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Posts Tagged ‘government spending’

The Economics of Good and Evil: Tomas Sedlacek

Economics, but not as we know it. As the introduction to this programme on BBC radio 4 suggests, there has been criticism and concern about the way in which we think about economics. About, how it’s taught; the lessons we learn and whether we need to have a re-think. Tomas Sedlacek is a Czech economist and has a different way of thinking about this subject.

Humanomics is certainly a new way of thinking about economics and considering how it links and can be applied to a wide range of areas: the Bible; movies such as Fight Club and the Matrix. This 30 minute discussion between Evan Davies and Tomas Sedlacek provides some interesting insights and thoughts on some of the current challenges facing this subject and some novel insights into how we could change our thinking.

Tomas Sedlacek: The Economics of Good and Evil BBC Radio 4 (25/01/16)

Questions

  1. How do we define and measure value? Is this always possible? Can you think of some things where we cannot assign prices or numbers to values?
  2. How could economics be relevant Adam and Eve?
  3. Think about the marriage market. How would you apply the model of demand and supply to this most unusual of markets?
  4. What insights does Tomas Sedlacek provide about the ancient business cycle and this might affect our thinking about debt and assets?
  5. Do you think that refugees are of benefit to a country? If you don’t think they are of benefit, does this mean that countries should not accept them?
  6. If we did find out that corruption or crime and terrorism were of benefit to the GDP of a country, would you encourage it? Or would you place the morality issue above the actual figure of contribution?
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Scotland: Fiscal Autonomy?

Scottish voters will be crucial in the upcoming election, with the SNP poised to take many of Labour’s seats north of the border. The future of Scotland will depend on which party comes to power and what decisions are made with regards to its finances.

Nicola Sturgeon wants government spending and taxation powers transferred to the Scottish Parliament, but would this mean spending cuts and tax rises for the Scottish people? Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader has been vocal in pointing out what this might mean, with cuts to pensions or raising taxes. However, given that it is Labour that is facing the biggest threat from the SNP, it is perhaps hardly surprising.

However, as the first video below shows, there would be an estimated £7.6bn deficit in Scotland, according to the IFS if spending and taxing was to be transferred here. This is because the tax revenues raised in Scotland are lower per person and spending per person is higher than across the whole of the UK. Oil prices are extremely low at present and hence this is reducing tax revenues. When the oil price does rise, revenues will increase and so if the split in finances was to occur this would reduce that deficit somewhat, but it would still leave a rather large hole in Scotland’s finances. The following videos and articles consider the SNP’s plans.

Videos
SNP fiscal autonomy plan: What would it do to Scotland’s finances? BBC News, Robert Peston (10/4/15)
Labour attacks SNP’s ‘devastating’ economic plans BBC News (10/4/15)

Articles
Ed Miliband attacks SNP plan for Scottish fiscal autonomy The Guardian, Severin Carrell (10/4/15)
Ed Miliband wars pensions will be cut under SNP plans The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (10/4/15)
SNP fails to account for billions in welfare and pensions pledge, says IFS The Guardian, Severin Carrell (10/4/15)

Questions

  1. What is a budget deficit?
  2. What does fiscal autonomy for Scotland actually mean?
  3. The IFS suggests that there will be a large deficit in Scottish finances if they gain autonomy. How could this gap be reduced?
  4. Why has Labour claimed that tax rises would occur under the SNP’s plans? What could this mean for Scottish growth?
  5. Why do lower oil prices reduce tax revenues for Scotland?
  6. If Scotland had control over its finances, it could influence where government spending goes. Which industries would you invest in if you were in charge?
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Plugging the tax gap

There is a huge hole in public finances that needs to be filled and protestors are arguing that part of the deficit can be financed by companies that manage to avoid or indeed evade taxation. Sunday 30th January was marked by many as the day of action against this alleged tax avoidance by companies who choose to register in so-called tax havens. These countries offer much lower tax rates and hence provide an attractive environment for companies and savers.

However, protests by the campaign group Uncut have been targeting companies such as Boots, Vodafone and Top Shop, accusing them of depriving the UK economy of billions of pounds of tax revenue, which could be used to plug the hole in Britain’s finances and put the economy on the road to recovery. While these concerns have been around for a long time, they have been brought to the forefront by the government’s spending cuts in areas such as higher education, public sector pensions and the planned closures of libraries. There are numerous strikes planned by workers facing job losses, pay cuts and pension cuts. However, George Osborne has said:

“I regard these people as the forces of stagnation, when we are trying to get the British economy competitive again, moving forward again.”

