#economicsfest: How to create an economy that cares for everyone?

Throughout most of history, wealth and power have been held by a few – whether in the form of historical empires or modern-day oligarchies. With health, social care and childcare all stretched, the needs of many raise pressing questions about this unequal distribution.

This year’s Bristol Festival of Economics, in its 12th edition, brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world to tackle some of the most pressing economic questions facing the UK.

The second full day covered a wide variety of subjects: the nation’s maintenance system, the lasting impact of Britain’s empire, and the global influence of oligarchs. Panelists shared a wealth of knowledge and expertise with an interested and engaged audience.

After the empire

The first session of the day was a conversation between Ore Ogunbiyi EconomistDaily Podcast and Kojo Quorum, Editor Extraordinary Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire.

Coram provides a valid history lesson based on his book, which he believes 'reflects not only what was happening in the former colonies but what is happening in Britain today’.

He lamented that much of the recent debate on decolonization has been spent on symbolism (such as removing statues) and personal responsibilities (colonizing your social media feeds) rather than on systemic issues.

Referring to the day in June 2020 when activists in Bristol tore down a statue of 17-year-old Edward Colston, he said, 'I felt the conversation was ending with the fall of the statue.’Th– century slave trader, addressing capitalism 'instead of focusing on real action’.

Corrum thinks capitalism cannot be understood without grappling with colonialism because it is driven by economic interests – as opposed to cultural interests. His opinion is that no one boarded the ship on the 17thTh A copy should be given to centenarians persuasion’ elicited laughter from the audience.

Coram draws on his personal experience growing up between Britain and its former colony, Ghana, and his knowledge of history and international law, which he teaches at Birkbeck, University of London.

He and Ogunbii discuss how the systems of wealth accumulation that underpinned Britain contribute to today’s growing inequality. A case in point is the much-discussed 'direct inheritance of empire’ since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister. They also mentioned other means of tax evasion. The UK government could introduce new laws tomorrow to secure tax havens for publishing the names of account holders in such places, according to Quorum.

A central concept emerged: a call for better education. Coram criticized that most Britons were unaware of key events in the country’s history, such as the independence of Kenya, Ghana and other former colonies.

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What an oligarchy should look like

Discussions moved from the vast wealth of the empire to the enormous wealth and power held by oligarchs today. David Linkelbach and Valentina Rodriguez Guerra answer questions about their book The grip of oligarchs: combining wealth and power In a session hosted by Sarah Smith of the University of Bristol and Principal Editor of the Economics Lab.

The authors begin by explaining how oligarchs differ from the wealthy or powerful. And Power – unlike most politicians or simply the wealthy. They distinguish two types of oligarchs: political and commercial (the former use power to acquire wealth, the latter use wealth to acquire power). Many examples were highlighted – from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin and Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk (who, Lingelbach argued, became an oligarch when he bought Twitter/X).

While previous studies of oligarchs have tended to focus on definition and description, the new book focuses on how people become oligarchs. Both have developed a four-point strategy.

First, oligarchs are entrepreneurs and opportunists, Linkelbach explained.

The second is what he calls a 'friends-with-benefits’ strategy – they constantly connect and disconnect with their (business or political) partners.

Third, they operate in a clandestine environment and take advantage of it. Oligarchies are effective in exploiting uncertainty. Linkelbach cited Putin as an example of an oligarch who, despite being one of the most famous people in the world, operates in relative secrecy. It is estimated that there are fewer than ten people who truly knew him and his thoughts.

Lastly, oligarchs are patient and wait for the right opportunity.

But can oligarchs use their power for good? Linkelbach spoke of former US President Herbert Hoover as an example of a business oligarch who used his money to enter politics, and whose business acumen helped save an estimated 10 million lives in Europe and elsewhere as head of the US Relief Administration during the Famine. 1921-22.

While Linkelbach drew on his knowledge of the United States and Russia, Rodriguez Guevara, a resident of Colombia, added his research from Latin America to the mix.

