Government Investment

One common criticism by those sceptical of the role of government is that attempts by governments to influence economic activity suffer from excessive delays. Hence the term “shovel ready” has quickly become part of the political vernacular since the financial crisis and economic downturn in 2008.

Today gives a great example of a project that is anything but “shovel ready”: the expansion of London (and by extension the UK’s) airport capacity. This is basically a decision on whether to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, and as the BBC article points out, this has been being discussed now for 25 years, and commission after commission have reported on the issue. Nonetheless, the government is about to announce that yet another review is necessary, and a decision that might have been made around about now will instead happen in six months’ time.

Conveniently enough, after the forthcoming London Mayor elections.

Understandably, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a group that represents the interests of UK businesses, is highly frustrated by this. Yet further uncertainty on the back of 25 years of uncertainty is something that is unwelcome for business. We’ll cover investment next term, but one thing that is generally cited as a reason for firms choosing to invest is the absence (or otherwise) of uncertainty. Will firms, British or otherwise, choose to invest less in the UK at the moment given there’s still no clarity on whether or not a third runway will be built at Heathrow?

Today’s Conversation: China and FDI

Image from the Guardian 🙂

Today’s Conversation in Economics is on Chinese infrastructure investment in the UK. Last week the main announcement during an official visit to the UK of Chinese president, Xi Jinping, was a one third stake in the development of a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. This follows on from other recent investments, or expressions of interest, in parts of the UK’s rail network (HS2), and other infrastructure projects.

There is so much to discuss about these investments; many question why it is necessary to secure funding from China for large investment projects, particularly as interest rates remain very low (c.f. Corbyn’s People’s QE which attempts by a different (and inflationary) method to do the same thing).

It is clearly a reflection of the emerging economic power of China, which became the world’s largest economy in 2014. In addition, its regular and massive trade surpluses have left it in a position with lots of “cash in the bank”, so to speak.

With regard China’s investments in the UK (we’re 8th on its list of favourite places to invest), another criticism is that it’s nationalisation – just by China, rather than the UK: “The government will indeed put some of our most vital infrastructure under state control – but the states in question will be France and China.” Of course, the reality that China takes a one-third stake in Hinkley Point is ignored. Also ignored are the huge costs and uncertainties involves in investing such an epic amount of money (£24bn!), without knowing what the outcomes will be in however many years it is until the plant is operational.

Hence, an alternative take here is that actually, the UK does well. We get other countries to stump up the finance for a cripplingly expensive infrastructure project. The Chinese see it as beneficial, as must the UK government, else one party of the two negotiating would not agree to it, and the trade would not occur.

Two Thought Provoking Articles

In and amongst the madness of a given work day, interesting things to flash before you. Here’s two I came across today.

1) Selling Britain by the Yuan On the provocative side, but well worth thinking about. When borrowing costs are so low, why is the UK involving China in the financing of various parts of its public infrastructure? There must be an awkward question here for a Prime Minister who has described the Leader of the Opposition as a threat to the security of this nation…

2) Making the old even better off at the expense of the young is morally bankrupt Written by a Conservative (before I’m accused of bias), and makes a series of important points about the direction current government policy is moving, and the impacts it has on different generations.