Document:Brexit is the villain in accidental death of the economy
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Brexit is the villain in accidental death of the economy
At the beginning of the first Thatcher government (1979-83), the economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that Britain was the perfect place to conduct the dubious monetarist experiment recommended by his fellow economist Milton Friedman. This was because although Galbraith (rightly) thought the policy was crazy, British “phlegm” would see us through, and the tolerant nation would not “take to the streets”.
This memory came to mind recently when I was at the revival of that great 1970s classic "Accidental Death of an Anarchist". Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s farce has been updated by Tom Basden, and is a five-star triumph. The memory was evoked by the central character, the “maniac”, declaring:
- “Scandal is to society what confession is to the sinner. It’s a catharsis [that] fixes nothing: the hostile environments, the sewage in the seas, the peerages for political donors. And what’s the result? Do we arrest anyone? Can we change anything? Of course not … In glorious democracies such as ours, we get to moan about it instead.”
The most glaring example of this public tolerance and moaning is of course – wait for it – Brexit. The damage mounts, but there has been nothing in the shape of a public inquiry or a royal commission into what is indubitably the biggest and most damaging political and economic scandal of our time.
As the “maniac” observes: “The actors change, of course, but the roles remain the same.” The miscreants who conned the nation – Boris Johnson; Michael “People have had enough of experts” Gove; Nigel “How I love the limelight” Farage; Daniel “Brexit will not mean leaving the single market, and thanks for the peerage” Hannan; and a cast of thousands – just carry on shamelessly, while their replacements, Rishi Sunak and co, take up the banner and Keir Starmer, once a noble remainer, offends his natural followers by ruling out rejoining the EU or even the single market.
Oh, don’t worry, I am told. Once they are in – if, as widely expected, they win – Labour will mend relations with the EU. But, hang on a minute: unless some amazing event occurs, there is unlikely to be an election for at least another year, during which time Brexit will wreak more and more damage, not least to the country’s fiscal position.
Which brings us to the topic that has been dominating the economic news in the past week: the high level of interest rates we are promised for the foreseeable future on account of the government’s and Bank of England’s determination to bring the rate of inflation down to 2% within what is known as the “forecast period” – 18 months to two years – even at the cost of recession.
Now, when they are not tying themselves up in statistical knots, my fellow economists from time to time remind us that what economics should really be about is the quality of life. My friend Amos Witztum, in his monumental work "The Betrayal of Liberal Economics", argues forcefully that too much attention is paid to economic growth, and not enough to a fair distribution of economic resources. “Distribution” has of course been the stuff of political debate for decades, but life is not going to get any easier if output stagnates or falls, which, by definition, it does during a recession.
The terrible thing is that after embarking on a needless policy of austerity from 2010, and then being browbeaten into a referendum they ought to regret for the rest of their lives, even the non-maniacal Tories have done much to diminish the quality of life in this country.
Why is inflation so much greater a threat here than in the US and the EU? Because of Brexit and its impact on the cost of living. Indeed, impending further increases in the cost of importing food from the EU are already frightening the government into delaying the next bout of bureaucratic regulations required by the folly of Brexit.
One final, non-Brexit, example of needless interference in the quality of life. In common with many people of a certain age, I like booking train tickets from a real person in a real ticket office. Indeed, I am much impressed by the continual flow of research which indicates that such social interchanges are good for one’s quality of life.
But there is another point: in an age when corporations have fooled “consumers” into thinking that they should do the work on the internet, it is much more satisfying – and efficient – to rely on experts to advise one with travel arrangements. Yet we are told that the government has instructed the train companies to begin closing all their ticket offices.
I even heard an official saying on the Today programme that this would be an improvement in efficiency, and would free staff to be on the platform to help “customers” with queries. How passengers would be able to get on to the platform without a ticket from the closed ticket office was not explained.
- "Observer review of 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist'"
- "Brexit caps 40 years of Conservative failure that Starmer fears to oppose"
- "Bank of England says interest rates will remain high for at least two years"
- "UK Brexit checks on fresh food from EU delayed for fifth time, reports say"
- "Plans for mass closure of railway ticket offices in England confirmed"