After each Budget, the Institute for Fiscal Studies analyses its effects. Given the highly charged political environment, with an election looming and the prospects of considerable public expenditure cuts to come, dispassionate analyses of the Budget are hard to find. The IFS’s analysis is a major exception.
The IFS summarises the Budget as being largely neutral. As Robert Chote, Director of the IFS, says in the opening remarks to the Post Budget Briefing:
In a Pre-Election Budget, perhaps the most that we can expect of any Chancellor is that he should observe the key tenet of the Hippocratic Oath and “above all, do no harm”. Judged against that modest yardstick, the broadly neutral stance of this Budget passes the test.
But, the Budget avoided giving details of the cuts which are planned for the future. None of the political parties are saying just how they will achieve the necessary reductions to the deficit, although the Liberal Democrats have given some details.
Judged against the more testing yardstick of providing a detailed picture to voters and financial market participants of the fiscal repair job in prospect beyond the election, the Budget will have fallen short of many people’s hopes. There are an awful lot of judgements still to be made, or revealed, notably with regards public spending over the next parliament. This greater-than-necessary vagueness allows the opposition to be vaguer than necessary too.
The articles below look at the Budget and at the IFS’s assessment of it. There are also links to the sections of the IFS report. It is worth reading them if you are to be able to make the ‘cool’ judgements that economists can provide – even if they do not always agree!
Budget leaves questions unanswered – IFS Reuters (25/3/10)
Budget 2010: IFS warns transport and housing spending has to be cut Guardian, Phillip Inman (25/3/10)
Labour ‘has cost the rich £25,000 every year’ Independent, Sean O’Grady (26/3/10)
The pain to come The Economist (25/3/10)
Chancellor’s ‘difficult balancing act’ BBC Today Programme (24/3/10)
Pain deferred until the polls close Financial Times, Chris Giles (25/3/10)
IFS Report: Budget 2010
Links to the various supporting articles and the opening remarks can be found here.
Details of the Budget
See references in Darling and a case of fiscal drag? for details of the Budget measures.
- What do you understand by the ‘structrual’ deficit and the ‘cyclical’ deficit?
- Why do cyclical deficits rise during a recession?
- Why has the structural deficit risen during this recession? Is this an example of hysteresis? (Explain.)
- What is the Fiscal Responsibility Act and why does the government now expect to over-achieve the requirements of the Act?
- What elements of government spending are likely to be cut most? Is this a wise distribution of cuts?
- Use the links to the PowerPoint presentations from the IFS Budget Report site to (a) analyse the state of the public finances; (b) summarise the main tax changes in the Budget.
It’s not just the roads in the UK that were frozen, as the Bank of England unsurprisingly decided to keep interest rates frozen at 0.5%. Furthermore, many economists do not expect to see interest rates increase for some time. Roger Bootle has predicted that rates could stay low for up to 5 years and this will contribute to a continuing weak pound and spell further trouble for importers and their customers.
The Bank of England also left its money-creation programme of ‘quantitative easing’ unchanged, but next month it will have to decide whether to extend quantitative easing beyond the limits of £200 billion that it set back in November.
Whilst we are supposedly beginning our economic recovery – with 2009 quarter 4 figures showing the first rise in output since the first quarter of 2008 – its strength remains questionable. Indeed, the rise in output in the last three months of 2009 was a mere 0.1%. So how important are interest rates in helping to sustain the recovery? Can they really pull us out of the recession by remaining at just 0.5%? Read the articles below which look at freezing interest rates and quantitative easing.
FTSE unaffected by interest rate decision In the News (7/1/10)
Freeze on UK interest rates BBC News (7/1/10)
Bank of England may raise interest rates as soon as March, leading economist predicts Telegraph (7/1/10)
Interest rates and quantitative easing on hold Guardian, Larry Elliott (7/1/10)
Bank of England extends quantitative easing by £25bn – but is it enough? Guardian, Larry Elliott (5/11/10)
Questions for QE BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (7/1/10)
Interest rates could stay low for 5 years, says Bootle BBC News (7/1/10)
- How do low interest rates contribute to a weak pound? How does this affect exporters and importers?
