The Bank of England upgrades its economic growth forecast, but separate figures show a rise in UK unemployment.
See the article here: Bank of England upgrades forecasts
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The Bank of England upgrades its economic growth forecast, but separate figures show a rise in UK unemployment.
See the article here: Bank of England upgrades forecasts
Chancellor George Osborne tells business leaders at the CBI that he will not deviate from the government’s economic road to reducing the deficit.
Read the original: Chancellor to stay on economic path
Our current state of economic dislocation and rise of the far right mirrors the school’s two periods. We must overcome with reason
The final question for this series is whether any of the issues brought up by the Frankfurt school still have any currency or importance. There are two distinct periods in the work of the Frankfurt school. On the one hand there is the attempt to explain and understand fascism as it was arising during the Weimar Republic. This was a period of social, economic and political dislocation that brought to the fore very real material concerns on the part of workers that could easily be channelled into a traditional search for scapegoats and simple explanations. During this period, however, there continued to exist a powerful workers’ movement in the form of social democracy and communism which, had it been able to overcome the timidity of the former and the strategic incompetence of the latter, could have functioned as a bulwark against the rise of the extreme right.
The second period is that of the postwar years, in which there was a social consensus that was formed under the umbrella of the cold war and rising prosperity (what the French call Les Trente Glorieuses) and in which it was declared that class and class struggle had come to an end. Frankfurt school theories about commodification, alienation, reification and false consciousness were revived by the 1968 movement as a way of explaining away the apparent passivity of the working class. Indeed, it was during this period that the working class began to be seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. The forward march of labour was halted, social democratic and communist parties accommodated to the new consensus and, as the philosopher André Gorz had it, it was “farewell to the working class”.
Since the mid-70s, however, we have again been living in a different world in which the automatic prosperity and growth of the postwar decades have disappeared. Real wages have fallen at the same time that productivity has risen, thereby transferring unimaginable wealth to the richest in society. Estimates of how much money is stashed in offshore accounts vary between $12 and $32tn – enough wealth to wipe out almost all the social problems of poverty in one fell swoop were it to be confiscated, socially invested and redistributed.
The problem now is that the two original periods that characterised the battleground for the Frankfurt school exist at one and the same time. We have the economic dislocation of the Weimar period with rates of unemployment in Europe rising constantly (Spain, for example, has reached over 50% youth unemployment), which is feeding into a rise of neo-fascist and rightwing parties from Golden Dawn to Ukip. At the same time there is a supine centre-left which is tied into the neoliberal agenda, while a fractured and fragmented “communist” movement (for want of a better word) has failed to put together a convincing alternative.
The great recession since 2008 has stripped away a lot of the illusions people have about the society they live in. When a government needs to proclaim that “we are all in this together”, then it is clear what the true subtext actually is.
But perhaps even more seriously, the planet itself can no longer afford the constant expansion required by capital. We have the technological and financial means to solve pretty well all of the basic problems of humanity. What we don’t have is the political will. But that is only missing because even our hopes for the future have become privatised and commodified. Our dreams have been bought up and sold back to us as glittery tat and royal weddings. It has often been said that it is easier now to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine a better one.
But this was true at the start of the Frankfurt school. Theodor Adorno wrote:
“The prospective fascist may long for the destruction of himself no less than for that of the adversaries, destruction being a substitute for his deepest and most inhibited desires … He realises that his solution is no solution, that in the long run it is doomed. Any keen observer could notice this feeling in Nazi Germany before the war broke out. Hopelessness seeks a desperate way out. Annihilation is the psychological substitute for the millennium – a day when the difference between the ego and the others, between poor and rich, between powerful and impotent, will be submerged in one great inarticulate unity. If no hope of true solidarity is held out to the masses, they may desperately stick to this negative substitute.”
That loss of hope and optimism about a better world is the most depressing outcome of the current crisis and it is no wonder that many seek refuge in the false nostalgia of an unspoiled world before the ravages of capitalism prompted “all that is solid to melt into air“.
But there is no way back, not least because the golden age never existed and the golden dawn will never come. The only way is to push forward using science, reason, intelligence and hope. Weak power may be good enough for now but at some point someone is going to have to flex muscle. Let’s make sure that it is the good guys and not the fascists again.
China launches an investigation into senior economic policymaker Liu Tienan for corruption, state media report.
…Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor)
Follow this link: Joint Ministerial Statement by the Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Member of Parliament for Nunavut and Minister of the…
Pakistan heads to poll amid economic challenges
See the article here: Economy confronts Pakistan’s leaders
Christine Lagarde’s inspectors should see that Britain is crying out for investment, not more austerity
Dear IMF officials,
Don’t be blinded by a single ray of sunshine. Britain may have avoided a triple-dip recession, but all the other economic news is weak at best.
