It's not the public, but the private finance sector, stupid.

Image: acknowledgements to the BBC.

The Autumn Statement reveals but one thing: the Chancellor and his advisers are both ill-advised and dangerously ill-prepared for the forthcoming prolonged Depression. (And if you think I exaggerate, let me remind you that 20 years after the Japanese debt bubble burst, Tokyo house prices are still falling, and the stock market is worth 60% less than 20 years ago. And the Japanese economy was in a healthier state then, than the UK is today, thanks to an export surplus.)

Today’s penalising of the innocent – public sector workers, pensioners and those hundreds of thousands of young people entering the labour market  – is a result of a deeply flawed economic analysis by the Chancellor of the causes of the global financial crisis.

Continue reading… ›

Political leaders – Stand up to the bankers, you have only your chains to lose

Markets react rationally to austerity

The piece below was posted on the “Left Foot Forward” website on Monday, 8th August, 2011

“It is important that we understand the events of last week not as a new outbreak of crisis, but as a continuation of the banking crisis that first came to the public’s attention in 2007-9.

It is now just four years since the ‘debtonation’ on 9 August, 2007, when banks lost confidence in the viability of other banks, and stopped lending to each other. After a year when the fuse of huge debts endured a ‘slow burn’, the 2008 Lehman bankruptcy exploded the financial system and threatened systemic failure.

Without consulting taxpayers, central bankers and politicians rushed to the aid of bankrupt financiers. Private losses were socialised, and attempts at recovery were nursed by central bankers who pushed interest rates down to very low levels.  Thanks to the weakness of politicians and central bankers this nationalisation of private losses was offered almost unconditionally to an immensely wealthy, and unaccountable elite.

Continue reading… ›

Knowles needs to listen more carefully to ‘hero’ Clinton on deficit reduction

The austerity brigade is rattled. Young Daniel Knowles over at the Daily Telegraph is so worried, he has had to rise to the defence of the Treasury and Office for Budget Responsibility – and then resorts to proposing Greece’s economic strategy for the UK. Why? Because orthodox economic ideology has been challenged by none other than Daniel’s ‘hero’ that notorious womaniser, President Bill Clinton.

Bill gets it. On the deficit that is.  Thanks to Left Foot Forward and Mehdi Hasan we have all read Clinton’s  speech:

“(the) UK’s finding this out now. They adopted this big austerity budget. And there’s a good chance that economic activity will go down so much that tax revenues will be reduced even more than spending is cut and their deficit will increase.”

Daniel Knowles challenges his hero, on these grounds:

  1. “The government cannot spend so much that net revenues actually increase. By Clinton’s logic we should increase spending until our deficit goes away. ”
  2. “The Office of Budget Responsibility..using a Keynesian model, estimates that the fiscal multiplier is about .35”……that means that…overall the deficit is will be smaller than it would have been without cuts….. (Note: Knowles Update:  I actually made a mistake with that statistic – 0.35 is the estimate for the multiplier for VAT. Estimates of the fiscal multiplier overall, including those of the OBR, IMF and others, are closer to 0.)
  3. Greece: spending cuts have reduced the deficit from 15.4% of GDP in 2009 to 9.5% now.

The first two points are rightly, morphed together in Knowles’s argument. The first is to do with the impact of government spending. In a slump – which we are living through now – it is vital for the government to spend to fill the investment vacuum created by an over-indebted and extremely nervous private sector, desperately trying to de-leverage its debt. Right now the UK private sector is busily hoarding cash, because they are – rightly – worried about their levels of debt; and because they fear – rightly – that if they do invest, customers (both private and corporate) will not walk through the door – because customers too, are heavily indebted and worried about the threat of unemployment and falling house prices.

So given these circumstances of widespread fear and paralysis in the economy – what the ONS calls ‘flat-lining’ –  say the government invests £1 billion in libraries. What would happen next?

Continue reading… ›

How Ed Balls was trapped.....

Have just been told that my post on the Left Foot Forward on Ed Balls’s speech  crashed the site “under weight of people wanting to read it”…so here it is for those of you that may have missed it….

David Cameron was delighted when the formidable Ed Balls walked straight into his framing of the debate on the deficit – and was promptly trapped.

That framing goes as follows. We (the government) have spent beyond our means. And the way to pay for it, is by cutting (public sector) jobs, and raising taxation – like VAT.

Ed Balls’s speech concedes (as Labour has done since Alastair Darling’s time at the Treasury) the deficit-reduction-emphasis agenda set by his opponents. And by so doing – implicitly concedes the need to cut public sector jobs.

But I am being unfair.  Balls began his speech by mentioning Labour’s “emphasis on jobs and growth” But the speech immediately morphed into Labour’s concession to the Coalition: that what is needed is “a steady and balanced approach to halve the deficit in four years”. The implication being that cuts must be matched by ‘jobs and growth’.

But the highlight of the speech – the sound-byte that his spin doctors no doubt intended the media to emphasize-  is a call for a cut in VAT “to boost consumer confidence and jump-start the economy.”

Cameron flashed back his retort: “slashing taxes” he argued, would only make the UK’s fiscal deficit worse.

And so Balls is trapped.

Continue reading… ›

Why I did not sign the Observer letter for 'Plan B'

I thought long and hard before refusing to sign the letter calling for a Plan B. Not because I do not think it is urgently required. But because the letter called for “clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, as well as by raising taxes on those best able to pay.”

