Where are all the big ideas?

In this week’s editor’s letter (out here today for subscribers) we note that much of Europe and the UK seem to think that you can buy growth. They are, we keep being told, voting for prosperity not austerity.

But you can’t just vote for prosperity. Life doesn’t work like that. You have to create it. And, given the overriding problems of the West – debt and unemployment – you can’t just create it by borrowing more and spending more.

If you are going to spend more money in a period of rubbish economic growth you have to be sure that doing so will fill certain criteria. Halkin’s Peter Warburton lists them as these:

• Will the desired activity (whatever it might be) “occur only if the public sector acts as a facilitator”?
• Will the increase in public spending have “a knock on effect such that the benefit of the action is multiplied”?
• Will the funding of the expenditure have “no detrimental effect on the funding of other economic activity”?

It is unusual to be able to say yes to all of these “even in emerging countries with modestly sized public sectors” (which is not a way you would describe those of most European countries). The IMF, in its most recent Fiscal Monitor, for example shows that there “the impact of a public spending expansion on the overall economy would be negligible.” I suspect the same could be said for Italy, Spain and probably us too.

So what can we do? Look around the ideas from all our political parties – here and in Europe –and you would think that beyond a bit more borrow/spend/print the answer is nothing. But this is a trying kind of policy defeatism and a maddening example of the ideological black hole at the core of conventional modern politics.

The truth is that we need a big idea to move us forward. The absence of solid economic growth, says Warburton, can generally be traced not so much to a lack of government spending but to “institutional rigidities.” By this he means “restrictive practices by dominant firms or public monopolies; bureaucratic obstacles to starting a business and hiring a workforce; tax and regulatory impositions that discriminate against small businesses.”

So surely the big idea that might move us all forward is not to keep spending more and more in a drive to preserve “state directed privilege”, but to take real and well-advertised action to get rid of monopolies and oligopolies (that’s the banks by the way), to “liberate economic impulses and revitalise beneficial exchanges of money, goods and services.”

Right now the populations of the one -time developed economies of the West are very vocally demanding real change. It is beyond us why their governments don’t have a real go at giving it to them. All your big ideas below please.

  • Jimbo

    Flat tax!
    Simpifies tax system. Reduces state employment. Great.

  • Steve

    You say “liberate economic impulses and revitalise beneficial exchanges of money, goods and services.”

    I agree completely, the major corporations, banks, insurance companies, energy companies etc are all responsible for the draining of every day living standards. Dictating charges for essentials whilst (apart from the poorly run ones) delivering £m in profits.

    A vision of the future would be and I don’t really believe I’m saying this would be to nationalise certain industries. Imagine if the profits from BP for example were put back to the treasury, if a state owned insurance company could compete with the private sector, saving everyone money to then spend on other goods partially revitalising the economy.
    Could we trust the government to run them though?

  • Robin

    Investment and technology put people out of work. This is a good thing. Its why we have a music and movie industry for example rather than people toiling in the fields all day. The excess labour, and excess profits by land owners, has resulted in the supply and demand for things that just didn’t exist a hundred years ago.

    Today we need the same. Today we have millions of people in the public sector who aren’t productive, but they have those jobs in order to allow them to continue to spend. Also, the rich are not managing their wealth properly. They are not being ‘entrepreneurial’.

  • Nigel

    Abolish Fractional Reserve banking and make the state the only legal entity able to increase the money supply.

    In this way money could be created and injected straight to the point where it will create real growth, not passing through multiple layers of filters, i.e. the bankers, where it is skimmed off at each level and people and institutions get rich without having done anything to deserve it.

    That would mean truly “National” banks, but think about it; the interest paid on loans would go to the public purse, facilitating a reduction in tax, and money wouldn’t be chasing asset bubbles. Rather, it would be invested in ideas, development and infrastructure.

  • Pete Comley

    @ Nigel
    I agree with you. Make the state the only supplier of money.

    The current system where one part of the state (BoE) is lending Gov 1/3 of its money is a joke.

    The fractional banking problem goes back to Italian renaissance times. Time for a fresh start in the world.

    If we did this, the pound would devalue strongly and be a great opportunity to make the UK a major production base again.

    At same time, maybe ban usary (or limit it to say 5%) too?

    Never again will UK government have debts again.

    Alright, all a bit Utopian and simplistic, but I agree with Merryn. Time for some more radical solutions. Don’t seem to see any of that vision from the existing political parties.

  • Pete Comley

    What is needed is to review the whole system afresh with a blank sheet of paper. We set up a competition with a significant prize open to all academics, students and anyone else who has a view. Competition objective: If you were creating a new system now for the best 21st century society, what would it be and how will it work?
    My guess is the likely best answer would be that the country would be run like it was a model business. It would have a clear set of values and ethics and its objective would be measured in terms of happiness not GDP. Everything that the state and individuals did would be measured against those values. There would be a defined long term vision of sorting out everything that is wrong and not in best interested of the country. Its objective would be to make, within say 20 years, GB to be the best country to live in within the world.
    Now is the time for change.

  • Pete Comley

    Sorry…forgot to add…
    The competition needs to inspire the whole nation’s imagination, not just the few that are currently involved in the political process.
    Think high profile Apprentice style TV competition with the best teams fighting it out to create the blueprint for making Britain great again. It needs buy-in from Jo Public and their involvement.

  • Boris MacDonut

    #3 Robin. Just who is it in the public sector you deem unproductive? Is it Nurses, Surgeons, Teachers, Firemen, the Police, the Armed forces, Environmental Health officers,Prison guards, GP’s…..just who exactly? Rich and entrepreneurial don’t necessarily go together. Great wealth engenders great caution. The World’s poorest are their most entrpreneurial. Read Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Get the World’s poor making money and they may start buying things from us instead of waiting for us to drop bags of rice from a plane.

  • Bruce Davis

    The big idea is probably not one entrepreneurial impulse but a bigger cultural shift in attitudes to money and investment upon which zopa, its p2p peers, and now companies like my own, Abundance, are built. The new premise which existing instutions find hard to adjust to is that money is increasingly about what you can do with it not just what you can get for it (both individually and as a society) and that we all need to start taking responsbility for the way our money is used and invested (big or small investors) to create a more sustainable and resilient economy.
    In other words, the current oligopolies wont be toppled by equally powerful institutions, that just replaces one tyranny with another, but by the amplified effects of countless small decisions facilitated by institutions who give power to their customers not hoard it primarily for their own enrichment.

