Should we spend away stagnation?

The Christmas period is traditionally a time for indulgence. Between company Christmas parties and drinks with friends one usually exceeds the usual level of food and drink intake. Most people also spend more during the holiday season. As well as gifts for friends and family, decorations for home and work there is the general spirit of excesses and the desire to treat oneself after a year of hard work. You would think that so many people letting loose with credit cards and Christmas bonuses would kick the economy into gear and begin the climb out of the stagnation that has dogged business since the end of the recession.

It’s logical but not always true. During last year’s Christmas period the British economy actually shrank for the first time since the recession official ended. Economists posted negative growth for the fourth quarter of 2010, two such consecutive quarters of negative growth constitute a formal return of the recession. So why did the economy shrink with all this over spending

There are a number of reasons for this. One was an increase in costs of production. Rising international oil and gas prices pushed up the cost of UK manufacturing and squeezed home’s budgets throughout the winter. Excesses around Christmas were matched by a cutting back elsewhere. The rise in production and transport costs restricted exports ultimate because our goods cost more and less money ended in the hands of the firms that produced the goods. When production costs are higher firms are unlikely to invest in new employees.

Not all of our present woes are the result of high energy prices. Partly it is the result of our patterns of consumption. Mince pies and turkeys are very pleasant but it is not the consumption of perishable goods that drives the economy. It is the purchase of consumer durables that drives growth and development. Although some people purchase fridges and television as Christmas presents this behaviour is hardly normal. If we are all perfectly rational in regard to the macro-economy in our Christmas shopping , we would all buy each other consumer durables. However in such a world we would all own too many fridges and have no food to put in them.

Politicians and executives of high street retain chains are keen to expose the values of spending away economic stagnation. As if the only thing prevent global economic recovery is austere Christmas parties. The solution to the problems of economic growth is not over spend now then have to cut back later. If you are especially concerned about growth rate of the British economy then consider buying a new car, television or computer system. Although in the current climate such purchases are out of the reach of most households.

The problems of our macro-economy require macro solutions such as investment in infrastructure to promote growth, guaranteed loans to business to encourage investment and programs to allow the unemployment access to jobs that go beyond simply slashing benefits. Encouraging the general public to over spend (especially financed by credit) is reckless and boost the revenue of Tescos but will not raise the long term trend rate of growth.

My advice to anyone during the holiday season is to reward yourself for a year’s hard work during difficult times but to remember that over spending is not the solution to your personal finical problems or the national ones. National problems require national solutions are not an increase in personal debt.