The headline actually says “balance the books” but it might as might just as well read Ed Balls pledges Britain will export more than it imports by 2020. Or Ed Ball pledges to stop the private sector saving by 2020. Or Ed Balls pledges to send the private sector into deficit by 2020. He’ll probably achieve none of these things but he’d be likely to crash the economy trying. He might want to look up the mess the Australian Labor Party got themselves into by promising an-impossible-to-achieve-surplus in the 2010 Australian election.
George Osborne is promising exactly the same of course.
An aircraft pilot wouldn’t be allowed at the controls if he had no idea of how to fly a plane yet finance ministers the world over have no idea how to ‘fly’ their economies. If they did they wouldn’t be producing sonic booms at one instant and stalling the engines the next. Passengers do expect ‘soft landings’ at airports. I seem to remember that analogy being used around 2007/2008 when it was obvious there was going to be a big crash.
Is there any chance of getting Ed and George to practice on an economic simulator before they cock it up for real?
PS Does anyone know if such simulators exist? I’d say they are desperately needed.
It is very difficult for many people to get their heads around the idea that the Government don’t have to run balanced budgets. It is even harder for those same people to accept that it’s usually not even possible anyway. It’s so counter intuitive, with regard to their own experience, that they’ll often just flatly refuse to accept a reasoned explanation. “If the Government only spent what it first took in taxes then the budget would be balanced.” would be a typical comment. End of discussion.
Many also don’t like the idea that the money supply needs to increase with time . In their minds, once a country has been issued with its ration of money then that’s it. It should manage on that for ever. The question of who issued the money in the first place is one which is much too difficult to think about.
The UK and US money supplies have increased almost linearly with time for the last several decades regardless of the party of government of the day. So it’s a clearly observable fact that is what happens in real economies. The private banks play the major part in increasing the money supply, but Government needs to play its part too. But it should be noted that it is only a part. Most money in the economy is the creation of the private banking sector.
A government deficit is necessary to allow individuals and companies to save. For every borrower there has to be a lender and vice versa. Savers are lenders. That means that someone has to borrow it from them. If the non-government sector are net saving then the government sector has to be a net borrower. ie it recycles the savings via the sale of bonds which it then spends back into the economy.
The non-government sector also represents overseas sellers of goods and services. Both Britain and the US generally are happy to run their trade at a deficit to the rest of the world. That deficit is effectively the rest of the world saving £ sterling or US$ treasury securities. Money drains out of the US and UK economies as those net imports are paid for. The money has to be replenished by the UK and US Governments selling securities into the market and spending that money back into their economies. In other words: by running budget deficits.
So no Government can, in a free society, just choose to run a balanced budget. A balanced budget is only possible if the private sector, in aggregate, chooses not to net save, and also chooses not to purchase more from abroad in imports than it sells abroad as exports. Or, if like Germany, the savings of the private sector are offset by a large export surplus , currently about 7% of GDP, then it is possible, as they do, to run a balanced budget. For Germany the numbers add up and they can do this without any real problem. If the UK or USA tried to do the same thing without addressing the trade question they would very quickly crash their economies – exactly as has happened in Greece and Spain.
See also: https://petermartin2001.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/an-economic-quiz/
And Sovereign Governments:
Issue fiat money which is not backed by gold or anything else.
Aren’t like a household or your family. They don’t have to balance their budgets.
Don’t tax first then spend later.
Don’t have to rely on raising taxes to cover their spending.
Don’t save their tax revenue. They destroy it.
Don’t spend money like we do. They create new money as they need it.
Aren’t users of their own currency. They are issuers.
Can’t ever run out of their own money .
Can’t borrow their own money (their own IOUs).
Can’t save up their own money for a rainy day.
Can’t have their own money or not have their own money.
Don’t sell bonds to fund deficits. (John Armour)
Debt does not burden future generations.
Do not have direct control over their budget deficits
Deficits aren’t dependent on the willingness of the Chinese to fund them.
Deficits do not raise interest rates or reduce private savings.
(they increase them!)
Don’t ever have to worry about not being able to sell their bonds.
(or having to offer more interest than they choose to)
Aren’t living beyond their means.
(if there is any significant level of unemployment in their economies)
Don’t lend out their reserves (Government issued Money) to borrowers.
Don’t take in money from savers (depositors) and hand it over, or lend it out, to their borrowers. *see also comment from John Armour below
Don’t ‘hold your money’ on deposit. They swap whatever you give them for their own IOUs.
Don’t grow money on trees but they can create it from nothing when they lend.
Central Banks (like the US Fed, or Bank of England) are not independent from government.
Quantitative Easing is not inflationary and does not add to Government spending. It is an asset swap.
The National debt is not like a mortgage or a car loan which has to be repaid.
Private Savings do not create investment. They can cause Government deficits!
Base interest rates are not decided by the laws of supply and demand.
Cutting spending in the public sector does not create jobs in the private sector.
The private sector and the public sector cannot both ‘tighten their belts’ at the same time.
And: the Sun doesn’t go around the earth!
All Governments which, together with their supposedly, but aren’t, independent central banks issue their own currency have to do just that. ie issue currency. Currency consists of the IOUs of the government, and without which modern society could not function. Governments have to issue more than they receive back in taxes. It is a logical, or arithmetical, impossibility for them to do otherwise.
It can be argued that taxes are too high, or inflation is too high, or the resources of society should not be ‘wasted’ on the poor and unemployed but that is not the same as government, or society, living beyond its means. It is a readily observable fact that society, in most western countries, is living at less than its means. Industry is working at well below full capacity and many workers are kept in a state of enforced idleness who could, otherwise, be adding to the general means.
You probably won’t see Profs Mitchell and Wray on the Mainstream Media anytime soon. Even the BBC with its reputation for being on the liberal/left hasn’t shown any real interest in explaining how the Economy really works. Instead the BBC’s ‘expert’ economists trot out the usual line without explaining what really goes on.
The BBC have Professors like Brian Cox who jump around the world with amazing speed talking about distant Galaxies and Quasars etc but if you’re interested in Economics and are looking for an explanation of, say, why the 2008 crash occurred you can forget it. All you’ll get is that there was a big party beforehand and when it finished everyone had a hangover and had to clear up the mess. Is that the best they can do?
So the question is if Profs Mitchell and Wray are talking nonsense, or the kind of sense that gives the game away. You can decide. There’s a series of 3-4minute talks on youtube of which these are the first 5.
Mike Norman explains why in terms of the US debt but the same goes for the UK too; and, the same for Australia, Japan, Turkey, India, etc. It is the same for any country which has control over, and issues, its own currency.
Note that this doesn’t include the Eurozone countries. They are not in control. They are users of the Euro not issuers of the Euro. Countries which lose control of their currencies lose much or most of their independence. Most Eurozone countries do have debt problems and so would the UK if it had adopted the Euro. Not to mention much higher levels of unemployment.