Tag Archives: Government of the United Kingdom

The UK Autumn Budget Statement – More Neoliberal Nonsense!

The Autumn statement would not be so bad if it was economically coherent, with the spending and taxing plans agreeable, or otherwise, according to one’s political opinion. However, it does not make any sense. Not only does it not “add up”, it is inconsistent with all the principles of arithmetic.

The right wing Tory MP John Redwood makes the point :

“In total the new estimates show us paying an extra £105 billion in tax over the five years”

George Osborne says:

” we will reach a surplus of £10.1 billion in 2019/20″

Note: it’s not just “about £10 billion” its  “£10.1 billion”. We’ve all got to admire just how precise George and his Treasury economists can be about these five year forecasts! As if !

There’s no chance of this happening with the UK running a ~ £90 billion deficit in its external deficit due to trade and other international payments.  It would mean that the UK economy would have to find ~ £100 billion every year to pay the import bill and also provide the government with its £10 billion surplus.

This, presumably, is close enough to John Redwood’s ” extra £105 billion in tax”?

George Osborne says that  “Britain will be out of the red and into the black” which is completely untrue. These figures mean the British economy will be in the red to the extent of ~£100 billion to pay for the Govt being ~£10 billion in the black,  and Britain’s overseas trading partners being ~£90 billion in the black.

It can’t possibly happen that way,  unless somehow the trade deficit can be turned into a trade surplus, and that aspect is totally ignored in George Osborne’s grand plan. The UK economy could not sustain a net loss of £100 billion even for one year – never mind on an annual basis. George Osborne will only send the economy into a downward spiral trying to achieve the impossible. An economy in a depressed state will also deliver depressed levels of taxation revenue.

In a couple of years time, the excuse for the plan failing , as it inevitably will , is likely to be that even though the Government has kept spending under control, taxation revenues will have not come in as expected. This will be attributed to: Problems in the eurozone, problems with world trade, problems with loss of revenue from North Sea oil, a new war in the Middle East maybe?

In other words, the same kind of ‘excuses’ as were put forward after the last similar plan failed, in the years following the Tory win in 2010, except the Govt could blame the Lib Dems then! If the Government cared to look for a reason, rather than an excuse, they would explain that their deficit has to be the sum of what everyone else saves. They don’t have direct control of that.

There’s a saying , usually incorrectly attributed to Einstein, about doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, being a sign of madness.  Are the Tories mad, though, or just plain bad?

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Is Government Spending Already by PQE?

We can think that all spending by government is already by the creation of new money, which is the general understanding of PQE (otherwise known as  Overt Monetary Financing of Government), using the concept that money is an IOU of a sovereign currency issuing government.

So, just as you or I have no use for our own IOUs, we tear them up when we get them back, neither has government. All money collected  in the form of taxation or in bond sales is simply shredded. Destroyed -either physically or digitally. When govt spends, it does so by issuing new IOUs. ie Issuing new money.

So what is the point of taxation? It’s to prevent high inflation as has already been mentioned in previous posts.

And the point of selling gilts (bonds)? It is to set longer term interest rates. Generally speaking: The more that are sold by auction, the lower their price, and the higher their yield. The higher their yield the higher are longer term interest rates.

If Government wants lower interest rates in the longer term it should sell fewer gilts, yet still create as many new IOUs, as many new ££, as it needs for spending purposes. Its spending decisions have to be such that they won’t produce too much inflation, of course,  which would require the raising of taxes. The balance between spending and taxation remains the subject of political debate as always.

A better idea might be to stop selling gilts completely and allow savers, ie the hitherto bond purchasers, to put their money on account with the BoE ( which is best considered as part of Treasury) and set the interest rate payable just as a high street bank would set the interest to us on our longer term savings. Short term interest rates are already set this way so the concept, and practice, just needs to be extended to include all savings. The interest rate would probably be higher for a longer deposit period, again as we might expect from our own bank.

And what about the exchange rate?

If the government offers lower interest rates the £ might be expected to fall, and higher rates will probably cause it to rise. If we stay with the idea of selling gilts, and stick with the concept that PQE  is somehow different,  we can say there will be less need for the government to ‘borrow’  and therefore less need to pay out interest.

This will have the same effect on the exchange rate as directly reducing interest rates.  It is just looking at the process from a different perspective.

PQE, as is conventionally understood, could be part of the government’s exchange rate strategy. That is if it wants one, and that could be the subject of another discussion! If it wants a lower pound, it does more PQE. A higher £ means less PQE. It depends on what sort of trade deficit we want to run. If we are happy to run a high deficit, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t, we can keep the pound high, but if we want to reduce it we will need a lower £.

