George Osborne says we’re running out of money ..

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First a quiz:

Q1.  The UK economy is just like a household and the government has to finance spending out of its income or through borrowing.  True or False?

Q2.  The role of taxes is to provide finance for government spending?  True or False?

Q3.  The UK government needs to borrow money from the private sector to finance the budget deficit. True or False?

Q4.  If the Tory/LDs were running a budget surplus instead of a budget deficit, pressure would be taken off interest rates because the private sector would have more funds available for investment projects. True or False?

Q5.  If the budget deficit persists it will burden further generations with inflation and higher taxes. True or False?

Q6.  We need to run budget surpluses now, to help build up the funds necessary to cope with an ageing population in the future. True or False?

The answer is that they are all are false …not true… misleading… erroneous… fictitious… incorrect… deceitful… dishonest… sham… bogus… unreal… and yet we are fed these lines, day after to day, to justify George Osborne ‘shrinking the state’.  And worse still, Ed Balls and the LP are going along with an austerity-lite economic strategy.

Don’t believe me?

Listen to what the St Louis Federal Reserve, from the heart of Western capitalism in the US says:

‘As sole manufacturers of dollars whose debt is denominated in the dollar, the US government can never become insolvent ie. unable to pay its bills.  In this sense, the government is not dependent on credit markets to remain operational.  Moreover, there will always be a market for US government debt at home because the US government has the only means of creating risk-free dollar-denominated assets.’

The same is true of Sterling.  Economics Professor Randy Wray explains :

L. Randall Wray — MODERN MONEY: the way a sovereign currency “works”

Published on Sep 23, 2012  ModMonPubPurpose

The UK government can never ‘run out’ of money;

The UK government can never be forced to default;

The UK government can never be forced to miss a payment;

The UK government is never subject to the whim of ‘bond vigilantes’.

So why are we told that there is no money left; that it is imperative to reduce the deficit and debt; and that we have to keep the ‘bond markets’ happy?

The scale of the Coalition government’s intended austerity measures are on a scale never seen in modern Britain. What is planned here will dwarf anything that was undertaken by Thatcher in the 1980s. There is already massive unemployment in the public sector….Massive unemployment and lower wages mean lower tax receipts, and even bigger budget deficits and debt loads… It is now clear that the austerity policy in the UK is not a matter of economic necessity but of political choice… It is obvious that the cuts of this scale are about much more than just deficit reduction… The cuts are part of an agenda to transfer services from the public sector to the private sector. The pretence of ‘there is no alternative’ is a means for the Conservative project to radically transform the state.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/uk-economy-falls-into-double-dip-recession/5313842

If George Osborne was serious about reducing the deficit and balancing the budget, he wouldn’t be cutting jobs, benefits and reducing corporation tax.

‘So even if you are obsessed with reducing deficits, the best way is to engender growth. The dumbest thing a government can do if it wants a lower deficit is to impose fiscal austerity. There are a lot of dumb governments out there. The problem is they are aided and abetted by criminal types who know full well it is dumb to cut net public spending but pressure governments to do so as long as the space for spending on them expands.’

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=22186#more-22186

The 2011 Budget Control Act, initiated by the Republican controlled House, is one of the most foolish pieces of legislation ever passed into law by Congress, as it forces the government to attempt to “balance” its budget and reduce the budget deficit.  National government budget deficits, which are the net contribution of government spending to economic growth, are actually integral to economic growth, contrary to the anti-scientific conventional budget lore upon which deficit hysteria has been built.  Without government budget deficits, the economies of nations with trade deficits CANNOT accumulate net financial wealth  due a matter of simple arithmetic; those few nations (China, Germany, not the US) with large trade surpluses MIGHT be able to accumulate net financial wealth without a budget deficit but always with the cooperation of other nations financing those surpluses through trade and, in most cases, government budget deficits on the side of the net-importing nation.

