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.
This is an election year in the UK and unless something dramatically changes, the Labour Party will be in power for the next term of Parliament and will have to manage a poly crisis that they will inherit from 40 or more years of neoliberalism. Note, I don’t confine the antecedents to the Tory period of office since 2010 because the decline started with James Callaghan’s Labour government in the 1970s and then just got worse during successive periods of Labour and Tory rule. During that long period, there has been no shortage of economists and public officials predicting that the financial markets would soon reap chaos as a result of the public debt levels being ‘too high’ (whatever that means). The most significant chaos came in 1992 when Britain was forced out of the European exchange rate system, which it should never have joined in the first place. While all these economists are now pressuring the likely next British government to pull back on their promises to ‘assuage’ the financial markets, there is not even a scintilla of evidence to support their predictions of doom. And the Labour party leaders are too stupid to realise that.
On November 27, 2023, the Economic Affairs Committee of the British House of Lords completed their inquiry into the question – Bank of England: how is independence working? – by releasing their 1st Report after taking evidence for several months – Making an independent Bank of England work better. The report is interesting because it contains a confusing array of contrary notions. On the one hand, the witnesses to the Inquiry claimed it was “Groupthink” in operation that prevented the Bank from raising rates earlier and that it was obvious the inflationary pressures were traditional excess spending driven by excessive monetary supply growth (classic Monetarism). That assessment is contested by the alternative, which I adhere to, that the inflationary pressures were supply driven and not amenable to interest rate shifts. And the Groupthink arises because these economists consider interest rate changes would solve the inflation irrespective of the contributing factors. While the Report is sympathetic to the mainstream view as above, it then launches into a critique of the mainstream forecasting approaches. A confusing array of notions.
Today, I consider the latest development in the entrenchment of neoliberalism in the Australian policy sector, specifically, the latest decision by the Treasurer to excise his powers under Section 11 of the Reserve Bank Act 1959, which allowed the Treasurer to overrule RBA policy decisions if they considered them not to be in the national interest. This power was considered an essential aspect of a working democracy, where the elected member of parliament had responsibility for economic policy decisions that impacted on millions of people. The latest evolution will further see macroeconomic policy depoliticised and placed in the hands of a small cabal of mainstream economists who regularly advocate policies that serve special corporate interests and leave millions unemployed. I also provide a video from a TV show I appeared on in Tokyo the other day. Then some lovely guitar music. It’s Wednesday after all!
It’s Wednesday, and today I discuss the latest US inflation data, which shows a significant annual decline in the inflation rate with housing still prominent. But for reasons I discuss, we can expect the housing inflation to fall in the coming months. I also discuss how on-going fiscal ignorance allows the Australian government to avoid investing in much-needed fast rail infrastructure which would solve many problems that are now reducing societal well-being. And then some of the best guitar playing you will ever hear.
The resurgence of economic orthodoxy is a great example of how declining schools of thought can maintain dominance in the narrative for extended periods of time if the vested interests are powerful enough. In the case of the economics profession, mainstream New Keynesian theory persists because it serves the interests of capital. Recently, the IMF urged the Australian government to engage in ‘fiscal consolidation’ in order to support further interest rate hikes by the RBA aimed at reducing inflation quickly. In general, the IMF is urging nations to engage in fiscal austerity in order to bring their public debt ratios down. The problem is that even their own research shows that these fiscal adjustments on average do not succeed. And, usually, they leave a damaged society where the lower income and disadvantaged cohorts are forced to endure the bulk of the negative effects.
The IMF regularly conduct ‘missions’ to member countries, where a group of highly paid economists trot out to a capital city somewhere, hole up in some luxury hotel, and have a few meetings with Treasury officials and the like and then shoot through after the short visit back to whence they came and produce their report. On October 31, 2023, the IMF published – Australia: Staff Concluding Statement of the 2023 Article IV Mission – which attracted a lot of mainstream press attention in Australia. The message that the public received was summarised in this article – International Monetary Fund says Australia needs higher interest rates. The article carried no qualifications or reflection on the methodology. The journalists who have a high profile in the mainstream national media sanctioned without question the IMFs conclusions. That is what goes for information in these times. It is an assault on our collective intelligence really.
Given I wrote a detailed CPI analysis yesterday (Wednesday), I am using today as if it was my Wednesday post where I cover a range of topics. I was criticised on social media last week for combining in last Wednesday’s post – Launching the CofFEE Financial Resilience Barometer – Version 1.0 (October 18, 2023) – scientific material (the research project results) with commentary on the current situation in the Middle East (and music etc). I was accused of trying to drum up traffic to the research site by including an unrelated discussion on a topical matter (the situation). The point is that in my usual Wednesday post I just roam free and write about all manner of topics that I have thought about in the previous week and which I don’t want to devote a full post too. I don’t play games such as clickbait etc. Anyway, today, I promote a video of a long interview I did in September that has just been released, talk about some framing issues and provide the usual musical segment to calm us all down.
The British Labour Party officials and politicians have all been cock-a-hoop over the last week in Liverpool as they participate in their Annual Conference with the latest modelling suggesting they may win a “landslide 190-seat majority” at the next national election leaving the miserable and incompetent Tories with only 149 seats (currently 352) (Source). The contrast between the two national conferences this year could not have been greater. The Tories looked and sounded divided and like losers. The Labour Party looked like winners and united (although that latter condition has only come from the Stalin-like purge that the leadership has conducted on the Left of the Party). The Labour Party is now schmoozing the corporate bosses and each day that it passes it sounds more like what the Tories used to be like, before the rabid Right took over. That assessment is based on the promises that the Labour Party made at its recent Annual Conference. While the details are still relatively general, my assessment of the fiscal promises the Shadow Chancellor made last Monday and elsewhere is that the conditions that would be required to satisfy them will prove impossible to achieve.
During the – 1997 Asian financial crisis – when the IMF intervened and imposed harsh structural adjustment packages on the impacted countries (cuts in spending and interest rate hikes), we learned that IMF officials would swan in from Washington to, for example, Seoul, for a weekend, hole up in expensive hotels and by the end of the weekend profess to know everything about the country and what was good for it. Austerity followed. This is the way the IMF work. They apply mainstream New Keynesian macro theory on a one-size fits all basis ignoring history, culture, institutional specificity and all the rest of the nuances and complications that should be taken into account when appraising a situation in some nation. So for them, spending a day or so in some expensive hotel was the perfect place for them to ‘know the country’ – good food, good wine, air conditioning – what more is required. The problem is that besides the specifics that always need to be considered, the overriding theory is not fit for purpose, which is why the application of the IMF-model with the SAPs has been a uniform disaster for nations. The IMF though continues to operate in this vein. I read a report yesterday about sub-Saharan Africa written by a series of IMF officials most of whom seem to be French citizens who have gone to the best universities, who advocate harsh fiscal policy shifts in the poorest nations. I am sure none of their jobs or wages are at stake.