Sunday 14 August 2022

Fixing the UK Economy’s Cost-of-Living Crisis….

Last week, one of the political parties suggested that the UK Government should treat the cost-of-living crisis with a “wartime mentality” and thus sparked a thought here at NamNews as we focused on our perpetual search for practical solutions to Supplier-Retailer business problems…

Given the build-up of Cost-of-Living issues in the UK including soaring food-price inflation, product shortages and energy price increases all originating in Lockdown, followed by a succession of payment holidays for businesses (Rent, Rates, and Tax) and ‘Government’ i.e. taxpayer help via furloughs, all coming home to roost currently, it follows that some drastic action is required.

Moreover, think also of recent cost increases that have crept in as consumers borrowed to ease the pressure, with credit card borrowing growing at its fastest pace since 2005, with interest on cards costing an average 21.66% in July, rates for £10k personal loans rising in July to 4.18%, and overdraft rates still at all-time highs of 35.28%!

Others have attempted to explain how we have reached this point but much of the blame can be placed on the decision to move off the Gold Standard.      

On August 15, 1971, the US came off the Gold Standard, causing other countries to follow suit and in the UK ‘a pound was no longer a pound’.  In practice, this meant that Governments could print money at will (Quantitative Easing) and thus run up limitless Debt in the process. Cheap money lent recklessly via sub-prime mortgages resulted in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 when the Banks were bailed out and became even more reckless…. 

At a Country level in terms of National Debt, anyone thinking this QE and low-interest freedom would be handled responsibly can easily put the issue in context by Googling ‘Interest paid on UK National Debt’ to find that the UK Interest Bill for June 2022 (one month!) was £19.4bn….

As a result of this Quantitative Easing, banks have been able to borrow at near-zero interest rates and charge consumers the rates outlined above. Unfortunately for all except Civil Servants on inflation-proofed pensions, Inflation began to increase, and as you know is predicted to shortly reach 13% by a very conservative Bank of England.

Taking all of the above into account, combining inflation with low growth, and low productivity, we believe we are headed into a recession that will last five years or more, thus requiring a “wartime mentality” on the part of the Government...

Speaking of wars, a recent chance discovery of a book by J K Galbraith ‘The World Economy Since the Wars’ (I have admired his work since reading his treatment of the 1929 Wall Street Crash) could provide us with an approach on how the Government might take action to address the cost-of-living crisis, in a wartime context.

Towards the end of The Second World War, the UK was faced with recession and a real danger of runaway inflation, and thereby had a need for State Control of prices, rents and wages.

The wartime solution was to supplement the price controls with a fairly comprehensive system of rationing that extended to canned goods, meats, sugar, shoes, car tyres and petrol.  Whilst in WW2 rationing was implemented via coupons and ration-books, nowadays a digital version combined with Tech-based insight re the consumer buying and usage behaviour would probably result in a 100%  leak-proof and fair system for all… Incidentally, where supply was exceptionally short and need exceptionally great, demand was thus brought forcibly into equilibrium with supply, thus eliminating a major cause of inflation.

As you know there are two ways of increasing profits, even in wartime. One way is to raise prices, the other to increase production,  As Galbraith noted, price controls and associated wage restraints made the increase of production the only available course. Profit maximisation was served horizontally by more production, not vertically by higher prices, a lesson for all… 

Monetary policy (interest rates):

To make all of this work, apart from managing consumer and business compliance, it would be necessary to keep interest rates low, effectively freezing interest rates at say 1% for the next five years of anticipated recession.  This means that any necessary borrowing by consumers or businesses would be at minimal interest rates, with a modest reward for lenders…

Lenders would thus be forced to seek increased profitability via increased efficiency and cost saving.  Consumers would be encouraged to clarify and communicate real need, thus minimising the advantages of product overlap and duplication by suppliers and retailers, who would in turn seek and provide real differentiation and be encouraged to make every sale count by delivering more than it says on the tin, every time….

Fiscal Policy (Tax and Government expenditure):

In contrast with the lightweight Monetary policy outlined above, the collecting of taxes and government expenditure would be much more aggressive… This would be a combination of high taxes on the fortunate few that have access to offshore means of tax avoidance, and Tech Giants that have hitherto contributed little to the tax pool.

Incidentally, keep in mind that the top rate of tax in the UK was 95% for many years, by no means unprecedented.

In addition, there could be excess-profits taxes applied to companies that have unfairly benefited from the Lockdown disruption of the past three years… This unprecedented clawback of money via taxation could be used to re-engineer/improve the NHS, and invest in improved provision of education for those in need. The excess cash could help to pay down National Debt and resource the negotiating of debt write-of/forgiveness where possible. 

Incidentally, given the restraints on expenditure, consumers will probably save more, besides being encouraged to postpone expenditure by relatively stable prices. The resulting build-up of consumers’ unspent money could be absorbed via the sale of Government Bonds that could be redeemed for spending at the end of the recession…

 A key benefit of the above approach would be to lift the consumer out of a necessary 24/7 obsession with the cost-of-living crisis, thereby treating one to the hitherto unaddressed fall-out of Lockdown, mental illness.

The resulting lack of sleep, skipping of meals to provide sufficient nourishment for hungry children, walking in all weathers to avoid the cost of public transport while a family car remains empty at home because of the escalating cost of fuel, will all add up to a national problem with a far greater downside and a knock-on effect on national morale that will fast become unmanageable…

An even greater casualty could be trust, a willingness to believe anything we are told. For instance, if part of the re-set agenda is to replace physical cash with its digital equivalent, then continuing with the current ‘abuse’ of money will compromise any hopes of a smooth transition. Moreover, given the move from the Gold Standard, money has become a fiat-currency, in that politicians are reliant on peoples’ belief in the value proclaimed by the government!

If people lose sufficient trust in the Government, there is a very real danger they could begin to require proof for any assertion made by anyone in officialdom, spending more time second-guessing any offering, any time, anywhere, any how….

Who knows, some could even begin to resist, and seek alternatives…                        

Something clearly has to be done…      

BTW, in terms of implementing its ‘wartime solution’ the Government might not find it difficult to achieve high levels of compliance with the above harsh regime. Best keep in mind the relative ease with which almost 100% of the UK public were fully supportive in terms of compliance re masks, social distancing, ‘jabs’ and viewing of 15 minute Government TV briefings each evening for the past 2.5 years…

All else is detail.

by Brian Moore (  -

#SoaringInflation #CostOfLiving #PriceRises

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