The UK general election is on May 7. In the campaign during the run-up to the election the economy will be a major issue. All parties will use economic data to claim that the economy has performed well or badly and that the prospects are good or bad. As economics students you will, no doubt, be asked to comment on these claims by your friends. So where can you get analysis of the data that is not biased towards one party or another?
One source is the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It is respected by politicians of all parties as an impartial presenter and analyser of economic data. In fact, it is fiercely independent. But at election time, when often quite dramatic claims are made by politicians, the IFS often comments on whether the data support such claims.
An example occurred when David Cameron claimed that if Labour were elected, working families would face a £3028 tax rise to fund the party’s spending commitments. The IFS said that the claim was misleading as, even on the Conservatives’ assumptions, it was was based on the cumulative increase over five years, not the annual increase, and was not per household but only per working household. The IFS also said that the Conservatives’ assumptions were wrong and not in accordance with the Charter for Budget Responsibility, with which the Labour party agreed.
Expect the IFS to criticise more claims as the election campaign progresses: not just by the Conservative party but by the other parties too. After all, the IFS is not partisan and is prepared to challenge false economic claims from whatever party. Expect also that the political parties will cherry pick whatever statements by the IFS seen to favour them or criticise their opponents.
You can also expect political bias in the newspapers that report the campaigns. Even when they present facts, how they present them and which facts they choose to include and which to ignore will be a reflection of their political bias. So even newspaper reporting of what the IFS says is likely to be selective and nuanced!
Why IFS boss Paul Johnson counts in this tightest of general elections The Guardian, Larry Elliott (30/3/15)
David Cameron’s claim that Labour would raise taxes by £3,000 is ‘not sensible’, says the IFS Independent, Jon Stone (30/3/15)
‘tax rise’ is shot down by IFS The Guardian, Patrick Wintour (30/3/15)
We will borrow more if we win the election, Labour admits The Telegraph, Christopher Hope (29/3/15)
Chancellor accused of U-turn on austerity: Top economist says £20bn fiscal boost lurking in Budget is ‘remarkable reversal’ This is Money, Hugo Duncan (19/3/15)
- Distinguish between positive and normative statements. How might politicians blur the distinction in their claims and counter-claims?
- Identify three series of macroeconomic data from at least two independent organisations. For what reasons might the data be (a) unreliable; (b) used by political parties to mislead the electorate?
- In what ways can political parties use economic data to their own advantage without falsifying the data?
- How may public-sector deficit and debt statistics be interpreted in ways to suit (a) the current government’s case that the public finances have been well managed; (b) the opposition case that the public finances have been badly managed?
- Use data to analyse an economic claim by each of at least three political parties and the extent to which the claims are accurate.
- The above links are to articles from four UK national newspapers: The Guardian, the Independent, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail (This is Money). Identify political bias in the reporting in each of the articles.
As the old year gives way to the new, papers have been full of economic forecasts for the coming year. This year is no exception. The authors of the articles below give their predictions of what is to come for the global economy and, for the most part, their forecasts are relatively optimistic – but not entirely so. Despite a sunny outlook, there are various dark clouds on the horizon.
Most forecasters predict a higher rate of global economic growth in 2014 than in 2013 – and higher still in 2015. The IMF, in its October forecasts, predicted global growth of 3.6% in 2014 (up from 2.9% in 2013) and 4.0% in 2015.
Some countries will do much better than others, however. The USA, the UK, Germany and certain developing countries are forecast to grow more strongly. The eurozone as a whole, however, is likely to see little in the way of growth, as countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy continue with austerity policies in an attempt to reduce their debt. Chinese growth has slowed, as the government seeks to rebalance the economy away from exports and investment in manufacturing towards consumption, and services in particular. It is still forecast to be 7.3% in 2014, however – well above the global average. Japanese growth has picked up in response to the three arrows of fiscal, monetary and supply-side policy. But this could well fade somewhat as the stimulus slows. The table shows IMF growth forecasts for selected countries and groups of countries to 2018.
Much will depend on what happens to monetary policy around the world. How quickly will monetary stimulus taper in the USA and in Japan? Will the ECB introduce more aggressively expansionary monetary policy? When will the Bank of England start raising interest rates?
Growth within countries is generally favouring those on higher incomes, with the gap between rich and poor set to continue widening over the coming years. The pay of top earners has continued to rise considerably faster than prices, while increasingly flexible labour markets and squeezed welfare budgets have seen a fall in living standards of many on low incomes. According to a Which? survey (reported in the Independent article below), in the UK:
Only three in ten expect their family’s situation to improve in the new year, while 60% said they are already dreading the arrival of their winter energy bill. The Which? survey also found that 13 million people could afford to pay for Christmas only by borrowing, with more than four in ten using credit cards, loans or overdrafts to fund their festive spending. A third of people (34%) also dipped into their savings, taking an average of £450 from their accounts.
If recovery is based on borrowing, with real incomes falling, or rising only very slowly, household debt levels are likely to increase. This has been stoked in the UK by the ‘Help to Buy‘ scheme, which has encouraged people to take on more debt and has fuelled the current house price boom. This could prove damaging in the long term, as any decline in confidence could lead to a fall in consumer expenditure once more as people seek to reduce their debts.
