It’s my Friday lay day blog and I am wading through a pile of documents tracing the evolution of internal French cabinet discussions in the 1960s. That sounds like fun doesn’t? What doesn’t sound like fun is reading through the documents provided by the Office for Budget Responsibility to accompany the so-called Autumn Statement. The – Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2015 – is one of those extraordinary neo-liberal documents that is in denial of reality. The upshot is that the ridiculously optimistic forecasts from the OBR in the latest round of spending revisions are giving George Osborne the opportunity to once again talk tough (as an ideological warrior) but avoid ‘walking the walk’ for the time being any way. Politically, extreme austerity of the Conservative kind will not go down well in Britain right now.
The British Office of National Statistics published the – Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Quarter 3 2015 – yesterday (October 27, 2015) which showed, unsurprisingly, that the British economy is slowing and heading back into recession under current policy settings. The annual real GDP growth rate declined for the third successive quarter as the impacts of the world slowdown and domestic policy austerity start to take their toll. The British government really has to reflect back on 2012 and realise that with non-government spending weak and a household sector carrying very high levels of indebtedness, now is not the time to be trying to cut discretionary net public spending. There is a need for a public spending injection to restore growth while the world works out which way it is going to go.
In 2012, the British government, which had for the first two years of its last term, realised that it was going to drive the economy back into deep recession if it maintained its fiscal austerity plans. It had spent the previous two years telling everyone how it had to cut into the fiscal deficit to save Britain but by 2012 the data was telling the government that their view of the world did not accord with reality. As a consequence they curtailed the austerity onslaught and allowed the deficit to grow and support growth. The result was that Britain avoided a triple-dip recession and the nation demonstrated to its EU partners across the Channel how stupid and reckless the Eurozone’s fiscal austerity was. But ideology often comes back to the fore when the emergency is over. Now with continued, albeit weak growth and a renewed electoral mandate, courtesy of the pitiful British Labour Party, the Tories are once again talking tough and in the Spring 2015 ‘Budget’, the austerity returned with vengeance. The focal point at present of that austerity is the impending parliamentary vote on cutting the benefits to low income families in Britain via the Tax Credits system. The attempt to force harsh austerity onto the poor in Britain is vile in its conception. But the Tax Credits system in the first place is the result of weak-kneed decisions by New Labour to avoid forcing British employers to pay a decent minimum wage which would have eliminated ‘working poverty’. Now the chickens are coming hometo roost. And as usual, when austerity is introduced it is the poor that suffer. A disgrace all around really.
The EU Flash Barometer surveys provide information about public opinion in Europe. The latest Survey(No. 418) – Introduction of the euro in the Member States that have not yet adopted the common currency – shows how confused people are in Europe at present. It seems that only 41 per cent of people in nations that “have not yet adopted the common currency” believe it would have “positive consequences” while 53 per cent think it would have “negative consequences”. That sounds as though they think the euro is a bad system. Well not exactly. The confusion might lie in the fact that the cruel system of austerity that the political elites have inflicted on the European nations is eroding the system of social stability that was established after the devastation of World War II. This is certainly the view taken by the ILO in a recent book it released. The ILO believe that the operations of the common currency (the austerity etc) is undermining the European Social Model, which is a core principle of an integrated Europe. So by insisting on maintaining the flawed currency system, the political elites are endangering the very thing they claim to revere – political integration – the ‘one Europe’.
I am fairly tied up today on the Gold Coast where I presented a Keynote address to an unemployment conference. But I was reading the news on the plane this morning from Melbourne. While in Melbourne for work last week, I stayed over and saw a great movie at the weekend at the Melbourne Film Festival – Human Capital – which I recommend. On the plane this morning I noticed our intrepid Prime Minister has taken to lecturing the Scottish about their political destiny. His exhortations are both hypocritical and reflect a failure to comprehend the options that national sovereignty would provide Scotland, which has a referendum coming up on September 18. But even if they build a bit of national solidarity in Scotland (against the foreigner), the First Minister who is pushing the YES vote is still proposing to enslave the nation to a foreign power – none other than Britain. His currency Plan A amounts to madness and would not underpin a vibrant independent Scotland. As such I would be voting NO at the referendum but feeling bad that the so-called progressive political classes in Scotland were so entranced with neo-liberalism that they forced obvious YES votes to become NO votes.
As a followup to Monday’s blog – UK growth not all that it seems – there was an additional issue that is worth exploring about the ONS data publication, given that the financial and economics commentators seem to mislead their readers, through ignorance or choice. Representative of the issue was the statement in last Friday’s UK Guardian article (July 25, 2014) –
Fresh boost for George Osborne as economy recovers banking crisis losses – which built on that title with the opening line “Britain’s economy has finally recovered the losses caused by the financial crisis, passing its pre-recession peak in the second quarter of the year …”. This conclusion was reiterated by many other commentators in different publications as a source of celebration. The only problem with it is that it plain wrong and to suggest that Britain has now made up the losses is deeply misleading.
There was a story in the UK Guardian yesterday (July 29. 2012) – Million jobless may face six months’ unpaid work or have benefits stopped – that described how the failed neo-liberal British government is following the path that the conservatives followed in Australia in attempting to “manage” the unemployment that their flawed policy regime created. The Australian approach has failed dramatically and imposed considerable hardship on the most disadvantaged citizens in our midst. The same approach is unfolding in Britain and it to is already looming as a failure.
The British Office of National Statistics have published two new data releases in the last week which show that the British economy is plunging further into a deepening recession. On July 20, 2012, it published the Public Sector Finances, June 2012, which showed that the deficit is increasing. Then it published the – Gross Domestic Product, Preliminary Estimate, Q2 2012 – yesterday (July 25, 2012), which showed that the British economy had contracted n real terms by a staggering 0.7 per cent in the June quarter. The one hope on the near horizon for the British economy might be the Olympic Games, which are being use to gloss over the savage recession that the British government has deliberately created. However, a closer understanding of the way in which events such as the Olympic Games impact on the host economy suggests that the majority of benefits are already in the data and the dismal future facing Britain will not be attenuated by the running and jumping (and the rest of it).
The British government brought down their 2012 Budget yesterday. I haven’t had time to fully digest all the detail yet and I am not yet fully conversant with all the discussion papers that underpinned the official budget documents. My experience tells me that one usually finds some really interesting points that are hidden in the fine print of some of the less obvious government documents. Sometimes these points are “game makers”, which really expose the ideological slant of the budget. Not that you have to do much digging in this budget to determine what agenda the British government is now pursuing. The “bond markets are about to close us down” rhetoric is giving way now to Thatcherite “trickle down” stories. This budget is trying to sell the “puppy” that if more real income is transferred to the rich then they will ensure, through their enhanced enterprise, that the poor (which cedes real income) will eventually be better off. That is a variant on the “fiscal contraction expansion” myth.
The British Office of National Statistics released a new report yesterday (February 29, 2012) – Young people in work – 2012 – which provides a scary view of how austerity is impacting on the future British adults. It shows that the employment rates of 16-24 year olds in Britain have fallen dramatically in the least several years and that they are bearing the brunt of the recession. The evidence once again highlights the nonsense of imposing fiscal austerity on a nation that is struggling to generate private spending growth sufficient to provide ample employment growth. Once again, the myopia of fiscal austerity is staggering. What does the British government think that British society is going to look like in 20 years when its future adults are being excoriated by the lack of opportunity that the government policy is creating as a deliberate act? Collapsing youth employment rates mean that this cohort is being excluded from the activities which promote stability both in individual terms (self esteem etc) and societal terms. Societies that indulge in this sort of exclusion will rue the day.