As you’d expect from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, this blog is a clear, practical comment on child poverty, especially in the light of government plans to change how it is measured. It echoes some of what I’ve written in previous blogs: “We have too many low-paid, low-skilled, insecure jobs that do not lead to better jobs and a route out of poverty.”
Print more money and give it to the poor?
Reading the article linked to above reminded me of something my kids keep saying – in order to help poor people, why doesn’t the government print more money and give it to the poor? As an adult, it’s easy to laugh at this naivety, but why not? After all, the government does print more money (so-called quantitative easing), and the stated aim of printing this money is for it to reach the economy to stimulate growth. So why not cut out the middleman (the banks) and put it straight into the pockets of people who will spend it. That way it goes straight into the economy. Suddenly, the idea seems not naïve but genius!
I can already here the arguments against taking this seriously, not least worry about what people might spend the money on if left to think for themselves (heaven forbid citizens of this country being allowed to think for themselves!). But for the economic argument to work, it really doesn’t matter what it gets spent on as long as it gets spent (I think an economic case could be made either way for spending on criminal activity). No, the real argument is revealed at the end of the article. A quick look at government policy affecting the poor reveals the contempt in which they are held. And that’s why this genius idea will remain for ever only a child’s simple way of looking at the world.
Two stories on the radio news this morning have given me hope – hope that as a society we are slowing waking up to the fact that “the market” is not fit for purpose in many areas to which it has been extended. The first was a criticism of how broadband has been rolled out into rural areas in the UK. Apparently, the government has not regulated the market sufficiently to allow proper competition and the best price for all concerned. “What’s that?’ I hear you say. “Government intervention in the market is necessary at times to ensure that it works for the benefit of all?”
The second story was about how computer games marketed to children are exploiting them. This is because many games are free in their basic form, but then to continue in the game and to be able to play it properly, you have to buy more and more add-ons, which turns out to be very expensive. Again, perhaps there is a realisation that it is inappropriate to apply the usual rules of the game when selling to children. There are things which we value more than can be expressed via market mechanisms, such as our children. Common Cause has already identified advertising at children as an issue which should concern us all. For more on how the market has reached far into areas where its values distort and diminish what we truly find valuable, I highly recommend this book: What Money Can’t Buy by Michael Sandel