Many central bank officials have been trying all sorts of conditioning narratives to convince us that their interest rate hikes have been justified. Now they are actually defying the information presented in the official data to simply make things up. Last Wednesday (May 17, 2023), the Bank of England governor gave a speech to the British Chamber of Commerce – Getting inflation back to the 2% target − speech by Andrew Bailey. It came after the Bank raised the bank rate by a further 25 points to 4.5 per cent the week before. In that speech, he admitted inflation was declining and the main supply-side drivers were abating. But he said the rate rises were justified and unemployment had to rise because there was now persistent inflationary pressures coming from a “wage-price spiral”. The problem with this claim is that there is no data to support it.
Today (May 17, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 0.8 per cent over the quarter (steady) and 3.7 per cent over the 12 months. The media are touting how strong the wages growth is but they should be focusing on the fact that Australia’s nominal wage growth remains well below that necessary to restore the purchasing power losses arising from price level inflation. Even though the inflation rate is falling significantly and nominal wages growth has picked up a bit, the problem still remains – real wages have now fallen for 8 consecutive quarters (2 years). Further with the gap between productivity growth and the declining real wages increasing, the massive redistribution of national income away from wages to profits continues. Further, the conduct of the RBA in this environment is contributing to the damage that workers are enduring. They continue to claim there is a threat of a wages breakout and so interest rates have to keep rising to create the necessary unemployment increase to prevent that from happening. It is just a ruse. The rising unemployment will be for nothing other than to repress real wages furthers. And meanwhile, the RBA interest rate hikes are driving up prices (for example, via the rent squeeze).
In my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale (published May 2015) – I traced in considerable detail the events and views that led to the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU, aka the Eurozone) once the Treaty of Maastricht was pushed through as the most advanced form of neoliberalism at that time. The difference between the EMU and other nations who have adopted neoliberal policies is that in the former case the ideology is embedded in the treaties, that is, in the constitutional system, which is almost impossible to change in any progressive way. In the latter case, voters can get rid of the ideology by voting the party that propagates it out of office. It is true that in current period, even the parties in the social democratic tradition have become neoliberal and there is little choice. But the EMU is different and has entrenched the most destructive ideology in its legal structures. We are reminded of this recently (April 26, 2023), when the European Commission released its latest missive – Commission proposes new economic governance rules fit for the future. Once operational, the policies advocated in this new governance structure will ensure that Europeans are once again made to endure persistent and elevated levels of unemployment and continued deterioration in the quality and scope of public infrastructure and welfare provision. The collapse of this ideological nightmare cannot come soon enough.
The – Washington Consensus – has been out in full force this week with the US Federal Reserve and the RBA increasing interest rates further despite all the indications that inflation peaked months ago and its downward trajectory has had little if anything to do with the ridiculous interest rate rises since early 2022. Both banks, along with most other central banks, are just thumbing through the New Keynesian textbook to get their direction and pretending to be capable of assessing the situation correctly. Neither the textbooks nor the assessments are remotely accurate and unnecessary pain is just being inflicted on low income mortgage holders. But the public barely know that there is a grand global experiment being conducted by central banks which allow us to reflect on the veracity of competing economic theories and approaches. Most central banks are hiking rates at present as a reflection of the dominance of the New Keynesian prioritisation of monetary policy as a counter-stabilising, anti-inflationary policy tool over fiscal policy. One central bank is not following suit – the Bank of Japan. The BOJ has not shifted rates, is maintaining its yield curve control policy and the government is expanding fiscal policy. The diametric opposite to the New Keynesian approach. We now have enough data to assess the relative merits of the two approaches. Japan has lower inflation, no currency crisis and its citizens are better off as a result of the monetary-fiscal policy initiatives.
It’s Wednesday, and we have a few observations on recent events including a music feature. But the main issue in the last 24 hours is the decision by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to add an 11th interest rate increase at a time when inflation is falling significantly. As I noted last week, the narrative is now shifting among these characters – it is all about inflation not falling ‘fast enough’ and they still claim a wages explosion is likely unless they get inflation down more quickly. It now appears to me that the RBA has lost the plot completely. I have written regularly about this in the last 12 months, but today I have been exploring new data which shows that rising interest rates create a vicious circle of higher inflation which then precipitate further higher interest rates. My recommendation is that the Federal treasurer should use his powers under the RBA Act 1959 and overrule the RBA governor and his board and freeze interest rates. We have to stop this RBA madness somehow!
