We are where we are, why? Part 1

Much has been written about the decline of Britain’s once broad-based economy citing a variety of causes, some favoured by those on the right and some by those on the left. But whatever causes the reader favours, the fact remains that successive governments and business leaders have for decades sought to persuade us that circulating money within the economy, albeit with a little added value here and there, was an adequate substitute for growing money through real creative productivity. The consequence, no doubt unplanned, was to allow ‘deforestation’ of Britain’s economy by personal and national debt. 

An example is house price inflation and the increasing burden of mortgage debt that it produces. House price inflation creates an illusion of growth, but each time a property is exchanged at an inflated price with an increased mortgage, it is like the felling of another tree of potential productive growth in our ‘economy forest’. Money tied up in debt does not grow business or create jobs. Entrepreneurial ‘trees’ should act like little engines of growth in our economy but they are a finite resource and they cannot grow without finance. Their felling by debt leads to the diversity and energy and creativity being leached out of the soil of our productive capacity. The result is higher costs of living and lower productive output – ‘deforestation’. Now there simply isn’t enough money in the economy, in either the private or public sectors, to expand new housing to the levels needed to reduce inflation and end the crisis. The crisis is generating its own momentum. It signals to us a real danger sign about the current state and future destination of our economy. 

Somewhere near the heart of this problem is our altered cultural attitude to work. We like to separate our home life from our work life; and the better-off we are, the further from work we want our home to be. This is what city zoning is all about. This is what suburbia is about. This is what John Betjeman’s ‘Metroland’ was about. Better-off people want to live and bring up their families in quiet leafy suburbs or greenbelt and commute from their home by rail or car to their place of work. ‘Commutable distance’ has become an emblem of prosperity and a national aspiration. Developers and town hall planners have risen to this, so houses and gardens and driveways get larger the further from the centre of town they are situated. But development land is rationed, so prices in the suburbs and their outer rural surroundings rise. This has impacted disproportionately on the countryside, which is now populated with commuters, pushing up house prices and pricing out completely those who once worked in rural occupations. Here again, short-termism and deforestation rule. Increased property values in the countryside give an illusion of growth because more money appears to be circulating there. But the long term consequence is the decline of British agriculture. 

National attitudes used to be that you moved to where you worked. It was the expected thing to do. The morning whistle at the factory or the shipyard or the mine would sound and whole neighbourhoods of people would walk to work together. Now, whole streets of people queue in the same traffic jams or stand on the same railway platforms to leave their suburban neighbourhoods to head for car-polluted city centres

Why the contribution is important

We have to try recognise why we are where we are to recognise the position we are now starting from to make a fairer and more accessible to all society. Where we live and why we live there is an important starting point. I have proposed some thoughts on what we might do next in Part 2

by Louise on December 21, 2020 at 12:56PM

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