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Channel 4 news hosted an extended discussion recently on the impact of fiscal austerity in the UK and many other European countries. Click below for the video which looks at whether austerity measures are bringing massive government borrowing under control or threatening an even deeper descent into semi-permanent recession. The discussion features Professor Paul Krugman. I have also added in a recent Newsnight debate between Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Ormerod.
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.
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 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/07/david-cameron-rules-out-extra-borrowing
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.
The latest edition of the Economics Journal publishes some new macroeconomic research on the vexed issue of fiscal austerity. Below are some of the summaries of these research papers.read more...»
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.read more...»
Huge media headlines today for the decision by Moody's to downgrade the UK's credit rating from AAA. It will take some time to see if this decision from one of the ratings agencies - who we must recall lost much of their credibility because of the sub-prime crisis - will have genuine and significant consequences for variables such as market interest rates, the sterling exchange rate, inflation and GDP growth. Stripping away the rather facile spin from the political parties, there have been some interesting and relevant comment pieces on the downgrading and I have chosen some of them for this blog entry. I hope some of them are helpful for your studies:
"The main driver underpinning Moody’s decision to downgrade the UK’s government bond rating to Aa1 is the increasing clarity that, despite considerable structural economic strengths, the UK’s economic growth will remain sluggish over the next few years due to the anticipated slow growth of the global economy and the drag on the UK economy from the ongoing domestic public- and private-sector de-leveraging process. Moody’s says that the country’s current economic recovery has already proven to be significantly slower — and believes that it will likely remain so — compared with the recovery observed after previous recessions, such as those of the 1970s, early 1980s and early 1990s. Moreover, while the government’s recent Funding for Lending Scheme has the potential to support a surge in growth, Moody’s believes the risks to the growth outlook remain skewed to the downside."read more...»
Like many teachers, I'm firmly of the belief that money is not the root of happiness. I have to think like that - otherwise how do I argue with my old university friends who went to join the big banks that there’s more to life than big cars and foreign holiday homes ("Come and join us, Jon," they used to say to me, "you can set your own Libor rate and everything" ). It's important that we remind the 'those-who-can't-do' brigade that teaching is a life-style. It's a vocation. A calling.
Well, according to research by US academics Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, the evidence suggests that wealth is a determining factor in happiness after all. Apparently, the data shows that there are no upper limits to happiness with regards to money – yes, the increase in happiness slows down but still rises.
Quick, somebody tell Victoria Beckham before David gives away all of his cash to the Paris children.read more...»
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
- Strong rule of law
- Generally competitive product markets
- Flexible labour market
- A world-class university system
- Openness to foreign investors and migrants
- Independent regulators including competition authorities
- 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
- 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.read more...»
There has been much controversy and debate recently about the ability and incentives of transnational corporations to cut their liability to pay taxes on profits. Starbucks is one example, Amazon is another. This Financial Times video offers a useful summary of some of the issues. Many governments have been shaving their corporation tax rates in a bid to attract inward and domestic investment. Are they engaged in a damaging race to the bottom? Latest data suggests that companies paid a total of £77bn in UK corporation tax in 2012, 14.2% of total tax receipts.read more...»
Kier Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has vowed to ‘ramp up’ prosecutions against individuals for tax evasion five-fold in two years. He has made clear his plan to target middle-class earners, citing as examples ‘lawyers, tax consultants and plumbers’, an intriguing perspective on the British class system, or perhaps we are all middle-class now.read more...»
Here is a selection of links and news videos on the vexed economic, social and political issue of fiscal austerity - there is a particular focus on the effects of austerity in the debt-ridden crisis countries of the Euro Zoneread more...»
An updated glossary of key terms for AS macroread more...»
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.read more...»
A superb short video here from Chris Lockwood at the Economist which explains the background to the Fiscal Cliff and the policy options being considered.read more...»
Reducing the income tax rate and increasing the inheritance tax rate could induce a huge increase in UK GDP, according to research by Professors Alberto Alesina and Guido Cozzi and Dr Noemi Mantovan, published in the latest Economic Journal (December 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.read more...»
Those of you who felt angry or let down by the recent proposals for a Pasty Tax, or those that have been imposed on static caravans or toasties (turning the mighty Subway in to a new lobbying organisation) in the UK should spare a thought for the poor French citizens who are potentially about to have a new surcharge placed upon Nutella - that famous hazelnut and chocolate spread.
Unlike the previously mentioned British taxes, which were imposed or proposed to generate revenue or close apparent loopholes, this tax has been put forward for market failure reasons. The tax, of course, is not directly on the brand but upon one of its main ingredients - palm oil. The proposed increase by the French government is nearly 300%. The French are arguing that palm oil is a product with negative externalities - poor for the health of its consumers and a large burden on the health system. There is also a claim that the high production of palm oil in South East Asia has resulted in large-scale deforestation.
Read a short article on the issue at the Huffington Post. The cost of your morning crepe in Brittany may be about to increase!
