When you hear that dread phrase ‘The Good Old Days’, which days first spring to mind? It seems unlikely that many will immediately think of 2008, that golden age of prime minister Gordon Brown (remember him?) and president George W Bush, when the international financial system came close to meltdown, almost taking the world economy with it. Yet we are now being invited to celebrate the fact that the UK economy has crept back up to that low point.
‘It’s official: the Great Recession has ended’, declared one typical headline last week, citing the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) claim that ‘we are incredibly close to the pre-recession peak’ in Britain’s GDP. Upgrading the institute’s growth forecasts, its director crowed that ‘the end of the Great Recession… is an important moment. The British economy is very close to being bigger than it has ever been. Symbolically, that matters, and it comes at a time when growth is clearly entrenched.’
Leave aside for the moment the small matter that we might have more confidence in the experts’ current assurances if any of them had accurately forecast the start of ‘the Great Recession’ six years ago. What is being hailed as an historic moment today is that the UK economy, after the slowest ‘recovery’ in history, has technically got back to somewhere close to the size it was in 2008. This, according to the Tories, proves the success of the Lib-Con coalition government’s ‘long-term economic plan’.
What really ‘symbolically matters’ here is surely the redefinition of the meaning of economic growth and successful planning. Once upon a time, not so long ago or far away, the idea of progress was about the future, about taking the economy forward into a new, more productive age. Now apparently it is deemed an important mark of progress merely to get back to the past. The fact that the economy did not ultimately plummet into the abyss becomes the sign of success.
If you move the goalposts often enough and lower the bar sufficiently, surely anybody can eventually score a goal. Thus the authorities can claim to be winning largely by redefining the meaning of progress. This is certainly an impressive display of delusional economics. Whether it can convince many of those still living in the real world is another matter.