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Countering the cuts myths

The government and the press say we are in the grip of a debt crisis caused by the 'bloated' public sector. Here, Red Pepper debunks the myths used to push cuts to jobs and public services

MYTH: Government debt is the highest it's ever been

The UK's government debt is at around 70 per cent of GDP (the total amount of goods and services produced in one year). That is certainly high, but it is far from unprecedented.

Government debt never fell below 100 per cent of GDP between 1920 and 1960. It is only in the past decade or so that it has become normal to think of government debt being stable at around 40 per cent of GDP.

It is worth noting that government debt reached 250 per cent of GDP around the end of the second world war, as the result of a 'once in a generation' economic and political crisis. It is certainly arguable that we are now living through a similarly momentous crisis.

MYTH: The UK's debt crisis is one of the worst in the world

Just as the current level of government debt is not unprecedented historically, neither is it substantially higher than that of other countries.

IMF data (IMF World Economic Outlook Database, April 2010) shows the UK has the lowest government debt as a proportion of GDP among the G7 countries (the US, Canada, Germany, Britain, Japan, Italy and France).

Much has been made by Cameron and Osborne of Gordon Brown's 'imprudent borrowing record'. They say that before the spending to stabilise the financial system, public debt was high.

But again, IMF comparisons of the level of public debt prior to 2007 showed the UK in a much better position than many comparable countries, such as France, Canada, the US and even Germany, the home of fiscal rectitude.

MYTH: Government debt is 'unsustainable'

The sustainability of government debt is not just dictated by its size, but by its make up. We have already seen that government debt is at a comparable level to other similarly sized economies. Where the UK is in a much stronger position, however, is in the nature of its debt.

While countries such as Greece tend to owe money to external financiers, the vast majority of UK debt – about 70 to 80 per cent – is held within the country.

And the UK's debt is not so short term. Countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have average debt maturity rates of between six to eight years, but UK government debt stands out among international comparisons as being much longer term at well over 12 years on average.

This means that the UK has to ask the financial markets to refinance its debts much less frequently, making it less vulnerable to short-term speculative pressures and much more able to continue to finance its debts on a sustainable basis.

MYTH: The government shouldn't get into debt, just as your own household shouldn't

This overlooks the fact that, for the past 30 years, governments have positively encouraged households to get into debt.

In fact, it can be prudent for households to take on debt – particularly if they are borrowing to pay for something (a house or educational qualification) that might reasonably be expected to improve the household's income and well being in the long run.

In just the same way it is often sensible for governments to take on debt to pay for investments (such as housing or transport infrastructure) that will make the economy work better and so pay for themselves over the longer term.

But the public economy is also different from the household economy. What might make sense for a household could, for the government, deepen a recession. When times are hard households tend to tighten their belts – reducing their spending and borrowing. But if everyone does this at the same time, the effect is counterproductive: total demand for goods and services falls, which makes it harder for businesses and individuals to generate an income, and everyone ends up worse off.

This is exactly what is happening now, which is why it is essential for the government to compensate for households' reluctance to spend and invest.

MYTH: Public spending got 'out of control' under Labour

It is true that the Labour government gradually raised public spending in the early part of the decade, but it was from what were historically very low levels.

Levels of public spending are now about the same as they were in the early 1990s, at the time of the last economic crisis. This is because spending always rises during a recession as a result of welfare spending on unemployment.

In fact, levels of public spending as a proportion of GDP were much lower for most of the 2000s than they were than at any point since the 1960s.

Where Labour did spend more in the years after 2000, it was necessary to repair the visible effects of long-term under-investment. Who can forget schools and hospitals with buckets in the corner to catch the leaks, or grim city centre landscapes with crowds of homeless people sleeping rough?

Labour's increased spending also addressed workforce shortages in schools and the NHS, where more staff were needed to raise educational standards and care for an ageing population.

Rather than cutting such spending, the crisis could be an opportunity to build the infrastructure of a more energy-efficient, green economy. That would prepare us for the longer-term structural barriers to growth presented by climate change and the depletion of natural resources.

MYTH: The UK has a big public sector compared to other countries

Public spending in the UK is lower as a proportion of the economy than in the likes of France, Italy, Austria and Belgium, as well as the Scandinavian countries (OECD World Factbook 2010).

And spending on core areas such as health and education remains comparable or low in relation to other OECD (broadly speaking, 'rich') countries.

For example, the UK spent just 8.4 per cent of its GDP on health in 2007, roughly half that spent in the United States (once the large private sector is taken into account) and well behind Germany, France and most other west European nations.

On education, the UK again spends less per pupil than most comparable OECD countries.

The UK is not profligate in public spending and does not have an oversized public sector compared to similar countries.

MYTH: Spending on the public sector is 'crowding out' private sector growth

It is argued that public spending comes at the expense of overall growth, because potential investment is being re-directed into taxation to fund an 'unproductive' public sector. But in fact investment in public infrastructure and services is essential to private sector productivity, and so is no less critical to future growth than private sector investment.

Furthermore, the UK is not a highly taxed economy. The OECD's comparative figures on taxation as a proportion of overall economic output show the UK way down the list, only just above the average.

It is sometimes suggested that taxes hit the private sector in such a way as to discourage job growth. Again, though, the data shows the UK to have very low levels of taxation per job: far lower than the OECD average.

