Lucky old us. We can’t be trusted to spend our own way out of the recession, so Gordon Brown is going to do it for us. We can look forward to even more white elephants such as the Millennium Dome, meaningless public-sector jobs and lavish PFI buildings for public-sector workers to enjoy working in. To borrow, as he puts it, is now the “responsible” thing to do. Just try telling that to a first-time buyer saddled with a mortgage for eight times his salary, secured against a home that is rapidly diminishing in value. One day, of course, the bills come in – and that applies as much to government borrowing as it does to private borrowing. The prime minister’s attempt to cling to the coat-tails of John Maynard Keynes is slightly hampered by economic history. In formulating his theory that governments should step in to spend money when individuals are hoarding theirs, Keynes was not faced with a public sector whose activities already account for four pounds in every ten spent in Britain, nor with a government that managed to start the recession with £650bn of debt. Even before Brown announced his latest borrowing splurge, Keynes would have been struck dumb by the quantity of money the government has been borrowing and spending. And at least the public projects that came out of the Keynes-inspired new deal programme in the US in the thirties were useful roads, dams and the like. It is going to be harder to put up brass plaques on some of the fruits of Gordon Brown’s great spending splurge. In 80 years’ time there won’t be many people standing back and admiring such treasures as, er, the new social cohesion website, established by the Institute of Social Cohesion to “give expert guidance on creating strong, cohesive communities”. I suspect there won’t be too many people taking pride, either, in the government’s new network of “dignity champions”, whose job it will be to persuade the nurses at your granny’s old people’s home not to address her as “luv”. Neither can I imagine Labour’s New Deal will be remembered for the government’s new Council of Food Policy Advisers which, we’re told, will bring together all kinds of experts to help recommend how many servings of vegetables we should be eating each week. This is a modest selection of the hare-brained initiatives the government has announced in the past month alone. True, creating these extra posts will help keep a few newly unemployed people off the streets. But the extra borrowing required to fund these posts will place a burden on the economy for years to come. At least people trudging the streets aren’t doing any harm to productive businesses. The same cannot be said for government initiatives. What has government done for business in the past month? Created a new business visa scheme, adding more bureaucracy for companies needing to employ temporary staff from overseas. If we really must have a big job-creation scheme to stimulate the economy, can we at least have something fun? I suggest some public art. There’s the Angel of the North in Gateshead and a bridge of reeds mooted for East Anglia. How about building a fountain with a giant plughole in Whitehall to provide us with a visual reminder of what we get for our taxes? Or, drawing inspiration from the artist Christo who wrapped up the Reichstag in Berlin in polythene, let’s wrap the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in red tape for a week. Or let’s just spend our money on a day on a Russian oligarch’s yacht. At least we could all enjoy a party before the bills come in – and, maybe, in the process, gain an insight into what makes the mind of the new business secretary tick. Picture: source
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