First of all let's get one thing clear: I do not need much encouragement to go shopping. The autumnal nip in the air, a friend's birthday meal out and a back-to-school-style obsession with reorganising my office have all had me hitting the shops in the past few weeks for clothing and stationery items of varying necessity.
Despite, or perhaps because of this personal failing I seriously wonder about the wisdom of encouraging people to shop more. But that's exactly what the deputy governor of the Bank of England has done.
Speaking in an interview with Channel 4 News last week, Charles Bean said the Bank's policy of keeping interest rates low was aimed at encouraging more spending to boost Britain's fragile economy. "In the short-term, we want to see households not saving more, but spending more," he said.
From where he is sitting on the Bank's monetary policy committee, I can see how his argument stacks up. The more money we spend making improvements to our homes, buying new clothes or going out to eat, the better for those companies that provide those services. The better they do, the more money they pump into the economy in the form of taxes and employment.
Where this logic falls down is in failing to acknowledge the potential damage to people's lives of encouraging them to live beyond their means. We have not seen the worst of this recession and many people are being asked to work harder for less money or face the real prospect of redundancy. Others can't get a job at all. Even those who are in secure employment have seen living costs rise as the global economy struggles to recover from the banking crisis.
Sensibly, it seems that Britons have responded by trying to cut back and make some savings for the future. Last year, personal debt fell for the first time on record as people used their spare income and savings to pay off credit cards and mortgages. I can't be alone in seeing this as one of the few positives to come out of the so-called credit crunch. When a bottle of bubbly became a weekly tipple rather than something to be cherished on special occasions, it was obvious that consumerism had got a little out of control.
Bean reportedly earns a basic annual salary of £250,000 and presumably has a generous retirement plan. Most of the rest of us do not. Encouraging people to see shopping as some kind of patriotic duty is a dangerous game and one that threatens to return us to the kind of short-term, "live now, pay later" philosophy that got us into the mess into the first place.
By: Laura Smith
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