Sandy and broken windows

Preparing for disaster may have "economic benefits". But it doesn't have real benefits.

Slate's Matt Yglesias makes a very important point with regard to the economic benefits of adapting to climate change:

The basic issue is the same as the one where jobs installing iron gates on windows and alarm systems in houses are economic activity just like jobs installing refrigerators and AV systems. Living in fear of crime is annoying all on its own, and needing to expend real resources on private crime-mitigation efforts rather than improving your quality of life is annoying, but as far as "the economy" is concerned a job is a job and a sale is a sale. Much the same is true for a wealthy society's response to adverse weather shocks.

Of course, the same can be said, to a certain extent, for the economics of fighting climate change. While environmentalists are right to trumpet the economic benefit of putting huge amounts of effort into efforts to decarbonise the economy, some of those benefits may follow a similar sort of logic to that described above. If there is no intrinsic advantage to wind farms over gas power stations other than ameliorating climate change, then decarbonising the economy may "boost GDP", but it is still using real resources on something which will have no effect on quality of life.

Except, of course, if it succeeds in preventing climate change.

Coincidentally, the comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal made the same point today in a rather different manner. And it's all really just a rephrasing of Bastiat's 1850 elaboration of the broken window fallacy. But still worth a mention.

A panel from today's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Image: www.smbc-comics.com

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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John McDonnell's seminars are restoring Labour's economic credibility

The Shadow Chancellor's embrace of new economics backed by clear plans will see Labour profit at the polls, argues Liam Young.

It’s the economy, stupid. Perhaps ‘it’s the economy that lost Labour the last two elections, stupid’ is more accurate. But I don’t see Bill Clinton winning an election on that one.

Campaign slogan theft aside it is a phrase Labour supporters are all too familiar with. Whatever part of the ‘broad church’ you belong to it is something we are faced with on a regular basis. How can Labour be trusted with the economy after they crashed it into the ground? It is still unpopular to try and reason with people. ‘It was a global crisis’ you say as eyes roll. ‘Gordon Brown actually made things better’ you say as they laugh. It’s not an easy life.

On Saturday, the Labour party took serious steps towards regaining its economic credibility. In January a member of John McDonnell’s economic advisory committee argued that “opposing austerity is not enough”. Writing for the New Statesman, David Blanchflower stated that he would assist the leadership alongside others in putting together “credible economic policies.” We have started to see this plan emerge. Those who accuse the Labour leadership of simply shouting anti-austerity rhetoric have been forced to listen to the economic alternative.

It seems like a good time to have done so. Recent polls suggest that the economy has emerged as the most important issue for the EU referendum with a double-digit lead. Public confidence in the government’s handling of the economy continues to fall. Faith in Cameron and Osborne is heading in the same direction. As public confidence continues to plummet many have questioned whether another crash is close. It is wise of the Labour leadership to offer an alternative vision of the economy at a time in which people are eager to listen to a way by which things may be done better.

Far from rhetoric we were offered clear plans. McDonnell announced on Saturday that he wants councils to offer cheap, local-authority backed mortgages so that first-time buyers may actually have a chance of stepping on the housing ladder. We also heard of a real plan to introduce rent regulations in major cities to ease excessive charges and to offer support to those putting the rent on the overdraft. The plans go much further than the Tory right-to-buy scheme and rather than forcing local authorities to sell off their council housing stock, it will be protected and increased.

It is of course important that the new economics rhetoric is matched with actual policy. But let’s not forget how important the rhetoric actually is. The Tory handling of the economy over the last six years has been dismal. But at the last election they were seen as the safer bet. Ed Miliband failed to convince the British public that his economic plan could lead to growth. The branding of the new economics is simple but effective. It does the job of distancing from the past while also putting a positive spin on what is to come. As long as actual policy continues to flow from this initiative the Labour leadership can be confident of people paying attention. And as economic concerns continue to grow ever more pessimistic the British public will be more likely to hear the Labour party’s alternative plan.

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.