If you are an Irish resident, you may be feeling very worried! As Irish debt levels reach new heights, the bill will once again fall on the tax payer. Irish government borrowing is almost 12% of GDP, but with two key banks requiring a bail out, government borrowing is expected to treble this figure to some 32% of GDP. The Anglo-Irish bank requires approximately £30 billion and Allied Irish also requires more cash. The Irish Finance Minister said:
‘The state has to downsize these institutions to prevent them becoming a systemic threat to the state itself.’
The Irish have already faced a round of austerity cuts and with the latest banking catastrophe, the next round is about to start. There are concerns that the Irish economy could move into a downward spiral, with more money being removed from the economy causing more people to lose their jobs, which will weaken public finances further and mean that more borrowing will then be required. It is hardly surprising to find a pessimistic mood on the streets of Ireland.
However, with a new interdependent world, this crisis will not only be felt by Ireland. The UK exports a large amount to Ireland – more than to Spain or Italy. With Irish tax-payers facing higher burdens and unemployment still relatively high, UK exporters may feel the squeeze. Other countries on the periphery of Europe, such as Portugal, Greece and even Spain are also feeling the pressure. There are concerns of a ‘two-speed Europe’. Below are some articles about the Irish crisis. Do a search and see if you can find any information on the problems in Greece, Spain or Portugal.
Ireland: a problem soon to be shared BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (30/9/10)
European recovery hope grows despite Ireland’s swelling deficit Guardian, Richard Wachman (30/9/10)
Ireland bank rescue spurs global debt concerns The World Today (ABC News), Peter Ryan (30/10/10)
Irish debt yields in new record despite better job data BBC News (28/9/10)
Euro Govt-bonds fall after overdone rally on Ireland, Spain Reuters (30/9/10)
Ireland’s love affair with masochism Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (30/9/10)
EU austerity drive country by country BBC News (30/9/10)
Anglo-Irish was ‘systemic threat’ BBC News (30/9/10)
- What do we mean by government borrowing?
- With such high levels of government debt, what would you expect to happen to interest rates on government debt? Explain your answer.
- When deciding whether or not to bail out the banks, what process could a government use?
- The Irish Finance Minister talks about the institutions becoming a ‘systemic threat’. What does he mean by this?
- Why might the UK economy suffer from the problems in Ireland?
- To what extent do you agree that there is a two-speed Europe, with the core economies, such as France and Germany making good economic progress, but the peripheral economies still suffering from the effects of recession?
- How might the situation in Ireland affect other members of Europe? Will there be an impact on the euro exchange rate?
’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)
- 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?
- What is a deflationary spiral? Why has it caused Ireland’s public debt to rise so much?
- Why does Brian Lenihan argue that there are limits to how much taxes can be increased? What are diminishing returns to taxation?
- 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?
Is there finally cause to celebrate? Government borrowing is lower than expected. Initially, public sector net borrowing for 2009-2010 was forecast in the Pre-budget Report to be £178bn, but official public figures have reduced this to £170 bn. The fall in government revenues has not been as big as predicted and as a result, borrowing this year is likely to be between £5bn and £10bn less than expected. But, let’s not crack open the champagne quite yet, as February’s figures for public sector net borrowing are still about 41% higher in 2010 than in the same month last year.
Whilst the UK is predicted to under-shoot its public-sector net cash requirement made in the Pre-Budget Report for 2009-2010, government borrowing remains at a record high and the level of the deficit is still a worrying 12% of GDP. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the European Commission wants the UK to bring its deficit down faster than the current government plans – and the Commission is not alone. There is considerable debate at the moment between those who want the government to bring the deficit down quicker to appease the market and those who want the government to start taking strong measures only when the recovery is well established. Their fear, very much in the Keynesian school, is that cutting too soon, by reducing aggregate demand, would push the economy back into recession.
If government spending is to be restrained, can we rely on export-lead growth? The fall in the value of our currency over the past two years should have meant a boost for exports. With a weaker pound, export growth was expected to be strong and allow us to export our way out of recession. See the news blog Expecting too much from exports. However, with figures in January 2010 showing the biggest trade deficit since August 2008 (£3.8bn) and with the volume of exports down by 8%, this may not be the case. Whilst the credit rating of the UK remains at AAA, experts say that the government should be aiming to reduce the deficit more quickly in order to retain this rating. So, although there is some good news (government borrowing will only be £170bn!) and exports are likely to increase as the global economy recovers from recession, significant problems in the UK economy still remain.
Row over leaked EU deficit report AFP news (17/3/10)
Government borrowing less than forecast BBC News (18/3/10)
Borrowing update cheers Treasury Financial Times, Chris Giles (19/3/10)
UK trade deficit widens to biggest in 17 months BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (9/3/10)
Government borrowing: what the economists say Guardian (18/3/10)
Darling to use higher revenues to cut debt Financial Times, Chris Giles and Jean Eaglesham (19/3/10)
Public sector finances. February 2010 Office for National Statistics
- Why have government revenues been falling?
- What is the difference between the public-sector net cash requirement and public-sector debt?
- Why is a weak pound good for exports?
- As the global economy recovers, UK exports should begin to rise. Illustrate this idea with a circular flow of income diagram for the UK and the rest of the world.
- What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against reducing the government deficit now?
- Should the Treasury be celebrating these latest figures, or is the UK economy still in a bad way?