Britain | Slow growing 英国 | 缓慢增长

Can Britain’s economy grow as fast as it needs to?

Labour is banking on a big upswing in growth. It will struggle to get one

Piles of rubble on disused waste ground, awaiting redevelopment, in the industrial area of Deritend, which lies less than half a mile from the city centre of Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Photograph: Getty Images 照片:盖蒂图片

A fear looming over British politics in the 1960s was that France and Germany would soon surpass Britain’s economy. Today, worrywarts fret that Britain may be poorer per head than Poland within the decade. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader, has voiced this concern repeatedly. Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, has made overtaking Britain an explicit goal. If both countries were to stay on the same per-person growth trend as the past ten years, Poland would slip ahead of Britain in 2031. That is unlikely. But the fact that this scenario no longer looks fanciful is a reflection of Britain’s sorry recent growth record.
上世纪 60 年代笼罩在英国政治上的一种恐惧是法国和德国很快会超过英国的经济。如今,担心分担着担心英国在未来十年内可能比波兰人均贫穷。工党领袖基尔·斯塔默爵士多次表达了这种担忧。波兰总理唐纳德·图斯克已经明确将超越英国作为目标。如果两国继续保持过去十年的人均增长趋势,波兰将在 2031 年超过英国。这是不太可能的。但这种情况不再看起来像是幻想,反映了英国最近的糟糕增长记录。

Little surprise, then, that pledges to reignite growth feature heavily in the election campaign. Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, says the economy is at a turning-point and urges voters to “stick with the plan”. Labour, which is well on track to win a big majority on July 4th, has been more explicit still. It says economic growth will be its top priority if it gets into power. The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has pledged to lead the most “pro-growth, pro-business Treasury our country has ever seen”.
小惊喜是,重振增长承诺在选举活动中占据重要地位。首相里什·苏纳克表示,经济正处于转折点,并敦促选民“坚持计划”。工党在 7 月 4 日赢得绝大多数选票的进程中,更是明确表示,如果掌权,经济增长将是其首要任务。影子财政大臣瑞秋·里夫斯承诺领导“我们国家有史以来最‘亲增长、亲商业’的财政部”。

Chart: The Economist 图表:经济学家

Growth is crucial: it is the only way to keep living standards rising over the long haul. But British politicians also obsess over growth for a narrower reason: an expanding economy is what keeps their tax-and-spending plans credible. Both main parties have signed up to a fiscal rule that requires government debt to fall as a percentage of GDP between the fourth and fifth year of the forecast period. Current spending plans only hit that target by a vanishingly narrow margin, despite including some improbably hefty future cuts to public services. The budget in March left £8.9bn ($11.3bn, 0.3% of GDP) of annual headroom to meet the rule. Today, that figure is down to £4.5bn after some unfavourable moves in the bond market, according to estimates by Capital Economics, a consultancy. Since 2010 chancellors have on average set aside £25bn or so in headroom.
增长至关重要:这是保持生活水平长期上升的唯一途径。但英国政客也痴迷于增长,原因更为狭窄:扩张的经济是保持他们的税收和支出计划可信的关键。两大主要政党都签署了一项财政规则,要求政府债务在预测期的第四年和第五年之间以国内生产总值的百分比下降。尽管包括一些未来对公共服务的不可思议的大幅削减,但目前的支出计划仅以微弱的幅度达到了这一目标。根据咨询公司 Capital Economics 的估计,三月份的预算留下了 89 亿英镑(113 亿美元,国内生产总值的 0.3%)的年度余地以符合该规则。如今,由于债券市场的一些不利变动,这一数字已经降至 45 亿英镑。自 2010 年以来,财政大臣们平均留出了约 250 亿英镑的余地。

Even these numbers already rely on rosy assumptions about growth. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), an independent watchdog whose forecasts help determine the fiscal hole, is more optimistic about growth than 85% of forecasters. The OBR expects medium-term growth of around 1.8%; the average forecast is for 1.5% (see chart 1). If the OBR is wrong and the average forecast is right, that difference would punch a roughly £30bn hole in the public finances, The Economist calculates. The shortfall could be bigger still. Growth has averaged a paltry 1.1% since 2008. We estimate that this rate would equate to a roughly £60bn gap.
即使这些数字已经依赖于对增长的乐观假设。负责预测决定财政赤字的独立监管机构预算责任办公室(obr)对增长的乐观程度超过了 85%的预测者。obr 预计中期增长约为 1.8%;平均预测为 1.5%(见图表 1)。如果 obr 错误,而平均预测正确,这一差异将在公共财政上造成约 300 亿英镑的赤字,经济学人计算。赤字可能会更大。自 2008 年以来,增长平均仅为 1.1%。我们估计这一增长率将导致约 600 亿英镑的差距。

