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Britain's Bankruptcy Foretold

The UK's debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 333% for pension promises alone...

In NOVEMBER 2008, the Institute of Economic Affairs published Nick Silver's A Bankruptcy Foretold: The UK's Implicit Pension Debt, which argued that if the UK's debt is calculated in line with generally-accepted accounting principles, it is something over £4 trillion, writes Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, at the Cobden Centre.

In June this year, an update was published, putting the full scale of the British state's liabilities at £4.8 trillion, which is around 333% of GDP or £78,000 per person. For comparison, the Budget Red Book (page 2) forecasts a peak net public debt of 70.3% of GDP in 2013-14, falling to 67.4% in 2015-16.

All this could have profound implications.

Martin Durkin's controversial documentary, Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story, transmitted on 11 November, took up the theme, arguing that we need to rethink radically the role of the state if we are to deal with the full scale of the debt, including all our liabilities...
As Chairman of the APPG on Economics, Money and Banking, I hosted a panel discussion on the documentary featuring film maker Martin Durkin, the Adam Smith Institute's Dr Eamonn Butler, IEA Director General Mark Littlewood and CityAM's Editor Allister Heath.

The discussion was dramatic:

  • Martin insisted only lower taxes would get us out of our present hole.
  • Allister described the growth of the state, the flaws in monetary policy and the regulator regime which caused the crisis, calling for lower public spending.
  • Mark said we should be "hysterical" and "apoplectic" about the state's true liabilities before making some spectacular remarks about our democracy and the election (see from min 13 in the video below).
  • Eamonn felt things were even worse and was not sure our grandchildren would wish to pay the benefits we are awarding ourselves.

Here's a video of the introductory remarks and the responses to the first question. Martin gets the last word on the likely public reaction to doing the right thing.

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Built on anti-Corn Law radical Richard Cobden's vision that "Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less," the Cobden Centre promotes sound scholarship on honest money and free trade. Chaired by Toby Baxendale, founder of the Hayek Visiting Teaching Fellowship Program at the London School of Economics, the Cobden Centre brings together economists, businesspeople and finance professionals to better help these ideas influence policy.

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