Three senior corporate executives were grilled by a Parliamentary Select Committee yesterday over the controversial use of transfer pricing as a way of legally avoiding corporation tax on profits made in the UK. Starbucks, Google and Amazon all have an incredibly strong UK presence in their respective markets but all are under fire for using legal, but undesirable methods to minimise tax payments in this country. US coffee giant Starbucks reportedly paid just £8.6m in corporation tax in the UK over 14 years, they are masters at using complex corporate tax codes to lower their tax liability.
How strong is the reputational risk at stake here? As a consumer, I use all three of these businesses most days and I could be persuaded to change my habits albeit reluctantly. Surely there is a case for a strong government response to identify and close legal tax loopholes that allow this to happen? Corporate tax avoidance is an issue that will not go away.read more...»
Here are some links connected to the news that the United Kingdom is drawing to a close financial aid to India by the year 2015. The focus will shift from aid to trade. Bilateral trade between the countries in 2010 was worth £10 bn. The countries have set a target of £20 bn by 2015. We also link to a new Inside Story programme from Al Jaxzeerah on the continuing debate over the effectiveness of and future of overseas aid in the world economy.read more...»
Michael Heseltine’s report on economic growth came out last week. It contains 89 recommendations. A mere 57 varieties, to recall the famous Heinz slogan, might have connected it more with popular culture.
Corporation tax is very much in the news. Starbucks is merely the latest to be in the spotlight, having paid no corporation tax on more than £1billion of sales in the past three years . This became noteworthy when the Prime Minister himself declared he was unhappy with the level of tax avoidance by big corporations working in Britain.
The plain fact is that if corporation tax did not exist, it would be madness to introduce it. The tax plays to the ignorance not only of the general public, but of almost all politicians. It encourages the fantasy that there is a free lunch, that someone else will pick up the bill for the welfare state and bloated state bureaucracy.read more...»
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.
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:
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.read more...»
Wealth is spread far more unequally than income, so The Lib Dem leader and Coalition Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has proposed a temporary wealth tax, and Ed Balls implied that Labour would introduce permanent tax on wealth. The graph from This week's Economist contrasts estimates of net private assets with net national debt. A wealth tax is being touted in Germany as a means to raise revenues.
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?read more...»
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).read more...»
Credibility is a term widely used by politicians who like to claim that their policies and programmes have a stamp of approval and must be followed through to their logical conclusion.
For economists the keep word to link to credibility is commitment – i.e. the expectation that a given policy target or objective will be met in the years ahead
1. Inflation: The Bank of England’s inflation target of 2% had strong credibility in the first ten years after the Bank was made independent, but that credibility has been questioned in recent years with inflation persistently above target
2. Government borrowing and debt: The new Coalition government make repeated references to its policy of cutting the structural budget deficit and a need to commit to this to maintain their credibility especially in financial markets. Chancellor George Osborne has often linked this credibility to keeping the UK’s AAA credit rating for UK sovereign debt
Credibility is also be linked to the word trust – i.e. trust among the public that economic policies are being used to meet a broader range of economic and social objectives. This doesn’t just mean meeting specific inflation or borrowing targets but includes trust that policies will create jobs, prevent another recession, meet environmental aims, or to help maintain economic and social cohesion in vulnerable communities. The danger is that credibility simply becomes associated with the financial markets’ judgement on monetary and fiscal policies.read more...»
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.read more...»
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)
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?read more...»
Lots of students will be revising the economics of supply-side policies this week with their AS macro paper coming into view. There are different interpretations of what constitutes a supply-side policy measure. I like to label SSP (supply-side policy) to any policy or group of measures where emphasis is given to improving the working of markets, raising factor efficiency, improving the quantity and quality of labour and in lifting the capacity and competitiveness of an economy in a constantly-changing international environment.
Many supply side policies focus on improving incentives and outcomes in the labour market, others are geared towards bettering the performance of markets for goods and services, All of them centre on helping to sustain non-inflationary growth, improve trade performance, lift living standards and create new and fulfilling jobs opportunities.
This revision blog looks in particular at some evaluation points on supply-side approaches:read more...»
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.read more...»
Last week I attended a very interesting lecture at the LSE on the Eurozone crisis, given by Leszek Balcerowicz, a Polish economist who is former chairman of the National Bank of Poland and Deputy Prime Minister.
The following blog outlines his thoughts, but also includes useful links to articles to read.
Using the crisis as a case study will hugely benefit A2 students as it encompasses many of the topics covered in the syllabus.
Following on from Ben Christopher’s article, a BBC Radio 4 interview with Andrew Balls, an investment fund manager, and younger brother of The Shadow Chancellor on the possibility of a Grexit - Greek exit from the Euro.read more...»
Government spending (or public spending) and in Britain, it takes up nearly half of our annual GDP. Spending by the public sector can be broken down into three main areas:read more...»
This PowerPoint contains four fiscal policy charts for the UK - I have been using them in a revision session this morning. I will blog a little bit more about them later on
A selection of economic terms linked to government fiscal policyread more...»
A short glossary of key terms connected to the economic cycleread more...»
