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Finding the exit

Evan Davis | 06:05 UK time, Saturday, 31 January 2009

I've had a couple of interesting conversations in the corridors of the forum today. They're with people from very different perspectives who have raised the same concern: our exit strategy.

Not so much the exit from the recession - people are suggesting policies to help us escape that all the time.

No, the exit some are worrying about is the exit from those very policies.

You see, we are in the midst of an incredible economic episode that will very probably be talked about by our grandchildren.

As a result of that, some very exceptional actions are being taken.
For example, we are spending money like crazy and will probably soon have to print it.

The government is borrowing money on a huge scale.

It is making loans to car companies and guaranteeing loans elsewhere.

The Bank of England is - or is about to start - buying up assets like corporate loans.

And we are all becoming shareholders in banks.

As a result of all this, governments and central banks are going to be left with a big chunk of the economy in their hands.

This might all be very sensible but it all has enormous implications down the road. What exactly are the mechanics of withdrawing these things?

One worry I've heard expressed is that of dependence on state intervention. Once you start supporting car manufacturers for example, how do you stop?

The bigger worry concerns all the assets the Treasury and Bank of England will own in the next few years. They will be sold off. Can you do that without disrupting the markets into which you are selling them?

And then there's the issue of all the borrowing the government has undertaken.

It can borrow easily now, by simply doing so from the Bank of England (it's a process called underfunding and its akin to printing money).

But that does have to stop at some stage.

And when the economy picks up, some of the cash that has been printed by the central bank will probably have to be withdrawn. That's because as the economy normalises, we will not need or want so much money swashing around as it can cause inflation.

Yet, withdrawing cash may not be easy.

Getting the timing and the extent of the withdrawal is hard...withdraw too much and you have deflation and recession. Withdraw too little, and you have inflation.

There's another problem too. If the Bank of England does end up printing money to lend to the UK government, it will at some point choose to no longer do so. By then, the government may be borrowing so much it can't find anyone else to take the loans over.

That could be the nastiest phase of the cycle for the UK.

Funnily enough, this Davos event has been called "Shaping the Post Crisis World". Some have thought it a bit premature to shape the post-crisis world, when we are so deeply in the crisis itself. (After all, the allies of World War 2 at least waited until 1945 to shape the peace at the Yalta conference).

But there is a valid conversation occurring here, about just how long we will need to unwind the measures we are taking.


  • Comment number 1.


    Your points are very valid, yet the British Public by lack of any active or detailed debate on these issues in Parliament are not aware of the long term consequences - they are just worried and know something is wrong.

  • Comment number 2.

    "And we are all becoming shareholders in banks.

    As a result of all this, governments and central banks are going to be left with a big chunk of the economy in their hands."

    Of course the rich and greedy, whom you will encounter in Davos corridors, want this reversed. Well, they've had their go at running the global economy for their private profit over the last three decades - and look where they've landed us. The rest of us should be looking to ensure that key publicly-owned assets remain as such; and that proper democratic control is exercised over the central banks - all their "independence" has meant is that they do as the rich and greedy tell them.

  • Comment number 3.

    I agree the exit strategy is everything but since there was no inward strategy then the resolution has to be left to those erstwhile bedfellows Mr. Muddle and Mr. Blunder.

    I will confess to being terrified at the propsect of inflation. I lived through the Seventies and Eighties as a young man and I saw what it did then. I am now just in my Sixties and am very fearful.

    There are two key issues in play: firstly, the taxpayer has bailed out the banks but what power has the taxpayer acquired as a consequence? Secondly, the state failed in its regulation; so what price regulation?

    I don't think that increased state supervision or a return to a particular version of the so-called free market are on the table.

    I would suggest that it is time for the taxpayer to take control.

  • Comment number 4.

    Dear Evan,

    I cannot find an email address for you so am using this comment section to make contact.

    Thanks for a great Bottom Line yesterday with fascinating sub-themes which I have blogged about today at

    Comments welcome.

    Best wishes,

    Jim Lawless.

  • Comment number 5.

    I have to say my wife and I always enjoy listening to your program.

    During the program you mentioned there were THREE reasons for something or other. But why is it there are always only THREE reason and not simply TWO, or perhaps even FOUR?