For now these are just figures on a spreadsheet. Britain’s fiscal rules are loose: the five-year deadline for debt to start falling rolls forward every year. But the longer that growth falls below the OBR’s ambitious forecasts, the more that Britain’s fiscal sustainability will look like fiction. Both Labour and the Tories have ruled out big new tax rises if they are elected and have said they won’t rejig the rules to permit more borrowing. Voters have little appetite for spending cuts to already-frayed public services. Revving up growth, which delivers the tax revenues to fund public services, is the only way to square the circle. So how much growth is it realistic to expect over the next parliament?
目前这些只是电子表格上的数字。英国的财政规则宽松:债务开始下降的五年期限每年都会延长。但是,只要增长低于 obr 雄心勃勃的预测的时间越长,英国的财政可持续性看起来就越像虚构。工党和保守党都排除了如果他们当选就会实施大规模的新税收增加,并表示他们不会调整规则以允许更多借款。选民对已经岌岌可危的公共服务削减支出没有太大兴趣。刺激增长,提供税收以资助公共服务,是解决难题的唯一途径。那么在下一届议会期间期望多少增长才是现实的?

The answer to that question should start with an analysis of what has been suppressing Britain’s growth rate. The economy has endured two big external shocks in recent years: the covid-19 pandemic and the energy crisis brought about by the war in Ukraine. The country would be unlucky to endure similar blows in the next five years.

Chart: The Economist 图表:经济学家

Troublingly, however, the sources of malaise in British growth run far deeper than these one-off events. Productivity growth—the ability to produce more with the same labour—cratered after the financial crisis and has never recovered. Other rich countries also saw declines, but the drop was especially sharp in Britain. Research by John Van Reenen at the London School of Economics and Xuyi Yang at the University of Cambridge suggests that low capital investment (see chart 2) explains Britain’s unusually poor performance.

Economists blame a wide cast of culprits. One is a broken planning system. Britain has struggled for decades to build enough housing and infrastructure. Built-up land per person in Britain has stagnated since the 1990s, just about the worst record in the rich world (see chart 3). Years of under-building have clogged up the economy: housing shortages push workers out of Britain’s most productive areas and poor infrastructure hinders growth elsewhere.
经济学家指责许多罪魁祸首。其中之一是破碎的规划体系。英国几十年来一直在努力建设足够的住房和基础设施。自上世纪 90 年代以来,英国人均建成用地一直停滞不前,几乎是富裕世界中最糟糕的记录(见图表 3)。多年来的低建设导致经济拥堵:住房短缺推动工人离开英国最富生产力的地区,而糟糕的基础设施则阻碍了其他地方的增长。

Chart: The Economist 图表:经济学家

A lack of business dynamism is another suspect. A hallmark of a productive economy is creative destruction: successful businesses grow, failing ones die. That pushes workers and capital to where they are most productive. But in Britain, this motor seems to be stalling. Workers are half as likely to switch industries as they were in the 1990s, finds the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank. Business births and deaths are responsible for a decreasing share of the churn in jobs. Dispersion in firm productivity has widened, dragging the laggards further away from the leaders.
商业活力不足是另一个嫌疑对象。生产力经济的标志是创造性破坏:成功的企业成长,失败的企业倒闭。这推动工人和资本流向它们最具生产力的地方。但在英国,这个引擎似乎停滞不前。调查机构 Resolution Foundation 发现,与上世纪 90 年代相比,工人转行的可能性减少了一半。企业的诞生和倒闭对就业流动的贡献正在减少。企业生产力的差异扩大,将落后者进一步拉远了与领先者的距离。

Some blame for that lies with Britain’s illogical tax code. It implicitly subsidises unproductive small businesses, for example, which are exempt from VAT if their revenues are under £90,000. A dearth of competent managers probably doesn’t help, either. Another intriguing suggestion from Benjamin Nabarro of Citigroup is that a more services-heavy economy is to blame. It can be difficult to sell intangible assets like databases or customer registers, or to borrow against them, which mean unproductive businesses may simply plough on as they are.
部分责任应归咎于英国不合逻辑的税法。例如,如果小企业的营业额低于 9 万英镑,则暗中补贴了无生产力的小企业,这些企业免征增值税。缺乏胜任的经理可能也没有帮助。花旗集团的本杰明·纳巴罗提出了另一个有趣的建议,即更多侧重服务业的经济应该受到责备。出售无形资产如数据库或客户注册表,或者以其为抵押,可能会很困难,这意味着无生产力的企业可能会继续按原样运营。

