Christine Lagarde's attack on Osbornomics is damning

The new IMF boss's comments make awkward reading for George Osborne.

On 6 June 2011, George Osborne said that he had been "vindicated" in a debate over spending cuts after the International Monetary Fund backed his austerity measures. Launching the fund's annual assessment at the Treasury, the Chancellor positively swooned over the verdict and the acting managing director of the IMF John Lipsky's support for his failing policies.

"The IMF have publicly asked themselves the question of whether it is time to adjust macroeconomic policies -- in other words, 'Is it time to change course?'" he said. "They have concluded definitively that the answer is no.''

Today's developments suggest that if there ever was any vindication, which was never credible of course, it has now fled.

To be fair to the IMF, the original report did warn that:

If the economy experiences a prolonged period of weak growth and high unemployment . . . then some combination of the following would need to be considered: (i) expanded asset purchases by the Bank of England and (ii) temporary tax cuts. Such tax cuts are faster to implement and more credibly temporary than expenditure shifts and should be targeted to investment, low-income households or job creation to increase their multipliers.

This has now happened as growth disappoints.

Today's release of growth data for the second quarter of 2011 from Europe were scarily bad with the eurozone economy growing only 0.2 per cent and there may well be worse to follow. This is the smallest increase since the recovery began in the third quarter of 2009. This is bad for UK growth -- which was also 0.2 per cent for the second quarter of 2011 -- given our dependence on exports to the slowing euro area.

Growth has slowed sharply from the 0.8 per cent increase seen in the first quarter. Growth in France and Portugal was zero, while Germany grew by only 0.1 per cent, compared with market expectations of 0.5 per cent. The Netherlands (0.1 per cent), Italy (0.3 per cent) and Spain (0.2 per cent) also showed very little growth.

As can be seen below the UK has performed badly compared to our European counterparts for whom we have complete data. Based on data for the last three quarters, which is how the table is presented, the UK ranks next to last ahead only of Portugal and tied fourth from last with Italy using data for the last four quarters, ahead of Portugal, Romania and Spain. No vindication here George, I'm afraid.

 

According to a Treasury spokesman, Osborne chatted with Christine Lagarde, the new managing director of the IMF, while he was on his holidays in Hollywood. I suspect Slasher wasn't too happy about what she said, given his frequent claims that the IMF, Uncle Tom Cobley and all supported his misguided and disastrous macroeconomic policy.

Writing in today's Financial Times, Lagarde argues that deficit-reduction plans must not harm growth as the austerity programme clearly is doing in the UK. She writes:

For the advanced economies, there is an unmistakable need to restore fiscal sustainability through credible consolidation plans. At the same time, we know that slamming on the brakes too quickly will hurt the recovery and worsen job prospects. So fiscal adjustment must resolve the conundrum of being neither too fast nor too slow . . . What is needed is a dual focus on medium-term consolidation and short-term support for growth and jobs.

That may sound contradictory but the two are mutually reinforcing. Decisions on future consolidation, tackling the issues that will bring sustained fiscal improvement, create space in the near term for policies that support growth and jobs. By the same token, support for growth in the near term is vital to the credibility of any agreement on consolidation. After all, who will believe that commitments to cuts are going to survive a lengthy stagnation with prolonged high unemployment and social dissatisfaction?

I could have written this.

Recall that Osborne opposed Gordon Brown's candidacy and supported Lagarde's in the job, so this is highly embarrassing.

Commenting, Ed Balls, Labour's shadow chancellor, said:

The slowdown of a number of European economies is obviously a serious cause for concern. The Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, is right to say that "slamming on the brakes too quickly will hurt the recovery and worsen job prospects". The evidence for George Osborne's claim that Britain is a safe haven has collapsed and his dangerous complacency is being exposed. That is why the Chancellor should take heed of the IMF's latest advice. The IMF were right to warn George Osborne a few months ago that he would need to change course if the UK continued to stagnate. His decision to continue to ignore wise advice is not just complacent it is deeply reckless -- a dangerous gamble with jobs, investment and living standards, too.

Osborne's claim that his policies have succeeded because of the fall in bond yields looks like a stretch, given -- as Peter Tasker noted in the FT last week -- that no OECD country that issues its own currency is suffering from rising borrowing costs. The IMF does not support the coalition's failing economic policies. Vindicated my foot. It's time to stimulate growth and jobs.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.