Jonathan Freedland is no economist

Some might call this a compliment, but I intend anything but. Freedland's encomium to Ed Balls in CiF today is significant for the question it fails to ask.

He correctly points out that Balls was questioning the effects of austerity nearly 2 years ago:

In the summer of 2010, when the coalition was young and Labour was gazing inwards to choose a new leader, Ed Balls broke with what was then a near-uniform consensus to declare that a rushed austerity programme made no sense when the economy was so fragile.
and claims that, now the economy is slumping, Balls has been vindicated.

One slight problem, Jonathan my chum. The Chancellor has to make a choice on fiscal policy, and live with it. All you've seen is the results of Osborne's choices in parallel with the fiscal events in the rest of the world. What you (implicitly) claim is that Ed's alternative of a splurge in Government spending for two years would have improved matters. Except... what do you think the odds are that the UK would have retained its AAA rating in such circumstances? Even in 2011 the UK was spending £50bn/year on debt interest, and that is only going up. Where was Balls going to find the money without generating a vicious circle of increasing gilt yields and debt interest?

Another question that is significant for its absence in Freedland's article: what would Balls spend this extra money on? Government is notorious for its ability to sink money into pointless infrastructure or "investment", that at best just breaks even and at worst falls down a black hole of civil service incompetence and private sector sharks. The closest he gets at a hint is:

Doling out money to the unemployed, who would no longer be paying taxes, would only see Britain's debts get bigger, not smaller.
Well whoop-de-doop, Jonathan. What would Balls do instead? Pay them for a full-time minimum wage make-work job? I assure you, they are going to be very little better off, if at all, and the overheads in Government job creation will make this a terrible spending proposition.

Who is this jerk, anyway?

Jonathan Freedland writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He is also a regular contributor to the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, and presents BBC Radio 4's contemporary history series, The Long View.
Ah, clearly a man whose economic expertise towers over my own. That's all right then.

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