The Great Debate UK
from Anatole Kaletsky:
Among all the obituaries and encomiums about Margaret Thatcher, very few have drawn the lesson from her legacy that is most relevant for the world today. Lady Thatcher is remembered as the quintessential conviction politician. But judged by her actions rather than her rhetoric, she was actually much more compromising and pragmatic than the politicians who now dominate Europe. And it was Thatcher’s tactical flexibility, as much as her deep convictions, that accounted for her successes in the economic field.
Governments in Europe and Britain today are obsessed with hitting preordained and unconditional targets: Inflation must be kept below 2 percent; deficits must be reduced to 3 percent of gross domestic product; government debt must be set on a declining path; banks must be recapitalized to arbitrary ratios laid down by some committee in Basel. In sacrificing their citizens’ well-being and their own political careers to these numerical totems, modern leaders often claim inspiration from Thatcher. And when voters turn against them, Europe’s leaders keep repeating Thatcher’s most famous slogans, “There is no alternative” and “No U-turn”. But are these the right lessons to draw from Thatcher’s political life? A closer look at her economic achievements suggests otherwise.
In the 20 years she spent in parliament before becoming prime minister, Thatcher first saw Harold Wilson’s Labour government wrecked by currency crises and trade union militancy; then Ted Heath ousted by a miners’ strike; and finally James Callaghan humiliated by the 1976 sterling crisis and driven out of office by the wave of public-sector strikes that came to be called the “winter of discontent.” After these searing experiences, her immediate priority on becoming prime minister was to turn British monetary management and labor relations upside down. Yet her actions were much more cautious and pragmatic than her rhetoric.
In fact, the Thatcher revolution started with a huge tactical surrender: Within two months of taking office, she gave the public-sector unions that had brought the country to a standstill pay raises averaging 21 percent. This huge award resulted in the biggest increase in inflation in British history – from 10 percent when Thatcher took over to 22 percent a year later (as measured by the retail price index). Controlling this inflationary upsurge required stratospheric interest rates and an overvalued currency. These, in turn, led to a trebling of unemployment and the collapse of many British manufacturing businesses. In response to this economic disaster, Thatcher quickly abandoned the monetary targets she had initially claimed as the lodestar of her economic policies. While Thatcher’s recession seemed to go on forever to Britons who lived through it in the early 1980s, her U-turn against austerity came dizzyingly fast by the standards of today’s obstinate politicians, especially those in Europe.
from Blogs Dashboard:
There it goes again. Sterling has been dropping sharply this year against the U.S. dollar and especially the euro, as Britain turns to a tried and trusted remedy for its economic problems: devaluation. Even with its slight uptick on Wednesday, sterling is down more than 6 percent against the euro since the beginning of 2013 and has slid 10 percent over the past six months.
This is not something the British government is boasting about, especially at a time when there’s concern over -- and sometimes a high-level condemnation of -- countries such as Japan that allegedly seek to manipulate their currencies. But it’s also not something the British government or the Bank of England is trying to hide – or stop.
–Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.–
Bank of England governor-elect, Mark Carney, has raised hopes that the central bank may soon switch to a nominal GDP target. Although the costs seem to outweigh the benefits, the attractions of a radical new approach will grow if the economy remains stuck in the doldrums.
Accusing policymakers of acting out of sheer desperation is a pretty standard jibe by critics trying to put them off their stride.
Unfortunately, the latest round of QE came wrapped in comments from the Governor of the Bank of England which amounted, more or less, to saying: “Look! I’m staying calm – but it’s taking a hell of an effort, believe me!”
The UK, USA, the PIIGS (Ireland and Italy are together in the same stye), France is in poor fiscal shape – OK, Germany is ostensibly living within its means, but it looks a lot less solvent when you remember that it has underwritten the rest of the euro zone (in large part, to protect its own irresponsible banks). In any case, as I have argued in previous blogs, this or a future German Government is likely to cave in to the pressure from its own electorate and from inflationist economists at home and abroad to join the party and spend, spend, spend. Only Australia and Canada, riding high on the commodities price boom, and a handful of small countries, look stable.
Where will it all end?
With inflation, almost certainly, but beyond that, it is hard to say. However, there is one prediction I would offer for the medium to long term outcome, and it applies not only to the euro zone, but to Britain and America too – in fact to the whole of the comfortable, complacent industrialised world – and it is this.
By Jamie Jemmeson
-Jamie Jemmeson is a Trader at Global Reach Partners, the foreign exchange company. The opinions expressed are his own.-
The alarm bells have been ringing in the UK since the surprise contraction in Q4 GDP 2010. The Bank of England (BoE) remains in limbo between the ECB, who recently hiked despite their problems with sovereign debt and the US, where quantitative easing remains in force until at least June. The release of the preliminary Q1 GDP on the 27 April could be instrumental in determining not just how the currency and financial markets perform, but in directing measures the BoE and coalition government may have to take. Since the surprise contraction in GDP, the BoE has been forced to sit on its hands and watch inflation continue to increase while reiterating its belief that this is just a temporary phase. There is a real dilemma in the UK that has split the market; will the UK face the daunting reality of a double dip recession?
The full economic impact of the sixth most powerful earthquake ever recorded is not yet known. Many hundreds of lives have been reported lost in Japan. Aftershocks are a danger and other nations fear a tsunami running across the Pacific will spread the damage more widely. Though uncertainty is rife, the earthquake is more likely to add to global growth and attendant inflationary pressures than subtract from them. It also raises concerns about Japan's long-running fiscal dangers.
The earthquake struck close to a relatively sparsely populated area of Japan. In contrast, the Kobe earthquake in January 1995 struck one of the most populated and industrialized regions, killing 6,434 people and causing damage estimated at around $100 billion. The current quake will leave a large reconstruction bill -- but, on current indications, a smaller one than for Kobe.
-Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-
There was more evidence in February that the world economy is re-flating; both China and the UK released inflation data that showed prices running above 4 percent. Authorities in these economies have a difficult few months ahead, if prices continue to rise at this clip then they may have an economic crisis on their hands.
-Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School and a co-author of “Verdict on the Crash” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own.-
Whether their problem is narcotics or alcohol or simply junk food, addicts are usually planning to give up… but not yet. In the meantime, there are always plenty of excuses for delay.
By Ian Campbell
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
LONDON -- The stagflationists are losing the argument. The world is inflating and that is indeed a worry. But inflation is coming from growth that seems increasingly strong and from money that is looking far too loose for a reviving world. The risk is that oil and other commodities soar much higher now, as they did in 2008, only this time the spike may not recede quickly.