Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let's talk about Government Debt

The Tories have been talking about "Gordon Brown's Debt", but as far as I can see, the fiscal deficit is not the problem. Consider two great debts: one is the public debt, the debt held by our government; the other is the private debt, the debt held by businesses and private citizens. Lets say that the public debt is £500 billion and the private debt is £1,500 billion.

Let's now say that the government chooses to make a cash injection into the economy through borrowing of £100 billion. This will likely move through the economy generating activity as it goes, but it will eventually end up in the hands of people who will choose to save it. Assuming that the most effective way to save is to pay of debts we will be left with a situation where the public debt is now £600 billion and the private debt is now £1,400 billion.

The point I'd like to make from this is that when talking about "Gordon Brown's Debt" it's worth considering where the money actually ends up. In the example above we have a closed economy where the burden of public debt will be offset by an increase in private wealth. Of course, we live in an open economy where money can move in and out so the real problem lies in the money leaving the economy, which it does through our purchase of imported goods.

The root cause of all this is ultimately not our prolifigate government, it's the simple fact that for the past 25 years the country has imported more than it's exported. In some ways this is understandable, other governments, particularly Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China have actively pursued export promoting policies while we didn't. A lot of it though, can be traced back to Thatcher's Conservative government and the decline of British manufacturing under that government.

I have a real problem with the perception that is common among Conservatives and has found it's way into the public conciousness that Thatcher somehow "sorted out" the economy. Despite the boost from the economy that came from producing vast quantities of oil and gas from the North Sea, we _still_ imported more than we exported. Thats a very different story to the tales of wealth creation they like to tell us about. I should probably also add that Labour have failed on this score..

Moving on, what I think we've had in the economy for the past 25 years is a slow build up of debt, private and public due to the continuing trade deficit. The ultimate solution lies not in fiscal stimuli or a balanced budget but in strengthening our exports. "Gordon Brown's debt" is neither here nor there.

1 comment:

Oliver said...

No, let's talk about how Labour is pressing ahead with a FIVE BILLION POUNDS-PLUS identity card scheme in the middle of a recession, shall we?

PS: Guess who's going down at the next election and taking ID cards with him? Five letters, begins with 'B'.