PMQs Verdict: It’s the Living Standards, not the horses, Stupid

February 13, 2013 2:12 pm

I’ll be honest – I was half expecting horse.

That certainly seems to be the staple diet of Labour backbenchers these days, with each one attempting to outdo the last in the “best horse gag” stakes. At first it was funny, then it was unedifying, now it’s just plain stupid. Don’t they know how flippant they look?

A few weeks ago I was the same? They eat horse in France, I though, what’s the problem? The problem is Bute, which is potentially carcinogenic for humans. And as well as discount burgers, the horsemeat scandal is now thought to encompass kebabs too. Like many Labour supporters, I’ve eaten plenty of cheap burgers and kebabs. I’m well past the point of finding this funny anymore. But at least Labour MPs still can…arf arf arf…

Thankfully Ed Miliband avoided the urge to go horse today, and instead went on living standards – a topic on which Cameron can’t win. As inflation squeezes the middle even further, the bottom lose their tax cuts and all but the richest tighten their belts year on year, Miliband may well have found the topic that will be the centrepiece of his pre-2015 messaging. At the very least he’ll be doing his best to frame the budget next month in terms of its impact on living standards – not least because it provides another metric to rank alongside deficit, debt, growth and inflation. Only by broadening the economic narrative (and relating it to the lived experience of ordinary Brits) can he win the argument.

Some have compared the tactic to those used by Reagan – and it’s true, there are comparisons. But it’s perhaps more useful to take at Bill Clinton and his often repeated slogan (actually written by James Carville) “It’s the economy, stupid”. That wasn’t about such blunt implements as GDP growth or deficit levels, that was about making people feel like they would be better off in the long term under a Clinton Presidency. That’s the argument that Miliband needs to win – and tomorrow’s speech will need to bear that in mind.

We must hope that Cameron’s rejoinder to Miliband’s goading – that there’s nothing new in tomorrow’s speech – is wrong.

  • Dave Postles

    It’s important to make the distinction between GDP and standard of living. A slow recovery of GDP will occur at some stage, but it will be on the backs of ordinary folk.

    • aracataca

      ‘A slow recovery of GDP will occur at some stage’…….. of course it will Dave it’s written in the stars just like it was in Japan following their asset crash at the end of the 1980s.

      It’s that word ‘will’ again- you can tell the future can you?
      Face up Dave, JM Keynes was right- the one certainty about markets is that they make the future highly uncertain.

      • Brumanuensis

        No, even Keynes thought that recovery was inevitable. His point was that it would happen at a lower economic equilibrium than could before the recession. which was why he advocated counter-cyclical fiscal policy.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          Is not the problem with Keynes is that his policies were only ever benchmarked against a world coming out of war, in 1945? It was an unusual situation, more so than the current one. He had nothing at all to say of the global position in 1933.

          • Brumanuensis

            That’s a slightly strange remark to make, Jaime, considering that the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published in 1936, explicitly in response to the difficulties arising out of the Great Depression. Wars are actually useful from an economic point of view, because they offer excellent natural experiments in the effects of dramatic changes to fiscal policy, i.e. American mobilisation between 1942 and 1945.

            If you’re concerned that post-war economic growth is being used as a sort of ‘broken window fallacy’, I’d submit that the fallacy only really applies where it’s suggested that functional capital stock be destroyed in order to artificially create demand for particular services. What Keynes was writing about was situations where investment and spending are depressed due to an absence of demand. So if an economy is running at full capacity – i.e. full employment, good growth, etc. – then deficit spending can have the effect of suppressing private investment by redirecting savings towards government bonds. Similarly, by issuing more bonds and bidding up the price of those bonds to ensure they remain attractive, the effect can be inflationary.

            But in a depression, large volumes of savings are not being invested or spent, meaning they are effectively sitting idle. Deficit spending fills the gap, by bridging the discrepancy between potential demand for goods and services, and actual demand.