  • JAW

    It is land. It is access to land which is the fundamental problem. In our society, and throughout the whole Western World, the land tenure system is flawed and leads only to the exploitation of the landless by the land owning classes. It is not their fault, it is Nature, it is inherent in every creature to opportunistically use others to gain their livelihood, to competitively exploit their territory.

    The ownership of land, which you do not personally or collectively use yourself, either for wealth creation or for basic residential need, enables you to claim a share, sometimes a very large share, of the wealth creation activities of someone landless who is forced to rent it from you. Rents are set at the maximum the tenant, commercial or residential, can possibly bare. Commercial rents are so large they impact on the viability of otherwise profitable businesses. Residential rents are so large they keep the tenants in perpetual poverty and insecurity.

  • JAW

    A free prosperous society is one based on 100% owner-occupation. All business, commerce, manufacturing, all forms of livelihood, all residential need, require access to land. Those who control it mercilessly exploit it to give themselves relatively large amounts of unearned income and capital gains. Commercial property, which is the only developed land upon which wealth creation occurs, is presently 62% owned by investors, investment companies, formed with one aim in mind… to maximize the parasitical return to themselves by its control.

    The big idea has been around for some centuries but never intelligently implemented, but it does seem very appropriate for the monopolistic and oligopolistic present time? Only one big idea is necessary to liberate the economy … introduce a law that you cannot own land or property that you do not use yourself. The results, the beneficial change in society, will be amazing.

  • Boris MacDonut

    I propose the G20 pool military resources and let the tanks roll into Liechtenstein, Cayman, Jersey,Bermuda,Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Isle of Man, Liberia, Macau,the City of London the Dutch Antilles and every other tax haven simultaneuosly. Then once these minnow states are under our control we levy a 10% annual tax on all the assets of the World’s wealthy that lurk therein. I propose that at least half that money be donated,no strings attached, to those who live on a dollar a day.

  • Boris MacDonut

    I propose the G20 pool military resources and let the tanks roll into Liechtenstein, Cayman, Jersey,Bermuda,Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Isle of Man, Liberia, Macau,the City of London the Dutch Antilles and every other tax haven simultaneuosly. Then once these minnow states are under our control we levy a 10% annual tax on all the assets of the World’s wealthy that lurk therein. I propose that at least half that money be donated,no strings attached, to those who live on a dollar a day.

  • Luke

    Boris at 8 – Go Boris, Go!
    Boris at 12 and 13 – bit more cautious about that, but I’m with you just for the hell of it.

  • Luke

    A vaguely serious query from a non-economist about the assertion that spending more money in a recession is not good idea.

    Can anyone actually name me a serious economist (Neil Ferguson is a historian) who thinks that the UK govt should not be spending more on say infrastructure right now? Or maybe social housing?

    Before anyone says govt expenditure is increasing, yes, we’re paying more interest and unemployment benefit, but capital expenditure has decreased.

    So please, just out of interest, can I have a name or names?

  • NeutronWarp9

    Let’s build an artificial planet (like a good death-star) and go out into space and terra-form new planets.

  • Colin Selig-Smith

    Big idea. How about actually solving the problem:

    1. Print non debt based money to pay the massive debts.
    2. Simultaneously increase the reserve ratio smoothly from 30:1 to a sane level, limiting both inflation and banks ability to bring the entire world to it’s knees. Preferably full reserve banking but realistically the establishment is “captured” by the banking lobby so there is zero chance of it happening.

    Turn banks into depository institutions rather than the hyper leveraged monstrosities they are now.

    Merryn, the reason you are seeing no movement from the establishment is because they know fine well that really fixing things will remove their source of wealth and power. Realistically, solving the problem is going to involve ropes and guillotines. I won’t be holding my breath.

  • Boris MacDonut

    #15 Well said Luke. You can only spend your way out of a recession,even Mussolini realised that. He spent most of the 1930’s upgrading the Italian roaood network and building a railway that is still the best outside Switzerland. Cameron and the toffs have not got a clue .They think they are the dads in some kitchen sink drama shuffling shillings between jam jars waiting for Friday payday. Don’t print money just to fill a hole in bank balance sheets give it to Costains’s ,WS Atkins et al and start capital spending,and start before the Olympic fiasco rears it’s ugly head to dampen everyone’s enthusiasm.

  • Boris MacDonut

    Can I reiterate my big idea from last week. To pay fatcat bankers and chief execs their weight in Gold. For an average chap that is about £2.6million a year. It means the greedy have to literally become very Fat cats and risk their health and even life to be paid more than a “natural” maximum wage. Also the fairytale lrgesses element of being paid your weight in Gold will appeal to their sense of self worth….on a par with Renaissance Princes.

  • Luke

    Boris @ 18. Thank you. On the one hand, I had not really intended to support Mussolini, on the other, I am getting bored with austerian nutcases. Still waiting for serious economists who support saving our way into poverty. For avoidance of doubt, I will not argue over others’ views of who is a serious economist- just want to see names. Worstall counts (not Ritchie, but bung him in I’d you want).

  • Luke

    Boris,as before, I am interested, but sub 12 stone. Will your proposal be a disincentive to moderately sized people ? Will you be asking us to pay tax soon?

  • Nicholas Dennys

    The Big Idea? Find the cause of a crisis. Its eradication is the solution. But the speed with which the cause, vividly and widely perceived at the start of a property crisis, fades as an explanation! Between 1995 and 2007 residential property swelled by about £4 trillion. Mostly unearned location price growth, not building. It just fell on our heads (if we are one of the lucky 2/3rds who own our homes). The same happened in commercial property, agricultural land and the radio spectrum etc. A staggering, inequitable, transfer of wealth. The banks rode it like there was no other investment, building the price of land higher and higher, madly “securing” the loans against the bubble they blew up. Now we had Mervyn King at the Today lecture saying that the interesting thing about this banking crisis was that it was not preceded by a bubble! Was he drugged in the basement of the Old Lady? Euan Davies was visibly taken aback.

