Boom or bust in Britain?

One analyst here - Bob Beckman, owner and editor of the Investors Bulletin - warns of an approaching crash. Industries fail, he forecasts. Companies fold. Banks go broke. Office property becomes unsalable. House prices tumble.

But, according to the Confederation of British Industry and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a slow but sure recovery has begun.

Production certainly is rising, albeit modestly. Exports are strong. House prices in the south of the country are rising again. Inflation is below 8 percent. Earnings are slightly higher but no longer excessively so. New scientific industries are flourishing.

But there is just enough observable muscle in the Beckman argument to worry people here and even to cause something like panic in the ranks of the Labour Party.

Everywhere you go around London new office blocks are being completed. They are empty. Commuters who travel to London's Waterloo station every day note tower blocks that once were almost literal hives of industry silent and dark, with ''To Let'' notices all over them.

The jobless total is increasing and in September when the kids leave school is likely to jump alarmingly. It may come close to the 4 million mark, considerably worse than in the great slump of the 1930s.

At the same time, says Beckman, all thebusiness and economic cycles which chartists study point to a further and steeper downturn. Why, he asks, should anyone imagine that waves that have risen and broken predictably for a period of 300 years will quite suddenly cease to do so?

These, I suppose, are his answers:

* Because times have changed.

* Because excessive taxation is at the roots of the problem and will in the next five years be considerably reduced.

* Because recovery then depends on increasing the number of profitable busi-nesses and that number already is increasing.

* Because new world economic agreements in the near future will focus not so much on the transfer of money from rich to poor as on growth in the production of the poor. (Too much thought has previously been devoted to the necessary alleviation of poverty and too little to the equally necessary conquest of poverty.)

Poverty can be conquered only by increasing the amount of salable production and widely distributing the proceeds. This proposition is becoming more widely understood and applies internationally, nationally, in particular industries and businesses, and also individually. A deeper understanding of it is critical in the choice between boom and slump.

For in spite of what Mr. Beckman says, we still have a choice. We need not be slaves to business cycles.

I have said that the Beckman warning puts socialists in a panic. I think that is a fair comment as their wilder comments in Parliament recently underline. For the more thoughtful among them know in their hearts that a program of still higher taxes, yet bigger subsidies, still vaster budget deficits, and a reliance on money rather than on salable output really would make a crash inevitable.

But if recovery begins at the grass roots with increases in commercial output , supported by affordable public works, a crash can certainly be avoided.

And this recipe is good for third-world countries as well as for the industrial nations.

This, I am convinced, has to be the keystone of policy.

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