Hopes over Experience

“IMF slashes UK growth forecast”. Does this sound familiar? It should. Every 9 or 10 months the headline seems to return to the newspapers in an almost identical form. September 2011, July 2012 and now “IMF slashes” is back this month. This occurs every time the IMF’s world economic output report (full reports every April, updates every October) happens to adjust down one of its predictions for UK growth.The latest is entitled Hopes, Realities, and Risks and is notable for its Oxford comma.

According to Stephanie Flanders, the BBC Economics Editor, the IMF rarely gives direct advice on the back of these reports, preferring to give discreet prompts. However this time the report says about the UK: “Greater near-term flexibility in the path of fiscal adjustment should be considered in the light of lacklustre private demand.”

Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, even singled out the UK in response to a question while launching the latest report: “There are a few countries where there is enough fiscal space to go further – one example is the UK. In the face of weak demand it is really time to consider an adjustment to the initial fiscal consolidation plans.”

So there you are, we are all doomed unless we change policy. You would imagine that an institution would have a fairly solid track record of understanding countries’ economies and making reasonably accurate predictions on the back of this expert knowledge for it to feel able to lecture us all quite so authoritatively. Unfortunately, they don’t.

As you can see, compared to the stacks of predictions the IMF have given us over the last 4 years on growth in world output alone, the actual growth figures are unfortunately fairly clearly outliers. The one thing we can take from the latest report with any confidence is that the current projections for 2013, 2014 and 2018 will not only be wrong, but probably by miles.

So it would be very difficult to justify a change in economic policy on the basis of a world economic output report. Which is a pity, because I agree that many of us will be doomed to a life of fewer opportunities and less economic independence if the current contractionary policies continue, scrabbling around for our share of a crumbling welfare state while the few of us already immunised from society by money feel very little pain at all. For a proper description of why austerity is a very bad idea, read Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now or read his blog. Read the account of the Great Capitol Hill Baby Sitting Co-op crisis on page 26, which originally appeared in a 1977 article by Joan and Richard Sweeney. The means for ending the double dip, soon to be triple dip and probably ultimately corrugated recession are in our hands and have been known about for decades. Your spending is my income, and my spending is your income, so we need to stop contracting our economy.

And we also need to stop reading IMF reports.


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