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David Smith

David Smith

David Smith is economics editor of The Sunday Times. His website is http://economicsuk.com . His latest book is Something Will Turn Up.

Articles by David Smith

Sunak must support the economy now and make us pay for it later

5 days ago

Sunak must support the economy now and make us pay for it later
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

It is worth remembering, as we await Wednesday’s budget, that it was not supposed to be like this. A few months ago, Rishi Sunak, basking in the warm glow of his Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August, was looking forward to presenting his second budget in November. By then, the Treasury hoped, Covid-19 would be in retreat, and the spring 2020 national lockdown would be a fading memory, and it would be time to embark on the task of paying for the pandemic.

Things have turned out differently. Two more lockdowns have happened and the current one is not over and

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Sunak shouldn’t even think of doing a Geoffrey Howe

12 days ago

Sunak shouldn’t even think of doing a Geoffrey Howe
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

This is a time for momentous anniversaries. It is ancient history now, particularly for younger readers, but a few days ago we market the 50th anniversary of decimalisation. It is surprising, unless I have missed it, that we have not had a campaign to bring back pounds, shillings and pence, not that I am suggesting it would be a good idea.

And, while we have embraced metrication – not the same as decimalisation but part of the family – we still measure distances in miles, fuel consumption in miles per gallon, height in feet and inches (well I do) and beer, when we used to

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Not Project Fear – but Brexit reality for firms and the economy

19 days ago

Not Project Fear – but Brexit reality for firms and the economy
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

It takes something to break through the blanket coverage of the pandemic, on which the news is not as encouraging as it might be. I don’t think, a year ago, that many people would have been anticipating the introduction this month of the harshest travel restrictions so far, or for there to be a debate about whether even staycations will be possible this summer. I think they will, but I am an optimist on these things.

What is clear, I think, is that even with a successful vaccination programme there is not going to be a “with one bound we are free” moment.

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Negative rates? No, the Bank should be starting to think of when to raise

26 days ago

Negative rates? No, the Bank should be starting to think of when to raise
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Many is the Thursday lunchtime I have waited with bated breath for the Bank of England’s interest rate announcement, and many is the time when it has been much ado about nothing. So it seemed last week, when the eight men and one woman on the Bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) left official interest rates at a record low of 0.1 per cent and opted not to increase its quantitative easing (QE) total from an already massive £895 billion, including corporate bonds.

The announcement was not without its moments, however. The Bank wants to add negative

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Can this stuttering recovery still pick up the pace?

January 31, 2021

Can this stuttering recovery still pick up the pace?
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

The International Monetary Fund’s January world economic outlook is always interesting. It normally coincides with the annual Davos jamboree in the Swiss mountains. This year, like many things, Davos took place virtually. But, having not been invited to attend the real thing for a while – it is a long story – I did not take part in the online version either, but I did devour the IMF’s new assessment.

It provides an interesting update on how the world’s economies fared during the pandemic last year, and how they are expected to do this year and next. The big picture is

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Tax rises aren’t easy, so Sunak will have to proceed with stealth and reform

January 24, 2021

Tax rises aren’t easy, so Sunak will have to proceed with stealth and reform
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

There are some traditions that, even in a pandemic, are being maintained. When March budgets were the norm, it was traditional at this time of year for tax ideas to be run up the flagpole to see whether they would fly. While gardeners can measure the approaching spring by the appearance of crocuses and daffodils, economy-watchers could see it in the form of budget stories.

Last Sunday this newspaper reported that government sources were still indicating that a corporation tax hike was still on course for the March 3 budget. The story was widely

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In a post-Covid world, the UK can’t be a tech also-ran

January 17, 2021

In a post-Covid world, the UK can’t be a tech also-ran
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

It has always struck me as hugely impressive that even as the Second World War was raging, serious thought was being given to the post-war economy. The Beveridge report, which provided the foundations of the modern welfare state, was published in 1942. The Bretton Woods conference, which provided the template for the post war international financial system, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, was in July 1944.

