Hello world. Today’s read is from long time Daily Telegraph columnist Liam Halligan. Halligan has accurately pointed to flaws in the current economic revival attempt and has pointed the finger at the current recovery effort in its unfortunate failures to lead to genuine economic growth.
In the coming weeks I’ll be discussing the economic effort as we approach the next election in 2015.
Liam Halligan has a reputation as a straight-talking, logical and insightful journalist and this piece is no different. In his piece in The Telegraph Halligan discusses the present banking system in place in the UK and more specifically highlights the link between Investment and retail divisions. He goes on to explain and clarify that only complete separation will ensure catastrophic government bail-outs will not occur in the future, which could potentially save taxpayers billions. I’ve touched on this issue here.
London is undergoing rapid transformation. It has been the case since the mid-1990s and it shows no signs of slowing down. With this upsurge of development are qualities lost in the areas that are developed? Are the newer traits and trends in developed areas better than what was there before?
London Mayor Boris Johnson has been a stark proponent of inviting wealthy foreign investors to London. In October he suggested that VAT and import tax should be relaxed for our foreign neighbours in order to encourage Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
“VAT and import duty – those it seems to me are classically things that can be resolved by growing trade and co-operation between London and China, London and Beijing. We need a proper, thoroughgoing free-trade agreement. If the EU won’t do it we can do it on our own”
If this were to occur, many non-domiciles would be spending even more of their wealth in London. The idea of facilitating foreign wealth on new enterprise opportunities in London is one fully supported by the Mayor and several other politicians, including Chancellor George Osborne. The video below outlines some of Johnson’s plans for London. When you combine the Right To Buy scheme proposed by the Government it could be suggested that both the London and National government are looking to create another property boom.
The idea of new business, new stylish housing developments, newer communities and a new beginning for those who concur with the Mayor strike a positive cord. The fact that a prosperity bomb if you like, can explode and a plethora of new businesses can suddenly replaces older ones surely translate to a better, more profitable society. The fact that bigger businesses seek to expand to areas that are ripe for development ensures that plenty of jobs will be created, more of us will work and in a macro sense the economy will grow. Surely this is what we desire….
Or is it the case that newer developments and everything associated with it impose a revised culture that virtually replaces the existing one. Ensuring that this newer culture, this different way of life that imposes itself on existing residents is cohesive with the established culture is not usually a priority for developers or investors. In fact you could suggest that their priorities take precedent because their interests are deemed more important and their main priority is profit maximization. Much of the rhetoric is aimed at what is coming, what the future holds; new developments rarely acknowledge the qualities that the area had or look to uphold or maintain some of the non-monetary merits a community had. So residents that reside in areas that are listed for development are often left marginalised because the rate at which they usually have to adapt is relatively quick and it could be suggested that they no longer feel they are part of their community.
London is undergoing rapid transformation, many people welcome the new age of “prosperity” and many view it as an inevitable outcome of what our society eventually leads to. Nevertheless, there is a growing concern that the rate of change tends to strip away some of the qualities some communities once had, qualities that cannot be monetized, nor measured, nor necessarily tangible, but certainly potent and very much real.
This movement of people towards inner city London is peculiar because it tends to be to areas that were written off by several, deemed not fit for purpose by some, but home to so many who are now marginalised. What is even more striking is the fact that property prices, both rents and house prices are increasing. So demand is inelastic, in the sense that it is relatively unresponsive to a change in price. Therefore if you are a landlord or a developer the profits are virtually guaranteed due to this wave of perpetual inner city London demand.
Both graphs illustrate the rise and rise of property prices and the second graph clearly highlight the disparity between London and another large economic area: the North West.
According to the latest Census, Newham (East London) lost 38% of its white British population. This does suggest that many of its residents are opting for areas such as Essex to reside. On the contrary, between 2001 and 2011 Brixton, an area that used to be associated with a predominately Caribbean demographic has seen ten continuous years of increases. The same is noted in areas such as Hackney, Wandsworth, Camden and Islington. Moreover, Stoke Newington and Dalston have had increases from 15% in 2001 to 26% in 2011. What this highlights is that inner city areas ( mainly Zones 1 & 2 on the Tube map) have gradually become more accessible and more appealing to many.
