Economic Justice Group



The expense of austerity measures 

by Wendy Jones, Bangor local meeting (23.02.17)

I think that conventional economics has reached an impasse in its inability to embrace 'externalities'. In terms of housing, there is still a significant proportion of housing stock that needs to be brought back into use, as well as existing unused buildings that could be converted. Transport is a major emitter of pollution. Government by now needs to act as an emergency on climate change, and implement housing policies, good food for all, and on 'trip reduction', decreasing the need for travel by avoiding large developments that depend on the car.

Disease flourishes when people become malnourished, immune systems become weak and public health as a whole suffers. Is this something we need to draw the attention of central government to? Good food and housing for all helps everyone. Governments seem to be trapped in inertia and reaction. Fracking causes earthquakes.

In rural economies main purchasers lie in the public arena (e.g. schools, utilities). Do we look at good initiatives/policies within council strategies/policies and try to support those we feel comfortable with?

What can we do locally for homelessness? Can we ask the council to look at buildings not in use to convert as housing, flats above shops? What can we raise in terms of food supplies, for hunger, locally? What can we do to ensure a diverse healthy agriculture, benign energy supplies, using less resources going into packaging. The public cost of subsidising nuclear waste disposal is huge and increasing vertically.

Consider the environmental costs of war and the detrimental effect on the economy. Costs of military hardware are huge and the economy neglects other sectors. Technological changes tend to be spin offs from military uses rather than directly related to innovation geared towards social/environmental improvements.


Economic illiteracy – its origins, consequences …

and a remedy’ 

by Tony Weekes, Ireland Yearly Meeting (23.02.17)

Our lives are dominated by news about ‘the economy’. But its scope and content of what is presented to us is seriously limited.  In mid-January, the Guardian reported that “Britain’s economy beats forecast with 0.6% growth ….” Is this ‘good news’? Impossible to answer, without knowing where the growth came from … and who has received the benefit.

After 2008, the obsession concerned the size and growth of the ‘public sector deficit’. The intention was to make us nervous: “Could the country actually run out of money?” Only sound government (it was said) could ensure that this did not happen; the answer was to cut public expenditure – we don’t have ‘the money’ to spend on the needs of a decent society.

Meanwhile, nothing at all is said about ‘earth overshoot day’ – the day in the year when the use of the natural resources we have has exceeded the capability of the environment to renew the stock. In 2016, it was around 8th August; the date by which we had used more resources and services than nature can regenerate and deliver in an annual cycle.

Speaking plainly, there is widespread ignorance about the dependence of the economy on what ecological services deliver to us. There is ignorance about money: what it is, where it comes from and the difference between the limits of household expenditure and the limits of what government can do. Our standard of living goes way beyond what measuring economic growth can tell us; it is about the nature of the decent society.

There are several reasons for this ignorance.  One is what is taught in academic departments of economics; a narrow discipline based on analysis of whatever can be measured and a set of rather questionable assumptions about human behaviour.  Another is the powerful unease which many people feel: “the subject is too complicated for me to understand; it’s best left to the experts”.  Some – not all - of these experts have let us down over many years, with advice to governments to privatise, deregulate….and so on.

Are there remedies? For me, one source of hope comes from the challenge to the orthodoxy by a group of economics students in Manchester. Three of them – only recently undergraduates themselves – have written a book: Econocracy – The perils of leaving economics to the experts.  It’s well written.  It points out that democracy requires a confident and better informed citizenry. If you can find a copy, dip in!3

We are not all called to understand ‘economics’. But there are campaigns which seek to demystify, develop healthy questioning and political action. We can start by looking round where we live: the growing precariat: homelessness; unemployment; poor health; a welfare system which leaves people like Daniel Blake in despair, … and ask “why?”.

A step from signing on-line petitions to real engagement!

3 Econocracy, Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkins, Manchester University Press, November 2016.