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UK Austerity Budget Points to Continuing Fiscal and Economic Crisis

June 23rd, 2010 Comments off

As expected, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the new British coalition government, unveiled an emergency budget aimed at tacking the UK’s massive structural fiscal deficit. It is being described as the toughest UK budget since the age of austerity that followed in the immediate postwar period after the Second World War. It features a rise in the VAT to 20%, increased income and capital gains taxes, public service wage freezes and across the board programmatic budget cuts. The question that stands is this: will it work?

In my view, as explained in my book (Global Economic Forecast 2010-2015: Recession Into Depression) the United Kingdom, as with many other advanced economies, is in a fiscal and demographic trap. It’s national debt has skyrocketed to almost 70% of GDP; even with the Osborne budget cuts, continuing deficits will send this ratio towards 100% of GDP in the near future. With an aging population, meagre real economic growth at best and an economy that, like a heroin addict, has become dependent on its fiscal deficit fix, the UK economy is in such a trap.

Cut public spending dramatically, warn the critics, and the British economy will enter a double dip recession, and they are right. A renewed economic contraction will diminish tax revenue, largely defeating the purpose  of budget cuts and increased levels of taxation. However, continuing the neo-Keynesian debt folly is even more calamitous, for it will inevitably lead to a total fiscal collapse of the UK.

The real lesson is that the wild spending spree engaged in by policymakers in response to the global economic and financial crisis was flawed, and should have been curtailed before public debt to GDP ratios exploded to unsustainable levels. It is now too late to avoid severe economic pain. The only option left is determining which path will incur the least suffering on society.

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