In the Times, Danny Finkelstein argues against a temporary fiscal loosening:
Summoning up the will and retaining the minimum of political support is incredibly difficult. And fragile...Once we return to a policy of borrow and spend, how will we ever summon up the will to stop again?
I'm not sure about this. If I were a Tory wanting smaller government - and this, rather than concern about the national debt, is the reasonable argument for cutting public spending - I'd have three concerns.
1. Delaying cuts gives us the chance to make more intelligent ones. It gives us the opportunity to consult workers on where best to make efficiency savings; these are better identified from the bottom-up than from the top down. Quick cuts are bad cuts, which risks discrediting the aim of shrinking the state.
2. Cutting spending at a time when the private sector is weak isn't just a bad idea on Keynesian grounds. It's a bad idea politically. Support for cuts could be undermined by guilt by association with a weak economy.
3. History suggests that cuts now are a substitute for cuts in the future. My chart shows the point. It shows five-yearly growth in real total managed expenditure. Since the 70s there have been three periods of significant restraint: the five years to 1981, the late 80s and late 90s. All three were followed by periods of high spending. "Prudence", then, has not been a habit in the past. Quite the opposite.
This poses the danger that spending cuts now will be followed by a splurge later. Not only might this be a bad idea on Keynesian grounds - the splurge might add to strong growth and be potentially inflationary - but it would also unravel any progress towards a smaller state.
What I'm suggesting here is that it's not just Keynesians who should argue for postponing restraint. There's a case for intelligent Conservatives to do so as well. But this is the opposite of what's planned; on current policy, real TME sees its biggest fall this year, and a rise in the years after.
But then, do the Tories want to cut spending out of a genuine desire to see a sustainably smaller state? Or are they instead motivated by silly fears about the national debt and by a hatred of public sector workers and benefit claimants?