The recovery is coming: can we relax yet?

Blue skies are coming.

All this month on economia we’ve been taking stock of where we are five years on from the momentous events that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers. So much significance has been placed on the events of September 2008, that some commentators are happy now to refer to events purely in terms of them being “post-Lehman”, as if the failure of one institution marked some kind of year zero when the financial world changed forever

While the meltdown in global credit markets certainly followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers, there is plenty of dissention as to whether it was the  trigger for recession it has been portrayed as. Andrew Smithers in his latest book The Road to Recovery (reviewed in the October issue of economia) draws on a wide range of sources to argue strongly against what he calls “the myth of Lehmans”. His argument is that the global economy was in plenty of trouble (and recession had already kicked in) by September 2008. Others still don’t dispute that the collapse of Lehmans was significant but point out that it was significant insofar as the reaction to it from governments around the word led directly to a worsening of the depth of recession.

The argument here is that the painful experience since 2008 was caused by authorities and governments not allowing enough banks to collapse. While the shock would have been much worse in the short term, the recovery would have been sharper and would have taken hold sooner. The banking sector would have emerged with stronger and healthier banks (even if there were fewer of them), and would have been in a better place to help business recover.

National governments might also have been better placed to rebuild economies had they not been propping up failed banks.

But to some extent this is the old story. Five years on from these calamitous events, we are beginning to see the early signs of recovery. There have been various indicators and research reports produced to show that a lasting recovery is taking hold. The biggest question marks now remain over the fragile state of the eurozone and the likely fallout of any further problems in one or more of the troubled member economies, and the trickier issue of whether this recovery (however welcome) is the right sort of recovery.

The chancellor, George Osborne, set his stall out on delivering an export-led recovery that would help rebalance the economy and bring a longer-lasting, sustainable recovery. That the current return to health appears to be built on a new housing bubble and domestic debt remains a concern. It’s the economic equivalent of treating heroin addicts with methadone. It is far better for them (and far better for society) than heroin, and is more controlled, but it can hardly count as a full recovery from dependency. There is a place for this treatment, but let’s not pretend (as a triumphalist chancellor is likely to try and do at his party conference next week) that he has the economy back to anything like a sustainable position.

However, when that real recovery does arrive it will be fuelled by the sort of high-growth businesses that are the drivers of any economy. And on this front there are some interesting insights from a new piece of research from private equity firm ECI Partners. The top line from the report, which is based on a detailed questioning of almost 700 leaders in high-growth firms, is that they are far more confident this year than they have been for the past few years. The vast majority claim to be planning to fund expansion and growth of over 10% in the coming year and most are very confident that they will be easily able to access finance should they need to (this has been a consistent challenge to growth in recent surveys).

While there is a more upbeat tone to the responses from those based in London, and those working in the technology sector, the vast bulk of respondents regardless of sector or location feel that things are moving in the right direction.

Even if the storm clouds had been building since 2007, the storm of recession broke in 2008. Five years on we are beginning to see the first signs of blue skies above. While it is incumbent on everyone to take a hard look at the events of five years ago and make sure we learn the appropriate lessons in areas from audit to corporate governance, from our banking culture to financial regulation, for the time being it is also important to enjoy some good news for once.

This story first appeared on economia.

 

Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Cree is the Editor of Economia.

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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.