Its been around 9 months since the central banks of the world (bar Japan) started to push up interest rates. This reflected a return to the dominant mainstream view that fiscal policy should aim to support monetary policy in its fight against inflation and thus be biased towards surpluses, while central banks manipulated interest rates to deal with any inflationary pressures. The central banks would somehow form a ‘future-looking’ view that inflation was about to spring up and they would push rates up to curb the pressures. The corollary was that full employment would be achieved through price stability because the market would bring the unemployment rate to a level consistent with stable inflation. So full employment became defined in terms of inflation rather than sufficient jobs to meet the desires of the workforce. This is the so-called NAIRU consensus that has dominated the academy and policy makers since the 1970s. During the pandemic, it was abandoned and there was hope, particularly after statements made by the US Federal Reserve that this approach had unnecessarily resulted in elevated levels of unemployment for decades, that central bankers would target low unemployment as well as price stability. Progressive economists, of course, rejected the whole deal, noting that monetary policy shifts created uncertain distributional outcomes (creditors gain, debtors lose when rates rise) and also rising interest rates add to business costs which provoke further price rises. Anyway, after a short respite from this pernicious NAIRU logic, we are back to square one with central banks pushing up rates. The Bank of Japan is now standing, again, in the wilderness, resisting this logic and demonstrating how government should deal with the sort of pressures being felt around the globe. And who isn’t happy? The grandstanding financial markets who thought they could make a quick buck but have come up against an ideology that rejects their claim to dominance. That is a happy story.
Today (January 25, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2022. It showed that the CPI rose 1.8 per cent in the quarter (down 0.1 point) and over the 12 months by 7.8 per cent (up 0.5 points). So, the annual inflation rate in Australia was higher in the December-quarter, but, the quarterly rate was lower, suggesting that the current episode is losing steam. The major sources of price increases are temporary – overshoots on pre-pandemic travel and holidays, anti-competitive cartel behaviour and the War in Ukraine. These influences are supplemented by shortages of building materials due to bushfires and food price inflation due to the major floods. The correct policy response should be to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises at present. Increasing interest rates again will not solve the problem that is already abating.
It’s Wednesday and I am still not up to full blog speed after a week doing other things. But I am getting there. Today we consider the latest inflation data from Australia, some fun in the Guardian newspaper and some nonsense about debt ceilings in the US. Then a visit to Paris.
Today, I make available a video session that I recorded in Japan while I was working there in the latter part of this year. It sets out a range of interesting topics that form, in part, the research program that my colleagues and I at Kyoto University have mapped out to work on in the coming year. I hope that by the end of 2023 we will have advanced this program and perhaps will be able to stage some sort of event (Covid permitting) in Japan later next year to spread the knowledge.
It’s Wednesday and also a holiday period, so just a few things today. First, I discuss a research paper that has concluded that central bankers have been using the wrong model for years which has resulted in flawed estimates of the state of capacity utilisation, and, in turn, created excessive unemployment. Second, we have a little Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) primer before going to the beach.
The hysteria surrounding the decision by the Bank of Japan (released December 19, 2022) to make a minor adjustment to its yield curve control ceiling on Japanese government 10-year bonds has been predictable but uninformed and full of vested interest agendas. You know the type of agenda that investment bankers engage in where they consistently pump out their media statements, which are soaked up by the financial media as if they are knowledge that needs repeating, that claim interest rates have to rise to deal with some inflation emergency or something. The media doesn’t tell the public who absorb this stuff that the actual agenda is that bankers want higher interest rates because they make more profit and that the reason the media statements give is largely fiction. So we are seeing more of that in the last few days. My understanding of the decision is that it does not signal a fundamental change in monetary policy in Japan. It is a minor shift to tweak the interface between the government bond market and the corporate bond market in order to maintain financial stability – the most important role of a central bank. All those characters that are claiming the hedge funds have won and the Bank of Japan is now conceding power to them with interest rate hikes to come are not reading the room. They are just pushing their self-interest in vain. No interest rates went up and my reading of the statement and what I know informally via contacts is that the Bank is committed to its current policy position because it considers, as I do, the inflationary pressures to be transitory and doesn’t want to respond to an ephemeral problem by creating a more entrenched problem of real economy recession and rising unemployment.
It’s Wednesday, and I have two things to write about briefly before exposing readers to some more music. First, the evidential base for my ‘this inflationary period is transitory’ narrative gains more weight. The latest CPI data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that inflation has peaked in the US and falling rapidly in the goods sector, which started this episode off. The second topic relates to measuring progress in the development and spread of new ideas. It is often difficult to know how far a new framework has penetrated the broader debate. But sometimes things happen that remind me of how far we have to go in changing the framing and language surrounding fiscal capacity and the related topics, that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has brought to the fore. We finish with some calming guitar playing.
Yesterday (November 30, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – which is a new data series that the ABS has introduced to augment the quarterly CPI index release. Regular readers will know that I have considered this period of inflation to be transitory, which means that it is likely to dissipate rather quickly once the driving factors abate. It doesn’t mean that those driving factors are necessarily short-term in horizon. They might persist. But the important point is that second-round propagating mechanisms such as the wage-price distributional battle over markups are not present as they were in the 1970s, which is why that episode had a life of its own once the initial oil price supply shock adjustment was made. The other significant aspect of my assessment is that this current inflationary period does not indicate excessive fiscal support nor does it justify central banks hiking interest rates. The drivers at present are originating from the supply-side (pandemic, long Covid, OPEC+ and the Ukraine situation) and are not sensitive to any degree to interest rate changes. I have received a lot of criticism for holding this view. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is dead crowd constantly E-mail me or try to push acrid comments on this blog telling me to get another life or end my existing one. The problem for them is that the latest data from around the world is telling me that this period of inflation is peaking as the supply drivers start to wane.
The IMF published a new blog the other day (November 21, 2022) – How Fiscal Restraint Can Help Fight Inflation – which demonstrates that the organisation is still stuck in a New Keynesian world and despite all the empirical dissonance that has been building over the last decades to militate against that economic approach, little evolution in thinking is apparent. The battle to dispense with the mainstream approach is going to be harder and longer than many thought.
It’s Wednesday, and before we get to the music segment, I document some developments in the banking system which are not receiving much press at the moment. I refer to the fact that the rate hikes now being implemented by most central banks are not just allowing the commercial banks to widen spreads between deposit and lending rates which will generate significant windfall profits for the banks and their shareholders. The increasing interest rates are also delivering massive cash injections to the banks who hold reserve accounts at the central banks. Why? Because the quantitative easing programs from the past have resulted in a massive buildup of excess reserves which are liabilities for the central banks. They are paying support returns on those reserve, which are scaled against the rising policy target rates. So the payments have escalated significantly and delivering a massive corporate welfare boost to the banks while the same interest rate rises are causing hardship to borrowers, especially those on low incomes. And amazing redistribution of income towards the ‘champagne socialists’ all via our central banks.