An alternative headline might be “Why The Guardian’s leaders always sound so dim”. The author here is:
Susanna Rustin is a Guardian leader writer
Leader writers are supposed to be the bright young things who are in training to become editors themselves. Sure, there are exceptions – Oliver Kamm at The Times – who doesn’t meet two of those strictures and surely no one would make him an editor. But she’s writing about economics and it would help if she understood a little of the subject:
It need not be either/or: physical and technological infrastructure are important. But the case for a new approach to the NHS that places more positive emphasis on people must be made. Almost half of the total NHS budget goes on salaries. Yet too often the performance management systems that pervade public services view staff and their salaries as a burden to be shrunk rather than an asset to be developed.
Staff are not, of course, an asset. We’ve abolished slavery so they can’t be sold. We can, in another meaning, say that their skills are an asset to the organisation and that’s fair enough. But to say that their salaries are an asset is insane. Nope, they’re a cost. You know, the opposite?
We desire to gain access to those skills, sure we do. We don’t, particularly, wish to gain access to those specific people of course, we just want the skills. It might be those staff are the only people with the skills. Or possibly we wish to attract more people to learn those skills. Or we’re going to import people who have them. Or create robots that have the skills so we don’t need the staff.
But we really do have to get the most basic points right. While the skills are desirable the salaries are the cost of gaining them. That is, workers’ pay is a cost. We might even – yes, it is possible – increase the cost we bear in order to gain more of the skills. Or a better deployment of them – increased productivity that is – but the salaries are always the cost.
But then this is the bird at The Guardian who writes the leaders, isn’t it?
Feminist economics also needs to learn the same lesson:
In recent years, feminist economists have tried to shift the thinking that, in normal times and following the logic of international accounting rules, places spending on new hospitals, railways or nuclear power stations in a different box from investment on what they call “social infrastructure”. This term is used in various ways to talk about the value of the public realm and why it matters. But here it means the variety of services, including early-years education and residential care for old people, that we group under the heading of “care”. In 2019 the Women’s Budget Group published research showing that an investment of 2% of GDP in care would create twice the number of jobs as the same investment in construction.
Twice as many jobs is twice the cost, isn’t it? For jobs – as with those salaries – are always the cost associated with getting the job (sorry) done.
Jobs are a cost, not a benefit. That feminist economists and Guardian leader writers fail to grasp this basic truth tells us that we can and should ignore the shrieking of both.