Tag: structural budget deficit

There has been much in the news recently about the attempts of governments around the world to tackle two problems: (a) soaring deficits and debt and (b) a slow recovery and a possible slide back into recession. As the previous news item, Over stimulation? Trying to prevent a double dip as Japan’s debt soars, reported, Japan’s approach has been to tackle the second problem first and to give a massive fiscal boost to the economy. Its debt can be tackled later as the economy, hopefully, recovers.

The Irish government, by contrast, in its Budget on 9 December announced sweeping cuts in government expenditure. This included substantial pay cuts for public-sector employees. Getting the public-sector deficit down (projected to be 11.6% of GDP in 2010) was the government’s major priority.

Greece too is under tremendous pressure to cut its public-sector deficit and debt. Forecast to be 125% of GDP in 2010, its public-sector debt is the highest in the eurozone. There are serious worries as to whether Greece will be able to fund the debt.

Meanwhile in the UK, Alistair Darling presented the government’s pre-Budget report. This took a mid-course between the two objectives. He announced modest increases in tax, including a 1% increase in national insurance contributions from 2010, and modest increases in benefits. The overall effect was pretty neutral, leaving the projected public-sector deficit at around 12.6% of GDP in 2010/11, hopefully falling to around 4.4% by 2014/15 as economic growth increases tax revenues. So was this the best compromise: not too tough so as to stifle recovery and not too expansionary so as to cause a soaring of debt and difficulty in funding the necessary borrowing?

So what is the correct balance? Are the situations very different in the four countries or have they merely chosen to prioritise them differently? Should countries make cuts early in order to get their deficits down and avoid a collapse in confidence, but risk falling back into recession? Or should they get growth firmly established before tightening fiscal policy? The following articles look at the issues.

The UK
Key points: The pre-Budget report at-a-glance BBC News (9/12/09)
Alistair Darling to borrow more this year (including video) BBC News (9/12/09)
Walking the line BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders’ blog (10/12/09)
Larry Elliott’s analysis on the pre-budget report (video) Guardian, Larry Elliott and Mustafa Khalili (9/12/09)
Pre-budget report: All boxed in Guardian (10/12/09)
Tax and mend Economist (9/12/09)
Darling defends economic forecasts (including video) Financial Times, Chris Giles and George Parker (9/12/09)
Prevarication and Newspeak will not fix our finances Financial Times, Willem Buiter (9/12/09)
Is UK government debt really that high? BBC News, Richard Anderson (22/12/09)

The measures announced in the pre-Budget report along with a video of the speech, press releases and the full report as a PDF document can be found at the Treasury’s Pre-Budget Report 2009 site.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has a part of its site dedicated to the pre-Budget report. This contains briefings and analysis. See Pre-Budget Report 2009

Greece
Why Greece Could Be the Next Dubai Time, Adam Smith (9/12/09)
Greece’s debt crisis signals problems for the European Central Bank Guardian, Nils Pratley (8/12/09)
Greek stocks fall 6% on fears over the country’s debt BBC News (8/12/09)
Greek stocks fall 6% on fears over the country’s debt (video) BBC News (8/12/09)
Greece threatens bankruptcy, and the eurozone The Atlantic, Megan McArdle (8/12/09)
Greece Struggles to Stay Afloat as Debts Pile On New York Times, Rachel Donadio and Niki Kitsantonis (11/12/09)
Greece ‘worthy’ of eurozone place BBC News (14/12/09)
Greek PM to unveil steps to allay deficit fears Forbes, Dina Kyriakidou (14/12/09)
Default lines The Economist (3/12/09)
Greeks denying gifts BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (29/1/10)
Davos 2010: Greece denies a bail-out is needed BBC News (28/1/10)

Ireland
Ireland suffers harshest budget in decades Financial Times, John Murray Brown (9/12/09)
Strong medicine fails to soothe Irish Financial Times, John Murray Brown (9/12/09)
Irish Wince as a Budget Proposal Cuts to the Bone New York Times, Sarah Lyall (9/12/09)
A time to grin and bear it Irish Times (10/12/09)

Germany
German government heads for record debt BBC News (29/12/09)
German minister warns of fiscal crackdown Financial Times, Bertrand Benoit (17/12/09)
Goverment’s draft budget includes record debt levels Deutsche Welle (16/12/09)

General
The banking crisis: Till debt us do part Times Online, David Smith and Jenny Davey (13/12/09)
Sovereign debt burdens keep traders on red alert Fiinancial Times, David Oakley (12/12/09)

Questions

  1. Are the objectives of tackling recession and getting the public-sector deficit and debt down contradictory aims, or is it merely a question of sequencing?
  2. To what extent are the situations in the UK, Japan and Ireland similar? Should they be following similar macroeconomic policies?
  3. Why does it matter if a country has a rising public-sector debt as a proportion of GDP?
  4. Distinguish between a cyclical deficit and a structural deficit. Why has the UK’s structural deficit got worse? Will it fall as the economy recovers, or will it be only the cyclical deficit that falls?
  5. Why does Greece’s debt crisis signal problems for the European Central Bank?
  6. What determines a country’s sovereign credit rating?

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

Questions

  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?