This £1 trillion row leaves voters shortchanged

The squabble over the cost of the Labour Party’s policies, started by the Tories at the weekend, tells us next to nothing about the potential impact of either party’s economic programme. But it does reveal the decrepit state of the parties that were once the two big beasts of British politics.

Spending figures – large or small – do not tell us if either party is planning an economic transformation of the country. In themselves, the numbers even say very little about how profligate or prudent either party is being. When it comes to future economic performance, the impact of public spending has much more to do with what the money is being spent on, and the circumstances in which it is being spent, rather than simply how much.

The row over these figures suggests that both the Tories and Labour have yet to appreciate what this General Election is really about. It also alerts us to how little meaningful distance there is between the two parties’ economic proposals. The huffing and puffing about numbers provides camouflage rather than clarity. … Read the article here

The myth of Corbyn’s radicalism

Given the fears generated by the prospect of a Corbyn-led government, just how radical is it likely to be? Should we really expect Britain’s first anti-capitalist government? Certainly not on the basis of what Corbyn and McDonnell and their cheerleaders have been writing and saying about their future Labour government. Read the full essay here.

When the next crisis comes, don’t blame the central bankers

President Trump’s tweets criticising the Federal Reserve bank, and the European Central Bank, draw attention to how prominent central banking has become over recent years. Central banking’s high profile today marks a significant shift from earlier times. Central banking used to be regarded as a necessary activity that most people knew existed, but few could get that excited about.

Increasingly over the past three decades the central banks have attained a much more prominent role, not only in the US but across the mature industrial countries. This has had nothing to do with changes to the calibre of central bankers, or to the development of new banking techniques. Instead, it was primarily a response to the exhaustion of Western politics that became more evident from the second half of the 1980s.

There are three important features of central banking in modern mature economies. First, the misleading fallacy of central bank ‘independence’. Second, the associated sheltering of politicians from responsibility for the economy. And third, the waning efficacy of central banking.

Read the full article here.

The unravelling of the international order

Tensions over China and trade didn’t start with Trump. As the reality of the West’s economic atrophy has become harder to disguise, particularly in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, rivalries both within the West, and also between the West and the rest, have sharpened. The West is in material decline relative to the expanding parts of the world in Asia. And so it can no longer justify imposing its own geopolitical agenda on everyone else. The old order cannot continue forever, and recognition of this fact is growing. Read the full article here.

Tariffs are a distraction

An odd feature of the Brexit saga is that so many people have become preoccupied with the supposed economic effects of trade. Recently the particular focus has been the impact of tariffs. Tariff levels are being hotly debated, both in terms of what level is desirable and what level will be possible in a post-Brexit Britain.Three years ago, talk about trade agreements, tariff levels and quota restrictions would mostly have raised mild bemusement, or more likely a yawn. Now we have trade ‘experts’ popping up all over the place with firm views on the form and significance of trading arrangements.

Read the full article here.

 

No Deal is no threat to business

More and more businesses and business groups have been getting vocal about the supposedly dire consequences of a No Deal Brexit. Having to deal with new border controls, many are saying, would be a disaster for the economy and for jobs.

Business leaders have as good reason as the rest of us to be irritated with our timid politicians and their delays in implementing the referendum decision. The government’s incoherent messages on preparing for Brexit have also not made life easier for them. While half the cabinet have been saying there is no chance of a No Deal Brexit, others have been telling business, rather late in the day, that they should really be doing more to prepare for one, including building up stockpiles of essential supplies. In practice, a lot of well-run businesses will have drawn up effective contingency plans months ago. But, unfortunately, the government’s lack of decisiveness will have given others an excuse to procrastinate, thereby creating more disruption than would have been necessary.

Genuine frustration, though, is no excuse for business leaders to be telling us stories that are as much Project Fairyland as Project Fear.

Read the full article here