Fiscal alcoholism


Thanks to our Senior Fellow Tim Ambler for introducing me to a new phrase: fiscal alcoholism. It was coined by György Kopits, a member of the Hungarian National Bank's monetary council, in the Wall Street Journal recently. The phrase neatly sums up the illness in Hungary's public accounts – and in the spending habits of many other countries around the world. They know that they should be giving up their reckless spending and borrowing. But they like the high it gives them. And they reckon that one little bit more spending or borrowing can't do them much harm, can it...?

This is why we get booms and busts. When things are not going well, governments reduce interest rates, or print more money, or embark on any number of 'stimulation' packages. The immediate effects seem nice: business flourishes, investment increases, and unemployment falls. People take out loans to buy bigger houses, and new factories, and everything booms. But it is a boom built on sand: it was the cheap credit that created it, not some revolution in productivity and efficiency, or an influx of new customers. Bigger and bigger doses of the credit drug are needed to keep the high going. Eventually, it falters and the result is an awful hangover.

So I think fiscal alcoholism is a good way of describing this phenomenon. Unfortunately the G20 meetings simply provide an opportunity for all the fiscal alcoholics to get together and buy each other more drinks. It's a shame we don't have regular fiscal AA meetings where they all come and fess up: 'My name is Gordon Brown and I'm a fiscal acoholic...'

Or perhaps we should go further and take a leaf out of the Political Correctness manual. Round up the financial responsibility deniers and cart them off to jail. Then at least, with three-quarters of the world's politicians in jug, the other quarter could get on with balancing the books.

Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.