Before Christmas I reported that the Labour Government has managed to increase both taxes and unemployment. In my enthusiasm for the festive fun, I overlooked a third painful statistic: inflation, too is rising.
That taxes and unemployment were rising simultaneously should come as no surprise, as high income and corporate taxes squeeze entrepreneurs and businesses, while high employment taxes (National Insurance to my British audience) raise the price of labour and make expansion unprofitable or shift the balance in favour of capital (i.e. it is cheaper to mechanise than to employ).
In the dark and dismal past, however, it was generally held that unemployment and inflation were opposing sides of a great balance. Between the 1940s and 1970s economists – inspired by J M Keynes – convinced governments that unemployment could be countered by inflationary policies (which surreptitiously reduce real earnings and so free up capital to employ extra workers). This was a flawed thesis, as demonstrated by Nobel economics laureates such as Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek, who persuasively argued that policies aimed at full employment were both misguided and counter-productive.
Even more flawed, perhaps, was the resulting myth that inflation and unemployment were a trade-off. In theory, unemployment could be reduced only by inflationary policies, while the eventual need to rein in inflation would cause unemployment. It did not, however, follow that the two were in balance. In fact it is possible to have both rising unemployment and rising inflation. Our current Labour government is in the process of proving it.
Britain’s consumer-price inflation rate in November was 2.7 per cent, the highest rate since records began and also the highest rate since Labour took office. Combined with the rise in unemployment to 5.6 per cent from 4.7 per cent a year ago, a budget deficit of 3 per cent, further expected tax rises and GDP that is predicted to fall in 2007 and this is a pretty miserable picture of Labour economic failure.