Innes Smith: Draining the swamp of trickle down economics

Money trickles from rich to poor - unless it flows elsewhere
Money trickles from rich to poor - unless it flows elsewhere
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The map is not the territory. And by the same measure, models are rarely perfect, but they can help us understand complicated systems and – crucially – make predictions.

So, while politicians get grilled on the money minutiae (or lack thereof), let’s take a step back from drilling down to the details and look at the big picture, namely the ­meteorological metaphor that Maggie loved the most – trickle down economics.

Now, a swift heads up, I’m no economist. But I do like a good metaphor and equating money with water is a useful analogy – you need both to live. Too little and you’ve got a desert. Too much, a landslide, a quagmire, a swamp. Both extremes, an environmental disaster.

Trickle down economics – initially a jibe from Will ­Rogers, criticising ­American policy during the Great Depression – conjures up the image of saturated ­oligarchs dripping wealth from on high, like over-watered ­spider plants swinging from ­macramé slings. Below, climbers gratefully receive their fiscal trickle.

Bill Phillips, an engineer from New Zealand, also thought it was useful to equate money with water. In 1949, he unveiled a Heath Robinson contraption to the London School of Economics: a machine to model the economy.

All pipes, tubes and basins, with coloured water ­representing cash flow, his machine showed how ­money flowed, how it circulated. When I first heard about this machine, I was struck by its ingenuity and charm. One working model still exists, in Cambridge, but please allow me to do my own analogical plumbing.

The real problem with trickle down economics is that it’s really trickle off economics; if a working economy ‘flows’, and ‘circulates’, then where’s the wisdom of siphoning the juice offshore? Aren’t we just creating a desert here?

I’m not denying the super rich pump money into ­whatever they think that will make them super richer, but doesn’t that create those landslides, quagmires and swamps?

Okay. By now, some may have me pegged as a communist. I’m not. I’m not against the rich. Actually, I quite like some of them, especially the older ones that wear tweed, smell of lavender and have portraits of Royal mistresses in faded oils.

But, like most people, I like the graph of wealth distribution to be a healthy 45 degrees between X and Y axes. Y’know, like a healthy slope. A rockery. If you want your trickle to trickle, then water really could trickle down that thing. It’s therefore inexplicable and unsustainable for the graph of wealth distribution to consist of 99 per cent dusty plain and 1 per cent golden stream.

So, in politics, in economics, in the daily discourse, why do we persist in either believing in, or supporting the trickle-down effect? ‘Wealth redistribution’ are the dirtiest words these days, but who can deny that more than ever, we all need a little clean, clean rain?

Even if you still support the trickle down model, isn’t it time – at last – to plug the trickle off?

Innes Smith is a writer and actor based in Glasgow. He mostly works in animation, radio, education and comedy.