The second way in which the public sector might be said to be crowding out private sector growth is by taking workers it needs, but this would only really be the case where the labour market was operating close to full employment.

With the unemployment rate at about 8 per cent, this is clearly not the case. and in many areas of public provision – from child protection, to education and training, to care for the elderly – there is a pressing need for more, not fewer, public service workers.

Finally, some argue that public investment 'crowds out' private investment, because government borrowing pushes up interest rates and inflation. But there is no evidence that this is currently a problem – real interest rates are low, and the economy is still operating well below its potential output, which means there is lots of room for non-inflationary public sector expansion.

In fact, in current circumstances, public spending is more likely to stimulate private sector investment by maintaining levels of demand and preventing a deeper collapse of economic activity.

MYTH: Public sector workers are overpaid

It is true that very recently average wages in the public sector have moved marginally above those in the private sector. This is mainly because privatisation has pushed many low-paid jobs out to the private sector.

The trend is not that public sector wages have risen sharply, but that private sector wages have fallen – a characteristic of the economic crisis. If we take a longer view, since the 1990s average public sector pay has not seen significantly more growth than the public sector.

And when private sector wages are split up to consider different sector and occupational patterns, a rather different picture emerges. Wage rates differ widely, with the average pulled down by very low wage sectors such as distribution, retail and hospitality.

What the data shows, therefore, is not that public sector workers are overpaid, but that some private sector workers are severely underpaid.

MYTH: The financial crisis was caused by a lack of money in circulation

This one is true to some extent, but it requires careful explanation. The system of finance capitalism pursued in the UK and US since the 1970s has continuously recycled economic surpluses away from the poor toward the rich. In both countries, the share of economic output taken up by wages (as opposed to profit) has fallen, and inequality has risen. The very affluent have got wealthier, at the expense of the rest of the population. In 2007/08 the richest tenth of the population had more than 30 per cent of total income ('Income Inequalities', poverty.org.uk).

In the post-war period, part of the role of the state was to redistribute economic surpluses to the wider population so that they could keep spending on goods and services. This was seen as so important precisely because large inequalities had been identified as one cause of the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent depression.

For a while, the problem that rising inequality presented for growth was overcome by the use of credit and the super-exploitation of workers in the developing world, which allowed consumers to keep buying cheap products. This is one of the factors that fed the debt crisis.

So, yes, there is not enough money in circulation – but this is precisely because it has been captured by the super-rich.

MYTH: Cutting public spending will help us avoid economic disaster

A range of economists, from Larry Elliott of the Guardian to Nobel prize winning professors like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, are warning that making cuts now raises the very real possibility of undermining the fragile economic recovery.

As every first year economics student knows, there are four main components of economic growth: (1) exports; (2) investment; (3) household spending; and (4) government spending.

Over the past two years, governments around the world have stepped in to bridge the gap in the first three by providing debt-financed public sector stimulus packages. There is precious little evidence that the private sector or households are ready or able to step up their activity to fill the gap, or that exports will increase in a world where our major trading partners are also reining in spending.

As such, any austerity programme may prematurely remove the foundations of the recovery and lead to a return to recession – a 'double dip'. This would be disastrous, not just for growth, but in turn for tax receipts and the capacity of the state to reduce the deficit and government debt.

How will that help to stabilise the world economy? How will it deal with the frequent, persistent and cumulative financial crises that are endemic to it, or overcome the pressing resource and environmental constraints that are so clear for all to see?

The economic crisis was a golden opportunity to move toward a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable national and international economic system. For a while all countries were so concerned about the whole system that there was at least a chance to overcome narrow self-interest and look toward a more co-operative and sustainable future.

We are about to squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity for progressive change – unless, that is, we organise and campaign for an alternative.

MYTH: There is no alternative to cuts

The beginnings of an alternative have already been discussed. For example, Unison's alternative budget ('We can afford a fairer society', Unison Alternative Budget 2010) suggests that almost £4.7 billion could be raised each year from introducing a 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £100,000.

About £5 billion could be raised every year from a tax on vacant housing; £25 billion a year could be raised by closing tax loopholes; and the IPPR think-tank has estimated that a 'Robin Hood tax' on financial transactions could raise another £20 billion a year (T Dolphin, Financial Sector Taxes, IPPR 2010).

All these taxation measures would be 'progressive' in the sense that they would divert wealth from the rich to the poor, in contrast to measures such as the government's VAT increase, which hits the poor hardest.

In addition, some of these ideas might have behavioural advantages: they could work against destabilising speculative financial flows, or lead to fewer empty houses.

Similarly, we could look at spending that really should be cut. For example, while estimates of the true costs of replacing the Trident nuclear weapon system vary widely, they tend always to come in above £80 billion over 25 years.

Getting rid of the cost of the war in Afghanistan, massive consultancy fees on private finance deals and contractors' profits in privatised public services would also make a difference.

We could also decide to manage the deficit and public spending in a long-term manner, targeting social issues such as inequality, under-investment in education and child poverty, and strongly regulating international financiers, banks, hedge funds and the like.

All of these are political choices.

We don't have to live in a world where unemployment co-exists with a long-hours culture in which workers are so stressed that mental health problems are on the rise.