A fiat currency-issuing national government, unlike a local government, business or a household, does not depend upon tax or other income and therefore is not and should not pretend to be bound by conventional balance sheet accounting, which was perhaps a more applicable, though not particularly successful, means of national government accounting during the gold standard era. The reasons for transitioning away from the gold-standard, the rigidities which it imposed on aggregate demand and the money supply, have been suppressed from public discourse in an era in which deficit hysterics like those at “Fix the Debt” hold honored seats at the policymaking and policy advocacy tables.  These deficit hysterics, funded by Wall Street tycoons freelancing as economic pundits, would like Washington insiders and the media to believe that the gold-standard never went away, specifically for the purpose of cutting social programs that stand in the way of Wall Street’s expansion into new markets.

I have recently proposed that we rename the so-called budget deficits specifically of currency-issuing governments, the government’s “net contribution to monetary/economic growth” so that the confusion no longer persists that these so-called deficits are by their nature “bad” and to be avoided.  The fiat currency issuer can never run out of its own money, can never be in “deficit” in it; “net contribution” is a better formal description of the excess of spending over taxes for specifically a fiat currency-issuing government.  The government spending over taxes collected becomes the incremental increase in the money supply for the real economy as it grows in real terms, underneath the pro-cyclical expansion and contraction of money available from bank credit (i.e. expands in a boom and collapses in a bust).  Too much price inflation is a possibility with too much government spending over-and-above taxes collected but demand-led inflation in our current situation would be a “high quality problem” indicating that we have reached full capacity in our economy, which is not nearly the case.  Right now we have a very large output gap as well as high demand for government-led expenditures on things like infrastructure, public services and education, making increased government expenditures very unlikely to cause inflation.

http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2012/12/fueled-by-deficit-hysteria-obama-and-the-republicans-are-choosing-the-path-of-economicide.html

The deficit is the government’s ‘net contribution to monetary/economic growth’ .. so who in their right mind, would want to reduce it?  We should be increasing it until the UK has jobs for all who are willing and able to take them.  As Keynes said:

Look after unemployment and the Budget will look after itself”

Keyes also said:  ‘Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all.’

(My emphasis in bold)

Related posts:

The big lie – Governments cannot run out of money!

How to be a Deficit Owl

Cameron and Osborne dwell on Bullshit Mountain, UK

The fundamental deceit of ‘There’s No Money Left’

Why does the Structural Deficit remind me of LIBOR?

Osborne and Cameron’s Big Deficit Myth

What is George Osborne playing at?

The fundamental deceit of ‘There’s No Money Left’

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There’s No Money Left?  by alittleecon

http://alittleecon.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/the-british/ First posted 24.09.12

“The British Government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,”

George Osborne, Feb 2012

“…in the years of plenty they put nothing aside. They didn’t fix the roof when the sun was shining”.

David Cameron, March 2008

“There’s no money left”

Letter left by Liam Byrne, May 2010

For the last 4 years you will have seen or heard quotes like this in the media. How we were on the brink of bankruptcy and how “there is no money left”.  Those advocating a “Keynesian” response to the current crisis are rebuffed with the argument that we cannot increase borrowing now because we didn’t run budget surpluses in the years before the crisis – “Gordon Brown spent all the money”. Keynesianism has now been reduced to “surpluses in the good times, deficits in the bad”.

Liam Byrne’s famous note left as Labour left office was particularly heinous and the Coalition never miss an opportunity to use it as a stick with which to beat Labour. It may surprise you to hear this, but Liam Byrne is not an expert on the economy (or anything else), and should be ignored on all matters economic.

The Government say Labour want to increase borrowing by £200bn, and this would be disastrous as, if the ‘markets’ thought we were increasing borrowing, they would start to worry that we would be unable to repay our debt (or “pay our way in the world” as David Cameron is fond of saying), and interest rates would start to rise. This is basically what has happened in some of the states in the Eurozone, and Coalition ministers have not been shy in pointing this out (repeatedly and at length). Currently, Labour have no coherent response to this.

But is there any truth to this narrative? Is there an alternative path?

