5 reasons I’m voting Labour (for the first time ever)

Thanks for coming to read this blog post. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but… REGISTER TO VOTE. Right now, because the deadline is today. The majority of people are already registered to vote, and most of them will vote. Don’t miss out.

So here’s where I stand, for what it’s worth. I’ve been having a look at the manifestos and at my local candidates. I’ve never voted for Labour before, but I will be doing this year. Here are the 5 main reasons they’ll be getting my vote on June 8th. None of them are tactical.

1. For the good of your health

Thanks to unachievable ‘efficiency’ targets enforced by the current government, the NHS is seriously struggling to stay afloat. It doesn’t have enough money to keep up with demand.

Labour promise £30 billion over the next 5 years, which still isn’t enough, but would take us some way towards filling the hole that was created when spending increases pretty much stopped in 2010. The Conservatives, meanwhile, offer £8 billion. And even that would probably involve some serious bending of the truth.

A lack of funds is the main issue for the NHS right now. But there are also some good ideas in Labour’s manifesto. There’s focus on ensuring safe staffing levels (one of the current government’s failures) and allocation of a greater proportion of funds to child mental health. One of the most interesting ideas is the proposal for a National Care Service, supported by an additional £8 billion of investment. This could support the long-overdue changes that are needed in social care, that the current government has ignored.

The Lib Dem manifesto seems pretty good on health too, and has some nice ideas of its own. It’s just a bit less ambitious and underestimates the extent to which the NHS needs greater financial support. The Green Party haven’t released their manifesto yet, though I expect it will be quite similar to Labour’s on health.

2. For the sake of the economy

The Labour manifesto says that we need to “upgrade our economy”, which is true. We have a crisis in productivity that requires action. Labour’s proposed National Transformation Fund is about providing the investment that could help solve our long-term economic problems. A big part of this long-term remedy is the inclusion of a Fiscal Credibility Rule, which would prevent the government from overspending on things that won’t generate value in the future. Labour would also create a National Investment Bank, which (they estimate) would facilitate £250 billion of private investment in regional development and local businesses.

The Conservatives have long struggled to understand basic economics. It’s why the deficit has grown so much in their hands. Considering the Conservatives’ kamikaze approach to EU negotiations, it could be that they just don’t care.

One of my old economics lecturers has an article that covers the question of whether Labour’s manifesto pledges ‘add up’. They do.

3. Because workers used to have rights

One of the defining features of our recent economic history is that the economy has been growing but wages have not. It’s because our employment rights have been stripped away and the trade unions prevented from doing their job. Crippling trade unions is a Tory pastime, of course, and it’s no surprise to hear Labour say that they will work with the unions.

But the Labour manifesto could be a game-changer. Labour outline a 20-point plan for the reinstatement of workers’ rights, including banning zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships, preventing employers from recruiting cheap labour from abroad and introducing a (real) living wage.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have very little to say on the matter. Except that they will continue to support a fake ‘living wage’. The Lib Dem manifesto also does not say much on this issue, suggesting that they don’t appreciate how damaging the current situation is to our society.

4. Because my local candidate is working for it

Your local MP could be way more important to your day-to-day life than Jeremy or Theresa. I live in a relatively safe Labour seat, but our MP has recently stood down after 25 years. Our new Labour candidate, Ellie Reeves, seems like a good egg. Most importantly, she is working hard on her campaign. Ellie’s background as a trade union lawyer makes her the kind of person I’d like to see in parliament.

5. It’s better than not voting

Yes, our democracy is broken. Capitalism is broken. Society is broken. But they aren’t going to be fixed or replaced within the next 2 weeks, and a lot of people are having a really difficult time right now. I’m not going to ask them to wait until we figure out how to bring an end to the neoliberal experiment. We at least need a government that can get us through the next 5 years without increasing homelessness, sending people to food banks, crippling the NHS, and all the while letting Amazon and co walk away with what’s rightfully ours.

No one party is ever going to represent my views perfectly. I don’t agree 100% with everything in the Labour manifesto, and my vote doesn’t imply that I do. But what’s the alternative? There’s nothing heroic in spoiling your ballot paper. Vote for whichever candidate you think will do the best job of representing you. Right now, Labour is the only party offering real solutions to the country’s problems.

So that’s it, really. VOTE. Register here. If you think you’re registered but you haven’t received a polling card yet, you can check. If you’ve always voted for the same party, ask yourself why that is. If you’re not sure who to vote for, visit Vote for Policies. Go and find out what your local candidates have been up to in the last couple of weeks. If they’ve been an MP before go and look at their voting record. Stop reading newspapers. Every winning party since 1979 has been supported by the scumbags that run The Sun. Go and find out for yourself what the parties are offering you. FullFact can tell you if they’re lying.

#100wordreview – The Cost Disease (William J Baumol) [Book]

The rising cost of healthcare is a global phenomenon. Why? Because the relative productivity of labour intensive industries inevitably – and inexorably – declines. Computers get cheaper; healthcare doesn’t. It’s a simple idea, now proven by historic data and in need of appreciation. The cost disease allows – encourages, even – affordable increases in spending on health. Though incisive, Baumol’s book inevitably labours this central argument. But to understand trade-offs in public spending you need a firm grasp of the cost disease. This book provides a means to that end, and delivers important context for any discussion about healthcare, education, economics and politics.