We don't have to live in a world where bankers gamble millions across the world in elaborate financial casinos at the same time as 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.

We don't have to live in a world where there is no limit to how much of our collective economic output goes to the rich, yet others do not have enough to eat.

It is worth remembering that after the last crisis of this scale and significance, and with public debt something like three and a half times the size it is today, we established the NHS, created the welfare state, put in place comprehensive education and built a vast number of public housing estates.

History tells us that there is more than one way out of an economic crisis.

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I cant be bothered fully reading it, but a quick scan and search, i can see there is no reference to the governments off balance sheets spending - namely the PFI, Northern Rock / other bank bailout liabilities, not to mention the pensions shortage which could push the national debt upwards of 1.5tril - potentially as high as 3 trill i believe. Labour accounting methods were learnt from Enron.

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MYTH: Government debt is the highest it's ever been

MYTH: The UK's debt crisis is one of the worst in the world

MYTH: Government debt is 'unsustainable'

These strawmen alone are enough to tell us the author is economically illiterate. But I already posted on the difference between deficit and debt this morning.

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Countering the cuts myths

The government and the press say we are in the grip of a debt crisis caused by the 'bloated' public sector. Here, Red Pepper debunks the myths used to push cuts to jobs and public services

MYTH: Government debt is the highest it's ever been

The UK's government debt is at around 70 per cent of GDP (the total amount of goods and services produced in one year). That is certainly high, but it is far from unprecedented.

Government debt never fell below 100 per cent of GDP between 1920 and 1960. It is only in the past decade or so that it has become normal to think of government debt being stable at around 40 per cent of GDP.

It is worth noting that government debt reached 250 per cent of GDP around the end of the second world war, as the result of a 'once in a generation' economic and political crisis. It is certainly arguable that we are now living through a similarly momentous crisis.

I think I want to cry.

Government debt in total is not 70 percent of GDP, not when you include PFI liabilities, pensions and all that malarky. Some put it as high as 200 percent of GDP. 70 percent is extremely conservative.

To measure this level against the period between 1920 and 1960 makes me want to break down into tears. Debt was high during these period because of the expense of two enormously costly wars; the fomer wiping out the nation's wealth and endowments, the latter costing us all our gold reserves, the loss of assets and a crippling debt in the form of lend-lease, and the loss of trade agreements. The idea that it is okay to have a debt at 70 percent because we lived in a time of over 100 percent for forty years is just laughable -- during those forty years we had, lets see, rationing, austerity, poverty, bombs.

I simply cannot believe they think this is okay to argue. Do they know what happened with Callaghan? Are they totally insane?

The second myth is just as bad. I notice they pull out the old GDP canard.

The third is ridiculous considering the BoE QE and buying of second hand gilts.

The fourth makes no sense: borrowing to fund a deficit is not "borrowing to invest"; it is borrowing to pay the bills.

The fifth "Public spending got 'out of control' under Labour" is the GDP canard again.

The sixth: "The UK has a big public sector compared to other countries" is another GDP canard.

The seventh: the arguments against "spending on the public sector is 'crowding out' private sector growth" are ludicrous. One in five workers in Britain are employed by the public sector: approximately 22 million people in the private sector pay for nearly 5.6 million public sector workers and, in short, the amount they pay in tax does not cover the cost of the present public sector without monetary expansion or the need for govenrment to borrow. The idea that thse workers could somehow pay for even more public sector workers is hilarious.

The arguments for this "MYTH: The financial crisis was caused by a lack of money in circulation" are a load of old cobblers.

And their alternatives add up to some £55 billion YoY with one offs at £100 billion (Ttrident, Afghanistan). This would not be enough whatsoever.

Oh, and this: GDP (the total amount of goods and services produced in one year) is wrong. GDP is consumption + production + income.

It is illiterate rubbish.

Edited by dissident junk

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How about a public sector fact: Britain currently spends £160bn more than it is able to raise through taxes, every year.

That's £8k of new national debt, per family, per year. Ten years of this and each family will owe loansharks investors £80k in extra national debt, repayable with interest. That's more than the average person who bought their house before 2000 paid for the roof over their heads, and what are they getting for it? Unwinnable wars, bank bailouts and GPs earning a bonus each time they take your blood pressure.

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....we can see why the bias leans left...only the left are invited to debate ideas ..... :rolleyes:

http://www.redpepper.org.uk/rubrique51.html

"About Us

A brief history of Red Pepper

The origins of Red Pepper magazine can be traced to the rainbow coalition that came together in towns across Britain to support the miners during the strike of 1984-85.

Advertise with Red Pepper

Interested in reaching passive consumers with more money than sense? Who don’t care about the environmental or human cost behind your ad and are only interested in the latest model car or brand name trainer? Then, perhaps, advertising in Red Pepper isn’t for you.

Contact Us

If you would like to keep us up to date on your community, union or organisation, or would like to sell the magazine or help out at the Red Pepper office, send us an email or contact the address/telephone number below.