My qualm lies with the fact that this movement of people inflates prices of rents, property, goods and services and it leaves existing people, many of whom have lived in that area for a long time financially constrained. Should more be done in order to reduce the negativity associated with prices you can no longer afford? Or does the onus lie with the individual? Clearly, this conundrum is not a priority for a government, especially this Tory led coalition that favours individualism and self-sufficiency. They have not hid the fact that they are looking more people to buy their homes. Perhaps they are merely continuing a legacy they prospered from so it is a continuation of what they believe in. It should be noted that I personally believe in helping yourself and becoming self-reliant, but helping each other is critical to upholding what is left of any community. This does seem to be eroding rapidly however. If you can unite and help one another, you are helping yourself whilst helping others and that is the current that binds a community. But this new wave of social cleansing and this message sent out by property developers and the government of profit over people gears our society for something that we are just at the beginning of. The future of London seems to be gearing towards only those that can afford it and prices do not seem to be going down. It will be a shame if the vast majority of London transforms into a city where only those with enough money can afford it. The way government policies are aimed, market power is structured and consumption trends are there only seems to be one outcome. The next twenty years will see the London demographic rapidly transform.
Hello world. This weeks read is from The Guardian and it confirms the unfortunate reality of long and sustained periods of austerity having an adverse effect on economies. This Red Cross study focuses on Europe and highlights a notion I have been writing about for a while now: austerity alone will not result in growth.
How did the global financial crisis result in large government sector cuts?
The events of 2007 are very well documented. There has been a plethora of texts published, journal articles, books, magazine articles etc. dedicated to covering the horrific downturn of several leading financial markets in 2007. The crash ensured that several billions worth of Sterling, Dollars, Yen and so on were given to numerous financial institutions that were deemed “too big to fail.” The term “too big to fail” is theoretically questionable to say the least, a point I shall discuss further as this piece develops. The significance of the bailout funds were the fact that they were generated from taxes. What was clear however about the government bailouts, particularly in the UK, was the fact that institutions such as Northern Rock (now Virgin Money) and RBS would have collapsed had the government chosen to ignore their pleas and let them fail. It is worth remembering that between 1995-2006 a period of unfettered market capitalism allowed substantial financial products to penetrate several economies. A brand new phenomenon that several households had very little exposure nor knowledge too. It would become clear in the years to follow that this imperfect information would have devastating effects on the entire global economy. This period where credit was “pumped” into the economy was truly unique.
Austerity policies have been discussed in some depth on this blog, my pieces here and here are pieces I wrote, I attempt to ask certain questions about government policy and question the notion that government policy could actually be having an adverse effect on the UK economy. The UK (much like the rest of the areas affected heavily by the global banking crash) have adopted a set of rigid public sector cuts, designed to reduce the large dependency on government for goods and services and also because the current government deem the current debt-to-GDP too high. (86%)
If one were to assess austerity in the UK so far could anyone deem the set of policies a success? Of course, the government intends for their policies to have much longer effects, a legacy effect if you will, but that should not come at the peril of current generations, for governments should dictate policy for both now and the future. Moreover, economists such as Stiglitz, Krugman, Solow, Diamond, Sharpe, Skidelsky and several others all warned against excessive fiscal cuts. There is no empirical evidence of any large economy cutting its way to prosperity. Yet what could easily be described as a gamble or the set of ideologically driven policies have ensured that in the UK and much of the developed world have had their economies remain flat since 2011, having slumped from 2009-2011.
