The official dogma is that we are living the best days of our lives. The economy is booming and Labour is the safe pair of hands that will not scupper the smooth sailing boat. On this basis, we have been asked to overlook the thick book of malpractice in public administration and to close both eyes to corruption.

The underlying warning to the electorate is that we should not begrudge a brother a few million stashed in Panama once we are all lucky enough to be raking in our share of the spoils.

The engine driving this sense of economic well-being is construction. And there can be no doubt that a line of business that was uncertain of its future in 2013 is shuffling trucks and shunting cranes like there’s no tomorrow.

And that is not just a pretty turn of phrase. It is a chilling reminder that, by definition, property development is a short-term boon to the construction industry, and a trickle-down effect on the rest of the eco­nomy, but not a sustainable state of affairs.

If you open a shop, you’ll run an operation every day the products you sell are in demand. You can only build property on a piece of land once. To sustain your economic activity, you need to build the next piece of land and the next until, inevitably, you run out of space to build.

You can relax the rules on what can or cannot be built, where, how tall and how close it can be. But any extractive economic activity – for, effectively, construction is the reverse of the mining of primary resources, in converting quarries into buildings – exists only up to the point that space remains available.

I am not writing about the need to protect the environment. That argument is consistently made by campaigners rightly concerned about the depletion of our natural environment, the degradation of our urban fabric and the destruction of our architectural and historical heritage. The argument is just as consistently ignored.

I am writing about the great lie perpetrated by this Labour government, that we are witnessing an economic miracle on the strength of a booming construction industry. The truth is that this government’s economic good fortune (I do not describe it a strategy) is an exercise in smoke and mirrors bent on clouding the fact that it is really only sowing the seeds of an impending economic catastrophe.

This government, just like a spoilt teenager on a spending spree financed by a first credit card, is refusing to consider tomorrow, let alone worry about the consequence. We are living on borrowed time. We are embracing the proceeds of an economic activity designed to sustain a falsely prosperous decade and ignoring the fact that we are not merely leaving future generations a polluted legacy but also an economically broken one.

We are ignoring warnings about the pain of being sucked into the vortex of unaffordable debt. The hyper-inflation of rented properties is only partly a product of real market demand. It is mainly the result of a collective delusion that the spiralling inflation of property prices and the fictitious rise in value can pay for lifestyles we cannot really afford.

Real estate agents and notaries have never had it so good.

But isn’t that precisely the most painfully flagrant symptom of a bubble – large and dramatic but fragile and precarious?

The responsibility of government is not to wallow in the glories of today but to anticipate the needs of tomorrow

After all, the setting of a price is the result of a consensus between buyer and seller, who agree on the prospects of the future value of the goods exchanged.

The general consensus that the future prospects of property development are likely to be positive is not driven by the construction industry. Quite the contrary. The construction of more properties increases supply and should therefore lead to a decrease in prices. The consensus is formed from an understanding that other sectors of the economy will generate the wealth needed for people to afford ever higher rents and ever higher purchase prices.

What other sectors of the economy?

We continue to reap the fruit of the economic transformation of Malta during the Fenech Adami/Gonzi era: the consistent and multiple reinvention of our portfolio of economic activities, with new sectors planned ahead of time to replace dwindling staples in line with the changing global economic realities.

We continue to benefit from the success of industries energised by the PN administration – aviation, financial industries, individual tourism, gaming, software, trans-shipment, pharmaceuticals, precision engineering and others. Yet here is the indictment of the current administration: what new economic sectors have been lined up in the past four-and-a-half years to replace the inevitable loss of any one or more of the economic pillars that currently support us?

Make no mistake. Even if this were the most efficient bureaucracy and Malta’s offer to businesses the most sophisticated in the world – and it is not – at some point, the current economic activities will run down or move away. That is the painful truth of life. Nothing lasts for ever.

The responsibility of government is not to wallow in the glories of today but to anticipate the needs of tomorrow. Because starting a new line of business is not an overnight affair. There could have been no software, gaming, pharma or aviation industries if, years ahead of time, our education system had not been redesigned to prepare children for a future their parents were still unaware was to come.

The 25-year-old software guru at any successful software company today owes her career to the foresight of Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, who was setting up Mcast in 1992, the year she was born.

None of this is happening today. We have an administration utterly and completely bereft of foresight and an electorate inebriated by the borrowed surplus of the here and now: borrowed, of course, against a future no one is planning for.

The bursting of bubbles is the reckoning of debts, of credit granted on the basis of a shared delusion. There’s little I can say that recent history has not already demonstrated. We were sheltered from 2008 by wise economic choices but it would be tra­gically ironic if being sheltered from the last global financial crisis means we end up not learning anything from it.

Money is being funnelled into construction, instead of being invested into more realistic, promising and sustainable economic initiatives. Moreover, the concentration of capital in property is also the concentration of wealth in a new propertied class, whose entrepreneurship is numbed by annuities that need no research, no innovation and little initiative. Conversely, the motor of innovative economic sectors, capital, is being completely used up.

These are the days of our lives. Squandering them, as we are, may mean we leave little for our children beyond a legacy of vacant properties, land shortage and an austere, uncertain future.

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