The Great Debate UK

Osborne’s pre-election gimmicks do little to address Britain’s long-term economic problems

Richard Wellings

–Dr Richard Wellings is Deputy Editorial Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own.–

History is unlikely to be kind to George Osborne. Four years after he became chancellor, the national debt has exploded, the budget deficit remains at dangerously high levels, and an increasing share of tax revenues must be devoted to repaying creditors.

The government also faces enormous long-term liabilities which currently do not appear in the national accounts. These include pensions and healthcare commitments that are spiralling due to a rapidly ageing population. The liberalisation of pension regulation announced in today’s budget, while welcome in itself, will not make a significant contribution to resolving this problem. Indeed, other government measures, such as the triple-lock on state pension increases will greatly exacerbate the long-term fiscal shortfall. Similarly, while the chancellor was correct to focus on poor incentives to save, the impact of policies such as expanding ISA allowances will be trivial compared with the negative effects of loose monetary policy and new disincentives to save introduced as part of the government’s flagship welfare reforms.

To add to the demographic challenges facing the UK, a series of policy decisions, implemented for short-term political gain, have done lasting damage to the future prospects of the economy. One of Osborne’s first moves was to raise harmful taxes such as VAT in a misguided attempt to reduce the budget deficit and avoid additional spending cuts. It has backfired spectacularly by suffocating economic activity, dampening the recovery and as a result actually increasing government borrowing. And despite the depth of the recent slump, the burden of regulation on business has been increased. Tax and labour-market legislation has become even more costly for firms, while energy prices have spiralled due to government intervention.

Predictions and wish list for the Chancellor’s 2014 Budget

–John Angood is Tax Senior Manager at BDO LLP. The opinions expressed are his own.-

With the next general election just over a year away, it is likely Chancellor George Osborne will want to keep his powder dry and hold back any vote winning announcements for the Conservative Party manifesto or for the election campaign itself. That said, there are pressures from both the UK public (especially those experiencing the continued squeeze on household incomes) and businesses that are continuing to experience the effects of the recession. With this in mind, I have set out below what I think could happen on Wednesday, and some of the measures I’d like to see introduced.

Budget day: Politics not economics

–Sam Hill is Senior UK economist at RBC. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The headlines generated by the forthcoming UK budget are likely to be political rather than economic; the general election is next year. Despite a faster than expected fall in unemployment and inflation, macroeconomic developments since the December autumn statement present limited scope for forecast revisions to government borrowing. But come the post-budget analysis, some of the seemingly esoteric revised economic assumptions may have important consequences for how the budget is perceived politically.

Budget preview: Don’t expect pyrotechnics

–Nick Beecroft is Chairman, Saxo Capital Markets, Saxo Bank. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Those expecting a rivetingly exciting spectacle when the chancellor announces his budget next Wednesday will be in for disappointment, but that doesn’t mean that this won’t be an intensely political budget, given this really represents his last chance to make changes which will be fully appreciated by the electorate by the next general election. Having said this, his room for manoeuvre is limited, and the effect on the overall fiscal balance will be minimal.

Budget background: Dark with light patches

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Spring has sprung.

The grass has riz.

I wonder when the Budget is….

On 19th March actually or, more importantly in this age of nonstop campaigning, six weeks before the European elections and barely a year away from the general election. Since the 2015 Budget will be too late to affect our wallets before we go to the polls, this is George Osborne’s last chance to reassure us that the economic situation is under control. Will he be able to resist the temptation to give us a reward for our patience through four years of austerity and to reassure us that the misery is nearly over?

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Japan as the crisis next time

Which major economy is most likely to disappoint expectations this year, and perhaps even cause a financial crisis big enough to break the momentum of global economic recovery? The usual suspects are China and southern Europe. But in my view the most likely culprit will be Japan.

While Japan no longer attracts much attention these days, it is still the world’s third-largest economy, with a gross domestic product equal to France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal combined. Its industries still pose the main competitive challenge to U.S., European and Korean manufacturers, and its regional weight is still sufficient to trigger financial crises across the whole of Asia -- as it did in 1997.

from Jack Shafer:

It’s an ad, ad, ad, ad world

The last place you'd expect to discover a map to navigate the future of the content-advertising landscape would be a book about the golden age of radio. But damn it all to hell, there it is on the concluding 12 pages of Cynthia B. Meyers' new book, A Word From Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio.

Not to discourage you from reading Meyers' first 281 pages about the co-evolution of broadcasting and advertising before excavating her new media insights, but this is one of those books that demands to be read backwards -- conclusion first, historical arguments and research later. In Meyers' view, advertising is not something appended to radio and TV broadcasts or shimmied into the pages of newspapers and magazines. Advertising has been both the dog wagging the tail and the tail wagging the dog, sometimes occupying points in between, its symbiotic relationship with popular media forever ebbing and cresting. And while the past never predicts the future, this book gives readers a peak around the media future's corner.

from Ian Bremmer:

Who loses most in Ukraine?

 

As we march toward Sunday’s Crimean referendum, the result is predetermined. Crimea will vote Russia, and tensions will only escalate. At this juncture, it’s important to take a step back and ask who “lost” here. What could the United States have done differently? What about Russia? Was the outbreak of violence and explosive geopolitical confrontation inevitable? Where does it go from here?

If the United States’ primary goal has been to keep violence in Ukraine and tensions between outside powers to a minimum, it has made a series of significant missteps. The United States failed to offer real economic support to the Ukrainian government before events reached a crescendo. Former President Viktor Yanukovich didn't want to just work with the Russians; he was looking to strike a balance between Russia and the EU while skirting economic collapse. Europe pushed too hard, and the IMF wasn't going to step in in time. The lack of support from the West helped push Yanukovich far enough towards Russia that protests in Kiev reached a point of no return.

from The Great Debate:

Malaysia: Crisis management on a need-to-know basis

At a press conference on March 12, General Rodzali Daud, chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, faced a confused and angry audience. What exactly happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which vanished last Saturday en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing? Fury mounted in this case, not because the general did not know enough -- but because he may have known much more than he or his colleagues were willing to share.

In contrast to the initial reports of the aircraft's sudden disappearance, Wednesday’s coverage suggests several "last sightings" with a possibility that the plane turned back to Malaysia. The previously undisclosed military radar data, it turns out, captured an unidentified airplane 200 miles into the Straits of Malacca, between Malaysia and Indonesia. A Malaysian air force staffer claims that the plane showed up on the military's radar for over an hour following the communication failure. Yet on Thursday, Malaysia’s senior officials still denied these claims. Not surprisingly, they have come under fire for misreporting, obstructing the multinational search mission, and prolonging the agony for family and friends of the 239 passengers and crew.

from The Great Debate:

Putin projects Russia’s unreal reality

In the summer of 1787, Catherine the Great of Russia set out to inspect the recent additions to her far-flung czardom, including the Crimean peninsula, annexed from the Ottoman Empire four years earlier.

Catherine’s lover, Prince Grigory Potemkin, the governor-general of these new southern provinces, knew shabby landscapes wouldn’t satisfy the German-born empress, who set high standards for order. So he lined her route with wooden boards painted with cheerful housing façades, to hide the squalor of the serfs’ lives. On her return to St. Petersburg, Catherine announced she was pleased with her new territory’s bucolic riches.

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