Saturday, 31 August 2013

Britain can increase investment by slashing military spending

By Michael Burke

The momentous decision by Parliament on August 29 not to participate in a military attack on Syria raises important points both for the trends in British politics and for economic policy.

SEB has repeatedly argued that there is no prospect of a Tory election victory in 2015. After the failure of Cameron’s military agenda the certainty of a Tory loss has become the possibility of an electoral rout. In politics, whoever sets the agenda wins and the Tory agenda has spectacularly unravelled.

There is too a direct economic impact from the vote and the potential for an indirect impact. Britain spends far more than comparable countries on warfare. Now that there is clearly a diminished appetite for foreign wars and adventures this should be addressed.

There is a great deal of publicity about cuts to the Ministry of Defence Budget under this government. However, the cuts are focused on planned current spending. The capital budget is rising. In addition, this government has introduced an entirely new Budget category something called the ‘Special Reserve’, which has only been used to fund military operations.

Published Defence Spending, £bn
FY 2012/13 FY 2013/14 2014/15
Current 27.1 26.5 21.5
Capital 7.4 9.8 9.0
Special Reserve 0 0.5 1.1
Total 34.5 36.8 31.6
Source: UK Treasury

It should be noted that this is only the official estimates of military spending. In their book The Three Trillion Dollar War Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Blimes examine the full costs of the Iraq and how the US Administration has disguised them. The medical costs of treating war veterans, as well as social consequences and their costs, all of which apply to Britain and are not identified in government accounts.

Britain has the 4th largest military spending in the world. The economy is only the 7th largest in the world. Successive British Prime Ministers have been committed to Britain ‘punching above its weight’, that is, spending a disproportionate amount on the military and using it. The current Prime Minister has been blocked in his attempt to repeat that. A cut in defence spending to Britain’s close economic peers, countries like Italy and Brazil, would yield a saving of at least £14bn per annum at current levels.

The potential indirect impact arises in relation to the renewal of Trident. Britain does not have an independent nuclear deterrent as it is wholly operationally dependent on US satellite systems. It is precisely the type of expenditure which is designed to project imperial power, and allow Britain to ‘punch above its weight’.

After the vote against military action against Syria it seems glaringly obvious that the pursuit of Trident renewal is a pointless and absurdly expensive exercise. The replacement cost and running costs are estimated by CND to rise to £100bn over the lifetime of the programme.

These are extraordinary sums for a system that could never be used, or could only be used if the US wished to pursue nuclear war against another country.

The Coalition has cut government investment across the board, in the vain hope that private firms will increase their investment. Transport, housing, education, health and infrastructure are all deteriorating as a result.

Redirecting resources away from the military budget is one simple method of financing the state-led investment that the economy needs.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The US economic slowdown is much greater than China's

By John Ross

Publication of US 2nd quarter GDP data, following that for China, makes it possible to accurately compare the recent performance of the world's two largest economies. The results are extremely striking as they show that in the last year the slowdown in the U.S. economy has been far more serious than in China. Consequently the data shows that while both economies are being adversely affected by current negative trends in the world economy, China is dealing with these more successfully than the U.S. Intense media discussion in China about its ‘slowdown’  is therefore misplaced unless equivalent attention is paid to understanding why the US  economic slowdown is much worse than China’s.

To accurately establish the facts, it should be noted China and the U.S. publish their economic data in slightly different forms. It is therefore necessary to ensure that like is compared with like. The U.S. emphasizes annualized change in GDP in the latest quarter compared to the previous one; for the newest data this means it takes the growth between the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2013 and basically multiplies it by four. China emphasizes the growth between the 2nd quarter of 2013 and the same quarter in 2012.

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Quarter by quarter comparisons depend on seasonal adjustments being accurate, which is not always the case, while year by year comparisons are less sensitive in registering short term shifts.

But in the present case the conclusion is not fundamentally changed whichever method is used. If the method emphasized by China is used, then, as shown in Figure 1, in the 2nd quarter of 2013 China's GDP grew by 7.5% compared to a year earlier, while U.S. GDP grew by 1.4%. This means that China's economy grew at over 500% of the rate of the U.S. economy. Using the method preferred by the U.S. China's annualized GDP growth in the 2nd quarter was 6.8% and the U.S.'s was 1.7%, which means that China's economy grew at 400% of the rate of the U.S. economy.

Due to the difficulties of making accurate seasonable adjustments in both China and the U.S., the author would emphasize the year on year comparison; but whichever method is preferred China's economy was growing at 4-5 times the speed of the U.S. economy.

Figure 1

If the whole period since the international financial crisis began is taken then the disparity in growth between China and the U.S. is even more striking. In the five years up to the 2nd quarter of 2013 China's GDP grew by 50.7% and U.S. GDP by 4.5% (Figure 2). China's GDP grew more than ten times as rapidly as the U.S.

Figure 2
13 08 09 Figure 2

Turning to the most recent period, it is widely understood that since the beginning of the international financial crisis, China's economy has far outperformed the U.S., even if the dimensions of this are not clearly grasped. What is not so often understood is what has happened during the last year. During that period the economies of both China and the U.S. slowed, indicating the negative trends in the international economic situation. But the U.S. slowed far more than China.

China's year on year GDP growth fell from 7.6% in the 2nd quarter of 2012 to 7.5% in the same quarter of 2013 - a decline of 0.1%, or a 1.3% deceleration from the initial growth rate. However the year on year growth rate of the U.S. in the same period fell from 2.8% to 1.4% - that is by 1.4% or by 50% of the initial growth rate (Figure 3). Consequently China's growth fell marginally but the U.S.'s growth rate halved.

Figure 3
13 08 09 Figure 3

Furthermore, as the Financial Times correctly pointed out in its editorial on the latest U.S. data, U.S. economic growth has been particularly depressed in the last nine months. In that total period the U.S. economy grew by only 0.7%, or an annualized rate of under 1%. In the same period China's economy grew by 5.3%, or an annualized rate of slightly over 7%. Therefore if over the entire course of last year China's economy has been growing at 4-5 times the speed of the U.S. economy, in the last nine months China's economy has been growing at 7 times the speed of the U.S.

This does not mean that the US cannot partially recover from its extremely depressed 1.4% annual growth rate in the last year – the 10 year moving average of US annual growth is 1.8% and its 20 year annual moving average is 2.5%. But even recovery to these rates would leave the US growing at only one third of the rate of China.

The latest data therefore shows that the global economic discussion about the present world economic situation is not about China's "slowdown" and U.S. "recovery". It is "why is China coming so much more successfully through an adverse global economic situation than the U.S.?" And "why has the U.S. economy slowed so much more dramatically than China's in the last year?

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An earlier version of this article appeared at