March 1, 2012

The plight of Britain under austerity

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:03

Vuk Vukovic wonders why the notion that the British government has imposed austerity still has any traction in the media:

The UK had the one of the strongest fiscal stimuli (relative to the size of its economy) in the world as a response to the crisis, during the premiership of Gordon Brown. The result was making the situation much worse with a rising public debt and the third highest budget deficit in the world behind only Greece and Egypt in 2011, and behind Greece and Iceland in 2010. This comparison is striking since these countries were doing much worse than the UK at the time and were countries with highly unstable economies – Iceland before the restructuring, Greece whenever, and Egypt after a year-long revolution which saw the downfall of a dictator and an inability to consolidate ever since.

So the argument of Keynesians is that this wasn’t enough, and that Britain is crippled with austerity. The media is supporting the former view as well. Britain is running the hardest austerity policy in Europe and this is resulting in terrible growth performance and the inability to start up the recovery. However, Britain is far from austerity. Yes, some painful cuts have been made, tuitions were rising, unions were hit, wages in the public sector are stagnant, a lot of public sector workers have been laid off, but what does the government do with this saved up money? It “invests” in credit easing, housing subsidies, the youth contract and infrastructural projects. On the other hand, it’s guiding private sector investment and centrally planning credit, it announces an increase of the minimum wage, abolishing of the default retirement age, more regulation after claiming to remove regulation, the 50p tax rate and so on. None of these policies are policies aimed at growth. They are all part of a Keynesian response to the crisis.

After all, if one would just observe the spending data for the UK, it is still increasing, both relatively (as percent of GDP) and absolutely.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” To call a situation where government’s share of GDP is rising as “austerity” requires a brand new definition for the word.

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