First, the Bank of England seems to have abandoned credibility. Not to be outdone, the fiscal policy makers in government have now joined in the absurdity of mainstream policy thinking by reimposing austerity at the same time as the economy heads into recession. Milton Friedman and his gang used to claim the problem of fiscal policy was that it was practiced in a ‘pro-cyclical’ manner, by which they meant that because of time lags involved in implementation, by the time a stimulus to deal with a recession was in place and impacting, the private economy was already on the upturn – so that fiscal policy was working to push the cycle harder in the same direction. They claimed that was inherent to the use of fiscal policy, which rendered it unsuitable for use as a counter-stabilising (-cyclical) measure. The fact that that claim (which is contestable) won the debate in the 1970s is why all the central bank independence nonsense entered the scene and why New Keynesians claim that monetary policy should be the tool of choice to stabilise spending fluctuations. Now, the Tories in Britain are deliberately using fiscal policy in a pro-cyclical way – pushing the already recessionary forces further into the morass. A totally unnecessary and patently dangerous action. It almost beggars belief that they are getting away with this and the Labour Party essentially just offers to tune up the governments ‘violin strings’ a bit.
Today (September 16, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 1 per cent over the quarter and 3.1 per cent over the 12 months. There was a major discrepancy between the private sector (1.2 per cent for the quarter) and the public sector (just 0.6 per cent), which reflects the harsh wage caps that the federal and state governments have in place that are undermining the well-being of public employees. While there has been some pickup in the pace of nominal wages growth, the fact remains that workers have endured another quarter of real cuts to the purchasing power of their wage. This is the sixth consecutive quarter that real wages have fallen. There can be no sustained acceleration in the inflation rate arising from wages growth under these circumstances. Further with the gap between productivity growth and the declining real wages increasing, the massive redistribution of national income away from wages to profits continues. The business sector, as a whole, thinks it is clever to always oppose wages growth and the banks love that because they can foist more debt onto households to maintain their consumption expenditure. None of this offers workers a better future.
Yesterday (October 26, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the September-quarter – Consumer Price Index, Australia – which revealed that the quarterly CPI rose by 1.8 per cent (relatively large increase) and rose over the 12 months by 7.3 per cent, the highest annual inflation rate since 1990. The most significant contributors over the year were owner-occupied housing (bushfires wiping out materials), food (floods destroying crops), and gas supplies (cartel profit gouging). So some of the factors driving the inflation are short-term and the others will be resolved by factors outside our control. But with wage pressures absent and the most reliable indicator of medium- to long-term inflation now falling, it is hard to make a case that the rising inflation is now entrenched. 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.
It’s Wednesday and overnight there has been a Twitter storm, which like most of these Tweet Crazes, is about nothing at all and only serves to embarrass the Tweeters, not that they are aware of the humiliation. I refer to the statements made overnight by the Bank of England boss who reiterated press releases the day before in saying the Bank would not continue to prop up pension funds who had mismanaged their assets. The Twitterati seemingly didn’t really get the point. And while we are on central banking, the former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard was interviewed in the last few days (I won’t link to it) claiming in relation to the US economy that “the path to avoiding a recession is narrow because the economy is still overheating”. He then concluded that the Federal Reserve Bank “is no longer behind the curve but still has work to do to deal with stubborn underlying inflation pressures”. He thought the Federal Reserve’s funds rate (its policy rate) would go higher than 5 per cent. Planet Not Earth. To keep us on the straight and narrow after those contributions to public discourse, we end today with some piano music. Always a good idea to stay calm and reflective.
It’s Wednesday where I examine in short a few items that came to my attention in the last week and then retreat into the music segment. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates for the sixth time since May 2022. This time the increase was 0.25 per cent and the current cash rate target is 2.6 per cent. The below-expected increment has been hailed as the first central bank to ‘turn’. It tells me the RBA is now scared it has gone too far in its ridiculous show of power. It is also obvious that spending is not really responding yet to the RBA move which means that they have no real idea of what the impact of their shift in rates has been. That is the problem with relying on monetary policy as a counter-stabilising tool – it works (if at all) with long lags and by the time you see any impact it might be too late.
