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Rethinking Britain: Policy Ideas for the Many

A new book edited by Dr Sue Konzelmann offers policy solutions that, if implemented, would lead to a fairer society.

Sue Konzelmann from Birkbeck's Department of Management

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity.” So said soon-to-be Prime Minister David Cameron in 2009, but fast-forward a decade and observers could be forgiven some confusion as to how a ‘responsible’ government might behave. 

In his report on the state of Britain, published in June/July 2019, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston observed that, despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, the UK was allowing increasing numbers of people to fall through the safety net, with one fifth of the population living in poverty and 1.5 million people experiencing destitution in 2017.

Why are successive governments persisting with policies of austerity, when the consequences for society are so devastating? Lead editor of new book Rethinking Britain: Policy Ideas for the Many, Dr Sue Konzelmann, may have some of the answers.

“One of the misconceptions about austerity – particularly when an economy is in recession – is that it has a positive effect on confidence. This is part of the rationale behind the equally misconceived idea of ‘expansionary fiscal contraction’,” she explains. “In the UK, following the 2008 financial crisis, although the government’s deficits and public debt were a direct result of the bank bailouts and emergency stimulus measures, the crisis was redefined as a ‘crisis of debt’; it was falsely alleged that high levels of public deficits and debt were the result of excessive government spending.

“From this perspective, investors – that is, speculators – in government bonds were assumed to be worried about the increased risk of sovereign debt default. So unless government deficits and public debt were reduced, bond yields – the cost of government debt – would rise sharply, adding to the cost of borrowing, and hence to the public deficit and accumulated national debt.”

Drawing on the expertise of some of the country’s most influential thinkers, including Kate Pickett and Ha-Joon Chang, Rethinking Britain offers a fresh alternative to austerity, providing practical solutions and policy recommendations that would turn around those currently failing many people in Britain.

Dr Konzelmann, who is also the author of Austerity, explains why the current government strategy is inappropriate during a recession. “Austerity was ‘sold’ to us on the false claim that a nation’s accounts work like an individual, household or business budget that needs balancing, But since most of us can’t set our own interest rates and would end up in jail if we tried printing extra money, there are some obvious problems with that argument. We need to start asking in whose interests should the economy be run, and develop policies that reflect that.”

Rethinking Britain will be launched on Monday 23 September at the Progressive Economy Forum fringe event at the Labour Party conference, Brighton.

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