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Judy Shelton: Fed Can Only “Kill The Economy” With “Whatever It Takes” Approach

Judy Shelton: Fed Can Only "Kill The Economy" With "Whatever It Takes" Approach

Authored by Andrew Moran via The Epoch Times,

Jerome Powell…



Judy Shelton: Fed Can Only "Kill The Economy" With "Whatever It Takes" Approach

Authored by Andrew Moran via The Epoch Times,

Jerome Powell and the Federal Reserve have been on a crusade to navigate the U.S. economy to a soft landing rather than a hard crash as it struggles to fight 40-year high inflation while averting a recession.

Can the central bank achieve this ostensibly difficult objective?

If the central bank’s track record is anything to go by, the Fed is “not omniscient,” says Judy Shelton, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and former Federal Reserve board nominee, in a wide-ranging interview with The Epoch Times.

According to Shelton, it will be challenging to prognosticate the lasting effects of pushing up the benchmark Fed funds rate to a neutral level after exerting tremendous influence on the economy for the last two years.

“I think it’s also hard to say what will be the impact and what will be the timing of the impact of ratcheting up interest rates to the point where they choke off real economic activity,” she said. “There’s a big difference in saying money that comes from speculating on money that can generate income, versus GDP growth that reflects an increase in the level of goods and services available.”

Jerome Powell departs after taking the oath of office for his second term as Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System at the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, on May 23, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

A key hurdle that the Fed will need to overcome is having the real interest rate higher than the inflation rate, notes Shelton. In addition, the neutral rate—a rate that neither supports nor restricts economic growth—would need to run higher than what officials forecast price measurements will be at the end of the year, be it the consumer price index (CPI) or the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) price index.

“If the Fed is looking at pushing up the Fed funds rate to 2.4 or 2.5 percent, but inflation is running anything higher than let’s say 1 percent, then you’re still effectively having interest rates serving as a stimulus in the Keynesian sense,” she explained.

“The Fed would have to get in front of that. I don’t think they would do that.”

But the institution’s “whatever it takes” approach to combating inflation “is not an admirable solution,” according to the former U.S. executive director for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Powell acknowledged last month at a post-FOMC press conference that when the Fed reaches its neutral rate roughly at the end of the year, the Fed could tighten policy even further “if that turns out to be appropriate.” This would make borrowing costlier, but it would also restrain economic growth.

Financial markets are pricing in a benchmark rate as high as 3.6 percent by the middle of next year, although St. Louis Fed Bank President James Bullard has repeatedly purported that he wants to get to 3.5 percent by the year’s end. If the Fed does accelerate its rate hikes, this would be the highest interest rate in about 15 years.

The rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will be holding its next two-day policy meeting later this month. It is widely expected that officials will vote to approve a 50-basis-point hike.

In addition to consumers losing more than 8 percent a year in purchasing power, higher interest rates will also cause financial strain on many households that took on greater debt levels, asserts Shelton.

This is why she believes it has become a mistake to allow a small group of people to determine what the price of capital should be, suggesting that it might be time to adopt a more market-oriented approach to interest rates.

“I think we need to bring market forces into determining the price of capital, which is the interest rate on the basis of supply and demand, and have a more organic approach to calibrating the level of cash and credit to the needs of a productive economy,” Shelton said.

Fundamental Monetary Reforms

Overall, Shelton does not think the Federal Reserve has done a good job since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. But while missing the mark on inflation has severely hemorrhaged its reputation, the fact that the Fed has turned into “too big a factor in determining economic outcomes” is the problem.

“I think that they deployed the airbag in March 2020. I believe that they did not understand, at the Federal Open Market Committee, the need to get the car back on the road,” the economist stated.

“I think the Fed is far too big a factor in determining economic outcomes. I think that it is exerting too much influence over financial markets.

After attempting to control the money supply by manipulating interest rates, the central bank’s only recourse in managing price stability “is to kill the economy.”

In this environment where many economic experts believe the Fed has destroyed its credibility by claiming for nearly a year that inflation would be transitory, is it time for changes to monetary policy?

The Federal Reserve building in Washington on Jan. 26, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Shelton has not been shy about her support for fundamental monetary reforms.

In April 2019, Shelton wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “The Case for Monetary Regime Change.” She argued that it would be “entirely prudent to question the infallibility of the Federal Reserve in calibrating the money supply to the needs of the economy.”