It’s Wednesday and as usual I just present some short snippets that have attracted my attention this week and other things that distract me from economics. Today, we don’t talk about the British royalty at all – the events this week were from another world really. But what is not from another world is the continual nonsense being spoken and written about this inflationary period and how central banks and treasuries have to tighten up to ‘beat it’. Talk about anachronism. And once we have discussed those things, I offer some soothing music to reduce the state of angst.
It’s Wednesday and today we discuss the latest inflationary expectations data from the US, which tells me that my assessment that this episode will be a transitory phenomenon, diametric to the experience of the 1979s, was sound, despite the flack I have received over the last several months. The data is now showing consistent, cross-month declines in expected inflation and the latest CPI shows an easing of the general CPI pressure. AS the supply chains return to something like pre-pandemic capacities, then the easing will continue. It is too early to say that this period of elevated CPI rises is over but it sure looks like it and wages have barely moved. Once we get our heads around that I provide some information about an interesting ‘golf’ experiment and finish with some great keyboard playing.
What a world we live in where we are snowed with propaganda from the elites about how the only way forward is that we accept “pain” or “sacrifice” to prevent some inflationary catastrophe from accelerating out of control and that if workers dare seek some cost-of-living redress as corporations go for broke in their margin push, then the pain the policy makers will inflict will be greater. The annual gathering of the elites at Jackson Hole in Wyoming over the last days has been one of those ‘can you believe this lot’ moments. First, we had the US Federal Reserve boss almost joyfully telling Americans that he will inflict pain on them because “these are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation”. At the same event, the ECB Board member Isabel Schnabel told the gathering that the central banks had to inflict higher unemployment rates to control inflation to stop wages getting driven by inflationary expectations. And then we look at wages growth in Europe and see that real wages are in free fall (dropping 5.9 per cent in the June-quarter 2022).
All eyes have been waiting for today’s release (August 17, 2022) of the – Wage Price Index, Australia – by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the June-quarter, given that the Reserve Bank of Australia has been claiming wage pressures are becoming threatening and using that as a cover for unnecessarily pushing up interest rates. Prior to pushing up interest rates over the last several months, the RBA had been signalling that they would not move on interest rates until there was a concerted increase in wages growth, which has been at record low levels for some years now. On the back of that information, many new entrants to the housing market ran up massive mortgage debts and now feel dudded by the central bank. Whatever, information on wages the RBA is privy too is not gelling at all with the official data, which continues to show that wages growth remains flat (hasn’t moved in three months) and at record low levels. The is no acceleration. Wages growth is not driving the inflation trajectory. Workers are enduring massive real wage cuts and the RBA has made that worse by pushing up mortgage rates for those exposed. The business sector, as a whole, thinks it is clever to always oppose wages growth and the banks love that because they can foist more debt onto households to maintain their consumption expenditure. But the reality is clear – there can be no sustained recovery for the economy post Covid without significant increases in the current rate of wages growth.
It’s Wednesday and so I write less on the blog to allow me to write more elsewhere. And, we get a chance to savour some music – today some of the best vibraphone playing that was recorded. Simon Jenkins wrote a column in the UK Guardian on Monday (August 8, 2022) – Who knows if Truss or Sunak is right on the cost of living crisis – where are all the economists? – which runs the line that my profession has gone to ground as the two Tory leadership hopefuls come out with diametrically opposed views as to how to fix the ‘cost of living crisis’ in the UK. Well, he could have answered his own question. Who would want the opinion of the ‘economists’ by which I mean the mainstream macroeconomists given they have an appalling record of prediction anyway. The majority are supporting the Bank of England’s kamikaze interest rate increases because they think monetary policy is an effective solution to inflationary pressures and they agree that unemployment should be a policy tool rather than a policy target. He might also have noted in his article that who gets a platform in the public debate about economic matters is heavily biased against those who might offer an alternative view. Try getting an Op Ed in the UK Guardian, for example, if you are non mainstream and not part of the ‘progressive, pro-Europe’ network in London. And on those cost of living pressures, no mainstream economist that the UK Guardian is likely to publish would propose nationalising energy supply, public transport, water supply and telecommunications anyway. Which is the best long-term solution to protect workers and low-income consumers. Further, the latest data from the US indicated that inflation has peaked and inflationary expectations are falling sharply. Did anyone mention the word ‘transitory’ around here?