Editorial Charter

Red Pepper is a magazine of information, campaigning and culture. It provides a forum for the left to debate ideas and action. Red Pepper encompasses a broad range of views but its basic editorial standpoint is:

Write for us

In contrast to the mainstream media, Red Pepper’s content comes directly from an international network of writers based in the alternative movements for radical social and environmental change. Given our limited resources, we are unable to pay writers for their contributions, although that is our long-term aim. But we want to encourage new writing talent and are always open to receiving article proposals either for the magazine or the website."

Edited by South Lorne

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....we can see why the bias leans left...only the left are invited to debate ideas ..... :rolleyes:

http://www.redpepper.org.uk/rubrique51.html

"About Us

A brief history of Red Pepper

The origins of Red Pepper magazine can be traced to the rainbow coalition that came together in towns across Britain to support the miners during the strike of 1984-85.

Advertise with Red Pepper

Interested in reaching passive consumers with more money than sense? Who don’t care about the environmental or human cost behind your ad and are only interested in the latest model car or brand name trainer? Then, perhaps, advertising in Red Pepper isn’t for you.

Contact Us

If you would like to keep us up to date on your community, union or organisation, or would like to sell the magazine or help out at the Red Pepper office, send us an email or contact the address/telephone number below.

Editorial Charter

Red Pepper is a magazine of information, campaigning and culture. It provides a forum for the left to debate ideas and action. Red Pepper encompasses a broad range of views but its basic editorial standpoint is:

Write for us

In contrast to the mainstream media, Red Pepper’s content comes directly from an international network of writers based in the alternative movements for radical social and environmental change. Given our limited resources, we are unable to pay writers for their contributions, although that is our long-term aim. But we want to encourage new writing talent and are always open to receiving article proposals either for the magazine or the website."

Red Pepper has a very low circulation (about 6000?) and is seen as a bit of a joke even amongst lefty publications. Even left-leaning finance bods I know have gone mad over RP and NI editorials and articles besue they are so illiterate.

To be honest, I always found The Weekly Worker to be pretty refreshing and more accurate and wide thinking in its analysis of almost everything than any of the silly lefty rags (including the Guardian and the Indie). I have a lot of respect for TWW, even though I am not a Marxist. They talk about things properly, and realistically, even though I don't agree with their aims.

Edited by dissident junk

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Red Pepper has a very low circulation (about 6000?) and is seen as a bit of a joke even amongst lefty publications. Even left-leaning finance bods I know have gone mad over RP and NI editorials and articles besue they are so illiterate.

To be honest, I always found The Weekly Worker to be pretty refreshing and more accurate and wide thinking in its analysis of almost everything than any of the silly lefty rags (including the Guardian and the Indie). I have a lot of respect for TWW, even though I am not a Marxist. They talk about things properly, and realistically.

...ah ..yes...the key tingle for me was anyone who is not within the RP definition of left is not entitled to debate with them....must be boring.... :rolleyes:

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Countering the cuts myths

The government and the press say we are in the grip of a debt crisis caused by the 'bloated' public sector. Here, Red Pepper debunks the myths used to push cuts to jobs and public services

MYTH: Government debt is the highest it's ever been

The UK's government debt is at around 70 per cent of GDP (the total amount of goods and services produced in one year). That is certainly high, but it is far from unprecedented.

Government debt never fell below 100 per cent of GDP between 1920 and 1960. It is only in the past decade or so that it has become normal to think of government debt being stable at around 40 per cent of GDP.

It is worth noting that government debt reached 250 per cent of GDP around the end of the second world war, as the result of a 'once in a generation' economic and political crisis. It is certainly arguable that we are now living through a similarly momentous crisis.

MYTH: The UK's debt crisis is one of the worst in the world

Just as the current level of government debt is not unprecedented historically, neither is it substantially higher than that of other countries.

IMF data (IMF World Economic Outlook Database, April 2010) shows the UK has the lowest government debt as a proportion of GDP among the G7 countries (the US, Canada, Germany, Britain, Japan, Italy and France).

Much has been made by Cameron and Osborne of Gordon Brown's 'imprudent borrowing record'. They say that before the spending to stabilise the financial system, public debt was high.

But again, IMF comparisons of the level of public debt prior to 2007 showed the UK in a much better position than many comparable countries, such as France, Canada, the US and even Germany, the home of fiscal rectitude.

MYTH: Government debt is 'unsustainable'

The sustainability of government debt is not just dictated by its size, but by its make up. We have already seen that government debt is at a comparable level to other similarly sized economies. Where the UK is in a much stronger position, however, is in the nature of its debt.

While countries such as Greece tend to owe money to external financiers, the vast majority of UK debt – about 70 to 80 per cent – is held within the country.

And the UK's debt is not so short term. Countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have average debt maturity rates of between six to eight years, but UK government debt stands out among international comparisons as being much longer term at well over 12 years on average.

This means that the UK has to ask the financial markets to refinance its debts much less frequently, making it less vulnerable to short-term speculative pressures and much more able to continue to finance its debts on a sustainable basis.

MYTH: The government shouldn't get into debt, just as your own household shouldn't

This overlooks the fact that, for the past 30 years, governments have positively encouraged households to get into debt.

In fact, it can be prudent for households to take on debt – particularly if they are borrowing to pay for something (a house or educational qualification) that might reasonably be expected to improve the household's income and well being in the long run.

In just the same way it is often sensible for governments to take on debt to pay for investments (such as housing or transport infrastructure) that will make the economy work better and so pay for themselves over the longer term.

