Monthly Archives: April 2015

Why not give control of the fiscal deficit to the Bank of England?

In a democratic society, I would argue that decisions regarding interest rates, both long and short term, should be made by the elected government. They used to be. However, for nearly 20 years, short term rates in the UK have been set by the BoE. The level of short term interest rates is important and it can be adjusted to stimulate a slowing economy or slow an overstimulated economy. But there are other adjustments that can be made too.

Just as a pilot has all the control levers at his disposal when he’s flying a plane (if he, or she, does hand over to the co-pilot it would be all the controls not just one) then all the controls need to be either in the hands of government or the hands of the central bank.

But just who has the controls when it comes to controversial policy decisions like QE? Does an  independent Bank of England decide, all on its own, to buy up £375 billion of government securities from the private financial sector? I don’t think so!

QE is no big deal. That’s not a common view, I’ll agree, but from a scientific perspective, there seems to be no reason why the issue of government , or the BoE if you prefer, IOUs in the form of cash should be any more or less inflationary to the economic system than the issue of IOUs in the form of gilts (treasury bonds). If it is necessary to buy back gilts from the private sector to control longer term interest rates then that’s what needs to happen.

So why not give control of the fiscal deficit to the BoE too? The BoE could calculate the best combination of fiscal and monetary policy, including whatever level of QE is needed, and tell the government what it needs to do. Arguably the government could decide to raise income tax a bit here or reduce VAT a bit there , etc, but it would not have complete control of fiscal policy as it now does.

This is not my favoured option BTW. But, if the pilot is going to hand over the (macroeconomic) controls to his or her co-pilot it should be all the controls and not just one.

Unfunded Promises? No such thing!

All Govt spending  comes back as taxation eventually. Where else can it go? So, there’s no such thing as “unfunded promises” or “unfunded spending”.  Now that the UK’s election campaign is well underway we are hearing  accusations along the lines that their opponent’s sums “don’t add up” ,  or “they haven’t done their costings properly” . It is  from both sides. It’s not just the right wing that doesn’t understand how money flows in the economy. Labour is just as bad, and maybe even worse, than the Tories at the present time.

Money arrives in the economy when government spends it in and leaves the economy when government taxes it out. More can’t leave than arrive for other than a limited amount of time. It’s physically impossible.

The government doesn’t tax it out because it needs the money. Why would it? It’s created it in the first place. The UK government hasn’t adopted the euro, the UK government still has total control over the issuance of its own currency. It’s like saying a theatre needs to collect its theatre tickets because it needs the tickets. Or the Post Office needs to collect back its stamps because it needs the stamps.

The government imposes taxes to cancel its stamps and tickets – effectively. It does that to prevent high inflation in the economy. So, providing inflation is under control, government spending can be allowed to rise – especially if there is slack in the economy and there is an unemployment and underemployment problem. If inflation isn’t under control spending needs to be trimmed back or taxation increased.

If we are worried about the future economy that our children will live in, we only need think about the one we live in now to know what the real worries should be. What do we thank or blame our predecessors for? We thank them for the railway network, the road system, the health service , the education system etc. We blame them for some of their past environmental practices which mean that rivers have to be cleaned up, buildings which should be white are actually black with accumulated soot, some of their slipshod practices over the disposal of nuclear waste etc.

Do we worry about the ‘debts’ they accumulated? Not at all. They are of no consequence to us now.

Never mind the deficit just vote for the recovery!

It’s difficult to know who to back in next month’s UK elections. Europe is a major issue which the most normally sensible parties, or at least the parties who the public normally consider to be the more sensible,  have largely chosen to ignore  in the run up. The events in the eurozone are highly significant, in particular the Greek crisis,  yet those in the most pro-EU parties don’t want to talk about them at all.

There’s next to nothing about it on Labour’s main website, Labourlist, for example.

Funny that!  Those who believe in a united Europe, as many of our more ardent EU advocates clearly do, should feel as strongly about unemployed young people in Spain or poverty in Greece as about hardship in the UK.  Yet, if they ever remember to make a critical comment, it is not because they wish to change anything. The just expired Parliament has seen a complete absence of Labour opposition to any new laws or powers for the EU.

If the UK today had 50% youth unemployment as the south of Euroland currently suffers, Labour would never let us all hear the end of it – and rightly so. If the UK had Greek levels of unemployment, and a Greek cost of living crisis which has depressed average real incomes by almost a quarter since 2007, again we would not hear the end of it, as Labour would rightly think it completely unacceptable. So why is it that these people who believe in pan European solidarity have nothing to say about the scandal of poverty and joblessness in large chunks of Euroland? Why are they not insisting on new policies for the EU?

The situation is far from ideal but it’s probably best to vote for the party who you feel will produce the best recovery. The recovery, when it happens, will fix all deficit problems. Firstly a healthy economy will mean increased taxation revenue. Secondly, if the economy is healthy no-one is going to worry about debts and deficit anyway. The US$ is surging at present as investors buy up $ securities. Are they worried about a $17 trillion (or is it $18 trillion by now?) debt?

I don’t think so. There are those in the USA who can’t make head nor tail of it all and are pushing for a balanced budget. I can’t see them getting anywhere but heaven help us all if they do!