New data released on 25/7/12 by the Office for National Statistics showed that the UK economy shrank by a further 0.7% in the second quarter of 2012. This makes it the third quarter in a row in which GDP has fallen – and it is the steepest fall of the three. Faced with this, should the government simply maintain the status quo, or does it need to take new action?
The construction sector declined the most steeply, with construction output 5.2% down on the previous quarter, which in turn was 4.9% down on the quarter previous to that. The output of the production industries as a whole fell by 1.3% and the service sector fell by 0.1%. (For a PowerPoint of the following chart, click here.)
The immediate cause of the decline in GDP has been a decline in real aggregate demand, but the reasons for this are several. Consumer demand has fallen because of the squeeze on real wages, partly the result of low nominal pre-tax wage increases and partly the result of inflation and tax rises; the government’s austerity programme is holding back a growth in government expenditure; export growth has been constrained by a slowing down in the global economy and especially in the eurozone, the UK’s major trading partner; and investment is being held back by the pessimism of investors about recovery in the economy and difficulties in raising finance.
So what can be done about it?
Monetary policy is already being used to stimulate demand, but to little effect (see Pushing on a string. Despite record low interest rates and a large increase in narrow money through quantitative easing, broad money is falling as bank lending remains low. This is caused partly by a reluctance of banks to lend as they seek to increase their capital and liquidity ratios, and partly by a reluctance of people to borrow as individuals seek to reduce their debts and as firms are pessimistic about investing. But perhaps even more quantitative easing might go some way to stimulating lending.
Fiscal policy might seem the obvious alternative. The problem here is that the government is committed to reducing the public-sector deficit and is worried that if it eases up on this commitment, this would play badly with credit rating agencies. Indeed, on 27/7/12, Standard & Poor’s, one of the three global credit rating agencies, confirmed the UK’s triple A rating, but stated that “We could lower the ratings in particular if the pace and extent of fiscal consolidation slows beyond what we currently expect.” Nevertheless, critics of the government maintain that this is a risk worth taking.
The following articles look at the causes of the current double-dip recession, the deepest and most prolonged for over 100 years. They also look at what options are open to the government to get the economy growing again.
Britain shrinks again The Economist (25/7/12)
Shock 0.7% fall in UK GDP deepens double-dip recession Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/7/12)
UK GDP figures: expert panel verdict Guardian, Frances O’Grady, Will Hutton, Sheila Lawlor, Vicky Pryce and John Cridland (25/7/12)
GDP shock fall: UK growth in 2012 ‘inconceivable’, warn economists The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (25/7/12)
UK recession deepens after 0.7% fall in GDP BBC News (25/7/12)
UK economy: Why is it shrinking? BBC News (25/7/12)
UK GDP: A nasty surprise and a puzzle BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/7/12)
Tough choices for Mr Osborne BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (26/7/12)
David Cameron in pledge to control UK’s debt Independent, Andrew Woodcock and James Tapsfield (26/7/12)
David Cameron defends economic policies BBC News (26/7/12)
The GDP number is awful – and it’s the product of the Government’s amateur policies, not the euro crisis The Telegraph, Thomas Pascoe (25/7/12)
UK recession: have we heard it all before? Guardian, Duncan Weldon (25/7/12)
US economic growth slows in second quarter BBC News (27/7/12)
GDP data trigger debate on economy Financial Times, Norma Cohen and Sarah O’Connor (25/7/12)
Does weak UK growth warrant more QE? Financial Times (25/7/12)
The recession: Osborne’s mess Guardian editorial (25/7/12)
Gross Domestic Product, Preliminary Estimate, Q2 2012 ONS (25/7/12)
Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset 2012 Q2 ONS (25/7/12)
- What are the causes of the deepening of the current recession in the UK?
- Search for data on other G7 countries and compare the UK’s performance with that of the other six countries (see, for example, the OECD’s StatExtracts.
- Compare the approach of George Osborne with that of Neville Chamberlain in 1932, during the Great Depression.
- Does weak UK growth warrant more quantitative easing by the Bank of England?
- To what extent can fiscal policy be used to stimulate the economy without deepening the public-sector deficit in the short term?
- What is meant by ‘crowding out’? If fiscal policy were used to stimulate demand, to what extent would this cause crowding out?
The global economic mood is darkening. Levels of consumer and producer confidence have declined and forecasts of economic growth are being downgraded. Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, stated that “this is the most serious financial crisis we’ve seen, at least since the 1930s, if not ever” (see).
