David Cobham's picture
Heriot Watt University
Professor of economics

Voting history

Responsible long-term fiscal policy (pilot survey)

Second question:

To help ensure that advanced country governments pursue responsible fiscal policies, countries should adopt formal rules for limiting structural deficits, which are supported by primary legislation or constitutional reform.

Neither agree nor disagree
Confidence level:
I have two reasons for neither agreeing nor disagreeing. The first is that the measurement of structural deficits is so difficult that it is open to abuse as well as innocent errors, and the latter can be enormous - e.g. the OECD's estimates in successive Economic Outlooks for the UK's structural deficit in 2007 have risen from below 0.5% (2007 estimate) to 4.9% (2013estimate). Second, trying to incorporate such limits in legislation is partly petty politics (trying to provoke the opposition) and partly dubious economic policy (trying to fix policy for all future time, in a way that ignores possible shocks and trends). It is better to argue out the need for appropriate constraints in a democratic way, which means convincing and reconvincing successive generations of politicians and electors, and accepting that in an uncertain world governments just have to allowed to exercise at least some discretion.