            An analogy: suppose Economy A is thriving and Economy B is depressed. In A, I have £10 to spend. I have a wide variety of choices as to where I can spend it, but a man from the government comes round and smashes my windows. I am forced to spend £10 on repairing them. The actual level of demand is unchanged, because although I have spent £10 on a tradesman’s services, I could have spent it elsewhere – on woollen scarves for instance.

            In Economy B, the economy is depressed and businesses are afraid to hire, whilst suppressing wages. This lowers disposable income and consumer confidence, creating a vicious cycle of weaker demand. In this situation, I am adverse to invest and spend, due to a rational desire to consolidate my own finances. If someone from the government comes and smashes my window – leaving aside the annoyance and illegality – then my required spending introduces new demand into B, that would otherwise either not exist, or perhaps only add up to a value of £3-5.

            In real-life, the penalty, if it exists – and it doesn’t always – is higher inflation, which discourages people from hoarding – or saving, if you prefer.

            So Keynes’ ideas are enormously relevant to a wide variety of economic situations; sometimes loose monetary or fiscal policy has side-effects and not all recessions can be treated with the same remedies. But with many major economies stuck with sluggish growth and high unemployment, the case for running a short-term deficit to increase long-term growth, is pretty straightforward.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Goodness. Can you let me have some hours to digest your intelligent input?

          • Brumanuensis

            Well I can’t guarantee how intelligent it is…

          • PeterBarnard

            Looks pretty good to me, Brumanuensis.

            Others may well be tempted to remark, “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

          • charles.ward

            Why wait for the government to do it, Brumanuensis? You could always break your own windows (you know, for the good of the economy) it’s not even illegal.

          • Brumanuensis

            Natch, I’m a statist. I like to have governments doing things for me, rather than doing things myself.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Goodness, what a horrifying thought. The last people in the world I’d want to be doing something for me is the government, because they will normally foul it up. And it will be expensive, and delivered late, improperly contracted, not work as planned, and probably in some technical breach of the law, all of which could be predicted based on historic data. It will also be designed for some dumbed-down focus group which has been inexpertly interpreted, and not as I want it to be.

          • Brumanuensis

            Governments tend to be quite good at smashing things though ;-)

          • Dave Postles

            No, you follow Pitt and introduce a window tax and a brick tax – but simultaneously as a Morton’s fork.

          • Jeremy_Preece

            I have always believed that Keynes and the multiplier is the way out of economic stagnation.

            As you say “with many major economies stuck with sluggish growth and high unemployment, the case for running a short-term deficit to increase long-term growth, is pretty straightforward.”

            It is more than straightforward, it is totally compelling. I struggle to see any other way out than with spending and investment in for example infustrucure projects.

          • aracataca

            Doesn’t the scenario you paint of Economy A chime with the theory of creative destruction much loved by right-wing supporters of capitalist economics or even deficit reduction growth theory?

            By the way any explanation of 20 years of recession/deflation in Japan post 1980s asset crash?

          • Brumanuensis

            No, I’m emphatically not a Schumpeterian. What I’ve outlined in Economy A is standard Keynesianism, proponents of which include Paul Krugman – it was his reason for criticising the Bush deficits of the early-to-mid noughts. You shouldn’t run large deficits in times of strong growth – what a large deficit is, is a debatable fact – but you should run them during recessions and periods of stagnation. Otherwise it’s not ‘counter-cyclical policy’, designed to off-set the effects of a recession, but ‘pro-cyclical policy’ designed to amplify a boom. And that can have adverse effects.

            I’ve answered your point about Japan further up the thread.

          • aracataca

            Of course there was significant growth in the US between 1932 and 1937 as a consequence of the embryonic proto Keynesianism of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

        • aracataca

          Incorrect.It was Keynes who argued that markets were not inevitably self-correcting. A classic example of a non-recovering economy Japan 1991- present unless you consider bottoming out a ‘recovery’?

          • Brumanuensis

            I’m sorry, but nowhere did Keynes argue that economies would remain permanently depressed. An economy WILL eventually recover, simply because businesses will need to replace stock and equipment and the natural processes of the market will restore some form of growth.

