It’s Wednesday and I have comments on a few items today. I haven’t been able to write much today because the power has been down after the dramatic storms yesterday in Victoria damaged the network and caused absolute chaos (see below). Power is mostly back on now (which is why this post is later than usual). The US CPI data released yesterday showed that inflation continues to decline and the so-called ‘surprise’ that seems to have shocked the ‘markets’ are mostly down to the eccentric way the US Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates housing costs. The data provides no justification for further rate hikes in the US or anywhere else for that matter. I also report on an interesting survey from Japan regarding local attitudes to foreigners. I don’t think it reflects Japanese insularity although many will conclude otherwise. Then some Wayne Shorter.
It was interesting to spend a few weeks in London recently and catch up with friends and research colleagues. It always focuses the mind on issues when one is in situ rather than gazing at data and reports from afar. My view of British Labour as being incapable of providing the British people with a progressive solution to the poly crisis the nation confronts has strengthened in the last few weeks and was emphasised once again by the decision of the leadership to backtrack on its £28 billion green investment strategy – its second U-turn on this key policy in the last few years. Touted as making Britain “A fairer, greener future” for Britain, “Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan” certainly differentiated it somewhat from the ruling Tories. Now that differentiation has been abandoned and the Labour politicians are claiming that “Labour’s fiscal rules … [are] … more important than any policy”, which is about as moronic as it gets. More of the same from the so-called political voice of the working class. I told an audience in London a few weeks ago that I considered the ‘institutions’ that had been created in the late C19 and into the C20 to give political voice to the working class had past their use-by date and were no longer fit for purpose. The British Labour Party is one such institution and it has been so captured by ‘conservatism’ of the worst type (sound finance etc) that it no longer is capable of delivering sustainable prosperity.
I read an interesting report in the last few days – The Economics of the Food System Transformation – published on January 29, 2024 by the – Food Systems Economics Commission (FSEC) – which “is a joint initiative that brings together 21 commissioners from 19 global institutions”. The topic is very relevant to research I am engaged in at present as part of my upcoming book release on Degrowth and Capitalism. It is also relevant to my lived experience which I will briefly touch on.
I often make the point in talks that the fictional world that mainstream economists promote leads to poor decisions in the real world by our policy makers. We saw that in the 1980s and 1990s with the large scale privatisations of public enterprises, touted as employment-enriching, productivity-boosting strategies to provide ‘more money for government to spend on welfare’. We now have enough data to know that in almost all the examples the promises have not been fulfilled and the outcomes worse than what would have been had the enterprises been maintained in the public sector and motivated to provide public service rather than private profit. The same mistake is being made with the response to the climate emergency. Economists and commentators are claiming we need to ‘repeat the privatisations’ to get enough investment cash to facilitate the necessary restructuring. They are wrong and if governments, operating on the assumption that they do not have ‘enough cash’, rely on private funding for climate initiatives then the outcome will be poor for societies.
For the time being I will continue my Wednesday format where I cover some things that crossed my mind in the last week but which I don’t provide detailed analysis. The items can be totally orthogonal. The latest inflation data for Australia continues to affirm the transitory narrative – dropping significantly over the last month. I will analyse that tomorrow in the context of a recent ECB paper that decomposes the different factors that drove the inflationary pressures across the globe. Today, I consider the basis of a claim by the Australian Treasurer that real wages are now growing. Like many things in statistics, the numbers can say almost anything that you want them to via different ways of measurement and combination. In one sense, the Treasurer is correct. But when we use a more careful method of calculating purchasing power loss, he is incorrect. If the Treasurer was wanting to be really honest with the Australian people he would admit that rather than try to score petty political points against an opposition that has no clue at all. I also consider the role of the US in the on-going massacre of innocent people in Gaza. The US could stop the conflict immediately and the fact that they don’t demonstrates the poverty of the capitalist system in terms of advancing humanity in general. And some old folk music to finish.
