Recession deniers proved wrong

Our economics editor gives his verdict.

So the recession deniers were wrong again. As I predicted, rather than GDP growth for the first quarter of 2012 being revised up it was actually revised down by the ONS today from -0.2 per cent to -0.3 per cent. Output in the production industries was -0.4 per cent, manufacturing was flat while services grew by+0.1 per cent while construction was -4.8 per cent.  The fall in construction is very serious and, according to a report of the Bank of England's agents this week, "in large part due to declining work for the public sector".

Over the last six quarters that I have called the Osborne Collapse the economy has shrunk by -0.4 per cent.  He inherited an economy for Alastair Darling that grew by 3.1 per cent over the preceding four quarters.  Here's the chart.  Four of the last six were negative:

There is every prospect that the next quarter will be negative also even if the euro area doesn't implode.  If it does things will be much worse.

David Cameron in a speech on the economy on the 17 May 2012 said:

"Despite headwinds from the Eurozone, we are on track...We are moving in the right direction.

This is total balderdash. The economy is tanking and the coalition appears totally lost on what to do about it and they still don't have a growth plan. Saying they have a Plan A doesn't do it. We are now paying the price for them not having or implementing a plan B.

Today is the time to do three things:

  1. Cut VAT to 17.5 per cent.
  2. Cut National Insurance on anyone under 25 to zero for two years.
  3. Announce a program of £50bn of infrastructure spending on shovel ready projects. Local authorities can bid for the money for any project already through the planning process. The Monetary Policy Committee can fund it via Quantitative Easing.

It really is time for the cabinet to start working hard.

Photograph: Getty Images

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

Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.