Osborne's missed opportunity to boost growth

The measures announced today will increase GDP by just £0.51 billion.

The Chancellor missed an opportunity to boost growth today with his Budget. Analysis by IPPR shows that an Alternative Budget could have increased the impact of GDP by a factor of five.

The Office of Budget Responsibility set out the fiscal multipliers of different forms of tax and spending changes in Table C8 of the 2010 Budget. Using these estimates it is possible to assess the impact of the Budget measures announced today that will take effect in 2013-14. Policy decisions for that year came to £1.71 billion.

The chart below shows that, taken as a whole, the measures announced by the Chancellor today to boost growth will increase GDP by just £0.51 billion. By contrast, alternative measures proposed by IPPR would increase GDP by £2.66 billion.


IPPR's Alternative Budget would include a mixture of tax cuts and spending increases paid for through Osborne's new tax avoidance and stamp duty proposals as well as an additional "mansion tax" of 1 per cent on properties worth more than £2 million. Our Alternative Budget would have the same fiscal effect as Osborne's. IPPR's preferred tax cut is an Obama-style cut in payroll taxes. Our original proposal, set out by Eric Beinhocker in last week's Times (£), was for a 2p cut to employee National Insurance Contributions to be paid for over six years. But in order to ensure that all costs are paid this year, we set out here a 1p tax cut at a cost of £2.75 billion.

Our second priority is a jobs guarantee for young people out of work for more than one year. This would cost £400 million and help address the scarring effects that long-term unemployment can cause, particularly for young people. There are currently over 1,042,000 young people aged 16-24 out of work the second highest since comparable records began in 1992, and a rise of 67,600 in the last year. There are now 253,000 young people who have been unemployed for more than a year, an increase of 24,900 over the last year. Osborne's Budget did nothing to address this.

Our final priority is increased infrastructure spending. The OBR's analysis shows that the most effective way to boost growth is to increase infrastructure spending. But the Government is planning to cut its capital spending by 29 per cent between 2010/11 and 2014/15, largely following the path set out by Labour when it was in power. This was, perhaps, Labour's biggest fiscal policy mistake. Not only does infrastructure spending boost growth, it has the advantage of adding to the UK's productive capacity over the longer-term. The money raised from the various tax increases allows for a £2.9 billion boost to infrastructure spending.

As the chart above shows, these three measures combined would increase GDP by £2.66 billion, which is close to five times the stimulative impact of Osborne's Budget. The Chancellor claimed today that his Budget was "growth-friendly". But analysis from the OBR, which he established, shows that it is no such thing.

Will Straw is Associate Director at IPPR

Will Straw is Associate Director at IPPR.

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.