Category Archives: Economics

The Common Sense of Austerity and GDP growth

The anti-austerity protest which is getting under way on 20th June, is not just a politically motivated objection to a policy of the governing Party. It is a protest with deep foundations in both theory and common sense.

For successive governments GDP growth has been the holy-grail. Despite misgivings over its validity (https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2015/02/19/the-great-gdp-deception/#more-1278), it is accepted that balancing a budget with a growing GDP is a whole lot easier than doing so in recession. But imposing austerity on the economy only stifles GDP growth. So why do governments of both main Parties – assuming Labour takes the suicidal Blairite route – accept austerity as the necessary medicine for our economic ills?

The economy is a complex of many different sectors, public and private, that relate to each other in all sorts of different ways, and it is continually on the move with some sectors growing and some shrinking, some dying off altogether and new ones emerging. That dynamic is the result of millions of people striving to make progress. Politicians don’t control the economy; the best they can aim for is to do the people no harm.
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The Economist’s advice to Labour

Why would the Economist publish an article commending Labour to vote its ‘Blairite candidate’ to the Party leadership? Why would that rather formulaic libertarian publication be concerned?

The Bagehot article purports to be about Liz Kendal, Labour Party MP for Leicester West. But in reality it is just another salvo in the mainstream media’s attempt to ensure Labour poses no threat to the established Osborne-Cameron clique. The main message is the suggestion that Labour lost the election because, under Miliband’s leadership, it moved too far to the left. If it is to have any chance of future election success, it must recover its Blairite centre ground by voting Kendal. That was the suggestion.

Acknowledging Labour lost all but one of its seats in Scotland to the SNP, the article pretends that Scottish failure was all about independence. The establishment is clearly nervous that Labour might follow the SNP example offering policies focused on fairness and social justice, financed by the fruits of economic stimulus rather than being strangled by austerity.

What would happen to Labour support if it were to go against all privatisation of public services in health, education and social welfare, against the fire sale of UK publicly owned assets to foreign investors, and focus on the eradication of poverty, the building of affordable social housing, government subsidized higher education, and serious investment in renewable energy as well as progressive taxation of income and wealth. Such a social democratic programme is currently only advocated in England by the Green Party. But if Labour was persuaded to that position based more on human values than Old Labour class war loyalties, there might be a genuine threat of Labour revival.

With its miniscule majority, the Osborne-Cameron offering of privatisation and surrender to corporate monopolists, might then find the Labour / SNP opposition more than just challenging. If, on the other hand, Labour could be misled into appointing its ‘Blairite candidate’, the challenge would be easily repelled. That is why the mainstream media, including The Economist, is concerned.

Tory’s Rocky Road Ahead Confirmed

Survey data re the 2015 general election is confirming the previous posting. But it is not a picture that is widely acknowledged. For example, Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian, suggests it is more important we should ask why the Tories succeeded, than why Labour failed. But the truth is the Tories are only a smidgeon ahead of their 2010 vote when they had to rely on Lib-Dem support to form a government. That can hardly be regarded as great success. The 24 additional seats those few additional votes produced was a quirk of the first past the post system. Labour undoubtedly failed, being stuck only 1.5% above their 2010 low point in terms of votes, but losing 26 seats, also a result of first past the post.

The survey sample referred to in the previous post has produced some further confirmation. The Lib-Dems were written off some time ago as having completely sold out. That may be grossly unfair, but that is the predominant reason being given by those former Lib Dems surveyed. The main cause emerging for Labour’s rejection was their failure to offer an economic programme that was significantly different from George Osborne’s. In particular, Ed Balls’ adherence to the Tory austerity programme, in case Labour should be seen as irresponsible, appears to have been a prime cause of frustration and rejection.

Those small changes in voter numbers disguise a lot of voter movement. In the survey, a significant number of former Labour voters turned to UKIP and the Greens, where they substantially increased numbers to around 5m but produced no additional seats. Labour’s losses to UKIP and Greens appear to have been more than compensated by deserting Lib-Dems.

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The Great GDP Deception

The idea of GDP is simple: the summation of what is produced within the UK avoiding any double counting. It is used to assess how well the economy is doing overall. For the government of the day, growth is good because it suggests we will all be better off. Though GDP is a very imprecise measure, it is one that most people broadly accept.

The economy used to be measured by gross national product (GNP). That measured what UK-owned assets produced, irrespective of where they were in the world. But GNP fell out of favour as UK owned assets were sold to foreign investors with the result that the economy, by that measure, appeared to be in decline. Successive Chancellors tried to make out the sale of UK owned assets was good, because it showed UK was ‘open for business’. But it didn’t really wash. So, since the 1980s, GDP has been the standard measure.

GDP is calculated by simply adding the product of various sectors together as if they were all of equal worth. But in truth some sectors benefit the common good and others are predatory on the common good. But if GDP is growing the government of the day takes credit for successful economic management, irrespective of the fact that it is the predatory components that have grown at the expense of the good sectors.
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The Greek Example

What would you do if you’d lent loadsamoney to someone and they didn’t pay you back as agreed because they were unemployed and didn’t have the necessary? Would you demand they stop eating so they could repay a bit? Would you start taking stuff from them in lieu of interest payments? Would you threaten them with even worse deprivation, if they didn’t repay in full as agreed? Or would you realise you’d been stupid to lend them all that money in the first place without checking their ability to repay, without even checking if they had a job with some regular income?

