In 2008, as the economy was on the verge of recession, the UK Prime Minister said that we would ‘spend our way out of it’ despite rising levels of public-sector debt. In recent weeks, however, the focus has been much more on tackling the debt, which has now increased to over £800 billion (58% of GDP) – it was £500 billion at the end of 2006 (37% of GDP).
Although the current level of general government debt in the UK as a proportion of GDP is still one of the lowest of the G8 countries, it is rising the fastest. In other words, the general government deficit as a proportion of GDP is the highest (see Table A8 in IMF World Economic Outlook, Statistical Appendix A). The IMF’s forecasts suggest that, by 2014, government debt could be as much as 92% of GDP – the highest since World War II – and lower only than Japan (144%) and Italy (126%) of the G8 countries (although the USA, Germany and France are forecast by then each to have government debt over 80% of GDP).
Gordon Brown has said that public spending will have to be cut back once the recession is over, mainly by cutting out waste in the public sector. Conservatives too are looking to make substantial cuts in public expenditure if they come to office next year and have talked of an era of austerity.
But will such cuts be too little too late? Has government spending on saving the banks and trying to boost the economy by cutting VAT actually damaged our recovery prospects and are the British people going to be the ones to suffer? Or should the fiscal stimulus be retained for some time yet to prevent a lurch back into recession? The following articles look at the public debt situation, which poses some interesting policy questions, especially with the Party Conferences!
£805,000,000,000: UK’s monstrous debt The Mirror (19/9/09)
Osborne gambles with cut plans BBC News (6/10/09)
Governments will have legal obligation to reduce UK’s debt Telegraph (28/9/09)
We’ll spend our way out of recession Independent (20/10/08)
Public sector borrowing soaring BBC News (18/9/09)
Govt spending cuts ‘could help pound’ Just the Flight (21/9/09)
Deficit danger worries Cameron BBC News (4/10/09)
Public debt hits £800 billion – the highest on record Times Online (19/9/09)
Pay freeze ‘to protect UK services’ The Mirror (6/10/09)
This recession demands that we employ logic and spend our way out of it Telegraph (11/1/09)
Cuts and pay freezes ‘just the beginning’, Tories admit Telegraph (7/10/09)
Robert Stheeman: So what’s worrying the banker in charge of our £1trn debt? Independent (8/10/09)
Has Darling or Osborne the best plan for cutting the deficit? Observer (11/10/09)
This public-spending squeeze will be much tighter than people expect Independent on Sunday (11/10/09)
Tax and spending squeeze will keep Bank rate low Sunday Times (11/10/09)
UK rates ‘to stay low for years’ BBC News (11/10/09)
- According to economic theory, how does increasing government spending or reducing taxation aim to boost the economy?
- What do we mean by a budget deficit or budget surplus? How does a budget deficit differ from national debt?
- What is the ‘golden rule’ for fiscal policy? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such a rule-based approach to fiscal policy.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a policy of ‘spending our way out of a recession?’
- With spending cuts looming, many will be affected. How will cuts in government spending affect the UK’s ability to recover from the recession? Will you be affected and, if so, how?
- Last year £85.5 billion was spent by the government on bailing out banks. Do you think this was money well spent, or is it the main cause of the current spending cuts that could see the recession worsen?
Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the UK’s financial sector regulator, has proposed the possible use of Tobin taxes to curb destabilising financial transactions. The late James Tobin, winner of the 1981 Nobel prize in Economics, argued that a very small tax (between 0.1 and 1 per cent) should be imposed on foreign exchange transactions to dampen destabilising foreign currency speculation and thereby reduce exchange rate fluctuations. Lord Turner’s proposal would apply to a whole range of financial transactions, putting some friction in these very volatile and often highly leveraged markets. Such a tax would discourage some of the riskier and more exotic transactions on which many of the bonuses of bankers have been based.