But the public economy is also different from the household economy. What might make sense for a household could, for the government, deepen a recession. When times are hard households tend to tighten their belts – reducing their spending and borrowing. But if everyone does this at the same time, the effect is counterproductive: total demand for goods and services falls, which makes it harder for businesses and individuals to generate an income, and everyone ends up worse off.

This is exactly what is happening now, which is why it is essential for the government to compensate for households' reluctance to spend and invest.

MYTH: Public spending got 'out of control' under Labour

It is true that the Labour government gradually raised public spending in the early part of the decade, but it was from what were historically very low levels.

Levels of public spending are now about the same as they were in the early 1990s, at the time of the last economic crisis. This is because spending always rises during a recession as a result of welfare spending on unemployment.

In fact, levels of public spending as a proportion of GDP were much lower for most of the 2000s than they were than at any point since the 1960s.

Where Labour did spend more in the years after 2000, it was necessary to repair the visible effects of long-term under-investment. Who can forget schools and hospitals with buckets in the corner to catch the leaks, or grim city centre landscapes with crowds of homeless people sleeping rough?

Labour's increased spending also addressed workforce shortages in schools and the NHS, where more staff were needed to raise educational standards and care for an ageing population.

Rather than cutting such spending, the crisis could be an opportunity to build the infrastructure of a more energy-efficient, green economy. That would prepare us for the longer-term structural barriers to growth presented by climate change and the depletion of natural resources.

MYTH: The UK has a big public sector compared to other countries

Public spending in the UK is lower as a proportion of the economy than in the likes of France, Italy, Austria and Belgium, as well as the Scandinavian countries (OECD World Factbook 2010).

And spending on core areas such as health and education remains comparable or low in relation to other OECD (broadly speaking, 'rich') countries.

For example, the UK spent just 8.4 per cent of its GDP on health in 2007, roughly half that spent in the United States (once the large private sector is taken into account) and well behind Germany, France and most other west European nations.

On education, the UK again spends less per pupil than most comparable OECD countries.

The UK is not profligate in public spending and does not have an oversized public sector compared to similar countries.

MYTH: Spending on the public sector is 'crowding out' private sector growth

It is argued that public spending comes at the expense of overall growth, because potential investment is being re-directed into taxation to fund an 'unproductive' public sector. But in fact investment in public infrastructure and services is essential to private sector productivity, and so is no less critical to future growth than private sector investment.

Furthermore, the UK is not a highly taxed economy. The OECD's comparative figures on taxation as a proportion of overall economic output show the UK way down the list, only just above the average.

It is sometimes suggested that taxes hit the private sector in such a way as to discourage job growth. Again, though, the data shows the UK to have very low levels of taxation per job: far lower than the OECD average.

The second way in which the public sector might be said to be crowding out private sector growth is by taking workers it needs, but this would only really be the case where the labour market was operating close to full employment.

With the unemployment rate at about 8 per cent, this is clearly not the case. and in many areas of public provision – from child protection, to education and training, to care for the elderly – there is a pressing need for more, not fewer, public service workers.

Finally, some argue that public investment 'crowds out' private investment, because government borrowing pushes up interest rates and inflation. But there is no evidence that this is currently a problem – real interest rates are low, and the economy is still operating well below its potential output, which means there is lots of room for non-inflationary public sector expansion.

In fact, in current circumstances, public spending is more likely to stimulate private sector investment by maintaining levels of demand and preventing a deeper collapse of economic activity.

MYTH: Public sector workers are overpaid

It is true that very recently average wages in the public sector have moved marginally above those in the private sector. This is mainly because privatisation has pushed many low-paid jobs out to the private sector.

The trend is not that public sector wages have risen sharply, but that private sector wages have fallen – a characteristic of the economic crisis. If we take a longer view, since the 1990s average public sector pay has not seen significantly more growth than the public sector.

And when private sector wages are split up to consider different sector and occupational patterns, a rather different picture emerges. Wage rates differ widely, with the average pulled down by very low wage sectors such as distribution, retail and hospitality.

What the data shows, therefore, is not that public sector workers are overpaid, but that some private sector workers are severely underpaid.

MYTH: The financial crisis was caused by a lack of money in circulation

This one is true to some extent, but it requires careful explanation. The system of finance capitalism pursued in the UK and US since the 1970s has continuously recycled economic surpluses away from the poor toward the rich. In both countries, the share of economic output taken up by wages (as opposed to profit) has fallen, and inequality has risen. The very affluent have got wealthier, at the expense of the rest of the population. In 2007/08 the richest tenth of the population had more than 30 per cent of total income ('Income Inequalities', poverty.org.uk).

In the post-war period, part of the role of the state was to redistribute economic surpluses to the wider population so that they could keep spending on goods and services. This was seen as so important precisely because large inequalities had been identified as one cause of the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent depression.

For a while, the problem that rising inequality presented for growth was overcome by the use of credit and the super-exploitation of workers in the developing world, which allowed consumers to keep buying cheap products. This is one of the factors that fed the debt crisis.

So, yes, there is not enough money in circulation – but this is precisely because it has been captured by the super-rich.

