Just as the recent monetary data from the Eurozone has revealed the parlous state of demand there, the money supply data released by the Bank of England yesterday revealed a collapsing borrowing by households and firms in Britain scale not previously seen. It is clear that the December data shows that households are deleveraging (paying credit cards down) and business firms are now in full retreat similar to the worst of the recent downturn in 2009. The evidence for that conclusion is to be found in the fact that the Bank of England’s broad money supply measure contracted by 1.4 per cent in December, which the Bank noted was the largest single month contraction on record (shared with December 2010). Just like the latest ECB monetary aggregates are showing what the real situation is like in the Eurozone, the Bank of England’s data is painting a very grim picture of life in Britain as the draconian fiscal austerity drives that economy into the ground. The data also provides a continued rejection of mainstream macroeconomic theory, which is an interesting aspect in its own right.
Recent data releases suggest that the current economic experience on the two sides of the Atlantic is very different. The latest data shows that the UK economy is now contracting and unemployment is rising as fiscal austerity begins to bite. Conversely, the latest US data shows that growth is on-going and the unemployment rate is finally starting to fall. This may be a temporary return to growth because the political developments that may occur later in this year could see some serious, British-style fiscal austerity being imposed on the US economy. At present though, my assessment of these disparate trends is that fiscal austerity is contractionary if non-government spending is insufficient to offset the decline in public spending. However, some observers are trying to hold out the US experience as vindicating those who believe in the notion of a “fiscal contraction expansion”. But the data tells us clearly that the US is not an example of this mania.
A striking characteristic of the last few decades has been the way the so-called “progressive” political parties have adopted policy frameworks and thinking that were previously the exclusive domain of the conservatives. Nothing could be more obvious than the way in which all the major parties around the world now speak neo-liberal economics as if it was the only way of thinking about the economy and economic policy. Slowly but surely the options that parties are willing to consider have been narrowed down and policy is now conducted in a straitjacket which cannot deliver prosperity for all as well as advancing environmental objectives. It is understandable that during recessions expectations become downgraded by workers about the types of jobs they will except, by consumers about the level of spending they can sustain, and by firms about what investment projects will be viable in the period ahead, etc. But it is strange that when the prevailing economic paradigm not only caused the great recession but is prolonging it at great cost, that the major parties remain locked down in the neo-liberal mire – blinded to other options. It is clearly time to think outside of this box and that is what I try to promote in this blog. But we also have to be careful that when we go wandering we are still on solid macroeconomic ground.