Right now we’re in the middle of an election campaign in Australia. If you’re in Australia and you haven’t really noticed, join the clan.
The thing about election campaigns is that an awful lot of waffle comes out of the mouths of politicians… and commentators. And most of it is really not helpful.
There are a few words that, in my personal opinion, are a waste of air. They are used largely because everyone expects them to be used but they either have no clear meaning that everyone can agree on, or they are so general as to be meaningless. Here are a few examples…
Take for example the Labor election that led to Kevin Rudd’s victory. The slogan was ‘working families’. Everything was for ‘working families’. Pause for a moment and think about who this term excludes. Er… that’s right. Nobody. Everyone has a family. And everyone is ‘working’ in one way shape or form, even if they’re not necessarily being paid for it.
So it’s a fair bet that you can brandish around the phrase ‘working families’ and not offend anyone and in fact appeal to everyone. That doesn’t mean however that everyone will agree with your policies. It’s just a great catchall. A bit like ‘friends, Romans, countrymen’ really.
What is ‘the economy’ really? It is just a description of stuff that gets bought and stuff that gets sold and so ordinary people (and non-ordinary people) can get money to buy more stuff. In the round it is a meaningless term that gets people off the hook for making dubious decisions.
Let’s take an example – slavery in the US. The debate about this caused some fisticuffs at the time, but today the debate would be about the ‘effect on the economy’ of abolishing slavery. The effect of doing just that – in economic terms – could have been predicted to be a disaster for the country.
But there are few people today who would argue that retaining slavery is a good decision on economic grounds. Thankfully in the US the right thing came first and the ‘economy’ came second.
You can have the same discussion about almost any public policy initiative – there will be some people whose businesses will be affected, but you have to do what’s right for the country and the ‘economy’ will just have to cope. And sometimes the change even turns out to be a great thing ‘for the economy’.
Next time you’re watching the news, count the number of times people say ‘economy’ or ‘economic’. Then just imagine the conversation without these words and see if what they’re talking about still makes any sense at all. You might find it doesn’t.
How about a national ‘economy’ free day when no one uses the word at all? You heard it here first.