[Another of my letters to the Editor, challenging the confusion between growth and well being. Published 19 April. Again I’ll post any responses.]
The front-page report “ACT economy trumps states” (Canberra Times, 18 April) highlights the biased spruiking that commonly passes for economic reporting.
The report reflects the pervasive (and not unintentional) confusion between economic activity and quality of life that is inherent in our society’s worship of gross domestic product. You have to look at whether the activity is useful, useless or harmful before you decide whether it’s a good thing. You also have to look at all the unpaid activity that contributes to our welfare, and at the states of our social fabric and our urban and natural environments, before you conclude we are better off.
Rising population and more house construction are presented as a triumph. In fact they mean the ACT has to direct more of its resources into putting roofs over new heads rather than into existing needs like schools.
Much of the increase in housing finance reflects the national house price bubble that is putting the whole economy at risk, and that is a symptom of a seriously mismanaged financial system.
The two reported statisitics that are of most direct import to most ACT residents are negative: retail spending and business equipment investment are down. These are not necessarily bad, for example people might be saving more and spending less, but they suggest our economy is actually a bit wobbly.
The report, recycled uncritically from a financial institution, correctly notes that the figures are good news for financial institutions, real estate agents and builders. It also presents a local politician basking in the reflected glow of confected “good news”.
However a more balanced report would not just report “economic activity” that benefits a few, it would consider how the activity serves everyone in our community.