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?