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Our holidays are ours – its the CEBR that needs some time off

A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research informs us that our Easter weekend is too expensive and that we need to work harder. The report is a sham, the arguments intentionally incorrect and the only possible response is derision.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research is, apparently, a ‘respected’ think tank. Today it has a simple message for families across the country who are enjoying a day off on Easter Monday – get back to work you decadent dogs! How dare you take time off from working the longest hours in Europe to spend time on your own lives and with your loved ones! It’s costing  the UK economy twelvty pounds.

OK, they didn’t actually say it was going to cost the economy twelvty pounds but (with apologies to Tubbs from The League of Gentlemen) I thought that since they were making up numbers I’d do the same. The actual number they would have us believe the Easter Bank Holiday is costing ‘us’ is “£4.7bn”. Now, they preface this startling information by mentioning that this is their “rough and ready calculation”. The first response to that must surely be that if this ‘think tank’ is ‘respected’ then we’d expect something more than makey-uppy opinion pieces. If the calculation is ‘rough and ready’ then it presumably hasn’t bothered to look at the ‘counterfactuals’ – i.e. what economic boost do we lose if we don’t have the holidays? Has Scotland been barking up the wrong tree trying to develop a tourism industry? Should we shut it all down and stack shelves for all those extra days instead? (Or, as I suspect, does the CEBR believe that holidays are for ‘other people’ like the foreign super-rich?).

Has it simply assumed an endlessly flexible demand in the economy? I would assume that the ‘rough and ready’ number must include a proportionate increase in sales from all businesses – if every business was open ten extra days then it would sell ten extra days worth of goods. Great, in the CEBR conception of economics all we need to do to gain immediate growth is ban weekends and work towards never sleeping again. All those extra hours will just keep increasing demand indefinitely, growth will rise inexorably and we are getting close to the real dream of these ideologues – an economy that doesn’t even need people in it at all.

This seems to be the real goal of the kinds of nutters who put this stuff out. If only we could devise an economic theory in which we don’t need anyone to buy anything, we just need people to work work work and then things will just buy themselves. Working 14-hour days? No weekends off? Don’t worry that you won’t have time to go to the supermarket because the supermarkets are packed with abstract economic entities buying theoretical products in volumes entirely proportionate to the imagination of the boss class. Oh, wait a minute, such a theory already exists, and it has been underpinning economic strategies all the way into the gutter in which we currently find ourselves.

But it is not just that this baseless waffle conjured out of hokey supply-side economics is self-evidently factually incorrect, it demonstrates two important truths about Britain in 2012. The first of those is that there are two distinct classes and one is determined that the other will pay every price. The boss class really believes that the purpose of a nation state is to punish workers harder and harder in pursuit of wealth for a few. The idea that people might be entitled to some time off with their families and friends as a function of their humanity (not their economic utility) is alien to this constituency. The idea that there is any value in society other than their personal enrichment is to be dismissed. In their concept, humans are farmed for the use of industry.

The second truth is that the more the business sector fails, the more it seeks to pass its failures on to others. Working longer hours is only an economic benefit in so far as it increases productivity. What is forgotten in this is that productivity in the UK has historically been lower than most of its competitors. Germans works many fewer hours than we do and yet manage to be more productive. What you do not hear the CEBR saying is that this is because German bosses are better than our bosses. In an advanced economy the key determinants of productivity are not so much hours worked as investment in skills, technology and research and development. Making ten percent more crap things is the CEBR way; investing to make better things is the continental way. We failed, they succeeded. And as I write ‘we’ I mean the people the CEBR represent.

Everyone knows the bosses failed us. We know R$D investment was abysmal in the UK – but we were told it didn’t matter because of the ‘innovation in financial services’ that Britain was so good at. Yeah, that worked well. We know that investment in new technology trailed behind competitors but we didn’t talk about it. Above all, our bosses saw businesses as vehicles for rapid personal enrichment. Bosses in Britain took the profits from their companies and made themselves rich; their German counterparts took much smaller remuneration packages and reinvested their profits in their companies for the long term. And it is the Germans that the CEBR call decadent in their ‘report’

On every level the claim that ordinary people in the UK don’t work hard enough is a disgrace – factually inaccurate and morally distasteful. That it is based on such miserably poor economics simply compounds the problem. If blame is to be apportioned it is time it was apportioned proportionately. Britain’s bosses let us down and their response seems to be to step up their attacks on ordinary people.

So, before I hear Cameron or Milliband or any of the rest of them lecture us on the dangers of ‘bashing the bosses’, it is time to hear them let the bosses know that bashing the people is no solution. And as for the CEBR? If it thinks it can maintain its ‘respected’ status with this ill-founded garbage then it needs to be put straight. The only thing to be said in its favour is that it really doesn’t look like anyone’s labour was wasted in its production.

Robin McAlpine