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Astonishingly low interest rates on UK government debt: causes and effects

Friday, January 30, 2015

We all know that the UK government has run up a colossal national debt - £1475bn as I type this sentence. And it’s rising fast, since the UK government also has a fiscal deficit to finance this year, which will add even more to the total stock of debt.

Yet the cost of borrowing all this money is falling to new record lows. Why? And should this influence the government’s economic policy in any way?

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Macroeconomics - Why has the UK recovered so fast?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Just in time for the unit 2 exam, and in good time for unit 4 students, this week's Deloitte Monday Briefing looks at the reasons behind the rapid recovery of growth in the UK. The Monday Briefing always makes very good reading, and often features analysis which is written with great clarity by Ian Stewart, their Chief Economist in the UK - to subscribe and receive an email every week, visit

Below, I have copied much of this week's briefing with a little additional comment to emphasise the role of monetary and fiscal policies, and to look forward in order to consider how these may be evaluated in order to assess the contribution they may make in the near future.

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New ideas are needed in economics, but not the tired old statist ones

Friday, May 02, 2014

The annual Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) conference was held in Toronto earlier this month. INET was created by George Soros in the autumn of 2009 in response to the economic crisis. Mainstream economics bears a heavy responsibility for creating the intellectual climate prior to the crash that the problems of boom and bust had been solved forever. New ideas were needed. Certainly, INET has funded lots of interesting projects which orthodox funding bodies would have rejected.

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Unit 2 Macro: Revision on Managing the Economy

Thursday, April 10, 2014

One of the most significant roles of a modern government is to ensure that the economy performs to its full capacity. The government has to consider the performance indicators like inflation, unemployment and economic growth and devise policies to achieve their aims. In this session we will consider the options that fall into the fiscal and monetary policy

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Unit 2 Macro: Multiplier and Accelerator Effects

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Here is a revision presentation for an AS Macro topic - the multiplier effect, the accelerator effect and Keynesian economics

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Paul Ormerod: Forward guidance needed for companies, not consumers!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Most of the commentary on the UK’s economic recovery focuses on consumers. Are they taking on too much debt again to finance their spending? Is there a bubble in house prices, as people get excited about bricks and mortar again? Certainly, in terms of its sheer size, spending by consumers is by far the biggest component of GDP, making up around 60 per cent of total domestic expenditure.

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John Maynard Keynes - Video Resources

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A selection of video resources for students and teachers interested in Keynesian economics

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John Maynard Keynes - Video Resources

A selection of video resources for students and teachers interested in Keynesian economics

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Macro Policy Challenges in India and Japan

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My A2 macro students are now looking at some fascinating macro policy challenges facing a range of countries. This week they choose one from two set assignments. 

The first offers them an opportunity to analyse some of the causes of high inflation in India and consider how much of a threat it is to India's continued growth and development. 

A second assignment looks at Abenomics in Japan and whether it can lift the Japanese economy out of over two decades of slow growth and deflationary pressures. I am hoping that there will be some interesting insights allied to good A2 macro analysis as students crack on with their independent research. 

Download the assignment sheet below and I have added in some suggestions for further reading on the two topics

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The ‘output gap’: another piece of economic mumbo-jumbo

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The concept of the 'output gap’ is central to mainstream macroeconomics. It is not merely of academic interest. 

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has a specific requirement to estimate the output gap, which it defines formally as “the difference between the current level of activity in the economy and the potential level it could sustain while keeping inflation stable”. 

The output gap is a key consideration for central banks around the world including the Bank of England. If output is well below its potential, nominal interest rates should be kept low, to try to stimulate the economy. And a large output gap should keep cost and price inflation low. Prices are hard to put up in a depressed economy. 

See: for a discussion of the changes made to the policy of forward guidance.

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Britain’s New Industrial Policy: Can We Learn from the Mistakes of the Past?

Friday, December 13, 2013

The phrase ‘industrial policy’ seems to take us decades back in time. In 1964, a powerful catchphrase of the new Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was the need for Britain to embrace the ‘white heat of the technological revolution’. Sadly, by the 1970s this vision had deteriorated into a list of institutions, stuffed with dull businessmen and trade unionists, meeting to decide how to prop up yet another failed sector of the UK economy.

