Short-termism is a major hindrance to economic prosperity in the UK, says a new report published today. While I am sure this is true, I would add that short-termism is also a significant hindrance in political life too.
Perhaps one of the best examples of short-termism in politics is found in the campaign slogan of Ronald Reagan during the 1980 Presidential election. One week before the American people went to the polls in 1980, Reagan famously asked: are you better off than you were four years ago?
As a piece of rhetoric this is superb. As a basis for serious political discourse it is not.
While there are, no doubt, some policies that can be assessed after a single term in office, there are many that cannot. This is even more pertinent in times of austerity than in times of plenty.
Transforming the economic performance of a nation is not something that is achieved in a single term (I doubt very much whether it can be achieved in two). Not only is the path uncertain, but along the way it is inevitable that many – if not most – members of the public will be worse off than they were previously.
It’s like paying-off a huge credit card bill whilst expecting to live at the same high standard to which you became accustomed when you were spending all the credit in the first place. There’s only one way to do that: get another credit card and run up more debt, thereby exacerbating the problem and delaying the inevitable repayment.
It’s worrying that Ed Miliband has decided to adopt Reagan’s famous campaign slogan. Not because it is highly effective and will gain traction come election time (it is and it will), but because it ignores the bigger political reality: UK plc has run out of money. This country has huge public sector debt and regardless of who is in power after the next election we cannot keep spending more than we take in.
Asking the electorate if they are better off than they were at the last election is irresponsible. It implies that things can be significantly different under a new regime. The reality is that any government – whether Conservative, Labour, or Coalition – will need to make cutbacks that will be felt by members of the public.
To suggest otherwise is to prioritise short-term political gain over our future economic security.