  • Comment number 6.

    Our exit strategy is about as well conceived as out exit strategy from Iraq (i.e. we don't have one)

    "Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread"

    This summarises this Governments handling of the financial crisis.

    I totally agree with the comment regarding state assistance - when do you stop?
    Wasn't the reason the UK car industry was so un-competitive in the 70's because the state kept funding it and it never streamlined itself.

    Added to that the long term (petrol) car use is going to go into decline. Only the manufactiurers that are already producing alternative fuel vehicles will survive - the rest will take too long to turn around. Oil prices are low at the moment, but this is temporary and the long term trend is upwards.

    This is another case of politicians making economic decisions based on political bias. It's all about job's in marginal seats - and this self centred attitude just about sums up the fundamental problems of our society. How can we expect bankers to have morals when the Government is so clearly lacking in them.

    The best comment I have heard so far was at a lecture at the LSE last night by Danny Quah who commented (paraphrasing):

    "A lot has been talked about how expensive it will be to fix the banking system - I ask whether we should bother at all. The service the bank (should) be providing is still required (i.e. credit) and needs to be maintained, but do we need the banks to provide this?"

    It's radical thinking like this that needs to be considered - the dummies in the exchequer simply don't have the creativity as they are all "yes men".

  • Comment number 7.

    Firstly - I don't think the correct way out of a crisis caused by too much borrowing, is to borrow in a different way.

    So how long will the current policies being implemented on the hoof, by the government take to unwind? Probably a generation. Roughly 15 - 20 years. Here are some milestones we will see on the way.

    2010 - 2011. TV finally stops showing 'Property is a Great Investment Shows' - as satire goes out of fashion in austere times.

    2012. Radio 4 covers the growth of Soup Kitchens.

    2013 - 2015. Banks start to make small profits again, but only after losing 75% of their workforce.

    2014 - Income tax raised as signs of revival disappear due to rapidly rising inflation.

    2015. Retirement age changed to 70 then later 72 to allow state to reduce liabilities for retiring workers in nationalised businesses.

    2017. Elected Labour government proposes privatisation of Nationalised Banks. Lord Brown makes a rare appearence on National TV.

    2020. Governor of Bank of England announces final end to policy of removing cash from the economy. Stock market breaks through pshycological 5000 barrier for first time in 12 years.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hoi Evan, come on it is almost the end of February and not a single blog! Time that you got with the program as the Americans like to say.

    I thought that your BBC series on finance was terrific. It held my attention throughout while Niall Ferguson on theother side had me channel hopping and occasionally falling asleep.

    Now if only you would put the same effort into your blog....

  • Comment number 9.

    Heh Evan I've had a great idea. Why don't I just start my own blog on your blog and just keep going until you finally get the message and get back to business. If anyone else wants to join in that would be great and if they don't then that would be great too. I can just ramble on as thatotherguy2 on Evan Davis blog. It could be a blogosphere first.

    I can share my thoughts on Gordon Brown, (Boo) Alistair Darling (Boo Hiss) and Alan Johnson (string him up) without having to go on all those other blogs. You know the ones Robinson, Peston and Flanders, and without hundreds of other bloggers getting in the way of my pearls of wisdom

    So that I don't have to recap new bloggers on this site should google thatotherguy2 and you'll get my views todate so that you are then fully up to speed for the fast lane of thatotherguy at Evan Davis blog.

    On the other hand Evan could just get back to work. Let's give it until to-morrow and if still no news from Evan then more thoughts from thatotherguy at Evan Davis' blog will follow. It might even become a cult, who knows....

  • Comment number 10.

    Ok here we go, let's see if I can pick up the threads here Evan. It is a very valid point that you are making and Alistair Darling was far from reassuring on the topic this am on the Today show.

    My heart did bleed for Alistair when he said that he had written to SFG about the unaffordibility to the tax payer of his pension but had received no reply. But really what can you expect. I'm with SFG. You might as well get hung for a sheep as a goat. If Alistair can stick this second home malarkey on the tax payer to subsidise his standard of living in Merchiston then who is he to take the high moral ground to hold SFG to account?

