Opinion

The Great Debate

from Nicholas Wapshott:

No, austerity did not work

There have been a lot of sighs of relief in Europe lately, where countries like Britain and Spain, long in recession, have finally started to grow. Not by much, nor for long. But such is the political imperative to suggest that all the misery of fiscally tight economic policies was worth the pain that there are tentative claims the worst is now over and, ipso facto, austerity worked.

Hold on a minute. Growth is good. Growth is what allows countries to pay down their national debt by increasing economic activity, putting the unemployed to work and making people prosperous enough to pay taxes. But gross domestic product growth alone is not enough to provide adequate sustained prosperity if it does not also lead to significant job growth.

Take Spain, which has just emerged from two years of recession by posting a third quarter growth rate of 0.1 percent. Technically the Spanish slump is over. But a glance at their job figures shows the country has a long way to go before it can genuinely say it has escaped the diminishing effects of austerity -- in the form of tight fiscal policies, public spending cuts and labor and entitlement reforms -- imposed indirectly by Germany through the European Union.

In Spain, unemployment remains stubbornly high at 26 percent; half of those age 25 and under are still without jobs. More than half those age 25 and under in Greece and Croatia are also unemployed. In Europe, only in Germany and Austria is youth unemployment under 10 percent. Greece and Spain lead the sorry list of European countries with more than 25 percent unemployed, and 13 more are enduring joblessness at more than 10 percent.

In Spain, where economic growth is occurring only in the export sector, there is little suggestion the economy has been genuinely fixed by this protracted austerity regime. As one analyst put it, “Domestic demand is still contracting and against that backdrop it's hard to see a strong and sustained recovery."

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Austerity is a moral issue

Security worker opens the door of a government job center as people wait to enter in Marbella, Spain, December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

In the nearly five years since the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, the remedy for the world’s economic doldrums has swung from full-on Keynesianism to unforgiving austerity and back.

The initial Keynesian response halted the collapse in economic activity. But it was soon met by borrowers’ remorse in the shape of paying down debt and raising taxes without delay. In the last year, full-throttle austerity has fallen out of favor with those charged with monitoring the world economy.

Thatcher: Master of the ‘unexpecteds’

The passing of Margaret Thatcher comes at a time when the great theme that shaped her years as Britain’s prime minister – the frontier between government and the private sector – is again the focus of serious public debate. Her historic achievement was to widen the frontiers of the “market” and, as she said, to have “rolled back the frontiers of the state.”

There is, however, a pendulum in this relationship between government and private sector. The role of government in the economy has expanded greatly since the 2008 financial collapse, along with government debt. So we will likely again see a struggle to rebalance the respective realms of state and market. And it will again be a battle.

The former prime minister’s memorial service Wednesday provides timely reason to ask: What was the Thatcher Revolution about? I tackled that question 15 years ago – for my book The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy – and I decided the best way to answer was by asking Thatcher herself. So I turned up at the Thatcher Foundation, a town house in London’s Belgravia, which was the operating base for then-Baroness Thatcher.

In Britain, a new PM is waiting

Britains opposition Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron, speaks at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville

global_post_logoMichael Goldfarb serves as a GlobalPost correspondent in the United Kingdom, where this article first appeared.

The press was summoned early one recent morning to Chatham House, Britain’s leading foreign affairs think tank, to hear the thoughts of Conservative leader David Cameron on Britain’s national security. As Cameron is likely to become prime minister later this spring, attendance was high.

Anyone in the audience who, like me, thought they would hear a talk about his grand strategy for how to deal with threats to Britain’s national security in these extremely insecure times was disappointed. Cameron, bright and confident, spent most of his brief remarks outlining how he intended to change the internal decision making of government on national security issues rather than outlining a new approach to Iran or China.

from The Great Debate UK:

You never know when rates will rise

David Kuo-David Kuo, Director at the financial website The Motley Fool. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Go on. Admit it. You didn’t see it coming, did you? You never thought a member of the G20 nations would dare to break ranks and raise interest rates this soon.

