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We're heading for economic dictatorship. The whole of the West is falling into the economic black hole of permanent no-growth ... Forget about that dead parrot of a question – should we join the eurozone? The eurozone has officially joined us in a newly emerging international organisation: we are all now members of the Permanent No-growth Club. And the United States has just re-elected a president who seems determined to sign up too. No government in what used to be called "the free world" seems prepared to take the steps that can stop this inexorable decline. They are all busily telling their electorates that austerity is for other people (France), or that the piddling attempts they have made at it will solve the problem (Britain), or that taxing "the rich" will make it unnecessary for government to cut back its own spending (America). – Janet Daley/UK Telegraph
Dominant Social Theme: Governments have got to stop fooling the people.
Free-Market Analysis: Janet Daley, a moderately conservative columnist for the UK Telegraph, has written a powerful article on the way Western governments are trending.
There is only one thing wrong with the article, a fundamental flaw, in our view. But first, let's review the article itself.
Daley points out that "recession" is the primary situation of Western countries currently. "This is the future: the long, meandering 'zig-zag' recovery to which the politicians and heads of central banks allude is just a euphemism for the end of economic life as we have known it."
She questions whether Western economies are in their second or third recession and points out that some people – leftists especially – will enjoy living "with that fixed, unchanging pie which must be divided up 'fairly' if social justice is to be achieved."
From her point of view, this is no way for Western economies to operate. The pie, she writes, ought to be getting bigger rather than smaller. But that's not the way the West is trending. Here's some more:
The only decisions to be made will involve how that given, unalterable sum is to be shared out – and those judgments will, of course, have to be made by the state since there will be no dynamic economic force outside of government to enter the equation. Wealth distribution will be the principal – virtually the only – significant function of political life. Is this Left-wing heaven?
... The total absence of economic growth would mean that the limitations on that distribution would be so severe as to require draconian legal enforcement: rationing, limits on the amount of currency that can be taken abroad, import restrictions and the kinds of penalties for economic crimes (undercutting, or "black market" selling practices) which have been unknown in the West since the end of the Second World War.
In this dystopian future there would have to be permanent austerity programmes. This would not only mean cutting government spending, which is what "austerity" means now, but the real kind: genuine falls in the standard of living of most working people, caused not just by frozen wages and the collapse in the value of savings (due to repeated bouts of money-printing), but also by the shortages of goods that will result from lack of investment and business expansion, not to mention the absence of cheaper goods from abroad due to import controls.
And it is not just day-to-day life that would be affected by the absence of growth in the economy. In the longer term, we can say good-bye to the technological innovations which have been spurred by competitive entrepreneurial activity, the medical advances funded by investment which an expanding economy can afford, and most poignantly perhaps, the social mobility that is made possible by increasing the reach of prosperity so that it includes ever-growing numbers of people.
In short, almost everything we have come to understand as progress. Farewell to all that. But this is not the end of it. When the economy of a country is dead, and its political life is consumed by artificial mechanisms of forced distribution, its wealth does not remain static: it actually contracts and diminishes in value.
This is a pretty good summary of what "progress" means these days – technological progress and increasing entrepreneurial activity – though it can be argued that such a definition contains its own questionable elements.
She goes on to discuss the way Germany handled its own no-growth dilemma when it reunified with East Germany and underwrote the failing East German currency. The result almost bankrupted Germany, she writes, but who will provide additional resources to the West as it "falls into the economic black hole of permanent no-growth"?
And why does she speak of "economic dictatorship"? Because when growth is static, wealth eventually declines, leading to political solutions to economic shrinkage. "Austerity," in other words.
In this vision of a future, resources will not suffice for society and, therefore, authoritarianism will be brought to bear. Resources – not growing – will be divvied up forcibly. "Democratic socialism with its 'soft redistribution' and exponential growth of government spending will have paved the way for the hard redistribution of diminished resources under economic dictatorship."
This is a good analysis of the repercussions of industrial stagnation but as we indicated at the beginning of this article, Ms. Daley's article contains a fundamental flaw.
The flaw is causation. As with many conservative or free-market arguments, the one made here does not explain how we've gotten to this place. Daley wants to blame it on "government" but that's a pretty simplistic answer.
Government is actually a collection of people and government policy is usually determined – even in modern, Western countries – by groups of people operating BEHIND government: Kingmakers they used to be called.
Part of the agenda seems to be a deliberate reduction in the living standards of the West to facilitate world government. If this is the case, then all the reasoned arguments about austerity, entrepreneurship, etc. will not have an impact on the course of the West. This is being decided in the circles of the powerful, not via democratic political actions.
Modern central banking societies are artificial creations and thus it seems safe to observe that their booms and busts are at least predictable. In other words, what is happening today is taking place via design. And that's something Ms. Daley has yet to grapple with.