The tyranny of the EU’s state-aid rules

The esoteric area of European Union state-aid rules has become a focal point in the dragging negotiations between Britain and the EU. Alongside access to British fishing grounds, the question of the UK continuing to adhere to the EU’s rules for state aid is reported to be the big sticking point jeopardising an agreement on future trade terms. On top of this, the same issue of state-aid rules is prominent in the furore over the publication of Britain’s Internal Market Bill. The European Commission’s condemnation of the Conservative government’s proposals to override parts of last year’s Withdrawal Agreement spotlighted the UK’s obligation to notify Brussels of any state-aid decisions that might affect Northern Ireland’s goods market. Why have the state-aid rules attained such importance in the fraught UK-EU relationship? Why are they so crucial for the European Commission (EC)? Read the full article here.

Three myths surrounding Boris Johnson’s ‘New Deal’

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘build, build, build’ speech on 30 June failed to throw much light on what, or if, there is a distinctive Johnsonian approach to economic policy. As many commentators noted, the £5 billion he pledged for various infrastructure deployments is a small amount for a government recovery plan, less than one quarter of one per cent of pre-pandemic annual output. This is like turning up to a battle with a water pistol.

As we assess the substance, if any, of Johnsonomics over the coming weeks and months of announcements, we can start by dismissing some of the fanciful narratives that are doing the rounds, both from the government’s supporters and its critics. The first, and most pertinent, myth is that the economic woes we face are primarily the result of the pandemic lockdown. In fact, they long predate it. The second myth is that we are entering a distinctive era of state economic leadership that marks the rejection of ‘neoliberal’ orthodoxies. And the third myth, given Johnson hails his plans as ‘Rooseveltian’, is that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal ended the Great 1930s Depression.

Read the full article here.

It’s time to transform the UK economy

It is said that crises provide fertile ground for innovation. This is only partly true. The acute pressures, the falling away of pre-crisis norms and the sidestepping of regulations, liberate individuals and teams of people to come up with great ideas about how to do things differently. This fresh thinking can originate better, more effective and efficient ways of conducting existing productive activity, or it can conceive brand new products or services that improve people’s lives.

Certainly in this pandemic and the lockdown crisis, we have already seen lots of inventive deliberation.  But where the saying falls short is that devising creative ideas is not enough for innovation. Innovation represents the implementation of that creativity for social benefit. While crises can be great times for ingenious thought, novel ideas only become innovations when they are applied and are replicated to bring change, improvement and progress to people’s lives.

This conception of innovation brings out the biggest obstacle to seeing much of it happening in the medium-term future. We are not just in a period of crisis, but a crisis within an existing state of economic depression. Depression is not simply an extension to recession, in the way it is being discussed today. It is a protracted phase of economic sclerosis that has become self-reinforcing.

Read the full article here.

The making of an economic crisis

The UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has offered a grim projection of a one-third fall in output in the April to June period. Even without a second Covid-19 wave precipitating another government shutdown later in the year, the OBR anticipated a full-year contraction of about 13 per cent of national output, worse than anything in recorded history. Some economists speculated this scale of collapse could be greater than any since the Great Frost of 1709 (though, of course, no one was measuring anything like gross domestic product then). This shows how unprecedented this government-determined recession really is.

However, at a Downing Street briefing last week, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer, said something that was even more disturbing and, ultimately, economically damaging. Acknowledging the ‘tough times’ flagged up by the OBR, Sunak sought to offer some comfort: ‘But we came into this crisis with a fundamentally sound economy.’ On the back of this he went on to insist that the economy will ‘bounce back’.

The great danger of this false portrayal of the past is that today’s self-imposed and brutal recession could be extended into a self-imposed and much more vicious depression than we have experienced up until now. This is not inevitable.

Read the full article here.

The coronavirus cash crunch

The UK Treasury’s number one priority, with support from the Bank of England, must be to get unlimited money swiftly to businesses and individuals who are losing income because of the government’s coronavirus containment measures. This applies both to providing firms with cash to avoid bankruptcy as well as to ensuring that all their staff – employed, self-employed and gig workers – continue to be paid when they go into unpaid quarantine or are laid off either temporarily or permanently.

But however successful the government is in this vital support task, the British economy is already in recession. And the more extensive the lockdowns are, the deeper the immediate falls in economic activity will be. Long before the Covid-19 outbreak many economists had been correctly anticipating another downturn. Britain, like most other advanced industrial countries, has been in a state of precarious sclerosis ever since the stabilisation which followed the financial crisis. Western economies have been producing too little new wealth for decades. They were only functioning as well as they have been by borrowing from the future. Now this precarious, debt-dependent economic life has suffered a sharp and unexpected disruption. The collapse is largely due to a cash crunch.

Read the full article here.