When the Office for National Statistics relaunched its website last year, a geek like me was distraught as it had failed to make navigation of the UK’s generally wonderful statistics easier. “The new ONS website – aaaargh,” I commented.
Today, I gave evidence on the communication of statistics to the Public Administration Select Committee and to test whether the website had improved materially I thought I would pick a relevant question, to which I wanted to find an answer as a member of the public and as an expert user of the website. The question was: Is unemployment higher or lower now than in 1995?
This is the website journey (for lay and expert users) I described in the Committee, which I think is accurate and depressing. I don’t think a non-expert could find the interesting answer (at the bottom of the post) and an expert has to take a long journey to get there. The result should be immediate on clicking on an unemployment link on the homepage or on typing in the relevant 4-digit code for experts. Again, the ONS website – aaaargh.
Member of the public Read more
George Osborne chose to ditch straight-talking about the public finances in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday and replace it with fiddling with numbers. I think all of the figures he used in his statement were true — there were no lies — but to coin the motto of accountants, many figures were not fair.
True without always being fair used to be the watchword of Gordon Brown as chancellor, so Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, has little to complain about. Those of us who did complain about Mr Brown’s use of comparisons therefore have a responsibility to be fair and moan about Mr Osborne too. Here are five elements of his speech yesterday which annoyed me because they failed the true and fair test. Read more
Being prepared for big economic statements, such as tomorrow’s Autumn Statement, is a must, given the quantity of information released in such a short time. Even though this will be the 41st Budget, Autumn Statement or pre-Budget report I have covered, I try not to be complacent.
Here’s what I think is important (sorry about the length), what type of analysis is relevant to understanding Britain’s economy and public finances, and at the bottom is a moan about the way in which George Osborne has decided to follow Gordon Brown down the road of playing games with numbers. Read more
Officials I have spoken to since venting my anger at the raid on the government’s quantitative easing surplus have struck a decidedly disappointed tone. It was a shame I didn’t understand that there was no trickery involved; it was a pity I could not see that the move was standard practice in public sector liability management; and it was sad I had questioned whether the the Treasury’s move, which itself eased monetary conditions, undermined the BoE’s operational independence to set monetary policy.
While I have convinced a sizable majority of readers, I note that some people are swallowing these lines without much challenge. Here I will deal with the independence of monetary policy.
Let me be absolutely clear. Sir Mervyn King, BoE governor, rejects my arguments entirely. He wrote on November 9 that the monetary policy committee “was content that its ability to set the appropriate stance of monetary policy would not be affected by this action”. MPC members I have spoken to subsequently have reiterated this argument. They decide monetary policy last, they say, so they are in control. Read more
Officials I have spoken to since venting my anger at the raid on the government’s quantitative easing surplus have struck a decidedly disappointed tone. It was a shame I didn’t understand that there was no trickery involved; it was a pity I could not see that the move was standard practice in public sector liability management; and it was sad I had questioned whether the the Treasury’s move, which itself eased monetary conditions, undermined the Bank of England’s operational independence to set monetary policy.
While I have convinced a sizable majority of readers, I note that some people are swallowing these lines without much challenge. Here I will deal with trickery and liability management. In the next post, I will turn to monetary policy. Simon Ward of Henderson Global Investors is the latest to say that anything other than treating temporary profits from QE as government revenue “would be out-of-line with the treatment of other future government liabilities”. Read more
On the day of the inflation report, the Bank of England came out with its most pessimistic medium-term outlook for the economy, suggesting weak growth would not cause inflation to fall below the 2 per cent target. That suggests no room for more quantitative easing. But is that really the case?
How loose is monetary policy? How big is the QE programme? These were all questions that popped up again and again at Bank governor Sir Mervyn King’s press conference this morning in light of the Treasury’s temporary raid on the accumulated surplus of the QE pot. Here is a timeline of what we know and Sir Mervyn’s answers today. Read more
It is six days since Bank of England internal reviews urged more transparency in monetary policy. The BoE’s Court – its governing body – welcomed the review and promised to act.
Today was the first test of that transparency. The BoE failed at the first hurdle. Read more
At ease: the BoE has put £375bn into the UK economy
Two questions arise when the lacklustre performance of the UK economy is discussed: what more should be done? And what more can be done?
Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, gave pretty clear answers to both in a speech on Tuesday night. Read more
This week the International Monetary Fund argued that Keynesian short-term multipliers used in economic forecasts had been “systematically too low since the start of the Great Recession”.
The multiplier describes the relationship between changes in taxation or public spending and output. For a multiplier of 1, a $1 increase in taxation will reduce GDP by $1. For a multiplier of 0.5, a $1 reduction in spending will reduce GDP by $0.50. The higher the multiplier, the more painful deficit reduction.
The IMF justified its concern over multipliers by evaluating its April 2010 forecasts for growth. It found that in countries that planned significant fiscal consolidation, its growth forecasts were systematically too optimistic and they were too pessimistic for countries planning to let spending rise quickly or cut taxes. Read more
There is a chart regarding the UK economy which has become so ubiquitous it is known in our office simply as “the Niesr chart”, because it is often republished by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It is supposed to be a clear and concise account of Britain’s recent economic woes, putting the recession into accurate context of past recessions. It shows the current recession as the longest and nearly the deepest since the start of the 1930s. People don’t generally know that in the UK the 1920s recession was much worse, but I’ll leave that for now.
Here is the latest version of “the Niesr chart”, published today. Take a good look at it before I tell you why I have begun to become irritated by it.
It is arresting because it does most things right. It is simple to understand. It is clearly drawn and obviously in context. The problem is that that the Niesr chart might be showing us irrelevant nonsense. It is also not a sufficient description of the UK’s recession. Read more