Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Freshman’s Budget

A politician's words reveal less about what he thinks about his subject than what he thinks about his audience. George Will

The Chancellor today presented his budget to Parliament, and I have to tell you after watching and listing with keen interest, I was left recollecting about an interesting traffic sign I once saw – “slippery when wet”. This was a “budget”, and I use the term loosely, that was vexatious in the selective statistics used and intellectually pretentious.

Chancellor Brown, pardon – Darling, took my breath away, when he said: “Britain is more resilient and more prepared to deal with global shocks.” Inebriating incredulity on the Chancellors part comes to mind. The fact is, for all the right decision that the government took in 1997, such as giving the Bank of England its independence; we are now at a state where government finance is in bad shape. Why? Simple, this government failed to set aside or ensure preparedness for the “rainy season”, a staple of all economic cycles.

The government has stated, and nauseatingly so, their adherence to the “golden rule” - Huff and puff all you want Chancellor that rule is the only thing blown over. Mr Cameron was correct when he said, the trade deficit was set to rise to a record £72bn while the rate of investment was "slumping" by two thirds and debt as a share of GDP, if Northern Rock was included, was 43.8%. Clearly this would "bust" the chancellor's fiscal rules.

In October's pre-budget report, Mr Darling forecast growth at 2.0-2.5 percent in 2008 and 2.5-3.0 percent in 2009. This contrasted sharply with a poll conducted by Reuters of 60 economists, whom put economic growth at 1.8 percent in 2008, picking up only slightly to 1.9 percent in 2009.

The persistent conviction of the Chancellor that the economic weather can safely be described as a slight overcast seems to be grossly at odds with most economists who see the high risk of an oncoming storm.

One could not ignore the incessant use of the word “stability”, as if somehow repeated Ad nauseam would produce the result. I would have thought that if stability were desired, a posture of tax cutting to stimulate the economy would have been a more sane prescription.

I am incredulous of stories about “green taxes”. It is patently clear to me that this governments wish to relegate plastic bags, excessively tax alcohol and the automobile, is nothing more than government by authoritative decree. And anyway, we are not stupid; we know a tax jack when we see and feel one. This is really a case of – “I just need the money!

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