At the heart of the problem are the country’s ultra-conservative banks and building societies. Either they are short of funds or reluctant to lend to all but the most financially secure borrower. As Vince Cable put it yesterday, they are working on a “pawnbroker business model” demanding “heaps of collateral” that he likened to a gold watch.
The result is that few small and medium-sized businesses can access the cheap credit on offer from the Bank of England.
Homebuyers are in a similar fix. Some estate agents report that cash buyers make up almost 50% of the house purchases in recent months. Housebuilding remains at levels not seen since the 1920s.
As you pointed out on your visit last year, the Treasury has room for manoeuvre should it want to promote growth. The trouble is that all the fiscal loosening this year will just go to overstressed hospitals, a bigger pension bill and a school system coping with a baby boom. There was little extra in the last budget for investment.
Among the voices over here calling for a more cautious approach to austerity are the former City regulator Lord Turner, who warned yesterday that the slowdown caused by aggressive cuts could trigger a cycle of debt.
“I think the difficulty is that when the public debt levels go up in the crisis you feel you’ve got to get that under control
China’s trade growth accelerates in April, beating analysts’ expectations, a positive sign for the country’s fragile economic recovery.
Report shows arts budget of less than 0.1% of public spending delivers four times that in contribution to GDP
Arts and culture delivers a significant return on relatively small levels of government spending and directly leads to at least £856m of spending by tourists in the UK, according to a new report seeking to analyse the value of the arts to the modern economy.
Analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows that the arts budget accounts for less than 0.1% of public spending, yet it makes up 0.4% of the nation’s GDP.
The report is published amid fears that the arts will take another big hit when George Osborne announces his spending review in June.
Maria Miller, the culture secretary, recently called for the economic case to be made for the arts, “to hammer home the value of culture to our economy”. She added: “In an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact.”
The report, commissioned in November, helps to do that in unprecedented detail, showing that spending on the arts is far from a drain on public resources.
Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, which commissioned the research with the National Museum Directors’ Council, said he was gratified that the report quantified “what we have long understood – that culture plays a vital part in attracting tourism to the tune of £856m a year; that arts centres and activities transform our towns and cities and drive regeneration, making the choice to maintain investment in culture a forward thinking one for local authorities; and that the arts support the creative industries and improve their productivity.”
The report calculates that:
• The turnover of businesses in the arts and culture industry was £12.4bn in 2011. This in turn led to an estimated £5.9bn of gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy in the same year. (GVA is the value of the industry’s output minus the value of inputs used to produce it, including state subsidies.)
• The sector provides more than 110,000 jobs directly, about 0.45% of total employment in the UK. The figure becomes 260,300 jobs once the indirect impacts of arts and culture are added in.
• Living in an area with twice the average level of cultural density adds an average £26,817 to the value of a property.
The report says that public subsidy plays a vital role in encouraging creative innovation by “overcoming private-sector reluctance to invest in risky projects”. One example of that, quoted in the report, is the National Theatre’s War Horse, which even the original book’s author, Michael Morpurgo, had reservations about – but which has become a big moneyspinner.
Similarly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which dominated the Olivier theatre awards, could only have been created with public money. Its director, Marianne Elliott, said after receiving an award: “We took risks and thought we would fail and it is a testament to subsidised theatre that we were allowed to think we might fail.”
The report says there is much evidence to show that art and culture improves national productivity. “Engagement with arts and culture helps to develop people’s critical thinking, to cultivate creative problem solving and to communicate and express themselves effectively.”
Although consumer spending on the arts – its biggest income – increased between 2008 and 2010, it suffered a decline in 2011-12. The report warns: “It might be said that arts and culture is experiencing a pincer movement effect in the aftermath of the financial crisis: reduced consumer expenditure due to squeezed incomes, and reduced public spending.”
The report was welcomed by the investment banker John Studzinski, who chairs the east London arts organisation Create. “Everybody knows the enormous intangible benefits of the arts. What this report does is look at tangible benefits that economists and bureaucrats can now point to.”
Davey stressed that the primary concern from the Arts Council’s perspective was always the contribution culture makes to quality of life. “But at a time when public finances are under such pressure, it is also right to examine all the benefits that investment in arts and culture can bring – and to consider how much we can make the most effective use of that contribution.”
Past five years appear to be a dress rehearsal for future: smaller economy, falling living standards, austerity and fed up voters
Since the start of the crisis five years ago, mainstream economics has been waiting for life to return to normal. Whatever ideological differences they might have, Keynesians and monetarists share a faith that all it takes is time and the right policies to bring back the good times. What unites them is the belief that the tough time the world has been going through since the summer of 2007 is an aberration.
