Tag Archives: economics

Labour’s Bank of England plan is based on ignorance

I am about 99 per cent less politically engaged now than was I was even three years ago, mostly because I think all parties lack true radicalism right now, so I find the endless rehashing of each party’s greatest hits albums tedious in the extreme.

But this week Labour did pop up with an idea that tempted my focus away from the books I’ve been meaning to read, and the friends I’ve been meaning to meet, when they proposed shifting the Bank of England to Birmingham and changing the central bank’s mandate to target productivity.

The first idea is based on the …

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What the Lib Dems can learn about economics from Donald Trump

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/4860335535/in/photolist-8puuqx-nH9KhK-x5gkW-a2Yx4D-8putCp-a32qpS-a2YbjP-9kJJvt-7b8177-8puprR-6SKbQG-6SKbZG-oKCWvp-dkaUyr-v2EDLi-r1tFvY-r1tFHm-9kNUaq-4Mph7K-ChcB23-8puqfH-8pxBCE-8pxDRo-9kJHqK-aWwhx4-9VBBzN-5WEQZB-a2Ybz8-9kJLQR-9kP8co-4icUAV-9kMMvL-9kMSBb-9kMNwd-bYafLo-8purhr-9kKZfe-nzKQ2n-yNYtG-8pup2p-8purRn-hKv96Z-8pupSi-8pust2-bZPiEm-9kP7hq-a32p7J-8upwDg-5MSyss-9kMKy9Not least among my irritating habits is that I often take the opposite side of the argument to whatever the consensus is at any one time, not because I necessarily believe it, but rather to test my knowledge of my own point of view.

But there are times when even my ability to agitate for an unpopular cause runs aground. Donald Trump’s presidency is one where the well of mischief runs dry.

But there is a lesson for liberals in Mr Trump’s economic policies, as his actions reveal the failings of trickle-down economics …

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LibLink: Vince Cable: Politicians get lost in search for fabled Magic Money Tree

Vince Cable has written for City AM about governemnt’s fiscal responsibilities and how it has become less important to be financially credible.

Yet since the 2015 election, belief in financial magic appears to have grown. Brexit’s biggest appeal was a treasure trove to finance the NHS. Labour has caught the new mood.

A few weeks ago, shadow chancellor John McDonnell added £200bn of PFI contracts to a lengthening list of Labour financial commitments, including the nationalisation of rail franchises, energy and water utilities, free universities, and much else.

The IFS was scathing at the June election about Labour’s numbers, but it did little political harm, perhaps because the Conservatives had no numbers at all, and have since oscillated between preaching austerity and signing cheques when pressed. My own party, the Liberal Democrats, received an IFS Gold Medal in 2017, but it did us little good.

He then goes on to talk about a recent discussion with economics students who thought that austerity had had its day. Vince recounts the main points that he made with his response:

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Please stop saying people don’t vote against their economic interests. They do it quite deliberately, all the time.

I’m hearing the same argument uttered over and over again  – ironically by both sides  – in the Brexit debate.

Remain supporters keep saying ‘no-one in Britain voted to be worse off in the referendum campaign’, on the presumption that folk don’t vote against what they believe is in their economic interest.

Leavers, for the same reason, believe that they’ll get a great deal in their Brexit negotiations because ‘it’s in the remaining EU member countries’ economic interests to do so’

Both sides are of course wrong. People make quite deliberate decisions against their economic interest every day. The reason why political folk don’t realise this is because they are brought up in a culture of Fiscal and Monetary economics. The real world works rather more like Behavioural Economics.

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Story telling might lead to economic revolution

It is extraordinary how compartmentalised everything is – especially when we are campaigning in local elections.

We, few of us, who know a little about the way public responsibilities are demarcated between different layers of government, have a kind of sense of corrosive superiority as we expect campaigners to demand the right reform from the right level.

But partly this is just a function of sclerotic centralisation. The Treasury has a crushing monopoly on economic policy because, well – it always has.

Partly because of that, and because there is almost no local economic data collected about where money flows (the exception is bank lending to postal district level, forced on the banks by Lib Dem peers in 2012) – Whitehall doesn’t see the economic innovations at local level.

And in particular, they don’t see the emergence of a new generation of local entrepreneurs who are no longer prepared to wait patiently for the Chinese to invest or the government to give them a grant – and are trying to transform their local economies a bite at a time.

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Fixing the Budget. Are we looking at the problem the right way?


