The Conservatives have been eyeing expensive goodies of their own, in the form of the chunky tax reductions for savers that David Cameron proposed on Monday. The big difference with the Tory plan is that it aims to persuade everyone else to jettison splashing out in favour of squirrelling away.
But the dispute is one of means. When it comes to the ends - restoring prosperity at all costs - no dissent is heard. It is hard to imagine Mr Cameron saying now, as he did in 2006, that "it's time we admitted that there's more to life than money". Just about everyone now seems to agree with Madonna that we live in a material world. Many of the 1,230 employees that Marks & Spencer said it was laying off yesterday will endure great hardship.
And no one should underestimate the insecurity of the 450 staff of the venerable clothes company Viyella, which went into administration later on the same day. To anyone who has just lost their job, suggestions that money is nothing to worry about will sound like insufferable hippy preaching. What matters most is how to stem the flow of redundancies. All the more so because the current spike in unemployment is heavily concentrated among the young. All the evidence from the jobless generation of the early 80s shows that even short spells of enforced idleness at the start of working life caused deep and permanent scars. So there is no more pressing social priority than devising a hard-headed strategy to find something for young hands to do, before the devil fills the breach.
The government's plan to extend compulsory education may be one part of the answer, and - despite the irritation caused by overblown Brownian boasting about the efficacy of the VAT cut - getting people spending again is another pragmatic response. Any suggestion that Britain can save its way out of recession is a dangerous superstition, a throwback to the financial dark age that existed before John Maynard Keynes.
Posted on 11th January 2009
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