A Budget for a Resilient Economy

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has delivered a budget for a ‘resilient economy’. What does this mean?

First, it is important to note that the reach of the term ‘resilience’ has in recent years extended well beyond this budget. In fact, the term is fast becoming a ubiquitous aspiration for policy makers working in a range of fields, including military intervention and statebuilding, policing, cyber security and community building, to name a few. In an excellent edited journal issue, Brassett, Croft and Vaughan-Williams (2013) have noted that, like it or not, most commentators agree, “resilience is fast becoming the organising principle in contemporary political life.”

Second, while the term has slightly different uses in different contexts, there are several broadly agreed upon features of what it means to be resilient. At this point, academics like to turn to etymology, which in this instance teaches us that resilio means ‘to jump back’. Fortunately, former Crystal Palace manager, Iain Dowie, has put this in clearer terms: resilience is ‘bouncebackability’. Resilience therefore is the ability to cope with and recover from relatively low-probability, large-impact events and return to the status quo. As anybody who has experienced a personal tragedy will know, being resilient is about achieving a return to a normality of sorts having gone through a crisis.

Third, in an era of global uncertainty, with its associated imminent crises, this logic takes on a much wider scale. As Brassett et al (2013) note, resilience is more than a buzzword; rather, resilience encourages societies to organise and to govern in particular and potentially troubling ways. One example is the shifting locus of responsibility from the government to the individual. Resilience is seen to be a personal trait. A second example is the need to prepare. Resilience encourages anticipation of the future, perhaps by making sacrifices in the present. And a third example of the political logic of resilience is the need to contemplate and prepare for the unknowable. Resilience planning prioritises preparation for events that we might not be aware are on the horizon, despite the current penchant amongst policy makers for horizon-scanning activities.

The individual, the future, and the unknowable, then, are three features of resilience that have helped to shape this and previous budgets. As Dan Bulley (2013) notes, resilience planning is as much about producing and governing community as it is responding to crises. A budget designed to produce a resilient economy is one that continues the process of shifting the burden of resilience – the ability to cope with financial strain – from the state to the individual. A budget designed to produce a resilient economy is one that continues the process of sacrificing today’s growth at the altar of tomorrow’s imagined prosperity. A budget designed to produce a resilient economy is one that continues the process of preparing for unknown challenges ahead, albeit in very particular and ideological ways. A budget designed to produce a resilient economy is one that continues the process of making vulnerable individuals the shock absorbers of unknown future crises. Within this logic, vulnerability – very often in the form of unemployment – is a personal trait and individual failing. And, within this logic, it is also the buffer that ensures the bouncebackability of the British economy.

Dr Jack Holland is a Lecturer in International Relations