But the concept is now back in vogue. Perhaps surprisingly, given the historical experience, the coalition chose to preserve Labour’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) quango. The TSB has a budget of £400 million to “accelerate UK economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation”. A key way in which it plans to do this is through the purchasing decisions of the public sector.

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Unit 2 Macro: The Multiplier Process and Multiplier Effect

Sunday, November 24, 2013

An initial change in aggregate demand can have a much greater final impact on the level of equilibrium national income. This is known as the multiplier effect

It comes about because injections of new demand for goods and services into the circular flow of income stimulate further rounds of spending – in other words “one person’s spending is another’s income." This can lead to a bigger eventual effect on output and employment

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Prominent Keynesian (and others) add to the ‘post- Crash Economics’ debate

Getting out of our slump is challenging economics policy makers.

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Unit 2 Macro: Fiscal Policy Revision Presentation

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Here is a thoroughly updated (20123) 94-slide revision presentation on aspects of fiscal policy - designed for student and teachers taking the AS macro paper.

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Unit 2 Macro: Aggregate Demand

Monday, October 21, 2013

This is an updated revision presentation on aggregate demand in the UK economy - designed for AS macro students. Revision notes on aggregate demand can be found here. Click here to take a revision quiz on aggregate demand.

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Unit 4 Macro: Economic Growth, Investment and the Middle Income Trap

Thursday, October 03, 2013

A revision presentation on aspects of the links between investment and economic growth. Plus some slides on the causes of the so-called Middle Income Trap

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HS2 Cost Benefit Analysis

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

There are lots of resources out there for students and teachers wanting to cover the debate about HS2 - here is a brief selection of video clips on the debate

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Investing for Prosperity - A Manifesto for Growth

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Why is economic growth such a rare and elusive butterfly in the UK garden? What institutions and policies are needed to sustain UK economic growth in the dynamic global economy of the twenty-first century?

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Paul Ormerod: UK Economy - we could learn from the US on austerity

Thursday, August 29, 2013

SOME people are never satisfied! The evidence is mounting that the UK economy is now on the path to recovery. But to those who denied the possibility of any economic revival at all under the policies of “austerity”, this is simply not good enough. It is the wrong kind of recovery, they say. Fuelled by debt-based personal spending, unsustainable house prices, another crash, the doom-mongering litany more or less writes itself.

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Paul Ormerod: How sticky is unemployment?

Friday, August 23, 2013

How sticky is unemployment? Will it take three years to fall?

The views expressed by the new Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, on interest rates and unemployment remain a hot topic. Interest rates will not be raised until unemployment falls below 7 per cent, a process he thinks will take three years.

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Recovery and summer are in the air, but doom mongers still lurk

Friday, August 02, 2013

The GDP growth figures announced last week for the second quarter of this year have sent most people away on their holidays in a cheerier mood than last year. The recent weather has certainly helped. But gloomy clouds may hover over the exclusive settings of Tuscan villas and beach houses in Martha’s Vineyard, where bien pensant commentators and so-called Keynesian economists ritually gather for the summer.

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Unit 2 Macro: IMF Report on UK Economy calls for Increased Investment

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In its annual assessment of the U.K. economy, the IMF called on the UK to invest in skills and infrastructure and increase banking sector competition in order to foster growth and achieve a sustainable recovery.

The report can be found here and contains plenty of relevant background information on the current situation facing the UK - here is a selection of quotes from their summary

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Unit 4 Macro: Time Running Out for the Euro

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cambridge economist Mike Kitson argues here that the Euro Zone will eventually collapse after a number of difficult years. As pressure again mounts in the Eurozone leading Cambridge economist Michael Kitson says the euro might 'stagger on' for a few more years but eventually it will disintegrate. Policy makers have been papering over the cracks in the Eurozone and causing major problems for many member countries which are trapped by tight fiscal rules

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Unit 2 Macro: The History of Bubbles

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A super resource from the Economist. KAL, The Economist's resident cartoonist and animator, explains the dangerous history of bubbles.

