The airport test

In: Uncategorized

15 Apr 2010

Yesterday I gave a 90 second “husting” as part of an Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) event on the upcoming British election. I decided to talk about the “airport test” as a key criterion for deciding which political party to support.

My point was that a willingness to build and expand airports was a good litmus test of whether parties genuinely favour economic growth and prosperity. The Conservative and Labour manifestoes give ample rhetorical backing to both goals but closer inspection reveals that their ambitions in the area are extremely limited.

One of the problems is that they see the environment as a constraint on economic growth. Airports are a good example of how this works. The parties would probably concede in principle that airports can help bring prosperity but they also accept that green concerns are even more important.

The main thrust of my argument was that airports could help deliver greater growth and improved mobility for the mass of the population. Towards the end I stated that greater prosperity would improve our capacity to overcome environmental problems – therefore rejecting the idea of natural limits to growth. I also asserted it was not a question of “trade offs” between the economy and the environment.

My comments polarised the audience.  Some greeted me with cheers and applause.  Others, including Professor Robert Skidelsky and Nic Marks of the New Economics Foundation, laughed ostentatiously in an apparent attempt to suggest my argument was ludicrous.

The bulk of the meeting consisted of a debate between free marketeers and what could loosely be called social democrats on various economic topics related to the election (the IEA is one of the few places in Britain where free marketeers actually exist).