Today (April 26, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2023. It showed that the CPI rose 1.4 per cent in the quarter (down 0.4 points) and over the 12 months by 7 per cent (down 0.8 points). The monthly data, also released today (which I do not analyse here) shows inflation dropping from 7.4 per cent in January to 6.8 per cent in February to 6.3 per cent in March. Significant downward trend as the supply factors abate. Taken together we conclude that the peak has now passed, which is consistent with my assessment that this would be a transient, supply-driven event. There are no wage pressures and inflationary expectations are in decline or steady. The laughable thing is that as the rate falls, the mainstream narrative, which continues to push for higher interest rates, has shifted from a focus on the inflation rate itself to the claim that it is now not falling fast enough. The claimed fears are now that the longer it remains at elevated levels the more chance there will be of a wage-price spiral breaking out and/or accelerating (un-anchored) expectations. Neither are likely given the situation before us and that leads to the conclusion that these interest rate boosters are just exuding hot air as usual. The major sources of price increases are temporary and in the March-quarter are the direct result of discretionary government administrative arrangements (indexation arrangements etc), which could easily be waived this year. The correct policy response should be to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises at present. Increasing interest rates again will not solve the problem that is already abating.
Remember all the hype from central bankers last year and earlier this year about how they had to get ‘ahead of the curve’ with their interest rate hikes just in case wage demands escalated and inflationary expectatinos became ‘unanchored’. Over the last 18 months, I consistently noted in various blog posts that this was all a ruse to create a smokescreen to justify the unjustifiable rate rises – given that the inflationary pressures were almost all coming from the supply side and those forces were temporary and abating. Well now, the mainstream, having pushed for the rate rises and got their way are now backtracking to maintain their credibility by claiming there are no wage-price dynamics in sight. It is a dystopia.
Over the last few decades, I have done a lot of reading and research on the way organisations and groups deteriorate into what socio-psychologists call Groupthink, which is a system of patterned behaviour that takes the group increasingly further away from reality and sees it denying basic facts while at the same time maintaining authority for its activities and work. Academic disciplines, in particular are susceptible to this sort of dynamic, because of the hierarchical structure of the workplace and the fact that the senior professors have a vested interest in suppressing any research findings that contest the work that got them to those senior posts when they were younger. The economics profession is riddled with this organisational disease. Second, I have also researched and written about the concept of depoliticisation – which involves the hollowing out of national sovereignty and curtailment of popular-democratic mechanisms. Both these phenomena are at the centre of my rejection of many of the key recommendations of the external review of the Reserve Bank of Australia – Final Report: An RBA for the Future – which was published today (April 20, 2023). While the Report purports to providing the central bank with a pathway to the future, what is really being proposed – in the form of a new monetary policy board stacked with ‘experts’ (economists) – is less political accountability (depoliticisation) and a decision-making structure that is hindered by Groupthink.
Last week (April 11, 2023), the IMF released their half-yearly update – World Economic Outlook: A Rocky Recovery, April 2023 – which excited the headlines in the media with predictions of gloom and calls for fiscal austerity and more interest rate hikes. The only good thing about these reports every six months is the accompanying datasets, which allows for fairly quick comparative analysis across nations. Other than that, the textual narratives are pure mainstream economics Groupthink and demonstrate how if one starts from a particular and flawed set of principles, everything else that follows undermines the stated goal. This is a recurring story – we have seen this with these multilateral agencies over and over again. The point to understand is not to try to interpret these IMF reports as being knowledge-based or compiled as if they are pursuing knowledge. They are parts of the ideological weaponry that seeks to sustain and advance neoliberalism and the power relations inherent in that ideology while purporting to be expert commentary.
We start to see the absurdity of the current reliance on monetary policy as a counter-stabilisation tool, when you read the calls from the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member talking about the risk of a ‘significant inflation undershoot’. In a detailed analysis of the current situation, the external MPC member noted that inflation was falling faster than expected because the supply constraints were reversing quickly. She also noted that the interest rate hikes had now reached a point where unemployment was certain to rise and lead to, in the face of the supply reversals, to deflation. And that would require faster and larger interest rate cuts. Here is an insider admitting that the Bank of England is more or less gone rogue and out-of-step with reality. Overshoot at the top of the hiking cycle, swinging to a massive undershoot at the bottom. Absurd.