At 15.6.18 at around 6.40pm
‘The Institute of Fiscal Studies believes the new blueprint for the public finances of an independent Scotland would mean a tighter squeeze on public spending than the rest of the UK faces. The thinktank was responding to the SNP’s growth commission which made a new economic case for independence. It’s been criticised for recommending a government spending squeeze lasting up to ten years.’
Did Sally Magnussen look just a bit embarrassed to be making this statement?
There are three problems with the statement. First, what is the source for the last statement? It’s not in the Growth Commission report nor, in those terms, is it in the IFS report. Nowhere does the Growth Commission report ‘recommend a ten-year spending squeeze.’ Second, where is the balance which the BBC prides itself on and which is part of its charter? Even if the IFS is to be completely trusted for its independence, we should have had a comment from the SNP. RS editors tend to try to use the excuse that the report was too short for more information to be included but the answer to that is simple – if there’s no time to do it properly, don’t do it at all. Third, the IFS is decidedly not to be trusted as either competent or impartial. In 2015, Professor Richard Murphy of City University London wrote:
‘People often wonder why I criticise the Institute for Fiscal Studies for right wing fundamentalism, as I have done on this blog, quite often. The reason is that it is right-wing and fundamentalist, however good its analyses might be when it comes to budgets, spending reviews and so on. In the Royal Economic Society’s annual lecture on Tuesday, Professor Rachel Griffith will argue corporate tax should be charged like VAT.”A preferable way to tax corporate income would be to tax profits at the destination of sales”, she will argue….This proposal….reveals an indifference to the role of tax in redistribution within and between states and ignores economic fundamentals but happens to suit the owners of capital very well. If that is not right-wing fundamentalism I do not know what is. Beware the IFS when it comes to policy issues: it is very far from the neutral think tank it likes to pretend to be but is, instead, a fully paid up advocate of neoliberalism and the flooding up of wealth.’
This is by no means the only evidence that IFS competence and impartiality are so widely contested, from the right too, such that media reports should not use them unchallenged. See these:
The IFS are completely wrong about Brexit http://www.thecommentator.com/article/6389/the_ifs_are_completely_wrong_about_brexit
IFS Wrong On UK Economy – Falling Real Wages Are The Solution To A Recession https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/11/25/ifs-wrong-on-uk-economy-falling-real-wages-are-the-solution-to-a-recession/#5a337e69544e
The IFS forecast should be taken with a pinch of salt https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/11/ifs-forecast-taken-pinch-salt/
Why is the Institute for Fiscal Studies receiving millions from the State? https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2010/12/robert-halfon-mp-why-is-the-institute-for-fiscal-studies-receiving-millions-from-the-state.html
Even the current head of the IFS, Paul Johnson, writing in March 2018 has serious reservations about the use of statistics, including we hope, his own, in a political context:
‘I trade in numbers and am passionate about them. From crime rates to the climate, we need them to describe and make sense of the world around us. But I’ve also learned to be very cautious in their company. They don’t just help us to interpret the world, they can be powerful enough to change it too—and not always for the better. A focus on one number, a shock balance of trade deficit that was published three days before a general election, is said to have done for Harold Wilson’s premiership in 1970. A particular measure of public borrowing caused the British government to bring in the IMF to bail it out in 1976. More recently, a net immigration figure in June 2016 played a role in the EU referendum decision, as of course did the most famous number of recent years: the £350m a week that we supposedly send to Europe. Numbers, then, can and do disrupt the course of political history—that’s real power. With that power comes danger, especially where numbers are arbitrary or misleading, which is—in fact—what all those examples of politically powerful numbers were. That alarming trade deficit, released in the run-up to the 1970 general election, was puffed up by a one-off purchase of two jumbo jets, not by any underlying economic problem.
As both SNP media attention and membership soared, was this inadequate little report inserted into a Reporting Scotland broadcast to satisfy the expectations of the Scottish Conservatives that their older audience/voters be warned not to start liking the SNP? Murdo Fraser and Blair McDougall had been tweeting about the IFS report, in this light, the same day.