government deficit

Ralph Atkins

Jürgen Stark, the European Central Bank executive board member, was closely involved in drawing up the European Union’s fiscal rules when he worked in the 1990s at the German finance ministry. In the past year, he has seen how ineffective they proved - largely, he believes, because of the example Germany set in 2005 demanding their loosening after flagrantly breaching them itself (by which time Mr Stark had become a central banker). Now, he is lobbying actively for a revised, tougher rule book.

Earlier this week, Mr Stark told a Frankfurt conference that proposals put forward by the European Commission “are not the quantum leap that is needed”. Speaking in Vienna today, Mr Stark backed a series of changes along the lines set out by the ECB in their recent paper on eurozone governance. As I have written, these focus on imposing sanctions earlier and with more “automaticity”. (Is there such a word in English?)   To me, it seemed Mr Stark had been actively involved in compiling the ECB’s recommendations. 

Is it the gunfight at the OK Corall? Or Ali vs Fraser? Or perhaps King Kong against Godzilla? Choose your own inappropriate metaphor, but today’s letters from more than 60 economists to the FT arguing strongly against major action to cut the deficit this year has clearly touched a nerve in what is perhaps the biggest issue facing the UK economically and politically for the next few years.

Following the letter by 20 economists to the Sunday Times at the weekend, today’s letters highlight the division in the economics profession between fiscal hawks and those who are more worried about the economy’s ability to restart after one of the deepest recessions of modern times.