Frugal – with the truth

WHEN the Bishop of Durham accused the Government of going along with “trickle-down economics” during Monday’s Lords debate on the economy, he was rebuked by Lord Lilley. Lord Lilley was Secretary of Social Security in John Major’s government and once entertained the Conservative Congress with a Gilbert and Sullivan smack of all who would lose their welfare: ‘And I didn’t even mention all those spongy socialists, I got them on my list. . .” No free-market economist has ever used the term “trickle down,” he said Monday. It is indeed a misleading image. Nothing seeps out of the pockets of the rich – which is rather the point at which the Bishop of Durham told the story of Dives and Lazarus. It must be given voluntarily or received through taxation.

The bishops of the Lords are well aware of the accusation that they are only concerned with redistributing the wealth of others, but they are not inattentive. The argument that lightly taxed high earners stimulate the economy by spending more has turned out to be good news for those who offer luxuries inexplicably omitted from Christ’s own list in the Beatitudes. Yes, a healthier economy can better support its poorest members – but not when they have already been beset by energy costs, rising prices, unaffordable mortgages and cuts in public services.

In the face of criticism from both right-wing and left-wing commentators, we have nothing but unrelenting positivity from the Prime Minister and her Chancellor. growth will happen. Everyone will benefit. Confidence will return. It’s a trait we’ve bemoaned before: the tendency to say something demonstrably nonsensical and say it knowing that your supporters can still support you and your detractors can be ignored—never mind. So Liz Truss at her party conference on energy production last week: “We are developing more gas fields in the North Sea and supplying more renewable and nuclear energy. In doing so, we will protect Britain’s great environment, deliver on our net-zero commitment and fight climate change.” No, it’s not. The UK is already lagging behind on its legally binding emissions reduction program and burning North Sea gas will set it back even further. The good dissent that Archbishop Welby is so diligently promoting requires, as a bare minimum, that people at least be honest about their position.

Instead of telling the truth about the country’s economic state, the prime minister and chancellor have opted to promote what the Institute for Fiscal Studies last week called “politically motivated wishful thinking”. Markets are unimpressed and the Chancellor can no longer rely on the Bank of England’s costly intervention. Bishops are not alone in doubting the wisdom and effectiveness of the government’s economic strategy.

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