Tag: public-sector deficit

With much attention focused on the UK’s rapidly rising public-sector debt, fiscal policy will have to be tightened once the economy is recovering. This will entail substantial cuts in government expenditure and possibly tax rises too, whoever wins the election next year. The danger, of course, is that if aggregate demand is cut, or its growth is severely curtailed, the economy could lurch back into recession. For this reason, it is likely that monetary policy will have to remain expansionary for some time to come. Interest rates will stay low and further quantitative easing could take place.

This was the conclusion of a report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (see link below). The CEBR argued that Bank Rate will remain at 0.5% at least until 2011 and not reach 2% until 2014. “The forecasts show that the fiscal consolidation is likely to be matched with an unprecedented monetary relaxation. … Douglas McWilliams, one of the report’s authors and Chief Executive at CEBR, commented: ‘We are likely to see an exciting policy mix, with the fiscal policy lever pulled right back while the monetary lever is fast forward. Our analysis says that this ought to work. If it does so, we are likely to see a major rerating of equities and property which in turn should stimulate economic growth after a lag.’

The following articles look at the report and the implications of its predictions for economic growth and exchange rates.

Bank rate to ‘stay frozen’ for five years Times Online (11/10/09)
Mortgage rates to stay low until 2014 Telegraph (12/10/09)
Tax and spending squeeze to keep bank rate low David Smith’s EconomicsUK.com (11/10/09)
UK rates ‘to stay low for years’ BBC News (12/10/09)
Pound plunges as UK markets rally to year high Telegraph (11/10/09)
Tough times ahead as traders poised to offload their sterling Sunday Herald (11/10/09)

CEBR News Release (12/10/09)


  1. Under what conditions would a combination of a contractionary fiscal policy and an expansionary monetary policy be most effective in delivering economic growth?
  2. What would be the long-term effect on private-sector debt?
  3. How would such a policy mix affect the rate of exchange? Would this help to stimulate economic growth or dampen it?
  4. How will the size of these effects depend on the mobility of international financial capital?
  5. Explain the following: ‘Our analysis says that this ought to work. If it does so, we are likely to see a major rerating of equities and property which in turn should stimulate economic growth after a lag’.

In a recession, the government’s budget will go into cyclical deficit as tax revenue falls and government spending on unemployment and other benefits rises. Provided the deficit is purely cyclical, it can be seen as desirable since it acts as an automatic fiscal stabiliser, boosting aggregate demand and helping to pull the economy out of recession. Once the economy returns to potential national income (i.e. a zero output gap), the deficit would disappear. At potential national income (Yp), government expenditure (including benefits) will equal tax revenue. The budget is in balance.

Again, provided that the deficit is only cyclical, discretionary expansionary fiscal policy that further deepens the deficit will not be a problem for public finances in the future. Once the economy pulls out of recession, the discretionary policy can be relaxed and the higher national income will eliminate the cyclical deficit.

But the problem the Chancellor of the Exchequer faced in the Budget (on 22/4/09) was not just one of tackling the recession. The UK economy has seen a massive growth in the structural deficit. His forecast is for the total deficit to be £175bn in 2009. But, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, even when the recession is over and the output gap has been closed, there will still be an annual deficit of around £140bn. This is not cyclical; it’s structural.

So why is there this huge structural deficit? And what is the solution? Will the solution slow down recovery? The following articles look at the issues.

Budget 2009: Tightening the Squeeze? Institute for Fiscal Studies (23/4/09)
We should start by admitting we’ve failed as an economy: Hamish McRae Independent (22/4/09)
Budget 2009: Experts cast long shadow over Darling’s sunny outlook Guardian (23/4/09)
Budget 2009: Economist warns of spending cuts and tax rises Guardian (23/4/09)
The chancellor’s Budget dilemma: Stephanie Flanders BBC News (23/4/09)

For a global perspective on structural deficits, see:
Why the ‘green shoots’ of recovery could yet wither Financial Times (22/4/09)

