Monday, June 18, 2012

Myths of UK economic policy

Now I could have said this myself, but I don't need do, because Liberal Democrat blogger, Stephen Tall, has done it for me.  Now that's someone who is no libertarian, and ought to get a wider constituency that those laissez-faire capitalists who are fed up with the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition's pathetic attempt at austerity and Labour's dishonest attempt to present itself as the saviour.

What are the myths?

1.  UK public spending is reducing:  In nominal terms it is rising by 8% over the term of this government, in real terms cut by 3%!  Any large business that couldn't extract 3% savings out of five years of operations would be an abysmal performer.  Moreover, in real terms spending in the last year of this term of government will be higher than every year of the Blair/Brown government except the last year.   Big swingeing cuts? Hardly.

2.   Public debt is being reduced:  No.  You see you can't do that unless you run a budget surplus, and that isn't happening or going to happen in this term.  Public debt as a proportion of GDP will be rising by 8% during the term of this Parliament, and wont be dropping in nominal or real terms.  

3.   Labour's approach would have made a big difference:  No.  Ernst & Young modelled the difference, and calculated it would have meant the economy growing on average 0.2% more across three years.  Each additional job would have cost £370,000 in debt (jobs with average income of a tenth of that).

4.   The Obama Administration has taken a different approach which has paid off:  No.  The Obama Administration after the 2010 congressional elections, cut federal spending by 0.9% in real terms.  Somewhat equivalent to the UK government.  Barely austerity at all for both, but US tax levels remain far lower than the UK's.  That's a difference Labour and other leftwing opponents ignore.

5.  There is a magic easy alternative solution:  Both recent UK governments have been Keynesian.  Both dropped interest rates to near zero levels, both printed more money,  both engaged in deficit spending. 

Now I'd argue there are solutions, and that taking a more aggressive stance to cutting the deficit by cutting spending, NOT increasing taxes (which has been about a third of the strategy), would have cut wasteful wealth destroying spending, helped keep the growth of the state interest bill under control, stopped the state competing with the private sector for investment, and meant more money would remain in private hands.  

However, no party in the UK offers that solution as of yet.  You might wonder quite why a government, that is now quite unpopular, didn't just take the hard medicine at the start - rather than pretend to do so, given people think it has already, and it hasn't worked.

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