Greece can’t repay its debts and the more austerity is enforced, the less able will Greece become. Unemployment already stands at 26% with youth unemployment around 55%. More austerity will only increase those figures reducing Greece’s capability. Martin Wolf suggests the loans to Greece were made recklessly, without due diligence, because the purpose of the loans was not to help Greece but to protect the Euro [‘Greek debt and a default of statesmanship’, Financial Times, 28/1/2015]. Greece exiting would be an example others might follow. So, while exit could be damaging for Greece, for the Euro it would be disastrous, reducing it to the category of an exchange rate peg, rather than a solid currency.

In the aftermath of the 2008 crash, there was much debate as to whether stimulus or austerity would be the best way to return economies to health. The 1930s experience, addressed by the application of common sense and common humanity, saw economies revived by the stimulus exampled by Roosevelt’s New Deal. This hard-learned lesson has been highlighted before at https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2014/10/22/a-new-new-deal/#more-1127
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Taming Corporate Bullies: Supporting Real Enterprise

The corporate leviathans which oppress the real economy and bully its participants are no longer industrial firms concerned with customers, technologies and people. They are merger and acquisition deal making financial entities. Their oppression and bullying is justified and encouraged by a discredited neoclassical economic ideology which is accepted and promoted by political, media and financial system establishments. The core of that ideology is that economic prosperity is achieved through the individual pursuit of self-interest. Greed is not just good, but a duty, and a social responsibility for the wealthy to fulfil both as individuals and as members of the financial establishment.

According to that ideology, the limitation of greed, especially by statist intervention, must be resisted. The redistribution of its resulting excesses must be prevented. Only the most inhumane resulting poverty and distress should be moderated at public expense. The free working of markets must be allowed to produce the optimum allocation of all resources. Because markets work.

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A High Velocity Economy

Our children and grand-children are facing a far less fair and equitable society than the one people grew up in 30 or more years ago. The wealthy are far richer and the poor both poorer and more numerous. But yet the three main political parties all seem to accept that state of affairs, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is truly bad news for the well-being of both rich and poor alike. Britain is in danger of becoming a permanently divided society.

One of the main causes is the mainstream economic theory that the current elite were all taught to believe. The theory teaches that money paid to the wealthy will be invested in enterprise and the resulting benefits will trickle down to the poorest sections of society so that everyone gains. Therefore government should reduce taxes on the wealthy. It also teaches that privately own companies are much more efficient than publicly owned. Therefore state owned activity should, where feasible, be outsourced to the private sector for everyone to gain. There’s a whole raft of such arguments justified by the theory.
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A New New Deal

All politicians want these days is a story which enough people will believe in, so the politicians can scrape back into government at the next election. The Tory story, as Ha-Joon Chang summarises it, is that they are having to make tough spending cuts to recover from the mess left by the last irresponsibly overspending Labour government. Moreover, the cuts are working: unemployment is down and earnings are up. The Labour story, as told by Ed Balls, appears to accept the Tory austerity prescription as necessary and effective. So it might be better called the Westminster story. Sir Mike Derrington had a nice phrase which adequately sums it all up: ‘Total Bollocks’!

First, the real source of the mess was the financial crash caused by the as yet largely unpunished criminality of the global financial sector, led by the City of London and Wall St.

Second, government employment statistics are deliberately misleading, massaged by zero hours contracts, reluctant self-employment, and time related underemployment. Adjusted as the statistics are, unemployment still stands at 6%, well over double the rate reported on the more honest basis in the post WW2 decades.

Third, the Westminster story avoids altogether the rapidly rising, and clearly unacceptable, level of inequality between rich and poor.
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The Final Victory of the Establishment?

When Ebay announced its intention last week to sell off PayPal, it was giving into the so called ‘activist investor’, Carl Icahn, who had been calling for the deal for months. The Financial Times reported Icahn’s victory statement calling “for PayPal to look to consolidate the payments industry further, either through acquisitions or a merger, to fight off competition from newcomers.” That such an individual should so openly declare war on competition, with total impunity, surely means the establishment has won.

In the not too distant past such anti-competitive moves were illegal. They were recognised as against the public interest and were prevented in the UK by bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Moreover, where such anti-competitive corporations had been established, they could be dismantled, and were, notably in the United States. Competition was recognised as the spur to innovation and improvement, which was for the common good. That lesson had been learned from the 1929 Wall Street crash and subsequent great recession.
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Fighting Corporate Abuse: Beyond Predatory Capitalism

People are angry about corporate abuses: tax avoidance, asset stripping, fat cat salaries and bonuses and much else. Corporate capitalism has lost its moral compass and its social values. It has plunged the world into recession and austerity and contributed to growing social inequality. The prevailing focus on shareholder value has placed short term profit ahead of constructive investment. The current structures of corporate law and practice are clearly in need of radical reform.

And yet the underlying principles of corporate law – providing for external investment in enterprises which combine the labour of workers to produce goods and services – are not inherently wrong. They have worked over the years to increase prosperity and living standards in many countries. What is needed is a realistic and pragmatic programme to eliminate abuses and promote fairer and more productive alternative corporate structures.
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