Does US election matter to us?

President Barack Obama

My colleague Stephanie Flanders, who knows miles more than I do about American politics, will doubtless write the definitive piece about what Obama's re-election means for the US and global economy.

I would just make a few bloomin' obvious points (please don't say "as always").

First, what happens to the American economy matters to us. One of the statistics that never fails to surprise me is how well British businesses do in America: we consistently have a trade surplus with the US.

In the words of the Office for National Statistics' Pink Book on trade, "there has been a current account surplus with the USA in all years for which data are available" - which was typically less than £5bn before 2000, but reached a peak of £23.4bn in 2005, and was an impressive £21.9bn last year.

We make the stuff and create the services that America wants, and - unlike China - without being accused by the failed contender Mitt Romney of manipulating our currency to gain an unfair advantage.

If only we didn't buy so much more from Germany, China and Norway than we sell to them (curses), the massive net indebtedness of our economy might actually start to reduce a bit.

Within Britain's balance of payments, the US is Britain's most important trading and investment partner, accounting for 18% of current account credits and 14% of debits in 2011.

Or to put it another way, economic conditions in what remains the world's largest single economy have a material impact on our prosperity.

Which is why for the British government, and the Chancellor George Osborne, what matters more than the choice of a president is that in the coming weeks the US legislature finds a way of steering America away from the so-called fiscal cliff.

Our Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in December will resist pressure to loosen constraints on public spending (the so-called "spending envelope" will not be increased, which means that any increase in public-sector investment will be financed by cuts elsewhere), is alarmed that backstop measures to reduce America's public sector deficit are draconian - and, if implemented, would force the US (and probably Britain) back into recession.

Doubtless the shadow chancellor Ed Balls will be muttering about pots and kettles. But he would probably agree that this would not be the ideal moment, with the UK economy sluggishly recovering, for our most important export market to shrink.

So the Treasury is hoping that a reinvigorated President Obama will somehow persuade a House of Representatives - whose Republican majority has been enlarged - to over-ride the prescribed $600bn of tax increases and spending cuts, due to be implemented on 1 January, with a gentler fiscal consolidation package.

Securing Congressional agreement won't be easy.

And one final thing when it comes to the British national interest: for us, almost as important as the choice of president is the selection of a Treasury secretary, which is especially so at a time when reforming the global financial system remains work in progress; and no one seems to have a clue who will replace Tim Geithner.

Update 16:05 GMT

Now that the counts are in, it is clear that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has fallen a bit.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I think it is vital for the world Economy that the US continues to grow. They need to address the deficit but if the US were to adopt a similar approach to the UK and drive the US into recession it would be disastrous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    @149 John_from_Hendon

    What you say is certainly true, but that doesn't imply that states are destined to fail. Although perhaps individuals are. This may make me an idealist, but as I cautioned I'm not an imperialist. What the modern state, with its history in tow, looks like, and how it can better represent its people will always be a work in progress: if it represents its people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    I'm interested in how differing govt timespans can drive different behaviours. The goal must surely be to encourage long term strategy? Is Obama now either a lame duck or is he free to be more radical? China goes for a 10 year strategy and has no overt opposition to argue the toss over day to day issues (like our media seems to revel in). Contrast also Norways long term policy for oil revenue...

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    In 4 years time, whatever happens in Washington and elsewhere future US elections are now decided along racial lines. Evidence, see the % of black and hispanic voters that put Obama in and the distribution of minorities in the individual states. My guess is the next Democrat leader, probably a black or hispanic person, has about 200 seats without turning up in 2016.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    UU and JfH

    On statehood, nations and order, perhaps you are both looking at the issue from too narrow a perspective... Without dismissing as obvously good/bad, consider something else:


Comments 5 of 154


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