If we agree neoliberalism has failed to grow what matters, could we talk about beauty?



This is exciting. The IMF has just published a paper from three of its top economists saying that neoliberalism was oversold and is actually causing more harm than good. This analysis from the Guardian puts it this way:

From the 1980s the policymaking elite has waved away the notion that they were acting ideologically – merely doing “what works”. But you can only get away with that claim if what you’re doing is actually working. Since the crash, central bankers, politicians and TV correspondents have tried to reassure the public that this wheeze or those billions would do the trick and put the economy right again. They have riffled through every page in the textbook and beyond – bank bailouts, spending cuts, wage freezes, pumping billions into financial markets – and still growth remains anaemic.

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits. Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made a remarkable concession. It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west.

Could this be the crack where the light comes in? Could it provide the entry point for talking about what makes a meaningful life and a truly prosperous society, beyond GDP and economic growth? Could we even bring things like beauty back as legitimate topics for public policy?

Fiona Reynolds reminds us in this excellent article that “beauty was a word and an idea that people in previous centuries used freely and confidently, including in legislation and public policy.” But “today when we talk about progress we mean only economic progress, and our measure of that is GDP. GDP charts only income, expenditure and production, and doesn’t even try to count the many things that matter but money can’t buy, the things that make us happy, and the natural resources on which we all depend. So it flatters us into thinking things are going well while we are destroying our long-term future.” But she suggests that “beauty can help us. Beauty is not just about aesthetics: it is a way of looking at the world that values the things we can’t put a material price on, as well as the things that we can measure.”