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The Economics of Glebe Street

Charlie Laidlaw on The Broons and what it means for the economy...

Help ma’ boab.  Maw and Paw Broon, the iconic cartoon stars of the Sunday Post, have had a lot to put up with over the years.  So let’s add to their misery.  Let’s turn the Broons into Great Britain plc.

Why?  Because when most people listen to the economic news, or read analysis in the newspapers, they have little idea what is being said.  That probably includes the Broon clan.

Let me explain.   As of the end of February this year, the UK’s national debt stands at £1,161.5 billion.  That’s £1.16 trillion if you use an even more meaningless word.

We know it’s a lot of money, with a lot of zeros (but how many?), but it’s a bit like looking into space.  After all, if we can’t comprehend the scale of the universe, what chance do we have of imagining what a trillion pounds looks like.

However, according to Steve, a blogger on The Writer’s Workshop (and who am I to disbelieve him?), a £1,000 stack of £20 notes would be five millimetres high.  A £1 million pound stack would be over five metres high. A £1 billion pound stack would be 3.5 miles high.

A £1 trillion pound stack would be 3,500 miles high. If laid on its side, it would stretch from London to New York, although the money would probably get wet.

Put another way, a trillion seconds equates to about 189,000 years.  At a rate of £100 a second, it would take almost 317 years to pay off the UK’s trillion of national debt.*


It’s the kind of useless factual fun, which may or may not be true, so beloved by tabloid journalists.  However, it still doesn’t really explain anything in financial terms that really means a lot.

So let’s reintroduce the Broons of Glebe Street, and try to translate national figures for debt and income into monetary values that we can all understand.

Let’s simply delete the words “billion” or “trillion.”

That gives the Broons a family debt of £1,161.  (If in doubt, please see paragraph three above).  Not too bad, but double what it was in 2008.

However, it means that, in the current year, the family is going to have to find over £46 to service that debt.  By 2017-18, interest payments alone will be some £71.

The trouble is that the Broons only earned £469 in 2012-13.  (That’s the total of all HMRC tax receipts, again with the “billion” lopped off).

To make ends meet, they additionally had to borrow £120.  (According to the Office of Budget Responsibility, the government will borrow some £120 billion this year.)

Thinking about national economics in family terms does provide a context which we can all understand.
And the fact is, if the Broons really were Great Britain plc, they’d probably now be living in a cardboard box somewhere.

Except, of course, Maw Broon would have been too sensible to let things get that bad in the first place.

*That is, according to  Quite frankly, I couldn't be bothered to verify the maths and in any case I don’t have a supercomputer.




A blog written by Charlie Laidlaw

DavidGray PR

© 2013 DavidGray PR. All rights reserved

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