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

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.