Tweet Hyperbole can often get in the way of proper discussion, and it's becoming increasingly unhelpful as a response to the spending cuts being imposed by the UK Government. Opposition politicians, including some in my own party, seem to be unable to refer to spending cuts without prefacing the word with either 'savage' or even better 'slash and burn'. But the words are being used more for the imagery they portray than to make any contribution to a discussion of economics.
The result, unfortunately, is that whilst the opposition are winning the battle of hyperbole, the government are winning the battle of economics. Not because they are right, but because they are keeping to a single clear mantra which people can identify with – "we need to reduce the deficit" – and the opposition are neither challenging that message nor offering any real alternative.
One of the major victories of Thatcherism was her ability to simplify economic arguments for people by comparing the government's budget to a household budget. It was wrong and misleading – national economies don't have to work in such simplistic ways – but it worked, and it's still working today for Cameron. Simply stepping up the hyperbole used in criticising the cuts is likely to be no more effective today than it was in the 1980s.
Part of the problem in trying to put forward an alternative view is that saying that there is nothing inherently wrong with governments running a deficit – even over a lengthy period – feels counter-intuitive; but it is what a lot of governments, of all colours and in many countries, have actually done over many decades.
I wouldn't argue that governments don't need to consider the size of the deficit and the context set by the economic cycle; but the approach of the current government – "there is a deficit, we must cut it" – owes more to ideology than to economics. And the response – "wicked, evil, slash and burn Tories" – owes more to trying to paint a negative image of those doing the cutting than addressing either the ideology or the economics.
What we need to do more of is to explain to people that we have a choice - we can run budget deficits if we want to, provided that we understand why we're doing it, for how long, and what the cost of doing it is. We need to be refuting the basic argument, not simply criticising the consequences.
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