As the ComRes/Institute of Economic Affairs poll points out, the public has got completely the wrong idea about what will be happening to the national debt over the next few years. Because the coalition will be only gradually reducing the budget deficit, the national debt will continue to soar in cash terms and as a share of GDP. An extra £350bn or so will be added to the national debt before the next general election, if all goes according to plan. So far, so self-evident, you may think. Yet the public – primarily because of the way this story has been reported in print, online and in the broadcast media, together with Britain’s appallingly low level of financial literacy – has no idea whatsoever about this. It wrongly thinks that the coalition is planning to “repay our debt” – and fails to grasp the key conceptual difference between the annual deficit (or extra debt) and the outstanding total national debt (a stock which keeps on growing as long as there is a deficit).
The poll asked whether the coalition would be keeping the national debt the same over the next four years, increasing it by £350bn or cutting it by £350bn. Just nine per cent got it right – 21 per cent thought it would be staying the same and an astonishing 70 per cent thought the national debt would be cut by £350bn. This is an extraordinarily depressing finding and first and foremost a massive failure of journalism. It is also a failure of political communication and of education. Given such catastrophic levels of misunderstanding about what will be happening to the economy over the next few years, how can the public possibly come to a sensible decision about spending choices? It is a bitter blow for democracy and robs the UK of the ability to conduct a sensible, grown-up discussion about what should be done to tax and spend.
It is all the more tragic, seeing as we have a tax-funded broadcaster that claims to offer 'public value':
While commercial broadcasters aim to return value to their shareholders or owners, the BBC exists to create public value. In other words, it aims to serve its audiences not just as consumers, but as members of a wider society, with programmes and services which, while seeking to inform,
educate and entertain audiences, also serve wider public purposes. Public value is a measure of the BBC’s contribution to the quality of life in the UK.
The BBC creates public value in five main ways ...
And the very first of these?
Democratic value: the BBC supports civic life and national debate by providing trusted and impartial news and information that helps citizens make sense of the world and encourages them to engage with it.EPIC FAIL.