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Posts Tagged ‘Plan B’

Calls grow for a Plan B

With all the concerns recently about Greek and Italian debt and about the whole future of the eurozone, you would be forgiven for thinking that the problems of the UK economy had gone away. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Problems are mounting and pessimism is growing.

First there is the problem of a contracting eurozone economy. This will directly impact on the UK as almost half of UK exports go to eurozone countries. Second there is the impact of the government expenditure cuts, most of which have still not taken effect yet. Third there is the fact that, with the combination of inflation over 5% and nominal pay typically rising by no more than 2%, real take-home pay is falling and hence too is the volume of consumer expenditure. Fourth, there is the increasingly pessimistic mood of consumers and business. The more pessimistic people become about the prospects for their jobs and incomes, the more people will rein in their spending; the more pessimistic businesses become, the more they will cut back on investment and economise on stock holding.

Forecasts for the UK economy have become considerably bleaker over the past few weeks. These include forecasts by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the accountancy network BDO, Ernst & Young’s ITEM Club and the CBI in its SME Trends Survey and November Economic Forecast. The Treasury’s latest Forecasts for the UK Economy, which brings together forecasts by 29 different organisations, also shows a marked increase in pessimism from September to October.

So is it now time for the government to change course to prevent the economy slipping back into recession? Do we need a Plan B? Certainly, it’s something we’ve considered before on this news site (see Time for a Plan B?). The latest call has come from a group of 100 leading academic economists who have written to the Observer. In their letter they spell out what such a plan should contain. You’ll find a link to the letter below and to other articles considering the proposals.

The letter
We economists have a Plan B that will work, Mr Osborne Observer letters (29/10/11)

Articles
Plan B: the ideas designed to restart a stalled UK economy Observer, Daniel Boffey and Heather Stewart (29/10/11)
Plan B could have been even more aggressive, but it would definitely work Observer, Will Hutton (29/10/11)
The economy: we need Plan B and we need it now Observer editorial (30/10/11)
If tomorrow’s growth figures disappoint, Plan B will be a step closer, whatever David Cameron says The Telegraph, Daniel Knowles (31/10/11)
Plan B to escape the mess we are in Compass, John Weeks (7/11/11)

The report
Plan B; a good economy for a good society Compass, Edited by Howard Reed and Neal Lawson (31/10/11)

Questions

  1. What are the main proposals in Compass’s Plan B?
  2. How practical are these proposals?
  3. Without a Plan B, what is likely to happen to the UK economy over (a) the coming 12 months; (b) the next 3 years?
  4. Why might sticking to Plan A worsen the public-sector deficit – at least in the short term?
  5. What are the main arguments for sticking to Plan A and not easing up on deficit reduction?
  6. Find out what proportion of the UK’s debt is owed to non-UK residents? (See data published by the UK’s Debt Management Office (DMO).) How does this proportion and the average length of UK debt affect the arguments about the sustainability of this level of debt and the ease of servicing it?
  7. If you had to devise a Plan B, what would it look like and why? To what extent would it differ from Compass’s Plan B and from George Osborne’s “Plan A”?
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Is there a Plan B for the UK economy?

The government’s plan for the UK economy is well known. Reduce the public-sector deficit to restore confidence and get the economy going again. The deficit will be reduced mainly by government spending cuts but also by tax increases, including a rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20% on 1 January 2011. Reductions in public-sector demand will be more than offset by a rise in private-sector demand.

But what if private-sector demand does not increase sufficiently? With a fall in government expenditure, reduced public-sector employment and higher taxes, the danger is that demand for private-sector output may actually fall. And this is not helped by a decline in both consumer and business confidence (see, for example, Nationwide Consumer Confidence Index). What is more, consumer borrowing has been falling (see Consumer borrowing falls again) as people seek to reduce their debt, fearing an uncertain future.

So does the government have a ‘Plan B’ to stimulate the economy if it seems to be moving back into recession? Or will it be ‘cuts, come what may’? The Financial Times (see link below) has revealed that senior civil servants have indeed been considering possible stimulus measures if a return to recession seems likely.

Over in Threadneedle Street, there has been a debate in the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee over whether an additional round of quantitative easing may be necessary. So far, the MPC has rejected this approach, but one member, Adam Posen, has strongly advocated stimulating demand (see The UK inflation outlook if this time isn’t different, arguing that the current high inflation is the result of temporary cost-push factors and is not indicative of excessively strong demand.

So should there be a Plan B? And if so, what should it look like?

Articles
Gus O’Donnell’s economic ‘Plan B’ emerges BBC News, Nick Robinson (14/12/10)
Sir Gus O’Donnell asks ministers to consider possible stimulus measures Financial Times, Jim Pickard (14/12/10) (includes link to article by Philip Stephens)
Gus O’Donnell urges Treasury to prepare ‘Plan B’ for economy Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt (14/12/10)
Unemployment, and that ‘Plan B’ BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (15/12/10)
Inflation wars (cont’d) BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (16/12/10)
Don’t overreact to UK inflation – Bank’s Posen Reuters, Patrick Graham (16/12/10)
Bank of England’s Adam Posen calls for more quantitative easing The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick and Emma Rowley (29/9/10)
Don’t overreact to above-target UK inflation rate, cautions Posen Herald Scotland, Ian McConnell (17/12/10)
Posen calls for calm as inflation fears rise Independent, Sean O’Grady (17/12/10)

Data
OECD Economic Outlook OECD (see, in particular, Tables 1, 18, 27, 28 and 32)
Forecasts for the UK economy HM Treasury
UK Economic Outlook PricewaterhouseCoopers
Employment and Unemployment ONS
Inflation Report Bank of England

Questions

  1. What are likely to be the most important factors in determining the level of aggregate demand in the coming months?
  2. What are the dangers of (a) not having a Plan B and (b) having and publishing a Plan B?
  3. Why is inflation currently above target? What is likely to happen to inflation over the coming months?
  4. What are the arguments for and against having another round of quantitative easing?
  5. What else could the Bank of England do to stimulate a flagging economy?
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