    Having met Alistair I can happily assure readers of tog 2 at edb that he does indeed have an IQ north of room temperature. How much, of course, is anyone's guess. But it is certainly higher than that.

    Another fascinating edition of the Today programme. Normally Evan asks the questions we would all ask ourselves but today I was frustrated that we didn't find out what preceeded the word dirty in common use. What was the word that died out and does that give us any clue as to what the word will be that will replace dirty in 750 years time or so.

    Still no matter. Good news that Evan is going to be doing standup for charity and I may even write some material for him if inspiration strikes while listening to the truly amazing Lincoln City at anyoldfun.

  • Comment number 11.

    Actually you have my sympathy on more than one score Evan. One it is really quite difficult to write stand up. Especially for someone else. Absolutely no inspiration to speak of, and I speak as someone who actually had a go a couple of years back writing stand up for Libby's daughter Rose, who is actually a very talented stand up herself. So be warned Libby has a head start here and a stand up writer in the family. All that stuff about Libby thinking it will be a bonus if anyone actually laughs is just to lull you into a false sense of security.

    The other thing I have to fess up to is that, in a busy life it is indeed quite difficult to keep your focus on the blog. Here's me already back sharing my thoughts with Razia and Mark and completely ignoring the readers of tog 2 at edb. But heh, life is for learning and I'm sure that I'll now 'gather' as the divine Miss Winslet likes to say and keep the focus on the job at hand. But I have to say that it is a trickier propositon than I first bargained on. The sooner that you report back for duty the better!

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm afraid Evan that the Winslet mantra isn't working. And I've been seduced away again by that nice Nick Robinson. In my defence I couldn't help myself. He mentioned Alan Johnson and I just had to put my clackety boots on. Anyway I can't tell you how much fun I'm having. I got lucky with Nick - in the top ten to file but I'm not sure that anyone if ever read's those posts anyway. This is so much better fun. Robert Peston has already got hundreds on his blog about boring old RBS but here at tgo 2 at EDB it is just me - and you! - and my thoughts about life, the universe and everything. If anyone else wants to join in tgo 2 at EDB then do feel free. You can catch up with latest musings first just by googling thatotherguy2 and the BBC blog link comes up and you can see all that stuff about Darling on Mark Easton's blog, and all that stuff about Alan Johnson on Nick Robinson's blog and, for some light relief, some thoughts on Picasso going in and out of fashion at Rasia's blog. But as I say this is jolly hard work keeping up Evan's end and the sooner he puts his shoulder back to the wheel the better I say.

  • Comment number 13.

    Of lawdy me I've done it again Evan. This time on Mr Fraser's BBC Scottish ledger. But in my defence I have to say that this blogger called tinylespaul had gotten onto the subject of how he is proud to be British or Scottish or whatever because of free dental and eyetesting and the very mention of eyetesting in Britain just because it real is just the most extraordinary scandal. Again you can check with your Radio 4 colleague on this one Evan because it was actually Libby that got the ball rolling on highlighting this issue in The Times some years back. Since then literally hundreds of young lives have been changed for the better as they have had their eyesight corrected using current best practice detailed eye examinations. But it is an expensive business which is why the government keeps stum. Unfortunately for Alan Johnson he has been rumbled. He has seen the written evidence provided by Sir Patrick Cable Alexander at the Institute of Optometry via my MP Alistair Darling but even so has written to say that there is absolutely no intention to change government policy. Yes the very same Alan Johnson who you were interviewing the other week on the NHS charter. At the time you put it to him that wasnt' this just spin and a waste of tax payers money. Johnson said that the million quid was a drop in the ocean (I paraphrase) in the hundred and odd billion NHS annual budget and how could you think such a thing. Well that is exactly why we are so cynical about these characters. Johnson should hang his head in shame and so too should Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown who is equally aware of the situation as readers of tog 2 at EDB can see by googling thatotherguy2 and going onto the BBC blog.

    Deep breath. On a lighter note still not much to report in terms of material for your stand up Evan but I do remember reading an article about stand up one time when a leading stand up said the best advice was to slow down. The mistake is that first time stand uppers tend to panic and speed up when the key to success is to take it slow. Good luck from all of us at tog 2 at EDB!

  • Comment number 14.

