The UK’s “worst recession” and “lost decade”: myths?

We are routinely said to have “lost a decade” and that the loss is unrecoverable. I have no idea what this means.

So far as I can see, since the late 2000’s the UK’s GDP has slipped several percent from its historic high. It is now somewhere around its 2005 level, and slightly rising again. If in the decade 2009-2019 it rises back to where it was in 2009 (say), it would only be true that we had lost a decade of growth. But – and surely this means something – at no time in that process were we worse off than we had been in 2005 – and that was an historically affluent year which itself followed many years of amazing trend growth, itself only sometimes interrupted by periods of faltering or sagging growth.

Of course, if the “wealth” we enjoyed in 2005-2009 was largely phoney, immoral, or debt, then in some sense we haven’t lost affleunce as lost the delusion of it.

We are supposed to be enduring a “lost decade” in output and that this is not going to be recoverable. But what does this mean? On the face of it, it is hard to believe we won’t one day produce as much as we did in 2009, or whatever.  We are perhaps supposed to believe that we are losing productive capacity and can’t get it back. Is this anything like the destruction of British factories wrought by Hitler’s bombers, and if so – surely we rebuilt then and could again? Indeed, Germany’s post-war industrial success is sometimes attributed to the fresh start they had as they recovered from the RAF’s depradations.

It is of course peculiar that we have less equality than we are used to (though that picture is quite complicated). It is interesting how hard it is to see solutions to that problem, if it is one.

It is true that the plight of un- and under-employed young people is sad. But I think it may be wrong to think they have lost a decade or are a lost generation. For one thing, they presumably have the means to continue their education, including self-education. Even at a virtual level, they have resources which no previous generation in history can imagine. It won’t be the fault of the capitalist hegemony if this generation fails to produce mountaineers, poets, musicians, linguists, philosophers, mathematicians and even entrepreneurs out of a period of enforced leisure.

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Publication date

01 December 2011

Categories

Mind & body