In 2009 the rhetoric around fiscal policy changed. If you go back to Tony Blair’s premiership I do not remember anybody on either side of the House quibbling about government spending, in fact the opposite. The then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne stated that he would match Labour’s spending. Spending he would later tirade about once he became Chancellor. Moreover, Labour made several economic mistakes one of them was the heavy deregulation of the financial markets that actually allowed a steady and then volatile flow of cheap and available credit to flood the economy. Too many people binged on cheap and available credit and several institutions capitalised on this and were making substantial profits as a result. Making profits is part of our societal fabric and that is not my issue, but in the business world, if a firm does not make profit, eventually that business is driven out and replaced by one that will. This to me that is the essence of capitalism. Why then was RBS, Northern Rock or Lloyds bailed out? Okay, anybody with an account with those firms would have lost their money, which is very unfortunate, but in a market economy, an economy In which proponents of free-market capitalism constantly bombard against government interference, where more than happy to accept taxpayers money. Some clarity would be great because these are the same institutions that support, lobby and advocate for laissez faire policies yet accept the ultimate form of government intervention. This anomaly still baffles me and it is unfortunate that we are still paying the heavy price for the actions of a few financial institutions. Moreover it was the substantial bank bailouts, not excessive government expenditure that caused such a sharp rise in the high levels of public sector debt. Debt that is being tackled with austerity policies. Nothing should ever be “too big to fail” because that is the antithesis of a competitive free market, the kind of market that is encouraged in the UK. The government should have let the failing banks fail so other banks could learn that reckless and irrational behaviour should not be tolerated. It would have been a message of biblical proportions. Without bailing the banks out we would not need austerity and six years and more of lost or flat output. It appears that policy has not favoured the majority of the population who are still readjusting to the large structural changes that have taken place since 2009. The graph below is an economic outlook for the UK and makes for miserable reading.
My main qualm lies with blaming government spending. I have maintained from the outset that some government cuts are good, just like in a household or with your personal consumption; you assess what you are spending and cut what is not required. Fair enough. The extent at which the government in the UK and in several nations in the Euro Zone has undertaken huge public sector cuts and perhaps more importantly, the rate at which they have penetrated society is likely to have long lasting negative effects. So far they have proved highly ineffective in producing genuine economic growth as the graph above displays. It should be noted that anything above zero is “growth,” however, in reality people need what I call tangible growth. If more buildings go up, more roads are finished, more bridges and so on are completed then people up and down the nation will actually see growth for themselves. Obviously all those examples require large labour input. We have not had enough of that in the UK. Those examples also highlight investment and investment has what we call in economics a multiplier effect. Simply put, the government spends £1, that £1 generates more that the initial £1 invested say another £1, then the additional £1 can be reinvested on top of the original £1, so the good or service can generate a much higher multiplier, say £3 in the future. What is important is that it comes from the initial £1 investment. This period (2007-period day) of flat economic activity has needed and needs fiscal investment.
Even with an extremely accommodative monetary policy in the sense that the interest rate has been 0.5% since March 2009 the government’s reluctance to deviate away from an ineffective set of policies is detrimental to the economy. Now is as good a time than ever to undergo strategic and logical investment programmes. Instead, the large public sector cuts have actually been damaging to the government’s deficit reduction plan because unemployment is rising, therefore, transfer payments in the form of Job Seekers Allowances and Unemployment benefits have increased. If the government were to run public sector cuts with substantial investment programmes and run them simultaneously, shifting resources away from areas deemed to be wasting government funds and invest in areas with high returns this would be a better set of policies. Instead, we just have the negativity associated with public sector cuts, which has made the private sector less responsive as a result of the lack of economic activity and weak demand from majority of the public.
It is impossible to cut your way out of a recession; nations need to invest wisely in order to grow. America pulled itself out of recession because their production levels in the late 1930s and early 1940s substantially boosted their economy. The point is, they invested. There was an economic crash and the government invested. The New Deal (America’s recovery plan) took several years to have a noticeable effect on the economy, but it was investment that helped aid their recovery.
The government’s gamble still has not paid off and the UK does not appear to be changing any time soon. Governments need to spend in order to get a return. Without it, our economy shall remain sluggish for some time and this is a direct result of the aftermath of the global banking crisis, not excessive government expenditure.
Although this interview was conducted some twelve months ago Professor Krugman’s arguments about how to end the Great Recession are more potent than ever. Professor Krugman is a well known Keynesian and he has been advocating for more government expenditure. Although the government in the UK are extremely unlikely to change from its programme of fiscal consolidation, empirical evidence does suggest that substantial government spending is the most effective method to restoring economic growth during a recession. Krugman used the example of America post 1930 and Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” an economic plan designed to boost the American economy through government spending.