Whenever we read articles on reducing the government’s budget deficit the underlying assumption is invariably that it needs to spend less and obtain more taxation revenue. This approach is known as economic austerity. We all know from our personal experience that if we have a debt problem we have to spend less and/or earn more to get out of trouble. So that must work. Or must it? All politicians in all parties need to get this one right if nothing else. Any government’s spending and taxation policy impacts just about everything else in its ‘to do’ list.


We saw in the last Parliament that the Coalition ‘reluctantly’ raised VAT to 20% to increase taxation revenues. All spending plans were subject to extreme scrutiny. Various bodies in the Treasury, or the Office of Budget Responsibility had previously been at work and had produced figures to show the extent to which the deficit would shrink over the course of several years. Usually just before the next election, hey presto! We’d have that surplus we were always promised.



It never does work. After a couple of years we see articles and more articles in the press saying that the Chancellor has been ‘blown off course’ by this or that event, and the story is usually that whereas government spending has been kept to plan the taxation receipts have been disappointing and consequently the promised date of a budget surplus is further away than was first predicted. There are lots of articles along these lines for anyone who cares to search them out online. There are never any at all, as far as I know, saying that the situation has turned around better than expected.

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“Look after the unemployment, and the budget will look after itself ” (Keynes 1933). Is he still right?


Keynes was undeniably a genius of his time, but he wasn’t infallible. We should not just assume that he was always correct. As with all prolific writers we can cherry-pick quotations to suit our own political purposes. If we want to argue for more government spending, we can use this:

For the proposition that supply creates its own demand, I shall substitute the proposition that expenditure creates its own income.

(Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, Volume XXIX, pp 80-81)

Keynes meant that the mere supply of a commodity is not enough to ensure the sale of that commodity, but money from all government spending inevitably ends up in someone’s pocket. This is a statement of the obvious, maybe, but he evidently felt it needed making anyway. On the other hand, if we are suspicious of what sounds like “magic money tree” economics, as many scathingly describe any deviation from their understanding of ‘sound money’, we can find this quotation:

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We need to balance the Budget over the business cycle as Keynes suggested, right?

Firstly, we do need to ask if Keynes did suggest that. There are arguments either way on this point.  Keynes’ view unfolded and developed starting in the bleak 1920’s in Britain. There was no ‘roaring twenties’ for the UK economy as the government deflated the economy to try to fit the Pound back on to its pre-war Gold  Standard. Keynes then did argue that governments should run deficits if private spending declined and reduce those deficits when future growth was strong enough. This has been interpreted by many that his intent was that the budget was to be more or less balanced over the business cycle. If anyone is …

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Opinion: Solutions to Inequality: Quakernomics and Economic Justice

  1. Unemployment
  2. Subsistence wages
  3. Hazards to Health
  4. Harm to the environment

These are the four results of unregulated capitalism according to Mike King in Quakernomics. In his book, which I highly commend, he details the history of Quakers in industry and how they modelled an ethical capitalism which served the community. “Quakernomics is the enthusiastic pursuit of economic activity as a social good.” We can always learn from history. In this blog I will explore what lessons gleaned from the Quakers can be applied to economic and social problems today.

The Quakers valued the entrepreneur, but gave equal value to the workers who brought new ideas to fruition. Equality and the worth of every individual were key. Owners and workers were interdependent.

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Deserving of more than a footnote: George Watson and The Unservile State

The Unservile StateThe announcement that the Cambridge academic George Watson had left the Liberal Democrats £950,000 in his will was one of the most surprising political stories of 2014.

George Watson was a distinguished literary scholar and a lifelong Liberal. After working for the European Commission as a translator and interpreter during the 1950s he became a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1961 and remained there until he retired in 1990. As a scholar, he was known for serious bibliographical work, spirited polemics, and a traditional approach to literary criticism. He also made two forays into electoral politics, contesting Cheltenham in 1959 and Leicester in the 1979 European Election.

Watson is perhaps best remembered by Liberal Democrats, however, as the editor of The Unservile State – a 1957 volume billed as ‘the first full-scale study of the attitudes and policies of contemporary British Liberalism since the famous Yellow Book’ of 1928.

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Opinion: Small plus small plus small equals BIG

ultra-micro economicsIn the heady days of the Thatcher government, when the hideous mistakes of Big Bang were being forged and coming to fruition, I used to run an excellent magazine called Town & Country Planning.  In those days, we were extremely exercised by the idea of the huge and mounting cost of rundown private sector homes. Who was going to repair them?

We don’t talk about that problem any more. This is not because it was ever exactly solved, but because of one of the more benevolent effect of rising house prices, before the oligarchs came in, was that it made a bit of DIY worthwhile. Instead of the government shelling out to repair all those privately-owned dwellings, the young owners went down to B&Q and bought a paintbrush.