  • Luke

    Boris,as before, I am interested, but sub 12 stone. Will your proposal be a disincentive to moderately sized people ? Will you be asking us to pay tax soon?

  • Nicholas Dennys

    The Crisis has been a game where the ball is a bomb representing land prices. Player’s wear the names of banks, mortgagers, insurers, etc. The ball is kicked idly, then furious and fast. With each kick it balloons bigger. The strict referee is replaced. The new ref hardly blows his whistle. The now huge ball explodes killing some, injuring many. There is ringing of hands and concern for the injured. Regulation is rediscovered. Players are moved around the pitch. Names change on the shirts. Bad behavers must Resolve their situation. The banks are told to kick only with their left foot, and the game Restructured. But the shrunk ball ready for wild growth still lies on the pitch. At the next chance the ball will be too exciting, too much money to be won. As before, ways will be found round every constraint.
    There’s only one way to stop the mayhem. Take away their ball. Land values, created by society collectively, should be socialised.

  • Robin

    Who controls this army that raids the worlds banks? Who tells them to stop?

    We seem to have gotten something right since the renaissance period. I suggest we try to keep that ‘sonething’ and basically fine tune it rather than start again.

    I suggest each government hire more nurses. Clearly this would make government quangos more efficient.

  • Elvis Presley

    It’s house prices, stupid.

  • robertINNES

    Stop taxing employment in the UK by abolishing PAYE and make up the lost tax by adding 2% onto VAT; increasing income tax (employee contribution PAYE); corporation tax (employer contribution). The burden of tax would be spread much wider across society and the cost of employment be dramatically reduced, creating jobs in the UK. A virtuous circle?
    QE 4 could take the form of BoE buying bonds from national infrastrucure companies to fund the infrastructure needed to compete in the 21st century. Giving me broadband in Somerset!!

  • Romford Dave

    Now come on everyone be serious, stop messing around, is anyone going to tell us what the next big idea is?


    No one?

    Somebody, somewhere must have an idea………………………………………….!

  • Critic Al Rick

    @ 28. Romford Dave

    The most useful idea in my opinion has been stated above by Colin @ 17. and involves the use of ropes and guillotines.

  • Terry Arthur

    The underlying problem here is surely that no democracy can withstand a situation where taxes in total take 50 percent of output (GDP).
    The principles of democracy as developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries started from the assumption that within a nation the goal of all honest citizens was the welfare of the whole nation and indeed of other similar nations. Overall taxes took well below ten percent of output; nowadays they take 50 percent, due to interventionist government and the resulting pressure groups. Everybody wants government to help their own particular causes and interests, often fuelled only by envy and greed, via a system of theft under the cloak of government.

    This is a sure way to totalitarianism – a road already well worn which will be enormously difficult to halt.
    Meanwhile, as Rome burns (and it did, for the very reasons above) all the politicos seem interested only in whether or not to “reform” the House of Lords, so as to be “more democratic”.

  • Terry Arthur

    The underlying problem here is the intervention system that took over the principles of democracy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, those principles being the welfare of the whole nation.
    Overall taxes were less than 10 percent of GDP whereas now they are 50 percent.
    Nowadays the system of interventionism by government rules. As Rome burns (as it did, via intervention) so are we, as interest groups and greed poliferate under a culture of “Rights”and envy.
    In the meantime, all the pols. think only of “reforming” the Upper House.

  • Boris MacDonut

    #30 &31. Terry Arthur. Oh dear. In the 18th C people had a life expectancy of 45 and rarely travelled further than the nearest market town. We now live to be 80 and the health service is expensive. we now read and write. Do you propose we forget education in the name of economic efficiency? We now have roads ,railways etc. Do you suggest we stop travelling to suit an austerity agenda? Your ideas are not properly thought through and motivated by dislike of your fellow man.

  • Alan

    Manufacturing requires a weak exchange rate for success. The City requires a strong exchange rate for success. Politicians need to choose between these two incompatible ideals.

  • Roberto Birquet

    Flat tax!
    Simpifies tax system…. cuts tax for the rich, reduces equality further, beloved of rich types, who believe we are foolish enough to believe their “simplification of tax” argument. Great.

    Funny how certain parts of Adam Smith’s theories (graduated income tax, labour theory of value and wealth creation) are rejected by the same types, and the rest (small government, invisble hand) enthusiastically endorse by the same, while employed by lobbyists for deregulation of all industries.
    Keynes’ great insight was that people do not make rational decisions (re, invisble hand), but emotional ones – (animal spirits). Governing via Keynes is tricky, but had it been used we would never have had the housing bubble beyond about 2003. We’d be far better off, with far less debt and a strong banking system; only not so rich bankers.

  • Romford Dave

    #17 is along the right lines Al, except I’m thinking Colin has only a certain class of head rolling in mind. Personally I think the head rolling needs to be much more widespread as clearly the suffering of the masses has a long long way to go before the lesson has been learnt.

    Shame really, there was a moment back in 2008/09 when it was so close you could almost taste the fear, knowing then was the time for the big idea to work.

    Now you’ve only got to look a the jump in popularity Labour has enjoyed to know stupid still is as stupid always does, looking East simply reinforces the view that the single cell is on the rise.

  • Romford Dave

    The cause isn’t helped by speaking heads continuously popping up at any time of day explaining why they, more than the previous speaking head, deserve a little more of the Government stash because it fits in with their version of fairness. If only the Government actually had a stash, or even knew what a stash was, they’d realise how hard stash’s are to come by and wouldn’t be so quick in dishing it out.

    There you go, there’s a good idea and big too, ban fairness, we can’t afford it so let’s not waste time, effort and resources pandering to the pursuit of the unobtainable.

    I’ve even thought up a slogan to kick it off :-

    ‘All unfairness is equal, some unfairness is more equal than others

  • Ellen

    My big idea is more political then economic – changing the boundaries of the voting system from constituencies to simple alphabetical order. So our ‘constituency’ is shared by people from all over the country who may have nothing in common with us except our initials. It would be very hard to manipulate such intangible boundaries and difficult to identify ‘key constituencies’ – so all our votes would count. And, I would guess, we would be more likely to be ‘represented’ rather than ‘ruled’.