- What is quantitative easing? Should the QE programme be extended? What are the arguments for and against this in terms of economic recovery and public debt?
- How much of an impact do you think the recession will have on government policy over the next few months?
- Explain the transmission mechanisms by which changes in interest rates affect the goods market.
- If the Bank of England were not independent, what do you think would be happening to interest rates?
Most businesses have suffered over the past year or so. Profits and sales have fallen, as the UK (and global) economy suffered from a recession that’s seen UK interest rates at 0.5%, unemployment rising and public debt at unprecedented levels. Christmas trading always sees a boost in sales and that’s just what’s happened for many businesses. Shoppers have responded to the doom and gloom of the past year by spending and making up for a hard year. Phrases such as “I decided to treat myself” became common on the news as reporters travelled to shopping centres across the UK. However, shops such as M&S and Next have warned that attempts by the government to reduce the public deficit could derail the consumer recovery.
These positive stories, whilst true, are a useful tool to help boost consumer confidence and keep expectations positive for the coming months. However, there are warnings that these figures shouldn’t be taken out of context. The economy is still in trouble and public debt has reached almost 60% of GDP. With cuts in government spending and rises in taxation expected, how much confidence should be taken from these positive signs in the retail sector? Only time will tell.
Online powers Shop Direct sales Financial Times, Esther Bintliff (6/1/10)
Poundland, House of Fraser and Co-op see sales rise BBC News (11/1/10)
Links of London see buoyant festive sales Telegraph, James Hall (5/1/10)
John Lewis reports bumper Christmas trading Retail Week, Jennifer Creevy (5/1/10)
New Look expects to build on strong Christmas London Evening Standard (7/1/10)
Christmas trade booming in City Star News Group, Alex de Vos (7/1/10)
Record trading for Cash Generator Manchester Evening News (7/1/10)
Sainsbury’s hails ‘strong’ Christmas trading BBC News (7/1/10)
Cautious M&S reports strong Christmas trade Times Online, Marcus Leroux and Robert Lindsay (6/1/10)
Asda reports ‘solid’ Christmas trading Guardian (6/1/10)
- Why are expectations important for the future of the British economy? Are the expectations rational or adaptive or a combination of the two?
- Are high Christmas sales really a sign that the economy is recovering? Discuss both sides of the argument. Will high sales now have an adverse effect on future trade in the UK?
- How will expected cuts in government spending affect sales in the retail sector?
- Tax rises are a possibility. How will this affect consumers and sales in the coming year? Think about the circular flow of income.
- If interest rates are increased in the coming months, trace through the likely effects in the goods market.
A key determinant of the length of any phase of the business cycle is consumer confidence. If people have gloomy expectations and confidence of a recovery is low, then a recession that should have lasted 6 months ends up lasting for years. Companies don’t see an end to the recession and keep holding off on investment plans and the public don’t want to go out and start spending, because there’s no guarantee that the economy is on its way back up. The more you worry about your finances, the less likely you are to go out and start spending, even though that could be the stimulus that a shrinking economy needs.
According to the British Retail Consortium, consumer confidence in the UK is on its way back up and currently stands at an 18-month high – which doesn’t actually say much given the past 18-months!! Despite this, job worries still remain and this has been highlighted significantly in the past week, when Britain’s youngest person ever was made redundant: a 13-year old paper boy. Whilst consumer confidence is argued to be returning to the UK, consumer confidence has been going in the opposite direction in the USA, with further fears of job losses. US confidence had been improving but unexpectedly fell in October. Is that what the UK has to look forward to?
So, why is consumer confidence so important? How does it affect the length of recovery and what is expected to happen over the next few months? Read the articles below to find out more.
US consumer confidence takes hit BBC News (27/10/09)
Consumer confidence hits 18-month high The Independent, David Prosser (1/11/09)
Consumer confidence on the rise BBC News (2/11/09)
Confidence boost hints that worst of recession now over The Scotsman, Peter Ranscombe (2/11/09)
US Michigan Sentiment fell to 70.6 this month Bloomberg, Courtney Schlisserman (30/10/09)
Euro-zone Consumer confidence improves The Wall Street Journal, Ilona Billington and Roman Kessler (30/10/09)
Retailers set for a merry Christmas DIYWeek (2/11/09)
Job fears still remain despite biggest increase in consumer confidence in 18 months, says British Retail Consortium Liverpool Echo, Neil Hodgson (2/11/09)
Business and consumer surveys in each of the EU countries and in the EU as a whole can be found at:
Business and Consumer Surveys European Commission
- In what ways does consumer confidence affect economic growth?
