Above all, the private sector is forecast by the OECD to run a surplus – an excess of income over spending – of 10 per cent of GDP this year. On a consolidated basis, the UK’s private surplus funds nearly 90 per cent of the fiscal deficit. Thus, fiscal tightening would only work if it coincided with a robust private recovery. Otherwise, it would drive the economy into deeper recession. Yes, that is a Keynesian argument. But this is a Keynesian situation.
I agree that there needs to be a credible path for fiscal consolidation that would lead to a balanced budget, if not a surplus. That will be essential if the UK is to cope with an ageing population in the long term. I agree, too, that the path needs to be spelled out. Given the high ratios of spending to GDP – close to 50 per cent – the best way to proceed is via tight, broad-based, long-term control over expenditure. But a substantially faster pace than envisaged by the last government might threaten recovery: the OECD, for example, forecasts economic growth at 1.3 per cent this year and 2.5 per cent in 2011. Even this would imply next to no reduction in excess capacity.