Symptoms of growth addiction: bad housing, bad health and Donald Trump?


In this issue we focus on the economics of two issues that have dominated our politics for decades: health and housing.

The health of the NHS is maybe our biggest single political idea not only dominating elections but also the opening of the London Olympics. Every new government has sought to “reform” it, while now it seems in greater crisis than ever. Furthermore our actual health is on a slide with an ongoing obesity epidemic, while public health promotion always suffers the most cuts in a period of austerity.

The housing situation is no better in spite of successive governments promising extra houses or at least helping people buy them. Following the post-war council housing boom, Thatcher promoted the dream of a house-owning democracy. Now for the young that dream seems out of their reach, while older generations benefit from huge unearned wealth bound up in their houses. Unsurprisingly age has become a significant determinant of voting patterns in the last election and the Brexit referendum.

So how did it come to this and what can we do about it?

Frances Coppola, who joins us as a regular columnist, argues that the housing problem is a symptom of the bigger problem of an extraordinary concentration of economic activity in the Southeast.  Alexander Tziamalis warns of the risks to the wider economy of too fast a fall in house prices while The Outsider sees this as a fundamental ethical issue for those benefiting from housing wealth. I talk to Laura McCullough, who is on the front line of helping people avoid becoming homelessness. She explains how recent benefit reforms are adding to the problem.

On health, Laurie Laybourn-Langton sees the current NHS crisis as a result of the dominance of neo-liberal ideas over the past few decades. And Geoff Hodgson explains how mainstream economics struggles to face the challenges from healthcare’s divergence from the standard assumptions in economics of rationality, perfect information and self-interest.

So why are these issues so difficult for us to address? Can we really all have bigger and better homes, and more and more sophisticated treatments to allow us to live a few more years? I talked to Tim Jackson about his attempts to create space for a conversation about our fundamental political assumption: that economic growth can live forever.

We know this is impossible.  But how can we create the political space for such a conversation?  Can new political slogans of an economy that ‘works for all’ or ‘for the many, not the few’ help open the discussion?  Jackson thinks they can.  No mention of the ‘g’ word at least.

Clearly we can’t rely on deluded billionaires. But are we any less in denial?

Henry Leveson-Gower


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