18 August 2011

The other day in the post Cornwall: build and grow I focused primarily on the positive arguments for more houses in Cornwall. In this post I am looking at the reasons for supporting rational economic growth.

Yesterday and today
First think on this: a house, like the others in the street, with no inside lavatory, no running hot water, no central heating, a candle the only light in the cold bedroom. No car, no television, no computer, no telephone, no washing machine, no bathroom.

This is not 1337. It is yesterday. My life as a child here in England. Given then and today, I choose today. I’ve experienced first hand life without and unhesitatingly prefer life with.

All that limiting, monkish stuff has gone because of economic growth and its confreres innovation, enterprise, work, pay, tax revenues, welfare, consumer goods, houses, and a freer society. Yes, a flush lavatory indoors for everyone is part of the consumer society, is a result of economic growth and a progressive demand for a better material life for all. That materialism is an inlet to happiness.

Growth matters because it generates the funds and resources to provide and improve services like education, public health, transport, and urban and rural environments. It makes redistribution politically feasible; it enables us to redistribute some of the generated wealth to reduce inequalities, to share the fruits of regulated capitalism. It brings longer lives and better living standards. For individuals and families and communities growth gives the prospect of a better tomorrow. It brings individuals more freedom, more choice, scope for their talents and encouragement for their enterprise and room to achieve.

Shall the poor stay poor?
We are not in Cornwall on a devil’s carousel of unbridled economic growth, development, house building, consumerism, supermarkets, and concrete. We are not heading for Apocalypse Kernow.

Yes, there are always the dangers in Britain (and everywhere) of excess, greed, and despoliation: these are moral challenges to defeat not arguments against economic growth. We are humans with minds and skills: we can manage stuff, we can control stuff. For example, we can tackle with effect tax evasion; we can reduce grotesque inequalities; we can pulverise poverty; we can keep up our environment and national parks and special places. We can do these progressive things and politics is about how much we try to do them and growth is one of our major weapons for equality and against poverty. Without growth our sallies against inequality and poverty and unemployment will be ineffective; without growth the poor will stay poor.

Oil and tuppence and possibilities
Sydney Smith, an amiable nineteenth-century Anglican parson, said that the Samaritan needed oil and tuppence to do his work. Economic growth is the oil and tuppence, it gives the funds and resources by which we can help others out of the slough of deprivation and disengagement and despair and open up the possibilities of life for everyone; and by which we can experience a better life ourselves.