Monday, 5 September 2011

A Brighter Economic Future For Britain

By Michael Burke

‘A Brighter Economic Future for Britain’ is the title of a new pamphlet co-written by the present author and Professors George Irvin and John Weeks. In the Guardian we set out the rationale for the publication:

‘The UK depression has already lasted three years, and NIESR argues that is likely to last five years or more – longer than that of 1930s.

Yet economic debate is dominated by counterproductive attempts to reduce the deficit through cuts in public spending, which are now the single most important cause of the depression.’

The full article can be read here.

In an argument that will be familiar to regular readers of SEB, the pamphlet argues that public spending cuts are counter-productive both in terms of reviving growth and in reducing the public sector deficit. This is because the deficit itself is primarily a product of the depression.

Further the underlying cause of the depression is a private sector investment decline, which by the end of the 1st quarter of 2011 accounted for 80% of the total lost output since the economy began to contract 3 years earlier – that, is £44.9bn of a total of £56.3bn.

Therefore breaking that investment strike is a pre-requisite to any sustained recovery. By investing in areas such as housing, transport, infrastructure and education, the government can lead an economic recovery that meets acute economic needs and reverses the rise in joblessness.

The pamphlet puts forward two related solutions to the crisis- the creation of a state-owned Investment Bank and using the excess capital at the state-owned banks to fund the needed investment.

Importantly, this analysis is beginning to win political support. In welcoming the attempt to turn the debate towards an investment-led recovery Jon Trickett MP argues in a foreword to the pamphlet,

‘Collapsing investment hits current growth and long-term productivity.....Working on the premise that we must tackle investment and long-term competitiveness the authors argue that one way forward which would increase demand in the economy, and raise both employment and productivity, would be to take action now to address this issue.....The pamphlet sets out one idea from the authors to tackle this collapse investment; a National Investment Bank, using the government’s majority stake in Lloyds-TSB and RBS.....There are those who would argue that this would indeed be poetic justice.’

The continued economic stagnation in Britain and some other leading economies will force a reconsideration of policy even among the architects of the current crisis and their supporters. In Britain , though, a Tory economic ‘Plan B’ is likely to include privatisation, deregulation as well as attacks on social protections such as maternity/paternity leave, pensions and an abuse of youth ‘training’ programmes to provide unpaid labour. But none of this will alter the basic problem that private firms are sitting on hoards of cash that they refuse to invest, while also leading to further impoverishment for the overwhelming majority of the population.

Likewise, since at least the ‘worse than Thatcher’ New Labour Budget of 2010 there are many now on the opposition benches who fundamentally agree with the ‘austerity’ policy. They merely advocate slower, shallower, more anguished cuts. But as the economy has already stalled under the impact of less severe cuts than they would now be implementing, the Labour supporters of cuts are also obliged to look for a ‘Plan B’. Whether they move towards Osborne, or in the direction of state investment to generate recovery remains to be seen.

In any event, as the pamphlet argues there can be no suggestion of a sustained recovery without replacing the policy of cuts with a government-led investment recovery.


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