(Ben Turner)

(Ben Turner)

One month and 60 years ago, the world was about to end. The Soviet Union had deployed ballistic missiles in Cuba, the United States imposed a quarantine around the island, and both sides contemplated annihilating the other before a peaceful solution was found. We called it the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But you don’t have to be a Marxist revolutionary to question this narrative. The placement of missiles in a sovereign country, even one 90 miles south of Florida, was not in itself an act of war. Indeed, the United States had its own station in Turkey.

Thus, the problem faced by the United States in October 1962, writes Jutta Weldes Building national interests, “it was to be interpreted specifically as a Cuban missile crisis rather than, shall we say, a Cuban missile nuisance which, while annoying, required no action on the part of the United States.”

I say this because while there are objective facts, they are still subject to interpretation and varying degrees of social construction. Take Britain’s fiscal black hole. There has been a fascinating debate simmering in recent weeks not about its size or the appropriate ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts, but actually whether it exists.

I mentioned this in a previous newsletter. But in short, the ‘black hole’ is not a divine figure handed down from above like Moses and his stone tablets. Instead, it relies on the fiscal rule that the government wants to abide by – in this case, to bring down debt as a percentage of GDP over the medium term.

BBC business correspondent Andy Verity was disconnect at this point for some time, essentially asking the question: is austerity a political choice or an economic necessity?

If it is a choice, then one could reasonably ask whether now – as the UK is about to enter what the Bank of England predicts will be the longest recession on record, and with public services coming to a standstill – Is the time right to cut spending and raise taxes to satisfy an arbitrary debt-to-GDP figure? Could it instead be a massive over-correction as a result of the market reaction to the mini-budget, based on forecasts that change according to the mood of the predictor?

Not so fast says Tim Pitt, once an adviser to former chancellor Philip Hammond. He argues that we essentially just got through a fiscal credibility crisis and that downplaying the role and questioning the judgment of forecasters is what helped get us into this mess in the first place. He also points out that the fiscal target itself is still pretty damn vague.

The government has already decided. Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt believe they cannot risk a repeat of the summer, as borrowing costs soared and the government dissolved. They know the autumn declaration will worsen the recession and further depress living standards. The fact that they’re determined to do it anyway speaks not only to the influence of markets, but also to the awesome power of how you frame a question. I guess it depends on whether you think Britain faces a fiscal crisis or just a nuisance.

Elsewhere in the paper, arts correspondent Robert Dex speaks to London institutions opposing huge funding cuts in the capital.

On the comment pages, Emily Sheffield warns Sunak that expertise will only get him so far and says we can’t blame Matt Hancock for everything. While Paul Flynn writes that after Elon Musk, the balance has fallen from his eyes on social media.

And finally, Euston Station will be displaying new £1.5m high-definition passenger information boards which we’re told are better than the current lot. Now all we need are some trains.

Have a good weekend.

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