GDP figures: the verdict

This morning I joined the Guardian’s panel of  and  to give our verdict on today’s GDP numbers:

Ann Pettifor:

“The Chancellor must eat humble pie”

The statisticians, clutching at straws, blamed the victims – the British people – for the measly 0.2% growth in GDP. It turns out we are too fond of holidaying (the royal wedding effect) and basking in “warm weather”.

But this cannot explain the fall in manufacturing by 0.3% and the 3.2% fall in electricity, gas and water supply. Nor does it explain the rise by 0.7% in “business services and finance”. The fact is the economy remains unbalanced, and the coalition government is doing very little to restore some balance, and with it the potential for recovery.

And without economic recovery, there can be little hope for the public finances. The fact is, the chancellor cannot cut the deficit if the economy does not recover. Today’s numbers offer little succour. GDP is still lower than it was in 2006 – four years after the crisis “debtonated” in August 2007.

The chancellor’s budgetary outcome depends on the plans of the entire economic system and its reactions to the Treasury’s policies. Right now the British economy is responding to the government’s determination not to provide a stimulus to the very weak private sector – by faltering.

The argument is that Britain “cannot afford” a fiscal stimulus. That we “cannot afford” to boost the private and public sectors, create jobs, generate income and restore hope to 2.5 million unemployed people.

But we could, apparently, afford to bail out the banking system.

The coalition government’s determination not to stimulate the creation of employment, and with it the income that will generate recovery – will be viewed negatively not just by the powerful rating agencies, but by the British people too.

The fact is that just as work makes things affordable for individuals, so employment makes recovery affordable for the economy as a whole. And until the chancellor eats humble pie, and absorbs this economic lesson, neither the economy, nor the public finances will recover.

Continue reading… ›

'Debtonation' - why it's still relevant

Welcome readers, to my newly refreshed blog, and thanks to Georgia Lee and Maz Kessler for making it look so good, and work so well. I had thought that the title needed refreshing too. After all, I am fond of defining 9th August, 2007 as ‘debtonation day’, and that is now long past.

To refresh your memory: it was on that day that the world’s banks woke up to the scale of their debts, and to the simple truth that they may not all be repaid. On that day, the French investment bank BNP Paribas suspended three investment funds due to a “complete evaporation of liquidity” in the market. BNP’s announcement compelled the intervention of the US’s Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, which both pumped $90billion into the global banking system. As Larry Elliott notes, 9 August, 2007 ” has all the resonance of August 4 1914. It marks the cut-off point between “an Edwardian summer” of prosperity and tranquillity and the trench warfare of the credit crunch – the failed banks, the petrified markets, the property markets blown to pieces by a shortage of credit. ”

So ‘debtonation’ stands as a reminder of that day. However, we also know that the private debts of the individuals, households but also more importantly the corporate sector have not ‘debtonated’. They are still on the books, and in the case of the private sector in the UK, but also wider Europe, look set to rise further. As Douglas Coe and I have pointed out in a paper we have written for PRIME, “Private debt has risen relentlessly since the early 1980s. Most commentators focus on the extent of household debt, which rose from around 40 per cent of GDP before the 1980s to a peak of 110 per cent in 2009. But corporate debt is even more elevated, rising from 50-60 per cent to a peak of 130 per cent in 2009. The latest National Accounts show that both measures fell back in 2010, but only by a very small margin: households to 105 per cent of GDP and corporates to 125 per cent.”

Continue reading… ›

Update: bankers complete capture of UK Treasury – & attack Cable

So Sir James Sassoon has joined the Eton boy, Osborne, and the Barclays banker, David Laws, at the Treasury, as Commercial Secretary – a post invented and designed for him.  Sir James was vice chairman Investment Banking at UBS Warburg between1985-2002, where he specialised in privatisations. 

The capture of the Treasury by the City of London is now complete.

The war on industry and the public sector can now begin in earnest.

Continue reading… ›

Bankers tighten their grip

13 May, 2010

With a backdrop of bankers looting the EU’s Treasuries (via a bailout that rivals George Bush’s TARP) let us consider one of the most significant Dem-Con appointments (and a non-appointment) to the British cabinet.

That of someone who until now was invisible: David Laws the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

His Wikipedia profile (updated on the day of his elevation, and before he had taken up his ministerial responsibilities) depicts him as the man that speaks for his party on matters relating to kiddie-winkies and families and, no doubt, motherhood and apple pie.  He is also commended for his conciliatory role in negotiating the Scottish Parliament coalition.

No mention here of his real background.

For, according to ePolitix, David Laws was once Vice President of JP Morgan and Co and based in the United States, before becoming Managing Director of Barclays de Zoete Wedd in 1992.