MYTH: Cutting public spending will help us avoid economic disaster

A range of economists, from Larry Elliott of the Guardian to Nobel prize winning professors like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, are warning that making cuts now raises the very real possibility of undermining the fragile economic recovery.

As every first year economics student knows, there are four main components of economic growth: (1) exports; (2) investment; (3) household spending; and (4) government spending.

Over the past two years, governments around the world have stepped in to bridge the gap in the first three by providing debt-financed public sector stimulus packages. There is precious little evidence that the private sector or households are ready or able to step up their activity to fill the gap, or that exports will increase in a world where our major trading partners are also reining in spending.

As such, any austerity programme may prematurely remove the foundations of the recovery and lead to a return to recession – a 'double dip'. This would be disastrous, not just for growth, but in turn for tax receipts and the capacity of the state to reduce the deficit and government debt.

How will that help to stabilise the world economy? How will it deal with the frequent, persistent and cumulative financial crises that are endemic to it, or overcome the pressing resource and environmental constraints that are so clear for all to see?

The economic crisis was a golden opportunity to move toward a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable national and international economic system. For a while all countries were so concerned about the whole system that there was at least a chance to overcome narrow self-interest and look toward a more co-operative and sustainable future.

We are about to squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity for progressive change – unless, that is, we organise and campaign for an alternative.

MYTH: There is no alternative to cuts

The beginnings of an alternative have already been discussed. For example, Unison's alternative budget ('We can afford a fairer society', Unison Alternative Budget 2010) suggests that almost £4.7 billion could be raised each year from introducing a 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £100,000.

About £5 billion could be raised every year from a tax on vacant housing; £25 billion a year could be raised by closing tax loopholes; and the IPPR think-tank has estimated that a 'Robin Hood tax' on financial transactions could raise another £20 billion a year (T Dolphin, Financial Sector Taxes, IPPR 2010).

All these taxation measures would be 'progressive' in the sense that they would divert wealth from the rich to the poor, in contrast to measures such as the government's VAT increase, which hits the poor hardest.

In addition, some of these ideas might have behavioural advantages: they could work against destabilising speculative financial flows, or lead to fewer empty houses.

Similarly, we could look at spending that really should be cut. For example, while estimates of the true costs of replacing the Trident nuclear weapon system vary widely, they tend always to come in above £80 billion over 25 years.

Getting rid of the cost of the war in Afghanistan, massive consultancy fees on private finance deals and contractors' profits in privatised public services would also make a difference.

We could also decide to manage the deficit and public spending in a long-term manner, targeting social issues such as inequality, under-investment in education and child poverty, and strongly regulating international financiers, banks, hedge funds and the like.

All of these are political choices.

We don't have to live in a world where unemployment co-exists with a long-hours culture in which workers are so stressed that mental health problems are on the rise.

We don't have to live in a world where bankers gamble millions across the world in elaborate financial casinos at the same time as 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.

We don't have to live in a world where there is no limit to how much of our collective economic output goes to the rich, yet others do not have enough to eat.

It is worth remembering that after the last crisis of this scale and significance, and with public debt something like three and a half times the size it is today, we established the NHS, created the welfare state, put in place comprehensive education and built a vast number of public housing estates.

History tells us that there is more than one way out of an economic crisis.

im convinced

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I thought this was going to debunk the myth that there will actually be some cuts.

I was speaking to someone the other day and they said the government cuts that are announced always seem to be of the 'Annie' variety.

ie although announce today it's always tomorrow, tomorrow and never today when the cuts are actually going to bite.

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First Myth: These cuts actually involve cutting total government expenditure year on year.

Wrong, spending is still increasing year on year.

2010-11 696.8

2011-12 701.8

2012-13 713.0

2013-14 724.2

2014-15 739.8

Wow, what funny looking cuts...

It is surely factually incorrect to describe the spending review as "cutting expenditure" when it is clearly still rising:

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Countering the cuts myths

The government and the press say we are in the grip of a debt crisis caused by the 'bloated' public sector. Here, Red Pepper debunks the myths used to push cuts to jobs and public services

MYTH: Government debt is the highest it's ever been

The UK's government debt is at around 70 per cent of GDP (the total amount of goods and services produced in one year). That is certainly high, but it is far from unprecedented.

Government debt never fell below 100 per cent of GDP between 1920 and 1960. It is only in the past decade or so that it has become normal to think of government debt being stable at around 40 per cent of GDP.

It is worth noting that government debt reached 250 per cent of GDP around the end of the second world war, as the result of a 'once in a generation' economic and political crisis. It is certainly arguable that we are now living through a similarly momentous crisis.

MYTH: The UK's debt crisis is one of the worst in the world

Just as the current level of government debt is not unprecedented historically, neither is it substantially higher than that of other countries.

IMF data (IMF World Economic Outlook Database, April 2010) shows the UK has the lowest government debt as a proportion of GDP among the G7 countries (the US, Canada, Germany, Britain, Japan, Italy and France).

Much has been made by Cameron and Osborne of Gordon Brown's 'imprudent borrowing record'. They say that before the spending to stabilise the financial system, public debt was high.

But again, IMF comparisons of the level of public debt prior to 2007 showed the UK in a much better position than many comparable countries, such as France, Canada, the US and even Germany, the home of fiscal rectitude.