A bubble is said to happen when the prices of securities or other assets rise so sharply and at such a sustained rate that they exceed valuations justified by fundamentals, making a sudden collapse likely (at which point the bubble “bursts”). Typically this is seen in property markets where housing valuations can rise to unsustainable levels relative to income or long-run average prices. Speculative demand driven by positive price expectations has the effect of amplifying market demand and driving prices higher - especially when supply is restricted and unresponsive to short-term price movements.

Bubbles are common in other asset markets such as for stocks and bonds. And increasingly we find that world commodity prices exhibit bubble tendencies with high levels of volatility in the prices of foodstuffs, oil and natural gas and metals.

The bursting of a bubble - such as a collapse in property prices - can have important demand-side effects on wealth, confidence and aggregate demand

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Paul Ormerod: Ignore Krugman: We’re not caught in another depression

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SPOTTING and identifying new species is always exciting. And the last couple of years has seen the emergence of a new type of economic commentator, the recovery denier. Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, wrote a piece at the end of last year in which he compared the current situation to that of the 1930s. On Newsnight recently, another Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz poured scorn on my assertion that the US economy has recovered.

But what does the data tell us? In the 1930s, output in America fell by nearly 30 per cent from its 1929 peak. This time, the fall was only 3 per cent, and the level of output is now higher than it was below the crash. The latest US labour market figures show continued growth in employment. Over 5m net new jobs have been created over the past three years, all of which have been in the private sector. Unemployment has just fallen to a four year low.

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UK Economy Revision - Policies to Reduce Unemployment

Friday, May 03, 2013

Here is a streamed (and downloadable) presentation on policies to cut unemployment in the UK economy.

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Unit 4 Macro: Getting Back to Growth - Lessons from the 1930s

Monday, April 08, 2013

How Britain escaped from the travails of the Great Depression and achieved 4% a year growth in the years from 1933 to 1937 has important lessons for today’s policy-makers, according to research by Professor Nicholas Crafts, presented at the Economic History Society’s 2013 annual conference. 

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Unit 2 Macro: The Great Productivity Puzzle

Friday, April 05, 2013

GDP per hour – labour productivity – in the UK remains lower than at the beginning of the recession in 2008. A special session at the Royal Economic Society on Friday 5 April held jointly by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) and Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) investigated the causes of this mystery. It was also the subject of BBC Rradio 4 In Business - click here

See also: the Job Rich Depression (The Economist)

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Unit 2 Macro: Fresh Serving of Acronym Soup - ZIRPs and PLOGs

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Economic commentators love their acronyms and abbreviations - they come in handy when reaching character capacity limits on a tweet and also for students fighting the exam clock to complete a timed essay. Two new ones have come to my attention in recent days. What does ZIRP and PLOG mean to you?

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Is this the start of Plan B?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

It’s not often you read such a clearly set out, even-handed article on macroeconomic policy, so this relatively lengthy piece was interesting in itself as its writer appears to deal relatively equally with both sides of the big austerity debate. But you really have to take notice when the writer is the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable.

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All Change at The Bank?

Tomorrow's Financial Times leads with a headline, "Osborne to hand Carney powers to kick start the economy." Budget to alter Bank of England's remit...Loser Monetary Policy."

Stephannie Flanders, the BBC's Economics Editor, considered if the UK's present monetary policy with its use of Quantitative Easing had played a part in pushing up share prices and wondered if other unorthodox measures would be effective to deal with a stagnating economy.

Vince Cable the Business Secretary provides an outline in The New Statesman of the economic problems the current coalition government has faced, how monetary, fiscal and supply side measures might be used to stimulate the UK economy in response to what he calls the long economic stagnation of post-crisis Britain. 