Hello world. As I mentioned in a previous piece I wrote in October 2012 the Euro zone is in a precarious economic and social position. Having said that, some of the highest earning CEOs reside in the nations most affected by the fiscal consolidation polices being adopted within the area. These policies have contributed to the huge levels of unemployment and led to high levels of social discontent.
This piece is from global economic website Quartz. Take a look.
In my previous post I began by drawing some similarities between the EMS currency crisis of 1992-3 and the current Euro zone crisis today. This piece is a continuation of that discussion. I shall be elucidating further details on the EMS and shedding further insight on how the damage from the current crisis could have been reduced significantly.
The Delors report draws similarities to the Werner Plan of 1969. Both proposals advocated for the idea of a united European union that would allow the movement of capital and labour to move with considerable ease, which in turn would be facilitated by the adoption of a common currency. Both documents are therefore imperative to the realization of the EMU. The current crisis in the Euro zone highlights some of the shortcomings of the proposals. Some of the recommendations that were encouraged in the Delors report could be viewed as potential reasons as to why the Euro zone is in a precarious position today. Firstly, the Delors report suggested the establishment of a European System of Central Bank (ESCB). Although it was and remains an exogenous agent of the European economic system, the similarities of other central banks stops there. Arguably, one of the most critical features of most a central banks is the fact that most central banks are the lender of last resort. The current Euro zone crisis has highlighted what can now be viewed retrospectively as a limitation within the Delors proposal. French monetary authorities have argued that the current Euro zone crisis could be aided significantly if the ESCB could buy Euro zone debt.
“The best way to avoid contagion in countries like Spain and Italy is an intervention or an announcement that a lender of last resort could intervene.” (Baroin 2011)
German authorities are notoriously opposed to debt monetization because of the inflation and therefore potential hyperinflationary pressures it could bring to the common currency. Therefore, the current crisis is a reflection that the ESCB do not have enough monetary control the deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
Both monetary and fiscal harmonization was not only a goal; it was a necessity if European ministers were to achieve their aim of a closer economic zone. If one is to critically assess the Delors report, it could be argued that there may have been too much of an emphasis on monetary integration and evidently not enough focus on fiscal integration. The Maastricht Treaty however identified the need for fiscal stability within Europe and the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) made several recommendations in order to promote both monetary and fiscal stability. Dimitri Syrrakos suggests that the SGP would prevent nations from needlessly resorting to certain monetary policies that could undermine the creditability of the common currency
“Once the countries were eligible to participate in the single currency they would not resort to policies based on monetary laxity, as this would damage the credibility of the new currency.”
The intentions of the SGP were understandable; any union that would amalgamate several contrasting economies needed a stringent fiscal framework in order for it to function appropriately. If we analyse the current EMU crisis, the authenticity of the SGP is in question because strict sanctions were to be imposed on any nation who did not adhere to the ‘strict’ conditions set by the EU. If this were the case then several nations including Germany, Italy and Greece in particular would have been punished appropriately for their fiscal mismanagement. Former UK Prime Minister John Major speaking to the Financial Times in November 2011 suggests that:
“Southern states over indulged on low interest-rates and racked up debts. When Germany and France over-stepped the criteria without any penalty by the commission, the criteria became toothless.”
It is fair to suggest with hindsight that sanctions on nations who had failed to abide by the framework set by the EMU would have almost minimalised the severe economic damage that has beset the Eurozone today. Had sanctions been imposed some ten years ago, or even five, then the severe problems that appear only to be appearing now could have been dealt with then.
GDP to debt ratio (%) 2007-2010
With regards to the realization of the EMU, the SGP was implemented in 1997, ten years before the data range in the table. Despite a prerequisite of national debt being less than 60% of GDP levels, the table highlights the inability of Euro zone members failing to deal with nations not following the fiscal framework. This tacit failure to impose sanctions on members allowed certain members continue to let national debt to grow until it became an apparent and uncontrollable problem, hence, the systemic failure of the system itself. Clive Cook is one of several commentators who have critical views on not only the SGP, but of EU governance in general,
“Remember the EU’s vaunted Stability and Growth Pact of 1997, which supposedly put limits on public borrowing — and which Germany, by the way, violated? The same syndrome is evident today. Write a new rule now, worry about enforcing it later. This has been the hallmark of EU governance.”