MYTH: Government debt is 'unsustainable'

The sustainability of government debt is not just dictated by its size, but by its make up. We have already seen that government debt is at a comparable level to other similarly sized economies. Where the UK is in a much stronger position, however, is in the nature of its debt.

While countries such as Greece tend to owe money to external financiers, the vast majority of UK debt – about 70 to 80 per cent – is held within the country.

And the UK's debt is not so short term. Countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have average debt maturity rates of between six to eight years, but UK government debt stands out among international comparisons as being much longer term at well over 12 years on average.

This means that the UK has to ask the financial markets to refinance its debts much less frequently, making it less vulnerable to short-term speculative pressures and much more able to continue to finance its debts on a sustainable basis.

MYTH: The government shouldn't get into debt, just as your own household shouldn't

This overlooks the fact that, for the past 30 years, governments have positively encouraged households to get into debt.

In fact, it can be prudent for households to take on debt – particularly if they are borrowing to pay for something (a house or educational qualification) that might reasonably be expected to improve the household's income and well being in the long run.

In just the same way it is often sensible for governments to take on debt to pay for investments (such as housing or transport infrastructure) that will make the economy work better and so pay for themselves over the longer term.

But the public economy is also different from the household economy. What might make sense for a household could, for the government, deepen a recession. When times are hard households tend to tighten their belts – reducing their spending and borrowing. But if everyone does this at the same time, the effect is counterproductive: total demand for goods and services falls, which makes it harder for businesses and individuals to generate an income, and everyone ends up worse off.

This is exactly what is happening now, which is why it is essential for the government to compensate for households' reluctance to spend and invest.

MYTH: Public spending got 'out of control' under Labour

It is true that the Labour government gradually raised public spending in the early part of the decade, but it was from what were historically very low levels.

Levels of public spending are now about the same as they were in the early 1990s, at the time of the last economic crisis. This is because spending always rises during a recession as a result of welfare spending on unemployment.

In fact, levels of public spending as a proportion of GDP were much lower for most of the 2000s than they were than at any point since the 1960s.

Where Labour did spend more in the years after 2000, it was necessary to repair the visible effects of long-term under-investment. Who can forget schools and hospitals with buckets in the corner to catch the leaks, or grim city centre landscapes with crowds of homeless people sleeping rough?

Labour's increased spending also addressed workforce shortages in schools and the NHS, where more staff were needed to raise educational standards and care for an ageing population.

Rather than cutting such spending, the crisis could be an opportunity to build the infrastructure of a more energy-efficient, green economy. That would prepare us for the longer-term structural barriers to growth presented by climate change and the depletion of natural resources.

MYTH: The UK has a big public sector compared to other countries

Public spending in the UK is lower as a proportion of the economy than in the likes of France, Italy, Austria and Belgium, as well as the Scandinavian countries (OECD World Factbook 2010).

And spending on core areas such as health and education remains comparable or low in relation to other OECD (broadly speaking, 'rich') countries.

For example, the UK spent just 8.4 per cent of its GDP on health in 2007, roughly half that spent in the United States (once the large private sector is taken into account) and well behind Germany, France and most other west European nations.

On education, the UK again spends less per pupil than most comparable OECD countries.

The UK is not profligate in public spending and does not have an oversized public sector compared to similar countries.

MYTH: Spending on the public sector is 'crowding out' private sector growth

It is argued that public spending comes at the expense of overall growth, because potential investment is being re-directed into taxation to fund an 'unproductive' public sector. But in fact investment in public infrastructure and services is essential to private sector productivity, and so is no less critical to future growth than private sector investment.

Furthermore, the UK is not a highly taxed economy. The OECD's comparative figures on taxation as a proportion of overall economic output show the UK way down the list, only just above the average.

It is sometimes suggested that taxes hit the private sector in such a way as to discourage job growth. Again, though, the data shows the UK to have very low levels of taxation per job: far lower than the OECD average.

The second way in which the public sector might be said to be crowding out private sector growth is by taking workers it needs, but this would only really be the case where the labour market was operating close to full employment.

With the unemployment rate at about 8 per cent, this is clearly not the case. and in many areas of public provision – from child protection, to education and training, to care for the elderly – there is a pressing need for more, not fewer, public service workers.

Finally, some argue that public investment 'crowds out' private investment, because government borrowing pushes up interest rates and inflation. But there is no evidence that this is currently a problem – real interest rates are low, and the economy is still operating well below its potential output, which means there is lots of room for non-inflationary public sector expansion.

In fact, in current circumstances, public spending is more likely to stimulate private sector investment by maintaining levels of demand and preventing a deeper collapse of economic activity.

MYTH: Public sector workers are overpaid

It is true that very recently average wages in the public sector have moved marginally above those in the private sector. This is mainly because privatisation has pushed many low-paid jobs out to the private sector.

The trend is not that public sector wages have risen sharply, but that private sector wages have fallen – a characteristic of the economic crisis. If we take a longer view, since the 1990s average public sector pay has not seen significantly more growth than the public sector.

And when private sector wages are split up to consider different sector and occupational patterns, a rather different picture emerges. Wage rates differ widely, with the average pulled down by very low wage sectors such as distribution, retail and hospitality.