Perhaps surprisingly considering they have provided the intellectual cover for austerity, economists have long known that the idea of balancing budgets over the cycle is a bit like a fairy story we tell to frighten the kids. Here’s Paul Samuelson, “father of modern economics” and Nobel Prize winner, being interviewed in 1995:

“I think there is an element of truth in the view that the superstition that the budget must be balanced at all times [is necessary]. Once it is debunked [that] takes away one of the bulwarks that every society must have against expenditure out of control. There must be discipline in the allocation of resources or you will have anarchistic chaos and inefficiency. And one of the functions of old fashioned religion was to scare people by sometimes what might be regarded as myths into behaving in a way that the long-run civilized life requires. We have taken away a belief in the intrinsic necessity of balancing the budget if not in every year, [then] in every short period of time. If Prime Minister Gladstone came back to life he would say ‘uh, oh what you have done’ and James Buchanan argues in those terms. I have to say that I see merit in that view.”

So the idea that budgets must be balanced is a myth. Samuelson believed this myth was necessary to place a leash of governments who might be tempted to spend, spend, spend, but a myth it is never the less. But why is it a myth? Aren’t governments limited in their spending by what they can raise in taxation plus the amount the private sector is willing to lend them?

Categorically no! A country like the UK which issues its own floating currency, does not depend on anyone else for money. It can issue more currency at will and without limit. Therefore, it can never go run out of money and can always afford to purchase anything for sale in its own currency. This is a very simple (and perhaps obvious) point, but one that is generally ignored in all discussions about government finances. When it is discussed, it is discussed in somewhat hysterical terms: “PRINTING MONEY!! HYPERINFLATION!!” etc. etc. More sensible people realise that government creation of money is no more inflationary than bank creation of money. Creation of new money could be inflationary, but only at the point where output is unable to expand any more in response to new demand.

But if a government doesn’t need to collect taxes or borrow from the markets in order to spend, why does it do these things? In a country like the UK, taxes serve a number of purposes. Firstly, tax ensures there is a demand for the government’s currency. We must all pay taxes in pounds (some more than others), so we accept pounds as payment for goods and services so we can pay our taxes. Secondly, taxes make room for government spending. If the government just spent without taxing, very quickly we would reach maximum output and start to experience accelerating inflation. Taxation helps keep a lid on inflation. Finally, taxation is used to meet social aims. These may be to redistribute wealth or to discourage harmful activities, like polluting or smoking.

Why does the government sell bonds? It does this primarily to maintain its target rate of interest. If the government wanted, it could stop selling bonds altogether. This would mean the overnight interest rate would fall to 0%. Bonds also serve as a risk free asset which institutions like pension funds like to hold as part of their portfolios, so they serve a purpose in that way also.

So armed with this knowledge about government finances, what should government do?

  1. The do nothing approach. Like Paul Samuelson says, we can accept the truth about government finances, but also be concerned about letting governments spend without constraint, and so continue to tie our hands with regards to policy options. Taking this approach means we are in for a prolonged slump and a very slow recovery. We could still borrow more from the markets for investment, but this adds no new money to the system, just brings old money back into use.
  2. Use the knowledge that a government is not constrained by revenue and borrowing to actively pursue policies which would restore full employment and raise living standards. One possible approach would be to adopt an idea devised by the economist Abba Lerner (a contemporary of Keynes), known as functional finance. Lerner set out three rules for fiscal policy under functional finance:
    1. The government should ensure there is sufficient aggregate demand to ensure there is full employment. It should do this by lowering taxes and/or raising spending. If inflation beckons, government should do the opposite.
    2. Government should borrow money when it wishes to raise the interest rate and repay debt when it wishes to lower it.
    3. The government press shall print any money that may be needed to carry out rules 1 and 2.

I prefer option 2 as clearly it offers the shortest path back to prosperity. There are issues around how our political system would cope with functional finance, but this is a political problem, not an economic one. If the general public were fully aware of the realities of our monetary system, and the policy options that presented, we could all have a much more grown up debate about which course we should take.

For a full discussion of the nature of modern money, I recommend this video of a presentation given recently by Michael Hudson and L. Randall Wray. It’s a bit long, but well worth the effort:

http://mikenormaneconomics.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/randy-wray-and-michael-hudson.html

Further Reading

The following are a few blogs I find useful for helping to understand economics:

http://mikenormaneconomics.blogspot.co.uk/

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/

http://neweconomicperspectives.org/

http://www.3spoken.co.uk/

http://www.creditwritedowns.com/