Those who are interested in the ‘austerity’ title for the RES essay competition might find this article on the BBC website useful. Today there is a general strike planned in Portugal, in protest against the country’s austerity measures. Portugal’s three main parties all voted in favour of stringent austerity measures for the country. The new government, voted in last summer, has privatised several industries, cut public sector wages and raised taxes, including VAT. They have been praised by Brussels for their approach, and the latest government estimate put its budget deficit for 2011 at close to 4% of GDP, well below the official target of 5.9%. In this interesting piece of writing, many different perspectives are offered of the effects of these measures, ranging from an increase in bad behaviour in schools to an increase in home-grown vegetables.
As ever, there are loads of sources that students can use to analyse the Budget and to extract pieces of Evidence for the Examples they will need to add depth to their analysis in essays. Those who are attending the current round of revision workshops will recognise this as a key part of ensuring that they write essays which PEEL the answer (each paragraph makes one Point, using Examples with Evidence, offering Evaluation and Linking to the question). As start points, I would suggest these sources which are reasonably free of opinions:
BBC website: Budget 2012 at a glance, Farewell 50p tax rate, and Over 65-s tax-free income freeze
The Guardian Budget 2012: welfare cuts, tax cuts too, but retreat on child benefit and for the visual learners a nice graphic version: Tax and spending plans visualised
It will be interesting to receive my personal statement spelling out exactly how much of my income is paid to the state and what it is being spent on! However for those wanting this information sooner than this, there is a great resource from the Guardian data team which shows you, on a sliding scale, exactly how much direct taxation you pay on your income and specifically where that money is spent.
This is an excellent resource for fiscal policy and useful to start debates about how and why the UK taxpayer is taxed and where the government should be spending the revenue received. There is no doubt that following Wednesday’s budget, the role of fiscal policy will take centre stage in Economics classrooms up and down the country - keep your eye out for some top analysis in the media over the next few days.
Here is a fresh attempt by the British government to breathe life into the moribund housing market. People in England are being offered financial help to climb onto or up the housing ladder as the government’s new mortgage indemnity scheme launches. Under the terms of the scheme, both the construction industry and taxpayers will act as co-guarantors on new homes bought by existing or first-time buyers. Will it work in boosting demand for new build homes? Is this scheme designed to help house-buyers or builders? Or is there a real risk of government failure?
* Builders will pay 3.5 per cent of the price of the home
* Taxpayers will provide an additional guarantee of 5.5 per cent that will only be used if there is a major property crash.
* Mortgage lenders will be able to lend up to 95 per cent of the sale price which means new buyers in many instances will only need to find a five per cent deposit or £10,000 on a new £200,000 home. The typical deposit on a mortgage now is closer to £36,000
* The scheme is available on houses and flats valued under £500,000 in England only
We were looking today in AS macro at the policy options being considered as part of a strategy to drive a stronger recovery in demand, output, jobs and investment in the UK economy.
I am trying to encourage my students to put things into context as soon as possible in their longer essay-style questions. Here are some thoughts on a question on policies designed to bolster growth:read more...»
The Confederation of British Industry is a lobbying organisation and seeks to promote and protect the interest of many of the UK’s leading businesses across manufacturing and services. Ahead of the March Budget, their head John Cridland argues in this video for a series of targeted tax cuts as a stimulus for the economy. This is worth watching to get a feel for what are the priorities of business at this stage of the cycle. How much different would it be if the interviewee was representing the trade unions?read more...»
Nearly every country has a tax on petrol, although the amount varies widely. And given that the landed price of petrol is quite similar (see the graph below), it can be seen what effect the tax has on quantity demanded. The results are very much in line what economic theory would predict and there are also clear implications for countries that want to reduce petrol consumption.read more...»
How far, how fast and in what way should the UK government seek to cut the annual budget deficit and improve the state of public sector finances? These questions continue to be at the centre of a fierce debate among economists.read more...»
The yields on UK government issued bonds has been falling steadily in recent months and, as we turned into January 2012, the yield on ten year government debt edged below 2% - when the UK government continues to borrow eye-wateringly large sums, why are bond yields so low?
The yield on a bond is the income received from a fixed-interest bond, calculated as a percentage of the price paid for it. So a ten year bond bought for £10,000 and paying a fixed annual interest of £600 would offer a yield of £600 / £10,000 = 6.0% per annum.
If the market price of a bond rises - for example, it rises from £10,000 to £12,000, the fixed interest remains the same (£600) but the yield will fall. £600 / £12,000 expressed as a percentage = 5%.read more...»
AS level students who have studied AD, AS and macroeconomic equilibrium should be in a position to carry out an economic analysis of today’s Autumn Statement. Here is a suggested assignment, which borrows from the focus on ‘connectives’ in the Business Workshops this week to help to build a strong chain of argument.read more...»
Over a month ago I highlighted a resource from the guardian visualising where government spending had been allocated in the last financial year and these figures can be updated for the planned 2011-2012 spending through the HM Treasury websiteread more...»