Years later, she is still championing fundamental change at the Fed.

“I think that we might be reaching a point where people are so unhappy with the way the Fed has evolved into having such control over the economy, that they may be ready, now, to consider something along the lines of what was proposed and passed in the House in 2015, which was to have a monetary commission to really evaluate alternative monetary regimes,” Shelton averred.

“I really think central banking may have run its course. I think that we’re seeing that the tools the Fed uses now are damaging to productive economic activity.”

Tyler Durden Thu, 06/02/2022 - 14:26

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Rogoff Warns ‘Things Are Only Getting Harder For The Fed’

Rogoff Warns ‘Things Are Only Getting Harder For The Fed’

Authored by Kenneth Rogoff, op-ed via The Financial Times,

The Fed’s expansive…



Rogoff Warns 'Things Are Only Getting Harder For The Fed'

Authored by Kenneth Rogoff, op-ed via The Financial Times,

The Fed’s expansive actions to prevent the Silicon Valley Bank collapse from becoming systemic, followed by the Swiss National Bank’s massive lifeline to troubled Credit Suisse, left little doubt this week that financial leaders are determined to act decisively when fear starts to set in. Let us leave moral hazard for another day.

But even if risks of a 2023 financial Armageddon have been contained, not all the differences with 2008 are quite so reassuring.

Back then, inflation was a non-issue and deflation — falling prices — quickly became one. Today, core inflation in the US and Europe is still running hot, and one really has to strain the definition of “transitory” to argue that it is not a problem. Global debt, both public and private, has also skyrocketed. This would not be such an issue if forward looking, long-term real interest rates were to take a deep dive, as they did in the secular stagnation years prior to 2022.

Unfortunately, however, ultra-low borrowing rates are not something that can be counted on this time around.

First and foremost, I would argue that if one looks at long-term historical patterns in real interest rates (as Paul Schmelzing, Barbara Rossi and I have), major shocks — for example, the big drop after the 2008 financial crisis — tend to fade over time. There are also structural reasons: for one thing, global debt (public and private) exploded after 2008, partly as an endogenous response to the low rates, partly as a necessary response to the pandemic. Other factors that are pushing up long-term real rates include the massive costs of the green transition and the coming increase in defence expenditure around the world. The rise of populism will presumably help alleviate inequality, but higher taxes will lower trend growth even as higher spending adds to upwards pressure on rates.

What this means is that even after inflation abates, central banks may need to keep the general level of interest rates higher over the next decade than they did in the last one, just to keep inflation stable.

Another significant difference between now and post-2008 is the far weaker position of China. Beijing’s fiscal stimulus after the financial crisis played a key role in maintaining global demand, particularly for commodities but also for German manufacturing and European luxury goods. Much of it went into real estate and infrastructure, the country’s massive go-to growth sector.

Today, however, after years of building at breakneck speed, China is running into the same kinds of diminishing returns as Japan began to experience in the late 1980s (the famous “bridges to nowhere”) and the former Soviet Union saw in the late 1960s. Combine that with over-centralisation of decision-making, extraordinarily adverse demographics, and creeping deglobalisation, and it becomes clear that China will not be able to play such an outsized role in holding up global growth during the next global recession.

Last, but not least, the 2008 crisis came during a period of relative global peace, which is hardly the case now. The Russian war in Ukraine has been a continuing supply shock that accounts for a significant part of the inflation problem that central banks are now trying to deal with.

Looking back on the past two weeks of banking stress, we should be thankful that this did not happen sooner. With sharply rising central bank rates, and a troubled underlying economic backdrop, it is inevitable that there will be many business casualties and normally emerging market debtors as well. So far, several low-middle income countries have defaulted, but there are likely to be more to come. Surely there will be other problems besides tech, for example the commercial real estate sector in the US, which is hit by rising interest rates even as major city office occupancy remains only about 50 per cent. Of course the financial system, including lightly regulated “shadow banks,” must be housing some of the losses.

Advanced economy governments are not all necessarily immune.

They may have long since “graduated” from sovereign debt crises, but not from partial default through surprise high inflation.

How should the Federal Reserve weigh all these issues in deciding on its rate policy next week?

After the banking tremors, it is certainly not going to forge ahead with a 50 basis point (half a per cent) increase as the European Central Bank did on Thursday, surprising markets. But then the ECB is playing catchup to the Fed.

