Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mysterious Economic Numbers

I've read an intriguing little piece the paper that tells City Boys what they want to hear (that's City AM folks) by Paul Ormerod in which he is supposed to be demolishing the anti austerity arguments. I'm a little puzzled by some of the claims he's making, this one in particular:

But the two other components of GDP – investment by companies and current expenditure by the public sector – offer a marked contrast between the US and the UK. Despite the widespread belief that austerity policies are being rigorously pursued in the UK, current public spending grew by 3.3 per cent in real terms between 2009 and 2012. In the US, meanwhile, it fell by 4.1 per cent.

This is quite a claim real terms spending has increased in the UK and decreased in the US, I've seen people make the mistake of confusing deficit reduction with fiscal contraction before but this is obviously not what's happening here. My own understanding of the situation was that public spending in the UK and the US had followed roughly similar spending paths. In the US a federal spending increase was offset by a decrease at the state and local level but the net result was essentially a degree of austerity in both countries. Those don't seem to fit the numbers quoted in the article.
Looking at the numbers just makes things more confusing. For the UK, I've looked at the PESA 2013 release from the ONS, that gives the following figures for total managed expenditure:


I don't know what periods Ormerod uses for his numbers but going from 2008-09 to 2011-12 would give a 9.5% increase in nominal terms but once we add CPI inflation (I make it arround 11.8%) into the mix this drops down into negative territory (I make it around 2.1%). For the US I've taken a look at a couple of sets of data, the seasonally adjusted quarterly figures and the annual figures for total government expenditure from the St Louis Fed:





I've chosen the use the annual figures for 2009-2012 but I thought for this one I get nominal spending growth of 4% once we set this against US CPI inflation (around 7%) I get a drop of around 2.9%. By my calculations both the US and the UK have endured austerity, with slightly more in the US I don't really see how this tallies up with the figures Ormerod quotes.
So what I'm left with is a bit of a mystery, where did Ormerod's figures come from, perhaps I've chosen the wrong periods or used a different measure of inflation, but it's hard to see how to make this Austerity in US spending in the UK narrative add up.