Muddled Thinking Watch #7: Chuka Umunna on Labour’s pre-GFC Deficit

Chuka makes some valid points in his recent Guradian article:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/09/labours-first-step-to-regaining-power-is-to-recognise-the-mistakes-we-made

For example he acknowledges that:

” First, we spoke to our core voters but not to aspirational, middle-class ones. We talked about the bottom and top of society, about the minimum wage and zero-hour contracts, about mansions and non-doms. But we had too little to say to the majority of people in the middle.”

Partially right. “The majority of people” are in the middle. So, in a democracy, to win elections, you have to not only speak to, but also win support from,  “the majority of people”. There’s no getting away from that.

Whether Labour spoke to its core voters is a matter of opinion. I’d argue they may have spoken to them, but they didn’t listen, which is slightly different.

He also makes some invalid points. He says:

“Of course, the last Labour government should not have been running (an albeit small and historically unremarkable) deficit before the financial crash. “

The last Labour government certainly made more than a few mistakes. George Brown famously  made the ludicrous claim that he’d abolished “boom and bust”.  The period  of the Labour government  (13 years) consisted of mainly years of boom, which enabled it to achieve electoral success,  except the last 2 years were years of bust, or trying to recover from the 2008 bust, which brought about its downfall.

But did they make a mistake about the government’s deficit? The boom was caused by too much credit being created by the private sector. I don’t believe there is any dispute on that point. That credit inflated asset prices, firstly shares in the dotcom boom and then property prices in the years up to 2008.  With the benefit of hindsight what should they have done to prevent that credit bubble? They, or their so-called “independent” Bank of England,  should have increased interest rates.  If there’s too little saving and too much borrowing then interest rates should rise. Is there any dispute on that point? That would have stopped the credit bubble. No problem.

But if they’d done that there would have been a problem of the £ appreciating in value. Exports would have become uncompetitive. That, and the reduction in domestic borrowing, and therefore, spending, would have led to less economic activity. Business failures and unemployment would have risen.

So what else would the Labour Government have had to do to compensate? Run a tighter fiscal policy, with a lower deficit, or a looser fiscal policy with a higher deficit?

If you think you know the answer, please email it, with an extremely simple to understand explanation,  to:

chuka4streatham {at} gmail(.)com

PS  I’ll ask Chuka if he can provide a small cash prize for the best answer. 🙂

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.

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!

Can commercial banks create money out of thin air? (2)

Since my first posting on this topic it has occurred to me that each bank behaves exactly like a government with a fixed rate currency to support. That was the situation with most countries up until the 1970’s when national currencies were fixed against the US$. In the UK I remember the rates were around  $2.40 to £1.00 in the final days of a fixed exchange rate.

The UK government could print, or create, as many £ as it liked but it had to have a sufficiently good financial base to support that rate. If the reserves dropped too low then the currency speculators would take positions against the pound bringing it under downward pressure.

How does that work with a bank? Well for a start we know that the neo-classical multiplier  doesn’t fit the observable facts so we can forget all reference to that theory. There are those who claim that banks can create their own money without limit. That seems to be going much too far in the opposite direction. If they could really do that they could grow without limit, and never ever fail or fall into bankruptcy.

What could be a better theory? If I look in my bank account I can see, say $2000. but are they really dinky-di Australian dollars?  Sure I can put my card into the ATM and out do pop the genuine article. But what about the rest? I would argue these Commonwealth Bank IOUs  are actually Commonwealth Bank Australian dollars – which can be considered a sub-currency. The Commonwealth Bank can create, in theory, as many of these as they like, by keystoke. However they can’t overdo it. They can’t create CBA_A$ without limit. They do have to maintain the confidence of the market that they are have enough reserves to maintain their peg to the Australian dollar. So, the more they lend, the more reserves (or capital base) they need to do this.

Of course it’s the same story with all the other Australian banks. There are ANZ_A$ , Westpac_A$ etc. Providing all these banks are in good financial shape,  there is no effective difference between their IOUs or sub-currencies and and the Reserve Bank of Australia issued currency. But if any of these banks ever fell into difficulty that link could be broken and some deposit holders could find they lose part of their savings.

This theory is consistent with the observation that QE doesn’t work in the way intended. Once the bank has decided what reserves it needs it doesn’t make any difference whether they are in bonds or cash. It won’t change the bank’s lending practice.

I haven’t seen anyone else make this observation so it is possible there is a flaw in the theory. Any comments either for or against are welcome.

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The previous posting on this subject generated quite a bit of heat. The line I’m advocating didn’t go down well with those who were of the opinion that commercial bank lending goes much further.   That is a pity because I would say they, like the proponents of MMT, are motivated to have a better functioning economy, and do advocate full reserve banking as a key policy towards this end.

I’m not sure that FRB is necessary but, if it is, then it should only be done with a a full understanding of the issues involved. Goodwill isn’t enough.  Changing things and hoping for the best isn’t ever going to work. The basic theory needs to be right.
I’d make the same argument to people like Russell Brandt who argue for revolutionary change. OK, so we have a revolution, and then what?