Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, fears that America shares many of the same fiscal problems currently hauntingEurope. He also believes that European Union must become a federalised fiscal union (in other words with central power to tax and spend) if it is to survive. Just two of the nuggets from one of the most extraordinary press conferences I have been to at the Bank.
What with all the excitement yesterday over our new Government, I never had time to remark on the Inflation Report press conference. Most of our attention was on what King said about the Government’s fiscal plans (a ringing endorsement). But, as Jeremy Warner has written in today’s paper, it was as if King had suddenly been unleashed. Bear in mind King is usually one of the most guarded policymakers in both British and central banking circles. Not yesterday.
It isn’t often one has the opportunity to get such a blunt and straightforward insight into the thoughts of one of the world’s leading economic players. Most of this stuff usually stays behind closed doors, so it’s worth taking note of. And I suspect that while George Osborne will have been happy to hear his endorsement of the new Government’s policies, Barack Obama and the European leaders will have been far less pleased with his frank comments on their predicament.
The transcript and video are online at the Bank’s website, but below are the extended highlights, all emphasis mine. Well worth checking out.
America, and many other large economies including the UK, share some of the same problems as Greece with its public finances:
Every country around the world is in a similar position, even the United States; the world’s largest economy has a very large fiscal deficit.And one of the concerns in financial markets is clearly – how will this enormous stock of public debt be reduced over the next few years? And it’s very important that governments, both here and elsewhere, get to grips with this problem, have a clear approach and a very clear and credible approach to reducing the size of those deficits over, in our case, the lifetime of this parliament, in order to convince markets that they should be willing to continue to finance the very large sums of money that will be needed to be raised from financial markets over the next few years, at reasonable interest rates.
On why Europe will have to become a federalised fiscal union:
I do not want to comment on a particular measure by a particular country, but I do want to suggest that within the Euro Area it’s become very clear that there is a need for a fiscal union to make the Monetary Union work. But if that is to happen there needs to be also a mechanism to enable other countries that have lost competitiveness to regain competitiveness. That requires actions, probably structural reforms, changes in wages and prices, in the countries that need to regain competitiveness. But it also needs a solid and expansionary state of domestic demand in the stronger economies in Europe.
On the deficit:
The most important thing now is for the new government to deal with the challenge of the fiscal deficit. It is the single most pressing problem facing the United Kingdom; it will take a full parliament to deal with, and it is very important that measures are taken straight away to demonstrate the seriousness and the credibility of the commitment to dealing with that deficit.
Why it is right that the Government wants to cut spending as soon as this year:
We see the recovery beginning to take place, and we expect that the pace of that recovery will pick up. But we’ve also seen the market response in the past two weeks, where major investors around the world are asking themselves questions about the interest rate at which they are prepared to finance trillions of pounds of money that will need to be raised on financial markets in the next two to three years, to finance government requirements around the world. And that I think has been a sobering reflection of what can happen if you don’t make very clear at the outset – I think markets were not expecting any action before the election. After the election they need and they want a very clear, strong signal and evidence of the determination to make it work.
And I think that it’s quite difficult to make credible a commitment to fiscal consolidation if all the measures are somehow in the future. You need to start and get on with it….