With more and more spending cuts expected and households being squeezed could this tax avoidance really fill the gap? It is not known how much tax revenue is lost through tax avoidance and evasion, but HM Revenue and Customs estimated that the size of the tax gap could lie somewhere between £3.7 billion and £13 billion. The Commons Public Accounts Committee estimated a gap of £8.5 billion and the TUC at around £12 billion. A pretty wide divergence on estimates I grant you, but an indication of the sheer volume and value of tax avoidance that takes place. Clamping down on this may not plug the hole, but it would certainly help!

Analysis: UK Uncut- The true costs of tax avoidance Ethical Corporation 2009 (28/1/11)
Tax protestors stage Boots sit-in The Press Association (30/1/11)
Weekend of protests planned over tax cuts Guardian, Matthew Taylor and Jessica Shepherd (28/1/11)
Unions are “forces of stagnation”, says Osborne BBC News (28/1/11)
Day of action against tax avoiders The Press Association (28/1/11)
Firms’ secret tax avoidance schemes cost UK billions Guardian, Tax Gap Reporting Team (2/2/09)

Questions

  1. Why is the UK running such a large budget deficit?
  2. What is the point of tax avoidance?
  3. What are the arguments for companies such as Boots registering in other countries? Are these reasons ever in the interests of consumers?
  4. How are companies able to reduce their tax burdens by registering in countries like Switzerland?
  5. Why does George Osborne argue that trade unions and strike action are the ‘forces of stagnation’?
  6. What are the costs of striking to (a) workers, (b) consumers, (c) firms and (d) the economy?
  7. Would clamping down on tax avoidance be of benefit to the UK economy in the short and long run?
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ONS claim: Claimant count down

UK unemployment now stands at 2.47 million, which is a fall of 34,000 people in the three months to May. Meanwhile, the claimant count, which measures the number of individuals claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, fell by 20,800 between May and June to stand at 1.46 million.

The total number in employment increased by some 160,000 in the three months to May to reach 28.98 million. The increase in the number of individuals in work is largely due to an increase in the number of part-time workers, which now stands at some 27%. The development of the flexible firm has played a huge role in creating more and more part-time jobs.

Although declining unemployment is good news, and the jobless rate of 7.8% is now comparable with the EU and the US, there are suggestions that it may rise again next year. Indeed, unemployment is expected to peak at nearly 3 million in 2012 (10%) and an employer’s group has said that the UK may face serious job deficits for the next decade. As more and more jobs are lost in the public sector, estimates suggest that the economy must grow by 2.5% per year from now until 2015, in order to compensate these losses with extra jobs in the private sector.

As John Philpott, the Chief Economic Adviser at the CIPD said:

“A slightly milder growth outcome – which many would consider a decent recovery in output given the various strong headwinds at present facing the economy – is easily as imaginable as the OBR’s central forecast and would leave unemployment still close to 2.5 million by 2015, meaning Britain faces at least half a decade of serious prolonged jobs deficit.”

So, although the fall in the jobless rate is undoubtedly good news, the uncertain future for unemployment in the UK, will put a slight dampener on this news.

Articles
UK unemployment declines to 2.47m BBC News (14/7/10)
Economy Tracker BBC News (14/7/10)
Unemployment to peak at 3m by 2012 Telegraph (14/7/10)
Labour market report to show outlook for jobs worse than OBR projections Guardian, Katie Allen (14/7/10)
Part-time work boosts UK employment rate Sky News, Hazel Tyldesley (14/7/10)
Unemployment figures: what the experts say Guardian, Katie Allen (14/7/10)

Data
Labour market statistics latest: Employment ONS
Labour Market Statistical Bulletin – July 2010 ONS
Labour market statistics: portal page ONS

Questions

  1. How is unemployment measured in the UK? Which is the most accurate method?
  2. What is the flexible firm and how has it allowed more part-time jobs to be created?
  3. Why is unemployment expected to rise again in the next few years?
  4. The ONS has reported that wage growth has eased sharply. How will this, along with falling unemployment rates, affect household incomes and consumption? Will one effect offset the other?
  5. Brendan Barber in the Guardian article, ‘Unemployment figures – what the experts say’, wrote that unemployment lags behind the rest of the economy. Why is this?
  6. What type of unemployment are we experiencing in the UK? Illustrate this on a diagram.
  7. Consider the government’s plans in terms of spending cuts. How are they likely to affect the rate of unemployment in the UK?
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A Budget emergency

