More on the Tories and the myth of government “waste”

John Maynard Keynes pooh-poohs Sir Stuart Rose et al.

My NS colleague and good friend, the economist and former MPC member David "Danny" Blanchflower, has asked me to highlight this letter, published in yesterday's Financial Times, which he co-authored with Robert Skidelsky.

Sir, How many of those business leaders who complain that raising National Insurance contributions is a "tax on jobs" realise that the "efficiency savings" that they demand would destroy jobs just as certainly?

Raising National Insurance contributions attacks jobs by reducing profits per unit of output: an "efficiency saving" by government cuts costs by putting someone out of work. Both measures aim to reduce the government deficit at the expense of jobs. That is why the government has wisely postponed raising NI contributions and cutting "waste" until economic recovery is under way.

The general point is that expenditure that would be "wasteful" in normal times can be useful in depressed times. When an economy is growing strongly we need to cut out waste; when it is depressed, what is called "wasteful" spending can keep up aggregate demand, employment and sales. Keynes might have been thinking of our eminent business leaders when he wrote that "common sense" is apt to prefer wholly wasteful forms of public spending such as unemployment benefits to partly wasteful forms such as over-manning in government agencies.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.