  • ubear

    * Abolish Silver VAT and ‘eco’ taxes.
    * Exit the EU for just trading relationship.
    * Implement Positive Moneys’ proposals
    * Allow parallel fully value-based Monies to be legal tender e.g. Au & Ag coins.
    * Phase out all personal income taxes, the minimum wage, other able body benefits and state pensions.
    * Simplify the whole tax system and use ‘fuzzing’ to ensure that there are no loopholes to exploit.
    * Progressively shrink government to a sustainable size.
    * Make it a serious crime for any (ex) public employee or politician to accepted any form of bribe from private parties, even after they leave public employment e.g. Blair etc.
    * Write a much leaner and simpler set to business/trade/consumer/environment regulations, then abolish the existing red tape.
    * Tighten up definition of a charity so only organisations which offer useful, free, cost effective national services, without later harmful side effects qualify; otherwise serious fraud prosecutions e.g. Common Purpose.

  • ubear

    * No personal capital gains tax for time adjusted ‘profit’ percentage below real cost-of-living inflation (not CPI), between purchase and sale, with any profit below this percentage correctly treated as a net loss.
    * Build intrinsically safe liquid Thorium salt Nuclear Reactors in the UK and use UK nuclear waste as part of the Neutron source for the fuel.
    * Seriously look at licensing the start-up company gas and heat based reverse gradient salt-water osmosis water purification technology to end our absurd water shortages.
    * Encourage genuinely useful technology start-up companies, not that counter-productive service hype in part of London.
    * Provide a lot more ‘Maker’ sites around the country to encourage people to try out manufacturing and act as a seed for technology/manufacturing start-ups.

  • Mike Gallafent

    All western economies are stuck in the bureaucratic maw of socialism. Postwar Hong Kong with the benign negligence of an enlightened civil servant should be the template. Restore rewards for the entrepeneur and remove benefits for the workshy.

  • Terry Jones

    Greece leaves the euro, the dracma is printed but it is backed by the gold standard. Each country in the euro zone promises to loan a percentage of there gold to Greece to support there currency for a fixed term of 5 years at a small interest rate of 3.0% per year. The dracma would be devalued by 20% against the euro on the first release.This link stops money printing and supports there currency. The euro countries give aid for 12 months to support essential services such as Gas, Water, Oil supplies. The ECB guarantee will be given for all food shipments into Greece backed by the euro currency for 6 months. there is more but no space

  • Simon

    Key to finding the solution is to isolate the problem.

    Don’t you find the following symptoms more than just a coincidence?

    1 Financial crisis
    2 Weak recovery
    3 Persistently high unemployment
    4 Rising inequality
    5 Bankers bonuses
    6 Record company profits when the economy is so weak
    7 Low investment

    The common factor behind this extraordinary combination of symptoms is debt that has risen faster than incomes since 1945. So we’ll only solve the problem by cutting the level of outstanding debt. Rather than the Bank of England print money to buy government bonds from financial instituions, the proceeds should be used to repay debt. In the process, it’ll shrink the banks too.

  • Mike Gallafent

    It really is time we progressed from representative government to true democracy. Slow recognition of the inherent advantages of the internet make its use inevitable in future political reform. Use by the Swiss and calls for referendums here in the UK are signposts. Instead, the myopic pigmies of the political establishment argue for reform of the House of Lords…

  • Donny

    Couldn’t agree more with Selig-Smith get the international bankers off our backs, set up a central bank owned by the people and pay off our debts with the same worthless fiat or default. Stop sending money to the Politburo in Brussels and their apparatchiks. Outlaw deficit spending and off balance sheet deals like PFI’s. Put the unemployed to work on infrastructure projects.No foreign military adventures our armed forces are to protct these islands not do the bidding of giant corporations.
    Get people with real life experience into parliament, not the self serving chancers we have at the moment.If you doubt they serve the banks look at how Berlusconi and Papandreau meekly stepped aside to be replaced by unelected apparatchiks.Get rid of the NGO’s and so called charities that advance the agenda of the EU and it’s aims behind the backs of parliament and the people. With no national debt slash income tax to a flat rate of 15% and live within it. Entrepeneurs will do the rest.

  • Tony Betts

    Business actiity needs a stimulous:

    Stamp duty at rates close to extortion are a drag on the housing market.Make them deductible for income tax.

  • Max Stirner

    Privatising money is the most important thing to do. As long as the state has control over money, we will always have a planned economy with all the negative consequences.

    And then of course privatise everything until we don’t need the state for anything anymore. Not even to enforce the rule of law. That will be taken care of by private companies as well.

  • Chris

    One of the issues that seems to be a recurring theme is that we are seeing individuals and institutions acting in their own interest to the detriment of wider society. The democratic system is in theory supposed to work in the interest of society as a whole, however I think for a democracy to be effective the population needs to be politically educated and active. i.e. I would argue you cannot have a an effective democracy if the population is politically apathetic. One measure that could be taken could be to teach political philosophy in schools, hopefully this would increase general understanding, raise the standard of the public political debate and give individuals who want to represent their communities an understanding that better helps them to do it.

  • Chris

    Also working toward a meritocratic society so you utilise peoples’ potential and get the right people in the right positions, and encouraging genuinely wealth creating industries would be two other important factors in long term growth, the devil would be in the detail regarding how you go about those things though.

  • Chris

    @ 46. Max Stirner.

    No state? Ok and who would rule, then, presumably a few rich and powerful individuals, so you end up with an oligarchy.

    George Orwell’s 1984 is associated with extreme left policies but I think you could probably re-write the book with the right wing policies you have just descirbed and end up with a similar society.

  • Max Stirner

    @ 49. Chris:

    Yeah, yeah, that is what everyone says at first, including me! When I first heart that I also thought, alright alright now it is getting a bit silly. Should be easy to argue against this nonsense. So I did argue against it and after a long long discussion that took several month I had to admit that I was seriously running out of arguments.

    It is not that silly. A lot of very smart people have argued in favour of getting rid of the state. The best in my view is David Friedman, son of the great Milton Friedman. I recommend reading his books on it, or search him on youtube. He is a good speaker and he has some good talks up there on efficient private law.