It’s Wednesday and I have a few observations on a few things today. I have written before about how the rising interest rates in many nations, far from being deflationary, have demonstrably increased inflationary pressures. The two pathways that this impact occurs are: one, the boost to wealth among creditors coupled with significant proportions of fixed-rate mortgages provide the equivalent of a fiscal boost, and, two, the direct impact on costs to firms via their overdrafts and on landlords. The former just pass the unit cost rise on to consumers, while the latter increase rents, which feed into the CPI. But I have also been tracing another negative outcome from the interest rate hikes – the impact on investment in renewables. Here are some notes on that followed by some music with a renewable energy theme.
I read an article in the Financial Times earlier this week (September 23, 2023) – How do we raise trillions of dollars to fight the climate crisis? The answer is staring us in the face – which was written by former British Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown. The article is really just a promotion for a soon to be released book he has co-authored with characters from financial markets and mainstream economics. While purporting to be a solution to the climate challenges facing the world, it falls into the ‘progressive’ mainstream trap of coming up with just another ‘tax the rich’ plan.
I am now in a very hot and humid Kyoto having left Australia yesterday in weather that was in some places 20 or more degrees Celsius above the norm for early Spring. The heat here and back home at this time of year is rather scary given what it portends. I also do not have much time today given I have been contending with various ‘moving in’ requirements. But I read an article on the plane last night which I think marks a divide between what ‘green’ progressives think and what I think is needed. I was talking to a friend the other day who remarked he was enduring what he termed ‘ecological anxiety’. In the week that followed, bushfires across Australia have started burning some months earlier than has been the typical pattern over a long period. There are massive ‘weather’ events now all around the globe and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the sceptics to dismiss these conjunctions as random or ‘we just haven’t had data long enough’ type ruses. Some ‘green progressives believe the solution lies in governments inducing the financial speculators to shift funds into ‘green’ investments so that profitability can be safeguarded. They also believe that governments will get more money to invest this way (through providing inflation-indexed sovereign bonds). Talk about a vision for increased corporate welfare. My starting point is that we should do everything possible to keep the speculators out of our policy moves to decarbonise. It will end badly if we rely on the gamblers for the solution.
The question is when is a Labour Party a Labour Party? The answer is: When it is a Labour Party! Which means when it defends workers’ interests against capital and when it defends families against pernicious neoliberal cuts or constraints on welfare. Which means, in turn, that the British Labour Party is a Labour Party in name only and the British people have little to choose from with respect to the two parties vying for government – Tory and Tory-lite! The British Labour Party has been abandoning its traditional role for some time now and while it is true that society and the constraints on government have evolved/changed, some things remain the same in a monetary economy. And that means that the statements from the Labour leader in recent days about fiscal spending austerity and a refusal to reverse some of the most pernicious Tory policies fail to recognise the reality. More spending will be required in the coming years not only to redress the damage done by the years of Tory rule but also to meet the challenges ahead in terms of climate, housing, education, health and more. The real question should be not whether more spending is required but what must accompany that spending by way of extra taxation. In my assessment, the next British government will have to lift taxes to create sufficient fiscal space in order to meet the challenges facing the nation with extra spending. Starmer is clearly not wanting to have that debate, which means the British people are once again being deceived by their political class. Taxes will rise with growth but I doubt that will generate sufficient space for the extra spending that will be required.
There appears to be confusion among those interested in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as to what the implications for a green transition that will fasttrack the transition to renewable energy will require by way of government. I regularly see statements that government deficits will have to be ‘massive’ for extended periods because the private (for profit) market entities will not move fast enough to deal with the climate emergency in any effective way. The confusion inherent in these claims is that they fail to separate the ‘size’ of government from any particular ‘net spending’ (deficit) recorded by government. The two outcomes are quite separable and have to be if government action is to achieve sustainable outcomes, not only in terms of environmental goals but also price stability goals. So let’s work all that out. Failing to do so, leads MMT activists to make claims that open them up to criticism from those who understand the point I am making but have different ideological agendas. So they make erroneous claims such that ‘MMT just advocates big deficits’, or that ‘MMT thinks that deficits do not matter’. But they have been lured into that position, in part, by the social media behaviour of some MMT activists.