Not economically knowledgeable, Our Polly

For many years I’ve been observing that Polly Toynbee doesn’t seem to be quite up with the basics of economics. Nowt has changed just recently. She’s still not grasped that current government spending is higher, as a proportion of the economy, than it ever was under her one-eyed Viking, Gordon Brown. Well, OK, many don’t understand that given all the screaming about austerity but a columnist in a national newspaper should be able to grasp the basics still, no?

Well, no, she can’t:

Bravo! Well done, Britain! It’s “a remarkable national effort,” gloats chief architect George Osborne, “we got there in the end”. Making his spring statement, chancellor Philip Hammond may allow himself a funereal glimmer of an almost smile. The current account deficit has been starved down to its 2% target. So easy! Any dieter determined to lose weight can just lop off their legs and, hey presto, the scales will say they made it. Swallowing tape-worms or emetic poisons will do it too. Easy if you ignore collateral damage, human suffering, irrecoverable losses and economic paralysis. Easy if your aim is ideological state-shrinkage.

Wherever you look, you see the harm. Some can be fixed: leaking school buildings, closed libraries, neglected parks and playgrounds. But too much is beyond repair. You can’t summon up the skills and deep experience of all the teachers, nurses, doctors, administrators and technicians who have not been trained and hired to fill the gaps. Hard to replace those who have burned out under unbearable pressure. What of the million public servants gone, as Whitehall frantically tries to hire lost expertise to cope with Brexit?

If someone had lopped vast sums off public spending perhaps she’d have a point. But they haven’t and she hasn’t. Here’s the truth:

Not exactly a cut in spending

As you can see, government spending as a proportion of GDP is currently, still that is, higher than any year of Gordon Brown’s Chancellorship.

It is possible to argue, as people like Simon Wren Lewis does, that spending should have been much higher during the slump, to the point that we’d be richer now and therefore able to spend more even if less as a portion. No, I don’t think that argument is right but it is possible to make it. Do note that along with that argument comes a very special meaning of “austerity.” Austerity is any level of government spending which does not head off that recession. If we’d been spending 60% of GDP through government and unemployment had still risen then that would have been austerity. No, that’s not my argument, that is SWL’s.

But even that still leaves Polly wrong, doesn’t it? We’ve not cut government spending in cash terms, we’ve not cut it in inflation adjusted terms since Gordon Brown’s day and we’ve not even cut it as a portion of GDP since Gordon Brown’s day. What we have done is exactly what Keynesian economics says we should do – blow out the deficit in the bad times then pull it back in as recovery occurs. Hey, maybe recovery isn’t complete but we’re most certainly not in the depths of a recession, are we?

But then Polly and economics:

Is this recovery? The chancellor is pleased his receipts will improve by £7bn-£11bn, higher than expected. Good for him. But until most people feel any extra coins in their pockets, it may count for little.

The Chancellor’s receipts going up is rather the definition of people having fewer coins in their pockets, isn’t it?


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  1. “Wherever you look, you see the harm.” Harm that Polly could solve with more taxing and spending. The rub is that the army of rule-writers, inspecting, fining, and extinguishing productive business, is unseen. By the way, wasn’t the goal not to run a 2% deficit in good times, but an actual surplus that would pay down the previous borrowing spree?

  2. Actually when it comes to the financial affairs of herself & her wealthy family, her foreign property holdings, matters around her own income, I’d imagine Polly Twatbee is probably quite a good economist. It’s just when its other people’s money…

  3. I loved our local and school libraries as a kiddy, all that knowledge waiting to be obtained. But since today’s kids all have the Internet, it’s very hard to see what the function of a physical library is. Maybe there’s still a role for librarians helping people to locate the information they want, but actual paper-based books? Nah.

    • The function of the public library in western civilization is to act as a propaganda arm of the left.

      Librarians vote about 90% socialist.

      They intentionally stock multiple copies of leftwing moonbattery and only one, or none, of right wing work. They prefer to display right wing work in the toilets in the toilet roll holder.

      Librarians are civil servants. What exactly could one possible expect of them but corrupt self serving folly?

  4. There is still less than 5% of human knowledge digitised and on the internet. One of my hobbies is specifically digitising human knowledge and making it internet available *SPECIFICALLY* because so little of it is there.

  5. Good summary. Hammond is more socialist “moar tax” than Osborne. Neither has made any sensible, significant reductions in Gov’t spending by ceasing funding many of the sprawling empire of unnecessary Gov’t Depts, Quangos and tax sucking “charities”.

  6. “The function of the public library in western civilization is to act as a propaganda arm of the left.

    Librarians vote about 90% socialist.”

    As someone having to use my local library as a study area I’d say they resemble bail hostels. But with more noise.

    And yes the demeanors of the librarians are that of semi retarded kidults. Socialists in other words.