Category Archives: Budget 2011

Riding the IMF Horse


There used to be a day when the British economy was not run to please bankers or technocrats in international bodies. Alas, they are passed. However, it is worth asking when you read a forecast, in whose interest is it published? The IMF believes that it is important for its members to reduce public indebtedness and makes it a public objective regardless of the beggering of any nation’s citizens until this goal of public policy is realised. Naturally it is supportive of the budget deficit programme of the Coalition. The IMF  addressed  the issue of a Plan B. You will be pleased to know that if growth remains low the IMF would support monetary easing, keeping interest rates low and putting a brake on cuts (without anyone noticing it). In this way the deficit would not come down quickly in the first two years but would come down faster in subsequent years.

This revelation of the existence of Plan B is hopeful but not reassuring. If growth is slow, the main body of public expenditure cuts is realised , and assuming all other parameters are stable (other than unemployment) the deficit will not come down. The credibilty of the Government in the markets, which Boy George goes on about, will be lost. If then the Government persists it will be confronted with a mountain to climb in years 3 and 4 when credibility is lost and the deficit stubbornly high. If then Georgie  presses on growth will remain low throughout the five years, So what then Grannie do we do next?

Well, dear, says Grannie, it might not be as bad as that. That’s what they all say, says I. What is the use of saying that when the flood waters have reached the bedroom sill? Shouldn’t we have been alerted before this time to leave the house? Hindsight,  says Grannie, it is an easy art.

There are other dangers. The IMF talks bravely about global growth rates remaining high,  surviving high commodity prices and resuming stable growth and low inflation. But then he would, wouldn’t he? But  we know that all recessions and recoveries are unique. Perhaps this depression will last for ten years or more. And what shall we do then Granny, says I. Don’t worry dear, says she, I’ve put a little money aside to cope with the odd crisis. Well Granny, that’s the problem. We have been using it. Using it? No one told me that. The problem Grannie is that debts continue to rise. Good gracious, what did you say about the bedroom sill. Take me there. There’s time to jump. A splash is heard, off stage. Granny, you can’t swim! These words came too late. Poor Granny, poor me -oh, and by the way, poor you.

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The Economy: Now We Know


The GDP figures for Qtr.1 2o11 tell us what we need to know on the vexed and central economic and political dilemma of how to cut the public deficit and grow our way to economic success. No economic growth for six months is bad news. I have commented in previous posts on the optimism of OBR forecasts and that they are consistently behind the curve – and wrong. They were wrong in their belief that the last quarter 2010 figures would be adjusted upwards and that this current quarter would come in at 0.8 percent growth, They are surely wrong in their forecast for 2011.

Does it matter? Yes, it does.  Lower growth means higher unemployment and public debt and  lowers confidence.  If the Coalition intention remains ‘fixed as the Northern star’ another round of expenditure cuts, higher taxes and a spiral downward to economic defeat and long term recession is on the cards.

To echo Lenin, what do we do now? Something revolutionary? To enter into the spirit of things, bring the Coalition to a halt. In eight days time throughout Britain the electorate have an opportunity to inflict  a mortal wound by voting against the Coalition parties, and then there is the time honoured tradition of a motion of no confidence in the Commons (Dream on the Constitution has been fixed. It’s not so simple as you might think). Alas the times may be revolutionary but we are not. ‘No Bolsheviks’ here is the sign outside the House of Commons. We are all Mensheviks now Well we might start by winning the argument. When Ed Balls advanced the proposition that even the Labour objective of halving the deficit in four years might not be achievable without economic depression he was widely derided. What we have seen is that the  squeeze on expenditure started by Labour and intensified by the Coalition has already had a dramatic effect on the British economy. The Coalition tax increases and cuts have only just started. It is asking a lot of business and consumers to reverse that trend when personal incomes are squeezed and small and medium companies denied loan capital.

It may not be in Labour’s power to  change things for the better BUT the much derided and humiliated Lib Dems could do it if they had the will. It is difficult to determine how long the tragedy needs to unroll before they pluck up the courage to say with one (or almost one) voice that enough is enough. I hate to write this but history does help. Look at what happened to the Mensheviks and subsequently to a whole country and a substantial chunk of the European map? If you think that I exagerate you may change your mind as events unfold. I will not write, I told you so.

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Lib Dems: They Just Don’t Get It


There is now a Lib Dem mantra designed to show how Government has been materially improved becaus of its involvement in the Coalition. What we have, it might be supposed, is really a Lib Dem administration. The party can come up with a long list of its achievements. One by one Lib Dem policy dreams have been put into place. It is necessary  side for the purpose of this argument to recognise that there are   policies that those of us on the left can support: higher personal tax allowances, improvement of tax credits for the very poor. the triple lock on increases in the state pension, the Pupil Premium to help some disadvantaged poor children. Good on you, say I.