Now, in my book the most obvious candidate for the job of Chancellor, or Chief Secretary to the Treasury,  was surely Vince Cable, a man credited for his prescience in predicting the financial crisis, respected for his ongoing analysis of that crisis and regarded as a “scourge of City ‘fat cats’.” Continue reading… ›

Why the EU’s leaked document has got me in a rage

By Ann Pettifor – Posted March 16th on Labour List

Together with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. George Papandreou, I am going to give evidence to the EU’s Special Committee on the Financial Crisis in Brussels this Thursday, March 18th.

So today’s leaked report from the EU, arguing that Labour’s plans for cuts to public spending are not “ambitious enough”, has got me really het up.

Labour, it appears, is just not ambitious enough about its goals for cutting investment and exacerbating unemployment. It does not have punitive enough targets for cutting benefits to the poor and services for the mentally ill and frail.

In the “imbecile idiom” (to quote Keynes) of today’s financial fashion, the EU, it seems, would prefer for unemployment to rise, for people to live in hovels, and for government “to shut out the sun and the stars” – so that we conform to an arbitrary number set in Frankfurt by a group of bankers, under a pact unwisely signed by an earlier British government.

Continue reading the article…

Are the bond markets and rating agencies to be feared?

5th January, 2010

There has been much sturm and drang generated by the Guardian and others on the threat posed to government finances by the flawed and often irrational rating agencies, and by the supposedly despotic, vengeful and greedy bond markets.

Methinks they protest too much.

We at the Green New Deal group have long argued that there is no reason why governments should rely for their financing on the capricious private bond markets. Instead, we write in ‘The Cuts Won’t Work’ -  finance ministers should oblige the banks in which taxpayers have a substantial stake to lend to the Treasury at very low rates of interest.

That’s how World War II was largely financed in Britain – and no one was the worse for it. The loans were given a title: Treasury Deposit Receipts.  These TDRs – bless them – financed a war that saved Britain from the threat Nazism posed to its very existence. Today they could be used to finance the public investment needed to substitute for the collapse in private investment – and to stave off the threat posed by climate change.

Analysts on the Financial Times Lex column (FT 1st January, 2010) have obviously read our latest report, and describe our proposal as “an intriguing alternative” . Governments they write “may lean on the commercial banks in which they hold large stakes to take up the strain instead. Forcing them to purchase government bonds would help replace the market heft of central banks.”

Quite so. You read it first in the Green New Deal.

Green New Deal - 'The Cuts won't work' report is published.

7th December, 2009

This is the press release from the new economics foundation:

“Two days ahead of the pre-budget report, and as the UN climate change talks open in Copenhagen – the second report from the authors of the original Green New Deal argues that the British Chancellor is likely to miss a historic opportunity to tackle public debt, create thousands of new green jobs and kick-start the transformation to a low-carbon economy.

The cuts won’t work, the Green New Deal Group’s second report shows how, contrary to the policy of all the major political parties, cutting public spending now will tip the nation into a deeper recession by increasing unemployment, reducing the tax received and limiting government funding available to kick-start the Green New Deal.

Instead a bold new programme of ‘green quantitative easing,’ rather than simply propping up failing banks, could help reduce the public debt and kick-start the transformation of the UK’s energy supply while creating thousands of new green-collar jobs.

Continue reading… ›

Debts and deficits: stocks and flows

6th December, 2009.

Most economists (who should know better) confuse the government’s budget deficit with total government debt.

The distinction really is important.

Mixing them up is a little like confusing stocks and flows.  Or confusing your outstanding mortgage – say £200,000 – with your monthly debt repayments. They are quite different things, and if you were to lose your job, the flows (paid with your salary) come to a halt, and then it’s the stock – the £200,000 – that really matters.

Furthermore it is quite possible to increase your mortgage – and lower your monthly payments.  Many did this in the boom years of mortgage re-financing. Or even to decrease your mortgage and increase your monthly payments.

So, just as the movements in regular mortgage payments tell us little about the outstanding stock of debt, so government deficits tell us little about the stock of debt invested and the stock of debt outstanding.

Continue reading… ›

The Treasury Privatised

29 October, 2009

Dan Roberts has a great column in the Guardian today. He asks the right questions. First, why is the Treasury spending £8 billion of taxpayers money reinflating the housing market? Second, why is the Treasury encouraging this now nationalised bank to increase mortgage lending, when the productive sector of the economy – companies, small businesses et al – are being starved of loans from taxpayer-bailed-out-banks, or else having to borrow at usurious rates?

A superb report from the Centre for Research on Socio Cultural Change at Manchester  (“An alternative report on UK banking reform”) suggests the answer: The nationalisation of Northern Rock is being treated as an “equity style turn around”, with the overarching objective of protecting and creating value for the taxpayer as shareholder.

It is not clear whether the banks have been nationalised or the Treasury has been privatised as a new kind of investment fund.

It makes perfect sense doesn’t it, given that the Treasury is advised on these matters (some would say it has been captured) almost exclusively by bankers? Get reading the CRESC report -its excellent -  the first piece of independent, academic thinking on reform of the banking sector to have crossed my path.