A large deficit which needs cutting and this needs decisive action. This was the gist of the message from George Osborne, and generally from the Coalition government. Although there is nothing confirmed in terms of what to expect, it is thought that there will be a proposal to ease National Insurance for new businesses. He said:

“And so we’ve got to deal with that [the country in Europe with the largest budget deficit of any major economy]. In that sense it’s an unavoidable Budget, but what I’m determined to do is to make sure that the measures are tough but they’re also fair and that we’re all in this together and that, as a country, we take the steps necessary to actually provide the prosperity for the future.”

We already know that there are plans in place to increase capital gains tax from 18% to nearer 40%, but beyond that, little is known. There are concerns that this policy may actually cost the government more in tax revenue than it will raise. Other policies we might expect include a rise in VAT, and a slashed spending budget for pensions. These spending cuts and tax rises will help Osborne to eliminate the structural deficit in current spending by 2015, when the Coalitions’ current term comes to an end. The success of the Coalition’s policies and their ability to reduce the deficit without causing the economy to fall back into recession will be crucial in determining whether the current term is the only term.

Budget 2010: Britain on ‘road to ruin’ without cuts (including video) BBC News (20/6/10)
Where could spending axe fall? BBC News (9/6/10)
George Osborne says emergency budget cuts will be ‘tough but fair’ Guardian, Larry Elliott, Toby Helm, Anushka Asthana and Maev Kennedy (20/6/10)
Budget 2010: capital gains tax Telegraph (20/6/10)
What’s the Chancellor planning to take away in reverse Christmas budget Independent, Alison Shepherd and Julian Knight (20/6/10)
Public borrowing at a peak, says ONS, but tough budget awaits Independent, Sean O’Grady (20/6/10)
A bloodbath none was prepared for Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/6/10)

Questions

  1. To what extent is it necessary to cut the budget deficit now and not delay it until the recovery is more secured?
  2. How will easing National Insurance for small businesses affect the economy?
  3. If capital gains tax goes up, why is there concern that this could actually cost the government? How is this possible?
  4. The Lib Dems will oppose any increase in VAT, as they argue it is a regressive tax. What does this mean?
  5. How will the report by the Office for Budget Responsibility have affected Osborne’s emergency budget?
  6. What is the structural budget deficit? Illustrate it on a diagram.
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European austerity

‘Austerity’ seems to be the buzzword, as more and more countries across Europe make steps towards reducing substantial budget deficits. The UK has implemented £6.2 billion of cuts, with cuts of £50 billion expected by 2015 to tackle a budget deficit of over 10% of GDP. Portugal’s deficit stands at 8% of GDP and this will be tackled with rises in income, corporate and VAT tax, together with spending cuts aimed at halving the budget deficit by next year. Ireland’s austerity package includes public-sector pay cuts of up to 20%, plus reductions in child benefit, tax rises, and several key services facing cuts in employment, including emergency service and teachers. And, of course, we can’t forget Greece, with a budget deficit 12.2% of GDP, a national debt of 124.9% of GDP, and a forecast to remain in recession this year and the next. The Greek economy faces hard times with a huge austerity drive, including 12% civil service pay cuts, a large privatisation programme, and substantial pension cuts.

Greece is already in receipt of a €110bn rescue package. The Hungarian economy has already received €20bn aid from the EU, IMF and World Bank and spending cuts have been implemented, as markets began to fear that Hungary would become the next Greece. Germany is the most recent country to announce austerity measures, including plans to cut €10 billion annually until 2016.

But, what does this all mean? For years, many countries have spent beyond their means and only with the global recession did this growing problem really rear its ugly head. The only way to eliminate the budget deficit and restore confidence in the economy and ensure future prosperity is to raise taxes and/or to implement spending cuts. As the German Finance Minister said: “The main concern of citizens is that the national deficit could take on immeasurable proportions”. Unfortunately, this has already happened in some counties.

Although austerity measures are undoubtedly needed over the medium term in order to get deficits down, the impact of them is already being felt across the EU. Strikes have already occurred in massive proportions across Greece in response to the austerity package and tens of thousand of workers in Spain and Denmark also took to the streets in protest. There was anger from industry, trade unions and the media in response to €86 billion of cuts ordered in Germany between 2011 and 2014. The UK has already seen a number of strikes and more could be to come with further spending cuts in the pipeline. The Public and Commercial Services Union is threatening to re-launch strikes which began in March involving 200 000 civil servants (the action was suspended for the election.) A spokesman said: “If the cuts are anything like what is being suggested, industrial action by the unions is not only likely, it’s inevitable.”

