There’s no mistake in the title! To understand economics as it works at the macroeconomic level means we cannot just assume that what works for us as individuals or households also works for currency issuing governments like the UK, the USA and Australia. At first look, it’s almost as if we have gone down the rabbit hole and we really are in a parallel universe. It is tempting to quote Lewis Carroll’s Queen in “Through the Looking Glass”:
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
But Alice was quite right in saying:
“one can’t believe impossible things.”
We just need to look at the problem from the right perspective to make sense of it all. Any currency issuing government, such as the USA, the UK, or Australia need never have a Greek type debt problem providing it understands how its own economy works.
The government deficit can be expressed as:
Govt Deficit = Savings of Everyone Else = Private Domestic Savings + International Savings
Govt Deficit = Private Domestic Savings + BOP deficit(trade)
In other words, if everyone else in the world wants to save in US dollars, UK Pounds or Australian dollars which they must if want to sell these countries more stuff than they buy from them, then the governments, or the Private Domestic Sectors in these countries, have to run a deficit.
If the Governments try to reduce their deficits by cutting spending and raising taxes then all they will do is force their economies into recession or even depression.
If they do really want to reduce their deficits, they would have to discourage everyone else saving. In the UK, that would include overseas trading partners who sell to the UK more than they buy from the UK and save the difference.
The way to do that would be to keep interest rates low and engineer some inflation, just a few % should be enough, into the system – by increasing government spending and reducing taxation. So, perhaps counter intuitively, the way to reduce the government’s deficit in the longer term is for it to spend more and tax less in the shorter term.
Note: I’m not arguing that governments should make deficit reduction a primary object of economic policy. The government’s fiscal policy should always be aimed at steering a sensible middle course between having too much inflation on the one hand and too much unemployment and too many business failures on the other.
But, inevitably, there will always be those neoliberal types who focus on the government’s deficit. They always seem bewildered that it doesn’t change in the way what they expect it to, and this article is an attempt to explain why.