforce the tendency of successive governments to abandon their economic responsibilities to help the private sector create new growth sectors with enough decent well-paying jobs for people.

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A roadmap for economic renewal

There is much talk from inside and outside government about a state-administered ‘reset’ or ‘reboot’ in order to begin Britain’s economic recovery. But the economy needs something much more far-reaching – namely, a bold and comprehensive reconstruction. Ordinary people must take the lead in our post-Covid recovery. Read the full article here.