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Insights from the UK and beyond

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Learning budget lessons from Japan and Britain

While the world is transfixed by the U.S. budget paralysis, fiscal policies have been moving in several other countries, most notably in Japan and Britain, with lessons for Washington and for other governments all over the world.

Let's start with the bad news: Shinzo Abe’s decision to increase consumption taxes from 5 to 8 percent next April. This massive tax hike, to be followed by another increase in 2015, threatens to strangle Japan’s consumer-led growth from next year onwards, since Abe looks unlikely to offset this massive fiscal tightening with stimulative measures that would maintain consumers’ spending power. Even if Abe delivers on his vague promise to compensate with business tax reductions, these will only aggravate the over-investment and corporate cash hoarding that have long distorted the Japanese economy. Meanwhile, the government’s willingness to risk economic recovery in the cause of fiscal discipline implies that those of us who believed Abe was making an unconditional commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve economic recovery were simply wrong. Now that the forces of budgetary austerity have reasserted themselves, Japan’s probability of ending its decades of stagnation is much reduced.

Now for the good news: a change of attitude to debt and borrowing is transforming Britain from the second-weakest G7 economy (after Italy) into a world champion of growth. As recently as last April, the British government was attacked by the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist for “playing with fire” by trying too hard to reduce its budget deficits. This week the IMF World Economic Outlook praised Britain’s rapidly improving economy and upgraded 2013 growth projections by 0.5 percentage points, to 1.4 percent. That may not sound like much, but this improvement comes when almost every economy is being downgraded -- and compared with last year’s miserable 0.2 percent growth rate, it feels almost like a boom.

Does this experience prove that David Cameron was right to persist with his unprecedented program of spending cuts, tax hikes and fiscal austerity? The answer is no, for two reasons.

from The Great Debate:

Stubborn national politics drag down the global economy

Four years ago world leaders, meeting in the G20 crisis session, agreed they would all work to move from recession to growth and prosperity.  They agreed to a global growth compact to be delivered by combining national growth targets with coordinated global interventions. It didn’t happen. After the $1 trillion stimulus of 2009, fiscal consolidation became the established order of the day, and so year after year millions have continued to endure unemployment and lower living standards.

Only now are there signs that the long-overdue shift in national macro-economic policies may be taking place. The new Japanese government is backing up a "minimum inflation target" with a multi-billion-dollar stimulus designed to create 600,000 jobs. In what some call the “reverse Volcker moment,” Ben Bernanke has become the first head of a central bank for decades to announce he will target a 6 percent level of unemployment alongside his inflation objective. And the new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has told us that "when policy rates are stuck at the zero lower bound, there could not be a more favorable case for Nominal GDP targeting.” Side by side with this shift in policy, in every area but the Euro, there is also policy progress in China. It may look from the outside as if November’s Communist Party Congress simply re-announced their all-too-familiar but undelivered wish to re-balance the economy from exports to domestic consumption, but this time the promise has been accompanied by a time-specific commitment: to double average domestic income per head by 2020.

from Felix Salmon:

Why Gordon Brown can’t run the IMF

Gordon Brown is very comfortable at the IMF. He chaired its most important committee, the IMFC, for many years, and he would love to take the top job of managing director. There might be a vacancy soon, if the incumbent, Dominique Strauss Kahn, steps down to run for president of France. But it won't be filled by Brown, now that UK prime minister David Cameron has made his opinions crystal clear.

Mr. Cameron told BBC Radio 4's Today program: "I haven't spent a huge amount of time thinking about this. But it does seem to me that, if you have someone who didn't think we had a debt problem in the UK, when we self-evidently do, they might not be the best person to work out whether other countries around the world have a debt and deficit problem".

from Global News Journal:

Should Norway bail out Iceland?

icesaveWhile not exactly pocket change, Iceland’s $5.5 billion Icesave debt to Britain and the Netherlands amounts to just 1.2 percent of the value of Norway’s offshore wealth fund. For Iceland, it's more than $15,000 per citizen.

Given the two countries’ close historic links -- Norwegian Vikings discovered the Atlantic island where people still speak a version of “old Norwegian” -- speculation about Oslo coming to the rescue has Reykjavik licking its lips.

Ghost of past failure haunts G20

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Stopping off in New York during a marathon, 18,000-mile diplomatic offensive before next week’s G20 summit in London next week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recalled a conference held in eerily similar circumstances in London 76 years ago.

Sixty-six nations gathered for the June 1933 London Monetary and Economic Conference which was aimed at lifting the world’s economy out of the Depression.

from MacroScope:

Waiting for the G20 to….?

Finance ministers and central bankers from the G20 meet this weekend in the English countryside to discuss the world's financial and economic crisis. With this in mind, MacroScope asked a number of economists what they want to see from the meeting and the G20 summit to follow later and what they expect to see.

The answer, in short, appears to be that much is needed but not much expected.

Paul Mortimer-Lee, head of market economics, BNP Paribas:

"There will be progress on agreeing that regulation needs to be more effective and more effectively co-ordinated on a global scale but I am unconvinced we are going to go a long way further.  Some populist posturing on bank bonuses etc should be expected. The less is achieved in other areas the more this will get played up. On bank recapitalisation, they will all agree strong capital is a good thing, but in no way do I expect a concerted plan -- it's driven by events and the exigencies of the local banking system.

from Global Investing:

And the next Iceland is…

If there's one thing you don't want to be, it's the next Iceland.

Since its currency, colossally indebted banking sector and economy collapsed in spectacular fashion in October, the country has become a byword for an economy that has truly hit the rocks.

Within weeks, banking problems and currency falls meant Hungary was being hyped as a "second Iceland", at least until a joint International Monetary Fund and European Union rescue package restored some stability.

‘What on earth was Darling talking about?’ – media ask

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darling.jpgThe media is still confused about the motives behind the Chancellor’s observation that “(the times we’re facing) are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years”.

What about the 27 percent inflation and 12 percent unemployment rates the country endured during the 1970s and 1980s, they ask?

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