Why the Left must take the lead on economic policy

William Sharkey

Image © liits (Flickr)

A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of centre right politics.

Anyone who has stood within ten meters of a television set could not fail to have noticed the financial situation in Europe.  Its unfolding narrative evolved like a classical Greek Tragedy; Greece took on the Sphinx by taking on the Euro. Its land was then blighted with growing debts and financial insecurity, and now it walks infirm and blind to the future. We know that the story is not simply one that can be told only of Greece. No sooner had this story reached its peak than comedy villain (or at least he would be comic had he not been so powerful) Mr Berlusconi announced that Italy was struggling with its economy too. And then there was Spain.

This situation is dire, not only for those in the single European Currency, but for everybody. What is to be done?

The people are beginning to speak and they seem to be saying that the solution resides in the removal of ‘Socialist’ governments.  The common perception seems to be that socialism is good for developing our social institutions (health, education, welfare et cetera), individualism is good for improving financial markets and creating wealth.  Indeed, if we look back to the UK general election in 2010 we can see that this was fought and lost almost solely on the economic issues of the day.  How has the left managed to lose its credibility in all matters economic?

The economic debate is not one we have engaged in in any innovative way for a while now; we still cling on to our copies of ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’ hoping for the second coming of our Messiah, John Maynard Keynes.  This is not bad in itself, the Keynesian principles are valid and sound, but the language has become outdated; the Tory line (so frequently quoted I am nauseated every time I hear it) ‘you can’t spend your way out of a recession’ demonstrates a poor understanding of Keynesian economics, and economics in general, but it sounds true.  We need to bring Keynes into the 21st century by commanding the dialogue and putting the recovery (which had begun while Labour were in power, but has been frittered away) into its proper perspective; market stability, but not at the cost of our humanity, our dignity, our values as compassionate human beings.

We need to split our values into ‘economic’ and ‘social’, and always be sure to place primacy on the fact that we use the former as a tool to fund the latter.  We must not fall into the false dichotomy of working ‘for’ or ‘against’ business, the truth, as they say, is in the middle – we can find this middle by working ‘with’ business to further our social endeavours.

The left needs to find its economic voice (for our thought is there), and fast, for it does not look like we shall be exiting financial mayhem any time soon… if the marketplace is where the battle is to be fought, then economics is where our debate must be focussed, considered, and developed – not contra Keynes, but beyond him.


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