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.
Apparently, the Left/Right Paradigm is dead. This narrative keeps coming back. In the 1980s, when governments, coopted by corporate lobby groups, went on a privatisation spree, which transferred billions of dollars worth of public assets into the hands of private wealth holders, and enriched lawyers, management consultants etc into the bargain, we were told that we are all capitalists now because our pension funds bought the assets. Joke. Anyway, I keep reading and being told that there is no longer any meaningful distinction between Left and Right, with both falling into the hands of totalitarian discourse. Even so-called progressives advocate that the traditional Left should partner up with the traditional Right (and far Right) to keep ‘centrists’ out of power or to stop governments taking basic actions to protect public health. It is the ultimate victory for the neoliberals to have persuaded the Left that they have more in common with the Right than ever before. This is another example of how duped the Left has become.
Emmanuel Macron won the second-round of the Presidential election in France at the weekend (April 24, 2022), as expected. He easily beat the right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen – scoring 58.54 per cent of the vote compared to 41.46 per cent for Le Pen. Some might say that Le Pen was closer this time, having improved on the 66.1 versus 33.9 per cent from the 2017 run-off. That is true and the spatial concentration of the 2022 vote intensified with Le Pen improving her vote in the East, North, and South as well as the overseas territories. One of the notable features this year was the 28.01 per cent absentee vote (some 13.6 million registered voters), which represented more voters than actually cast their support for Le Pen (13.3 million). There is a lot of speculation about what the vote means in European terms and in Left-Right terms. I noted some commentators from the Left urging the voters with progressive inclinations to vote for Le Pen because she represented the best deal for workers. My view is that would have been a disastrous strategy for the Left to follow. That is what this blog post is about.
Australia will go to a federal election on May 21, 2022 with the current conservative government looking in bad shape and the Opposition Labor Party has been helped a little by interventions from the French president. Emmanuel Macron candidly called the Australian Prime Minister a liar which further dented his already fractured image as the most untruthful politician in Australia. I hope the conservatives are routed but, in saying that, I know it means the Labor Party will take power and continue their embarrassing pretence to be progressive, while preaching the very mainstream economics that has damaged so many of the people that the Labor politicians claim to represent. A bad situation really. We are not yet in a situation where the traditional conservative and labour parties are being challenged by new entrants to the field. The first round of the French presidential election for 2022 were held at the weekend with some very interesting results and definitely showed that the traditional political voices in France are dead – something we could only wish for in this country.
Inflation data continues to come in from various nations indicating an ongoing escalation in prices dominated by energy and cars (in the US), housing and transport (UK), housing and transport (Australia) and so on. The major question I always ask is this: What would you expect to happen after a major global pandemic that has lasted more than 2 years and is still not resolved and which has closed factories, ports, transport networks, made workers sick so they cannot work, choked shipping, kept people at home while governments have to varying extents maintained their income, shifted spending to home maintenance etc away from haircuts, and the rest of it. And then, add an uncompetitive cartel that manipulates supply to gouge profits (OPEC). And on top of all that have some bushfires and floods around the place. And to even top all of that have a character who thinks he is a Tsar invading a neighbour and creating havoc and destruction. What else would you expect? Oh, its all down to QE and fiscal deficits, I hear them say. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) again – now we know those ideas are defunct. We told you so! And repeat. Interest rates have to rise. Repeat. At least the ECB seems to understand the situation more than most, which is something.
There has been some very interesting data and other research published recently that allow us to more fully understand what is driving the current inflationary pressures. There is a massive lobby now pushing the idea that the central bank bond-buying programs and the rising fiscal support during the pandemic are responsible. This sort of narrative is coming from the mainstream economists who are suffering attention-deficit disorders (even though they get the top platforms all the time to preach their views), and, who in the last few weeks have become increasingly vehement and personal in their attacks on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Their actions are a sign that the cognitive dissonance is getting to them and they realise they have been left behind. But the evidence that is continually coming out across a number of indicators continues to reaffirm my view that the current inflationary spikes are being driven by the total abnormal circumstances the world has found itself in as a result of the pandemic. The usual institutional and structural drivers of an inflation – which were certainly prominent in the 1970s – seem to be absent at present. I will present further research next week on this topic as I build further evidence.
