Unlimited Ltd: Economic growth and its discontents

Saturday 31 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Courtyard Gallery

What kind of economic future can we imagine? In the past recessions have led to real clean-outs in existing industries and to innovative advances in new sectors: gales of Schumpeterian creative destruction. There is a hesitant and indecisive quality, however, in the responses to this recession, which seem to duck or defer difficult decisions. Should the US, for example, allow General Motors to fail and invest instead in American bio-technology while China takes over automobile production? It is impossible, in addition, for many to countenance a future in which China mass-produces billions of cars for domestic and international consumption.

Over the last twenty years anti-growth ideology in every sphere has become more and more fashionable. Will it represent more of a barrier to continued growth than the actual state of the economy? Some, like the environmentalist Peter Victor, argue that ‘we can either design a slower-growth economy over the next few decades, or we’ll get there suddenly, through environmental disaster’. In many quarters GDP growth has become an index of all that is wrong with our greed driven societies: as Richard Layard, the happiness economist, puts it ‘many policies to drive up income harm precisely those things from which we derive our quality of life’.

Can we imagine a place for the kind of innovation and investment in R&D that might lead to genuine economic advances? Technological innovation rather than the relentless rise of financial innovation and public spending? In June the British government published Digital Britain, a policy framework for the communications and technology and media sector that represents a shift towards ‘industrial activism’. With a £6 per head levy top-sliced off the BBC licence fee, it aims to put in place 2Mbps broadband to every home by 2012. Given that South Korea is aiming at 1Gbps over the same time frame, this seems to represent incredibly low horizons. Is this really the kind of industrial activism that the British economy needs in the wake of recession? While the UK remains the world’s sixth largest manufacturer for now, can we imagine this remaining the case in the future or even its standing improving?

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Rob Killick
CEO, Clerkswell; author, The UK After The Recession

Lord Robert Skidelsky
emeritus professor, political economy, Warwick University; member, House of Lords; author, Keynes: the return of the master

Professor Robert Wade
professor of political economy, LSE; winner, Leontief Prize in Economics 2008; author, Governing the Market

Martin Wright
writer, editor and adviser on environmental solutions and sustainable futures

Kirk Leech
interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

Produced by
Kirk Leech interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
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