My world: June 2021…
This is part of a series of articles where our contributors describe how they think things will look a year from now.
Our Proprietor wonders if he’s alone in his optimism about the post-pandemic economy – has he hit on a brilliant solution, or has
I am normally a pessimist. The son of an arable farmer, weaned on watching England rugby and cricket in the 1970s, my instinct is that things are usually worse than they seem. But not this time. I have read all the essays in our series “My World: June 2021” and I seem to be an outlier optimist. Most of our contributors are bearish on the wider economy, and on real estate in particular. Some are cautious, some dystopian: some see, 12 months from now, quite a sticky patch, others a swamp.
I am not so sure. During the lockdown my reading has taken strange directions (including a one-week immersion in Marx – Karl, not Groucho). I kept coming back to the conduct of British economic policy in 1925–32, the period after Churchill as Chancellor took the UK back onto the gold standard at the pre-war rate. Politicians of all parties were advised by learned economists, Treasury and bank officials that any devaluation would, in accordance with some Newtonian universal law, lead to certain bad economic consequences. When the UK did finally devalue by 28% between 1930-32, and none of the confidently forecast consequences actually materialised, one former Labour Cabinet Minister said, “Nobody told us we could do this”. [Source: A.J.P Taylor English History 1914–45, page 373.]
I think, in 2020–21, something similar has to happen with private sector, corporate debt. As Pascal wrote in 1670, “public opinion is the queen of the world”. And public opinion will, over the next 12 months, be pretty clear: the debt that UK companies incurred to survive the government response to covid-19 is not their fault. It must be pretty clear to any policy maker that unless corporate debt levels are reduced and balance sheets restored, no other stimulus measure will work. So I expect Boris Johnson to right the wrong of his hero Winston Churchill from 1925 and announce the nationalisation of private corporate debt incurred under the covid-19 lockdown, or something equally dramatic.
Will public opinion consider it equitable that specific covid-19 debt be removed from the shoulders and balance sheets of UK plc and simply added to the national debt?
I think it will. If I am right, and economic orthodoxy is ignored, with one bound the UK economy would be free. By mid-2021 we could be experiencing an unexpected economic, and particularly real asset and property, boom. Or has all this splendid isolation, and Marx, made me soft in the head? Please feel free to straighten me out or encourage me at firstname.lastname@example.org.