Letter: The UK’s failing economic model demands such bold ideas

Below is the text of a letter to the editor of the Financial Times, signed by Lord Skidelsky alongside 81 other signatories, and published on 6th September 2019.

Your series of articles exploring the Labour party’s economic agenda fails to appreciate the severity of the UK’s current economic condition, and reproduces a number of misconceptions.

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Supply matters – but so does demand

Co-authored with Marcus Miller

At long last, the defenders of George Osborne’s deficit-reduction strategy have come up with a reasoned case.

The thoughtful argument in support of the UK chancellor is made by Ryan Bourne and Tim Knox, economists at the centre-right Centre for Policy Studies think-tank. They say that Britain suffered a huge supply shock following the recession of 2008. This left it not only with reduced output, but also – by undermining the banking system and by causing a big increase in state spending and the national debt – with less capacity to produce output.

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One more chance for Osborne to change course

On Wednesday in his Autumn Statement George Osborne, the chancellor, is expected to admit that it will take three more years of austerity than originally planned to bring borrowing under control. Extravagant hopes are being placed on Mark Carney, the newly appointed Bank of England governor. There will be talk of an incipient recovery meeting “headwinds from the eurozone” and comfort will be taken from the thought that things could be a lot worse.

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Enough is enough of the age of consumption

Co-authored with Edward Skidelsky

Until fairly recently economists envisaged three stages of economic development.

First, there was the stage of capital accumulation started by the industrial revolution. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm called it the age of capital. Society saved a large part of its income to invest in capital equipment. The world gradually filled up with capital goods.

This stage, economists thought, would be followed by the age of consumption, in which people began realising the fruits of their previous frugality. They would save less and consume more, as the returns to new investment fell and the possibilities of consumption expanded.

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How Keynes would solve the eurozone crisis

Co-authored with Marcus Miller
Almost 100 years ago, a young official in the UK Treasury sought to advise European policy makers on how daunting external debts might best be managed. There was, he argued, a limit to the national capacity to service debts. Those expecting further payments were bound to be disappointed. More than that, efforts by creditors to insist on further debt payments would be politically dangerous. “If they do sign,” he wrote to a friend, “they can’t possibly keep some of the terms, and general disorder and unrest will result everywhere.” He recommended a round of debt cancellation among European countries, a plan that would – at the stroke of a pen – remove much of the problem. When he was ignored by creditor governments, John Maynard Keynes quit his post to write the Economic Consequences of the Peace.

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Urgently needed: a plan C to save Britain’s economy

Co-authored with Felix Martin

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in March that the UK economy would grow by 1.7 per cent in 2011, and that the government could meet its target of eliminating the structural deficit by 2014-15. But the economy has underperformed these forecasts by so much that it now seems growth will be little more than 1 per cent, and the target not achieved until 2016-17. A recent speech by David Cameron showed he was preparing to announce what a report from Barclays Capital neatly called “two years’ slippage in eight months”.

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A Way out of Britain’s Growth Dilemma

Co-authored with Felix Martin

As he prepares for Wednesday’s Budget, George Osborne, chancellor, faces a dilemma. On the one hand the recovery has stalled even before his cuts have started. On the other the simple solution of relaxing austerity plans to stave off a double-dip recession is financially and politically unrealistic. Fortunately, there is a way to square this circle – and it requires no U-turn at all.

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A golden opportunity for monetary reform

Three cheers for Robert Zoellick. Writing in the FT this week, the World Bank president set out an ambitious agenda for the Group of 20 leading economies to “rebalance demand” and “spur growth”. He recognises that the reduction of current account imbalances is a necessary condition for a non-protectionist trading system.

Global imbalances lie at the heart of the current recession; failure to address them will abort recovery and lead to currency wars. Gold can play a minor part in the necessary rebalancing, as Mr Zoellick suggests – although history shows that a gold standard would be too deflationary.

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Britain’s Austerity Apostles Duck the Debate

Next week the parliamentary battle over cuts will start up again. The chancellor, George Osborne, will say the government’s programme of fiscal retrenchment is necessary to “restore confidence”. Alan Johnson, his shadow, will say it threatens the “fragile recovery”. The government plans to cut public spending by 10 per cent over four years as part of its deficit reduction plan. This will extract 5 per cent out of a shrunken economy. It is the most audacious axe-cutting exercise in almost a century, double the size of the cuts in the 1930s, equalled only by the 1921 Geddes Axe, which cut government spending by 11 per cent in two years. Labour says it is too much, too fast.

The two positions are clear enough, the arguments underlying them less so. What macroeconomic theory do the budget hawks have to subscribe to, to believe that taking £100bn out of the economy in the next four years will produce recovery? And what do the budget doves need to believe to claim the cutters are wrong?

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