An inglorious triumvirate

I’ve had some interesting feedback to my last blog post, some of which took it more seriously than intended but all of which is well taken (not least as I’d be hypocritical to defend lazy blogging with appeal to humour given my unforgiving post of the same day). The central point of the post is the use of discourse: when the economy is recovering, it is due to the government’s genius, when it is tanking, it is due to all manner of implausible, irrelevant  and highfalutin excuses. And that point still stands.

The claim that the panic was purposively induced was meant more ironically, which is just as well because, as has been pointed out to me, the figures don’t add up. ONS statistics of Q4 GDP at market prices have £380,517,000 = 0.1% of quarterly GDP, meaning that to add +0.3% (assuming 0% growth without the fuel crisis) would require >£1.1bn extra spending. If we assume 30 million cars on the roads, they’d all have needed fill up at the government recommended amount of half a tank (30 litres) at 140p per litre, and it not had had a negative impact on other consumption. In one sense this is possible, as the nature of panic buying isn’t that everyone followed the government’s “reasonable” advice, but that those who did top up bought much more than half a tank, even if it wasn’t all the 30 million. But then wrangling like this is tenuous, as how many would had to have bought petrol anyway, how many people at petrol stations across the country who were interviewed by the BBC exclaimed their frustration at the panic buying while claiming (very plausibly) that they needed it? Analogously you can argue that the supposed growth of last quarter was illusory because the the proportion of money that is spent on food… clearly that is absurd. My point was that the government’s reasoning is likewise tenuous, and had growth been below par they probably would have cited Lent and a drop in demand for sugar as the reason, even though it’s never been relevant any other year, and people buy Easter eggs preemptively…

Whatever, you get the picture. Given the difficulty of working out the effect of the petrol crisis on growth, the idea that it was pre-planned conspiracy is far-fetched to say the least. Irony is hard to convey on a blog, and while I don’t apologise for that, I did want the figures and will happily admit that they don’t back up the hypothesis of coalition led conspiracy. But part of me thinks: if only they did! Because as explanations of accounting for the government’s motivation during the the petrol crisis, we have that it was:

a) a conspiratorial account for inflating growth figures,

b) a possible “Thatcher moment”, spoiling for a fight with trade unions

c) due to massive amounts of governmental incompetence.

The friend who alerted me to the figures cited b), I’d just as happily believe c). Inflating growth figures, while underhand, could instrumentally benefit the country, restoring market confidence and perhaps creating a positive cycle of growth. While we have a classic case of credit-taking by the political class, good things could come of it, and frankly, it seems the lesser of three evils when explaining the government’s action. Which might be, in term, why on examination it’s the least plausible. After all, of all the feedback I had from the blog, no-one said that I was being unfair on the government per se; merely that I had misidentified their motivations, and the exact nature of their dastardliness/incompetence. Which doesn’t exactly cover them in glory.

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