It goes without saying, I hope, that of course I support ‘clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion’ – but do not support ‘raising taxes’. I had asked the originators of the letter if we could debate this point, and later the words “those best able to pay” was added, without informing me. Even then, I may not have signed it. The fact is that with the UK’s rate of unemployment; with businesses facing a very hard time because of the rise in VAT and the cuts in government spending, and with banks effectively refusing to lend to SMEs and others (except at very high rates of interest)….this would not be the moment to raise taxes.

But I want to make a bigger point. By calling for taxes to be raised, the letter implicitly suggests that the deficit can be financed through increased taxation. In this sense, it echoes the orthodox line: that government expenditure is like a personal or corporate budget and that ‘savings’ (i.e.cuts or increased taxes on e.g. VAT) have to be found to finance it. That ‘we cannot afford to spend’. That the ‘money has run out’ and we need to find more – from somewhere, preferably taxation.

I strongly disagree. First, to reiterate: the government’s budget is not at all like individual, household or corporate budgets. Individuals cannot engage in ‘quantitative easing’. The Bank of England, on behalf of government, can, and indeed has done so, in order to support the financing of the UK government’s deficit. Individuals and corporates do not necessarily generate income from spending. The government can generate income from investment in public works. It’s a form of income called tax revenues. Third, individuals and corporates can go bankrupt. The government cannot – not even Zimbabwe.

Given these facts, the best way to finance the govermemt’s budget is by increasing, not cutting, the government’s  income – from increased economic activity. In this sense we can make a comparison between governments and individuals: as Prof Chick and I note in our latest update of “The economic consequences of Mr O”

“Just as work makes things affordable for an individual, so too for society. A nation’s prosperity follows from its employment, not the other way around.”

What the VAT rise and cuts in government spending  do, is to cut economic activity – and therefore employment – and with it income from economic activity for the government.

And this, I fear,  is what raising taxes would do too. And I do not want to be party to that.

Bankers must be made to serve the economy.....

21 February, 2010

Once again apologies for a longish absence. This is down in part, to smashing (literally) building works, to a little grandchild-minding, and to other writing commitments. But have been itching to comment on a) Greece and the EU b) Iceland (it seems the UK is easing up on the pressure); c) the progress of the global recession; and d) China-US relations…..so posts on a, b, c and d are on their way….promise.

In the meantime this is the text of a letter I signed and helped draft, published in today’s Observer, and yesterday (20 Feb 2010) in the Times. It is a response to the letter written to the Sunday Times last week by 20 conservative economists, including Ken Rogoff of Harvard, Lord Megnad Desai, previously a Labour peer, and Bridget Rosewell, who was Mayor Ken Livingstone’s economic adviser.

Our letter has a number of distinguished economists as signatories, as well as my pals in the Green New Deal group – all of whom I am proud to be associated with.    See below.

Sir,

We urge the UK government not to heed the siren song of the 20 economists who, having failed to predict the crisis, now seek to advise on its resolution. The world economy is in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. In the UK, output has collapsed by £70bn on an annual basis. Under such conditions, common sense tells us that the government must compensate for the collapse in private investment and address the high level of unemployment.

The only way to restore the public finances to health is to restore the economy to health.

Continue reading… ›

Why I want to be a Labour candidate

17th January, 2009.

This was posted on the Compass site on the 16th January.

I am shortlisted for the North West Durham Parliamentary Selection. A less likely candidate you would be hard pressed to find. I am not a local big wig and did not grow up in the constituency. I don’t have the backing of big hitters – either in the party, or in the unions. Nor am I a youthful 25-year-old, ambitious for power. No, I am far more ambitious than that.

I want the people (especially the young people) of North West Durham to have a sound and stable future. I want Britain to learn from the catastrophic debacle of the financial crisis, and ensure it never happens again. The hopes, aspirations, health, jobs, businesses and climate of Britain must not be sacrificed to pay for economic failure engineered by a small elite in the City of London.

Continue reading… ›

Osborne's puppet-masters: Société Générale.

15th January, 2009.

Patient readers this blog is triggered by Jeff Randall’s column in the Daily Telegraph today.

In it he inadvertently discloses the identity of the puppet-masters dictating the Tory political agenda around public spending cuts.

In a somewhat histrionic column in which he describes the public deficit as a ‘disaster’ ( he should mind his language: Haiti’s earthquake is a disaster) Randall quotes a piece of ‘research’ by the French bank, Société Générale.  The paper is titled “Popular Delusions” and its authors explain some simple facts about government spending cuts to Telegraph readers:

Continue reading… ›

York Minster EBOR lecture

12th December 2009

At the end of last month I delivered the prestigious EBOR lecture at York. My address was entitled:

“Credit, usury and political power: chasing the moneylenders from the temple that is our democracy”

Click on the link below to read a PDF version of the full lecture:

EBOR Lecture November 25th (PDF)

The pre-budget report: bullies in the playground

9th December, 2009

It has been an extraordinary day this day, and something to witness: this frenzy of pre-election fisticuffs.

Extraordinary because Conservatives, like mindless bullies, are fighting a phoney war against the victims of this crisis.

The fact is the Tories are spineless scaredy cats, too timid to take on the perpetrators, who have successfully bribed them with various inducements, including the playground’s shiniest marbles.

As a result they have turned away from the perpetrators, and   are picking on nurses, policemen, teachers, civil servants, Alzheimer-carers, school cooks, hospital cleaners and psychiatrists – to categorise but a few.

All these victims of the financial crisis now stand accused – by the Tories and their friends –  of pillaging Treasury coffers of £250 billion  – the rise in government debt since this crisis started in 2007.

Continue reading… ›