Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Frugal futures

A startling new report for the UK government’s own Sustainable Development Commission by Professor Tim Jackson, entitled Prosperity without Growth, explores [the very contemporary collision between an easy assumption of a kind of legalised excess, and the emergent politics of climate change] with a verve and passion you would not expect from a government-sponsored initiative. Prof Jackson regrets that “the role of government has been framed so narrowly by material aims and hollowed out by a misguided vision of unbounded consumer freedoms”.
-- Harry Eyres tries to pick up where Michel de Montaigne left off. A few days ago Richard Reeves wrote:
Progressive austerity means vigorously defending the spending that helps the poor, ruthlessly cutting elsewhere and taking the opportunity presented by the crisis to build a fairer tax system. None of this is straightforward. But it is easy to be progressive when there is money in the bank – the real test comes when the coffers are empty.
But John Lanchester is bleak:
I get the strong impression, talking to people, that the penny hasn’t fully dropped. As the ultra-bleak condition of our finances becomes more and more apparent people are going to ask increasingly angry questions about how we got into this predicament. The drop in sterling, for instance, means that prices for all sorts of goods will go up just as oil and gas prices have spiked downwards. Combined with job losses – a million people are forecast to lose their jobs this year, taking unemployment back to Thatcherite levels – and tax rises, and inflation, and the increasing realisation that the cost of the financial crisis is going to be paid not over a few years but over a generation, we have a perfect formula for a deep and growing anger.
Gideon Rachman is unimpressed by the actions so far of two 'Anglo-Saxon' governments:
Rather than taking the axe to public spending, the British and American governments are borrowing madly, with no sign of any credible long-term plan to balance the books. The US, according to the Congressional Budget Office, now has an annual structural budget deficit of 5 per cent of gross domestic product. In Britain, public debt as a proportion of GDP is set to double.

Both countries are in the fortunate position that the markets will still lend to them. In spite of last week’s warning from Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency, about rising public debt, Britain has (so far) retained its triple A credit rating. Despite President Barack Obama’s stern words earlier this year that a “day of reckoning has arrived” in which America would finally have to address “critical debates and difficult decisions”, the US is planning to run huge budget deficits for the next decade and beyond.
Nick Paumgarten quotes the financier Colin Negrych:
The idea that you can have something for nothing. It's the human nip. It's the hereafter, here on earth.

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