Moreover, this has been a consistent theme that has underpinned EU and Euro zone governance. Despite apparent mechanisms being in place to prevent severe economic shocks, Euro zone nations appear to have repeated the same systemic errors, the only difference with the EMS crisis of 1992 and the current crisis is the severity, the current crisis however appears to be of a much greater magnitude.
The fundamental aim of the EMU was to integrate several economic zones, politically and more importantly economically in order to reduce exchange-rate uncertainty and provide a zone of cohesion as opposed to a network of conflicting monetary and fiscal interests. A solution to the current Euro zone crisis is not only the desire of policy makers, but it is a fundamental requirement because if the Euro zone were to collapse, the consequences would be catastrophic. Fiscal harmonization is required if the current Euro zone crisis is to be resolved, this was the case following the collapse of the EMS. The EMU may be politically viable because it has increased European integration, economically however it may appear no more than a ‘utopian’ idea. Dinan suggests the necessity of EMU was “debatable on economic grounds.” (Dinan 2005). Following the failure of the EMS, ministers appeared to recognize the errors that had damaged the economic system, and, policy appeared to identify the errors that had damaged the European economy. What is ironic about the current crisis is that there are a number of policy issues designed to prevent the problems that realistically could destroy the entire EMU or even the EU. Had the SGP rules been implemented, the problems that have only come to fruition in the last two years or so would have been tackled. The Euro zone crisis is an extraordinary economic crisis, whatever the outcome, European economics will never be the same again.
 The Werner Plan could be seen as the prerequisite of the Delors report of 1989. They share similar themes and raise a number of concurrent issues, however, the adoption of the Werner plan’s proposals and subsequent dismissal in 1973 does suggest that Europe was not ready to adopt such proposals.
 The Maastricht treaty was based on the Delors Report and the main objective was to complete the market integration with the creation of the common currency.
Learning from the past is often the best way to prevent future tragedies but the similarities between the EMS crisis of the early 1990s and the current Euro zone crisis is uncanny. I think there are certainly lessons that should have been learnt from that episode that should have reduced some of the damage the Euro zone is facing today. This is part one of a two part special on the lessons the EU should have learnt from the EMS crisis.
The fundamental aim of the European Monetary System (EMS) was to consolidate the process of monetary integration amongst member states through monetary stability. Increased economic stability would ensure relatively smooth movement of capital, goods and services that would lead to increased intra-national trade. Additionally, the EMS was devised in order to establish a coherent system in which exchange-rate fluctuations were centralized and reduced in order to promote and maintain stability within the European Union. EU members were advocating for a system of governance that would establish economic cohesion, minimalize exchange-rate uncertainty and safeguard themselves from external shocks. The EMS system could be seen because of the failure of the Bretton Woods system that left many European nations somewhat disillusioned with a scheme that placed international monetary fundamentals in the direct control of the United States.
The EMS comprised of two main mechanisms, firstly there was the creation of an artificial unit of account named the European Currency unit (ECU) and a fixed exchange-rate system named the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). The ECU was a unit of account rather than a medium of exchange, although, it shared the similarities of a common currency, no coins or notes were issued. In effect, it was an accounting unit, which all member currencies were expressed. Nations were allowed to fluctuate within the specific limits of ±2.25%. Additional features of the EMS included the Divergence Indicator and The System of available Credit Facilities. The Divergence indicator was measured in terms of ECU to enhance economic coordination. Hence, it measured the divergence of a nation’s given market rate with the central rate. Despite the system of available credit never coming to fruition, the ECU, ERM and the divergence indicator were mechanisms designed to enhance economic integration and more specifically exchange-rate stability amongst member states.
