The first candidate for evidence-based politics must surely be the Tories deficit reduction plan.
The Tories are making two main arguments:
- that to make the biggest cut in public spending since the Second World War over five years is necessary; and
- that it is safe to make such drastic cuts over such a short timescale, because the private sector will expand as the public sector contracts.
They are both extraordinary claims, and the skeptical response is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
So is there any?
Well it doesn’t appear so, because the coalition’s standard response when pressed on these issues is that it’s a judgement call. But given that half of the treasury team (including the Chancellor who studied history) don’t seem to have any economics qualifications at all, it’s difficult to put much faith in their judgement.
What is needed is a sober analysis of recessions and depressions around the world, drawing out the lessons to be learned. Find out what worked, and what didn’t work, in a variety of situations. Present the findings in a clear scientific way, and argue for a policy direction as a result.
In other words, let’s see some research.
The coalition like to use folksy metaphors to explain the spending cuts, to explain in a rather laboured way that the country, like the family, has to spend within it’s means.
But these metaphors work both ways.
My family wouldn’t ask a historian to do our Income Tax returns. So why, after all these years, are we willing to take the word of one when it comes to running the economy?