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“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”

The quote in the title is usually ascribed to economist Herb Stein and is sometimes referred to as “Stein’s Law”.

Here’s a chart of the trend in debt as a percentage of GDP for five of the main European countries:

EU debt to GDP

Italy, France, Spain and Britain are all on an impossible trajectory. No country can ever keep on increasing debt. At some point, as Greece has found, “if something cannot go on forever, it stops”. And when it stops, that can be extremely painful – a 27% fall in GDP, 30% unemployment, 50% youth unemployment, hundreds of thousands losing their homes, social breakdown.

In Britain, the political parties are falling over each other offering us new bribes to vote for them. But bribes cost money and our Government is already spending £90bn a year more than it takes in taxes.

Our debt has doubled under the Coalition from around £750bn in 2010 to £1.5trn now. In 2014, we paid £47.4bn in interest payments. That’s more than we spent on defence – £44.3bn. We don’t notice these payments as we never see the money (£130m a day) going out. Think what the government could do with that extra £130m a day.

But our interest payments mean there is £47.4bn less to spend on health, education, transport, pensions, border control (sorry, that was just a joke) and, of course MPs’ salaries and expenses for members of the Lords.

Moreover, our debt interest payments are forecast to hit £60bn next year:

UK interest payments 2010 to 2017

So, any government will have to find another £13bn in cuts or tax rises just to pay our rising interest bill. And this is assuming that we continue to pay interest at current rates. Were lenders to become concerned at our government’s financial incontinence and interest rates were to increase to reflect the fact that British debt was becoming more risky, we could well end up paying £80bn or £90bn a year in interest – almost the total budget of the NHS.

Meanwhile our politicians witter on about possibly “reducing the deficit”. Good luck to them. But every day we have a deficit, our debt increases.

If we are going to stop our debt increasing, our rulers have to find around £90bn of cuts or tax rises! Totally impossible. Or rather, quite possible, but political suicide in a country where 54% of voters get more in public services and benefits than they pay in taxes.

So, as our politicians desperately try to get our votes by bribing us with our own money, just remember what Herb said “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”.

Our politicians seem to forget that Britain cannot go on forever increasing its debt. At some point our increasing debt must stop. We’ve been here before under Labour and had to be rescued by the IMF. I expect the ugly, misformed three-headed Miliband/Sturgeon/Salmond monster will take us there again:

three headed monster

Interesting times ahead.

Please note: Tomorrow, Tuesday 28 April, we release our latest YouTube video. So please visit snouts-in-the-trough.com

5 comments to “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”

  • Joe Loppoman

    I read your writings daily and would like you to know that you are the only journalist prepared to tell us things “as they are”.
    It’s sad that the UK general public are so ignorant and easily manipulated.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Joe Loppoman

    As the general election approaches, none of the main parties are telling us how they will tackle the deficit and then the debt. Tackle it they will have to, sooner rather than later. I am very concerned about the future of my children and grandchildren. The country’s been ruined by successive governments and, as you have already said, it’s all been done for the 3 B’s.
    My main concern is immigration and for that reason there’s only one party I can vote for.
    My second concern is council tax or, as it should be called, property tax. My wife and I live in a very modest terrace house paying £2k/annum for two of us. That’s £1k each. A few streets along there are a number of detached houses, vastly extended to accommodate perhaps 3 or 4 immigrant families and that’s perhaps a dozen people. The council tax for these properties is slightly more at £2.7k or £225/person. Where is the fairness in that? Say what you like about Margaret Thatcher but at least she had the right idea to charge everyone for use of council services. We all use them, don’t we?
    My third concern, or rather a wish, is that capital gains tax is charged on all properties, including main home. This would go some way to reduce house prices and reduce government deficit. Why should people make vast amounts of money by just changing their property now and again.
    I would like to see you write a few things on these subjects.

  • MGJ

    Tinpot dictators around the world must look with envy at our grovellingly supine media. All those journalists covering the election and simply no mention of our national bankruptcy…or, come to that, of anything much else that matters.

  • PamWM

    Nice post. Thank you. Can you source the first graph please? The vertical axis: presumably debt/GDP as percentage?

  • Simon

    Totally agree with the article & all the above posts; this link illustrates the true state of affairs in 3rd world Britain
    http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language=en&pcode=teibp070&plugin=1#
    I truly believe we are on the edge of a financial precipice as never seen before. Sorry for the gloom & doom just being realistic.

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