    You know Evan I am having so much fun here that there should be a law against it. By all means take all the time you want before blogging again because frankly it might just start to feel like you are muzzling in on my turf. Seriously though come back any time you like. All the bloggers at tgo 2 at EDB will welcome you back with open arms, I've no doubt. And it is interesting is it not that no one is stepping up to the plate here to help me fill the void in between your month long silences. I suppose you're too busy trying to write some stand up material!

  • Comment number 15.

    Well I've had a go at writing some stand up material for you Evan. Let me know what you think (or just get back to the blog!).

    I was up in Scotland last week for a longstanding engagement. A round of golf with Fred Goodwin. This could be tricky I thought. But far from it. Fred couldn't have been more relaxed.
    (Evan puts on cod Scots accent).
    Tell me Evan have you a financial adviser?
    For you ought to meet a friend of mine
    Wee Jimmy Krankie
    He's Fan Dabby Dozy
    I can only make ane o' the three
    Don't let wee Jimmy wearing short troosers put you off
    Or the fact he disnae ha'e a wullie
    (hysterical laughter)
    Tell me Evan have you got a pension
    I've been meaning to ask you about that Fred
    This £16 million malarkey
    I said Pen? Son
    We need tae keep the score
    Your shout at the bar if I win
    But now you mention it Evan, it is never too early to plan a pension
    Look at me. In the twae hours it takes to round this course I've less than £80 coming in.
    No plan, no plane
    Think about it laddie. Think about it.

    (changing the subject)
    It cost me £212 quid to take the train to Edinburgh. £212 quid
    You don't get many Scots in London these days do you?
    We've even got a Londoner delivering the 2012 Olympics.
    John Armitt is from North London. Nice chap he is. I don't know if you know John but he's the guy who:
    Guided the City on the likely costs of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link
    (palms up asking audience for further applause)
    Then he ran Network rail for a while
    (palms up looking for yet more applause)
    What can possibly go wrong?

    (Evan changing the subject again).
    I see Nick Clegg has just bcome a father again. (encourages audience to go aahh)
    Thirty notches and not a single kiss and tell.
    (quickly into the punchline)
    We know you're out there somewhere!
    I have a girlfriend. She went out with Nick when they were still at school.
    I asked her if it was memorable.
    Apparently she lost her eyebrows.
    (hysterical laughter)

    Evan changing the subject again
    Apparently Alan Johnson is going to stand against Harriet for the leadership. And the big beasts of the jungle are going to back him
    Andy Burnham
    James Purnell
    (more laughter)
    Alistair Darling
    (hysterical laughter).
    My money is on Jimmy Krankie. I'm Evan Davis. Good night!!
    (thunderous applause).

  • Comment number 16.

    If money is to be printed, can someone tell me why they don't put £20,000 in every bank account ? This would lift the Nation's spirits, get everyone spending, manufacturers busy, etc. Problem solved ! Can't be worse but more fun I think, and I would like to know the reason why not, given the mess made so far by so called experts.

  • Comment number 17.

    There is a potential benefit of this re(de)pression. We have put ourselves in a state of need that parallels the state of the Japanese after WWII. Their response was to innovate their way out of the shortage of materials (and cash). Toyota's assumption of the Lean process enabled them to work their way to being a formidable power in industry. We need to repeat their renaissance by becoming more efficient, self-sufficient and less wasteful of future wealth and foreigners labour. We have to eschew foreign made goods, paid for with debt, and learn how to earn an honest wage for real work.

  • Comment number 18.

    What is the IMF's stance with regard to Quantitative Easing?

  • Comment number 19.

    Today only,i have a time to read your economic points from your blog.
    You have analysed British economy into deeper levels.Almost reviewed like from London School of Economics.
    Everywhere,Governments borrowing heavily from the public,partner with big corporte houses for nations infrastructure,from world banks and from all means.
    This is a good for developing nations.
    Here,British economic problems are more or less with American economic slow down,world recession and major reserves went to Afghan and for Iran crisis.
    Labor party had changed from basic economic ideals -public enterprises to privatisation to major industries.
    If she wants to improve or stablize her economy,first and foremost improtance lies from will power,getting major taxes from big industralists.


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