    But even if we don’t get rid of the state, let us at least take the money out of the states hands. An entity that cannot even do a good job delivering the mail, should not mess around with the whole money of a nation. We see to which horrible crises that can lead at the moment.

  • Loafalot

    My views are aligned with the US Libertarians (Mish, Karl Denninger, etc). We need lower taxes combined with MUCH lower public spending and a ‘Buy British’ campaign. I.e. cut the overall tax take by X and overall govt spending by 2X. And people (and the BBC) need to be taught in no uncertain terms that GDP = PrSp + PrInv + GovSp + (exp-imp) … so a reduction in Govt spending WILL initially reduce GDP. So brace yourselves! But, this will in due course translate into smaller govt & higher incomes, therefore incentivising the creation of more businesses, etc. All quite simple really, but the public sector finds none of these things easy to do … so they don’t do them.

    N.B. IMO the only stimulus needed since 2007 was a large prison building program, both here and (esp) in the US. Obama is one of them though, isn’t he?

  • Frostya1

    THE BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOME…..For the euro is to `top& tail` the unrealistic cadre of members. Both Germany & Greece should leave to find their own levels. Demands on the survivors would lessen to live up to the Former or sink to the Latter. Manageable Peace would once again return via equals in expectation & achievement.

  • mr

    What are the advantages of a flat tax?

    1. The serious rich will no longer pay a lower net rate than anyone else so, yes, fairer – which would help social cohesiveness at a time that we need it and look like losing it
    2. The tax system will be simpler and less able to be circumvented by those able to afford the advice to do so as well as substantially reducing the costs of collection
    3. Set at the right rate, say 30% with a substantial tax free allowance at a level the same for all, eg £15000, the incentive to improve one’s income is both clear and permanent

    There may well be others. What are the disadvantages? I suppose fewer job opportunities for tax accountants but I could live with that!

  • Robin

    how about a national bank? Everyone can have a bank account. It pays zero interest. Deposits sit with the government treasury. Retail banks can attract depositors by paying interest. All government guarantees for deposits with retail banks are off.

    1. Banks can’t hold deposits as hostage for bailouts.
    2. Gov cost of money decreases.
    3. Banks have to offer real interest rates for deposits inline with risks they take.

  • Boris MacDonut

    There have been some pretty ridiculous ideas posted today. Isn’t it tiresome to keep hearing the plea for a flat tax. I reckon some of these rich types have preached this mantra so long they actually believe it is fair. Max Stirner and Loafalot are so deluded they must be ivory tower economists.
    #53. The seriously rich seek to avoid all types of tax ,including light touch ones. Your flat tax suggestion is no good as it build sin a 25% reduction in Government revenues.
    #52 I do like. Germany AND Greece leaving is the best solution I have seen in a while.

  • Romford Dave

    Germany punished for being good at what they do, Greece punished for being good at what they do.

    Being punished for being good seems inherently unfair, yet appears to be an answer to what ails the EU und by association the UK.

    See how banning fairness can work?

    Make a Difference – Ban Fairness


  • Mike Gallafent

    No man is an island and no nation is solely an economy. The present financial predicament is both global and unprecedented. Sovereign and personal debt, almost universal in scope, is a blanket that is smothering economic recovery. Prudent savers are being required to fund feckless spending, causing social unrest and risking civil disorder. The G20 nations must agree to force the banks, both national and international, to come clean on the debts. Secondly, a large proportion of these debts will have to be written off.370652

  • Mike Gallafent

    Thirdly, there must be an agreement on a standard of value (probably a combination of precious metals) i.e., a return to money and the abandonment of fiat currencies. Fourthly, the gradual and staged change of the world reserve currency from the US dollar to the Chinese renimbi. The reintroduction of the Glass/Steagal act to separate retail and investment banking on a global basis is a sine qua non. Individuals and companies become bankrupt everyday. Why should sovereign nations be any different?

  • Mark A

    53. mr
    sounds reasonable.

    look at the old ones: no representation without taxation! If you can vote yourself a handout, that’s a no brainer. You get the vote if you are a net taxpayer, you would then vote to implement policies which are more fiscally sound.

    Government bonds backed up by land. If there is a default, money is not lost but value transferred to a different asset.

    It is not the job of governments to prop up failed businesses, whether that be manufacturing or banks. Make that clear.

  • Mark A

    Health is a financial black hole for government and individuals.
    Only generic medication on the NHS, if you want branded versions pay yourself.

    If you have smoked yourself into cancer, heart disease or emphysema, or eaten yourself into obesity, palliative care only, ie pain relief. If you can’t climb a flight of stairs in a minute, due to your own actions, why should you be subsidised to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds by taxpayers?

  • Simon

    We’re facing a crisis of (non) democracy, not a crisis of capitalism. Politicians, if you look deeply enough, were the major cause of the financial crisis and are certainly the cause of the sovereign debt crisis.
    I suggest that interest rates should be allowed to rise to a natural level of around 4.5%. This would enable banks to attract deposits and allow them to lend at a rate taking better account of the risks involved in the current economic situation.
    Rock bottom interest rates haven’t prevented 3 decades of recession in Japan.

  • Chris

    @50. Max Stirner
    At university I studied engineering but I did a political philosophy module. I read an article by Milton Friedman when I was writing an essay on neoliberalism, his article was entitled ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits’. In it he attempts to argue that businesses have a duty to only increase profits and it is wrong of them to take on any social responsibility. It was absolute rubbish full of logic that did not stack up- classic counter intuitive neo-liberal arguments promoted by the wealthy minority that maintain their position by promoting such falsities, ably assisted by an army of sycophants. I’m sure Milton Freidman was afforded much prestige in U.S by the minority as he helped them screw over the majority, but on the basis of what I have read my opinion is what he wrote was hardly worth the paper it was written on.

  • David McCabe

    What is the problem? Supposedly insufficient wealth, but as Thatcher said, no-one in Britain is truly in poverty. It’s a matter of expectations – everyone wanting to to own a house and at least one car, go on a foreign holiday every year and all the rest of it. Our expectations have to be lowered, because we have been living beyond our means for a long time. The trouble is, people just won’t accept a drop in living standards so politically, the acceptable actions are limited, but we have to get rid of the most non-essential frills: armed forces on a scale we can’t afford, subsidies to railways that were supposedly privatised, unemployment benefits for people who refuse work, handouts to failed banking businesses, £14 billion a year to the EU. It has been proven that cutting tax rates, up to a point, actually increases tax revenues by freeing up money for enterprise and personal spending. Immigration also has to be severely curtailed.