The FT implies that The Chancellor is not wholly convinced by arguments from Vince Cable to boost growth with a new programme of infrastructure spending on schools, roads and housing, funded by extra borrowing. The arrival of Mark Carney at The Bank of England may signal a sea change in how monetary policy is used to stimulate the economy, breaking with the 2% inflation targeting approach. The MPC may be encouraged to focus on targets for inflation and employment. Some of The Committee's members support more quantitative easing whilst The Deputy Governor Paul Tucker said the idea of negative interest rates should be considered. 

Link to coverage of Cameron's Speech

Link to Stephannie Flanders' Blog on Cable's article.

The Economist wades in with an analysis of why the slump in consumer spending has contributed to a flatlining economy with low or barely perceptible growth. Household saving has increased to c.7%. Falls in real wages, coupled with rising 'administered prices' of gas and electricity have also helped lower consumption. But the cycle of higher costs and prices isn't helped when Sterling depreciated by 6% in the course of the New Year. 

Other useful articles on the case for a growth and the difficulties of turning on the taps with additional infrastructure spending are considered. 

Paul Ormerod: What would Keynes have said?  Ouija board active!

Friday, March 01, 2013

The loss of triple A status on UK government bonds has intensified the demands for a Plan B.   So-called Keynesians demand an increase in both public spending and the public sector deficit.

What might Keynes himself have said about the current situation?  Lacking a Ouija board, I am unable to communicate directly with the great man himself.  But we can get a very strong hint from the title of the first major work which Keynes published when confronted with the 1929 financial crash.  It is the Treatise on Money.  His most famous work was not published until 1936, when the Great Depression was well and truly over.  Its full name is the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

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Unit 4 Macro: A Manifesto for Growth - the LSE Growth Commission Report

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Thursday 31st of January 2013, the long-awaited LSE Growth Commission Report was published and launched in London. The document itself is available for download from this link and I urge all teachers and students interested in growth, competitiveness and the fairness agenda to have a look at it. It is full of rewarding and important insights into the drivers of balanced growth in a modern advanced economy.

I will be adding new resources and links to this blog following the launch event

Key Points from LSE Growth Report

Existing Strengths

  1. Strong rule of law
  2. Generally competitive product markets
  3. Flexible labour market
  4. A world-class university system
  5. Openness to foreign investors and migrants
  6. Independent regulators including competition authorities
  7. Strengths in many key sectors including high end manufacturing

LSE Commission Growth Agenda


  • Greater autonomy for schools, tackle the long tail of under-performance. Conditional cash transfers for families to pupil attendance and performance. Focus league tables less on % attaining 5 A-C grades. Reveal performance at the bottom end.
  • Concentrating on skills (improving human capital) gives people the resilience to recover from global shifts in the division of labour


  • Critical infrastructure essential for competitiveness in modern economy. For the UK, transport and energy are infrastructure areas with biggest issues; there has been a lack of clear strategy and lots of dithering / political delays. 
  • Huge opportunities for UK - industrial revolution driven by search for low-carbon technologies driving innovation - can the UK keep up?

LSE Commission proposes: 

  • 1) Strategy Board (for planning)
  • 2) Planning Commission (for delivery) 
  • 3) Infrastructure Bank (for funding)


  • Innovation is the third channel for increased growth
  • Problems in UK capital markets mean innovation is not properly funded - short-termism remains a structural weakness of the markets

Banking/ Finance

  • More competition in retail banking
  • Business bank that prioritises lending to SMEs and innovative firms

Changing the compass of economic performance

  • Commission suggests that focus on GDP is not helpful
  • GDP misses out on who gets the growth and measures production not income 
  • Need more focus on Median Household Income
  • Median household income and GDP per capita have been decoupled since about 2002. GDP no longer tracks it


UK trend growth rate can be lifted by 0.5% with effective structural reforms - large compound effect on incomes over the long run

Institutions and incentives matter for growth. Macro stability important too. UK politics too short term and adversarial. Fundamental weakness is the failure to create a stable policy framework.

More focus needed on evidence based policy making to make government smarter.

Here  Professor John Van Reenen, Director of CEP and co-chair of the LSE Growth Commission, presents a 'manifesto for growth' for the UK economy over the next 50 years, backed up by the Growth Commission's report. 

