Another silly feature of the election campaign is Howard’s claim to have delivered low interest rates (and, by implication more affordable housing). The variable home mortgage rate has barely moved over the eight years from 1996 to 2004, and (IIRC) it was lower in 1996 than when Howard handed over the Treasury in 1983.
It’s true of course that in between those dates, interest rates rose to stupendous levels, as high as 17 per cent. But to the extent that Labor made this mess, Labor cleaned it up. Howard had nothing to do with it (moreover, throughout Labor’s term in office, both Howard and Hewson were consistent monetary policy hawks),
This experience also showed that the link between budget deficits and interest rates (via crowding out) is not all that strong. It’s true that, if you move from large surpluses to chronic deficits, as Bush has done, you can expect an eventual interest rate response (though no such response has appeared as yet). But improving the budget balance by a few billion dollars will have no visible effect.
So, I’m disappointed to see Latham running with the government line and promising to keep interest rates low through fiscal policy. Given that world interest rates are likely to rise over the next few years, thanks to chronic deficits in the US, it’s doubtful he can deliver on this. And while it’s good to maintain surpluses on the cash balance over the course of the economic cycle, it’s silly to promise a surplus every year.