Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Oh no, Brown and Osborne have morphed into Geordon

They reportedly hate each other but the current and former Chancellor are increasingly merging into one.

No one was more fiercely critical of Brown as Chancellor than me and that was in the boom years as well as the the recession which followed.

I hoped George Osborne would draw a line under the Brown years and set Britain on the right course.  But increasingly it seems there is little to choose between the current Tory economic policies and the Labour ones that left the UK in ruins.

Read these five criticisms of recent Treasury policy and decide who they apply to, George or Gordon:

Out of control public sending - The Chancellor has allowed public sector spending to rise remorselessly as a % of GDP to the point where half of the UK economy is taken up by government spending, 20% of that financed by borrowing which never seems to come down, making a mockery of the "austerity" or "iron" Chancellor reputations.

Blame the foreigners - once it was the US for the sub - prime crisis which had the temerity to burst the UK's bubble and now it's the Eurozone for slowing demand for British exports.  Convenient scapegoats for a disastrous performance by the UK economy and its chancellors.

Laissez faire monetary policy - The decision to farm out responsibility for monetary policy to the Bank of England was widely-praised but it looks to me like an abrogation of responsibility.  How can you claim to be running the economy when the most important policy decisions (QE, interest rates) are made elsewhere?      The B of E has a government set inflation-target of course but this is deeply flawed and takes insufficient account of asset bubbles, money supply, the exchange rate and absolute levels of indebtedness.  The unspoken rule of the Chancellor seems to be that the B of E is free to adopt whatever monetary policy it likes . . . as long as it is loose.

Tricks and wheezes  -  There used to be a time when Chancellors announced programs which changed the face of the country - think Lawson's tax reforms in the late 80s and Healey's change of course in the late 70s.  Now we get short term fiddling and little games to try and "wrong foot" the opposition.  Lots of knockabout political point scoring and short term initiatives, nothing substantial for the long term.

As a footnote there are two members of the government who ARE making important reforms with long term economic ramifications  they are just not in No 11 (Gove - Education, Duncan Smith - Welfare).

Off balance sheet finance - why raise money transparently and honestly through the tax system when you can finance pet projects on the never never via dubious PFI schemes, Infrastructure Banks?  These schemes look like they are giving the taxpayer something for nothing but, as we are finding out with PFI-financed hospitals, they will come back to bite us in the end.

Can't decide which criticism belongs to whom?  It's because increasingly they  apply to both equally. Brown and Osborne have morphed into one terrifying being.  Heaven help us.

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