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Unit 2 Macro: Key Term Glossary

Friday, January 04, 2013

An updated glossary of key terms for AS macro

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Prospects for the UK Economy in 2013

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

As the sun rises on another year will the headwinds be favourable for Britain or are we facing up to another year of stresses and strains? Here is a brief commentary and overview of some of the key macroeconomic data for the UK economy together with some links to external articles and videos on economic prospects for Britain as we head in 2013.

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UK Economy: Returning to Growth - Lessons from the 1930s

Monday, November 26, 2012

Here is a link to a video of a talk given by the eminent economic historian, Professor Nick Crafts on whether there are important lessons from the 1930s for policy-makers as they search for growth enhancing policy measures. The opening statement is gloomy, but the historical sweep and arguments are impressive! A stretch and challenge talk for ambitious sixth form economists.

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Paul Ormerod: Don’t say IMF, it’s IMF Squared!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In the boom decade of the 2000s, corporate rebranding and renaming was all the rage.  Some were successful.  Others are best forgotten, like PWC’s proposal to bestow the name of Monday on its consulting arm.  But as the world’s economic recovery gathers momentum, perhaps it is time to revive the practice.

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Unit 4 Macro: Returning to Growth - Lessons from the 1930s and 1980s

Monday, October 15, 2012

If fiscal consolidation continues and radical changes to monetary policy are ruled out, it is mainly ‘supply-side’ reform that can restart UK growth without doing longer-term damage to the economy. Among other things, that means repairing infrastructure, improving education, reforming taxation and tackling the restrictive planning system. But one area that could deliver both short-term stimulus and long-term efficiency is private house-building – as happened in the 1930s recovery from recession. Today’s planning restrictions mean that the stock of houses is three million below and real prices are 35% above what they would be if market forces operated freely.

These are among the conclusions of Professor Nick Crafts on what policy-makers can learn from the 1930s and 1980s, when the UK economy made strong recoveries from severe recessions very similar to the current one. Despite fiscal consolidation, both the 1930-32 and 1979-81 recessions were followed by strong recoveries.

Delivering the Royal Economic Society (RES) annual policy lecture in London on Wednesday 17 October 2012, Professor Crafts summarised the policy lessons from those decades that are relevant to kick-starting recovery now:

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Paul Ormerod: Policy makers have learned from the mistakes of the 1930s

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman will shortly be in town.  With Lord Richard Layard, he will be calling for more public spending and borrowing.  The two have issued a ‘Manifesto for Economic Sense’.  But is it?

The opening sentences make dramatic claims: ‘More than four years after the financial crisis began, the world’s major advanced economies remain deeply depressed, in a scene all too reminiscent of the 1930s. And the reason is simple: we are relying on the same ideas that governed policy in the 1930s.’

This makes for good rhetoric.  No doubt the BBC will swallow it whole.  Unfortunately, it is simply not true.  It would be foolish to say that the world economy is booming, but it is just as wrong to claim that the world’s major advanced economies remain deeply depressed.

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Unit 2 Macro: The UK Economy - What Would Keynes Do?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

I set some of my AS economics students an assignment on Keynes last week. The starting point was the first of Stephanie Flanders' excellent series featuring Keynes, Hayek and Marx. We watched it in class and I was keen for students to explore some of the guiding principles of Keynesian economics well before we get stuck into AD-AS analysis. I am also desperate to avoid showing them a mark scheme until March at least (when I am taking a sabbatical!) - so I marked their work mainly on the quality of their writing and whether or not I enjoyed reading it! I have showcased a few examples below of their answers.


The UK economy is struggling to recover from the last recession. Private sector demand in the form of consumer spending and business capital investment remains weak, confidence is low and exports of goods and services have been affected by problems in the economies of many of our trading partners. UK GDP remains well below the peak achieved before the start of the last recession and unemployment continues to rise. Keynesian economics has made a comeback in recent times, indeed many governments around the world have decided to introduce Keynesian policies as a way of injecting fresh demand into their fragile economies.

