I find it difficult to do interviews on the state of the economy. The BBC interviewers all think there have been large cuts in public spending. They want to debate the question should the state spend and borrow more to lift the economy out of recession. I always have to start with explanations of just how much extra the state is spending and borrowing. They cannot point to anyone recommending a large figure for extra state spending and borrowing, who thinks deficit reduction is not important. They cannot explain why so much state spending and borrowing so far has not produced the growth most of us want. Under the Coalition government an expanding state sector has increased national output, but not by enough to offset declines in the private sector.
I am a strong supporter of the government’s Plan A. That Plan was stated in words. It was to remove the structural deficit by 2015. 80% of the work would be done through spending cuts, and just 20% through increased tax revenue. It would actively promote a private sector led recovery by supply side measures. That was a good plan, and would probably have worked fine. The trouble is they never implemented that one.
The embarked on Plan B in their first budget. This kept the sensible idea of eliminating the structural deficit by 2015, but decided to do it by a huge forecast increase in tax revenues, whilst allowing public spending to rise. At the time I suggested the tax forecasts were too optimistic, as the higher rates were always likely to lead to revenue shortfalls. I also suggested that if they simply froze public spending for the first year, they would borrow £160 billion less over the 5 year period of this Parliament. That would have given them more leeway and help secure success. They opted for a plan which proposed borrowing an extra £451 bn over five years instead, to allow a substantial spending rise in the first year.
Now we are on Plan C. Plan C delays eliminating the structural deficit until 2017 or later. It is seeking to reinstate some of the cuts in public capital spending made by Labour and included in Plan B. It recognises that revenue will be lower than forecast in Plan B. It is, if you like, a massive fiscal stimulus plan, based on borrowing £556 billion extra between 2010 and 2015. Latest figures imply they may well add additional fiscal stimulus to this package, as so far this year they have borrowed £9 billion more than budget. How much more borrowing do the additional fiscal stimulus enthusiasts think it takes? Why hasn’t the huge fiscal stimulus administered by the current large structural deficit done the job?
State borrowing is simply deferred taxation. It all has to be paid back, with interest, by taxpayers. Too much deferred taxation is as damaging to enterprise, incomes and prosperity as taxation itself. The government has increased planned borrowing by £105 bn for the period of this Parliament when shifting from Plan B (Budget 2010) to Plan C (budget 2012). How much more deferred tax do people want? This autumn will probably see a further rise in the official forecasts for the borrowing total.