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?

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A tale of two presidents

5th January, 2010

Sorry about the delay in posting, but this is my latest blog for the Huffington Post.

“One is president of a country of about 300,000 people — Iceland — a country about the size of Virginia, President Olafur R. Grimsson. The second is president of a country of about 300,000,000 people, the United States. President Obama.

Both their presidencies have been scarred by the financial crisis. Both have had to balance the interests of their people against the interests of their bankers.

President Obama has allowed that balance to tilt in favor of the bankers.

President Grimsson yesterday took a stand against bankers and international creditors, including the British and Dutch governments.

Instead, he stood up to defend the interests of his people.

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The tears of the unemployed, of auto CEOs and bankers

6th December 2008

The tears of millions of Americans stripped of livelihoods and healthcare remain hidden from view, unlike the tearful special pleading of the unscrupulous leaders of the finance sector, and this week, of the auto industry CEO’s. The latest unemployment numbers to emerge from the Dept. of Labor imply immense pain and anguish; and emotional, mental, familial and even social breakdown.  For those of us in other G8 countries cushioned by a public health service that is still, mercifully, largely free, it is hard to imagine how Americans cope with the shock of losing a job, and also their health care. As we await Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 speech becomes more and more striking for its relevance. I have used it often, but do so again, unashamedly.

But first, a brief whinge: on successive visits to the US, I have struggled to get biographies and speeches by FDR. I hope that is changing. US citizens should be proud of the fact that a time of grave global financial crisis, when Europe moved to the right, towards fascism, the United States, under Roosevelt’s leadership, moved in a progressive direction.

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Has Obama been skewered by those who called it wrong?

5th December 2008

Have fretted for weeks about the heroic  Obama’s economic appointments.  Refuse to go along with the knee-jerk ‘sell-out’ accusations. Was really pleased about Tim Geithner – whom I  met when he backed not just Jubilee 2000, but also a battle I fought at the IMF (with Prof. Kunibert Raffer) to draft an international insolvency framework for insolvent countries.  Geithner did call it right in a roundabout way in  speeches made at the Fed before ‘debtonation day’ (9 Aug 07). But worry about the influence of Robert Rubin (who did not call the crisis at all) and Larry Summers, who as the Herald Tribune noted ‘helped tear down the regulatory walls between banks, brokerages and insurance companies and freed them to trade in unregulated and little-understood derivatives worth trillions of dollars”.  And then John Gapper wrote this brilliant piece about Rubin in the Financial Times yesterday: ‘Time to give something back, Bob. Quotes from the piece follow.

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