If nothing else, the optics of once again bailing out the financial sector while tightening the screws on Main Street are not good. Yet, like the ECB, the Fed cannot lightly dismiss persistent core inflation over 5 per cent. Probably, it will opt for a 25 basis point increase if the banking sector seems calm again, but if there are still some jitters it could perfectly well say the direction of travel is still up, but it needs to take a pause.

It is far easier to hold off political pressures in an era where global interest rate and price pressures are pushing downwards. Not anymore. Those days are over and things are going to get harder for the Fed. The trade-offs it faces next week might only be the start.

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/18/2023 - 17:00

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Supercore Inflation is Worth Watching, but it is Probably Not a Good Policy Target

Although headline inflation continues to fall and unemployment is near a 50-year low, the Federal Reserve still faces some tricky policy decisions over…



Although headline inflation continues to fall and unemployment is near a 50-year low, the Federal Reserve still faces some tricky policy decisions over the next few months. Many of these have to do with the unusual volatility of relative prices during the 2021-2022 inflation, a topic that I wrote about in a recent commentary. This piece picks up where that one left off. It focuses on the behavior of the subset of prices that constitute the so-called supercorerelative to prices that are more flexible.

Supercore prices have been in the news lately because some observers think the Fed is targeting them. This commentary will argue a focus on supercore inflation may have led to a more-than-prudent degree of monetary policy tightening by late 2022 and early  2023. The fact that high interest rates appear to have been a contributing factor to the banking crisis that was touched off by the failure of Silicon Valley Bank in March only strengthens the case.

So, what is the supercore?

So, what, exactly, is the supercore? The notion of ordinary core prices is familiar enough. The core consumer price index, for example, is the ordinary CPI with the highly volatile prices of food and energy removed. The personal consumption expenditures index, a CPI alternative, also has a core version that removes the same two sectors. Measures of the supercore go further by removing still more items.

The impression that the Fed is targeting supercore inflation was reinforced by a press conference held on February 1 by Chairman Jerome Powell. In answering a reporter’s question, Powell divided prices into three sectors. “In the goods sector,” he said, “you see inflation now coming down because supply chains have been fixed … In the housing services sector, we expect inflation to continue moving up for a while but then to come down … So, in those two sectors, you’ve got a good story. The issue is that we have a large sector called nonhousing service — core nonhousing services, where we don’t see disinflation yet.” Although he does not use the term, what Powell calls core nonhousing services is what others call the supercore.

It is almost as if Powell is treating the problem of inflation the way a frontline surgeon might treat a wounded soldier. “We’ve stopped the bleeding in his leg; we’ve got the bullet out of his shoulder; now all we’ve got to do is get that pesky piece of shrapnel out of his neck.” But is continuing to tighten monetary policy until supercore prices, too, stop rising really a good idea? Read on.

Why supercore prices are sticky

Economics 101 teaches us that market prices rise or fall in response to changes in supply and demand. True enough, but some prices respond faster than others. At the flexible end of the spectrum, the prices of oil or wheat quoted on commodity exchanges change by the minute. At the sticky end of the spectrum, prices like city bus fares or college tuitions are likely to change just once a year, if that often.

Economists suggest a variety of reasons for price stickiness. Some point to the costs of announcing and implementing price changes, such as a restaurant’s cost of printing new menus or a laundromat’s cost of adjusting the coin mechanisms on its washers and dryers. Others emphasize strategic considerations, such as the fear that the first seller to raise prices might lose market share to competitors who are slower to change. Marketing considerations like the fear of annoying loyal customers may be another factor. And prices that are subject to long-term contracts often can change only when those contracts expire.

The Atlanta Fed publishes monthly indexes for a flexible CPI and a sticky CPI. Using an admittedly arbitrary cutoff, it classifies flexible prices as those that change, on average, at least once every 4.3 months and sticky prices as those that change less frequently. That division makes about half the prices in the CPI flexible and half sticky. If weighted by value, the split is about 30 percent flexible and 70 percent sticky.

The bulk of the sticky CPI consists of services. The Atlanta Fed derives a “core sticky CPI” by removing its only food or energy element, “food away from home.” It then derives a measure called “core sticky CPI ex shelter” by further removing the category “owner equivalent rent.” That index, more than 90 percent of which is made up of services, covers 45 percent of the full CPI.

