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UK Economy: Signs of Hope or Doom?
Like many Western nations, the UK economy remained resilient through the worst of COVID when many workers were ill or otherwise sequestered in their homes, unable to work due to various lockdowns. The lockdowns seemed a wise precaution for the times — even though Britons disliked being forced to stay in their homes for weeks or months.
But just as COVID has relaxed it’s hold on our lives, it suddenly occurs that Western economies begin to underperform…
Some days you just can’t win.
New UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and New Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng Ordered Tax Cuts for Wealthy Britons
Which, if you know British politics, is standard operating procedure for Conservative-led governments. No matter the economic ailment, it seems that the de rigueur prescription is tax cuts for the rich.
On balance, that prescription boasts a decent success rate. Over the past 122-years, various UK governments have imposed tax cuts to stimulate the economy and it’s worked more than not. However, there’ve been times when it hasn’t worked, and this is one of those times.
“Always worth a try?”
I guess. But when tax rates for the wealthy are already low, further tax cuts don’t impress the wealthy, nor increase government tax revenue, nor stimulate the UK economy.
And this is the problem… politicians don’t understand economics well (nor do they understand military matters, but that’s a story for another day) but by taking some sage advice to heart, new Prime Minister Liz Truss could still salvage an economic win out of a (forgivable) misstep early in her premiership.
It’s early days, and no doubt, they’re feeling the pressure to act. The PM and Chancellor tried to improve the economy and their first attempt failed.
No worries, there’s a window of time to get it right. But not too much time, or any remedy they apply will arrive too late to have a meaningful effect. And that could cost the Conservatives at the next election.
Their Second Attempt to Help the Economy: Printing More Money and Government Buy-back of UK Bonds
Better. But not perfect.
Which necessitates a larger government deficit, morphing into more government debt. Just what the UK economy doesn’t need is a larger deficit and even more debt. Neither helps the market, nor the government’s credit rating, nor the UK’s long-term economic picture.
It’s too soon to see if this plan will work. But it works in other countries, and it should work in the UK, with the caveat that the privilege isn’t abused by future Chancellors as a sort of ‘silver bullet’ that will solve every economic problem. It’s not a magic bullet.
Printing money and buying back bonds will have a small, but positive influence on the overall economy. Likely, both the PM and the Chancellor now realize that it should’ve been the first step in a 6-step programme to address problems and provide solutions to the UK’s present economic challenges.
Five More Ways to Lift the UK Economy and Prevent (or limit) a UK Recession
ONE: Working people pay more tax than unemployed people. It’s a fact. Ask any economist.
Therefore, the government should spend serious stimulus money (even though it’s borrowed money) on ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects. But it shouldn’t spend on projects that can’t begin construction within the next 8-months, because that’s too far in the future to fix what’s broken now. ‘Shovel-ready’ means ready to begin digging within weeks. Not years.
TWO: Companies that export goods or services, bring ‘new’ money into the economy, thereby stimulating the overall UK economy.
The domestic economy in the UK is pretty sophisticated so there’s little room for improvement — but there’s plenty of room for improvement in regards to exports. The UK’s track record on facilitating an export-driven economy is dismal when measured against such exporting superstars as Germany and Japan. To correct this, the UK government must provide a tax advantage to companies or individuals that export goods or services. I politely suggest an 8% tax break on exported items. Five per cent won’t incentivize companies enough to make exporting a priority, and ten per cent would make it difficult for the government to recover the lost tax revenue over a number of years, no matter the increase in exports over the short-term. This 8% tax advantage could be raised or lowered annually, thereby providing the government with yet another lever with which to control (adjust) the UK economy as necessary. Priceless!
THREE: Citizens earning less than £25,000. per year contribute little to overall UK government revenue, so there’s little loss for the government to forego taxing them.
However, changing the income tax threshold so that workers who earn under £25,000. per year don’t pay any income tax whatsoever, can make a huge difference in the lives of those workers! It’s the difference between a presently unemployed person being able to afford to take the train to a job every day, or not. It’s the difference between a presently unemployed tradesperson being able to insure his work van, or not. It’s the difference between a presently unemployed worker being able to afford daycare for her children so she can apply for a job, or not. It’s the difference between a presently unemployed person moving to another city for a job, or not. In so many ways, this change represents a small change in government tax policy and revenue — which results in a large change in the employment situation for presently unemployed workers. The UK workforce needs to be firing on all eight cylinders, not the present five-out-of-eight cylinders.
FOUR: The UK should harmonize it’s Corporate Tax Rates and policies with Canada, which has an attractive and simplified corporate tax structure.
And it works. Throughout the entire subprime market crisis and subsequent recession, Canada’s economy was the strongest of all G7 economies and Canadians only knew about the recession playing out in the United States and Europe by watching American news channels. The reason Canada sailed through the recession is precisely because of their low-ish and simplified corporate tax rate structure. Many Western companies moved to Canada in the 2008 to 2011 timeframe in order to take advantage of those low corporate tax rates — and in so doing — saved their companies from insolvency. Some returned to the United States following the economic recovery, while some remained in Canada. You can’t buy advertising like that! Recessions occur approximately every 25-years in the Western world, and the next one is almost upon us. Now is the time to make the UK’s corporate tax rate as favourable as Canada’s, and reap the benefits thereof. Doing it after the looming recession hits, means that the UK must wait for the next recession 25-years hence, in order to reap the benefits and bragging rights of lower and simpler corporate tax rates.
