Unemployment rates, GDP levels and export volumes can all be used as indicators of the UK’s economic performance during this period. Below is a table which shows indices for export volumes, unemployment rates and the average exchange rate against sterling during the period of 1979-2000. Table 1. Export, Unemployment and Exchange Rate Indices 1979-2000 1990=100 Year Exports Unemployment rates Average rates against sterling Source: www. statistics. gov. uk/Statbase National Statistics Website Actual figures: Author’s own work Fig. 1 further illustrates these figures. Fig. 1 Fig. 1 shows that between 1979 and 2000, exports rose at a fairly constant rate with a slight halt in 1985.
From Table 1, unemployment rates have varied during the same period from a high of 11. 9% in 1984 to 5. 7% in 2000, but have remained in what is a relatively small band compared to the exchange rate. The exchange rate has had the greatest variance, ranging from 127. 8% to 84. 8% of the base year, falling rapidly from 1981 until 1995 with a slight reprieve in 1987. During the ERM years between 1990 and 1993 we can see some definite trends in both unemployment and the exchange rate. Between 1990 and 1993 unemployment rose by 3. 6%. Following the UK’s exit from the ERM, unemployment fell again and has continued falling until 2000.
The unemployment figures are interesting as they seem to have a cyclical pattern. Did the fixing of the exchange rate increase unemployment or was this the result of the trade cycle? There is evidence that it was not due to the trade cycle. The UK’s pattern of unemployment rates which are typically akin to those of the US, differed greatly at this time. Between 1990 and 1993 the increase in UK levels of unemployment is much larger than that of the US. The UK level of unemployment rose 4. 4% between 1990-93 whereas the US level only rose 1. 3%. US levels actually fell between 1992 and 1993 when UK levels rose.
8 It was not a period of cyclical unemployment that caused the unusually large increase in unemployment. One other argument is that the Lawson Boom of the late 1980s, and the inability to sustain such growth, may have in increased unemployment in the early 1990s. The exchange rate as we know remained constant between 1990 and 1992, which can be seen in Fig. 1. What is interesting, is the effect of the UK leaving the ERM on the exchange rate. The 1993 floating exchange rate is 8% lower than the previous year when the rate was fixed and stayed low until 1997 when the New Labour government came to power.
This tells us that the natural level of the sterling exchange rate was lower than its fixed rate within the ERM. The level of economic growth (measured by GDP) also deviates from the norm between 1990 and 1993. Growth was slower in this period as can be seen in Fig. 2 below. Fig. 2 It could be argued that this was an after effect of the Lawson Boom of the late 1980s rather than the UK’s membership of the ERM. The trend is similar for export levels. If we take a closer look at Fig. 3 below, there is a slowdown in the growth of UK exports during the time that the UK was a member of the ERM. Fig. 3
On exiting the ERM in late 1992 the volume of exports increased at a rate faster than any time previously. It is likely that the increase in exports was caused by the low value of the pound after it was forced out of the ERM. The lower-valued pound makes UK goods relatively cheaper than goods of other countries, and encourages foreign buyers. So, when the pound is fixed at a value above its natural level it can have an adverse effect on the level of exports. Another reason why export volumes may have decreased, could be due to an increase in domestic prices which is a sign of a growing economy.
So it could be argued that the whilst the Lawson boom increased the wealth of the economy, at the same time it had a negative effect on the level of UK exports. There is certainly some evidence then that being attached to a fixed currency can have a negative effect on unemployment, export volumes and GDP. This evidence though, is inconclusive as the data from the key period is clouded by another historic economic event, the Lawson Boom. Patrick Minford argues that, fixed exchange rates can work given a number of characteristics within the monetary environment.
These characteristics are: symmetric industries, automatic stabilisers, freedom of movement of labour and flexible wages. 9 However, these conditions are not met within the Euro zone. There are advantages in belonging to a fixed exchange rate system but currently the disadvantages leave a serious doubt over whether it is the ‘better’ option. The sacrifice of monetary and fiscal policy must be compensated for with significant gains in economic security. There are doubts as to whether a fixed exchange rate system is better than a floating system.
If a fixed rate system is joined, then it is imperative that it is joined at the right rate or the problems of the ERM will re-surface and Britain may suffer for many years to come. Even if it is joined at the right rate, over a lengthy period of time that ‘correct’ rate is likely to change.
Bibliography 1. Griffiths A ; Wall S (1997) Applied Economics 7th Edition. Longman, London 2. Curwen P (1997) Understanding the UK Economy. Fourth Edition, Macmillan, London 3. Patrick Minford (2002) Should Britain Join the Euro Institute of Economic Affairs Occasional Paper 126 4. Will Hutton (1997) The State We’re In Vintage.
5. National Statistics Website www. statistics. gov. uk/Statbase 6. OECD Economic Outlook Volume 2002/2 No. 72 December 1 Griffiths and Wall p. 625 2 Curwen, “Understanding the UK economy” p. 599 3 Patrick Minford, “Should Britain Join the Euro” (Institute of Economic Affairs 2002) p. 25 4 Patrick Minford, ibid. p. 31 5 Will Hutton, “The State We’re In” (Vintage 1996) p. 316 6 Griffiths & Wall p. 626 7 Patrick Minford, ibid. p. 43 8 OECD Economic Outlook Volume 2002/2 No. 72 December, Annex Table 14: Unemployment rates: commonly used definitions 9 Patrick Minford, ibid. p. 43.