But aside from this being treated as a political victory for George Osbourne in some elements of the press (it shows how bad things are when 0.3% growth is a victory) the thing that has really bugged me about all the ‘triple-dip recession’ talk has been the fact no one has even come close to describing the Uk’s current predicament as a depression.
And depression it is. Unemployment is high, productivity low and our growth has failed to return to anywhere near pre-recession levels. So why are the experts on the news and in the papers so hyped up around talk of ‘double dips’ and ‘triple dips’ (as if we’re talking about tortilla chip eating etiquette) whilst no one has yet even come close to calling the spade a spade yet?
Well, I say no one… It may be beyond people who are employed to inform the public about economic affairs, but someone has, it seems, stepped up and made the obvious point. It’s just a shame that someone had to be the Archbishop of Canterbury…
Anyhoo, why does this matter? Recession, depression… they’re both ways of saying the economy’s pretty screwed, right? Well, yes, but there is an importance to calling this a depression.
Recessions are part of capitalism. They’re one of the worse aspects, but they’re there, part of the buisness cycle. The economy grows, we’re all happy, it shrinks, we’re sad for a bit, but then in grows again and everything’s fine. But a depression isn’t the same as all that. In a depression the pain is elongated. Usually, unnecessarily so.
Also, I think if we just view every economic quarter as a sort of scratchcard, awaiting to see whether the result is positive or negative, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Whether the economy grows .3% shrinks .3% it’s all rather academic at the moment and doesn’t mean squat in the long run.
The point is the economy *should* be doing much, much better. If we allow 0.3% to be seen as a victory in policy for the Chancellor then we begin to ignore the fact the economy is still smaller now than before the recession and things like high unemployment, low wages, increasing poverty rates and a weak economy begin to be seen as the new normality, rather than things we can and should be avoiding.
Equally, another recession can be blamed on outside influences; the snow, the sun, a royal wedding, an earthquake in Japan and the Olympics have all at some point been used to justify the Uk’s poor showing. Meanwhile when we dodge the bullet and see positive growth (no matter how pathetic it is) the economic commentators are too busy gushing at the news to ask why growth is still – five years after the recession – so poor.
So this is my point; A depression makes us look at the bigger picture. It makes us ask why growth this poor over such a long time period is acceptable? It asks why GDP is still below its pre-recession peak? Even when every other historical recession had been recovered from by now:
Once we start to notice that bigger picture we can begin to identify the differences between this recession and previous ones. Like, oh, I don’t know, our bizarre adoption of austerity in the wake of all evidence…
Paul Krugman has been hammering it home lately on his blog that the intellectual debate is over. Austerity lost, Keynesianism won. All that is left is for this to filter through to the public, and our politicians. But so long as the media continue to ignore our current predicament’s true nature, we will be unable to acknowledge what it was that really got us into this mess – aka, austerity, not Labour’s profligacy – and only then will we be able to start implementing the policies that will get us moving in the right direction.
And here’s the great thing: we can all contribute on this point. Whenever you talk to someone about the economy, write about it, blog about it etc – make sure you call the spade a spade. This is a depression, plain and simple. And it’s a depression caused by the current government’s policy, and can be ended by a new government’s policy. Them’s the facts, spread the word.