On Wednesday, for the first time in four Budgets, George Osborne will be able to claim plausibly that Britain has come out of the Great Recession. Growth was 1.8 per cent in 2013 and is expected to be between 2.4 and 2.8 per cent in 2014. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the economy is still 1.4 per cent smaller than it was in 2008 and 14 per cent smaller than it would have been had the recession not struck.
That lost output, amounting to £210bn, is gone for ever. Every household is almost £2,000 poorer on average than it would have been; the government’s revenue is £70bn less – that is (say) 70 hospitals, 1,000 schools and 250,000 housing units not built. Or, to take another number: 650,000 people now unemployed would haveContinue reading...
What Makes Us Human?
| Friday, January 10, 2014
Let’s start with an addled view of what it is to be human. According to economists, it is the ability to calculate. Their picture of the human is that of homo economicus ‘economic man’, a calculating machine who is always weighing up the costs and benefits of every course of action.
Economics is about ‘economizing’ –eliminating waste (including waste of time) so that all behaviour becomes efficiently purposive. The task of economics, according to economist Dennis Robertson, is to ‘economize on love, that scarce resource’. We need to economize on love, because we live in a world of scarcity, and cannot afford to spend too much time on wasteful activities such as love. Economics offers us a way of getting what we want without love.Continue reading...
George Osborne is bound to crow at the Conservative party conference about the superior performance of the British economy under his stewardship. After three years of “hard slog”, there is at last some good news to report. In the second quarter of this year, the economy grew by 0.7 per cent after “flatlining” for the previous three years. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has revised its annual growth forecast upwards twice in its latest forecasts. The British economy is now expected to grow by 1.2 per cent in 2013, 0.5 percentage points more than was forecast as late as in February, and in 2014 this will surge to 1.8 per cent. The tables, the media will gush, have been turned on Labour. George has pulled it off. AndContinue reading...
Britain is a service economy with a lot of lousy services. The paradox is easily explainable. Service and cost-cutting are contradictions in terms. Good services are intrinsically expensive because they require a high ratio of labour to product; hence the old view that services could not be automated. Yet the main aim of those who run our service economy is to cut the costs represented by human labour as much and as fast as they can.
The view that services are automation-proof has been disproved. Think of the labour-saving devices in the home – vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dishwashers – that have reduced the burden of domestic drudgery and created leisure time that in the past only the rich enjoyed. Think of cash dispensers, ofContinue reading...
The economics of despair
Robert Skidelsky and Marcus Miller
| Friday, June 28, 2013
Across Europe, austerity policies have caused stagnation and despair. There is a more humane way to restore our fortunes
Lionel Robbins defined economics as the study of the allocation of scarce resources among competing uses. For an economy at full employment, where the opportunity cost of government spending is the private spending it displaces, this remains a good characterisation. But what if there is a deficiency of aggregate demand, so the nation’s resources are being underused – as evidenced by significant involuntary unemployment? In this case, in so far as it employs unused capacity, expenditure by the government will add to the resources available for investment and consumption. This is conventionally measured by theContinue reading...