Wednesday, 12 March 2008


PSNCR - Explanation

The PSNCR - public sector net cash requirement - used to be called the PSBR - the public sector borrowing requirement. They are the same thing. They measure the amount the government has to borrow to meet all its expenditure commitments. Governments frequently spend more than they are earning in tax revenue, and so have to borrow to plug the gap.
There are two ways to measure the value of the PSNCR. The first is to look at the PSNCR as an amount of money - usually in billions of pounds (£bn). This is useful as a measure, but we may also want to consider how significant this figure is in the overall context of the economy. £5bn sounds a lot of money (and we would all like a share of it !), but in terms of the overall level of GDP it is fairly insignificant. So the other way to measure the PSNCR is as a percentage of GDP.
The PSNCR tends to vary with the trade cycleLook up Trade Cycle in glossary. This happens because as the level of growth changes the governments expenditure and tax revenue will also change automatically. For example, imagine the economy is going into recession. As people lose their jobs, incomes fall and this means less income tax. They will also spend less which means the government gets less from VAT and other indirect taxes. At the same time they will need to be paid benefits, and this means an increase in government expenditure. The overall effect of the recession therefore has been to increase the PSNCR.

PSNCR and the Trade Cycle - Why does it vary?

The PSNCR tends to change along with the state of the economy. When things are going well and the economy is booming, the PSNCR will tend to be falling (unless the government is going mad spending on other things!). This is because a booming economy means low unemployment and low unemployment means less spending on benefits. Not only that, but when people are employed they will spend more, and this will boost VAT and other indirect tax receipts.
The impact of a recession on the PSNCR will be the opposite. Increasing unemployment means more spending on benefits, increasing the level of government expenditure. Unemployed people don't pay income tax, and others may find their incomes falling. The combination of these two effects means that the government receives less income tax. Spending also will fall as people have less money and are more reluctant to spend what they do have because of uncertainty about the future. As spending falls so does the government's revenue from indirect taxesLook up Indirect Taxes in glossary. As if all this weren't enough of a problem, the performance of firms will also affect the government's finances. In times of recession, firms' profits will fall, in fact they may even make losses. Since corporation taxLook up Corporation Tax in glossary is paid on profits, the governments tax revenues will be hit even further.
So boom periods should help to lower the PSNCR, while recessions and economic slowdown will tend to push it back up again.

PSNCR Theories - Cyclical or Structural - What determines it?

Theory 1 (PSNCR and the trade cycle) shows that the PSNCR will tend to vary with the economic cycle. If this happens over a number of years and the PSNCR fluctuates around an average value of zero, then the government doesn't need to worry about it too much. A recession may increase it, but the onset of recovery will help it fall again. If this is the case then the PSNCR is termed a cyclical PSNCR.
However, it will often be the case that the value that the PSNCR fluctuates around is far from zero. This means that the government is borrowing all the time. In other words, it is borrowing over the long term. Where this happens, this part of the PSNCR is termed a structural PSNCR. Governments do need to worry more about a structural PSNCR as it is a long-term one, and they need to think about how they can reduce it. They have two main alternatives:
  1. Increase taxes
  2. Reduce government expenditure
If they don't do either of these, there will be a permanent PSNCR and the national debtLook up National Debt in glossary will grow over time.

PSNCR and the Money Supply - The effect of borrowing on the money supply

If the PSNCR is high, this means that the government is spending much more than it is receiving in tax revenue. It follows then that it is putting more money into the banking system (from its spending) than it is taking out of it (from taxes). This will increase the money supply in the economy. This may be undesirable as many economists believe that excessive money supply growth will cause inflation. This is a view held particularly by Monetarist economists and Classical economists.
The aim of governments should therefore be to keep the value of the PSNCR down to help keep money supply growth down.

PSNCR and the National Debt - How indebted are we?

The national debt is the total amount of borrowing accumulated by the government that is still outstanding. It is the total amount that the government owes to individuals and institutions.
Think of the national debt as the level of water in a tank. Each year the government borrows more. The amount it borrows is the PSNCR. This is equivalent to a tap filling up the tank - the amount of water (debt) is growing. However, at the same time, the government pays off some of its debts each year. This is like water flowing out of the tank.
If the amount flowing into the tank (the PSNCR) is greater than the amount going out (debt paid off), then the water level (the national debt) will rise. If on the other hand the amount flowing into the tank (the PSNCR) is smaller than the amount going out (debt paid off), then the water level (the national debt) will fall.
The diagram below shows this:

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