A pound, or a euro/dollar/yen is simply a unit of trade. Indeed, we could be using different coloured pebbles as long as we all believed that the pebble’s worth would be honoured. So, if you grow potatoes and I rear chickens, you can buy a chicken from me for 3 pebbles and I can buy a bag of potatoes from you for 3 pebbles and we can both have a chicken dinner. With more people with pebbles and more variety of goods, we can have a feast!
Despite this, we seem to have arrived at a point where the exchange of money for no purpose other than to make more money is considered one of the foundations of the UK’s economic policy. This illusion is both false and dangerous.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who sees profit as a dirty word, but the problem arises when you have all the pebbles and I have none, probably because I have already had to give you all my pebbles in rent.
I believe the UK’s economic system has forgotten its purpose, prioritising individual wealth over collective progress. Our economy should enable as many people as possible to enjoy a good quality of life. It shouldn’t exist to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Through the 80s & 90s, the middle class burgeoned with grateful hard working families using their new-found wealth to get on the property ladder, fill their homes with goods, and travel abroad. Since 2008, the opposite has been true and what used to be called the treadmill of work has become “just about managing”. Even those earning incomes in excess of £50k a year are joining the those who definitely aren’t managing in wondering what on earth they can do to make life easier. The crazy reality is that most of the money isn’t going on stuff we enjoy, it is being spent on mortgages and commuting.
I believe we need a change of attitude and at risk of taking the analogy too far, we must rebalance the exchange of pebbles, offering the poor a better rate of return for their efforts (a living wage) so that they can participate in a system that understands its purpose. We can share the pebbles more equitably through taxation, using them to provide world-class health, education and public services that provide the foundations for progress and make sure that business understands it role as part of society, rather than simply existing to create pebble mountains.
We must redefine that progress as much more than GDP growth, and recognize that we can’t isolate ourselves from what is going on elsewhere. We can all do better in a more equal society; one in which collective rather than individual progress is understood to be the foundation for a successful society. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.