The Sabbath is unfailingly ruined by the bile of the Sunday Times. The tone of Murdoch’s arm-breaker is unfailingly sneering and negative. It no longer makes any pretence of balance.
However, what’s with David Smith doing a comment on the economic outlook? It certainly goes against the party line:
- there is modest support for the Bank of England’s approach to the mortgage crisis;
- there is a lack of remorse on the part of the banks that smacks of arrogance and insensitivity.
Then he comes to employment, and this is to be read with considerable care:
Last week brought news that the job market remains extraordinarily strong, with a rise of 152,000 in employment in the December-February period. In the past year, employment has climbed by 456,000 to a record 29.51m.
This is another of those figures that, if you averted your eyes from the money markets and the gloomy headlines, you would be thinking described a very powerful boom. There are nearly 700,000 job vacancies, the highest since the current series began in 2001. The unemployment claimant count is at its lowest since June 1975.
Confidence among consumers is very low but this, so far at least, reflects fear rather than reality.
Now that could come straight off a Treasury briefing-sheet. It certainly isn’t a line being peddled by the likes of George Osborne (of which more anon).
But note carefully the next bit:
Not for the first time, the figures did not get the coverage they deserved, drowned out by modest City job losses, gloom from Britain’s chartered surveyors and the “news” that the government’s official house-price measure fell in February; it always does. Some even tried to find bad news in the employment figures.
“Some even tried to find bad news in the employment figures.”
Indeed. But who are the “some”?
Well, there’s this for a taster:
Signs that the credit crunch is hitting Britain’s jobs market emerged yesterday as official figures showed the first rise in the number of people out of work and seeking benefit since 2006.
Economists said that despite strong overall employment numbers, there were real fears that the jobs market could weaken over the coming months. The official employment figures showed redundancies across the finance and business sectors have risen more than 11 per cent in recent months.
That’s Steve Hawkes and Gráinne Gilmore doing their level best to chill the blood in … The Times, only last Thursday. This, too, is a fascinating piece of misrepresentation: for example, unemployment is up, but
the employment rate rose to 74.9 per cent – the highest since its records began in 1971 – in the three months to February. The number of people in work is 29.51 million. However, the number of people seeking jobseekers allowance rose in February by 600 – the first rise since September 2006.
So, how does one argue that black is white? Well:
However, the number of people seeking jobseekers allowance rose in February by 600 – the first rise since September 2006.
Six hundred! Wowee! Compare that to next door and the Great Irish Tiger Economy, that example to all of us:
Last month the Irish Unemployment rate rose to a 7.5 year high, coming in at just under 5%. The 4.9% figures haven’t been seen since the year 2000. The main reason cited for the higher rate, is the Irish economy’s dependence on the United States as well as the hole in the Irish construction market. Since the mid 1990’s more than 600 American multinationals have setup in Ireland. But with the ever weakening dollar/euro rate, companies are finding it harder and harder to keep their operations in Europe afloat. There are now 179,400 people claiming unemployment benefit (this includes part time workers). This figure has risen 14.3% year on year.
Malcolm reckons that it would be perverse if the current economic turmoil does not lead to an increase in jobs being lost. It will also make firms more wary and efficient in their practices: and thereby improve productivity. Not least of all, among the bonus-bloated Masters of the Universe at all those big banks that talked us into this fine mess.
However, let Malcolm revert to that anomalous David Smith in yesterday’s Sunday Times. He then proceeds to dispense with two other whinges:
First, the Brown Government is somehow derelict in its duty not to have prepared for the down-turn in housing:
There are, however, some strange charges flying around.
One is that under Brown the government bent over backwards to boost the housing market and we are now paying for it. Sorry? Under Brown at the Treasury mortgage-tax relief was abolished and stamp duty raised to punitive levels, particularly on more expensive properties.
If people mean that Labour should have reintroduced credit controls – something that would have been condemned as a return to the 1970s and impossible without the reintroduction of exchange controls – they should say so. If they mean that the Bank should have kept interest rates at levels that would have given us slower growth, higher unemployment and a big inflation undershoot, that is a pretty strange set of priorities too.
And, secondly, Blair and Brown were wrong to have adopted the consumer-prices index rather than the retail-prices index as the bench-mark for inflation:
This, apparently, took the Bank’s eye off the ball because CPI, unlike the retail-prices index, does not include a house-price component.
Yes, it was a daft thing to do, because nobody much believes in the CPI. But I cannot pinpoint a single interest-rate decision since then that would have been different had the old target (RPI excluding mortgage-interest payments) remained in place. The Bank is a bit brighter than it is given credit for.
Both of those, of course, are complaints lifted from the George Osborne play-book. Oh dear.
All this is far too balanced, sensible and positive for the Sunday Times. Perhaps David Smith was really writing a job-application to another paper.