            However, that growth may well be weak and yield little in the way of gains for most people. That’s the big risk for the UK, not us literally never recovering from the recession.

          • aracataca

            This isn’t a given. I would refer you to the global recession post 1870 which went on for 30 years and lately to the Japanese recession from 1991 onwards. I would argue that 30 years of recession that then recovers in the sense that negative growth comes to an end (ie the economy bumps along the bottom) does not IMHO constitute a ‘recovery’. How does your suggestion that the economy ‘will recover’ give a proper account of the current 20+ years of economic stagnation in Japan? Keynes outlined his sentiments in this regard by replying to those who argued that in the long run the economy would recover by stating that ‘in the long run we’re all dead’.

          • Brumanuensis

            The Long Depression eventually generated a recovery – and besides, it happened under the Gold Standard, a major factor in crippling growth – but I think we’re talking at cross-purposes. The Japanese economy has recovered, but has not recovered to its pre-90s crisis levels, although by some measures, Japan’s performance, whilst not brilliant, hasn’t been a complete disaster:

            http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/japanese-relative-performance/

            http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/the-japan-story/

            My argument was that we’ll return to growth, not that we’ll return to prosperity. I’m not suggesting that the economy is about to enter a massive boom, completely spontaneously. My point is that eventually the sheer need to replace consumer goods and capital stock will prompt a recovery of sorts, even if it’s not a strong one.

            This was what lay behind Keynes’ famed – and frequently traduced – remark about ‘the long run’.

            “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again”.

          • aracataca

            Average Japanese growth rate 1992-2003- 0.87%
            Average Japanese growth rate 2001-2010 – 0.75%

            This of course during a global economic boom (to 2007) without which Japan would have visited a US circa1932 situation.

            Japanese growth rate 1988 + 6.76%
            Japanese growth rate 1989 +5.29%
            Japanese growth rate 1990 +5.20%

            Japanese growth rate 2009 -6.29% (minus)
            Japanese growth rate 2010 – 4% (minus)

            ‘The Japanese economy has recovered, but has not recovered to its pre-90s crisis levels’

            Understatement Brum?

            NB It’s still on the slide – see the most recent figures: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324162304578303471075068906.html
            Still the economy ‘will’ recover won’t it Brum?

          • Brumanuensis

            Your figures prove my point. It would help if you stopped assuming I was making an argument that I am patently not making. I’ll just draw your attention to a line in my previous reply:

            “My argument was that we’ll return to growth, not that we’ll return to prosperity”.

            Japan returned to growth, but not to equivalent levels of prosperity. Nowhere, I repeat, nowhere, have I said that Japan is a thriving economy. Japan has been mired in a liquidity trap since the early 90s, which has suppressed its growth rate. All that you’ve quoted in your post is consistent with my position.

          • aracataca

            Sorry Brum I don’t understand.This financial year’s contraction in Japan is -3.8% (minus). Obviously since 2008 the trend line has been negative including minus 6.76% in 2009. How is that growth?

            It’s just a question and it’s probably me not being as intelligent as you but you have iterated Krugman’s assertion that Japan has done comparatively well and you’ve also echoed those on here who have said that the UK economy is going to grow again before 2015 and that this is inevitable as if it were an article of faith. There might be a quarter or two of growth here and there (even an idiot like Osborne can induce one quarter of growth) but the trend line is towards (at best) stagnation as it has been in Japan since 1992.

            You’re right Brum I don’t know what point you are making.

          • aracataca

            Sorry Brum I don’t understand.This financial year’s contraction in Japan is -3.8% (minus). Obviously since 2008 the trend line has been negative including minus 6.76% in 2009. How is that growth?

