If you read about as fast as I do, it has taken you three seconds to read this headline.
During the same time the UK national debt has grown by £15,510, which is, you must agree, pretty good going.
Or, depending on your point of view, pretty bad going. Catastrophic, come to think of it.
Our debt is currently but a cat’s whisker under £1.5 trillion. If it continues to accelerate at the same rate, over the next five years it’ll grow by £8,152,056,000,000. Before long we’ll be talking serious money.
Still, the money may be serious, but the way we, well, I mean the government and the press, talk about it isn’t. In fact, the remarks one reads are downright frivolous.
The papers report that George Osborne has just discovered that our borrowing has in the first six months of the year overshot the target by £20 billion.
Both George and the papers that are in thrall to his party find this situation unacceptable, as well they should.
Yet what troubles them isn’t that the economy is rapidly heading for a massive crash that’ll make us think of 2008 with nostalgic longing.
No, the problem as they see it is that they’ll find it hard to bribe the voters with pre-election giveaways, such as a sizeable tax cut.
By now we’ve become sufficiently fluent in the modern jargon to know that, when a government talks about a giveaway, its intention isn’t to give but to take marginally less.
By the same token, a mugger who cleans you out but, out of the goodness of his heart, leaves you three quid for the bus fare home isn’t actually giving you something. He’s just robbing you by a slightly smaller amount.
Those who understand the jargon don’t of course expect any key words to be used in their real meaning. Thus the word ‘liberalism’ is widely used to denote transfer of power from the individual to the state, which is exactly opposite to what the word really means.
Staying with economics, we’ve learned that ‘austerity’ is the new meaning of profligacy, ‘quantitative easing’ means deepening the fiscal abyss by printing money, and ‘growth’ stands for shifting cash from one pocket to the other while claiming that each shift is tantamount to GDP growth.
Still, call it a giveaway, a tax cut or a cynical attempt to buy our votes with our own money, our present austerity, otherwise known as profligacy, means the Tories can’t afford it, whatever you call it. Hence they can’t bribe their way to power, and that’s naturally all they care about.
Never mind that the country is bankrupt, if we define bankruptcy as liabilities exceeding assets. Never mind that the state is chronically unable to pay its own way. Never mind that we spend more on servicing the existing debt than on defence of the realm. Never mind that future generations will be beggared by the ruinous debt. May 2015 is all that matters.
This unfolds to the accompaniment of bleating coming from Keynesian economists, talking about ‘paradigm shifts’ and ‘new models’.
Essentially, they are saying that spending more than you earn is good for you. Not you personally, mind you. Irresponsible urination of money against the wall isn’t good for you individually – it’s good for the collective you, the people at large.
Somehow the big numbers are supposed to invalidate Adam Smith’s common sense he evinced by remarking that “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great Kingdom.”
A private family knows that, if its outgoings keep exceeding its income, things will be fine for a while. But sooner or later they’ll become less fine, then not fine at all, and then the bailiffs knock on the door.
We are expected to believe that the state operates to a different ‘model’, but it doesn’t really. It’s just that the state has a greater power than an individual to defer the day of judgement – but not indefinitely. Sooner or later the penny will drop and, to mix the metaphors ever so slightly, the balloon will go up.
The only way for Britain to regain its erstwhile solvency is to change the whole ‘liberal’ basis of our economy. Without going into too much detail, we should do things that are known to work, not those that are solely founded on bien pensant wishful thinking of the ‘liberal’, which is to say socialist, genre.
Keeping public spending down, ideally under 25 per cent of GDP, works. So does offering welfare only to those who legitimately can’t work, as opposed to won’t. So does denationalising most of the health service. So does reducing government bureaucracy. So do income-tax rates at least half of their present extortionist level. So does not having to pay tribute to foreign powers.
Every country that introduced such policies thrived as a result (the Asian ‘tiger economies’ spring to mind). Every country that followed our ‘model’ more or less closely developed the same problem sooner or later.
But those statesmen who knew that Smith was right and acted accordingly didn’t do so because they wanted to bribe the electorate. They did it because they wanted their countries to do well.
I am not so naïve as to think that any measures I’ve touched upon would be politically feasible. Our democracy run riot corrupts not only the politicians but also the voters.
A Chancellor bold enough to suggest anything along those lines would stop being Chancellor at the end of his speech plus three minutes, tops. The whole cabinet would probably follow in his footsteps on the road to political oblivion.
That’s why, barring a calamity that doesn’t bear thinking about, we’ll be for ever stuck with chaps willing to beggar the nation for the sake of the next election or, even worse, some abhorrent ideology.
Meanwhile, if you’ve read all of this article, you’ve missed a major economic event: during this time our national debt has grown by £1,706,100.