  • jimtaylor

    @56 Romford Dave
    Germany is good at producing good quality products, but have been allowed to amass great wealth from the other EZ countries due to the Euro and this has contributed to the damage to the other EZ economies.
    Germany should pay to repair the damage – not quite “proceeds of crime”, but not far off. They appear to have given up on trying to dominate Europe by force, but are now trying through an economic back door.
    The alternative is to “top & tail” as suggested by @52 Frostya1.

  • Romford Dave

    No one has ever been forced to buy a BMW at the point of a gun Jimtaylor; to criticise Germany for producing quality goods that the rest of the world wanted to buy, highlights everything that is wrong with intellectualising something that is intrinsically simple. Make what people want, when they want it and at the right price.

    Apologists can blame the Euro for the failure of their economies for as long as they have a hole in their proverbial, the harsh reality is that the illusion of something for nothing is just that, an illusion.

    Devaluation is the mantra of losers, a cheap solution that costs everyone more in the long term.

  • Ellen

    @ Romford Dave. The strong German economy has benefited from the weakened euro. Fewer people around the world would be able to buy German products had they been using the deutschmark.

    The euro does not have the political cohesion it needs among the Eurozone countries to make it effective – and I say that as someone who believes Europe needs closer ties to survive well against the US and Asia. The Greeks, Portugese, Spanish, Irish and Italians are all putting their populations through painful austerity measures in order that the euro survives but Germany looks to be making more and more demands while reaping the benefits of the weakened currency.

  • Roberto Birquet

    Politicians, if you look deeply enough, were the major cause of the financial crisis and are certainly the cause of the sovereign debt crisis.
    You’d need to explain that, not just merely print it. how did governments or politicians get the financial markets to buy up all those CDOs? How did hot money finance get all round the world, allowing short term financing of banks such as Northern Rock to lead to 125% mortgages? Surely the sovereign debt crisis cannot be a cause if it followed the finincial crisis…by definition.
    The world is awash with debt as never before, after two-three decades of increasingly toothless government. Political economy swung decisively away from politicians after Reagan/Thatcher and the of the USSR. But somehow, this is all ‘cos of big government??

  • Mike Gallafent

    It would be simplistic to attribute cause to any particular group for the crisis but a strong thread would be the deregulation of the City in 1986. The growing income was welcomed by the politicians and, to play catch-up, Wall Street brought about the repeal of the Glass/Steagel Act which separated retail and investment banking. Perhaps central bankers and politicians should share the blame.

  • NickG

    The big idea is a hundred thousand small ideas delivered in one go: make it easier for small businesses to trade. Large companies are extending their payment dates, partly with onerous terms (like ‘our standard payment period is 60 days’), and partly by paying late.

    While it would be unreasonable to attempt to legislate a payment period, it would be reasonable to make late payment be accompanied by legally enforceable interest charges.

    If you could get large companions to pay small company when the payment is due, you’d go a long way to delivering cash flow improvements, which in turn could help these small firms grow.

  • peterjenkins

    The wealthiest countries at present are those such as Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Luxembourg who one may have noticed do not waste large amounts of money on defence. Well, defence is probably the wrong word as it should be “The Ministry of attack”, this costs a lot of resources without much in the way of reward. My big idea is to reduce defence and security spending to just that, “defence”.
    Each country (including us) can then concentrate resources and manufacturing enterprise on things that we all want to make our lives better.

  • Roberto Birquet

    Peter, 70
    An unfortunate consequence of WWII. The US was ultimately saved from any lingering effects of the Depression by the huge demand for weaponry from 1939, even from the USSR. Britain also got a boost to its military for obvious reasons, as did the USSR. The latter became so scared of postwar US that Stalin decided – as dictators are able to do – to force continuous austerity on its people by spending so much on military after WWII.
    Meanwhile, Germany was banned from doing so, and therefore saw its engineering dedicated to consumer products. We live the effects of history to this day. Germany exports, while Britain is an arms dealer.

  • Roberto Birquet

    Mike 68
    BigBang etal…
    But that took some significant lobbying from the banking sector – as did the end of Glass Stegall – which must come back. My gripe is with the economics profession. The universities teram with the same groupthink economists spouting rational man, the invisible hand, dergulated free market. It is a moot point whether they are determined by the private sector that helps to fund the ir uni departments, or whether they just became drones looking to pass exams rather than take up healthy sceptiscism.

    Even following the global implosion of Finance, where are the economics departments teaching behaviousal economics?

    I recently sought this in London. Not much! Had to go to UEA. They’re still obsessed with maths. Is it not time to question those cosy pre-2008 assumptions?

  • Romford Dave

    #66 Ellen, you’re right in saying that a weaker Euro benefited German manufacturing, but that convieniently ignores their success in the global marketplace before the invention of the Euro.

    The adjustments some are going through now are adjustments that should have happened before but were put off by weakwilled politicians in a range of Countries who preferred to walk through communities disgorging confetti to any adoring crowd that would vote them in rather than risk exile by explaining the truth the illusion concealed.

    Democracy as good that it is, is capable of voting in a dog as the winner on more than just the odd occasion.

    Simply drinking coffee in a local cafe should have been given enough insight to know that a 100 Peseta coffee selling for 1Euro a few days after currency conversion would come at an unacceptably higher cost somewhere later down the road as it percolated its pressures throughout the whole economy.

  • steveroytay

    You know well enough that there is no BIG IDEA. We know what needs to be done – you have set it out many times. Wht is needed is a BIG LEADER – brave enough to do the job. Now ‘call me Dave’ is NOT THE MAN unless perhaps we think of Davis rather than the present one.
    Usually when we get to the very brink aa leader emerges. Obviously we are not there yet. Bengt suggests that a downgrading of our credit status could be the catalyst we need – he could be right. then we may just see a MAGGIE or a WINSTON or maybe a BORIS who knows. BUT WE NEED A BIG LEADER.

  • Tony, Wallsend.

