Saturday, July 03, 2010

Borrowing - bad and good

George Osbore's potentially disastrous Emergency Budget was driven by fear that "the markets" would move in to destroy the UK economy because size of our debt. Our budget deficit (the amount we have to borrow each year) is indeed unacceptably large, but budget deficit is not the only measure of our economy. The most relevant measure is our risk of default, and on this we are placed towards the middle of the spectrum.

The Boy George is raising hysteria about the level of our borrowing, and succeeding in his plan because mainstream journalists are notoriously gullible. The problem is that there is a kernel of truth in his marshmallow of spin. It is not good to have an economy so shot through with debt. Borrowing means that future generations are obliged to pay to satisfy present needs. So it all depends on what the borrowing was for in the first place. The huge borrowing needed to finance the war against Nazism was necessary. The huge borrowing to avoid a general bank collapse in 2009 was also necessary.  However, Labour was wrong to borrow so heavily to finance the NHS in the closing years of their regime. Their motivations were good, to bring the UK up to a level of health spending comparable with other similar economies. But the comparable nations had achieved that position over many years, and Labour tried to do it in a few years.

Similarly, the national debt has built up over very many years, and Osborne is wrong to try to rectify it in a few years. He is doing major surgery on the economy. You only do major surgery if the patient's heart is up to it. The UK is not in good heart economically, and Mr Osborne's operation is likely to end up with an arrest on the table.

The other point about borrowing is that it is stupid to complain about debt, when you support the notion that it is right that banks should have a monopoly on the creation of money, and their method of money creation involves lending (creating debt) at compound interest.

The whole picture is irrational, based on the ideological mantra that says "Individual action Good, collective action Bad".  Borrowing is seen as OK if short term, by individual trader, even if used to help destroy a nation's economy, but not OK if long term, by a nation, even if it is used to help preserve and improve a nation's economy.

It is legitimate to borrow to invest. The Green New Deal is an excellent example. We need to decarbonise the economy, to secure our energy supply, and blunt the economic impact of Peak Oil. The way to do this is to create work in the fields of energy conservation and renewable energy, underpinned with a pan-European HVDC supergrid. This GND needs financing. I have argued elsewhere that the money for this could safely be created by the state, as grants or loans with zero or low interest. But even if we chickened out of these radical measures, it would still be OK for the state to borrow from the banks to finance the GND, because the physical outcome is so positive.

That's it. I gotta go to Cornwall now, to view the dancing in Bodmin.

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