Not surprisingly, his proposals have been met with derision by many in the banking sector. Many politicians too have been critical, arguing that the taxes will divert financial business away from London to other financial centres around the world. And yet, at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh on 24/25 September, both the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, argued in favour of such taxes. The result was that the IMF was asked to investigate the practicality of using Tobin taxes on financial transactions as a way of reining in more risky behaviour. A week later the IMF, while ruling out a simple Tobin tax, came out in favour of taxes on the global financial sector designed to reduce speculation.
So who is right? The following articles look at the issues.
FSA chairman Lord Turner says City too big Times Online (27/8/09)
Financial Services Authority chairman backs tax on ‘socially useless’ banks Guardian (27/8/09)
Cutting finance back down to size Financial Times (27/8/09)
Support for tax to curb bonuses BBC News (27/8/09)
FSA boss gets tough on bonuses (video 1) (Video 2) (Video 3) BBC News (27/8/09)
City tells FSA to stick to day job Reuters (27/8/09)
Charities applaud FSA’s support for new bank tax Guardian (27/8/09)
The time is ripe for a Tobin tax Guardian (27/8/09)
Ça fait malus: France gets tough on bankers’ pay The Economist (27/8/09)
Sarkozy chides bankers for bonuses, calls for tougher regulation (video) France 24 (18/8/09)
Politicians Clamp Down on Bankers’ Bonuses BusinessWeek (26/8/09)
Treasury would be crazy not to listen to Turner Guardian (27/8/09)
Three cheers for Turner and tax on easy money Guardian (27/8/09)
What is the City good for, again? Guardian (27/8/09)
Will Transaction Taxes Reduce Leverage? The Atlantic (27/8/09)
FSA backs global tax on transactions Financial Times (27/8/09)
The Tobin tax explained Financial Times (27/8/09)
Could ‘Tobin tax’ reshape financial sector DNA? Financial Times (27/8/09)
Turner defends bank tax comments BBC News (30/8/09)
Turner stands firm after Tobin tax backlash Financial Times (1/9/09)
Brown calls for bank bonus reform BBC News (1/9/09)
Brown pledges bonus clampdown Financial Times (1/9/09)
Cut the banks (and bonuses) down to size Financial Times (31/8/09)
Sarkozy to press for ‘Tobin Tax’ BBC News (19/9/09)
The wrong tool for the job The Economist (17/9/09)
Dani Rodrik: The Tobin tax lives again Business Standard (19/9/09)
IMF presses for tax on banks’ risky behaviour Guardian (3/10/09)
IMF’s Strauss-Kahn puts bank tax on the agenda Times Online (3/10/09)
Banks and traders threatened by new international tax plan drawn up by IMF Telegraph (3/10/09)
- Explain how a Tobin tax could be used to reduce destabilising speculation without preventing markets movement to longer-term equilibria.
- How might the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions help to curb some of the ‘excessive rewards’ made from financial dealing.
- How do Lord Turner’s proposals differ from those of President Sarkozy?
- Examine the advantages and disadvantages of using a Tobin tax on financial transactions. How might the disadvantages be reduced?
- Explain what Lord Turner means by “the financial services industry can grow to be larger than is socially optimal”. How would you define ‘socially optimal’ in this context?
There has been much discussion recently on the use of fiscal policy to combat recession. What measures should be used? How effective will they be? How will the resulting large budget deficit be brought back into balance in the future?
But what are the microeconomic implications of all the tax changes? Are the changes fair? What implications do they have for incentives? Perhaps it’s time for a completely fresh look at the structure of our tax system – a system that has been changed piecemeal over the past years to meet short-term macroeconomic and political goals. Can it be redesigned to meet the two microeconomic goals of efficiency and equity? The following article looks at what form a redesigned tax structure might take.
Our tax system is a mess. But Darling has a chance to fix it. (Peter Wilby) Guardian (11/4/09)
- In what ways does the present tax system fail to meet the goals of (a) fairness through redistribution and (b) creating appropriate incentives?
- Explain what is meant by “The whole system has been framed by Tory thinking to assist social engineering, Tory style”.
- Provide a justification and critique of the reforms proposed in the article.