The McKenna Rule and UK World War I Finance

Release date
01/04/2007
Reference
DP2007/08
Authors
James M. Nason; Shaun P. Vahey
Published as
Nason, James and Shaun Vahey (2007). ‘The McKenna Rule and UK World War I Finance’, American Economic Review, American Economic Association, Volume 97(2), Pages 290-294, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.97.2.290.
This paper argues that UK WWI fiscal policy followed the ‘English method’ identified by Sprague (1917) and his discussants, and revived by the US to finance the Korean War (see Ohanian 1997). During WWI, UK fiscal policy adopted the “McKenna rule” named for Reginald McKenna, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1915-16). McKenna presented his fiscal rule to Parliament in June 1915. The McKenna rule guided UK fiscal policy for the rest of WWI and the interwar period. We draw on narrative evidence to show that motivation for the McKenna rule came from a desire to treat labour and capital fairly and equitably, not pass WWI costs onto future generations, and commit to a debt retirement path and higher taxes. However, a permanent income model suggests the McKenna rule adversely affected the UK because a higher debt retirement rate produces a lower consumption-output ratio. Data from 1916-37 supports this prediction.