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.
There have been several interrelated strands in research and practice associated with the dominance of neoliberalism over the last decades. The problem has been that these approaches have been as much enthusiastically promoted by social democratic or progressive forces as they have conservatives. Indeed, conservative political forces have gone down the ‘Trumpian’ far right sink hole and the social democratic parties have moved into the political space vacated – that is, further right than centre. Over the years we have been confronted with social entrepreneurship, new regionalism, corporate social responsibility and self regulation, volunteerism, light touch regulation and more – as part of a so-called ‘Third Way’ where class divisions are dead and the ‘market’ is supreme. More recently, so-called progressive politicians have been touting the ‘de-risking’ narrative as a way of fixing the mess left by the other Third Way approaches. Accordingly, the role for government is to de-risk the vagaries and flux of capitalism, so the entrepreneurs can make profits with surety and if there are issues the government will bail them out. It is a disastrous denial of government responsibility and will fail just as surely as all the rest of the ruses have combined to create the mess societies are in around the globe.
Despite the rabble on the Right of politics that marches around driven by conspiracies about government chips in the water supply or Covid vaccines and all the rest of the rot that lot carry on with, the reality is that the well-funded Right that is entrenched in the deepest echelons of capital are extremely well organised and strategic, which is why the dominant ideology reflects their preferences. That group appears to be able to maintain a united front which solidifies their effectiveness. By way of contrast, the Left is poorly funded, but more importantly, divided and on important matters appears incapable of breaking free from the fictions and framing that the Right have introduced to further their own agenda. So, the Left is often pursuing causes that appear to be ‘progressive’ and which warm their hearts, but which in reality are just reinforcing the framing that advance the interests of the Right. We saw that again this week with the emergence of the Tax Extreme Wealth movement and with the release of their open letter to the G20 Heads of State – G20 Leaders must tax extreme wealth. This is the work of a group which includes the so-called Patriotic Millionaires, Oxfam, Millionaires for Humanity, Earth4All and the Institute for Policy Studies. It demonstrates perfectly how these progressive movements advance dialogue and framing which actually end up undermining their own ambitions.
In my most recent podcast – Letter from The Cape Podcast – Episode 14 – I provided a brief introductino to why economic reports that project fiscal crises based on ageing population estimates miss the point and bias policy to making the actual problem worse. Today, I will provide more detail on that theme. Last week (August 24, 2023), the Government via the Treasury released its – 2023 Intergenerational Report – which purports to project “the outlook of the economy and the Australian Government’s budget to 2062-63”. It commands centre stage in the public debate and journalists use many column inches reporting on it. Unfortunately, it is a confection of lies, half-truths interspersed with irrelevancies and sometimes some interesting facts. Usually, these reports (the 2023 edition is the 6th since this farcical exercise began in the 1998) are a waste of time and effort.
Regular readers will know that I have spent quite a lot of time reading the literature in social psychology trying to understand how groups of scholars become crippled with the patterned behaviour that Irving Janis identified as Groupthink in his ground breaking study published in 1972. I feel that my own profession is dominated by this catastrophic syndrome, which has biased the policy scene towards destructive outcomes. However, even after some major calamities, which the mainstream economists were blind too (such as the GFC), the Groupthink is so entrenched and powerful that academic economists actively engage in purges of what they consider to be ‘fringe ideas’, which they dismiss as the equivalent of homeopathy (that is, witchcraft in their eyes). I read an example of this behaviour this week which indicates to me that we are a long way from seeing fundamental change in the academy which might restore the credibility of my profession in the public milieu. My advice to parents – keep your children away from studying economics!
It’s Wednesday, and we have a few observations on recent events including a music feature. But the main issue in the last 24 hours is the decision by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to add an 11th interest rate increase at a time when inflation is falling significantly. As I noted last week, the narrative is now shifting among these characters – it is all about inflation not falling ‘fast enough’ and they still claim a wages explosion is likely unless they get inflation down more quickly. It now appears to me that the RBA has lost the plot completely. I have written regularly about this in the last 12 months, but today I have been exploring new data which shows that rising interest rates create a vicious circle of higher inflation which then precipitate further higher interest rates. My recommendation is that the Federal treasurer should use his powers under the RBA Act 1959 and overrule the RBA governor and his board and freeze interest rates. We have to stop this RBA madness somehow!
Earlier this week (April 25, 2023), I saw a Twitter exchange that demonstrated to me two things: (a) some mainstream media commentators are now understanding some of the principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and relating that knowledge to practical matters that concern them (lens being applied to values); and (b) high profile financial market players still command a platform in the media but have little understanding of what MMT is and consistently issue false statements. A lot of misinformation continues to be circulated about our work. Cursory inferences, usually based on an extrapolation of what the flawed mainstream theories say about policy interventions, are then conflated with assertions about MMT. In other words, MMT is interpreted through the terminology and conceptual structure of a rival paradigm. We reject such inferences and comparisons.
I had a sense of déjà vu this week when I read the latest release from Australia’s Productivity Commission – Advancing Prosperity – which was released on March 17, 2023 and is a five-yearly exercise conducted by the Commission on behalf of the Australian government. Frankly, if the government was looking to cut spending while advancing material well-being in the community, they could simply tell the Commission to cease doing this work and instruct the staff involved to get real jobs and do something that matters. We just get a regurgitation of GIGO, that well-practiced art of pretending to have something authoritative to say while one is grabbing money out of the till at a rate of knots to advance self-interest! The problem is that the ordinary citizen is ill-equipped to understand any of the technical hoopla that attempts to shroud these types of Report in ‘credibility’, and so is at a disadvantage when trying to determine whether they should support it through the ballot box. Neoliberalism relies on and exploits our ignorance.
The Scientific Advisory Department of the Deutscher Bundestag recently (January 27, 2023) released a discussion paper – Modern Monetary Theory – An overview – which really exposes what all the opposition to our work is about. Initially, I was interested to learn from the discussion paper that I was a US economist after thinking all these years that I was Australian by birth and citizenship. Perhaps that error tells you something about the quality and depth of the research effort that the authors undertook. The paper recognises that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is “an economic school of thought that has existed for around 25 years” but is hazy on the provenance, ignoring that at the beginning there was Warren Mosler, Randy Wray and myself. Rather interestingly, the discussion paper claims that there is no disagreement among the mainstream as to the theoretical and conceptual elements of MMT. So the mainstream all agree with us now! That is quite an admission. But, as one gets further into the discussion, it becomes obvious that the authors miss the point when they start talking about MMT policies. What their critique of MMT illustrates is that the real antagonism to our ideas is that they might open up wider policy options to the public than the political process cares to admit. Or, in other words, the real problem is that an understanding of MMT exposes the TINA mantra – that allows governments to maintain policies that advance the interests of the few at the expense of the many – as wanton neglect of the responsibilities of government. That exposure, if sustained, would alter the whole policy terrain and challenge the hegemony of the elites. That is what the opposition to MMT is about.
This week, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) released the results of an independent review into its coverage of economic matters – Review of the impartiality of BBC coverage of taxation, public spending, government borrowing and debt – which was completed in November 2022. The problem is that the Investigation conducted by this Review, while interesting and providing some good analysis, misses the overall source of the bias that our public broadcasters have fallen into. The problem is not that they might be favouring political positions of one party or another. Rather, the implicit framing and language they use to discuss economic matters is largely flawed itself. And the journalists who uncritically use these concepts and terms just perpetuate the fiction and mislead their audiences.