It’s Wednesday and while there is a lot to write about, I am prioritising the release today of our latest research at the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE). The release of what we are calling the – CofFEE Financial Resilience Barometer – Version 1.0 – is part of a research collaboration I have with Professor Scott Baum at Griffith University. We have Australian Research Council funding for the next three years to explore regional resilience in the face of economic shocks, particularly after the massive disruptions from the Covid pandemic. Today we release the first output of that research. I also consider other matters today and the usual Wednesday music segment comes with a song from a leading Palestinian singer.
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.
I am in the final stages of moving office and it has been a time consuming process. And one of my regular research colleague, Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University, who occassionally provides blog posts here, sent me some research which he had written up in blog post form and with time short today, here is Scott’s latest guest spot. Today he is going to talk about a new analysis of financial insecurity that we are currently doing.
So in Scott’s words …
Today, I am over committed and have to travel some, and, luckily, we have a guest blogger in the guise of Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time. He indicated that he would like to contribute occasionally and that provides some diversity of voice although the focus remains on advancing our understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its applications. Today he is going to talk about the current concerns about the provision of regional banking services.
Anyway, over to Scott.
In discussions about the significant differences that we have observed over the last 30 odd years between the conduct of economic policy in Japan and elsewhere, the usual response from mainstream economists, when challenged to explain the outcomes in the former nation, is that it is ‘cultural’ and cannot be applied elsewhere. I always found that rather compromising because mainstream economics attempts to be a one-size-fits-all approach based on universal principles of maximising human behaviour. So, by admitting ‘cultural’ aspects to the discussion, this is tantamount to admitting that the ‘market-based’ micro founded approach to macroeconomics is incapable of explaining situations. That is the first black mark against the veracity of mainstream theory. But when one prods further, it becomes clear that the term ‘culture’ is fairly vacuous and blurred in this defense of the mainstream framework. I respond by pointing out that essentially the monetary system dynamics in Japan are identical to the way the system works elsewhere. The institutions might have subtle variations but essentially the operations are so similar that the ‘culture’ bailout doesn’t help resurrect the appalling lack of predictive accuracy when it comes to examining the macroeconomics of Japan. Cultural aspects, however, are crucial to understanding the differences. The trick is understanding how these monetary and fiscal institutions are managed. This is where the cultural aspects impact. And, while I have learned a lot about Japanese cultural nuances, some of the more important ‘cultural’ drivers are transportable to any nation – if only we cared enough and valued people in the same way.
It’s Wednesday and so we have a few brief items relating to monetary policy and property scandals before a final music offering to calm our nerves.
It’s Wednesday and some short items that caught my interest over the last week. The FAO’s latest – Food Price Index – shows that even though food prices fell 8.6 per cent from June (to August), “the fourth consecutive monthly decline”, they are still massive inflated (13.1 per cent higher than August 2020) and the “world’s top four grain traders” are profiting from record sales in the face of supply disruptions. The World Food Program informs us that 345 million people are enduring ‘acute food insecurity’ which is nearly 3 times the pre-pandemic number. The system is not working and I have some things to say about that below. Further, latest PMI data from Europe shows that price pressures are declining, which brings into question those (with vested interests) calling for even higher interest rates. And then some music.
It’s Wednesday and I have some comments to make about yesterday’s RBA decision (July 5, 2022) to continue increasing its interest rate – this time by 50 points – the third increase in as many months. If the rhetoric is accurate it will not the last rise by any means. In its – Statement by Philip Lowe, Governor: Monetary Policy Decision – the RBA noted that global factors were driving “much of the increase in inflation in Australia” but there were some domestic influences – like “strong demand, a tight labour market and capacity constraints” and “floods are also affecting some prices”. It is hard to make sense of their reasoning as I have explained in the past. Most of the factors ‘driving inflation’ will not be sensitive to increase borrowing costs. The banks are laughing because while they have increased borrowing rates immediately, deposit rates remain low – result: massive gains in profits to an already profit-bloated sector. But the curious part of the RBA’s stance is that they are defending themselves from the obvious criticism that they are going to drive the economy into the ground and cause a rise in unemployment by claiming that “many households have built up large financial buffers and are benefiting from stronger income growth” – so the increased mortgage and other credit costs will be absorbed by those savings (wealth destruction) allowing households to continue spending. You should be able to see the logic gap – if “strong demand” is driving inflation and that needs to come off for inflation to fall but the buildup of savings will protect demand – go figure. Monetary policy is in total chaos and being driven by ideology. And to calm down after that we have some great music as is the norm on a Wednesday.
Australia is in the last week of a federal election campaign, which has been marked by a disturbing absence of any policy vision by either main party which might address the most important issues confronting society and our land. Hopefully, the conservatives will get their marching orders this coming weekend (I have scheduled a rare glass of champagne around 22:00 on Saturday, when the result should be known) and the worst government in my lifetime will be gone. The problem is the Labor opposition is also short of policy mission. They have been too scared to enunciate anything much worth thinking about on climate, housing, education, health care, urban planning etc because, as the main narrative goes, they feared being wedged by the conservative government who lacks any remotely acceptable. The rival explanation for Labor’s timidity is that they are not committed to root-and-branch reform because they are inherently neoliberal themselves – a light version of the conservatives – without the extreme right tendencies on gender and those sorts of issues that dominate conservative politics. So, for whatever reason, the main challenges ahead are not being prosecuted by the major parties, which means our society will just be compounding the unsustainable evolution under the neoliberals and the price we will increasingly pay is rising.
Australia has a dire housing crisis, particularly in the low-income or social housing end. Since the 1990s, successive federal governments, who fund the social housing, have abdicated from their responsibilities citing a lack of funds and the need to run fiscal surpluses in order to save money for the future. While it has been starving the social housing sector, it has been investing billions of dollars in its Future Fund, ostensibly to cover future liabilities. So instead of spending funds on hospitals, education, housing and other important infrastructure needs, the government has been spending on speculative financial assets in global markets, some of which have been scandalous (see below). The whole narrative has been based on the falsehood that the government is like a household and has to save to expand its future spending possibilities. That logic has killed off many valuable initiatives, including maintaining adequate social housing stocks such that now low income Australians are increasingly becoming poor or homeless due to the high cost of private-provided housing at market rents. Today, a new proposal was launched by a think tank advocated that the Australian government should borrow to build the Future Fund so it can deliver speculative returns to help fund the dramatic shortfall in social housing. That is, they are using the same logic (the government is financially constrained) to solve a problem the logic created. It would be hard to make this stuff up.