FIVE: The UK government should finance 10 Solar Panels on every UK rooftop (via loan guarantees to banks) to add capacity to the national grid, to provide significant energy cost savings to energy users, and to allow for increased energy exports to the continent.
Almost every UK rooftop could host 10 solar panels and thereby add plenty of electricity to the grid during the daylight hours — which, happily, is when the grid faces it’s peak demand. Because rooftops are everywhere in the country, it won’t matter if some northern panels are covered with snow, or if London happens to be covered with a layer of fog — because the rest of the country will still receive sunlight and contribute huge amounts of electricity to the grid. Ten panels per rooftop means that homeowners can (automatically) sell their surplus electricity to the grid via a net-metering connection. Whether private homes, farms with several outbuildings, schools, retail businesses or industrial buildings, placing 10 solar panels on each rooftop in the country could save energy consumers astonishing amounts of money annually, and add significant capacity and stability to the national grid, and allow MANY GIGAWATT HOURS worth of surplus energy to be exported to the continent.
So there’s the low-hanging fruit. There ARE WAYS to improve the UK economy, not by giving tax breaks to the wealthy — who, it turns out, don’t want them because they’ve all the tax breaks they need — but by strengthening the parts of the UK economy that are presently weak, and could be made robust via simple changes to existing policy.
I’m proud of the new Prime Minister and her Chancellor, because, facing a looming crisis, they decided to actually DO SOMETHING! as opposed to just hiding until the storm passes.
Full marks on that, Liz and Kwasi! It’s easy to see that you both care about the country and about how its citizens and businesses are faring.
If you continue to be responsive to the peoples’ needs, I’m confident they’ll respond favourably to you, and your poll numbers will prove that statement true as time rolls forward.
Wishing you every success as you craft policy appropriate to the times in which we live and seek to pass it in the UK House of Commons in a timely manner for best effect.
Written by John Brian Shannon
Why Haven’t We Helped Rebuild Beirut?
One year ago, a massive blast destroyed part of the city of Beirut and levelled its port facilities.
Since then, Beirut has cleaned up much of the debris field extant in the aftermath of the catastrophic explosion which claimed 218 lives, injured 6,500, and the country has suffered widespread political and economic instability.
Not much rebuilding has occurred within the blast zone, but repairs to buildings are progressing as homeowners and business owners can afford to do so with their own limited funds. Very minimal Lebanese government assistance has been made available to those affected by the disaster.
One bright spot is that Lebanon got a new Prime Minister last week — which means that if reconstruction can be directly and efficiently stimulated at this important moment — that in itself will assist political stability in the country.
Lebanon: Billionaire Najib Mikati named new prime minister-designate (Al Jazeera)
Timing is Everything
Especially where disasters are concerned — whether natural or human-caused — there exists a short window of opportunity where assistance can (when it arrives on time) act as an economic multiplier in the local economy, compared to the same amount of assistance (monetary value) arriving later in the crisis which isn’t appreciated as much as early aid.
Now that most of the rubble has been cleared, now that inspection of the site is no longer required by investigators, now that the country has appointed a new Prime Minister (who is also a former Lebanese Prime Minister) now is the time for the UK to lead Western nations in sending exactly the kind of aid that Beirut needs, in a timely fashion, to help the long-suffering Lebanese people rebuild their damaged city and its demolished port facilities.
Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!
Sending ‘too little, too late’ isn’t the way a Top Ten country should comport itself at any time — let alone when now is the optimum time to respond. For if such countries don’t lead at troubled times, they don’t deserve their high place in the world.
To whom much is given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)
What Should the UK do?
Lead. Plain and simple.
UK leaders must respond to the newly changed political situation in Lebanon as a Top Ten economy should.
This could be as simple as sending one aid ship per week to Lebanon for the next 12-months.
What should the first shipment include? Obviously, the world is still in the middle of a pandemic, and therefore, PPE and COVAX vaccines should be made available to the people of Lebanon as they’re dealing with the same COVID-19 (and variants) as everyone else, and they’re still dealing with the aftermath of an apocalyptic explosion.
So, the next time you catch yourself bemoaning having to wear a mask in public, remind yourself that Lebanese people had half of their country’s most important city blown up a year ago, it’s still blown up, and they must still wear masks in public. Now that’s something to complain about! Having to wear a mask to the office isn’t.
The second shipment might need to be drinking water, or fuel, or maybe some excavating equipment so that Beirut workers can do some quick repair work on its port facilities to ensure foreign aid arriving in ships can be efficiently unloaded and goods directed to the appropriate organizations.
Whatever the people of Beirut need on a week-to-week basis; It should be our sincere pleasure to send it.
How to Pay for It
There’s no need for the UK government to consider raising taxes to pay for weekly aid shipments to Beirut for the next year as the government has already set aside .7% of GDP to spend on its annual Foreign Aid budget.
The UK can spend that .7% of GDP anywhere in the world and it makes sense to help Lebanon at this pivotal time and the disaster in Beirut should become the UK government’s highest foreign aid priority over the next 12-months.
Instead of the risk attached to sending huge sums of money as foreign aid that could be diverted to less worthy causes (it happens, sometimes, in politically unstable countries) it’s better to send useful goods to Beirut by ship, every week, thereby employing the UK foreign aid budget in a way that directly helps Beirut residents cope with the devastation they’re experiencing and stimulates rebuilding of the heavily damaged port and city.
Let’s hope that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sees the wisdom of sending concrete aid, in a timely fashion, to the long-suffering people of Lebanon, in keeping with the UK’s high moral standing and privileged position in the world.
Written by John Brian Shannon