EU governments have announced public spending cuts of €200 billion, together with a €500 billion safety blanket for the euro. Although these cuts are unlikely to have any positive effects for the everyday person for perhaps many years to come, in order to restore confidence and ensure a future economy that is both prosperous and stable, these austerity measures are deemed by many as essential. As Guy Verhofstadt (the former Belgian Prime Minister) said: “We’re entering a long period of economic stagnation. That will be the main problem for years. Europe is the new Japan.”

But will reduced aggregate demand resulting from the cuts lead to a double-dip recession and a (temporarily) worsening deficit from automatic fiscal stabilisers? We wait with baited breath.

EU austerity drive country-by-country BBC News (7/6/10)
Europe embraces the cult of austerity but at what cost? The Observer, Toby Helm, Ian Traynor and Paul Harris (13/6/10)
Germany joins EU austerity drive with €10bn cuts Guardian, Helena Smith (6/6/10)
G20 to endorse EU crisis strategy Reuters (28/5/10)
The Global recovery? It’s each state for itself Guardian, Jonathan Fenby (9/6/10)
Austerity angers grow in Europe AFP (9/6/10)
Austerity Europe: who faces the cuts? Guardian, Ian Traynor and Katie Allen (12/6/10)
Is this the end of the European welfare state? New Statesman (10/6/10)

Questions

  1. Are spending cuts or tax rises the best method to reduce a budget deficit? Explain your answer.
  2. What are the economic costs of the austerity packages across Europe?
  3. Who is likely to gain from the debt crisis in Europe?
  4. If austerity packages had not been initiated to the extent that they have, how do you think the rest of the world have reacted?
  5. Using the BBC News article and the Guardian article ‘Austerity measures: who faces the cuts?’, which country do you think is (a) in the best state and (b) in the worst state?
  6. How will you be affected by the austerity measures?
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Election 2010: The Final Debate

The final debate between the three party leaders was mainly on the economy. A key issue under debate was how each party would cut the huge budget deficit and how households and businesses would be affected. Something that we may see in the future is a banking levy and possibly new powers given to the Bank of England to ‘ration credit in boom years’. Spending cuts and tax rises are inevitable, but there were differences between the parties as to the extent of these changes and when they are likely to occur. The articles below consider these important issues, as the election entered the final 72 hours.

The broadcast debate
Prime Ministerial Debate: The Economy BBC Election 2010

Articles and podcasts
Economic debate: Banks and a balanced economy BBC News, Peston’s Picks (29/4/10)
General Election 2010: a fact checker for the leaders’ debate on the economy Telegraph (29/4/10)
Tim Harford on the truth behind leaders’ claims BBC Today Programme (30/4/10)

Questions

  1. It is not unusual for countries to have a budget deficit, so why is the UK’s receiving so much attention in the election?
  2. What is the difference between retail and investment banking?
  3. What do you think David Cameron meant by giving the Bank of England power ‘to call time on debt in the economy’?
  4. What is the difference between the budget deficit and national debt?
  5. What are the arguments for and against cutting the budget deficit now, as the Conservatives want to do and cutting it in the next financial year, as Labour is suggesting?
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No easy solutions

’The steepest and longest recession of any developed country since World War II.’ This has been the case for Ireland, which has seen national income fall by 20% since 2007. Many countries across the globe have experienced pretty bad recessions, but what makes Ireland stand out is how it has been dealt with.

In the UK, the government has continued spending in a bid to stimulate the economy and to use Gordon Brown’s phrase from 2008, we have aimed to ‘spend our way out of recession’. Ireland, however, did not have that option. With too much borrowing, Ireland was unable to stimulate the economy and needed to cut its debts in order to maintain its credibility in the eurozone. Last year, significant cuts in government spending were accompanied by tax rises equal to 5% of GDP. Similar action is to be expected in the UK following the election, where popular benefits may have to be reduced, as transfer payments do account for the majority of government spending. Whoever is in government following the election will have some hard decisions to make and everyone will be affected. Read the article below and listen to the interview and think about what the UK can learn from Ireland.

