The UK economy is suffering from a lack of aggregate demand. Low spending in real terms is preventing the economy from growing. A simple solution would seem to be to stimulate aggregate demand through fiscal policy, backed up by even looser monetary policy. But this is easier said than done and could result in undesirable consequences in the medium term.
If increased borrowing were to be used to fund increased government expenditure and/or cuts in taxes, would any resulting growth be sufficient in the medium term to reduce the public-sector deficit below the initial level through automatic fiscal stabilisers? And would the growth be sustainable? The answer to this second question depends on what happens to the supply side of the economy. Would there be an increase in aggregate supply to match the increase in aggregate demand?
This second question has led many economists to argue that we need to see a rebalancing of the economy. What is needed is an increase in investment and exports, rather than an increase in just consumer expenditure funded by private borrowing and government current expenditure funded by public borrowing.
But how will exports and investment be stimulated? As far as exports are concerned, it was hoped that the depreciation of the pound since 2008 would give UK exporters a competitive advantage. Also domestic producers would gain a competitive advantage in the UK from imports becoming more expensive. But the current account deficit has actually deteriorated. According to the EU’s AMECO database, in 2008 the current account deficit was 1% of GDP; in 2012 it was 3.7%. It would seem that UK producers are not taking sufficient advantage of the pound’s depreciation, whether for exports or import substitutes.
As far as investment is concerned, there are two major problems. The first is the ability to invest. This depends on financing and things such as available land and planning regulations. The second is the confidence to invest. With not little or no growth in consumer demand, there is little opportunity for the accelerator to work. And with forecasts of sluggish growth and austerity measures continuing for some years, there is little confidence in a resurgence in consumer demand in the future. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the above chart. Note that the 2013 plots are based on AMECO forecasts.)
So hope of a rebalancing is faint at the current time. Hence the arguments for an increase in government capital expenditure that we looked at in the last blog post (The political dynamite of calm economic reflection). The problem and the options for government are considered in the following articles.
Budget 2013: Chancellor’s rebalancing act BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/3/13)
Why George Osborne is failing to rebalance the economy The Guardian, Larry Elliott (17/3/13)
Economy fails to ‘rebalance’ Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor (27/2/13)
Analysis – Long haul ahead for Britain’s struggling economy Reuters, William Schomberg (3/3/13)
Can banks be forced to lend more? BBC News, Robert Peston (12/3/13)
Budget 2013: What the commentators are saying BBC News (13/3/13)
- Draw a diagram to illustrate the effects of a successful policy to increase both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. What will determine the effect on the output gap?
- For what reasons has the UK’s current account deteriorated over the past few years while those of the USA and the eurozone have not?
- Using ONS data, find out what has happened to the UK’s balance of trade in (a) goods and (b) services over the past few years and explain your findings.
- Why are firms reluctant to invest at the moment? What policy measures could the government adopt to increase investment?
- With interest rates so low, why don’t consumers borrow and spend more, thereby aiding the recovery?