Debate rages over the ‘unavoidable’ budget

The consistently repeated dictum from the Treasury and government front benches over the last several weeks is that the coalition’s June budget was a product of necessity rather than a consequence of ideology.

The consistently repeated dictum from the Treasury and government front benches over the last several weeks is that the coalition’s June budget was a product of necessity rather than a consequence of ideology. Last night’s Smith Institute event, ‘The Unavoidable Budget’, dealt with the substantive facts of the budget and analyses the extent to which the new government’s reforms could reduce the deficit.

It also focused on the extent to which this budget is a product of politics over policy and whether for the ‘fiscal right’ the June budget was a moment not born of economic necessity but instead a child of political opportunism.

Hosted by the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliot with input from academics Chris Wales and Professor Michael Devereaux as well as Lord Newby and MPs Kwasi Kwarteng and Stephen Timms – financial secretary to the Treasury from 2008-2010 – several points were raised.

Firstly, while the left continually points to the budget as regressive and hitting the poor hardest – primarily through reductions in housing benefit and an increase in VAT – what is too often missed is that it represents a bigger gamble by the right on their ‘less-state-is-better’ world view than anything under Thatcher.

On job creation in the private sector and on economic growth within a context of continued flatlining among our European neighbours the figures are incredibly optimistic, almost irrationally so, as the Financial Times’s Martin Wolf has commented elsewhere:

“This gamble has now defined the government. If it is seen to have failed it will be finished.”

For most of the speakers the ambition to eliminate the deficit by 2015 is simply unachievable and according to Professor Michael Devereaux the coalition will at some point “realise that a 50/50 ratio between tax increases and spending cuts is probably the only feasible path the public is willing to accept in tackling the deficit”.

Not only is the current ambition as set out in June of a ratio of 77:23 of spending cuts to tax split irrationally optimistic on private sector job creation, according to Deveraux it also has little real consent among the electorate – by this time next year expect the current ‘silence on the doorsteps’ to be replaced by the vocal realisation of how reliant we all are on public spending.

This reflects the recent analysis of the Institute for Fiscal Studies which claimed that:

“In total, the cut in central government public services spending as a share of national income now planned by the coalition will more than reverse the entire increase we saw under Labour. We are looking at the longest, deepest sustained periods of cuts to public services spending at least since World War II.”

It is indeed remarkable that such a reduction in public spending can be put into action without any serious debate with the electorate about the right balance of spending cuts and tax increases.

Secondly, the panel was clear that the scale of the cuts to the public sector are too deep for any economy in the early stages of a recovery. While it was wrong of the previous Labour government to borrow during the ‘good times’ to pay for improvements in public spending (Keynes most certainly never argued for this), now is most certainly the time for, if anything, greater counter-cyclical spending by the state to raise aggregate demand and get the economy moving again.

Here Larry Elliot repeated his call for the efficacy of a ‘Green New Deal’  that would prospectively elevate private side economic growth over the coming years facilitating a more balanced reduction in state spending and a more growth-centric deficit reduction plan.

For Keynesians (and Larry Elliot is certainly one of those) the scale of these cuts in the current context aren’t just bad, they are utterly ludicrous – reducing state spend by such an extent so quickly genuinely raises the prospect not only of a double-dip recession but of a Japanese style ‘lost decade’ of zero growth, coupled with high unemployment of potentially more than three million and increasingly ill-funded public services.

In the medium term this budget genuinely damages prospects for growth and it is growth that really matters in cutting deficits, as business secretary Vince Cable himself said in June:

“Fiscal stabilisation will only be successful if it leads to growth.”

George Osborne has chosen to frame the debate around how the country cannot afford existing levels of state spending, placing a huge emphasis on spending cuts over tax increases. The Smith Institute believes that inevitably this will prove problematic and that the public will become increasingly frustrated with such drastic changes to public services and the tax and benefits system. The challenge for Labour in the short to medium-term therefore will be to reflect such critical public sentiment.

In the Nineties Labour won the debate about the need for higher levels of public spending; the problem was the party never really sought to gain consent about how to pay for them. If we are to stand against these cuts we must do so advocating higher general taxation and a ratio of 50:50 public service cuts to tax increases.

According to the Smith Institute this would not only be a saner, more achievable position in reducing the deficit than as set out in the June budget, but will also in time broadly reflect public opinion. Indeed such a position would represent sane economic policy and sound politics, two things notably absent at HM Treasury in recent times.

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15 Responses to “Debate rages over the ‘unavoidable’ budget”

  1. aaron peters

    RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  2. Alex Marsh

    RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  3. David Baines

    RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  4. Clifford Singer

    Good post RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  5. GuyAitchison

    RT @OtherTPA: Good post RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  6. Michael Brannigan

    The very idea of cuts is missing the point entirely. As Capitalists, the Cond-em-all-iance should appreciate the value in the public sector to the private sector. By reducing budgets, what in fact occurs is, decreases in the incomes of private firms that rely on tax money for profit. The Public/Private has become blurred into an amalgam of tax needing entities. (The bank bailout should show this to be the case). With New Labour doctrine aligned to Friedman economic ideology, new industries and existing ones, have aligned themselves to the public sector, through PFI and out-sourcing. The economy is now, predominantly dependent on the Service sector, which in turn relies on generated revenue; as manufacturing is now too small to generate the tax revenue or GDP relative to tax intake, monies were taken from derivatives and other financial products. These products are no longer available in the kind of numbers and at the high values necessary to ‘create’ perceived tax revenues. (Which was how the New Labour Government acquired it spending power) Therefore, unless spending remains at the high levels of now and the private sector is weaned off its need for tax payers input, we will see a collapse of the public and private economy. As for the borrowing itself, there is no need to fear its size or longevity. As previously mentioned, service industries are reliant on tax payers revenue, which is the very same industry that now lends us our own money, (Through pension funds, insurance premiums and the like) The profits gained through this lending, affords lower premiums and higher pension returns, allowing for a fluid society further along the line. To conclude: cuts are unnecessary, spending needs to stay constant, the private market conditions need to be removed from the public sector (slowly), infrastructure investment needs to be considered and new industrial enterprises must be incentivised. This always seems to be the irony of so called capitalists, they have no understanding of their own belief system. I suppose, in reality, they are not capitalists in the true sense of the word, but greedy rich people who are trying to protect their selves and their belief of deserving more than a fair share.

  7. UNISON East Midlands

    Debate rages over the ‘unavoidable’ budget

  8. sianberry

    RT @OtherTPA: Good post RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  9. No UK Shock Doctrine

    RT @OtherTPA: Good post RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  10. Rachel Hardy

    RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget

  11. Mr. Sensible

    Couldn’t agree more.

  12. Goldsmiths UCU

    RT @OtherTPA: Good post RT @leftfootfwd: Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget:

  13. cheap

    Debate rages over the 'unavoidable' budget | Left Foot Forward: The consistently repeated dictum from the Treasury…

  14. blogs of the world

    The consistently repeated dictum from the Treasury and government front benches over the l… #forward

  15. warren mosler

    Note Saturday’s concession by NY Times Nobel Prize winning economic columnist and deficit dove Paul Krugman that long term deficits may cause inflation issues but not solvency issues. This may be the historic moment when the paradigm shifts and the world finally recognizes that for a non convertible currency with a floating exchange rate policy, for the issuer of the currency taxes function to regulate aggregate demand and not to raise revenue per se.

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