Irish lessons for the UK (including interview) BBC Stephanomics (9/4/10)

Questions

  1. In the interview, Brian Lenihan said that the UK was expecting too much from the falling value of sterling. What was the UK expecting following significant depreciations in the value of sterling and why has that not happened?
  2. What is a deflationary spiral? Why has it caused Ireland’s public debt to rise so much?
  3. Why does Brian Lenihan argue that there are limits to how much taxes can be increased? What are diminishing returns to taxation?
  4. Would the UK be any better off had we joined the euro? What about other countries: would they have benefited had we joined the euro?
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Deficit Wars

Public finances aren’t in a great state – that’s no secret. However, what is remaining a secret is exactly how and when the main political parties intend to reduce the budget deficit. The UK’s credit-rating is under pressure and with the election approaching, we can expect government finances to come under increasing scrutiny. Whichever party forms the government will face the unenviable task of having to pull Britain out of a recession, while trying to reduce: 1) a forecast budget deficit for 2009/10 of £167 billion (about 13% of GDP), 2) a government debt of 68.6% of GDP, with 3) £73.8 billion alone going on interest payments and 4) a trade deficit of £8 billion. Who would be a politician?!

Phoney deficit wars BBC News, Stephanomics (26/3/10)

Questions

  1. What is the structural deficit?
  2. A fall in government spending may improve public finances, but why may it adversely affect the UK’s recovery?
  3. Outline the main proposals by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties to tackle public finances. Are any of their proposals viable?
  4. Why is the UK’s credit-rating under pressure? If the UK is down-graded, what could this mean?
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A budget education

The Labour government’s investment in education has been widely publicised since its rise to power in 1997 and there has been a significant increase in funding to match its ‘50% participation in higher education’ target. However, at the university level, this looks set to change. More than 100 universities face a drop in their government grants as a consequence of £450 million worth of cuts. 69 universities face cuts in cash terms and another 37 have rises below 2 per cent. Furthermore, increased funding is now going to those departments where research is of the highest quality, which means that whilst some universities will not see a cut in funding, they will see a reallocation of their funds.

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of Hefce, said: “These are very modest reductions. I think it is quite likely that universities will be able to cope with these without in any way undermining the student experience.” Despite this reassurance, there are concerns that, with these spending cuts and growing student numbers, class sizes will have to increase, the quality of the education may fall and ultimately, it may mean a reduction in the number of places offered. The Conservatives have estimated that 275,000 students will miss out on a place. UCAS applications have grown by 23% – or 106,389 – so far this year, but the number of places has been reduced by 6000. This policy of cutting places is clearly contrary to the government’s target of 50% participation.

With the average degree costing students over £9000, it is hardly surprising that students are unhappy with these spending cuts and the fact that it could lead to a lower quality education. With the possibility of rising fees (in particular, as advocated by Lord Patten, who has called for the abolition of a “preposterous” £3,200 cap on student tuition fees) and a lower quality degree, this means that students could end up paying a very high price for a university education.

Articles
Universities fear research funding cuts Financial Times (18/3/10)
More students but who will pay? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
University cuts announced as recession bites Reuters (18/3/10)
How about $200,000 dollars for a degree? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
Liberate our universities Telegraph (17/3/10)
Universities should set own fees, say Oxford Chancellor Patten Independent, Richard Garner (17/3/10)
University budgets to be slashed by up to 14% Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (18/3/10)
Universities face cuts as Hefce deals with first funding drop in years RSC, Chemistry World (17/3/10)
University cuts spell campus turmoil BBC News, Hannah Richardson (18/3/10)
Universities told of funding cuts Press Association (18/3/10)
100 universities suffer as government announces £450 million of cuts Times Online, Greg Hurst (18/3/10)

Data
HEFCE announces funding of £7.3 billion for universities and colleges in England HEFCE News (18/3/10)

Questions

  1. Why is there justification for government intervention in higher education? Think about the issues of efficiency and equity and why the market for education fails.
  2. What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against allowing universities to set their own tuition fees?
  3. Why is the government planning these substantial cuts to university funding, when it is still trying to increase the number of students getting places at university?
  4. Is the ‘50% participation in higher education’ a good policy?
  5. What are the benefits of education? Think about those accruing to the individual and those gained by society. Can you use this to explain why the government has role in intervening in the market for higher education?
  6. Is it right that more spending should go to those departments with higher quality research? What are the arguments for and against this policy?
  7. What are the costs to a student of a university education and how will they change with funding cuts and possibly higher tuition fees?
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