American investors fear divided government

Debt ceiling struggle raised concerns.

Suzy Khimm, of the Washington Post's WonkBlog, reports on a new Gallup poll of American investors, which asks them what they fear the most:

More than unemployment, oil prices, the housing market, tight credit, or the euro zone crisis, investors believe that a politically divided federal government could hurt the US investment climate, according to a new Gallup poll that surveyed American adults with “investable assets of $10,000 or more”:

Gallup poll

The second most common fear is the federal budget deficit. Altogether, this suggests that investors believe the recent political gridlock over the debt-ceiling and budget has been extremely harmful to the U.S. business climate. Presumably, they’re concerned that this could continue should President Obama be re-elected along with a GOP Congress, or vice versa.

Before the election, the Conservative line on coalition governments was much the same as the one these investors seem to hold: political divisions hamper the ability to make crucial economic decisions, which, especially in a depression, can lead to an inability to competently handle crisis. Two years on, those fears have been comprehensively put to bed. Far from coalition resulting in legislative gridlock, as divided government has in the US, this government has been the most radical in a decade.

The European debt crisis would obviously rank higher in a British version of this poll, but the interesting ones to see would be the relative positions of the budget deficit and unemployment rate. In both, the UK is now worse off than the US (when the deficit is expressed as a percentage of GDP, that is), but the narrative seems to be different on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the US has experienced its "jobless recovery", now transitioning to a "growthless recovery", the failure of the UK to experience the same levels of growth means that the unemployment rate often blends into the general gloomy economic background.

Obama signs the budget control act, raising the debt ceiling. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.