Today, Wednesday, we have our regular musical feature (might surprise today) as well as a brief commentary on the growing friction between the IMF and the World Bank on what governments and central banks should be doing to address the current inflationary pressures. One says hike rates (apparently thinking that will get Russia to withdraw, Covid to go away and OPEC to behave) while the other says provide better income support and wait out this transitory inflationary phase.
According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the price of coffee has risen for 17 consecutive months and the sector is being hit with sequential shocks, the latest being the Ukrainian conflict, which is having impacts on both the demand and supply sides. I was talking with a friend over the weekend just gone and they were complaining that a cup of coffee had risen to $A7 or thereabouts, which was really squeezing people’s incomes. As a disclaimer, I have never had a cup of coffee in my life – just the aroma is enough to turn my stomach. But I was thinking about coffee over the last few weeks for another reason. I am currently doing some research on Timor Leste in anticipation of a change in the Presidency. The first round of the elections were held last weekend and it looks like Ramos-Horta will win the second round run-off in April. One of the things I am working on is a plan to diversify the nation’s exports as the inevitable decline in oil revenue starts to impact. I am also in developing models of fair trade that allow for sustainable agriculture (that is, not cash crop mania that wrecks subsistence farming and ends in farmers being locked up in international debt) but also allow the nation to diversify their export portfolio. Fairness and sustainability are good ideals to have. There is an opportunity here for a nation such as Australia to reform its ways and break out of the dog-eat-dog ‘free trade’ mantra and actually start doing some good in our region. That is what this blog post is about.
Yesterday, I published a full analysis of the national account release in Australia, so today I am pretending it is my Wednesday ‘news’ blog with the music segment that seems to be popular. The news is all floods in Australia, death and destruction in the Ukraine and big talk (about 2 or more decades too late) from the Western governments. I note that the German government has confiscated a luxury yacht owned by some Russian ‘oligarch’ (don’t you just love their terminology) while stacks of other oligarch yachts are heading or are in the Maldives to avoid such a fate. Stupid question: if these oligarchs are so bad and their fortunes ill-gotten why have we waited so long to do something? Today we talk briefly about the resolve of the RBA to resist the gambling addiction of speculators in the financial markets. We also consider a discovery I made last week that top New Zealand economists seem to support Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and then if that isn’t enough – some music.
Recently (February 22, 2022), I received the latest E-mail update from the IMF blog advertising their new post – Should Monetary Finance Remain Taboo? – which obviously attracted my attention. One of the most deeply entrenched taboos in economics relates to central banks directly facilitating government spending without any other monetary operation. In an important sense, the characterisation of ‘monetary financing’ by the mainstream economists is erroneous and leads to all sorts of fictions that undermine sensible and responsible economic policy making. But, we can work through those fictions to discuss what the IMF is talking about. Importantly, they find that this taboo, which has been broken during the pandemic in many countries (although Japan has been leading the way for decades) does not lead to enduring inflation or a rise in inflationary expectations. Another major plank of mainstream macroeconomics gone. That is something to celebrate.
It’s Wednesday, and I have been following the British Labour Party conference and it seems they are conducting business as usual. That is, working out new and old ways to keep themselves unelectable even when the Tories are one of the worst British governments in history I would think. But so it goes. A split is the only way forward I guess. The Blairites can then hold conferences, stack votes to have unelectable leaders and design fiscal rules to their hearts content. At least they will be saving me time this time around. I will just be able to cut and paste my previous critiques of John McDonnells’ neoliberal Fiscal Credibility Rule and apply the analysis to the new Rachel Reeves’ rules. Not much has changed. Who is giving this lot advice? After that, I am sure you will appreciate that the IMF is now considered to be past its use-by date and currently mired in a data-fudging scandal. And then some Rock Steady to calm us down. That’s what today’s blog post offers.
It is Wednesday and I have been quite busy today on non-writing things, including a very long lunch (yep), which may lead to progressing the development of the – MMTed – project. I also was thinking about Tunisia today. And, of course, I listened to some great jazz. So only a few snippets today as usual but hopefully something of interest.
Last week, I wrote about how the IMF is presenting a somewhat nuanced view these days. See – IMF now claiming continued inequality risks opening a “social and political seismic crack” (April 21, 2021). But, there was a warning for those who might think this suggests the institution is leaving its mainstream macroeconomics past behind them though. Rather, I think what is going on is a series of ad hoc responses to the growing anomalies that the institution faces between the observed reality and the sort of predictions it has been making based on its core paradigmatic approach. We are observing a specific form of dissonance in many of the current contributions coming out of mainstream economics. This takes two forms: (a) an incomplete response to the current situation (pandemic, GFC aftermath, climate change) where there are conflicting signals being sent; and (b) a tortured attempt to absorb pragmatic narratives within a theoretical structure that cannot consistently accept that absorption. The IMF’s latest blog post (April 20, 2021) – A Future with High Public Debt: Low-for-Long Is Not Low Forever – is a good example of both forms of this dissonance.
It is Wednesday and I have had lots of unscheduled commitments (that just come out of the blue) to attend to today. So not much writing. I did have time to read the latest IMF – Fiscal Monitor, April 2021 : A Fair Shot – which was published on April 7, 2021. The schizoid nature of this institution continues to evolve and it will be hard for the austerity mavens to unambiguously use it as a cover for their arguments when they resume their call for public sector spending cuts etc. Music follows.
Its Wednesday and only a short blog post day. I have been following the disaster unfolding in Timor-Leste over the last few days as I continue to compile research material as part of the development of a plan to increase the resilience of the Island state. We know that accumulating new public infrastructure is a key to the growth process. It crowds-in private investment, which leverages off the capacity provided by such infrastructure. A lack of essential public infrastructure is a major aspect of poverty and exclusion. While natural disasters impact on all nations when afflicted, the problem for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Timor-Leste is that they regularly face major capital destruction as a result of natural disasters and do not have the capacity to defend themselves and reduce the consequences of the events. Climate change is rendering this problem more severe. This is where the creation of a new multilateral agency to replace the corrupt IMF is necessary.
One of the major complaints that Milton Friedman and his ilk made about the use of discretionary fiscal policy was that time lags made it ineffective and even dangerously inflationary. By the time the policy makers have worked out there is a problem and ground out the policy intervention, the problem has passed and the intervention then becomes unpredictable in consequence (and unnecessary anyway). The Financial Times article (March 29, 2021) – To compare the EU and US pandemic packages misses the point – written by Ireland’s finance minister reminded me of the Friedman debate in the 1960s. Apart from the fact that the article is highly misleading (aka spreading falsehoods), it actually exposes a major problem with the way the European Commission operates. If Friedman’s claim ever had any credibility, then, they would fairly accurately describe how the European Union deals with economic crises. Always too little, too late … and never particularly targetted at the problem. The debate remains relevant though as governments move away a strict reliance on monetary policy and realise that fiscal policy interventions are the only way forward. Most governments around the world are talking big on public infrastructure projects. However, the design of such interventions must be carefully considered because they can easily be dysfunctional. Further, thinking these projects are a replacement for short-term cash injections is also not advised. I consider these issues in this blog post.