Put those shovels down!

With signs of a slowdown in the economy as part of the fallout from the EU referendum result there have been calls to stimulate the economy. One answer is to call for ‘shovel ready’ projects. These are usually big infrastructure projects such as HS2 or road building. On one level there is great appeal in this approach. In the 1930’s infrastructure spending such as dam building for hydro-electric power was an important part of Roosevelt’s New Deal – creating jobs and boosting the economy. Logic would suggest that if the UK were to spend more on infrastructure now it could offset the impact of a slowdown in the economy. Calls for road ‘improvements’, the expansion of Heathrow have already been made, more will follow.

Should such calls be heeded? Probably not. We now know that unsustainable growth is not only undesirable in environmental terms (and that means our survival), but does not in itself provide good quality long-term jobs or good incomes. Big infrastructure (and some of the smaller) projects in essence support unsustainable population growth rather than improve the economy. We need to think and act differently. That means spending on renewable energy, public transport, broadband access, and other sustainable activities. It means being innovative and working towards the long-term goal of a steady state society.


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