As the UK officially slips into a COVID-created recession, Mike Stafford looks at the UK’s world beating false economy!
A false economy is defined as “an apparent financial saving that in fact leads to greater expenditure.” From now on, let’s bear that phrase in mind as we reflect on COVID-19.
You see, there is a school of thought, popular on the right in particular, that safeguarding the economy must take priority over the fight against COVID. The likes of the Express, quoting their thatch-haired hero in Downing Street, urge for the return of ‘confidence’ in order to fire up the economy again, and Sarah Vine (wife of Michael Gove) tweets confusedly that “I certainly don’t expect the entire nation to bankrupt itself to save my sorry ass,” a reference to the alleged cost of trying to prevent British citizens dying.
There is a certain twisted logic to this idea, of course. If you equate fighting COVID with fighting a war – and needless to say many do – you understand the ‘war effort’ as something external, a drain on resources but not fundamental to the running of the country. You might also state – correctly – that endless lockdown and / or financial hardship are also dangerous to the wellbeing of the population, and therefore we should unlock the nation and ‘start the engines’ of economic growth again.
Nevertheless, it is absurd to present economic growth and defeating the virus as mutually exclusive goals; it’s a false dichotomy, and a dangerous one at that. Consumer confidence will be critical to any economic resurgence, and consumer confidence is a psychologically complex beast. Consumers – otherwise known as ‘people’ – are not lemmings; while some may hurry to the pub on the day it re-opens come what may, others will prefer to avoid any activity that presents an increased risk of danger, death, or transmission of the virus.
This is a legitimate human response. While we can’t legislate for a hyper-vigilant or even paranoid few of us, the best thing the government can do to boost consumer confidence is to show clear, practical and effective action to reduce the spread of the virus. Government can lecture us belligerently to get back into the office, or it can traduce teachers for safety concerns, but these don’t make us more confident, any more than a parent yelling at the sidelines boosts the confidence of his child on the pitch.
If we’re going to get the economy going again, we need a government that can prove to us it has the virus under control. This means coherent messaging, honest representation of data, and reliably effective action to reduce the spread. Thus far, we’ve instead had bribes to eat out in the same week as obesity lectures, death figures by country shiftily abandoned once they were no longer flattering, and a ‘world-beating’ track and trace system that has been a debacle. We all have our role to play in defeating the virus, but if the government truly wants to ‘fire up’ the economy, it needs to give us a damn sight more confidence than it is at the moment.