To avoid reinforcing mythological frames, "The Budget Deficit"
will be referred to as the Fiscal Balance
"The National Debt" as
To help clarify the money flows that determine the Fiscal Balance and thereby add to
Non‑Government Savings, here is a worked example.
Suppose that the government decides to build a new hospital for an estimated cost of
£100 million. The money is spent initially by marking up the numbers in
the account of a private sector intermediary: the 'Hospital Contractor' (HC).
The state has thereby spent £100 million and the numbers have appeared
in the HC's bank account. The numbers did not 'come from' anywhere
but once they
appear in the private sector bank account of the HC, they are now what we
refer to as 'money' and
can be spent by the HC in the usual way.
The state did not need to first acquire this money: as the
money issuer, the state can always afford to buy whatever it needs from the private
The HC will over time purchase the services of builders, electricians, plumbers etc.
in order to construct the new hospital.
Joe the plumber
Knowing that he has ongoing work while the hospital is being built, Joe feels somewhat
more flush than usual, and so decides he can afford to buy a new van. The
state expenditure on the hospital stimulates others sectors of the
economy: Joe's purchase of a
new van stimulates vehicle manufacturers, and the increased sales trickle confidence
around the economy.
Will Joe's purchase push van prices up? While one new purchase is unlikely to
make a significant impact, the injection of
£100 million may possibly have that effect if the economy
is already working at full bore, with no spare resources available to be energised.
If everyone working on the hospital feels confident enough to buy a new van, the
that van prices will start to creep up as the sellers realise that they can get
away with charging more.
However, some of the extra £100 million will be removed from the economy through tax
(around 34% of GDP in the UK). Other consequences of the hospital project include
a multiplier effect and increased savings.
The multiplier effect
Joe's extra spending stimulates other sectors of the economy.
The initial injection by the state expenditure on the new hospital multiplies up to
encourage other sectors to make and spend more.
Let's consider Joe's spending and saving decisions to be typical of
those that work on the hospital building project.
To add some numbers, here are Joe's decisions, which we can take to be typical:
- Joe considers that he now has an extra (say) £10,000 per year of income.
- He needs to pay income tax (20%) leaving £8,000 of disposable income.
- Joe spends £5,000 on upgrading his van.
- He decides to save 10% of his disposable income: £800.
- He spends £1,000 on imported food. (The UK supplies around 50% of the food consumed in the UK)
- Joe spends the remainder: £1,200 on an enhanced (UK-supplied) lifestyle.
Joe has thereby spent £ (5,000 + 1,200) into the UK economy. The sellers of the
items that Joe has bought are themselves stimulated to spend their increased income.
Over time, the trickling into the economy of Joe's income boost looks as follows:
Joe's £ (5,000 + 1,200) = £6,200 spend stimulates
further spending, and so on …
symbolises 'change in'. The 'Periods' are a rough time sequence, involving a number of
||Δ Disposable income
||Δ UK consumption
In this example, Joe's extra income has stimulated more than twice that
extra income overall.
of Joe's income boost has been removed from the economy as tax
(paid by Joe and by others).
The current UK tax is around 34%
of GDP, so that in a more realistic model,
a greater percentage (69%) of the initial state
investment would be removed in tax.
After the dust has settled, the Residuals
shows where the boost to
Joe's income ends up: it goes to pay tax, savings, and imports.
The Fiscal Balance is the difference between state spending and tax
of the boost to Joe's income.
If, on the other hand, Joe feels that the good times
are not going to last, and that he would be better to save his new income for
a rainy day, then the multiplier effect described above will not happen.
If Joe's mood is representative of the general mood of the country, much of the
payment for work on the hospital will end up as bank savings.
||Δ Disposable income
||Δ UK consumption
It is wrong to think that increased savings will
lead to increased investment: if the mood
of the country is low, the incentive to invest will also be low and
these savings will just sit as numbers inert in computers.
While some of the hospital investment will be still be
removed from the economy through taxation, much of it will
now be removed by people deciding to save rather than to spend.
Joe's spending on imports may boil down to a predilection for pasta
sauce; in which case, his spend will end up in Italy. Or will it?
Joe's spend will go to an importer who then makes the purchase in Italy.
In perhaps the simplest case, the importer will
maintain bank accounts in both UK pounds and Euros and the bank will
handle the conversion between the currencies.
Without delving into the details of how this happens, the bottom line is this: either
Joe's spend on pasta sauce enters the UK economy; or it is saved
in a bank account.
If the money enters the economy, the above multiplier argument can be applied
to this money with the Residuals
being tax and savings. Otherwise,
it adds to savings.
In summary, the state spend on the hospital ends up either as tax or as
'non-government savings'. With some effort, one can see that
such savings will end up in accounts at the Bank of England.
The state may decide to pay interest on these savings,
but that is an ideological choice. [F]