Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Office for Budgetary Responsibility has produced a fascinating report on the impact of migration on the public finances. The report presents the government with something of a challenge.

Chart 3.14 on page 100 tells the story. The central projection shows that we can expect the net public sector debt as a proportion of GDP to rise towards 100% by the 2060s. Increasing immigration can reduce this burden quite substantially - since migrants tend to be younger than the population as a whole, and hence are more likely to be working, they generate substantial tax revenues. Reducing immigration has a severe impact on the national debt; indeed reducing net migration to zero is projected to cause the public sector net debt to rise to around 150% of GDP by the 2060s.

It is difficult to place too much credence on figures that look so far into the future. But the overall message from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility is clear: reducing the national debt without accepting an increase in immigration is likely to be an unrealistically tough ask.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The latest unemployment statistics, for the three month period to May of this year, present some good news. The unemployment rate appears to be falling, with the total number of unemployed workers some 57000 lower than in the previous period.

This appears to sit alongside other recent encouraging signs - including the upgrade to the forecast produced by the International Monetary Fund, which now predicts 0.9% growth in the current year.

Other data suggest that we should remain cautious, however. Industrial production has been flatlining in recent months, and remains stubbornly lower than it was a year ago. The forecasting model that I report here from time to time, based on these industrial production data, was, until recently, predicting a modest recovery, but is now pointing to a renewed bounce along the bottom.

For sure, some statistics are encouraging. Overall, however, the picture remains one of fragility.

The proposal to impose a minimum per unit price on alcohol sales in England and Wales appears to have been scrapped, apparently following an adverse public opinion survey.

This is not an altogether straightforward issue, as the statistical evidence on the effects of minimum pricing paints a rather confused picture. Estimates of the elasticities of health outcomes with respect to the minimum price of alcohol vary widely. Much of the best evidence comes from Canada - and Canadian researchers have studied also the UK situation. However, all the serious studies of which I am aware report significant (albeit widely divergent) beneficial outcomes from the imposition of a minimum price.

The proposal for a minimum price was a great example of a 'nudge' policy that offered the prospect of remarkable social benefits - it is regrettable that it has fallen victim to politics.