Why do ‘we’ keep forgetting what money is and how it works?
Money should be understood as a ‘constitutional project’ (Desan 2014). The idea of money and how it used is central to the creation of the idea of the State.
If people can change how they think about money, they can become a new polity. It is why governments keep us anxious about the national finances.
How money is imagined, how it is issued and used has changed through history. Money is a relation of trust, and what we trust can change over time (Goldstein 2021). ‘Trust is habit congealed through repetition into faith.’ (Spang 2015). We can have new expressions of trust and faith.
At various times there have been recalibrations of what government and spending priorities should be and how to achieve them, if not then what have a Comprehensive Spending Review? If not, then we would not have had a NHS or a welfare state. It was what people voted for in choosing between a government and spending plans of Churchill and Atlee.
We can take the view that providing a good childhood for all children is a good thing and we want to invest in it. That is the question the Care Review, amongst all the others, is actually asking.
It is a question that is lost in the words and the diversionary questions, but it is what should be framing the responses.
The detail and the questions divert attention from the bigger picture. In answering what seems a reasoned argument and question the bigger unreasoned and unreasonable picture can be lost.
The Care Review presents us with a view, take it or leave it. Other views are possible. Other views should be being presented by the Care Review as options for different futures.
The Care Review can consider anything but the current funding of children’s services. The Minister for Children goes to the ADCS conference with a list of things that can be done currently without money.
Meanwhile researchers how that scarcity and rationing are currently significantly hindering what is possible.
Note that word ‘currently’. The perspectives above all take the view that the current way we can fund children’s services is the only way. It isn’t.
Is the current level funding enough in absolute and relative terms? Does it remove poverty, disadvantage, and deprivation? If not, knowing that is in insufficient and thereby ineffective, should not other ways of funding be presented as options?
It is only more recently that it has been handed down to us that government finance is like family finance. Thatcher banged the line time and again, and Labour responded that she was ‘selling the family silver’, two sides of a coin. Such descriptions are ideological, they do not exist, though a reality can be created by which they seem to be real, and that is what we are living through.
When we think about government, ‘we’re all in it together’, we feel that anxiety of ‘paying down the debt’, ‘now we’ve got to pay for it’. No doubt that is very real for the council leaderships facing their local authorities’ section 114 notices, only statutory spending allowed. No doubt if there were a way of dispelling their daily trauma they would take it.
There has been a great deal of work to feel make it right that a government is acting for us as a large national ‘family’ and so we must all play our part in balancing the ‘family’ expenses against income/revenue.
Except it isn’t the case now, and it wasn’t the case in history. It took us until recently to pay off the War debt and only till very recently to pay of the debts to slave owners. It wasn’t the case when it was decided to start the NHS and welfare state. Long term collective contribution planned investment.
Government economic thinking is a creation, it doesn’t exist in itself as we see in the changes with each government and Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are different ways to go about it.
Government funding is a creation, as is the financing. There are different ways to go about it.
There is increasing focus on Modern Monetary Theory, The MMT in the title.
A government that has its own sovereign currency, like the UK or US, issues the money it spends. It’s how the current Chancellor has financed the measures to support employment and industry through Covid.
Another way of thinking about finding children’s social work and care comes about when we see that as long as the UK spends its money on its people then public deficits equal non-government surplus.
We’ll write more on this over the next weeks. But in the meantime
Look again at the words of the Care Review – what is it asking you to believe?
Look again at the questions – what is it not asking? What’s the ‘big picture’?
If there were another way, wouldn’t you want to take it? What if that way exists? And is being prevented from existing?