After a séance of several men — living or dead — one visitor wondered if there were female oligarchs. Rodríguez Guerra explained that while there are some — she noted Isabel dos Santos, a businesswoman and daughter of Angola’s former president — women are generally not as wealthy as men. But as women gain wealth and power, female oligarchs are likely to grow in number.

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A caring economy

From the wealth of the few, the focus shifted to the needs of the many – a debate about the UK’s long-term health and care needs began.

Author and activist Kathy Rae opened the session by saying that in her view 'old people are disabled’. He explained how the two groups’ struggles overlap: they may feel pain, struggle with mobility or hearing, and may need better access to public services and systems. He emphasized how improving accessibility for people with disabilities is in everyone’s interests.

Both Chris Salisbury, professor of primary health care at the University of Bristol, and Patrick Jurissen, professor of health care systems at Radboud University in the Netherlands, worry that current health care systems are not designed for comorbidities (for more than one person). medical condition). They suggested that better digital health services and integration of overall care could improve the system.

Emily Kenway, an author and activist, said unpaid caregivers are often overlooked by the health care system, although almost everyone will become a caregiver at some point in their lives. He expects responsibilities to shift with the decline of the nuclear family, where care often falls solely to (non-working) mothers or daughters.

Kenway drew on her personal experience of caring for her dying mother from 2016 to 2020, when she realized the importance of considering unpaid caregivers within the healthcare system. She also had a suggestion: a four-day work week, which would help all working people free up time to care for their loved ones in the future.

In a question to the committee, Ogunbiyi considered a change in how funding is allocated across the NHS, with more money now dedicated to hospitals rather than primary and community care.

Salisbury explained this by comparing hospitals to Ferraris: 'Hospitals are attractive and exciting, primary care centers are a VW Golf, not glamorous but necessary’. While he calls for more funding for GPs and social care, he also sees hospitals still underfunded.

Can digital solutions bridge some of the gaps? Although the group agreed that, as Kenway put it, 'technology may not be the panacea or silver bullet that people are hoping for’, they felt that it should be integrated to improve health and care systems.

So far, most technological innovation has delivered little, but according to Salisbury, a shift to 'low technology’ could help. Money has been wasted on glitzy apps, but what’s really needed, he argues, is better communication between hospitals and GPs.

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Ogunbiyi rounded up the group asking if the UK should keep the NHS 'free’ and if it could be done. Although Jurissen saw the upside of a parallel privatized system, the majority of the group agreed that 'we can and we can’.

Modern Family

In the final conversation of the day, hosted by Lucy Denier (telegram), Christine Farquharson of the Institute for Financial Studies, Rosie Fogdon of the Center for Progressive Policy, Tina Maltman of Childminding UK and Jane van Zyl of Working Families discussed the financial pressures facing families, nurseries, childminders and playgroups.

The UK has the highest childcare costs in Europe, but one of the lowest birth rates. So, what are some of the biggest issues facing the country for its child care system?

For Fogden, providing accessible and affordable child care is important because it affects both the workforce and the economy. She cites a survey of mothers of children under the age of ten, which shows that half struggle to get adequate childcare. Many of them say they want to work – at a cost of £9 billion to the country’s economy.

’It’s easy to think that childcare only affects children, their parents and their families,’ says Maltman. But it affects the economy as a whole.

Throughout the session, speakers brought together their complex knowledge of the current system’s legal and economic landscape, citing examples from around the world.

The focus is on how we can expand child care and make it more affordable to help parents, but also ensure quality care. Childcare providers, nursery staff and babysitters, many of whom earn the minimum wage, also have reduced training opportunities, the group agreed.

Maltman stressed that England already has a shortage of childcare places and will struggle with the expansion of free places planned by the current government. 'I have never seen a situation as bad as it is now,’ he added. Van Zyl admitted that while the government understood the demand, it failed to consider the supply issues.

As the day’s sessions concluded, the panels answered many questions, but they left the audience with new ones to ponder.

Author: Mary Shekhar, Economist

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