The importance of the ERM cannot be understated because the very nature of the EMS was to strengthen monetary integration by enhancing stability for member nations. Thus, the systemic failure of the mechanism is arguably the most significant factor contributing to the EMS crisis. The ERM adopted an asymmetrical system in which the Deutsche Mark became the reserve currency, in effect, the members of the ERM handed substantial monetary control to the German monetary authorities. Germany assumed a role similar to that of the United States in the Bretton Woods arrangement. Because monetary authority was effectively concentrated with Germany, when its own domestic interests conflicted with that of other ERM members, it caused severe economic shocks. Both Jones (2001) and Copeland (2005) concur to the suggestion that the domestic economic issues in Germany caused the greatest threat to ERM stability and thus the EMS came under severe threat.
“Because the DM was the linchpin of the system, the fate of the ERM was greatly influenced by developments in the German economy.” (Jones 2001, 56)
The reunification of both German states had severe economic consequences on the ERM members. Firstly, the amalgamation of a large and wealthy nation with a small and less economically developed one had an impact on West German current account. In order to make the transition function, the West German government transferred savings revenue to the East, and the government budget deficit rose from 5% to 13.2%. (Weerapana 2004, 4). This reduction in economic power as a result of the increased structural deficit forced the Bundesbank to increase interest rates in order to reduce inflationary pressure. Unemployment in the UK in 1990 (the year in which they joined the ERM) was 7.1% (Eurostat 1990). Because the UK had effectively handed monetary control to the German authorities in the sense that exchange-rates were determined by the ERM as oppose to the UK government, there was very little in terms of expansionary monetary policies that the UK could adopt.
Moreover, it is likely that the Conservative government at the time would have opted to devalue the Sterling in order to stimulate export demand, which would have increased economic growth through high levels of investment and thus job creation. However, this was not the case and it highlights one of the main problems with the ERM, conflicting monetary interests from nations with contrasting monetary agendas. The dominant German authorities had no incentive to reduce interest rates; the reunification process meant that saving revenue had to be released in order to bring the East German economy to a competitive level, hence high interest rates in order to reduce the internal government deficit. Furthermore, this is a clear example of one of the mechanism’s fundamental macroeconomic failures; it was created in order to establish economic cohesion through marginalizing exchange-rate fluctuations but it left the UK facing high levels of unemployment and high interest rates, due to the lack of economic stability because of a conflict in economic agendas.
On Wednesday 16 September 1992 the UK was forced to withdraw it’s currency from the ERM. Not only did this event drive market confidence extremely low, mainly because of the interest rate fluctuations, which in turn lead to speculative attacks on the currency, it also had severe economic consequences for the domestic economy. McDonald and Dearden suggest the UK currency was increasingly vulnerable to speculative attacks:
”For the UK, international investors watched as growing political pressure to address the recession forced the Government into a series of interest-rate cuts between October 1990 and September 1992.” (McDonald and Dearden 2005, 90)
There are various similarities with the present crisis. If Greece were to leave the Eurozone and affectively the EU, the costs of such a decision may be politically detrimental, but economically beneficial. When the UK left the ERM the decision damaged their economy in the short-run, unemployment levels were high and investment confidence was low, the years following however, saw the economy recover rapidly. Figure1.1 displays the steady fall in unemployment after 1992.
Monetary integration had always been an objective for European nations. In order to establish and maintain economic stability within Europe and particularly the EMS zone, domestic nations had to merge monetary policies in order for their goals to be achieved. Hitiris suggests that four fundamental principles were adopted in order for this process to occur; “free trade in goods and services and free mobility of capital and labour.” (Hitiris 2003, 128)Domestic currencies could therefore be viewed as a barrier to achieving these economic goals. The realization of an economic monetary union was perhaps best formulated in Jacques Delors report of 1989. The report made several recommendations to improve the efficiency of European monetary affairs through the convergence of macroeconomic affairs. The general theme of the Delors report was clear, the extension of a united economic European union, with little or no barriers preventing the flow of capital between member states.
 The most famous example of an individual profiting on short-sell Sterling was George Soros who profited just over $1billion on ‘Black Wednesday.
 Jacques Delors was the President of the European Commission from 1985-1995. It was under his premiership that a proposal for a common European
currency and more importantly, a European monetary union was to established. He was the first President to serve three terms.
