What Cameron’s idea of “living within our means” actually means

Bill Mitchell’s blog post from today on David Cameron’s recent speech on the economy was a good one. Bill writes:

The Government then proposes the following nonsensical fiscal cut back over the next five years. Obviously, some genius in the Treasury (or OBR) has been told that they have to get a surplus by 2018-19 and then drew the spending cut line to meet that objective.

If that net public spending contraction was to happen given the state of the external sector and the already heavily indebted private domestic sector, then pigs would be flying or the economy would be pushed back into deep recession.

The problem is that if they really try to cut spending by that much and that quickly then the recession will come before the pigs take-off.

UK_fiscal_contraction_2018_19

The House of Commons yesterday overwhelmingly voted to commit to achieve budget outcomes in this ballpark. Bill thinks pigs will fly before this is achieved! He goes on to take a look back at some OBR reports from 2011 (including this one) to have a look at what was being forecast for private debt at the same time as politicians were talking solemnly about the need to reduce debt as our responsibility to future generations. Bill says:

The following Table is taken from the OBRs Table 1 showed the forecasts for household assets and liabilities as a percentage of disposable income. The OBR says that “net worth is forecast to decline as a percentage of income as the household debt ratio is expected to rise and the household assets ratio is expected to fall”.

In other words, all the fuss about private and public debt levels and “dealing with our debts” in 2010 and 2011 was a smokescreen.

Its own growth strategy was always contingent on the private sector taking on a rising debt burden over the forecast period and becoming relatively poorer?

What the British government’s strategy amounted to was a deliberate plan to reduce public debt at the expense of more private debt.

Prudent fiscal management requires that exactly the opposite is the case when the economy is floundering – given current conventions about matching fiscal deficits with public debt issuance.

So which part of Britain is actually “living within its means”?

It’s a good question! In the event, household debt hasn’t (yet) gone up by as much as forecast because the government’s deficit hasn’t come down by anything like as much as was thought, but rising private debt is an absolute guarantee should politicians like George Osborne get their way. Here is the path the OBR are currently forecasting:

US_OBR_HH_debt_income_2020

In other words, above the levels of the 2008 crisis. Bill ends on a rather depressing (but probably accurate) note:

It is clear what ground the British election will be fought on in the coming months. Economic myths, data denials and lots of well-crafted myths about money, debt and deficits.

The real problem is that the British Opposition will go along with it and claim it will conduct austerity better and more fairly and all the rest of the nonsense.

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6 thoughts on “What Cameron’s idea of “living within our means” actually means

  1. If labour keep going the way they are, I think I should support the Tories just so they are in power when there is a crash in the late 2010s.

  2. It’s not just household debt. IIRC the OBR figures “predict” that the external trade balance will drop by 3/4s, at a time when it’s at record levels and rising. Pigs will indeed fly before that happens.

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