The question is whether we are planning similarly, for the post-Covid world, or just trying wearily to get over the line to some kind of

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With every lockdown we lose some more of our economy

January 10, 2021

With every lockdown we lose some more of our economy
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Normally at this time of year not much happens and, during the period of limbo when most of the data refers to last year, it is sensible not to draw too many conclusions about what is going on. This year, however, not much is happening for a different reason. Lockdown 3 has followed hard on the heels of Lockdown 2, with only a few short weeks of tiers in between.Nobody wants this third lockdown but this is not to deny its necessity. Indeed, the main criticism of the government should be that it has been too slow to grasp the nettle, not trigger-happy. Governments in all

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Five reasons to be cheerful – and two to worry about

January 3, 2021

Five reasons to be cheerful – and two to worry about
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Rarely, as we start a new year, has the gap between hope and reality been so wide. The reality, as far as the economy and business in concerned, is the prospect of weeks, maybe many months, of lockdown or near-lockdown restrictions. It makes it, by my reckoning, the worst start in the very many years I have been following these things.

You may ask, what about the start of 2009, when the economy was reeling from the collapse of Lehman Brothers the previous autumn and the teetering on the edge of much of the banking system? But gross domestic product (GDP) fell by “only”

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A dire year for the economy – and for forecasters

December 27, 2020

A dire year for the economy – and for forecasters
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thetimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

The forecasting league table referred to in this piece is also available alongside my column on www.thetimes.co.uk

This extraordinary year is ending with as much to be worried about as at any time during it. People like me often bandy around words like uncertainty but in normal times, there is nothing like the doubt that we are experiencing at the moment. We worry about the health implications of the new Covid-19 strain, and we worry about the economic implications.

The Brexit deal finalised on Christmas Eve was better than a catastrophic no-deal and should be welcomed for

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Inflation is back – but so far only for house prices

December 20, 2020

Inflation is back – but so far only for house prices
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

For those fearing that inflation will be one of the economic consequences of the pandemic, and the extraordinary measures introduced to combat it, the latest figures showed that it is not happening yet. Far from it. Consumer price inflation fell to just 0.3% last month, admittedly during the second national lockdown, when non-essential shops were closed.

Is this the lull before the storm? Will the economy’s post-Covid bounce, coupled with the inflationary effects of this year’s huge public borrowing and quantitative easing (QE) bring higher inflation? This would not

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Now investment prospects go from bad to worse

December 13, 2020

Now investment prospects go from bad to worse
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

When it comes to Brexit, definitions of what is last minute are pretty flexible. As I write this, we are still waiting to see whether it will be a no deal or the thin deal the two sides have been trying to negotiate. The pendulum has been swinging towards the former, though it is always capable of swinging back.

Brexit has now re-emerged as the main risk to recovery. Figures a few days ago showed that gross domestic product rose by a modest 0.4% in October, its smallest increase since the recovery began in May. That left it 1.9% above its third quarter average, which would

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If the Scots want independence, they’ll have to pay a lot for it

December 6, 2020

If the Scots want independence, they’ll have to pay a lot for it
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

These are heady days for supporters of Scottish independence. Fifteen polls in a row have shown net support for independence among those likely to vote, the latest from Ipsos-Mori for STV showing 56% support for Scotland breaking free from the rest of the UK.

Support for Scottish independence has risen as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. It could have gone either way. Scotland’s death rate per million people from the coronavirus in recent weeks has been higher than in England, although the cumulative total is slightly less, as it is lower than in Wales,

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Sunak’s talk of emergency can only knock confidence

November 29, 2020

Sunak’s talk of emergency can only knock confidence
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

You may have seen a report a few days ago which highlighted people’s lack of understanding of basic economic concepts. The report, based on a survey by the Economics Statistics Centre of Excellence and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, showed that fewer than half of people knew what gross domestic product (GDP) was when presented with a range of definitions.

Most, 67%, knew that the government was running a budget deficit – I don’t know what the other one-third has been doing during this year – but only 40% knew that that meant government

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In a deep fiscal hole – and the government is still digging

November 22, 2020

In a deep fiscal hole – and the government is still digging
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

November can be a cruel month for chancellors. The last thing Rishi Sunak wanted was a second national lockdown and on Wednesday we will all find out what the additional measures he has been forced to put in place, including the extension of the furlough scheme until March, will cost.

On Wednesday the chancellor will announce the results of his one-year public spending review, covering 2021-22, the fiscal year starting next April. Shortly after that the Officer for Budget Responsibility (OBR) will unveil its latest fiscal assessment and economic forecast.

