For business' sake - interest rates must stay low

  • With inflation at 3.7%, why is everybody starting to advocate increasing interest rates?

    The inflation in the economy is cost-push, not demand-pull. Simply put, prices are going up because the cost of goods is going up - not because demand is running away with itself on the back of borrowed money. The important subtlety is that it is import costs - principally fuel and food - that are going up, not domestic ones.

    The theory is that as you increase interest rates, speculators are encouraged to buy sterling and its value goes up. The relative cost of imports therefore goes down.

    But hang on a minute. The £ will only rise sustainably on the back of underlying economic strength. If that underlying strength doesn't exist, the £ will remain under pressure and we will be caught up in a perilous spiral of rising interest rates in a vain attempt to shore it up.

    Economic strength comes from a strong balance of payments and a healthy business sector that is creating employment and driving domestic demand.

    The consequences of a rise in interest rates now would be catastrophic for the recovery: our resurgent export industry would be dealt a debilitating blow and people with mortgages would be forced to cut back. Businesses too would be saddled with an increased cost - slowing employment and forcing some to the brink.

    To load a rise in interest rates on top of an increase in VAT, the rise in fuel duty and the impending increase in employees' NI, all in the same quarter, would be a particularly vindictive form of masochism.

    Interest rates will have to go up at some point - we all accept that - but only when we have an excess of demand, which is not now.

    Please folks, see sense. A bit of inflation in the economy today, when the causes are readily identified and the adjustment rationally explained, is a worthwhile price to pay when the alternatives are contemplated.

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