What the data shows, therefore, is not that public sector workers are overpaid, but that some private sector workers are severely underpaid.

MYTH: The financial crisis was caused by a lack of money in circulation

This one is true to some extent, but it requires careful explanation. The system of finance capitalism pursued in the UK and US since the 1970s has continuously recycled economic surpluses away from the poor toward the rich. In both countries, the share of economic output taken up by wages (as opposed to profit) has fallen, and inequality has risen. The very affluent have got wealthier, at the expense of the rest of the population. In 2007/08 the richest tenth of the population had more than 30 per cent of total income ('Income Inequalities', poverty.org.uk).

In the post-war period, part of the role of the state was to redistribute economic surpluses to the wider population so that they could keep spending on goods and services. This was seen as so important precisely because large inequalities had been identified as one cause of the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent depression.

For a while, the problem that rising inequality presented for growth was overcome by the use of credit and the super-exploitation of workers in the developing world, which allowed consumers to keep buying cheap products. This is one of the factors that fed the debt crisis.

So, yes, there is not enough money in circulation – but this is precisely because it has been captured by the super-rich.

MYTH: Cutting public spending will help us avoid economic disaster

A range of economists, from Larry Elliott of the Guardian to Nobel prize winning professors like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, are warning that making cuts now raises the very real possibility of undermining the fragile economic recovery.

As every first year economics student knows, there are four main components of economic growth: (1) exports; (2) investment; (3) household spending; and (4) government spending.

Over the past two years, governments around the world have stepped in to bridge the gap in the first three by providing debt-financed public sector stimulus packages. There is precious little evidence that the private sector or households are ready or able to step up their activity to fill the gap, or that exports will increase in a world where our major trading partners are also reining in spending.

As such, any austerity programme may prematurely remove the foundations of the recovery and lead to a return to recession – a 'double dip'. This would be disastrous, not just for growth, but in turn for tax receipts and the capacity of the state to reduce the deficit and government debt.

How will that help to stabilise the world economy? How will it deal with the frequent, persistent and cumulative financial crises that are endemic to it, or overcome the pressing resource and environmental constraints that are so clear for all to see?

The economic crisis was a golden opportunity to move toward a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable national and international economic system. For a while all countries were so concerned about the whole system that there was at least a chance to overcome narrow self-interest and look toward a more co-operative and sustainable future.

We are about to squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity for progressive change – unless, that is, we organise and campaign for an alternative.

MYTH: There is no alternative to cuts

The beginnings of an alternative have already been discussed. For example, Unison's alternative budget ('We can afford a fairer society', Unison Alternative Budget 2010) suggests that almost £4.7 billion could be raised each year from introducing a 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £100,000.

About £5 billion could be raised every year from a tax on vacant housing; £25 billion a year could be raised by closing tax loopholes; and the IPPR think-tank has estimated that a 'Robin Hood tax' on financial transactions could raise another £20 billion a year (T Dolphin, Financial Sector Taxes, IPPR 2010).

All these taxation measures would be 'progressive' in the sense that they would divert wealth from the rich to the poor, in contrast to measures such as the government's VAT increase, which hits the poor hardest.

In addition, some of these ideas might have behavioural advantages: they could work against destabilising speculative financial flows, or lead to fewer empty houses.

Similarly, we could look at spending that really should be cut. For example, while estimates of the true costs of replacing the Trident nuclear weapon system vary widely, they tend always to come in above £80 billion over 25 years.

Getting rid of the cost of the war in Afghanistan, massive consultancy fees on private finance deals and contractors' profits in privatised public services would also make a difference.

We could also decide to manage the deficit and public spending in a long-term manner, targeting social issues such as inequality, under-investment in education and child poverty, and strongly regulating international financiers, banks, hedge funds and the like.

All of these are political choices.

We don't have to live in a world where unemployment co-exists with a long-hours culture in which workers are so stressed that mental health problems are on the rise.

We don't have to live in a world where bankers gamble millions across the world in elaborate financial casinos at the same time as 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.

We don't have to live in a world where there is no limit to how much of our collective economic output goes to the rich, yet others do not have enough to eat.

It is worth remembering that after the last crisis of this scale and significance, and with public debt something like three and a half times the size it is today, we established the NHS, created the welfare state, put in place comprehensive education and built a vast number of public housing estates.

History tells us that there is more than one way out of an economic crisis.

Sure, if you ignore the other 4/5s of private debts that Gordon Brown took the 'neccessary' decision to insure and make the taxpayers liability. And PFI. And future pension liabilities.

If debt is so low, why would govt have to resort to buying its printing its own money. They need to buy their own debt because no one else will lend to us at a rate we can afford.

The current issue is the deficit, far in excess of every other G20 nation and causing the debt itself to rise at alarming pace.

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The central premise that they miss is that govt expenditure that can be classified as investment is a very very small proportion of public expenditure.

Spending by govt is inherently inefficient because they give themselves effective monopolies that are insulated from competition (health and education for example).

The result is high cost and low quality that we can all see.

That and the "debt" is not the problem, it is the deficit, or the overspend that is the problem and the debt that it will rack up if we do nothing.

Large debts eventually lead to inflation just as night follows day and then we all pay that tax whether we like it or not.

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  • 145 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?


      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%



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