The deficit? Clinton gets it but Obama doesn't, claims Mehdi Hasan

The Bubba comes out against austerity.

 

Here's Bill Clinton speaking at the Campus Progress conference in Washington, DC, yesterday:

In the current Budget debate, there is all this discussion about how much will come from spending cuts, how much will come from tax increases. Almost nobody's talking about one of the central points that everyone who's analysed this situation makes -- including the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission -- which said you shouldn't do any of this until the economy is clearly recovering.

Because if you do things that dampen economic growth . . . And the UK's finding this out now. They adopted this big austerity budget. And there's a good chance that economic activity will go down so much that tax revenues will be reduced even more than spending is cut and their deficit will increase.

He gets it. He understands the point that John Maynard Keynes made eight decades ago:

The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity.

But here's Barack Obama -- who came to office with a pro-Keynes, pro-stimulus mindset and advisory team (Christina Romer, Larry Summers) -- speaking on Saturday 2 July, in his weekly radio address:

. . . We're working to reduce our nation's deficit. Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can't afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.

I never thought I'd opt for Bill Clinton over Barack Obama (or "Barack Herbert Hoover Obama", as Paul Krugman puts it) but, on the deficit, the latter has become an austerian in recent months. Clinton, on the other hand, remains a Keynesian -- and it is Keynesian economics that can get us out of this mess.

[Hat-tip: Left Foot Forward and Andrew Sparrow]

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Leave campaigners are doing down Britain's influence in Europe

As the third biggest country, Britain has huge clout in the EU.

Last week the Leave campaign's Priti Patel took to the airwaves to bang on about the perils of EU regulation, claiming it is doing untold damage to small businesses in the UK. Let's put aside for one minute the fact that eight in ten small firms actually want to stay in the EU because of the huge benefits it brings in terms of trade and investment. Or the fact that the EU has cut red tape by around a quarter in recent years and is committed to doing more. Because the really startling thing Patel said was that these rules come to us "without the British government having a say." That might be forgivable coming from an obscure backbencher or UKIP activist. But as a government minister, Priti Patel knows full well that the UK has a major influence over all EU legislation. Indeed, she sits round the table when EU laws are being agreed.

Don't take it from me, take it from Patel herself. Last August, in an official letter to the House of Lords on upcoming EU employment legislation, the minister boasted she had "worked closely with MEPs to influence the proposal and successfully protected and advanced our interests." And just a few months ago in February she told MPs that the government is engaging in EU negotiations "to ensure that the proposals reflect UK priorities." So either she's been duping the Parliament by exaggerating how much influence she has in Brussels. Or, as is perhaps more likely, she's trying to pull the wool over the British people's eyes and perpetuate a favourite myth of the eurosceptics: that the UK has no say over EU rules.

As the third biggest country, Britain has huge clout in Europe. We have the most votes in the EU Council alongside France, Germany and Italy, where we are on the winning side 87 per cent of the time. The UK also has a tenth of all MEPs and the chairs of three influential European Parliament committees (although admittedly UKIP and Tory sceptics do their best to turn their belief the UK has no influence in Europe into a self-fulfilling prophecy). UKIP MEPs aside, the Brits are widely respected by European counterparts for their common sense and expertise in areas like diplomacy, finance and defence. And to the horror of the French, it is English that has become the accepted lingua franca in the corridors of power in Brussels.

So it's no surprise that the UK has been the driving force behind some of the biggest developments in Europe in recent decades, including the creation of the single market and the enlargement of the EU to Eastern Europe. The UK has also led the way on scrapping mobile roaming charges from next year, and is now setting the agenda on EU proposals that will make it easier to trade online and to access online streaming services like BBC iPlayer or Netflix when travelling abroad. The irony is that the Europe of today which Eurosceptics love to hate is very much a British creation.

The Leave campaign like to deride anyone who warns of the risks of leaving the EU as "talking down Britain." But by denying the obvious, that the UK has a major role in shaping EU decisions, they are the ones guilty of doing our country down. It's time we stood up to their defeatist narrative and made the case for Britain's role in Europe. I am a proud patriot who wants the best for my country, and that is why like many I will be passionately making the case to remain in the EU. Now is not the time to leave, it's time to lead.