    Twenty first century economics, as some would see it,
    plan A, spend yourself into recession,
    plan B, spend yourself out of recession,
    can anyone see anything wrong with that?

  • Ellen

    @ Romford Dave – If we, the rest of Europe and the US made a commitment to be truly democratic, that would be a start. And instead of manipulating voting systems to give a prescribed set of results, they should be random and attempt to make every persons vote count. If the people want a dog to lead them ….. then a dog it should be. Although I do not share your disdain of the public’s ability to decide its own fate and think it smacks of the arrogance the ruling men had when women were fighting for a vote.

    All fiat currencies are struggling against debt that is being held against them and the Euro has particular and more complicated constraints including strong Germany and weak Greece pulling in different directions. In the US there is no question that Louisana should fulfill the same set of criteria New Hampshire manages because there is an assumed and established common identity between them which the people of Europe find hard to embrace.

  • Roberto Birquet

    Romford Dave
    Whatever key reforms are required; supply-side, demand side, tax or whatever – and we can debate what they are – many of them are about long-term needs. There is a short term crisis, and Merkozy has been looking at bolting a door that has been demolished by stampeding herds.
    What the Hell is the point of setting future budget rules, while Rome is burning? Merkel deserves to be brought down by her own electorate too. The woman is residing in an ivory tower, not understanding that you cannot pummel a national economy that is five years into a recession, demanding austerity on a level never known since WWI, and that has handicapped the economy to such a degree that a Newsnight reporter recently told viewers that in “six days in Athens, I have yet to find a restaurant that will take a credit card”. Merkeleconomics has failed. And surprise, the people have had enough.

  • Roberto Birquet

    Tony 75
    Yes, Tony. The problem is the first part has already happened and you cannot turn the clock back. I became a MoneyWeek reader because it was among the few to highlight the madness well before the fall of Lehmans. I fear the best way out is vast and general debt cancellations with some compensations for the thrifty.
    The major fault though – and this is criminally forgotten – was the private sector spending. People taking out ever greater amounts of debt (bigger mortgages, equity release) and most people gorged on it, loved it, while governments wilfully – or just plain stupid, if you ask me – believed it was all sustainable, part of a new paradigm.
    And what gets my goat is the amount of smug commentators who tut tut at governments, yet are the same people rejecting offers on their properties as “derisory”, believing they are worth the bubble prices that caused this entire mess.

  • Roberto Birquet

    I have no idea of your particular situation, but I suggest you people look in the mirror – anyone – before casting aspersions on others.
    btw, I am debt free. Really smug!
    Had house prices not reached such insane levels, I would have debt. but I refused to lie about my salary.
    Ahe, was I wrong. Because, if you truly believe that, how are you better than the Greek establishment/system of recent years?
    Indeed, why is it fair to bailout banks and mortgage borrowers, but not countries??

  • Jim

    Ideas, hmm, how about this.

    If the Bank of England instead of buying gov. bonds with QE bought distressed mortgages or mortgages that house owners are having difficulties paying but are not insolvent, then add an ultra low interest rate to the amount borrowed this would assist owners towards paying down there mortgages and the cash they had saved from the ultra low interest rate would help bring money back into consuming.

    Another idea, those with loans, repaid early would get a discount!

    My experience when I paid my mortgage off early earned me an early repayment charge which I thought was a cheek. Logically I thought if the building society had a mortgage repaid early then they had more funds to lend. I had the mortgage for at least 15 years so its not as if they had there pound of flesh with the interest that was paid.

  • TopshamLad

    Personally, I’m fed up with this obsession with growth and, more generally, consumerism. Why does our society view the success of an individual by the amount of “stuff” he or she can own/consume? When are people going to realise that the more stuff you own, the more it owns you?

    The vast majority of people in the West are all living unsustainably – surely we should be aiming for a reduction in our consumption by reducing population and living within our means. Without this adjustment, how can we hope to tackle global warming and competition for diminishing natural resources?

    Technological advancement should result in people having to work less, yet the opposite seems to be the case as a consequence of asset-price inflation…

  • TopshamLad

    Sadly, I think we need a painful asset-price crash to correct the imbalances that have grown over time. People may then start to realise that more fundamental values such as health, relationships with friends and family and a sense of belonging in one’s community are more important than chasing material wealth.

    Take it from someone who at the age of 38 took a 90% pay cut to live independently of the State and the workplace and who has all the time in the world…

  • TopshamLad

    Sadly, I think we need a painful asset-price crash to correct the imbalances that have grown over time. People may then start to realise that more fundamental values such as health, relationships with friends and family and a sense of belonging in one’s community are more important than chasing material wealth.

    Take it from someone who at the age of 38 took a 90% pay cut to live independently of the State and the workplace and who has all the time in the world.

  • Boris MacDonut

    #81 Topshamlad. I don’t agree with your old fashioned fear of consumption. There is no foundation to the “unsustainability” argument. Malthus tried it 220 years ago.
    Living within your means and fear of global warming are surrogate Catholic guilt issues. However, I do agree that technology and the simple advance of civilisation should deliver shorter working weeks (I now work 27 hours). Well done with the 90% downsizing and Topsham is a great place to be Idle in. Have you seen Vivien Leigh’s dresses in the museum. 16 inch waist, no over consumption their!!

  • Roberto Birquet

    84 Boris
    Living within your means and fear of global warming are surrogate Catholic guilt issues.
    ..You write some nonsense.
    At some point we will live beyond our means. And global warming is not some irrational catholic guilt. It is real.
    But the growth discussion has to be understood within modern capitalism. Investment in labour saving technology means approx 2% annual growth is needed to maintain employment levels. Rising unemployment was already the bane of the post-Thatcher consensus. Before the financial crisis, unemployment was the standout failure of modern economics. Now we have a second; obviously unsustainable debt.
    Jim or Topsham are on the right lines of debate. We must choose whether to allow the debt bubble to crash, and artificially raised house prices, or debt forgiveness. But the latter would demand compensation for the thrifty, which also sounds somewhat inflationary. Current policy help the indebted and bankers, penalise the thrifty is immoral.