It was a lesson to me that neither the conventional public sector nor the conventional private sector may be best placed to tackle the really intractable problems.  And it makes me wonder whether the great unanswered questions about rebalancing the economy might eventually be answered – not by the long night of the soul as we wait for the Treasury, but by the places themselves.

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Opinion: Bullseye banzai

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d do my own Mid-Term Review and not keep it secret.

Back on the 14th November 2012, I wrote a piece for LDV on how Shinzo Abe, the clear favourite to become Japan’s next PM, was telling the Bank of Japan to deliver 3% growth in the money measure of GDP (NGDP) on pain of having its independence withdrawn. NGDP in Japan had been virtually static for twenty years – a sort of Great Stagnoflation.

How’s Mr Abe doing just eight weeks on? Well, he’s Prime Minister, he’s told the …

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Opinion: The trouble with George – you can’t argue on economics with such a political Chancellor

Now that the flurry of graphs, snapshot analyses, spin-heavy briefings and counter-briefings is dying down, how to judge George Osborne’s Autumn Statement in the cold winter light?

For me it is a microcosm of Osborne’s time in No. 11 – a smattering of politically calculated and superficially populist measures, masking a dangerously thin grasp of what an economically successful Chancellorship looks like. Moreover, his claim that his mini-budget is fair because it is fiscally neutral doesn’t hold much water.

Posted in Op-eds | 14 Comments

Opinion: Inflation the biggest threat to economic growth

Economic commentators and politicians searching for that most elusive of phenomena – economic growth appear to be operating a back to basics approach. The Bank of England takes the traditional neo-classical approach to its role as arbiter of monetary policy – Quantitative Easing and liquidity schemes to expand the money supply and make borrowing cheaper to incentivise businesses to expand. The government are taking a much more Keynesian route to growth, announcing house building schemes and other infrastructure initiatives in order that the state injects the demand into the economy …

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LibDem MEP retains influential European economic role

Darren Ennis on MHP reports good news for the UK from the European Parliament:

British Liberal Democrat Sharon Bowles is expected to keep her role as chair of the European Parliament’s influential economic and monetary affairs committee, MHP Sources Say.

Despite winning cross-party praise for her increasingly high profile role during the economic downturn, Bowles risked losing the coveted position following British Prime Minister David Cameron’s EU veto and the decision by her UK Liberal Democrat colleague Diana Wallis to stand in this week’s election of a new President of the European Parliament.

Wallis infuriated Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt by standing as an independent, putting at risk a political pact he had negotiated with the Parliament’s two largest groups – the centre-right EPP and the Socialists – designed to keep Bowles as head of the Parliament’s most important committee.

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Opinion: Frankensteinomics

Why are Western politicians failing to tackle the debt crisis? Partly, because they do not know why things got this way. So they do not really know what to do. We need better understanding.

At the risk of sounding like an airport paperback I offer – Frankensteinomics! The global economy, I contend, is like Frankenstein’s monster – bloated, dysfunctional, and kept alive only by repeated jolts of artificial stimulation.

The mad scientist who first showed how to apply the electrodes was Maynard Keynes. Using State spending to jolt the economy out of depression …

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Opinion: We don’t need Labour’s Plan B – we need a Lib Dem Plan C

Senior economists have expressed alarm at the Coalition Government’s economic strategy – coinciding with the publication of gloomy figures, criticism came from sources as varied as the likes of David Blanchflower, to Sunday’s warning over the direction of travel from a wide array of experts in the Observer. As we ponder the need for alternatives to the Coalition’s policies, a Plan B, let’s recap how Plan A came about.

The Conservative party have always equated this crisis with the government’s budget deficit. Their economic narrative, unchanged since well before the election, has been clear; public profligacy under Labour …

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Rejoice, rejoice, we have the answer to stock market problems: buy in some windbreaks

The following quote is a genuine quote from an academic journal. Oh yes.

Why have I thought necessary to mention that?

Well, it’s about the stock market.

And how windy the weather is.

And how stocks go up or down depending on how windy it is.

Not just the stocks of windbreak or heating/cooling firms.

All stocks.

Yes indeed:

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Conservative policy making informed by TV detective series

Today’s FT has an interview with wannabe Chancellor George Osborne, where he once again fails to give any real details of the Conservatives’ economic plans, should they win the next election. Osborne talks about his admiration for Sweden, although he is unable to put his finger on exactly why, saying:

“I’m no expert on Swedish society but I am a regular viewer now of Wallander”.

What next: Chris Grayling telling the Daily Mail that he is changing the Conservatives’ policies on drugs after catching up with a few episodes of Van der Valk?

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