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Three Old Hacks

November 18, 2020

Three Old Hacks
Posted by David Smith at 02:30 PMCategory: Thoughts and responses

With my very good friends Mihir Bose and Nigel Dudley, I have been recording the Three Old Hacks podcast. The third episode has just gone live, and the previous two are also available on the Chiswick Calendar website: https://chiswickcalendar.co.uk/episode-3-elections-we-have-known-and-loved/

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Record growth disappoints -but the job market offers hope

November 15, 2020

Record growth disappoints -but the job market offers hope
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory:

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

We will look back on this time with wonderment. Economists who are young now will be telling their grandchildren about the time that there was a 15.5% rise in gross domestic product in a single quarter, admittedly preceded by a 19.8% drop in the previous three months. We will never see figures like that again.

Explaining too that even a 15.5% quarterly rise in GDP – three times the previous record (recorded during the Barber boom of the early 1970s) – was disappointing, not least because growth faded over the course of the quarter, will add to the oddity of those recollections. From now on

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After another handout from Sunak, how do we pay for it?

November 8, 2020

After another handout from Sunak, how do we pay for it?
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Like a lot of other people, I am finding that there is something missing in my life at the moment. It is not just that, thanks to the second lockdown, I can’t browse in a non-essential shop, sit in a pub or restaurant, have a haircut or beauty treatment, or play tennis or gold. I haven’t played golf for a while but in my case it was always socially distanced, most of the time trudging through undergrowth in search of lost balls.

No, apart from all those, I am missing the budget. For people like me the run-up to the budget always provides plenty of material,

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Sunak’s bridge to normality proves to be a rickety one

November 1, 2020

Sunak’s bridge to normality proves to be a rickety one
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Who would be a chancellor? As the second wave of the coronavirus intensifies, and national lockdowns are unveiled in France and Germany, albeit less strict ones than before, the direction of travel in the UK looks clear. Last night, as people will be aware, the prime minister announced a government U-turn and another national lockdown.

For the Treasury, this can only mean that the bill for responding to the crisis, which was already breaking records, goes up further, as does the challenge of restoring the public finances to health in the medium to long term.

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Consumers will stay wary as long as the virus stalks us

October 25, 2020

Consumers will stay wary as long as the virus stalks us
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

We enter a new period of uncertainty, in response to which the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced another set of job support measures, which is becoming a regular occurrence. The Bank of England is heading for a Bonfire Night announcement of another £100 billion of quantitative easing (QE), which will mean almost as much of this kind of help for the economy this year as in the previous 10 years combined.A month ago here, I wrote about the importance of confidence in driving the economic recovery. This was after Boris Johnson had announced new restrictions,

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How the ‘China virus’ hurt China less than most others

October 18, 2020

How the ‘China virus’ hurt China less than most others
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

As we approach the end of this Covid year, with new restrictions popping up all over the place, cast your mind back nine months to January, when we had barely heard of the coronavirus, and it had yet to be christened Covid-19, let alone SARS-Cov-2, its current scientific identifier.

Nobody at that time expected a world recession. The UK economy was set merely for weak growth. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has just released a new world economic outlook, predicted in January that the world economy would enjoy a slightly better year in 2020 than in

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There’s no quick fix for Britain’s deep productivity problem

October 11, 2020

There’s no quick fix for Britain’s deep productivity problem
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

One of the topics I get asked a lot is about productivity. People don’t necessarily put it this way, but is this crisis unleashing the “creative destruction” that will propel us out of more than a decade of productivity stagnation? Is the working-from-home revolution and other changes that businesses have adopted, which in other circumstances could have taken years, good or bad for productivity?

What about the nature of the shakeout in jobs that we are seeing? Is the very bad news for the UK’s hard-hit hospitality sector, and the people who work in it, good

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This nation of unexpected savers has money to burn

October 4, 2020

This nation of unexpected savers has money to burn
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Extraordinary things have been happening during this coronavirus crisis, and it is throwing up some extraordinary numbers. I could give you second quarter gross domestic product, now revised down slightly to show a fall of 19.8% (from 20.4%), still more than seven times its previous biggest recorded quarterly fall, 2.7% during the three-day week in early 1974.

