The Great Debate UK

A good news story

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–Cathy Corrie is a researcher at the independent think tank Reform. The opinions expressed are her own.– Today’s budget was a good news story. There is now no major advanced economy growing faster than the UK. Yet underneath the chancellor’s celebration, the end of austerity is nowhere in sight. With national debt heading inexorably up to over 75% of GDP, in the words of the chancellor: “The job is far from done.”The chancellor today made reference to two strategies to secure the public finances for the long term; the first, an Annual Managed Expenditure (AME) cap to limit welfare spending, and the second, a new Charter for Budget Responsibility, to be announced in full this autumn. Through these new measures Osborne has pledged to “fix the roof when the sun is shining to protect against future storms”, by returning to absolute surplus in the years of growth. The goal is to allow the UK to enter recessions from a position of financial strength, not on the back foot.Yet while the chancellor should be applauded for keeping fiscal discipline at the top of the agenda, history shows he faces a daunting challenge to deliver on his promise. For twenty years, governments have allowed debt to build by consistently spending more in recessions than they save in periods of growth. Debt has been left £124 billion higher as a result. It’s worth noting that 22 out of the last 26 forecasts have promised a return to surplus. No government since 2002 has thus far delivered.

So can these new measures “fix the roof” for the chancellor? The cap on AME spending is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Yet today he confirmed that the state pension will be excluded. This means that almost half of all UK benefit spending will remain outside the cap. The AME cap will be key to opening up a debate about the cost of welfare that many politicians have been reluctant to engage with, but the exclusion of the state pension, much like the refusal to expose NHS spending to the pressure of budget cuts, is symptomatic of a broader failure to address entitlement reform.

Similarly the new fiscal mandate to be announced in the charter this autumn, likely to require budget surplus by the end of the next parliament, is a sound ambition. Yet fiscal rules have already been tried and failed on more than one occasion in recent years. Rules have failed to guide UK politicians to sustainable spending in the good years and they have been abandoned in crisis conditions because to have obeyed them would have imposed too great a cost on the economy. As Reform has argued this week, expanding the role of the OBR to take on greater responsibility for the management of fiscal policy could offer a more flexible and enduring solution.

from Lawrence Summers:

Why the UK must reverse its economic course

It is the mark of science and perhaps rational thought more generally to operate with a falsifiable understanding of how the world operates. And so it is fair to ask of the economists a fundamental question: What could happen going forward that would cause you to substantially revise your views of how the economy operates and to acknowledge that the model you had been using was substantially flawed? As a vigorous advocate of fiscal expansion as an appropriate response to a major economic slump in an economy with zero or near-zero interest rates, I have for the last several years suggested that if the British economy – with its major attempts at fiscal consolidation – were to enjoy a rapid recovery, it would force me to substantially revise my views about fiscal policy and the workings of the macroeconomy more generally.

Unfortunately for the British economy, nothing in the record of the last several years compels me to revise my views. British economic growth post-crisis has lagged substantially behind U.S. growth, and the gap is growing. British GDP has not yet returned to its pre-crisis level and is more than 10 percent below what would have been predicted on the basis of the pre-crisis trend. The cumulative output loss from this British downturn in its first five years exceeds even that experienced during the Depression of the 1930s. And forecasts continue to be revised downward, with a decade or more of Japan-style stagnation now emerging as a real possibility on the current course.

from Anooja Debnath:

When it comes to recessions, 40 is the new 50

If it were about age, 40-somethings would cringe. But it seems a dead certainty that 40 now means 50 -- or even higher -- when it comes to predicting the chances of a recession taking place.

Going by past Reuters polls of economists, every time the probability hits 40 percent, the recession's already started or is perilously close to doing so.

What could the Q1 GDP figures mean for my business?

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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?

Should a country always stand behind its banks?

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Ever since the financial crisis broke in 2008 some of the world’s major banks have their governments to thank for their survival. The fates of Royal Bank of Scotland or Citibank would have been much worse without large injections of capital from the UK and U.S. authorities. The UK government pumped more than £37 billion into its largest banks in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman Brothers crisis. Ireland took that a step further when it guaranteed all of its banks’ deposits and liabilities. This was affordable, the Irish government said at the time.

However, this policy failed spectacularly. Ireland’s bailout of its banking sector brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy and forced it to accept a 82 billion euro bailout loan from the IMF/ECB and the European Union. More than 30 billion euros of this loan is to re-capitalise the Irish banking sector and the rest is to shore up the state’s finances. The conditions of the loan mean that Ireland will have to implement harsh austerity measures for many years to come that will inevitably hurt growth.

What is the extent of Ireland’s crisis?

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- Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own. -

The euro’s resilience in the third quarter has been astonishing. Since reaching a low against the dollar in June, the single currency has appreciated by an impressive 14 percent. This has coincided with the Irish financial crisis reaching boiling point, culminating in the announcement on Thursday by the Irish authorities of the final bill for winding down Anglo Irish Bank.

Monetary policy: QE2 or the Titanic?

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“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.” – the words of a wise Roman thinker (or was it a Greek central banker?). At any rate, the gods certainly seem to have no benevolent intentions with regard to this country, judging by the statements coming from the Bank of England, in particular the calls for another round of quantitative easing from one member of the Monetary Policy Committee and the cry of “Spend, spend, spend” from another.

The view emerging from the Bank and the Monetary Policy Committee is that the country is in the grip of a slow-growth recession, facing the threat of Japanese-style deflation and a double-dip recession, and that this grim situation requires near-zero interest rates, supported by QE2 if necessary, in order to restore consumption and lending (including mortgages) to pre-crisis levels.

from The Great Debate:

Obama and the American dream in reverse

"It's like the American dream in reverse." That's how President Barack Obama, ten days after taking office last year, described the plight of Americans hit by the faltering economy. His catchy description fell short -- the dream has turned into a nightmare for tens of millions.

So much so that an opinion poll this week showed that 43 percent of those surveyed thought that "the American Dream" is a thing of the past. It "once held true" but no longer does. Only half the country believes the dream "still exists," according to the poll, commissioned by ABC News and Yahoo against a background of dismal statistics on growing poverty, inequality, unemployment, and Americans without health insurance.

Double dip a done deal?

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UNEMPLOYMENT/

-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

Earlier this week the S&P 500 was down 15 percent from its April 2010 high.   The ongoing debate on whether the U.S. economy is poised for a double dip recession can be linked with these falls.

Friendly Cameron and King get mix right for now

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By Ian Campbell

–  The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are their own –

Just in government and David Cameron’s relationships are in question. Eyebrows have been raised about the prime minister’s friendship with an Old Lady, sometimes known as the Bank of England. The affection appears reciprocated by Mervyn King, the Bank’s governor. But to think the Old Lady’s independence is compromised is probably to take things too far. The bank’s current low interest rate policy looks more than just a political favour.

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