Analyse how the macroeconomic problems outlined above would be approached by Keynesian economists. In your answer try to capture the essence of the Keynesian approach and attempt to raise and discuss some of the criticisms that have been levelled at Keynes.

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Masters of Money on the BBC

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Stephanie Flanders, the BBC's Economics editor, is starting a new series looking at famous Economists.

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Paul Ormerod: A Tale of Two Recessions: Grounds for Optimism

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The economic news at the moment is mixed, and the impact of the 2007-2009 financial crash is far from over.  But looking back into the past may give us something to feel cheerful about.

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Paul Ormerod: How Big is My Multiplier?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The debate rages about whether the Chancellor should implement a Plan B, or C or D or even Z.  There seems to be a plethora of alternatives.  But many of them share a key common theme.  Namely, that an increase in public spending will boost output in the economy overall. 

This was one of the revolutionary new ideas developed by Keynes, which he called the ‘multiplier’.  An increase in public spending means that more people are employed, in the public sector itself of in building infrastructure. These in turn spend more money and the effect ripples across the economy. The final impact is a multiple – hence the word ‘multiplier’ – of the initial increase in spending.

This seems to be commonsense.  But commonsense can often lead us astray.  It seems to be common sense that the Sun goes round the Earth, it goes round the sky after all.  What does modern economics have to say about the size of the multiplier?

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Unit 2 Macro: New to Macro - Kick-starting the British Economy

Many AS students will be starting their introductory macroeconomics courses and lots of you will be keen to make a great start and achieve momentum in their work from the word go! The same can be said about the British economy! 

One of the key issues at this time is how best to inject some growth of demand, production and jobs into an economy that has struggled to climb out of recession. Indeed GDP remains well below the peak seen  just before the start of the recession in 2008-09. The UK's economy is expected to contract by 0.7% this year, according to a new forecast  from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and development (OECD).

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Unit 4 Macro: Keynesian Insights for Financial Markets

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

There was an interesting discussion on Keynesian insights for today’s financial markets on FT television today. The interviewee is the noted biographer of Keynes, Professor Robert Skidelsky.

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A2 Macro: Evaluating Keynesian-Style Stimulus - Fixing America’s Roads

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When Robert Skidelsky gave his talk on Keynes here in Madrid last October, he spoke at length about the importance of effective government spending emphasising that the focus of the spending should be on capital rather than current. Yes, when aggregate demand is lacking, the government should increase spending on capital projects, even if that means deficit spending, in order to kick start the economy with the accompanying multiplier effect on output, jobs and growth.

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End Depression Now! Paul Krugman at the LSE

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Paul Krugman made an impassioned plea for a reversal of austerity policies in a talk to a packed Peacock Theatre at the LSE in London last night - I was live tweeting the event and I have brought together these tweets and some other comments together with some of the charts in his talk. I have also drawn on the live tweets of Stuart Foster whose excellent twitter feed can be found here: @econbant

The slides from Krugman’s talk at the LSE can be found here

Paul Krugman talks to Evan Davis on the Radio 4 Today programme: Click here Niall Ferguson provides a contrary view here: ‘You can’t solve debt with more debt’ See also: European Commission supports UK deficit-cutting course (BBC news)


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Unit 2 Macro: Cyclical and Structural Economic Issues Facing the UK

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Our focus in an AS macro revision session was on the difference between cyclical issues and events and the wider / deeper structural problems and issues facing the UK economy at this fascinating time. Key macro policy decisions affect the path of an economy out of recession, but are these the same policies that will address the supply-side constraints and weaknesses that hold back growth, development and contribute to growing inequality?

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Improving Evaluation Skills in Economics Exams

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Here is an updated version of the WEESTEPS approach to economics evaluation designed to boost the evaluation scores and exam results for AS and A2 Economics students.

It gives you some great pointers about the evaluative approaches that can be used. Works well for micro and macro - but particularly when you have to evaluate a specific policy intervention in a market / industry / or a macro policy discussion.

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Unit 2 Macro: Economic Cycle Glossary

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A short glossary of key terms connected to the economic cycle

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