The French talk of ‘les trente glorieuses’: the first three decades after the second world war (1945-75) when France experienced exceptional (Piketty) growth in output, productivity and living standards.
It was a period marked by state intervention (‘dirigisme‘), not least in creating and extending social benefits. Echoes can be found in Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder and Italy’s miracolo economico and, of course, in the UK’s tortured, conflict-ridden progress out of war-induced bankruptcy.
Today, a year after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact upon economy and society, the talk is again of a radical change of course. Given the degree of state intervention, not least levels of borrowing and spending, some analysts are calling a definitive end to the neo-liberal era ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan, the Big Bang of 1986.
Other powerful factors are in play here. The greatest of these is the climate emergency, prompting demands for an equally definitive end to the fossil-fuel economy but also for a more equitable sharing of global resources and action to overcome deepening inequalities. And more (see below).
The next “great transformation” (Polanyi) goes beyond the New Green Deal or Industry 4.0, laudable though these may be. Here on Sceptical Scot we’d like to promote or simply take part in a wider debate about the socio-economic stakes post-pandemic. You can read about some of the immediate issues here (the FAI on the UK Budget in the run-up to this week’s Scottish Budget) and medium-term implications (McClaren) that should be addressed in the Scottish election campaign.
Reconstructing our world
The debate can be summed up as: recovery versus reconstruction. It is one of the many merits of *Scotland After the Virus, the latest (third) collection of essays edited by Gerry Hassan & Simon Barrow, that it examines this question across a range of fields, from the creative arts via psychology and religion to politics and the economy.
If we just focus here on the economy, Katherine Trebeck is right about the way policy-makers/commentators – turning a “blind eye to the damage that the pre-COVID-19 economic system was doing to people and the planet” – now “wheel out policies that risk taking us back to business as usual in the pursuit of a ‘V-shaped” recovery.”
Like several contributors, she insists analogies with Roosevelt’s New Deal or Beveridge are beside-the-point when what matters is to move to a ‘wellbeing’ economy and urges Scotland to show leadership here as protagonist of WEGo. But she also rightly urges caution about outcomes, arguing that much of the debate about recovery “suggests that old, outdated recipes are still being reached for.”
Michael Gray boldly declares: “The threat of climate extinction means that economic transformation is necessary for our survival and a better democracy.” But his own recipe is a pot-pourri of municipal socialism, local democracy, public ownership, with policies taken from 1848 via 1945 and the 1970s to today.
The most radical prognosis – and in a sense the most reactionary – is that from Bronagh Gallagher and Mike Small in favour of ‘de-growth’ rather than recovery in the form of inclusive growth: “the illusion of eradicating poverty while growing the economy.” Or, graphically put: “Growth does not help alleviate poverty; it is dependent on its existence.” Their answer: “an anti-capitalist economy based on de-growth with increased localisation and decentralised power.” Radical municipalism – a common theme throughout this book.
This localism or “breaking the dominance of special (entrenched) interests” informs the editors’ call for a Scottish ‘viviculture’ based on “respect, empathy and regard for our fellow human beings” that is put centre stage in public policy in a way that has “an environmental consciousness and groundedness.”
There’s plenty more in this collection of 41 essays but these extracts pinpoint the glaring need in this country for a more extended public policy debate (in think tanks, unis and civil society as a whole) of the kind that led up to Beveridge and, later, Thatcherism. We hope we can help trigger Scotland’s own “Glorious Thirty” through ambitious discussions about what reconstruction concretely involves on these pages.
*Scotland After the Virus, Hassan & Barrow eds, Luath Press, Edinburgh, 303pp, £14.99 softback/£7.49 e-book
Featured image courtesy of Rob Bruce