In what follows, I will use the Atlanta Fed’s core sticky CPI ex shelter as a measure of the supercore. It is probably not the exact measure of “core nonhousing services” to which Powell referred at his press conference, but if not, it is very close.

Figure 1 shows year-on-year data for the rate of change of the Atlanta Fed’s sticky and flexible price indexes since 1967. Not surprisingly, the flexible index is the most volatile. At major turning points, changes in the sticky price inflation lags visibly behind changes in flexible price inflation by an amount ranging from half a year to well over a year.

The relative supercore index

Let’s turn now from the inflation rate of supercore prices to the value of the supercore relative to the flexible CPI. Figure 1 showed the long-term trend of inflation rates, but nothing about the relative level of sticky and flexible prices. Figure 2 provides the missing information. For easy comparison, the top line, measured on the left-hand vertical axis, repeats the rate of flexible price inflation as shown in Figure 1. The lower line, measured on the right-hand vertical axis, shows the ratio of the level (not the inflation rate) of supercore CPI to the level of the flexible CPI, with January 1967 equal to 100. I will refer to this ratio as the relative supercore index. A value above the trendline shows that the nonhousing services in the supercore index are more expensive than usual relative to the goods in the flexible index. Similarly, a value below the trendline shows that increases in the prices of the items in the supercore have fallen behind those of more flexible goods.

Two features stand out in Figure 2.

First, as the trendline indicates, the ratio of supercore to flexible prices has increased by about 20 percent over time when cyclical ups and downs are smoothed out. My best guess is that this trend is largely due to the “Baumol effect.” As William Baumol and W. G. Bowen noted in a 1965 paper, there is a tendency for labor productivity to increase more rapidly in goods markets than in service markets. (It takes far fewer farm workers to harvest a ton of wheat than it did in the 19th century, but the same number of musicians to perform a Beethoven string quartet.) Because of slower productivity growth, the prices of services tend to rise faster than the prices of goods. Since more than 90 percent of the flexible CPI consists of goods while more than 90 percent of the supercore consists of services, the Baumol effect provides a plausible explanation of the upward trend of the relative supercore index.

Second, even a casual look at Figure 2 suggests that the relative supercore index tends to drop below its trend during periods when flexible prices are especially volatile. The stagflationary 1970s are one example. The supercore dropped below trend again in the years around the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, when the flexible-price inflation rate was highly variable, even though not as high as in the 1970s. In contrast, during the period of relative stability from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s – the Great Moderation – the supercore recovered relative to the flexible CPI.[1]

Implications for policy

Back now to our main theme – does targeting supercore inflation make sense? I can think of three reasons why it might not. 

Lags matter. The first reason is that monetary policy operates only with a considerable lag. Raphael Bostic, president of the Atlanta Fed, wrote recently that “a large body of research tells us it can take 18 months to two years or more for tighter monetary policy to materially affect inflation.” A recent paper by Taeyoung Doh and Andrew T. Foerster of the Kansas City Fed suggest that because of changes in the way the Fed implements tightening, those lags may be shorter now than they used to be. Even so, the new estimates show a lag of a full year for the effect on inflation and as much as three years for the effect on unemployment, with a wide range of uncertainty.

The Fed did not start its program of rate increases until March 2022. Taken at face value, that would mean we won’t feel the full effects of recent tightening until the fall of 2023 – or later this spring, at the earliest, if the new estimates hold up. Of course, the lag is less for some prices than others. Since supercore prices, by definition, are among the stickiest, it would seem that they would be subject to a lag toward the long end of the estimated range.

Lags matter for policy. If you want to nip an inflationary outbreak in the bud, the time to act is not when you see the relevant numbers starting to climb, but months in advance. Similarly, if you want to head off an impending recession, then you should not wait for unemployment to start rising or for inflation to fall all the way back to its target. You should ease off well before that point.

By that reasoning, critics may be right to say that in retrospect, the Fed would have better controlled inflation had it started to tighten earlier than the spring of 2022. However, continued tightening into 2023 could equally turn out to be a mistake. To see why, we need to understand the role the inflation expectations play in the making of monetary policy.

Forecasting and expectations. In a world with lags, optimal policy calls for action in advance of economic turning points. For that reason, some economists maintain that “inflation targeting” should instead be called “inflation-forecast targeting.” Under such a policy, central banks would cautiously adjust interest rates to keep inflation as close as possible to its forecast path, rather than waiting to raise rates until inflation got out of control.