            It’s just a question and it’s probably me not being as intelligent as you but you have iterated Krugman’s assertion that Japan has done comparatively well and you’ve also echoed those on here who have said that the UK economy is going to grow again before 2015 and that this is inevitable as if it were an article of faith. There might be a quarter or two of growth here and there (even an idiot like Osborne can induce one quarter of growth) but the trend line is towards (at best) stagnation as it has been in Japan since 1992.

            You’re right Brum I don’t know what point you are making.

          • aracataca

            According to Krugman all we need to match Japan’s ‘not brilliant’ (your words) performance is a collapse in the birth rate, tiny levels of immigration (or preferably none at all) and a massive increase in the elderly population. How’s that going to happen Brum?

          • aracataca

            According to Krugman all we need to match Japan’s ‘not brilliant’ (your words) performance is a collapse in the birth rate, tiny levels of immigration (or preferably none at all) and a massive increase in the elderly population. How’s that going to happen Brum?

      • Dave Postles

        The problem for any of the opposition is that GDP will be creeping along in low positive note from the end of 2013. The argument will then have to be about at whose expense the slight upward trend has been made and how it has occurred. The latter point is again about the global economy having a modest impact on the UK. The real point is that – as will become demonstrably clear in April-June 2013 – any limp developments have been obtained at the expense of the lowest paid and most vulnerable. Any opposition might well be wise to rehearse those arguments now and begin to collect the ammunition. Not everyone is exposed to the reports of the IFS and the Resolution Foundation. What do we hear on the news tonight? It is that the Governator has perceived some ‘green shoots’ and a limp upturn is in sight. I dislike him, but I fear that he has some substance there this time, but what any opposition should do is to turn attention to his downside statement about living standards.

    • postageincluded

      Yes, GDP is obligated eventually to rise. But when will it happen, what have we lost in the meantime, who is likely to reap the political benefits of recovery and how do we make sure it’s us?

      • Dave Postles

        How do ensure that the political benefits equate with economic and social benefits fairly distributed?

    • http://twitter.com/MisterQuintus Tony Quintus

      It already is occuring, there has not been a single year since the general election (calendar or tax) which has not ended with GDP higher than the one before, even when adjusted for inflation and even during the second dip of “reccession” while during the last 2 years under labour the economy contracted by a total of approx 5.5% even taking into accout the 1% of false growth manufactured through increased borrowing.

      The only reason Labour aren’t taking an even bigger beating over economic policy is that the current Tory front bench don’t have the nouse to present the figures the right way, just like they didn’t have the intellect to run a decent general election campaign.

  • postageincluded

    You seem to be suggesting that only Labour supporters eat kebabs, Mark. Doubt if this is true – though UKIP supporters probably avoid foreign food, Tories only eat caviar, Scots Nats only haggis and neeps, and Plaid supporters toasted cheese (preferably not made of mares’ milk). LibDems, as any fule kno, never eat meat at all, and Greens live off fresh air and yoga.

    Anyway, all those kebabs will doubtless give our supporters big clanking balls – after all, you are what you eat.

    • Amber_Star

      Nice 1. :-)

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      I thought it was important to be drunk before you eat a kebab, at least from the fast food turkish shop? It is not something you would buy if sober.

      • Brumanuensis

        “It is not something you would buy if sober”

        Speak for yourself, sir!

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          Goodness, are you that desperate in Birmingham? It seems like a no-brainer to me: steer very clear of the E numbers, and east european “meat”.

          • Brumanuensis

            The Turkish gentlemen are very persuasive. What more can I say? Also, they ingredients are reasonably fresh, which makes a difference. It’s not exactly delicious, but once or twice a month it can be quite nice.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            You can avoid the Turkish gentlemen and their Kebab nonsense by simply avoiding whole sections of your city. Don’t go out with your ex-schoolmates (or other cause of getting drunk), don’t have 17 pints of beer, don’t mutually agree to have another drink after 9 pm (which is guaranteed to lead to hunger), etc.

            Goodness. Have we not all made these types of mistakes before?

            (Full confession: I think I have spent £500 with the Misterton Kebab shop in Doncaster, but it was over a decade ago).