Last week (January 20, 2022), Eurostat released the latest inflation data – Annual inflation up to 5.0% in the euro area – which followed the release from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data (January 12, 2022) – Consumer Price Index Summary , the latter, which shocked people, given that it recorded an annual inflation rate of 7 per cent before seasonal adjustment. The Euro area inflation rate over the same period was published as 5 per cent. It is obviously hard to see clearly through the data trends given the amount of pandemic noise that is dominating. But I stand by my 2020 assessment (updated several times since) that we are still seeing ephemeral price pressures as a result of the massive disruption the pandemic has caused to production, distribution and transport systems. In a sense, I am surprised the inflationary pressures have not be greater.
I read an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) yesterday (January 16, 2022) – Ich hoffe auf Deutschland – which made me laugh really. Comedy in absurdity. It also told me that the forces in Europe are firmly against any major progressive change. I considered this issue last week in this blog post – German threats of exit rely on the ignorance of others reinforced by Europhile progressives (January 11, 2022). I know progressives thought that the invocation of the Stability and Growth Pact escape clause in 2020 as the pandemic took hold might have been a sign that things were changing in Europe after years of austerity bias. But as the days pass, more evidence mounts that there is a status quo that is being managed and it won’t be long before we see the familiar claims about excessive deficits and debt. The latest input comes from Austria’s new Finance Minister, Magnus Brunner who was reported in the FAZ article as saying that he rejects a debt union outright and hopes to win over the new German government to ensure they hold the fort. With the new German finance minister also of a similar if not more extreme persuasion about sound finance, I do not think he will have much trouble convincing the German. He also signalled that he wants to use a coalition – the “Staaten der Verantwortung” (States of Responsibility) to maintain discipline in the Eurozone. The short period of fiscal flexibility is coming to an end. Meanwhile, with the French Presidential election approaching, the Left is fighting among itself for peanuts. The old guard is not about to fall yet.
When I am asked whether I still consider the recent bout of inflation to be transitory, I say that transitory means as long as the pandemic disrupts the balance between supply and demand. Note: demand. I have been getting lots of E-mails telling me that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a fraud because of the inflation spike and our denial of the demand (spending) involvement. Apparently, the data shows that large fiscal deficits and central bank bond-buying programs are always inflationary. Good try. I last provided data and analysis of this issue in this blog post – Central banks are resisting the inflation panic hype from the financial markets – and we are better off as a result (December 13, 2021) – where I made it clear that the spikes are a unique coincidence between abnormal, pandemic-related demand and supply patterns. That couldn’t be clearer. And when that sort of imbalance occurs, with the addition of cartel-type price gouging (which has nothing to do with fiscal or monetary policy settings) then MMT predicts a nation will encounter inflationary pressures. The idea that the economy is defined by periods below full capacity when there will be no inflation and beyond full capacity when there will be inflation is not part of the MMT body of knowledge. It is more complicated than that dichotomy which we address in our textbook – Macroeconomics. Supporting this view, is a recent ECB research paper, which uses fairly advanced econometric techniques to decompose one measure of inflationary expectations in a component that reflects short-term risk and another that reflects longer term inflationary expectations. They find the former is driving the current inflation trajectory while the latter is largely stable. That means, in English, that the current inflation is likely to be of an ephemeral nature driven by how long the pandemic interrupts supply chains.
I read a story in the German press – Der Euro auf dem Prüfstand (‘The euro on the test bench’, published January 7, 2022) – which reinforced my view that progressives who think the harsh austerity-bias of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) have vanished with the invocation of the ‘general escape clause’ within Article 126 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union when the pandemic arrived are off the mark. And when the same commentators/thinkers welcomed the end of the Merkel era and the dawning of the new German government, their assessment reflected that they are trapped within the TINA to the euro thought process. Well, economists with influence in Germany certainly don’t think that and one of the bosses of the Kiel Instituts für Weltwirtschaft (IfW) (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), which is a German research institute, has called for the topic of German exit from the EMU to be debated. He believes that this will put pressure on the other Member States (particularly the so-called “Achse Paris-Rom” (Paris-Rome axis) to abandon any thought of relaxing the economic and monetary rules and force the ECB to tighten monetary policy again. The iron gauntlet of ‘schwarze Null’ is still firmly gripping the European debate.