And what of the global banking system? Is it now sufficiently robust to weather a new crisis. Is borrowing growing too rapidly? Is bank lending becoming more reckless again? Are banks still too big to fail? Is China’s banking system sufficiently robust? These are questions considered in the articles below and, in particular, in the New York Times article by Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Global economy: hopes and fears for 2014The Observer, Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott (29/12/13)
Looking ahead to 2014 BBC News, Linda Yueh (20/12/13)
Low hopes for a happy new financial year in 2014 Independent, Paul Gallagher (29/12/13)
Brisk UK economic growth seen in 2014 fuelled by spending – Reuters poll Reuters, Andy Bruce (12/12/13)
GLobal Economy: 2014 promises faster growth, but no leap forward Reuters, Andy Bruce (29/12/13)
My 2014 Economic Briefing Huffington Post, Tony Dolphin (27/12/13)
Three UK Economy Stories that will Dominate in 2014 International Business Times, Shane Croucher (27/12/13)
Who You Calling a BRIC? Bloomberg, Jim O’Neill (12/11/13)
Hope and Hurdles in 2014 Project Syndicate, Pingfan Hong (27/12/13)
On top of the world again The Economist (18/11/13)
Digging deeper The Economist (31/10/13)
BCC Economic Forecast: growth is gathering momentum, but recovery is not secure British Chambers of Commerce (12/13)
Eight predictions for 2014 Market Watch, David Marsh (30/12/13)
Stumbling Toward the Next Crash New York Times, Gordon Brown (18/12/13)
Central banks must show leadership to rejuvenate global economy The Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/1/14)
Global economy set to grow faster in 2014, with less risk of sudden shocks The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (31/12/13)
A dismal new year for the global economy The Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz (8/1/14)
Forecasts and reports
World Economic Outlook (WEO) IMF (October 2013)
Economic Outlook OECD (November 2013)
Output, prices and jobs The Economist
Bank of England Inflation Report: Overview Bank of England (November 2013)
- What reasons are there to be cheerful about the global economic prospects for 2014 and 2015?
- Who will gain the most from economic growth in the UK and why?
- Why is the eurozone likely to grow so slowly, if at all?
- Are we stumbling towards another banking crisis, and if so, which can be done about it?
- Why has unemployment fallen in the UK despite falling living standards for most people?
- What is meant by ‘hysteresis’ in the context of unemployment? Is there a problem of hysteresis at the current time and, if so, what can be done about it?
- Explain whether the MINT economies are likely to be a major source of global economic growth in the coming year?
- Why is it so difficult to forecast the rate of economic growth over the next 12 months, let alone over a longer time period?
Every six months the OECD publishes its Economic Outlook. This gives annual (and some quarterly) macroeconomic data for each of the 30 OECD countries, for all 30 countries together and for the eurozone. There are 63 tables covering most of the major macroeconomic indicators, most going back 13 years with forecasts for the next two years. OECD Economic Outlook is normally published in June and December.
Similarly, every six months the European Commission’s Economic and Financial Affairs Directorate publishes its European Economy Statistical Annex. This gives annual data for 76 macroeconomic variables for each of the EU countries, plus the USA and Japan. Most of the tables go back to 1970 and forecast ahead for two years. There is also a separate publication, Economic Forecasts. The statistical appendix to this publication has 62 tables, again covering a range of macroeconomic data. The tables go back to 1992 and again forecast ahead for two years. There is a lot of useful commentary about the individual economies of the EU and other major economies, such as the USA, Japan, China and Russia. Both publications normally appear in May and November.
Another organisation to publish 6-monthly forecasts is the International Monetary Fund. The Statistical Appendix of the Word Economic Outlook (after clicking on this, go to link on right), normally published in April and October, gives macroeconomic data for most economies and regions of the world. Forecasts are made ahead for two years and for five years.
The state of the world economy was so severe in early 2009 and was deteriorating so rapidly that earlier forecasts proved far too optimistic. In early 2009, all three organisations published interim forecasts – the European Commission and the IMF in January and the OECD at the end of March. They painted a much bleaker picture than the forecasts published at the end of 2008. What will the next set of forecasts look like? Will they be even bleaker?
The following links take you to these interim forecasts and to articles commenting on them.
EU interim forecasts for 2009–2010: sharp downturn in growth European Commission, Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (19/1/09)
World Economic Outlook Update IMF (28/1/09)
OECD Interim Economic Outlook, March 2009 OECD (31/3/09)
Global economy set for worst fall since WWII Times Online (31/3/09)
UK economy: We still need to take our medicine Times Online (1/4/09)
OECD predicts 4.3% contraction in richest economies this year Irish Times (1/4/09)
Global Slump Seen Deepening The Wall Street Journal (1/4/09)
Glimmers of hope, forecasts of gloom The Economist (2/4/09)
- Compare the forecasts for GDP growth, unemployment, inflation and output gaps for some of the major economies made by the OECD at the end of March with those made by the European Commission and the IMF in January and with those made by all three organisations in the autumn of 2008. Why, do you think, are there such large divergences in the forecasts?
- For what reasons might the OECD March forecasts turn out to be (a) much too pessimistic; (b) much too optimistic?
- In the light of the forecasts, should countries adopt further strongly expansionary fiscal policies – something rejected at the G20 summit in Early April (see news item Saving the world)?