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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Enervated Economy

When I was a schoolboy the immensely tall Canadian economist, J K Galbraith, produced a book called The Affluent Economy, which had huge success. It gave a message that both North Americans and west Europeans wanted to receive: that the traumas of the Second World War and [in the case of Europe] of post-war reconstruction were pretty well over. The British had re-elected Harold MacMillan's Conservative government with their slogan "You've never had it so good!" The French were coming to a settlement under deGaulle after the traumas of losing their south-east Asian colonies and Algeria [which had been accounted part of metropolitan France]. The Federal Germans were proud of the 'economic miracle' that had been achieved under Chancellor Adenauer and economy minister Erhardt, and of their country's rehabilitation within the western alliance. Life did seem good, society seemed stable and politics were - broadly - honest.

Now, in 2017, we Brits agonise over economic growth figures as they weaken, and accept that the economy is likely to 'slow down' as wages rise more slowly than prices, and as millions of households reach their debt ceilings [especially as the banks are being urged to lower the headroom] and are thus unable to prolong the false economy in which consumer spending has been the 'driver' of the economy. Exporters are maintaining their earnings by raising the sterling prices of their products, so that they get an approximation to the pre-Brexit real-world price in external markets, rather than significantly increasing the volume of exports. This is disappointing, because in historic experience when a currency is devalued relative to others [as the pound has been since the Brexit vote] exporters from that country have been able to maintain a price advantage over their alien competitors to gain to greater share of the export market for their produce; and thus maintain employment for their factories and their employees. Indeed, in several post-devaluation periods Britain's exports have grown significantly, enabling firms to pay overtime wages to employees and sometimes to take on more staff and expand their investment plans.That is not happening now.

British industry has very few current schemes of major capital expenditure actually coming to fruition, whether the produce would be aimed at domestic or export markets. Yet, as is often mentioned in this blog, British firms are at least as innovative as at any time in history, but they are prone to alien takeover because there is a dearth of imaginative investment support in the country.

The media are celebrating the decision of BMW to keep production of the mini in the well-worn Oxford factory where it was first introduced six decades ago; but the electric engines for a new version will be imported from Germany. The innovatory element will not be British: typical of the international firms that use established plant in the UK. Even though manufacturing in Britain is continued, a foreign-owned firm can gather its cash reserves for use anywhere in the world while the UK factories are run down. So long as British labour is cheap, and the factory can be patched up, it can carry on. This is a dispiriting view, and not wholly typical of British plant today, but there is enough of it about to be worrying. The economy is increasingly enervated: lacking in energy, vigour or drive.

The announcement that new petrol and diesel cars are to be phased out completely by 2024 is no surprise; but one automatically sets beside that announcement the lack of any coherent policy to generate the necessary cheap electric power to enable the masses to run their own vehicles in 2041. In virtually every aspect of the economy a lack of vigorous innovative energy is apparent. Even the Brexiteer ministers who are supposedly planning a bright future for the UK "outside the EU" show all the signs of physical exhaustion and intellectual stagnation: of enervation.

Then, today, we get the headline news that the male human sperm count has declined catastrophically, with the prediction that reproduction may become difficult to achieve by the time petrol cars are banned. That is a cheerless prospect!

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