That being the case, one argument for targeting core inflation is that the core reflects underlying trends in the economy. In contrast, indexes that are strongly affected by the flexible prices of items such as food and energy are more subject to random exogenous shocks. At the same time, central banks should closely monitor inflation expectations, which can be thought of as the inflation forecasts of consumers and producers.

In a methodological paper linked from the home page of the Atlanta Fed’s sticky price index, Michael F. Bryan and Brent Meyer argue that sticky prices have especially close links both to expectations and to future inflation outcomes. In particular, they show that an index of sticky prices provides more accurate forecasts 3, 12, and 24 months ahead than does an index of flexible prices.[2]  However, the correlations they observe do not necessarily constitute an argument for using either sticky prices in general or supercore prices as a policy target, nor do they make such an argument.

In particular, it seems questionable whether the relatively high rate of supercore inflation in early 2023 was primarily driven by expectations. Look at the far-right tail of the supercore series in Figure 2. Between May 2021 and May 2022, the relative supercore index dropped by 25 points – its sharpest drop ever. Although it began to recover just a bit in the second half of the year, by February, the relative supercore index had recovered only about a third of the amount by which it had dropped below trend. That being the case, ongoing price increases in the supercore sector may not, after all, reflect service providers’ expectations of ongoing inflation in the economy as a whole. Rather, they may simply be trying to get their heads back above water after two years in which their own prices spectacularly failed to keep up with the rise of  wages and the prices of material goods.

If observed correlations among supercore prices, expectations, and near-term inflation outcomes turn out to not to be causal in nature, any attempt to use supercore prices for forecasting or targeting risks running afoul of Goodhart’s law. According to that principle, statistical relationships tend to break down when they are used for policy purposes. The demise of the quantity theory of money and the subsequent abandonment of money-supply targets by central banks are often cited as a case in point.

The health of the supercore. But Goodhart’s law to one side, shouldn’t we welcome the Fed’s efforts to smother inflation in the last stronghold where it survives? As consumers, don’t we consider low bus fares and manicure prices good things in themselves? The answer, I think, is yes – as long as firms remain able to provide a steady supply of high-quality services. But if relative prices of supercore services stay low indefinitely even while their costs have risen, suppliers will sooner or later come under real pressure.

Consider wages. According to the most recent data, 85 percent of privately-employed workers are employed in the service sector and just 15 percent in the production of goods. However, since workers are free to move back and forth between the two, relative wages in the goods and service sectors tend to be more stable than relative prices. In fact, between mid-2021 and mid-2022, while the relative supercore price index was dropping like a stone, wages in the service sector as a whole actually rose fractionally relative to wages of goods-producers.

Clearly, the combination of stable relative wages and dramatically falling relative prices puts the service sector under pressure. Add to that the fact that service firms need many non-labor inputs, such as fossil fuels and motor vehicles, that are sold by goods-producers. Further, add the fact that demand for goods recovered more rapidly from the pandemic than did the demand for services, and you get a picture of a sector at risk. Its cost-price squeeze is going to continue until relative supercore prices claw back at least a good part of the amount by which they have fallen below trend. It hardly seems like the right moment to single out nonhousing service prices for special restraint.

The bottom line

On the whole, I am enthusiastic about the Fed’s incipient moves away from old-style Phillips curve models that lump all prices together as a single variable, whether that is the CPI, the PCE, or something else. In that regard, Powell’s division of prices into goods, shelter, and nonshelter services is a step in the right direction. More detailed models could divide prices into a greater number of buckets, add input-output relationships among sectors, and include other details.

In my opinion, such models are likely to strengthen the case for a more flexible approach to inflation targeting in times of high relative price volatility like the past few years. Yes, it would be great to “Whip Inflation Now,” as a mid-70s policy slogan put it. However, if the current pattern of relative prices is out of whack, freezing it in place may not be a great idea. It would be worth considering giving more leeway for relative price adjustment even though that might slow the rate at which overall inflation returns to target. If the market turmoil that followed the failure of SVB causes the Fed to rethink its plans for further monetary tightening, that may turn out to be a good thing.

