The current financial debt crisis can be laid at the door of the Golden Rule and its interpretations. It states
“The Golden Rule states that over the economic cycle, the Government will borrow only to invest and not to fund current spending.
Therefore, over the economic cycle the current budget (ie, net of investment) must balance or be brought into surplus.”
This gave two consequences for the UK.
1. For a number of years there was a deficit to finance the creation of assets which would give non-monetary returns.
2. This deficit increased the nominal National Debt faster than the nominal growth in GDP.
That is the new assets were either in the category of having no significant financial returns (such as schools or hospitals) or had financial returns that would never cover the capital cost.
In terms of level of public services, the country is probably benefitting. But we entered the severest downturn in 60 years with a structural deficit. Yet these assets created liabilities as well. There are the running costs of the new assets and there is the interest on the debt. Furthermore, there are a huge number projects financed by Public Finance Initiatives (PFI). That is the Private Sector meeting the initial capital cost and charging for the flow of services.
The consequence is the UK entered the severest downturn in 60 years with a structural deficit. This was for the financing of “investment”. Further, each addition to the capital stock added to the Nation’s liabilities. For a new school or hospital to deliver its’ stream of benefits requires staff and maintenance.
The Golden Rule turns out to be far from Prudent, because it was not for investment in the accounting sense. That is assets acquired with expectation of a future stream of revenue generation or cost savings. Rather, the acquisitions were liabilities. Under Labour, we have acquired extra debt to pay out extra money year after year. Gordon Brown took a gamble with the Nation’s finances, by failing to understand the term “investment”. It should not come as a shock that in the long term it would unravel.
For clarity, here is a simple analogy.
1. Someone sets up as a plumber. They acquire a van to transport themselves, tools and equipment to places of work. The van has running costs, and also there is a loan to repay. But it enables chargeable work to be undertaken. It therefore enables or augments an income stream by an amount that is expected to exceed the cost.
2. Someone owns a basic low-cost reliable car, acquires a new 4×4, partly financed by a loan. The fuel, servicing and insurance all go up, along with the finance cost. It may increase their standard of living, but substantially increases that person’s outgoings.
Most Government “investment” is in the second category. It may provide services that people individually could not afford, but increases the sense of well-being. However, if debt financed, will just result in extra costs.