          • Brumanuensis

            For a brief moment I thought you’d spent that sum in one go and my mind was truly boggled.

            It would be a little tricky to avoid central Birmingham, given I live there ;-) The days of 17 pints – not, come to think of it, that I ever had more than 7 on a night out – are far behind me. Meetings with my friends are civilised affairs these days, sometimes bordering on the abstemious. Lest I sound too holier than thou, there have been occasions where I’ve indulged. Recently, I went to the Piccadilly Waterstones – they have a bar on the 5th floor – with a good friend and we spent a fair part of the afternoon swigging martinis and playing Scrabble. She used a rude word to score 11 points; I declined to follow her example and won in the end. There is a moral in there somewhere.

            (We did have the grace to look round at the books first, I’ll just add).

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            You have grown up, as we all do.

            I am recalling mid-week and weekend commuting from Darlington to Doncaster in the late 90s. Lots of very early starts in order to be on duty at 7 am. Most of what I remember is that she was astonishingly beautiful, and possessed of a great vigour when between the sheets. But she was also loco.

    • Brumanuensis

      “Greens live off fresh air and yoga”.

      Probably explains why they seem to be concentrated in sea-side towns.

  • charles.ward

    From the wikipedia article on Bute that you link to:

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer places it in Group 3; i.e., “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”.

    Some other things that are in Group 3:

    Cholesterol
    Electric fields (extremely low-frequency, e.g. fields from mains electricity)
    Electric fields (static)
    Magnetic fields (static)
    Paracetamol
    Talc

    So eating a little horse meat that might contain a tiny amount of Bute is probably a lot safer than a visit to a Mid Staffs hospital.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      On the other hand Charles, you probably don’t want to receive a jab of Bute.

      Leaving aside facts that if you ate a horse burger whose originator had once received a Bute dosage (and thus perhaps one 10 thousandths of the dosage making its way to you), it is nasty stuff. My wife who is an equine vet administers it, and wears gloves when she does so.

      And on the other hand, what is so wrong with horse meat? I am now quite tempted to try it deliberately, even if it has been in the food chain while masked for years.

      • Dave Postles

        Most old horses suffer from Cushing’s disease and so are routinely ingesting pergolide (human or vet variety – it doesn’t matter). The dose is consistent and a large tablet every day.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          She says it is the main equine treatment for Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, but is not greatly common, at least among working age horses. However, it is non-prescriptive, and cheaper than alternatives. The problem is that equine insulin resistance (which is different from PPID) is more common, less effectively treated by myselates, and the administration easier by ingestion. Thus it is sometimes administered for really sub-optimal reasons.

          I would have to look at my BNF to check on human pergolide. As I am not a GP, I don’t have to keep myself so up to date, but I thought it had been contra-indicated a few years ago.

          • Dave Postles

            ‘but is not greatly common, at least among working age horses.’
            I am aware of five older (as I stated) horses in this neighbourhood which have developed Cushing’s, three of which are administered pergolide (the others were put down). One is admittedly 33, but has been treated with it for several years. Another is 16.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            It seems that the real discussion should be about “older” horses, and what use they are.

            Clearly, equine medicine can keep them living much longer than they could in (for example) the 18th century. But our human uses for them, other than as old family pets, seems to have not moved on by such a degree.

            So, lots of old horses receiving a common treatment that their vet buys in bulk, charges his customers £50 a month for (normally by direct debit), and all receiving non-individual treatment for a condition that is possible but out-numbered by a different condition that is quite simple and cheap to treat, and the symptoms of which are the same….

            (There is a an uncomfortable segue into geriatric human care – I am not trying to go there).

          • Dave Postles

            Actually, I was thinking more about the food chain. Older horses might be started on pergolide; then the owner finds it is too expensive; and the horse is sent to the knacker’s yard, and, by some counterfeit, enters into the food chain.

