The return of Stephanomics

  • 17 July 2012
  • From the section Business
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In case you missed it, Stephanomics returned to Radio 4 on Tuesday morning.

I brought three distinguished economists round a table to debate a crucial economic commodity we talk about most when it's not there: growth.

Nick Crafts, the economic historian, had some interesting light to shed on the 1930s experience, and what we could learn from it right now. He reminded us how important house building was in helping the UK avoid a truly Great Depression.

Kate Barker, an ex-member if the Monetary Policy Committee who has spent more time than most thinking about UK housing supply and planning rules, wasn't sure we could repeat that experience today. She had her own ideas about spurring growth - starting with the banks.

But the grandest - but also perhaps the most depressing - vision of future growth in Britain came from the Oxford academic, Dieter Helm, who has spent many years advising the government and businesses on UK energy and infrastructure issues.

He thinks there are at least £500bn worth of crucial infrastructure investments that the UK needs, to raise its productivity and achieve more durable growth. But that cannot come from another government borrowing spree, in his view, and it cannot come quickly.

So it was a realistic debate - no magic bullets on offer, I'm afraid. But the debate was lively, and I think we did get past some of the tired old arguments about "austerity versus growth". What they said might also help you understand what the Chancellor George Osborne is on about on Wednesday morning, when he unveils his plans to encourage private infrastructure investment in the next few years.

If Dr Helm is right, transforming Britain's growth prospects is going to be difficult - and it won't be quick. But to paraphrase the young George Washington, if growth is going to take that long to cultivate in Britain you might say there was no time to waste.

The programme is repeated on Radio 4 at 21.30. Or you can catch it on the iPlayer.