Framing the economy – Project Airbus

A while ago the New Economics Foundation issued a paper on framing the economy. It was really a series of focus groups set up to try to establish how the public see the economy. All very interesting, but not in the end very helpful, simply because there was nothing to build on that would really help public understanding.

We need a simple way of framing the economy that will demonstrate why we have an economy and what purpose it serves – and preferably in such a way that brings up short the bogus questions of journalists who themselves usually seem to have remarkably little understanding.

Whilst I favour always calling the economy, ‘the political economy’, because that was really the first context in which it began to be mentioned, it may be that that hope is folorn.

The economy is always political (and never the ‘weather’ or an ‘ecosystem’) but if political is too controversial then getting across the idea that the economy is a mutual endeavour is important to counteract and diffuse ideas like ‘the City is the most important part of the economy’, or ‘we cannot afford public transport’.

Let’s think of it as Project Airbus.

No one person is capable of building or having all the knowledge to know how to build an Airbus, but with suitable co-operation and enterprise Project Airbus gives us a way of achieving things that would be impossible alone. Project Airbus requires specialisation, and requires, too that no one sector is more important than any other. Yes the wings are important but without the engines you won’t get off the ground. And without the landing gear you’ll only do a destructive belly flop when you come back down. All departments are mutually interdependent.

With less extensive, piecemeal co-operation, we can have a fast jet engine on the back of a boat or a car, but we don’t get to fly. Or we can have a baloon to get in the air but without propulsion we don’t get anywhere very far or fast. We need everything working together in a proper co-operative and interdependant way for an optimum outcome.

So with the economy.

We have an economy so as to improve outcomes. When it functions well at scale we can do things much better, even make them fly.

So the economy, like Project Airbus, gives the ability to make people’s lives better. It is a common human endeavour to improve lives. By building on specialist skills and trusting in that interdependence, a greatly enhanced outcome is achievable.

As long as we can do it through the work of our mutual efforts we will be able to make Project Airbus – and the economy – fly.

Are we ready for takeoff?


  1. Samuel Johnson -

    It’s a nice metaphor. Somewhere recently I saw an exploded diagram of a Boeing 787 showing where different parts of the plane were manufactured. It was astonishingly global, with dozens of countries involved.

    It deserved to have been seen when the Conservative (& formerly UKIP) MEP Campbell Bannerman advocated nationalising Airbus’s wing production facilities in Broughton so the UK could build its own plane. Even aside from the legality of appropriating the intellectual property, the ability to provide the rest of a plane and compete with Boeing is not something any one country can do. Impossible to get airborne on the basis of delusions of national omnipotence.

    James Fallows book China Airborne is a very insightful look at China’s efforts to acquire competence in aviation manufacturing. Some excerpts are readily available online in The Atlantic. Highly recommended.

    It’s astonishing how little some people understand of the world around them, and more astonishing, somehow, when some of them end up as lawmakers. I’m reminded of the time a former CEO of mine regaled me with his account of getting a call on his mobile phone, while he was in China, from another director.

    Right? I said
    He was IN INDIA!!!
    Oh? (As in “so what?”)
    Don’t you see, I was in China?! And he was in India! Incredible!

    (As if the phones were cosmically entangled, with no intervening infrastructure)

    Executive myopia isn’t new, of course, but for a country’s direction to be influenced by the sadly uninformed, either among the electorate or its elected leaders… Nothing good can come of it.

  2. Peter May -

    Entirely agree “a country’s direction to be influenced by the sadly uninformed, either among the electorate or its elected leaders… Nothing good can come of it”
    The additional difficulty is even that part of the media which is supposed to “inform, educate and entertain” does the last very largely to the exclusion of the first two.

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