But Australia has done just that. The Central Bank of Australia has increased the cost of borrowing by 0.25 percent to 3.25 percent. It is doing what it thinks is right for the country regardless of what the rest may think. Now, Asian countries, keen to avert another bubble, may follow Australia’s lead and ratchet up interest rates before long.

from The Great Debate UK:

The art of the dying general at 250 years old

generalwolfe1- Carl Mollins is a Toronto-based journalist who has worked at the Toronto Daily Telegram, Reuters (in London), The Canadian Press news service (in Toronto, London, Ottawa, Washington, DC) and Maclean's magazine (in Toronto and Washington, DC). The opinions expressed are his own. -

It was long ago, in 1761, when Pennsylvanian portrait artist Benjamin West moved east—across the Atlantic. Nine years later in England, he looked back west to produce a controversial but renowned portrayal of the death of British General James Wolfe during England’s seizure of Quebec from France 250 years ago, on September 13, 1759.

Attention to the picture persists nowadays, so long since the British soldiers set up what rapidly became complete English control of the Canadian colony. Perennial prints and publication of West’s art and comparable materials are reminders of what launched Canada as a country divided linguistically, in culture and politically, the situation that remains today.

from The Great Debate UK:

September 1939 and the outbreak of war

terrycharman- Terry Charman is Senior Historian at the Imperial  War Museum in London. He studied Modern History and Politics at the University of Reading and while there interviewed Adolf Hitler's architect Albert Speer. He specializes in the political, diplomatic, social and cultural aspects of the World Wars, and wrote "The German Home Front 1939-1945" and "Outbreak 1939: The World Goes To War". He is curator of the exhibition Outbreak 1939 at the museum. The opinions expressed are his own. -

In September 1939, in marked contrast to August 1914, Britain went to war in a sombre mood of resigned acceptance of the inevitable. There was no Union Jack waving “hurrah” patriotism as there had been twenty-five years before. After Adolf Hitler had torn up the Munich Agreement in March 1939 and invaded the Czech lands, the British people recognized that appeasement had failed and that the German leader’s aggressive plans would have  to be stopped, and if necessary by force of arms.

On September 3, 1939,  when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced on the radio that Britain was at war with Germany, for many  the news came as a relief from the tension of the past few weeks and months. An anonymous diarist noted: “Even horrible certainty seems better to me than uncertainty.”

Pensions and the coming savings boom

jamessaft1James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own

The explosion in company pension fund shortfalls in Britain nicely illustrates issues which will dominate economics and investment in coming years: the re-pricing of risk, a disillusionment with equity markets, and the boom in savings these shortfalls will help to drive.

Under current accounting rules, the pension funds of companies in Britain’s FTSE 100 index are together 96 billion pounds ($170 billion) underfunded, more than double the deficit of a year ago and an all-time record, according to a report from pension fund consultants Lane, Clark & Peacock.

Where the healthcare debate seems bizarre

healthcare-globalpost

global_post_logoMichael Goldfarb serves as a GlobalPost correspondent in the United Kingdom, where this article first appeared.

In America, the health care debate is about to come to a boil. President Barack Obama has put pressure on both houses of Congress to pass versions of his flagship domestic legislative program prior to their August recess.

Good luck.

Opponents are filling the airwaves with the usual litany of lies, damned lies and statistics about socialized medicine and the twin nightmare of bureaucratically rationed health care and high taxes amongst allies like Britain, France and Germany. So here is a brief overview of health care in some of Europe’s biggest economies: Britain’s National Health Service is paid for out of a social security tax. Services are free at the point of provision. No co-pay, no reimbursement. The budget last year was 90 billion pounds (about $148 billion). That makes the average cost per person about 1,500 pounds ($2,463).

Europe frets over crisis exit strategy

Paul Taylor
– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Higher taxes? Lower public spending? Devaluation? Inflation? Investment in green growth?

European governments are pointing in very different directions as they debate an exit strategy from the global financial crisis. Despite European Union efforts to coordinate economic policy, there are clear signs that the main European economies will charge off in disarray towards separate exits.

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