Do these policy changes make people less poor?  Yes, they do in a way. However, alas and alack, the imposition of VAT dwarfs these advantages and the poor will get poorer. I will not dwell on the LiB Dem opposition to any VAT increase in the General Election campaign except to comment the they were against it. We all remember the poster. They were against increases in tuition fees too and then suddenly they were not.

But what is the heart of the matter. Remember, the Lib Dems were against cuts in public expenditure on the scale propsed by the Tories. Now they are not. What they tell us now  is that these cuts are necessary and like Pilgrims Progress to the promised land they bring us all closer to full employment, rising living standards and sunshine. Trust us, you will see how wise we are it is said.

The Lib Dems no longer command trust. But are they right? Certainly the OBR has consistently produced economic forecasts that suggest they might be. We are days away now from a reckoning. The first quarter GDP figures for the for 2011 is soon to be announced. It may be that over the last six months the British economy may not have grown at all, or if it has it will be  at some miserable annualised rate. Unemployment may be rising not falling, inflation will continue to work its way up and not down and real incomes will be squeezed further. I do not know whether the OBR will be asked for a revised forecast but even if they are not asked, it is highly likely that some other respected forecasting institute will make a good fist of doing it.  And what will be observed? I anticipate it: a rising budget deficit and no chance of the Coalition’s economic objective of eliminating the deficit by 2015 being achieved.

Is this not the real charge against the Lib Dems? Not the cavilling  daily objections to their nonsense BUT one overriding error. On the essential and over-reaching issue of how to keep the economy growing and the public deficit falling THEY ARE PLAIN WRONG. The Lib Dems have sold their soul for a mess of potage to find it uneatable. The electorate will not forget it and a day of reckoning is close.

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The Economy: Spotting the Runes (Ruins)


One of the mysteries of our lives is the constant confidence of the OBR in economic recovery. There is, it is said, no need for a Plan B because the independent OBR tells us that the economy will recover. Each OBR forecast downgrades its predecessor but there is no denying the cheerful tone of its forecasts. In its recent forecast the OBR expresses the thought that the slide in output in the last quarter of 2010 was a dud figure and suggests that the decline was 0.2 percent and not 0.6 percent. On the back of this assumption the OBR confidently expects a bounce of 0.8 percent in the first quarter of 2011. The OBR gives a reassuring drop in inflation in 2012 to a rate of 2.5 percent.

We shall have to wait for the inflation figures but the output figures are available in some four weeks time, that is before the May local and assembley elections.  If the OBR is right, or nearly right, the Coalition can heave a sigh of relief but if they are wrong or mostly wrong they are up to their fetlocks in the mire.

One forecasting way out of such a dire consequence is the use of fan charts. These charts show a range of outcome. You can rely on it that the Government will finish some way between higher and lower points. It does this time. What a relief. But supposing , just supposing,  in April it is towards the bottom and not the top of the range. Is there then a Plan B? And what does the Daily Mail say then, poor thing? And what is the answer?

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The Budget: A Tiptoe into Fantasy


A word about forecasting now that the OBR has had its third attempt to plot the economic progress of the British Economy. Like accountants before them the OBR is useful in recording the past but well-nigh useless in forecasting the future. We live in a time of  extreme economic turbulence and uncertainty when at any      time  wars, earthquakes, worldwide  pressure on resources and the stupidities of the human race can turn  nice judgements into inanities. Yet still we persist. It will be better in the future: the economy will grow, employment will rise, inflation will come down and real incomes will rise again. The OBR at least has the common sense to admit that all its forecasts are subject to great uncertainty. Well yes, they say, it may not turn out like this but we hope it will.

I commit myself to several judgements, First, the attempt to eliminate the budget deficit in a five year Parliament is doomed to failure. At  best the Coalition may complete the Parliament having achieved what Labour continues to promise: the deficit could be halved. We have in the Coalition a group of supply side fanatics who have always maintained that growth must come through a smaller state and greater productivity, who are antagonistic to public administration and welfare and suspicious of the state as pump priming anything. Come back Milton Friedman, all is forgiven. Economists have an adage that you can lead a horse to a trough but you cannot make it drink. The IFS has remarked that the numerous supply side intiatives announced in the Budget do not amount to a row of beans. They will add nothing to aggregate demand. What is needed is the pump priming of capital investment in rail, roads and building construction and a real (rather than imaginary) attempt to raise skill levels. Of course the Government is aware of these needs. It is doing something – but too little.

The central issue of George Osborne’s budget is a judgement of whether this Government at this time is right in believing that it is possible to eliminate the budget deficit in five years. If it is right in its belief it will go on to the glory dreamt of by our Dave and Nick. The objectives of financial probity and economic sucess will be achuieved and electoral success will be the reward. If it is imposible for Britain (and I suspect Greece, Ireland and Portugal) to do anything of the kind when will the game be up? I suggest the Budget of 2012 will be the time of reckoning. The Parliamentary rules now make it difficult to get rid of a Government – but not impossible. And at this time who might be leading the Labour Party. Might events work in favour of Ed Balls? The electorate love a winner. Watch this spot!

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