And then, of course, there is Brexit. Most economists reckon that leaving the EU knocked several percentage points off the potential size of the British economy. Goldman Sachs, a bank, estimates a 5% hit; the OBR guesses 4%. Part of the shortfall comes directly from higher trade barriers: goods exports have cratered by 10% since 2019. Another problem has been political instability. The Tories took five messy years to settle on their preferred vision of Brexit. Throughout that period, around half of businesses said in surveys that Brexit uncertainty was a top concern for them. Business investment flatlined right after the referendum in 2016 and didn’t pick back up until 2023.
当然,还有脱欧问题。大多数经济学家认为,脱离欧盟使英国经济潜在规模减少了几个百分点。高盛银行估计损失为 5%;OBR 猜测为 4%。部分损失直接来自更高的贸易壁垒:自 2019 年以来,商品出口下降了 10%。另一个问题是政治不稳定。保守党花了五年时间才确定他们对脱欧的首选愿景。在那段时期,大约一半的企业在调查中表示,脱欧不确定性是他们的头号关注点。2016 年公投后,企业投资停滞不前,直到 2023 年才恢复增长。

Things can maybe get a bit better

Some improvement to this poor economic performance is plausible. Falling inflation will let the Bank of England lower interest rates: markets are expecting a first rate cut in August or September. Wholesale energy prices are much of the way back to normal. The immediate shock of the post-Brexit adjustment is largely over (although there will be an enduring drag on productivity growth because British firms are more walled off from EU competition). Some of the more sensible Tory reforms might bear fruit. The OBR thinks that a flagship reform to business investment will boost the capital stock by 0.2% over the next four years.
对这种糟糕的经济表现的一些改善是可能的。通货膨胀下降将使英格兰银行降低利率:市场预计首次降息将在 8 月或 9 月出现。批发能源价格已大部分恢复正常。英国脱欧后的调整立即冲击大部分已经过去(尽管英国企业与欧盟竞争更为隔离,对生产率增长将产生持久拖累)。一些更明智的保守党改革可能会见效。预算办公室认为,对商业投资的旗舰改革将在未来四年内提高资本存量 0.2%。

The policy environment should also get better if the polls are right and Labour wins a sizeable victory. Rates of business investment and surveyed investment intentions have picked up a bit since Mr Sunak picked up the prime-ministerial baton from Liz Truss, but they remain low. Greater political stability would not be transformative in itself but would be a welcome boost. And Labour has a more constructive position than the Tories on two of the biggest drags on the economy.
如果民意调查正确,工党取得重大胜利,政策环境也将会得到改善。自 Sunak 接替 Liz Truss 担任首相以来,企业投资率和调查的投资意向有所提高,但仍然较低。政治稳定度的提高本身不会带来转变,但将是一个受欢迎的提振。在经济增长的两个最大拖累方面,工党的立场比保守党更具建设性。

The party has rightly said that planning reform is vital: Ms Reeves calls planning the “biggest obstacle to growth and investment” in Britain. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit there: only three onshore wind farms have been built in England over the past decade because of retrograde planning rules. In principle, a flurry of building could lift growth quickly. But in practice “shovel-ready” projects can often turn out to be anything but. And Labour’s policy proposals appear thinner than the rhetoric behind them. Critically, Labour has not said much about whether it will try to shift Britain’s heavily discretionary planning system to a more building-friendly rules-based one.
该党正确地表示,规划改革至关重要:里夫斯女士称规划是英国增长和投资的“最大障碍”。那里有很多低 hanging fruit:过去十年仅有三个陆上风电场在英格兰建成,这是因为过时的规划规则。原则上,大量建设可能会迅速提振增长。但实际上,“随时开工”的项目往往并非如此。而工党的政策提议似乎比背后的修辞更为薄弱。至关重要的是,工党并未多谈论是否会尝试将英国的高度自由裁量的规划系统转变为更加有利于建设的基于规则的系统。

Labour’s approach to the EU is to seek an incrementally better relationship. Agreements on emissions trading and musical touring would be positive, but marginal. Mutual recognition of qualifications and veterinary and phytosanitary regulation (to ease checks on food trade) would be a little more helpful, but trickier to negotiate. The former is contentious within the EU, the latter would make Britain a legal rule-taker.

