How extraordinary that the Johnson Government, while in serious money trouble, chooses to spend billions on a vaccine against a disease which in many cases has no symptoms at all.
Yet this peculiar decision is a mere ripple on the surface of a much deeper problem. Britain in 2020 has many economic difficulties, but good credit. The lenders and investors of the world believe the UK is run by responsible people and will repay its debts.
But my astute colleague Dan Atkinson recently discovered that the Treasury and the Bank of England are creating money out of nothing on a huge scale. It is like the old fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, who could spin gold out of straw – but at a terrible price.
Put at its simplest, more than £150 billion of Britain’s Himalaya-sized national debt has effectively been paid off – at no cost – using money created by, and passed between, the Treasury and the Bank of England.
The bonds involved are supposed to be sold to real investors, who profit from generous interest payments, and then are meant to be bought back from them. But in this case, the Government invested in itself, forgave itself the interest, and then paid itself back.
I wonder what would happen to any private business which behaved like this. It is clever, but it is playing with fire, and it will come back in many ways to bite us. Major inflation is a possible result.
I just mention these known facts to let you know how bad things are, and how close we are to copying countries such as Argentina, once rich, now poor, which traded for years on their reputations, and lived as they had been used to live, long after they could not pay their bills. Until it went wrong.