Outlines of the main Budget measures can be found at:
Budget 2009: Need to know Times Online (23/4/09)
At-a-glance: Budget 2009 BBC News (22/4/09)

Full details for the Budget can be found from the Treasury’s Budget site


  1. Explain the terms ‘cyclical deficit’ and ‘structural deficit’.
  2. Draw a diagram showing how government expenditure (including benefits) and tax revenue vary with national income. The diagram should show the sitation with no structural deficit: i.e. the two lines should cross at potential national income. Illustrate (a) a cyclical deficit where actual national income is below potential national income (a negative output gap) and (b) a cyclical surplus where actual national income is above potential income (a positive output gap).
  3. Now, on the same diagram, shift the two lines to illustrate a situation of structural deficit.
  4. Consider whether the government should attempt to increase or reduce the budget deficit at a time of recession.
  5. Why has the structural deficit become so severe over the past year?
  6. How quickly should the government set about tackling the structural deficit?

The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, announced in January that the government wanted three-year pay deals with public-sector workers. He argued that this would help with planning for public-sector finances. But many commentators likened it to the pay freezes and incomes policies of 30 years ago. The articles linked to below from the Guardian look at the similarities between the economic situation now and 30 years ago.

1. Assess the likely success of a three-year pay deal in keeping the level of public-sector pay under control.
2. “The story of the past 32 years is of how three big factors – privatisation, globalisation and curbs on the power of trade unions – have made it far harder for pay bargainers to use low levels of unemployment to win hefty pay awards.”Explain how these factors have changed the balance of power in the labour market. Discuss the extent to which this assertion is true.
3. Discuss the extent to which the economic situation in 2008 is similar to that in the 1970s.

US national debt has got so large that the national debt clock in Time Square has run out of zeroes and they have had to order a new one. UK national debt is also set to rise in the current financial crisis as government borrowing rose sharply in September. The impact of greater public spending and the part-nationalisation of the banks is all likely to lead to a rapid rise in public borrowing and therefore national debt, but is this sustainable for the UK economy?

How the bank crisis hits Britain’s public finances Guardian (14/10/08)
National debt clock runs out of zeroes – new larger clock ordered Guardian (9/10/08)
Banks’ bail-out: ‘The money’s being spent on buying bank shares, so it shouldn’t hit public borrowing’ Guardian (14/10/08) (podcast)
Rescue plan underlines likelihood of tax rises and spending cuts Guardian (9/10/08)
Darling must spend now Times Online (20/10/08)
Public borrowing hits record high Times Online (20/10/08)
Gordon Brown defends level of national debt Guardian (20/10/08)
UK borrowing hits a 60-year high BBC News Online (20/10/08)
Crisis ‘to double UK borrowing’ BBC News Online (22/9/08)
Deep pockets The Economist (9/10/08)


1. Explain the relationship between the level of public borrowing and the national debt.
2. Examine the reasons why public spending has risen.
3. Discuss whether this increase in aggregate demand will be sufficient to prevent the UK economy falling into recession.

The Budget 2008 was quite an under-stated affair, but was the first delivered by Alistair Darling as Chancellor. As ever, many of the changes had been announced well in advance, reducing the element of surprise. But the Budget remains an important event. Note that the Budget websites can also be useful reference sources for economic policy changes.

Budget 2008 Guardian Budget Special
Interactive: Budget 2008 Guardian (11/03/08)
What to tell us on Budget day: where our money is going and how it can be stopped Guardian (10/03/08)
Budget 2008 BBC News Online Budget Special

Videos and podcasts

Old Mother Hubbard Guardian (13/03/08)
Budget speech in full (Video) BBC News Online (12/03/08)

For details of the Budget measures, you may want to look at:
Budget 2008 HM Treasury Budget pages HM Treasury Budget microsite HM Treasury (March 08)


1. What are the key changes in the Budget? What effects are they likely to have on the economy?
2. Assess the extent to which this Budget can be considered a ‘Green Budget’.
3. How has the Budget changed the overall fiscal position of the government?
4. Discuss the likely impact of the Budget on small and large businesses.