Opinion: Nothing to fear but fear itself

Mike Tuffrey seeks inspiration from Roosevelt in advocating a four point plan for a sustainable economic recovery.

With all the depressing news about the economy, I can recommend a re-reading of the inaugural address of newly-elected President Franklin D Roosevelt, given in the depths of the Depression on March 4, 1933. Aside from his well-known call to arms against fear itself, he did a nice (and topical) line in banker-bashing too: “Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men”.

Elements of his prescription are highly relevant for us today – us as a country and us as a party. Last month I argued we need a new distinct alternative economic strategy, for jobs and business growth, not just fiscal responsibility.

Since then, the noises from our team in Westminster have been encouraging, though we are a long way from positioning the party with our own ‘sustainable growth’ approach as part of rebuilding the LibDem ‘brand’. This is vitally important at the half-way mark of this Parliament. The focus on getting the low paid out of tax and opposing NHS privatisation is good but not enough.

To advance thinking, I’ve developed a ‘four plus two’ plan as a contribution to a debate (run by London Remade) about what a sustainable economy looks like regionally. It hardly needs saying that the situation is urgent and growing: almost 400,000 Londoners – one in ten, the second highest in the whole country – are unemployed and seeking work.

First are four main pillars for immediate results:

  • Housebuilding – a big programme on land that is in public ownership
  • Skills for young people – including a role for responsible large firms
  • Local jobs and business – especially in the new environmentally-sound industries
  • Fair wages – since trickle-down economics can’t be relied on

To these four, I have added two longer term goals – zero carbon and zero waste. Taken together, this would get Londoners to work, improve their housing, health and environment, encourage local business, and give our economy and society much greater resilience.

You can read more about the plan ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself’ here and more about the London Remade debate here.

* Mike Tuffrey is a former councillor and London Assembly member, works in the field of corporate sustainability and is a trustee of the New Economics Foundation.

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This entry was posted in London and Op-eds.


  • Thanks Mike, I’m going to the essay right away. Great to have really constructive material to work with.

  • I agree, that there is a lot of depressing news around at the moment. And the Roosevelt speech was good for the 1930’s, but today is very different. We all want the 50 years of partying to continue, but at some point the punch bowl becomes empty. I would love the next 50 years to be like the last 50, not least for my children, who are young adults trying to make their way in the world. But the sooner we get out of the denial phase, the sooner we can work to adapt to the new reality. I’ve done a line by line analysis of how I see the situation. Please destroy it line by line. I want to be wrong.
    ~ The human economy depends on flows of energy and materials extracted from the environment.
    ~ Those flows of energy and materials are transformed by technology to create goods and services.
    ~ These flows of energy and materials, are governed by physical conservation laws.
    ~ Growth of these flows of energy and materials cannot grow exponentially in a finite world.
    ~ These flows of energy and materials therefore, have limits in terms of accessibility.
    ~ We are at, or very near, those limits of accessibility to energy and materials.
    ~ Growth, (around the world), which relies on accessibility to energy and materials, is stalling and going into reverse as a result of the those limits.
    ~ The emerging paradigm is thus contraction, not growth.
    ~ We will have to adapt our society, economy and governance to that new contracting paradigm.
    …….. J. D. ……….

  • Yes, John. And we mustn’t wait for all the stragglers to catch up with this necessary thinking. There was a thread a while ago on the Members’ Forum about whether or not being “evangelical” helps or hinders messaging.

  • Richard Dean 20th Jun '12 - 1:49pm

    Very nice. I would be interested in your further ideas on how will these pillars change things?

    Take housebuilding. You have to start with some money. Where will it come from? Then you design and buld houses. Designers, planning permissions, objectors, builders. It’s now a year on, you need customers. Estate agents. Where will the customers get the money from to pay you? Then what? Full stop? Has the activity of housebuilding just transferred the pain into the future?

    It’s good to acquire skills, but people need jobs to compete for at the end of the training. Local jobs and businesses is ok too, though perhapos not if it costs more to do something locally than to trade the benefits from elsewhere. But also, those businesses have to have customers, who have to have money, who get it mainly from working for wages, which are provided by businesses …. How to get the circle moving?.

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