‘Sheltering’ the Economy…

“Save lives, protect the NHS” and “shelter the economy” is, according to Laura Kuenssberg (and I’m sure Progressive Pulse readers will be well aware that I read no-one else) what Johnson now wants to do.

It is ‘shelter the economy’ that I find more than usually fantastical. It is as though the economy were not a mechanism that is supposed to lead to the flourishing of humanity but some delicate flower in need of protection by the self same humanity for whom it is supposed to allow that same blooming.

We need to change the attitude – we need not to shelter the economy but to create the resources (aka money) in order to protect the citizenry for whom the economy is supposed to work.

Apart from anything else, the fact that the economy will not work if we are all in fear of catching a life changing virus if we engage in it, is a pretty major disadvantage – so suppressing the virus is important. This of course runs counter to Johnson’s ridiculous original plan of keeping the economy open regardless and ‘fighting’ the virus as though it were a wrestling match.

It is telling that Johnson would rather shelter the economy, which is an abstract noun, rather than the people who elect him. I recall another right winger wanting to wage war on another abstract noun – terror – and look how well that went.

What the economy is for is a uniquely human question. It is not something that is done to us – it is something we do to ourselves. Or actually much more correctly, for, ourselves..

If we consider the Charter of the Bank of England from 1694, it stated that it was required:

“To promote the good of the people of the United Kingdom by maintaining monetary and financial stability.”

That is a typically financial summary of what the economy is for. But now we are supposedly a democracy which is, after all, rule by and for the people – and not finance, so probably we should look elsewhere.

There is the Liberal Party Paper on Britain’s Industrial Future of 1928:

“We believe with a passionate faith that the end of all political and economic action is not the perfecting or the perpetuation of this or that piece or mechanism or organisation but that individual men and women may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

I have to wonder if our current government would concur with this?

Perhaps we should examine Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was the major economic faultline of a century ago. This was based on the ideas of Stuart Chase (an American Economist, Georgeist and Fabian) who wrote in ‘A New Deal’ (1932) – that the economy…

“.. is to provide the means without excessive waste or loss whereby those who live under it may eat. It has a function and that is to provide food, shelter, clothing and comforts in as dependable and adequate quantities as natural resources and state of the technical arts permit just as the function of human physiology is to supply every cell with enough oxygen and nutriment.”

This is pretty basic but, interestingly and long before its time, includes a reference to ‘natural resources’…

Then there is the simple and aphoristic from Professor Steve Keen, author of course of ‘Debunking Economics’:

“The purpose of an economy is to provide for all the population“

My own suggestion is that the purpose of an economy should be:

To enhance the well-being of everyone enabling them to live full and interesting lives and maximize leisure by using resources in common while having regard to climate sustainabilty.

That may be overly optimistic – but it is clear that the economy is not necessary for society to exist, but is instead about improving humankind’s material, emotional and mental welfare. By clubbing together we can do things better – it is a mutual endeavour. Indeed we can see that almost all our resources, almost everything that we see around us, infrastructure, food, energy, clothing, electronic devices, contains something that someone from somewhere else has worked on.

We do however, need to realise that John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) who first coined the term ‘Economy’ in its modern all-embracing sense, actually called it the ‘Political Economy’

So we should really be asking, not what is the economy for but what is the political economy for?

The economy is created by choices – and those choices are poltical. So we should never view it as the weather , which we can do little about – but simply as a uniquely political choice. So, economic problems can never be natural disasters – if they are, in fact, disasters they are actually the result of political choices. The Johnson government should please note.

So the government’s no less than disastrous handling of the pandemic combined with its inflexible handling of the economy is, simply a governmental political choice.

It is clear that if government really had our interests at heart, it would not be asking us to shelter the economy, rather, it would be organising the economy so that it sheltered us.

That, after all is, or at least should be, what we elect them for…


  1. John Higson -

    I wonder if Laura Kuenssberg has read any of the sources referred to? Given her summary of Johnson’s intentions it seems unlikely, or she has read them but failed to understand their import. Or, maybe, she just doesn’t care what any intentions are as long as they provide journalistic red meat. She will be fine, so that’s OK. It’s very hard to really know what the likes of Kuenssberg think their job is meant to be but it is clearly not part of any comprehensive aim to ‘provide for all the population’.

    1. Peter May -

      I have read that Kuenssberg is supposed to be off to ITV soon – quicker the better!
      Mind you it is always possible I suppose that her replacement could be worse….

  2. Geoff Roberts -

    How interesting that the first comment on this article relates not to the substantive content but are reporter who was presenting her view of what the Prime Minister was saying. She may be right, she may be wrong but that is not the point of the article.

    1. Peter May -

      You’re right – but such is life…

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