- Are there likely to be any adverse consequences of consumer confidence returning to the market?
- What are some of the reasons for the unexpected fall in consumer confidence in the USA? Do you think a similar thing is likely to happen in the UK?
- Expectations are crucial in economics. What is the difference between adaptive and rational expectations? How do they affect adjustment to the short- and long-run equilibrium?
- Can anything be done to improve confidence or is it simply a case of leaving things as they are … and waiting?
In 2008, as the economy was on the verge of recession, the UK Prime Minister said that we would ‘spend our way out of it’ despite rising levels of public-sector debt. In recent weeks, however, the focus has been much more on tackling the debt, which has now increased to over £800 billion (58% of GDP) – it was £500 billion at the end of 2006 (37% of GDP).
Although the current level of general government debt in the UK as a proportion of GDP is still one of the lowest of the G8 countries, it is rising the fastest. In other words, the general government deficit as a proportion of GDP is the highest (see Table A8 in IMF World Economic Outlook, Statistical Appendix A). The IMF’s forecasts suggest that, by 2014, government debt could be as much as 92% of GDP – the highest since World War II – and lower only than Japan (144%) and Italy (126%) of the G8 countries (although the USA, Germany and France are forecast by then each to have government debt over 80% of GDP).
Gordon Brown has said that public spending will have to be cut back once the recession is over, mainly by cutting out waste in the public sector. Conservatives too are looking to make substantial cuts in public expenditure if they come to office next year and have talked of an era of austerity.
But will such cuts be too little too late? Has government spending on saving the banks and trying to boost the economy by cutting VAT actually damaged our recovery prospects and are the British people going to be the ones to suffer? Or should the fiscal stimulus be retained for some time yet to prevent a lurch back into recession? The following articles look at the public debt situation, which poses some interesting policy questions, especially with the Party Conferences!
£805,000,000,000: UK’s monstrous debt The Mirror (19/9/09)
Osborne gambles with cut plans BBC News (6/10/09)
Governments will have legal obligation to reduce UK’s debt Telegraph (28/9/09)
We’ll spend our way out of recession Independent (20/10/08)
Public sector borrowing soaring BBC News (18/9/09)
Govt spending cuts ‘could help pound’ Just the Flight (21/9/09)
Deficit danger worries Cameron BBC News (4/10/09)
Public debt hits £800 billion – the highest on record Times Online (19/9/09)
Pay freeze ‘to protect UK services’ The Mirror (6/10/09)
This recession demands that we employ logic and spend our way out of it Telegraph (11/1/09)
Cuts and pay freezes ‘just the beginning’, Tories admit Telegraph (7/10/09)
Robert Stheeman: So what’s worrying the banker in charge of our £1trn debt? Independent (8/10/09)
Has Darling or Osborne the best plan for cutting the deficit? Observer (11/10/09)
This public-spending squeeze will be much tighter than people expect Independent on Sunday (11/10/09)
Tax and spending squeeze will keep Bank rate low Sunday Times (11/10/09)
UK rates ‘to stay low for years’ BBC News (11/10/09)
- According to economic theory, how does increasing government spending or reducing taxation aim to boost the economy?
- What do we mean by a budget deficit or budget surplus? How does a budget deficit differ from national debt?
- What is the ‘golden rule’ for fiscal policy? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such a rule-based approach to fiscal policy.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a policy of ‘spending our way out of a recession?’
- With spending cuts looming, many will be affected. How will cuts in government spending affect the UK’s ability to recover from the recession? Will you be affected and, if so, how?
- Last year £85.5 billion was spent by the government on bailing out banks. Do you think this was money well spent, or is it the main cause of the current spending cuts that could see the recession worsen?