[lbo-talk] Britain´s failed experiment?

SA s11131978 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 9 02:17:55 PST 2011

On 12/9/2011 3:52 AM, James Heartfield wrote:

> The Spectator says that the NYT’s account of UK austerity (cited here last week) is not true, that Britain’s spending cuts are lower than America’s and that the country has a lot of debt. http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/7453963/the-new-york-times-austerity-myth.thtml It is a right-wing perspective, but I think it is probably true on the detail. There are cuts and local authorities are in a lot of difficulty, but as yet this is no Thatcherite assault on the public sector.

I have no business doing this with an overdue article for Jacobin looming, but here goes...

I don't know all of Britain's arcane budgeting conventions, but as in any country budget forecasts change for economic and other reasons quite apart from the actual policies passed by the government. As you well know, if a law predating Cameron promises, for instance, so many pounds per month to all unemployed workers meeting certain criteria, then any increase in the number of such workers will increase total spending. If that increase comes to, say, 2bn pounds, while Cameron's austerity measures cut 1.8bn pounds from other spending items, then the overall result *of Cameron's austerity policy* will be a net increase in spending of 0.2bn pounds. There is no contradiction there.

Since it's notoriously difficult to separate policy-induced changes in fiscal stance from other causes, why not use a simpler measure. If you want a broad sense about whether Cameron is "shrinking government," you can look at the level of public sector employment. That's a nice hard number with little ambiguity, presumably. Here's what your Office of National Statistics says in its bulletin on public sector employment for Q2 of 2011:

> http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/pse/public-sector-employment/q2-2011/stb-public-sector-employment---q2-2011.html
> Headline figures are:
> Public sector employment decreased by 111,000 in the second quarter of
> 2011, to 6.037 million.
> Local government employment decreased by 57,000; central government
> decreased by 47,000 and employment in public corporations decreased by
> 7,000.
> Civil Service employment decreased by 24,000 to 489,000. This decrease
> includes 14,000 people employed temporarily to undertake the 2011 Census.
> Employment in the private sector increased by 41,000 to 23.132 million.
> The Q2 2011 public sector estimate is 240,000 lower than the same
> quarter a year ago.

So that's a 3.8% drop in total public employment from Q2 2010 to Q2 2011. Factor in population growth and it's probably a relative drop of more than 5%.


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