Points for the Budget

Over at Dim Post, there is the general question of whether a “zero-budget” makes sense.

Commenting on the post, I remembered some of the key points to keep in mind when looking at actual policy – rather than the tiresome and incoherent ramblings we will get from politicians of all stripes and colours when the Budget is released.

What you are saying is valid – but when we view the budget in economics terms, instead of the political terms it is being sold in, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The goal should be to have a balanced budget, once the economy is back at “potential”. So the surplus in 14/15 has to come with a forecast that has unemployment at or below 5%. If unemployment ends up higher than this, the government will continue to run a deficit by default – and so even when the forecasts are wrong this aim squares out.
  2. Government has been borrowing heavily, at low interest rates, to fund infrastructure. If it wasn’t for government building there would have been virtually no non-residential building in recent years. Infrastructure spending (in real terms) is at record highs. The government is actually being very Keynesian – they just don’t want to say it because their supporters might get grumpy.
  3. If the government keeps to the idea of getting the budget back in balance by the time the economy is back at potential, and makes that clear, it makes it easier for the RBNZ to cut the OCR or at least keep it at its current level, which will also help to boost activity/cut unemployment.

You are right it is an incredible period of uncertainty – but the government can’t do too much about that directly except limit uncertainty from them by ensuring their plans are clear. We can debate what the appropriate long term “size” of government should be – but I think both parties are being responsible by making sure that we have the budget back in balance by the time the economy is back at potential.

The key way to judge the Budget in “macro” terms will be the consistency of the UR forecast to the surplus.  In “micro” terms there will also be a lot of marginal issues we can address – hopefully there will be more talk about superannuation.

Either way, I’m not forward to listening to all the blah blah blah about politics, but I will be sifting through the Budget to get an understanding of ways government policy will influence the outlook for the general economy during the coming years.