  • Brumanuensis

    I don’t quite understand the British aversion to horsemeat. Regardless of the health effects of Bute – and unlike Jaime’s wife, I’m completely unqualified to talk about it – the fundamental issues are fraud, lax inspection regimes and criminal involvement in the European food chain.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      Yes, you are correct, and all important points.

      As far as horses are concerned, they have faces and names. All I see is meat, but my wife tells me that people love them, gamble upon them, don’t have children because of them and her professional fees, and she makes her living from them.

      • Brumanuensis

        The appeal of horse racing has always baffled me. Additionally, it seems strange that horse lovers would enjoy a pastime that often involves the deaths of many of the participating horses. The 2011 Grand National was particularly awful.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          The horse racing itself is fairly dull, to me (my wife drags me along to various horse racing events, at which she normally goes off into a deep conversation with a man in a trilby-hat about paid for vet services to the race course, and I have to make conversation with the man in the hat’s wife).

          But, I will tell you that the thrill of riding a horse at full out speed is wonderful. She put me on her mother’s horse in the week before we married and raced me on her horse to the church steeple in their local village (this is the “point to point” type of racing, it seems). Goodness knows how I stayed onboard. Really magical.

          • PeterBarnard

            I’ll accept that a lot of horse racing is indeed “fairly dull,” Jaime, but seeing Frankel move up a gear at the two-furlong post and leave his opponents for dust was indeed a majestic sight. The animal was a supreme (in human equivalent terms) athlete (and possibly a “freak”) and I must admit to (at least) the beginnings of a lump in my throat on occasion.

            Brumanuensis has a point on the deaths of horses in the NH side of racing ; however, they aren’t as many as the “many” that he says. And again, the last 800 yards of the Grand National invariably brings a lump to my throat because of the great adversity that has been overcome by horse and jockey – four miles and thirty fences that are the toughest in the business. The motion picture “Champions” is very definitely one of my favourites – the horse Aldaniti recovered from great lameness and the jockey, Bob Champion, recovered from cancer : they went on to win the Grand National. Well worth watching, if you can find it.

            Not so much nowadays, perhaps, but when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, many working men loved horse racing. It was sheer pleasure – as a young lad – to sit (in the pub when I was old enough) with coal miners, fitters, factory workers and so on, and listen to them giving opinion about the horses, jockeys and trainers of the day. Afterwards, many of them would repair to the bookmaker to back their opinion with £sd, but not to the detriment of the household finances.

            There have been many magnificent horses over the years – in my lifetime, Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef and the mighty Arkle (who the Irish used to call “Himself”) and the finish of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in the 1970s between Bustino and Grundy was truly epic.

            Finally, all thoroughbred race horses – world wide – are descended, in the tail-male line, from just three 18C stallions : the Godolphin Arabian, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerley Turk – pretty amazing. These were Arab horses imported into England at the back end of the 17C/early 18C.

            It’s a shame that horse racing is not as popular as it once was. There have been great spectacles on and off the race course. One saying is that “all men are equal above the turf and below it …”

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Goodness. Horses. All I see is meat, and a now attractive food product (if they have not been dosed with nasty stuff). My wife sees a source of revenue, but then she is an equine vet.

            What you also observe is a social phenomenon, which is also true,

  • aracataca

    Surely some (deliberate?) mistake with 2012.

    Q1 -0.4%
    Q2 -0.3%
    Q3 +0.9%
    Q4 -0.3%

    • http://twitter.com/MisterQuintus Tony Quintus

      Q1 2012 was -0.2 IIRC, GDP Q4 2011 was 360.42 billion, Q4 2012 was 360.48, and that is on the unrevised Q4 figure, which is expected to increase slightly, and this is all inflation adjusted

    • http://twitter.com/MisterQuintus Tony Quintus

      Q1 2012 was -0.2 not .4, at least according to the ONS file I have, GDP ended the year up £63million, inflation adjusted, or just over £7.5 billion in absolute terms. Not a lot, but it is an increase.
      Not sure why mods deleted my last response to this, too many facts and figures?

  • aracataca
  • aracataca
  • aracataca

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