I could also give you the plunge in the number of people on payrolls, 695,000 between March and August, or anything related to the public finances, where the official projection, a £372bn budget deficit this

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A question of confidence as we face a long six months

September 27, 2020

A question of confidence as we face a long six months
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Weeks like the one just gone do not come along too often. For economy watchers, the cancellation of the planned November budget and the scaling back of the comprehensive spending review was big news, as was their replacement by another emergency economic package.

Rishi Sunak’s winter economy plan, which we cover in greater detail elsewhere, was modest, probably costing no more than a few billion pounds compared with the £190bn plus the government has already spent.

The chancellor stuck to his promise of ending the furlough scheme, replacing it with a UK equivalent

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For Britain, Covid has been the worst of all worlds

September 20, 2020

For Britain, Covid has been the worst of all worlds
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

The Covid-19 crisis has seen the return of the public information broadcast, often accompanied these days by public information tweets. For those of us of a certain age, this brings back many memories, the broadcasts not the tweets. Public information films used to tell us to put seatbelts on in cars – “clunk, click, every trip” – though they were presented by Jimmy Savile. We were also told that “coughs and sneezes spread diseases”, a campaign that might be worth reviving now.

I say this because this is going to be a public information column, on the coronavirus

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We priced ourselves into jobs last time. Can it happen again?

September 13, 2020

We priced ourselves into jobs last time. Can it happen again?
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

We are just coming up to the end of the first two weeks of September and you would have to say that the autumn has not started too well. On Covid-19, it has been a case of one step forward – the overwhelming majority of schools returning – and at least one back; new national restrictions on people gathering, the so-called rule of six, that could be in place for many months.

These lurches do nothing for confidence. One minute the talk is of a return to work, the next is the threat of a national lockdown – something I thought had been ruled out by the

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Sunak’s toxic tax problem as spending hits wartime levels

September 6, 2020

Sunak’s toxic tax problem as spending hits wartime levels
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

It is easy sometimes to forget what an extraordinary period we are living through. There are many ways to capture it with statistics but let me today provide you with just one. What will public spending be this year as a proportion of the economy? What will the state’s share be?

The answer, according to the government’s fiscal watchdog and forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), is no less than 54% of gross domestic product. That is on the basis of its central scenario. If things turn out worse than it expects, the spending share could be as high

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A post-lockdown housing boom. But will it turn to bust?

August 23, 2020

A post-lockdown housing boom. But will it turn to bust?
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

There are many things you might have expected to happen as lockdown was eased but I suspect that a housing boom was not one of them. At a time when it has been harder than expected to get people out of their homes, it was not obvious that the first thing on the minds of many would be moving to a new one.

That there has been a burst of housing activity and a jump in prices is not in doubt, and I shall come onto some of the evidence in a moment. It is possible, of course, that some of this has been stimulated by the experience of lockdown itself, and the prospect of

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Worried about debt? Not in a world running on MMT

August 16, 2020

Worried about debt? Not in a world running on MMT
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

Today, something slightly different. This is in the nature of an economic version of a request show. I have had many requests to write about what is known as modern monetary theory (MMT) and this is my response. MMT has been around for some time, decades or even centuries according to its advocates, but it is relevant now.

My reluctance to write about it has been partly because its true believers, like some true believers in Brexit, can get very exercised when faced with criticism, even it is constructive. Actually, there is an overlap between supporters of MMT and

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V, W or Aargh? It depends on the virus – and on jobs

August 9, 2020

V, W or Aargh? It depends on the virus – and on jobs
Posted by David Smith at 09:00 AMCategory: David Smith’s other articles

My regular column is available to subscribers on www.thesundaytimes.co.uk This is an excerpt.

When the economy has been hit by as profound a shock as Covid-19, and the unprecedented lockdown measures adopted to limit its spread, we should take comfort where we can. The Bank of England, which gave us its latest forecast on Thursday in its quarterly monetary policy report, offered a modicum of such comfort.

On the basis of its new forecast, we no longer have to look at the early 1700s, the time of Queen Anne, the War of the Spanish Succession of 1706 and the Great Frost of 1709. If the Bank is right, and the economy shrinks by “only” 9.5% this year, it will

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