Ben Chu in the Independent has boldly gone where curiously few* economic commentators want to go right now – the piffling question of whether the government’s published public spending numbers for the next few years are insane or not. He kindly mentions me as having “crunched the numbers” and found them to be jaw dropping.
There are far crunchier treatments out there, of course. Take those rank amateurs the IFS, who in their Green Budget (ch2) say:
“Perhaps the greatest risk to the fiscal consolidation is that whoever forms the next government might be unwilling (or unable) to deliver the currently planned cuts to public spending. Even with the Chancellor’s mooted £12 billion of further cuts to social security benefits, the implied cuts to public services from 2010–11 to 2018–19 would mean departments facing budget cuts of 17.1% on average. If ‘protection’ for schools, the NHS and aid spending were continued through to 2018–19, other ‘unprotected’ departments would be facing average cuts of 31.2%. “
In my fumbling way on this blog, I intend to attempt all sorts of complex questions quite beyond my abilities; there are musings on the interpretation of FX movements, queries about productivity trends and even an aborted post on Federer’s greatness somewhere in draft. But this question of “do the fiscal numbers makes sense” comes nowhere near that category. It is really easy. The sort of maths in this table takes no evening courses.
I noticed this issue over a year ago. I have sent spreadsheets and scenarios far and wide. I have met numerous experts, non experts, occasional commentators and obsessed geeks. None of them have come close even to suggesting that the numbers make sense, will be stuck to, or are a good idea. Yet despite articles like Ben’s, I confidently expect nothing much to happen. This looks to me like a massive issue; but to the world of politics, it is a big yawn. Clearly my political antennae are badly malfunctioning.
*Honourable mention should go to Aditya Chakrabortty of course.