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4 January 2023

Letter of the week: Growth to nowhere

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

As our major political parties continue to assume that economic growth is “a good thing”, it is easy to take it for granted that they are right. But Andrew Marr (Politics, 9 December) and the rest of us need to remember that economic growth merely means an increase in gross domestic product, or GDP. To measure the success of our economy on one metric is absurd. It tells us nothing about the distribution of income, environmental damage, levels of poor physical and mental health, to name but a few omissions. In fact, if we need to employ more doctors and mental health practitioners to deal with our broken society, then that will show up as an increase in GDP.

The number of over-50s who have left the workforce is perhaps an indication that many of us are willing to make do with less, rather than put up with jobs that are meaningless or stressful. I recommend Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics to explain that some economies need growth and others definitely do not. Above all, we mustn’t forget that we live on a finite planet.
Marilyn Spurr, Exeter

The wage puzzle

Andrew Marr asserts (Politics, 9 December) we have a low-wage economy because “we haven’t been a high-productivity or high-growth economy”. This is part of the explanation, but the UK was a low-wage economy two decades ago when growth was more robust. Surely, the main reason is the restructuring of UK society by the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s, and in particular the assault on trade unions. 
Paul Scripps, Baldock, Hertfordshire

The price rates of Penzance

Tanya Gold’s description of Cornwall (“A tale of two Cornwalls”, 9 December) made my blood run cold with its forensic detailing of despair. I was reading it as King Charles, whose royal duchy Cornwall formerly was, gave his Christmas speech on the cost-of-living crisis. The housing situation there put me in mind of Victorian times when the rich landowners made the rules and couldn’t care less about the poor.
Wendy Dear, Cambridge

Regarding the two Penzances, the same is happening in west and north Wales, where the pandemic has caused a surge in second homes and incoming retirees. Here, the average wage is low, and house prices have rocketed. But Gold is wrong to say that second homes are not to blame: 12,000 second homes mean 12,000 locals don’t have one and that house prices rise way beyond their reach.
John Owen, Caerphilly

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THANK YOU

Faith, hope and charity

Tomiwa Owolade (Comment, 9 December) focuses on the decline in religious affiliation in England and Wales, but swerves away from why this has occurred. The trend is global (see WIN/Gallup’s 2012 Global Index of Religion and Atheism). The non-religious include many who have left major faiths, reflecting the rise in education and personal income. A nation in which religion and state are kept at arm’s length from one another is secular, one in which freedom of religion is respected but does not have privilege.
John Bishop, Edinburgh

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Faith is not only a system of beliefs but a builder of communities and an agent of change. Churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, temples and other places of worship provide an abundance of social capital. There are over 49,000 faith-based charities in Britain: 27 per cent of the whole sector. A decline in faith attachment is also a setback for society more generally.
Zaki Cooper, trustee, Council of Christians and Jews, London SW1

Practise what is preached

To read that the Home Secretary Suella Braverman (The NS Profile, 9 December) is a Buddhist was quite jaw-dropping: how this fits with her vindictive rhetoric in relation to the people who risk everything to seek refuge here is a mystery.

She might like to read these words of the Buddha, taken from the Anguttara Nikaya discourse:“Greed, hatred and delusion of every kind are unwholesome… Whatever suffering… such a person inflicts under false pretexts upon another… being prompted in this by the thought, ‘I have power and I want power’ – all this is unwholesome too.”
Nigel Jeffcoat, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Brexit breakdown

Martin Fletcher suggests that Remainers should end the Brexit wars (NS online, 29 December) and proposes some modest, practical measures to counter some of the damage Brexit has caused. And yet even these are unlikely to happen. So, what next?

In my old line of work – psychotherapy – we had a saying: sometimes there has to be a breakdown before there can be a breakthrough. I fear this is true of Brexit. How much of a drop in living standards must there be before we have a grown-up political response?
Robin Prior, Wargrave, Berkshire

Fugues’ state

Kathryn Turner is correct regarding fugues (Correspondence, 9 December): first there was JS Bach, then Shostakovich. But there are also English composers who have given their own distinctive take on the idea: look at Howard Skempton’s acclaimed recent 24 Preludes and Fugues.
Julian Elloway, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Tyne is money

Hunter Davies (The Fan, 9 December) describes Newcastle Utd as “moneybags” but “not on the scale of Man City”. United’s net spend since the takeover by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund tops the Premier League table: £211m at the time of writing. While he hopes “they win the Prem next season”, I think your readers should be reminded where the prosperity comes from. 
David Forrest, Sheffield

The lady’s not for testing

Rebecca Linton is not quite correct about Mrs Thatcher and dementia tests (Correspondence, 2 December). Our GP asked my father who the PM was. His response: “I will not speak that woman’s name.” Nevertheless, he was judged compos mentis.
John Lowell, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

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[See also: Letter of the week: Devolved thinking]

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This article appears in the 04 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Sunak Under Siege