Current political debate ahead of the UK budget puts me in mind of the set of jokes originally inspired by the US comedian Chris Rock. Chris Rock’s original quip went like this: 'You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance and Germany doesn't want to go to war.’
But now we have a world where the Liberal Democrats argue for tax cuts, the Labour party calls for wider tax cuts, and the Conservative Chancellor is at pains to damp down any speculation that he is about to make tax cuts. This of course isn’t as funny and isn’t quite the political reality. Osborne has constraints on what he can achieve in next month's budget, both in terms of what the market will accept and what his coalition partners will allow.
But even if he doesn't have the scope for big tax cuts to help the economy, there are some useful pro-growth measures that the chancellor might include in his budget. The MP John Stevenson has suggested that stamp duty to be altered so that is borne by the sellers of properties. This is a reasonable idea: it could enliven the housing market by moving the cost from first time buyers onto those (the sellers) who are more likely to be able to afford it.
However, much better would be allowing small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) to opt out of onerous health and safety rules, a whole host of labour market regulations, and the minimum wage. This is where the chancellor could really help the UK economy, and it wouldn't cost the Exchequer a penny.
It is self-evident to anyone who deals with small businesses that HSE directives don't make workers any safer, that labour market regulations unnecessarily restrict employment, and that the minimum wage is higher than a free market would bear. Party political cross-dressing aside, the government's continued failure to deal with the onerous (and sometimes plain ridiculous) legislation imposed on SMEs is no joke. The forthcoming budget is a good opportunity to turn the tide.