The big question for Labour is whether it can lay the political groundwork for a deeper reintegration with Europe in a second term, for instance by re-entering the customs union. That would transform British growth prospects much more than anything else currently proposed. But progress there relies heavily on an improbable shift in position on the part of the Tories; the EU is unlikely to negotiate a deal that a future British government could blow up.

Labour’s other big ideas are unlikely to wrench the needle on growth. Its industrial-strategy plans are still opaque. Bidenomics-style splurging is both unproductive and unlikely—there isn’t the money. The green manufacturing sectors that Labour is most preoccupied with comprise just a sliver of Britain’s economy (total production of cars, machinery, electrical equipment and electricity generation add up to just 3% of British output). A good year for Britain’s legions of lawyers, accountants and consultants would raise growth by much more than an outstanding one in those more eye-catching green sectors.
工党的其他重要想法不太可能改变增长的趋势。其工业战略计划仍然模糊不清。像拜登经济学那样挥霍是无益且不太可能的——因为没有足够的资金。工党最关注的绿色制造业部门仅占英国经济的一小部分(汽车、机械、电气设备和发电总产值仅占英国产出的 3%)。对于英国众多律师、会计师和顾问来说,一年的好运会比那些更引人注目的绿色部门中的杰出表现更能提高增长。

Labour also wants to beef up workers’ rights in areas such as unionisation, wrongful dismissal and sick pay. That could make workers a bit more willing to switch jobs, though it could as easily make employers more reluctant to hire. In one big respect, moreover, the labour-market tide is turning against Britain. Throughout the 2010s, demographic good fortune masked the full brunt of weak productivity growth. More women and immigrants joined the workforce, buttressing overall growth even as productivity flagged. But now a slower-growing labour market will pull 0.5 percentage points off GDP growth by 2028, the OBR estimates. Much of that slowdown reflects Britain’s ageing population (although the country also has a particular issue with workers dropping out of the labour force).
工党还希望加强工人在工会组织、非法解雇和病假工资等领域的权利。这可能会使工人更愿意换工作,尽管这也可能会使雇主更不愿意雇佣。此外,在一个重要方面,劳动力市场的潮流正在逆转英国。在 2010 年代,人口结构的好运掩盖了低生产率增长的全部冲击。更多的妇女和移民加入劳动力市场,支撑了整体增长,尽管生产率下滑。但现在,劳动力市场增长放缓将在 2028 年使 gdp 增长减少 0.5 个百分点,奥布估计。这种减速很大程度上反映了英国人口老龄化的情况(尽管该国也存在工人退出劳动力市场的特殊问题)。

Some optimists, including Mr Sunak, put stock in artificial intelligence to boost productivity. But the history of technological breakthroughs suggests they affect growth slowly: desktop computers were rolled out in the 1980s and didn’t affect the productivity figures until a decade later. And AI could also be an economic bear-trap; Britain’s mass of small firms do not excel either at reskilling workers or at rolling out robots.
一些乐观主义者,包括 Sunak 先生,寄希望于人工智能来提高生产力。但技术突破的历史表明,它们对增长的影响是缓慢的:台式电脑在 1980 年代推出,直到十年后才影响生产力数据。人工智能也可能是一个经济陷阱;英国众多小企业在重新培训员工或推出机器人方面都表现不佳。

Add all this together and what do you get? Ms Reeves has in the past mentioned as a benchmark the 2%-plus annual growth rate achieved during the last Labour government from 1997-2010. Not even the most bullish forecaster expects that. A more realistic scenario is that productivity improvements largely offset the impact of Britain’s worsening demography. But even that would probably mean an annual growth rate closer to 1.5% rather than the 1.8% rate assumed by the OBR. Britain will probably grow faster than in the recent past, enough to fend off Poland for a while longer. But it will not grow fast enough to spare the next government a big fiscal shortfall or from having to raise taxes.
把所有这些加在一起,你会得到什么?Reeves 女士过去曾提到过作为基准的 1997 年至 2010 年工党政府实现的 2%以上的年增长率。即使是最乐观的预测者也不指望这一点。更现实的情况是,生产率的提高在很大程度上抵消了英国人口结构恶化的影响。但即使如此,这可能意味着年增长率更接近 1.5%,而不是 obr 假定的 1.8%。英国可能会比最近过去增长更快,足以抵挡波兰一段时间。但它不会增长得足够快,以免下一届政府出现巨大的财政赤字或不得不提高税收。 ■

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