It has been a week since Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced his 2013 Budget and the reaction has been quite blunt in all honesty. The reaction probably reflects the state of the economy, flat and underwhelming. Osborne has decided to bring in more cuts, looser monetary policy and he is even trying to create another housing bubble.
Before I analyse some of the key facets of the Budget it should be noted that youth unemployment is close to 1m, underemployment (the number highly skilled workers in low paid work) currently stands at 3.05m and the Bank Of England is warning the country of a triple-dip recession. Things look bleak to say the least. With the economy performing so poorly I was hoping (not expecting) the Chancellor to announce at least one policy that could galvanise consumers; a cut in the rate of VAT would have been ideal. Retailers were complaining about a lack of spending on high streets at Christmas, making things cheaper would incentivise spending simply by making things cheaper. This could provide some remedy to the economy that clearly needs a boost.
But it was not to be and Osborne made it clear he was sticking to Plan A, deficit reduction. Unfortunately spending as a percentage of GDP has actually increased since the Coalition took power and this is due to the increase in unemployment and therefore welfare payments. This accounts for the nominal rise in welfare payments such as Job Seekers Allowance, but the decline in real terms. Home Secretary Iain Duncan Smith announcing a 1% increase.
Plan A is not working to the dismay of Osborne and the Office Of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR). The fiscal watchdog, a body founded by Osborne in 2010 had to revise its growth figures again, predicting growth in 2013 to just 0.6%, down from its previous figure of 1.2%. This is not the first time the OBR has had to revise its growth figures, leaving me to wonder how they can be repeatedly making either optimistic or unrealistic forecasts for growth. In their defence there are obviously only predictions and forecasts should never be taken as a given, still, it does not bode well. A figure of 1.2% is hardly triumphant; let alone slashing that figure by half.
As I mentioned the deficit is actually rising, so the austerity medicine is not actually working…yet. It was always a long-term goal, the goal to reduce the bloated public sector and have the private sector replace the jobs lost, but that clearly is not happening. The current deficit stands at £120billion, so the debt-to-GDP is at 88% (IMF). In other words, the public finances are going to have to reduce significantly until we say any major fiscal policies exerted by the government, as the debt-to-GDP is very high.
Clearly Osborne’s policies highlight his and the government’s stance on fiscal policies. But with the economy is such disarray there will be some avenue to try and stimulate the monetary side of the economy and this is the reason why Osborne has refreshed the Bank Of England’s mandate. In an attempt to provide more room to maneuver the Bank of England will now be a little more flexible in it approach. Perhaps the biggest change in the Bank Of England’s mandate is something known as “explicit forward guidance” whereby the MPC makes a pledge to keep rates very low over a designated period. This should give markets more confidence due to the stability announcements should provide. It should also grant consumers with sufficient information about interest rates on loans, if rates remain low it should encourage more spending. These outcomes remain hypothetical and over time, the Chancellor may refresh the remit. In my opinion, the policies may be ineffective. If you look at the current interest rate, it has been at a record low level of 0.5 % since March 2009 and that still has not added much to market confidence. This situation resembles Japan in the early 1990s. Not only can predictions be made about the interest rate, but the evidence given highlights that it does not always translate to increase in spending, despite the low level of interest attached. We could even be in a liquidity trap, a state in an economy where monetary policies have no effect on growth. The interest rate has been 0.5% since March 2009, since then the Bank Of England have tried to boost the economy by buying government debt, quantitative easing, which is monetary policy. Growth has remained very low and the policies do not appear to be working.
The Chancellor also announced a new policy known as the “Help to Buy” policy, which is designed to protect banks against losses on high value mortgages. Politically, it may look good, but economically there are questions. It sounds like a government funded credit bubble. Whilst I do not think it will resemble anything like what we saw during the Blair days of the economy being pumped full of toxic mortgages. As time elapses, the scheme will undoubtedly become clearer. It may even provide the boost this economy so desperately needs.
In all honesty this Budget has confirmed that the UK has a long road ahead in terms of a tangible growth. The economy continues to “grow” at a disappointing rate and there are more cuts to come. Despite the cut in beer relief, the cut in cooperation tax that benefits large multinationals more than small or medium sized ones, this Budget has reflected the mood of the economy. It has been flat.