Amazon / Wikipedia / Yale University Press

The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn’t

Paperback, 288 pages, ISBN 9780300198157, published 18 October 2013

#100wordreview – Harry’s Last Stand (Harry Leslie Smith) [Book]

An emotive defence of the society denied to us by neoliberalism. Tales from Harry’s 91 years are woven into a fact-of-the-matter narrative of today’s status quo. From upsetting accounts of a hungry childhood in the Great Depression to triumphs of love against the odds. Parallels are drawn between our brutal past and today’s social malaise, with striking effect. Harry’s angry and disturbed, but most of all he’s worried. Is society so inflicted by the wilful myopia and amnesia of government that Britain’s post-war progress will be completely undone? Harry’s seen this before, and we should listen.

Amazon / Google Books / Icon Books

Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save it

Hardback, 224 pages, ISBN: 9781848317369, published 5 June 2014

Economics: the death of a discipline

John Kay recently wrote an article titled “Economists: there is no such thing as the ‘economic approach’“. If Kay is right, and there is no ‘economic approach’, then to what extent is there a discipline of economics? To what extent is there economics at all? Here are my thoughts on the issue*.

In my field, a distinction has been made between economics as a ‘topic’ and economics as a ‘discipline’ (e.g. here and here). While the latter is (if it ever existed) doomed, the former might be salvageable.

The discipline

Most of us will agree that although there are overlaps between economics and other disciplines, the lines of analytical demarkation are sufficiently clear for us not to be in much doubt about the differences between the disciplines.

Culyer (1981)

While this may have just about held true 30 years ago, I do not believe it to be true today. For me, the economics of suicide (to which Kay refers) represents the suicide of economics. Gary Becker’s The Economic Approach to Human Behavior was an important milestone. One can look at Becker’s 1992 Nobel Memorial Prize as something of a watershed; though he is preceded largely by ‘proper’ economists studying explicitly market-based phenomena, he is succeeded by individuals who have achieved breakthroughs in mathematics, statistics, psychology, moral philosophy and history.

Do not get me wrong, this is a very good thing. It represents the success of interdisciplinary research and in particular the application of the scientific method to all aspects of life, and we are all the better for it. Outside economics, this conflation of science and social science is leading to painful lessons about the impossibility of quantification in certain aspects of human nature and social interaction (here is one recent example), but economics is the most vulnerable.

The discipline of economics is in a strange state of simultaneous ascendency and yielding. It is ascendant in its influence over any policy analysis and its application to all aspects of life. The reason for this occurring is clear; every action – human, animal, governmental, societal – relates in some way to the allocation of scarce resources. Wiktionary definition of economics reads: “(social sciences) The study of resource allocation, distribution and consumption; of capital and investment; and of management of the factors of production.” And herein lies the problem; as we approach the lowest common denominators of knowledge, these issues are increasingly explained by other better-defined and time-tested disciplines. I am left wondering, over what does the discipline of economics have a monopoly?

The topic

Economics could survive in our lexicon as a topic. This topic is macro. The topic of microeconomics, it seems to me, can be entirely subsumed by other topics. Microeconomics is largely about agents. Humans are agents. The behaviour of these agents is primarily studied by psychologists, sociologists, ethicists, anthropologists, geographers and others, depending on scale. Firms are also agents. Firm-specific topics can reside in the realm of business studies – a far more modest subject than economics. Though an economist’s toolkit is undoubtedly of value to each of these disciplines, it is unclear which tools are exclusively those of the economist.

Inflation, unemployment, trade, growth. Economics may be saved by these topics – they will at least remain under the economics banner until its final day. But they are not safe. Each can be explained by their microfoundations in some combination with political science, philosophy and meteorology. Furthermore, marketisation and the spread of free markets means that society and the economy are now one in the same. One cannot be a quantitative social scientist without straying into the topic of economics. As such, it becomes unclear which topics are exclusively those of economics.

The choice

In my opinion, the primary value of economics today is its multidisciplinarity. But we already have a word for that. The inability of economics to restrain and contain itself is what will lead to its demise. Through its application to everything it will come to mean nothing. To my mind, economics has a choice. Either it can continue to expand itself into obscurity, or it can choose to restrict itself to the study of the economy and engage in the difficult task of differentiating (pun intended) the economy from society more generally.

No matter what, I suspect that economics has much the same destiny as natural philosophy. How long will it be before Economics degrees evaporate and we instead read Social Science? To be what was once termed an economist, one need simply sign-up for the BSc stream.

* This blog post is intentionally provocative, in the hope that people might engage with its content!

doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.1101354

#100wordreview – The Undercover Economist Strikes Back (Tim Harford) [Book]

Tim Harford brings us some macro. For me, a less interesting topic than those of his previous books. Nevertheless, he’s a great writer with a knack for simplifying tricky concepts and, as with his previous books, this is an enjoyable read. Harford only really dips his toe into the complexities of macroeconomics, but I was still able to gain a better perspective on the current debates; the different arguments being stripped – as far as possible – of the politics that envelop them. The book is exhaustively researched and the reader is treated to plenty of interesting factual and historical tidbits throughout.