Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Strike, strike, strike!

I'm not going to say much about the strike. Just this. First, I've never taken a day's industrial action in my life. But that's just because I've never been working when they've been taken. Second, the one serious muscle public sector workers can flex is to withdraw their labour. We can't hold the government to ransom because we've gambled away everyone's money and yet still pay ourselves an enormous bonus, like our friends the bankers.

Ok, enough strike. What I really want to say - and the two things aren't unconnected - is this. Stop wanting more stuff, people. Be content. Most of us (and I wouldn't dream of preaching to those less fortunate) get by well enough. We're fed; we're warm; we don't walk around in tatters; we have telly, books, iPods, smart-phones. We're doing alright.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - why do we need to expect more? The OECD yesterday predicted a 'double-dip' recession for Britain; government growth forecasts are again down. But why - if someone could explain this I'd be very grateful - does the economy need constantly to 'grow' in order for us to be successful?

There's enough stuff out there for everyone. We could share it out a bit more evenly if we tried, but most of us probably don't want to. But why must we always want more? If everything stayed tickety-boo and there was no year-on-year growth then there'd also be no increase in unemployment; inflation wouldn't eat our savings; interest rates would be low (as they are now) and we'd need no more pay because stuff wouldn't cost us any more. (I know, incidentally, that this doesn't take account of our enormous debt as a nation, but that's another matter. It's the sacred cow of economic growth I'm locking horns with here, and it's not an especially comfortable position to be in!)

Come on Evan Davis, if you're reading. You're an economist. I've studied economics too, both at 'A' level and as an undergraduate. I know the maths; I've seen the curves. But I still don't understand why we've all got to have more, grow fatter, earn better, eat bigger, drive faster year-on-year in order to be counted as a 'successful' nation. Why not embrace the status quo? What's wrong with contentment? Why not accept the principle of working to maintain our living standards, salaries, lifestyles as they are without this constant need to get bigger and better?

I realise it's this striving for 'better' that's driven humanity onwards and upwards for the last 150,000 years. I realise, too, that without economic 'growth' there'd be no fat annual bonus for the blessed bankers. But I'm starting to think that this malaise is linked to everything we do, everything our children see on TV and then demand from Santa, linked to this vague idea most of us have that in spite of everything we've already got we just need something else to make our lives complete, to make us happy, to make us whole.

Most of us don't. And for most of us, whatever we get it won't. If we aren't happy now a new house or car or smartphone probably won't make any difference. And this time next year there'll be something else we think we need to make our lives complete.

And with that thought, ladies and gentlemen, I'd better leave you to your Christmas shopping.

Here endeth today's sermon.

Ho, ho, ho!

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