  • Boris MacDonut

    #85 Roberto. You have a problem with your morality. The indebted tend to be poor and the “thrifty” well off. So you think it is immoral to help the poor at the expense of the rich.
    Global warming has been exagerrated (just like the terror threat) to help keep the masses in fear. I’d say they are a perfect modern replacement for fear of God. I do not believe debt levels are unsustainable . They have been higher for 220 of the last 300 years.

  • Romford Dave

    Ellen I defer to your optimism and only wish I could share it. Arrogance prevents me from telling you that banning fairness is actually the only idea I have to offer for solving global problems.

    Robert, I believe Merkel sets budgets because she clutches at straws not really knowing what else to do. Germany will suffer like everyone else when the economies of others fail, as any export focused economy must.

    Topsham raises an interesting viewpoint that may actually come to pass if Capitalism is allowed to run its natural course.

    Malthus simply suffered from premature depopulation.

  • yorrrick

    An economy needs money circulating like blood circulates in the body. Without enough money the economy implodes. Once money was gold and silver which, once mined and minted, could circulate freely in return for goods and services without imposing a financial drag on economic activity. Using precious metals becomes impractical for several reasons and economies eventually invent proxies for precious metals in the form of base metal coins and paper notes. So far, so good. We still have the remains of that system in the form of Bank of England notes and coins. However, those now represent only 3% of the money supply. The rest (97%) is IOU electronic money created from nothing by commercial banks when they extend credit against mortgages and other assets. They are allowed to do this by a historical oversight in the 1844 Bank Reform Act and the increasing dominance of electronic payment systems, which depend on commercial bank money.

  • yorrrick

    so most of the money on which our economy depends is rented from banks. GDP = money supply x velocity of money. So, during boom times when the money velocity is high a small amount of money can support a good sized GDP. When boom turns to bust and money velocity collapses we need to borrow more and more from banks to keep the GDP up. This increases the usury earnings of the banks imposing ever higher financial drag on the economy. This is a mad system benefitting only bank employees. Hence massive banker bonuses when the rest of us are drowning in debt. So let’s restore money creation to the Bank of England mediated by the Monetary Policy Committee and abolish fractional reserve banking. Banking can then revert to the supportive role that it once had, which is to mediate between people who have excess money and those with productive ideas that need funding. For more information see The Grip of Death by Michael Rowbotham, Web of Debt by Ellen Brown and http://www.positivemoney.org.uk

  • Yehan

    The Big Idea is


    Some banks will go bust. That’s good. They deserve to. They will perhaps behave more prudently next time. Maybe not.

    Someone will buy the bust banks for 1 Euro or 1 Pound or 1 Dollar or one Yuan and recapitalize them. No small ordinary depositor will lose a single Euro (State guarantees), stupid investors who gambled recklessly will lose everything, hooray for justice at last. Cleared of all the never-will-be-repaid debt stolen from the future generations, both the born and yet unborn, Europe, including Greece, will be able to begin again and will probably be growing in 6 months.

    Need to correct a flaw in Democracy… the gaining of power by bribing voters with evermore services and hand-outs paid with evermore debt.

    Merkel will insist no more Sovereign debt mountains, 3% GDP max which is approximately inflation and therefore neutralized.

    And they lived happily ever after.


  • Ellen

    @ Romford Dave – apologies for my bluntness. My worldly observations, not optimism, is that a great number of people talk in a derogatory way about the general public as if they are not part of it.

    TopshamLad may well be onto something. All our attitudes to spending, and what we spend our money on, defines too much of who and what we are. Anyone who has teenagers will know how easy it is to take money off them if Holister, Vans etc is written on it! And we are guilty of being corporate fools in different ways. Maybe everyone should read ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ or ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ to remind them the life is not just two dimensional.

  • Bob

    Remove limited liability from banks –
    no more grotesque salaries and bonuses
    no more casino banking
    no more excessive lending
    no more government bailouts
    shareholders become economically engaged and politicised
    losses fall on those who make the bad decisions

  • TopshamLad

    84 Boris
    Yep, Topsham is a lovely place, although once again I may have to ‘play the game’ and move to somewhere relatively undiscovered, spacious and cheap. If people want to pay silly money to live in an increasingly crowded part of the world – and we must build more houses and increase the population, boost GDP and pass on the debt to the next generation ad infinitum, mustn’t we?! – that’s their choice.

    Individuals need to take more responsibility for their actions when it comes to finance, whether it’s buying a house or planning for retirement. Why does everyone expect to be ‘bailed out’ for their own poor decisions? I’d better stop now (not that anyone’s reading this anymore?) – I feel a rant coming on …

  • Glenda

    We are making all the same mistakes as the 1929-32 crash. Austerity pushed every economy down then and it’s the same now.
    The money has to move through the economy not just be transfered from one bank to another. The money must be given or dispensed through the government to the people via works. People then feel confident and spend and don’t empty the banks. READ YOUR HISTORY!. The events in Greece mirror Germany and Hitler, the debt to the rest of Europe pushed them into the hands of Hitler. That was really good wasn’t it!

  • Mountain Man

    It’s easy! Less government!
    Stop meddling politicians and caveat emptor!
    We need a mindset change: out with unmanageable debt, unquantifiable risk and the worship of celebrity.
    In with self achievement, responsibilty and local involvement.
    If only we hadn’t bailed out Lloyds and RBS we’d be halfway there.

  • HAJ

    We have to reduce the power of Central Govt and create a more liberal entrepreneurial society so here are ideas:
    1.A law should be passed that in future no Chancellor of the Exchequer should be allowed to present a budget that plans for a deficit unless in times of real emergencies ( to be deterimed by 60% in both House of Parliament)
    2.Lawmaking to be passed back down the system to the most local level where each society can really see the benefits/disadvantages of their decisions i.e. NHS and other such monoliths are to big to run from Central Govt. Decisions to be taken at local level for NHS,Education, Social Services and Police
    3.Commensurate with taking responsibility for local decisions local government to be handed back the ultimate responsibility; the power to raise tax. This is not to be in addition to Central Govt but instead of.

    Only when we have healthy local competition can we get this country moving again.

  • Bullionstore

    BUY GOLD at the LOWEST GUARANTEED market prices. We are bullion dealers specializing in selling quality gold and buying scrap gold. Buy Gold for investments or get instant cash for gold at Bullion store.