But what if it isn’t? What if – in the memorable phrase of Tony Crosland when the wheels came off the economy in the mid-1970s – the party’s over? What if the 25% share of the vote taken by Ukip at last week’s local elections is not just a here today, gone tomorrow protest, but a sign of the political disaffection to come?
Should that prove to be the case, it will necessitate a complete re-think of political economy, since the model of the past 70 years has relied on decent levels of growth providing the resources not just to raise personal consumption levels but also to allow the expansion of welfare provision.
There are three reasons why this might be an over-gloomy assessment. The first is that growth does at last seem to be picking up, even if slowly and unevenly. In the US, the housing market is on the mend and the financial system has been largely patched up. In Britain, demand for mortgages is rising, new car sales are robust and the forward-looking business surveys are looking stronger. Consumers seem to be fed up with being miserable and have started to spend a bit more.
The second reason why the dark clouds may eventually be banished is that this is not the first time people have predicted the end of growth and been proved wrong. You don’t need to go all the way back to Malthus for an example: in the 1970s, there were plenty of doomsters who said the limits to growth had been reached.
The final reason, linked to the second, is that every now and then a burst of technological innovation has come along to revitalise the western industrial model. It happened at the end of the 19th century with a wave of innovations that included the automobile, the aeroplane and the cinema, and there are those who think what’s happening in digital, biotechnology, robotics and energy will perform the same function over the next 10-15 years.
Let’s take these points in turn. It is certainly true that western economies – the eurozone apart – are enjoying some growth. It is also true that the emergency policy actions of late 2008 and early 2009 prevented a severe recession from turning into a rerun of the 1930s. But five years on these emergency measures are still in place. Not just that, they have been augmented over time and are now permanent features of macro-economic policy. We have become hooked on stimulus and this is not a healthy sign.
An alternative history of the past 40 years goes as follows. The growth pessimists were broadly right, but what they did not anticipate is that the west would find new, ingenious and often dangerous ways of keeping the show on the road: financial de-regulation, personal debt, globalisation, exploiting the environment. There are still a few tricks policymakers can turn, such as shale gas and quantitative easing, but essentially these are just new versions of the old tricks. The game is up.
Nor, if the American economist Robert Gordon is right, can we rely on the cavalry to arrive in the form of technological change. Gordon argues that the current wave of innovations will prove less growth rich than those of a century ago.
Stephen King, the chief economist at HSBC, says in his new book, When the Money Runs Out, that we should not take progress for granted and should instead be bracing ourselves for the end of western affluence. He says the stagnation is far from temporary and will reach crisis proportions before too long.
King paints a dystopian vision of the future in which nations recoil from globalisation and become more willing to fight over resources. Populations lose their faith in governments and in money that has been debased by attempts to revive growth.
You don’t need fully to buy into this argument to see that King might be on to something. In Britain, we have a set of economic assumptions: that the economy will expand by 2% or so a year; that rising house prices will provide owner-occupiers with a nest egg; that the nation is wealthy enough to spend more on the steadily increasing cost of health, education, pensions and care for its elderly citizens.
There would need to be a radical scaling back of expectations in the event that the trend rate of growth is no longer 2 to 2.5% a year but 1%. Some of the promises we have made ourselves about the future would look extravagant, even reckless. There would be hard choices to be made between higher taxes and pared-back provision of public services. There would be a struggle to secure the fruits of what little growth there was, which those with the sharpest elbows would win. Many people would be in the position of seeing their living standards drop year after year, and would be mightily unhappy as a result.
In reality, a dress rehearsal for this sort of world has been going on for the past five years. The economy is smaller now than it was in 2008; living standards have fallen sharply; austerity has been imposed and – as the support for Ukip shows – there is a great deal of disgruntlement about.
Received political wisdom is that David Cameron and the Conservatives have the most to lose from the rise of Ukip. That’s true if Nigel Farage is merely surfing a wave of Euroscepticism, but if he’s tapping into a deeper well of disquiet the political leader with the real headache is Ed Miliband.
Why? Because social democratic parties thrive in times of abundance and wither in times of dearth. A growing economy allows parties of the left to increase investment in public spending and to redistribute resources from rich to poor. When they preside over falling living standards and cuts in social provision, they get kicked out.
Many natural Labour supporters voted for Ukip last Thursday, even though the past three years under the coalition should have made the official opposition the receptacle for protest. Labour should have done much, much better. That it didn’t boils down to two things. The opposition is still blamed for the state of the economy when the crisis broke. More significantly, perhaps, Labour needs to show that the growth pessimists are wrong and that it has a plan for remedying the UK’s deep structural problems after the next election. As yet, it has not remotely done so.
• Stephen King: When the Money Runs Out; Yale University Press