[1] A statistical test confirms the visual impression that low values for the relative supercore index are associated with volatile flexible-price inflation. The standard deviation over a moving two-year period of the monthly increase or decrease in the flexible CPI can serve as a measure of volatility. The correlation between that measure and the relative supercore index is negative and statistically significant (R = -.78).

[2] Their paper was published in 2010. It will be interesting to see how their results hold up when more recent data is include


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Budget 2023: why the UK’s fiscal watchdog does not share the chancellor’s optimism

There can be no quick fix for deeply rooted economic problems.



Sean Aidan Calderbank/Shutterstock

UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt confidently described his first budget of 2023 as a “budget for growth”. He went on to offer a fairly upbeat assessment of both economic performance and future prospects, arguing: “The declinists are wrong and the optimists are right.”

Hunt’s aim to provide a shot in the arm for UK productivity is largely built around plans to increase labour force participation, notably through financial support for childcare, encouraging business investment, and by creating 12 investment zones in struggling towns and cities.

But his optimistic assessment of the UK’s growth prospects seems rather at odds with most expert evaluations. The International Monetary Fund, for example, forecasts that the UK will be the worst performing of the major economies in 2023.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), Britain’s independent fiscal watchdog, is another key voice on UK economic policy. Established in 2010 to ensure the observance of public spending rules, and to provide independent evaluation and oversight, it exemplifies the technocratic economic governance that has become a common feature in the west.

Its recent economic assessment does offer some positives. UK economic performance is already better than the OBR expected as recently as November 2022. It seems the UK will likely avoid a technical recession (two-quarters of falling GDP), and inflation is forecast to fall from 11% to 3% by the end of 2023.

Overall though, the OBR presents a far less rosy picture of Britain’s growth prospects and the state of its public finances than the chancellor.

Its March 2023 report consistently underlines how “persistent supply-side challenges” such as low investment, labour market inactivity, weak skills and training infrastructure, and sluggish productivity “continue to weigh on future growth prospects”.

It also focuses on very high levels of public debt – currently close to 100% of GDP – and warns: “Jeremy Hunt today needs to work a lot harder than his predecessors just to keep debt from rising in normal times, and normal times have been hard to come by in recent years.”

As tough times for most households continue, the OBR highlights its expectation that living standards will fall by 5.7% until 2024. This dramatic reduction is the largest two-year fall since records began in the mid 1950s. Nor does the OBR see any end in sight, with living standards in 2027-28 still predicted to be lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, the UK’s tax burden is set to reach a a post-war high of 37.7% of GDP, with public spending as a proportion of GDP expected to settle at 43.4% – its highest sustained level since the 1970s.

Put simply, the UK has historically high tax rates and public spending levels, at the same time as living standards are falling. This is unprecedented.

Montage of various types of weather.
Forecasts may vary. IgorZh/Shutterstock

While OBR forecasts – like all economic predictions – will never be wholly accurate, the OBR has gained a strong reputation for judicious, evidence-based evaluation, and for holding government fiscal policies to account.

Growth climate

Beyond the cost of living crisis, the OBR notes a threefold crisis of growth within British capitalism. This speaks to persistent structural weaknesses within the UK economy – some dating back to before the global financial crisis. The OBR’s is a very different story from the chancellor’s talking up of growth prospects.

First, it highlights problems with labour force participation and high levels of inactivity, especially among older workers and those with health problems. These inactivity levels rose sharply with the pandemic.

Second, the OBR notes the “stagnation in business investment” since 2016. Investment uncertainty, it says, has been ramped up by Brexit, and then compounded by COVID, higher energy prices and higher interest rates.

Third, the OBR consistently underlines how UK productivity has grown at only half the rate of what it was before the global financial crisis of 2008. UK productivity performance is notably weak by international standards.

To be fair to him, the chancellor’s latest plan does at least seek to address some of these deep-seated structural problems. Indeed, the OBR has now raised its assessment of potential output (by a modest 0.5% of GDP) by the end of its forecast, partly due to Hunt’s measures to boost labour supply.

But the modesty of this increase, set against the scale of the structural problems, means these measures are unlikely to resolve Britain’s growth crisis. The OBR sees the UK economy’s medium-term potential growth rate as a very meagre 1.75% of GDP.

The overall OBR view is of ongoing “weak underlying momentum” and “subdued” prospects. But those descriptions wouldn’t have sounded as uplifting or politically optimistic as a “budget for growth”.

Ben M Clift has received funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

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