My Lords, I welcome the general thrust of the Budget. As the OBR says, it represents the “largest fiscal loosening” since 2010. Noble Lords have suggested that the Chancellor is spending his windfall, but I mistrust the language of “windfalls”. Windfalls are only forecasts of revenue based on forecasts of growth; they are not there under the bed, so to speak, and should be given the credence they deserve—which is very little.
A lecture given at King’s College London, under the auspices of the Political Economy Forum
i. Labour’s Relationship with Keynes
Labour has always been set a higher standard on the economy than the Conservatives: they’ve had to be more orthodox, more competent, more successful to win equal
praise or escape equal blame.
Over the weekend, just ten years ago, the investment firm Lehman Bros collapsed, and the world economy collapsed after it. I feel a little reluctant to add to the torrent of words trying to read the runes of this catastrophe for the better management of affairs in the future.
But, by chance or cunning, a book of mine, called Money and Government: A challenge to mainstream economics, has just been published. This tries to set the collapse of 2008 in a historical context. It has been inspired by John Maynard Keynes, who believed that the collapse of the 1930s needed the response of a new economic theory, and a new, or rather very old, conception of statecraft.
My Lords, it is very cold in this spot at the moment. That is a comment not on the Cross Benches but on the fierceness of the air conditioning—but I shall struggle through.
I have heard with increasing incredulity the efforts of noble Lords in this House, some of them my good friends, to reverse the results of the referendum of 2016. It may have been a mistake to hold a referendum on such a complex issue, but, having asked the question and promised to treat the answer as binding, it seems to me inconceivable that responsible politicians can disregard it. This is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. David Cameron gave repeated assurances that he would respect the result of the referendum, and I do not think we can ignore that.
My Lords, in his Spring Statement, the Chancellor saw,
“light at the end of the tunnel”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/3/18; col. 718.]
The light is pretty dim, and the tunnel has been much too long. The two are connected, the dimness of the light being largely the result of the length of the tunnel, as I shall try to demonstrate.
Lord Skidelsky (CB)
My Lords, I will concentrate, as is my wont, on the macroeconomic implications of the Budget. That is not to say that supply-side questions are not important—of course they are. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maude, that a Government should not be exempt from the efficiency expected of the private sector. However, in general, efficiency is closely related to investment. The more investment there is, the more efficient an economy is likely to be, for the simple reason that there will be much less resistance to cutting costs—which in practice usually means laying off workers—if there are plenty of alternative jobs available.
We have 1.4 million people out of work—“too many”, the Chancellor rightly says. Continue reading
Lord Skidelsky (CB)
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for making this debate possible. The most dramatic economic effect of the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote has been the collapse of sterling. Since June, the pound has fallen by about 16% against a basket of currencies. Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England, has hailed the lower exchange rate as “a welcome change”. Indeed, with Britain’s current account deficit in the order of 7% of GDP—by far the largest since records started—depreciation could be regarded as a boon. But is it? That is the subject of our debate today.