GDP almost returns to the level it was before Osborne's double-dip

The effects of the second recession have been reversed by 1 per cent growth this quarter.

Cameron's claim yesterday that "the good news will keep coming", while (probably) a mild abuse of his privilege in having seen the GDP figures early, was proved true today. Sort of.

The good news is that we are out of recession; the economy grew by 1.0 per cent over the last quarter. Indeed, given the revisions to previous quarters, that's enough to cancel out the contraction from the quarter before. That is good news, at least insofar as not leaving recession would be very bad indeed.

The bad news is that we are emphatically not out of the doldrums yet. The economy may have recovered from the second, austerity-led recession, but it leaves over-all growth for the last four quarters almost exactly flat (in fact, the economy is still 0.1 per cent smaller than it was at the end of Q3 2011).

As for the economy finally regrowing back to the size it was in 2008, well, there's a long way to go. The classic NIESR graph details just how big the output gap is:

Interestingly, the ONS refused to quantify the effect of the Olympics over all on the GDP figures, but did say that the effect of ticket sales particularly was likely to be a significant part of the growth. Owing to the way the statistics are counted, those sales are not counted for the quarter in which they are made, but the quarter in which they are used. There was, in effect, a transfer of consumption from mid-2011 to mid-2012, and that can't have failed to have an effect. The statistical bulletin reads:

Tickets for the Olympics were sold in tranches through 2011 and 2012 but, in accordance with national accounts principles, these have been allocated to the third quarter, when the output actually occurred. The impact of the ticket sales on GDP can be clearly seen in the lower level data for sports activities, which is part of the Government and other services aggregate in Table B1. Ticket sales were estimated to have increased GDP in the quarter by about 0.2 percentage points. (Emphasis mine)

The agency also urged commentators to look at the growth figures for a longer period than the quarter-on-quarter releases. Coming so soon after Cameron's no-quite-leak, it's hard not to read that response as putting the Prime Minister in his place.

"This may be a good quarter, Mr Cameron, but don't celebrate just yet."

 

George Osborne. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump