Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hope? Yes by all means, but don't get carried away...

I read the piece by Maelo Manning the other day with some interest and found her thoughts on the question of hope intriguing. She is, of course, right - when times are hard, as they still are, giving voters a prospect of better times ahead is a means of convincing people that short-term pain will lead to long-term gain. There is, however (and you just knew that I was going to say that, didn't you?), a catch, in that such hope has to be based in reality.

Frankly, I fear for the Greek people. The decision of the incoming Syriza-led administration to unpick significant chunks of the agreed package of reform will frighten the markets - the Athens stock market is already in severe crisis. And, whilst the attractive option is to tell the markets to go screw themselves (that's a technical term, you understand), the fact that government spending is already dependent on the funds supplied in exchange for those reforms will inevitably lead to a gap between income and expenditure. You can, naturally, fill that gap by increasing income through taxation (slow and by no means guaranteed) or, more likely, through borrowing. So, let me ask you this, would you lend money to Greece right now? Could you be confident that Tsipras and his colleagues wouldn't renege on the debt? I wouldn't be.

You might say, "Ah, but Europe couldn't allow such a thing to happen, a deal would be cut, surely?". And yes, it is possible, but given the sacrifices that the likes of Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia have made to reform their economies, why should they give the Greeks an easy ride? And what message does it send to others if the Greeks do get to keep their bloated public sector and relatively generous welfare provision, neither of which they can afford?

But the message is equally true here. I won't bother with the Greens, as their economic policy is verging on laughable, but Labour's talk of cutting the deficit whilst apparently not making any cuts that will upset people is equally absurd. Saving the NHS by giving it more money is merely a short-term fix unless we are going to use that window to reform it in a sustainable way (Liberal Democrats please note...), and ring-fencing key budgets only means even greater pain for the remainder of the public sector if an aim to eliminate the deficit by 2020 is to be credible.

No, there will be more pain, more "blood, sweat and tears" to be endured over the next five years. The possible reward is an economy that can be sustained, a welfare system that protects the vulnerable and a public sector that delivers what we need, rather than what we desire.

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