Six reasons why Cameron is wrong on the economy

It is increasingly clear that the PM is out of his depth and out of touch. This is "nothing for noth

In a speech on the economy yesterday that was 2,235 words long, an out-of-touch David Cameron only mentioned jobs and unemployment once each. He didn't mention the young at all in a week when youth unemployment hit the million mark. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Cameron is a) totally out of his depth when it comes to the economy; b) has no clue what to do to fix the problem; c) has little sympathy for those who are less fortunate than he is. He just doesn't care. Cameron has failed to recognise that his government's economic policies are in complete disarray, and all he can do is resort to spin and obfuscation. Austerity in the UK has failed.

The part of the speech that really struck me was this:

[T]here are some who seriously try to argue that additional spending and borrowing will actually lead to less debt in the end ... despite the fact that no evidence supports this assertion. These arguments are just a way of avoiding difficult decisions ... the kind of something for nothing economics that got us into this mess ... which is why no indebted European country is taking that path. Nor are there any major European opposition parties in high deficit countries arguing for additional borrowing -­ except here in Britain.

It is about time we put this joker straight.

1) Actually, additional spending would stimulate growth and that would increase tax revenues, as it did in the US under the Clinton boom. In case you haven't noticed, Dave, your pal Osborne slashed spending and raised taxes, which increased borrowing. That is why you are in such a mess. What if the government borrowed £100bn that was funded by the MPC through QE, and used the money to say, build ten nuclear power stations. That would lower the cost of fuel, employ people and help masses of small and large firms. It would raise productivity and in the long-run lower our debts, wouldn't it? If not, why not, Prime Minister?

2) There is an enormous amount of evidence to suggest that fiscal and monetary stimulus can increase growth. There is actually no evidence from anywhere in the world to support the ideology you have been following of an expansionary fiscal contraction, especially when it is not possible to lower interest rates. Such a view is "oxymoronic", as Larry Summers has said.

3) These arguments are not a way of avoiding making difficult decisions. They are what has to happen, because your government made the wrong decisions by imposing austerity before the recovery was fully established. You can't blame the eurozone, as it was clear when you formed your government that there were major downside risks to UK recovery from the European periphery and European banks. You just chose to look the other way and go forward with your mistaken policies, wilfully disregarding the potential dangers for the British people.

4) "Something for nothing economics" is a nice phrase but is totally meaningless. If I recall, Dave, you matched Labour's spending plans, supported deregulation and opposed rescuing the banks. It looked like you may have to do the latter if things continue the way they are. Lloyds and RBS are in trouble again. What you did was slash and burn hoping for growth, but you killed off the tender shoots of recovery. The policies you have undertaken without a growth plan is "nothing for nothing economics".

5) "No indebted European country is taking this path." Well, actually, most other European countries grew faster than the UK did over the last twelve months. GDP growth was as follows. Belgium 1.8 per cent; Germany 2.6 per cent; France 1.6 per cent; Netherlands 1.1 per cent; Austria 2.8 per cent; Finland 2.8 per cent; and the UK 0.5 per cent. The eurozone is headed into recession because they are stuck in monetary union. Portugal this week went to the IMF and asked for more stimulus as austerity has failed there too. Austerity doesn't work when banks aren't lending and your major export market is heading into depression. The German central bank, the Bundesbank, today cut its 2012 growth forecast to between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent, from a June prediction of 1.8 percent. It said a "pronounced" period of economic weakness can't be ruled out if the crisis worsens.

6) "Nor are there any major European opposition parties in high deficit countries arguing for additional borrowing -­ except here in Britain". Denmark has lower bond yields than the UK and lower unemployment, and its new government is introducing more fiscal stimulus. These other countries would do this if they could, but they are stuck in a fiscal and monetary straightjacket. That is why there is talk of the eurozone breaking up.

Dave, you are in a big mess on the economy. What are you going to do if the crisis worsens, as it looks like it might? Panic, I guess.

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

Getty
Show Hide image

Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”