Last week, the New York Times published the latest Paul Krugman article on inflation (which is behind its paywall). It is syndicated elsewhere and you can access it here at The Berkshire Eagle (April 13, 2022) – Paul Krugman: Inflation is about to come down – but don’t get too excited. I wondered whether the author had offered his services cheaper to the NYTs and elsewhere given his concern for inflation, and, apparently, his assertion that wages are a critical factor in sustaining it. What this article highlights is mainstream New Keynesian macroeconomics – the dominant paradigm in our teaching, research and policy circles. What it also highlights is how different the mainstream is to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), despite characters like Krugman and his fellow New Keynesians trying to tell the world that there is nothing particularly different about MMT and the way they do economics. It also provides another chance for me to add nuance to the Job Guarantee.
I have written about the so-called – Great Barrington Declaration – before. The Great Barrington reference is just the name of the town where the letter was drafted and signed during a conference and bears no inference of greatness – far from it. I was also disappointed that some Left commentators fell under the spell of the anti-restriction, lockdown, vaccine lobby that the GBD represented. What transpires is that we now have an increasing body of evidence that suggests the main assumption of those behind the GBD – that herd immunity would be reached by an open slather approach to Covid (with some protections for the vulnerable) – has not been realised. Specifically, the idea of vulnerability was poorly constructed because it didn’t foresee the increasing incidence of Long Covid. The evidence now coming out by credible researchers is that we are mostly all vulnerable to long-term debilitating effects of a Covid infection and the jury is still out on how bad this will turn out to be. And, while it is clearly a medical issue, it is also causing havoc in labour markets, with increasing numbers of workers not being able to work to full potential or at all. And with the fiscal support for incomes now largely gone, that spells trouble for low-income workers. It is also a factor that will prolong the current inflationary episode.
The debate continues as to whether the population growth slowdown instigated by the Covid border restrictions imposed by the Federal government has been responsible for the rapid decline in the unemployment rate in Australia. The mainstream view is that migration is good for the economy and adds more in net terms to overall spending (and labour demand) than the extra workers add to labour supply, meaning that it does not put upward pressure on the unemployment rate. I have always contested that view – as a general statement. The reality is that depending on the stage of the cycle and the strength of labour demand, the rate at which new entrants enter the labour force, and the size of the unemployment pool at any point in time, immigration can undermine the employment prospects of local workers. Based on some reasonable estimates, if the external border had not been closed, the unemployment rate would be around 6.9 per cent now, rather than the official rate of 4.2 per cent. The rapidity of the recovery in the unemployment rate is due to the border closures and that should condition appropriate visa policies.
It’s Wednesday and so some short discussion and news then some jazz, the latter being the highlight. I read an interesting research paper yesterday from the – Conseil d’Analyse Économique (CAE) – which is an French-based organisation that brings together professional researchers “to enlighten the government’s choices in economic matters by comparing points of view and analyses”. It operates under the authority of the French Prime Minister. Its latest public report under its – Focus – series – The effect of COVID certificates on vaccine uptake, health outcomes, and the economy (published January 18, 2022) – presents some very interesting empirical results pertaining to the impact that the enforcement of Covid vaccination certificates has had on the rate of vaccination uptake, on health outcomes (short-term) and on GDP growth rates. I consider the research (methods etc) to be credible and the results are in accord with an array of evidence that other researchers are coming up with.
It’s Wednesday and I have been digging a bit into what appears to be a growing coalition opposing lockdowns, mask wearing, vaccine rules, and vaccinations in general. The claims are that none of these things work and that the economy is better off without them. I am not writing today about these matters (I have in the past) but rather about the nature of these coalitions. One of the things that has held back progressive causes in the past is the tendency of social democratic type interests to adopt the mainstream macroeconomics, which not only limits what they can do but exposes them to accusations that the government will run out of money and cause inflation if they have ambitious programs. The pattern of progressive interests aligning with non-progressive voices is thus not new. I am seeing it again in the context of the public health debate, which, in part, explains why our world is in such a Covid-mess. It isn’t all bad today – there is some nice music to finish, being Wednesday.
It’s Wednesday and I am retaining my practice into 2022 of only offering a sort of short commentary or news with music service on this day, unless a major data release (like the national accounts) comes out. The title of this blog post was inspired by an interview I listened to on the radio the other day with a leading epidemiologist who noted Australia was becoming like some Orwellian dystopia as the national government elevates spin to new levels and effectively jettisons any semblance of leadership. We are now being treated as fools by our national and state governments on a daily basis and it is now approaching dangerous levels.
It’s Wednesday and I load up other things to do on this day and thus write less here. I also am in the process of moving offices at the University – and after some 18 years in different locations, I am now returning to the Social Sciences Building where I first had an office when I came to the University from Adelaide. Which feels sort of okay, given by opposition to economics being treated as a business discipline. But thanks to a deal I made with the University in 2007, my research centre left the ‘business faculty’ and went out on our own. Hence, my office doesn’t have to be with the other economists, which I am happy about. This morning, I read the most stupid thing I think one could ever read about economics. It came from a UK Guardian article (December 14, 2021) – Sunak warns over multibillion cost of booster programme – where the Chancellor basically disqualified himself from office. Once we get through the trauma of that sort of news, I promise there is some great music to finish with.
I usually use Wednesday to write less here. But because sometimes a data release is on Wednesday, Thursday then becomes my lighter day. And I also have to travel a lot today. But there is a relatively important issue to address. I have been receiving a lot of E-mails over the last several months that question me about my position on government restrictions with respect to the Covid pandemic. Apparently, it has seeped into the debate that the mainstream Left have been silent while governments around the world have imposed draconian social control on their citizens, which have been targeted against the workers. The questions all seems to suggest that I have been silent on that issue, which is indicative that I have adopted the ‘woke’ Left position. I beg to differ.
On November 11, 2021, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) related their BIS Bulletin No. 48 – Bottlenecks: causes and macroeconomic implications – which presents evidence that should help people who are becoming het up about the inflation numbers lately to calm down a bit. On June 8, 2021, the UK Guardian published an Op Ed I had written – Price rises should be short-lived – so let’s not resurrect inflation as a bogeyman – which I stand by. I have been criticised for dismissing the inflation threat and I regularly get E-mails announcing the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is ‘over’ and has been proven wrong by the rising inflation rates around the world. Those interventions actually break up my day with ‘humour’ – I am continually amazed how little people know who have such strong opinions. I always adopted the view that you work something out before forming an opinion. In this ‘social media’ era, the working out bit seems to have lapsed and people just jump in. That used to be called blind prejudice. Anyway, the BIS research is interesting and supports my on-going view that the current inflation trajectory still looks to be transitory and the forces that led to the supply bottlenecks will also likely unwind in the other direction to depress price rises.
Today, 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. Today, he has taken a breather from teaching and exam marking to write about the long-run uneven labour market impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the global emergency that just keeps giving. And not in a good way! Daily figures from around the world show that the pandemic’s health impacts continue to be widely felt. So, it’s over to Scott to explain how.