It’s Wednesday, and we have some analysis and news and then my music segment for the week. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) stunned the nation by pushing up interest rates by 0.5 points, claiming it was the responsible thing to do given that inflation was higher than expected. They then outlined all the factors driving inflation – none of which are going to be responsive to interest rate rises. Further, when one dissects the way in which interest rate rises work through distributional effects and effects on business costs, it is not clear that increasing rates will not just add to the stimulation rather than reduce it as the RBA claims. Next, we Fact Check the Fact Checkers and after all of that we have some Tupelo Blues, to restore some sense of decorum.
It’s Wednesday and I just finished a ‘Conversation’ with the Economics Society of Australia, where I talked about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to current policy issues. Some of the questions were excellent and challenging to answer, which is the best way. You can view an edited version of the discussion below and then enjoy The Meters.
Last week, I provided a graph in this blog post – The Left/Right distinction is as relevant as ever as corporations gouge profits out of pushing inflation (May 2, 2022) – which showed negotiated wages growth in Europe was declining and real negotiated wages had fallen sharply over the last several months. I am continually on the lookout for evidence that the current inflationary episode, no matter how alarming, is not being driven by structural forces in the labour market even though unemployment rates have fallen somewhat. A music segment follows.
So, I was wrong. I thought the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) would hold the line on interest rates this month after telling all and sundry that they would be waiting until there was evidence of accelerating wages growth. They also lured thousands of first-home buyers into a hot property market on that promise, allowing the commercial banks to push mortgage debt onto these borrowers, sometimes at rates of six times the borrower’s income (massively overindebted in other words). The RBA also watched as household debt reached record levels and know that hundreds of thousands of borrowers are now on the margin of solvency. And all this was going on while the RBA promised the borrowers that they would not push up rates until that wages growth was evident. So far, there is no evidence of accelerating wages growth. There is lower unemployment, but that is mostly due to the fact that our external border has been closed for two or more years and labour supply growth has been static. That has now changed. I also thought the RBA was resisting the greedy push from the banks to increase interest rates and redistribute income from the struggling households with huge mortgages to the shareholders of the banks, who are well heeled, if anything. And I thought the RBA understood finally that the current inflationary surge has nothing much to do with excess spending in the economy. But I was wrong. Stupidity prevails.
With yesterday’s detail CPI analysis, I am transferring the news/music blog post that normally appears on a Wednesday to today. This morning, I read the newly published report from the UK-based – Institute for Public Policy Research – Health and prosperity: Introducing the Commission on Health and Prosperity (released April 27, 2022) – which provides a sobering (to say the least) evidence base for how the pandemic has impacted on Britain’s health system and labour market. As more evidence comes out from the experience of the last 2.4 years, I wonder when those who demanded nations learn to live with the virus – by basically denying its existence – will reflect on the folly of their laissez-faire positions.
Today is a public holiday (ANZAC Day) where we remember the efforts of our past generations who fought in wars. I am not very enamoured by the hype that surrounds these days – commercialisation reigns and the black/white nature of the narrative (we were good they were evil) obscures the reality of war and the political machinations that typically accompany it. In Australia’s case our involvement in several wars has been the product of unnecessary colonial master-servant type arrangements (us being the servant) and/or ridiculous alliances with the war mongering US. But the soldiers certainly did it tough and I have sympathy with that – and personal association with my grandparents and parents. But, on a pragmatic basis, my blog is taking the day off so I can use the time to finish some work that has impending deadlines. We can listen to jazz today and wonder about whether humans will ever learn that war like is being prosecuted in Ukraine at present is never a reasonable way to conduct our affairs and mediate our disagreements.
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.
It’s a holiday today and while I don’t always recognise these public events, I am today. So my blog is on holidays although I am actually just taking the chance to finish some projects off that have to be finished quick smart. But there is a music feature to listen to while wondering what I will write tomorrow (-:
The Wednesday news and music blog post. The Prime Minister has now announced the federal election will be held on May 21, 2022. I think I will concentrate on the football that Saturday rather than the election given how depressing the political situation is. They should allow only a week for campaigning because 3 days in to the current 6-week campaign it is already deeply depressing and reinforces that Australian voters, particularly those of the progressive variety are caught – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – when it comes to federal elections. Both major parties are happy to over 550,000 Australians (and their dependants) deliberately forced by government policy to live in abject poverty. Many thought that the Australian Labor Party (the leader of which couldn’t even tell the media this week what the unemployment rate actually is) would probably honour their previous promises to review the unemployment benefit system and increase the payment as a result. Given that voices from the welfare lobby, the OECD, the business lobby (and yours truly) have consistently been calling on the federal government to end the enforced poverty. Overnight, the Labor Party demonstrated their credentials for re-election. No matter what else they say in the next several weeks, the fact that they have abandoned any intent to raise the unemployment benefit nor engage in any job creation disqualifies them from office. I hope they lose. But then I hope the other rotten conservative lot lose to. An impossible set of hopes. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Speaking of the devil we can then listen to ‘Old Devil Moon’ after all of that and calm down.
It’s Wednesday and we have the music feature to enjoy following some other news snippets. Here is an argument: Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tells us that when there are fiscal deficits there is no problem with inflation. At present, inflation has been rising and there are deficits left over from the pandemic. Therefore “Tick off a loss for the modern monetary theorists amid rising inflation” because “Under MMT, the risk of inflation is considered minimal as governments that fully control their fiat currencies are believed to be able to control price levels”. Okay? So I think I better just terminate this blog today, say sorry for being so stupid, and start writing Op Eds demanding interest rates rise and governments cut their fiscal deficits immediately. But I won’t. Why? Because I am not stupid enough to mount that argument in the first place like some, who have the audacity to write financial columns that only demonstrate their ignorance. Good. Let’s have some music.