So will slow recovery turn into a second recession (a double-dip)? And will recession turn into depression – the persistence of low or negative growth over a number of years? The following articles consider this frightening prospect and whether there are similarities with the Great Depression of the 1930s.
But let’s not be too downhearted. If we all are, the world could end up talking itself into depression. Consumers would seek to claw down their debts and cut back spending; producers would invest less as their confidence wanes; banks would be unwilling to lend. So is there any cause to be cheerful? Well, at least world leaders are increasingly aware of the possibility of world depression and minds are increasingly being focused on how to avoid the situation. The EU summit on 23 October and the G20 summit in Cannes on 3/4 November have EU sovereign debt problems and the global crisis at the centre of their agenda.
But if they do decide to act, what should they do? Is the answer a Keynesian stimulus to aggregate demand through fiscal policy and through further quantitative easing? Or is the approach to act more decisively to reduce sovereign debt and convince markets that governments are serious about tackling the problem – a policy response much more in accordance with new classical thinking and the type of policy that would be recommended by Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims, winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics?
Thinking outside the 1930s box BBC News blogs, Paul Mason (7/10/11)
Britain faces slowest recovery in a century Guardian, Katie Allen (12/10/11)
The Depression: If Only Things Were That Good New York Times, Sunday Review, David Leonhardt (8/10/11)
Recovery has ‘stalled’, say leading economists Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor (11/10/11)
Nobel prize in economics Republica, Opinion (Nepal), Sukhdev Shah (11/10/11)
- In what ways is the current global economic situation similar to that in the early 1930s?
- In what ways is it different? Do these differences provide more or less cause for hope for avoiding a global depression?
- Explain the following quote from the first article above: “I think that we face the quite real prospect that the market is removed as the determining mechanism for setting the price of capital within the eurozone at the sovereign level.This would put internal credit creation back under the control of the state.”
- How is the supply side of the economy relevant to (a) the short-run prospects for economic growth; (b) the long-run prospects?
- If technological progess slows down, what will be the implications for employment and unemployment? Explain.
- How is policy credibility relevant to the success of the decisions made at G20 and EU summits? (See last aricle above.) How would a Keynesian respond to the analysis of Sargent and Sims?
The early part of the current recession, dating from April 2008, had much in common with the Great Depression dating from June 1929. But the Great Depression lasted three years. So does this grim prospect await the world this time round? Or have we learned the lessons of the past and will the policies of giving economies a large fiscal stimulus, combined with bank rescues and quantitative easing, help to pull the world out of recession this year? The following articles look at the issues.
The recession tracks the Great Depression Martin Wolf, Financial Times (16/6/09)
A Tale of Two Depressions Barry Eichengreen, Kevin H. O’Rourke, Vox (4/6/09)
Economics: How the world economy might recover its poise Financial Times (15/6/09)
Weak recovery in sight but damage from crisis likely to be long-lasting, says OECD OECD (24/6/09)
OECD sees strongest outlook since 2007 Financial Times (24/6/09)
Press Release Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System (24/6/09)
You might also like to watch the following two videos. The first uses historical footage to examine the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. The second is an interview with Joseph Stiglitz about whether the recession of 2008/9 is heading for another Great Depression.
The 1929 Crash (1 of 6) Nibelungensohn, YouTube (27/2/09). Note that you can link to the other five parts of this from this link.
Joseph Stiglitz: ‘This is worse than the Great Depression’ NBC Nightly News (10/2/09)
- Why may the past be a poor guide to the present and future?
- What dangers are there from the policies of expanding aggregate demand through fiscal and monetary policies?
- Explain why the ‘race to full recovery is likely to be long, hard and uncertain.
The prospect of a severe recession in America has inevitably drawn parallels in the media with the Great Depression of 1929. The parallel may not be entirely appropriate in terms of scale and severity, but what lessons are there that can be learnt from the Great Depression?
Credit crunch: risk-taking Times Online (23/3/08)
America gets depressed by thoughts of 1929 revisited Times Online (23/3/08)
Lessons learnt from Great Depression Times Online (25/3/08)
||Explain the principal causes of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
||Assess the parallels between the current economic situation in America and the situation preceding the Great Depression in 1929.
||Discuss the extent to which the recent loosening of monetary and fiscal policy in America will help reduce the likelihood of recession.