Good graphs

UK national debt has been discussed and written about everywhere, but the message still isn't really getting through. Even in capital letters.


Which means that the current level of spending cuts are nowhere near "inevitable".

I'm not going to bore the three people who read this blog with a discussion of the merits and demerits of UK spending cuts and tax rises. We know all this. And I'm basically economically illiterate anyway. This is a call-out for a communications strategy.

This much we all know already:

(1) the Coalition government has, somehow, successfully sold the public the idea that the cuts are a natural fact like gravity, rather than a political fact like Margaret Thatcher's hairdo.

(2) They've done this by saying, endlessly, that the national debt is the biggest it's ever been.

(3) Which is technically true: except that any chancellor, at almost any time since 1900, can say that national debt is the largest it's ever been.


(4) This is OK because the size of our economy is, er, almost always the largest ever, and growing continually. So the observation is basically meaningless.

(5) In fact, net national debt AS A PROPORTION OF GDP is lower than at any time between 1920 and 1970; and interest payments on that debt are lower than at any time between 1920 and 2000. This doesn't mean it's not rising worryingly, and needs ultimately to be reduced. And in the boom periods after the 2nd world war when we were building the welfare state and public debt was still massive we had, er, quite a lot of American aid. But it does show graphically that the cuts don't need to be anywhere near as deep or fast as they are: and that this speed and depth isn't sound fiscal policy, but a purely ideological effort to decimate the state etc. etc.

So: how can the British left get the British public past the GCSE-business-studies-level mistake that was the basis for the Chancellor's last budget speech?

I reckon one good start is these *brilliant* graphs courtesy of the *brilliant* (and politically conservative) UK public spending website.

Between now and Mayday I'm going to wear these on my FOREHEAD if necessary.

ps. I know, I know - the bond markets (thanks Jon). Markets schmarkets, that's what I say.


  1. Markets schmarkets - my feelings exactly. The tail shouldn't be wagging the dog!

  2. Cheers Reg. Also, as Nick points out, the debt graph shows that one of the very few Chancellors that *can* say that absolute national debt fell under his Chancellorship is...Gordon Brown. Not very convenient for Messrs Cameron and Osborne. (The other one seems to be Norman Lamont, that well-known, er, masterful steward of the economy in the early 90s...)

  3. Hi - I found your blog searching for the graph above, so now you have 4 followers! I've been trying to educate myself about economics for ages and most articles seem fairly impenitrable. Yours is spot on - many thanks. This graph should indeed be published far and wide.