On December 23, 2015, the Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders published an Op Ed – Bernie Sanders: To Rein In Wall Street, Fix the Fed – which, correctly, in my view, concluded that Wall Street (taken to be the collective of banksters wherever they might be located) “is still out of control” and policy reform has done little to alter the “too big to fail” problem that was identified in the early days of the GFC as one bank after another lined up for government assistance. Larry Summers replied to the Op Ed in his blog – The Fed and Financial Reform – Reflections on Sen. Sanders op-Ed – challenging several of the proposals advanced by Sanders. The problem is that the progressive voice of Bernie Sanders labours under some basic misconceptions about how the monetary system operates and therefore plays into the hands of those who have created the mess. Conversely, Summers clearly understands basic elements of the monetary system but continues to advocate policies which avoid addressing the main issue – the power of the financial markets.
On the Sunday before last (December 20, 2015), Spain conducted a general election, which has left the nation in limbo. Alex Tsipris, the Greek Prime Minister, still trying to hang on to the image that he is a progressive leader in some way, tweeted once the results were known that “Austerity has now been politically defeated in #Spain, as well. Parties seeking to serve society made a strong showing #20D”. I wonder who he is trying to kid … “as well” – as well as where? Certainly not in Greece, which was the implication of his tweet. And, to be clear, certainly not in Spain. While the conservative Popular Party (PP), which has overseen the most recent imposition of austerity and is firmly pro-EU and pro-euro, did not gain an absolute majority, they did win the most seats (123 in the Spanish parliament) and were well ahead of the other major austerity party, yes, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), which won 90 seats). Even the left-wing We Can party (Podemos), who won 69 seats is not planning to exit the common currency. There is no hope of an anti-austerity coalition forming.
Recently, I wrote a blog – Who is responsible for the Eurozone crisis? The simple answer: It is not Germany! – where I contended that Germany was not to blame for the Eurozone crisis. I also wrote that while Germany was not responsible, single-handedly, for the creation of the dysfunctional monetary union, its politicians were surely complicit in making the crisis deeper and longer than it otherwise could have been given the circumstances. A few weeks ago, I read an article in the Italian news (December 15, 2015) – Il piano tedesco su debito e aiuti Ue (The German plan for debt and EU aid) – which I intended to comment on when time permitted. I note that the author, one Carlo Bastasin, is also associated with the American Brookings institution, and that organisation published in English-language version of the article – Mr. Schäuble’s ultimate weapon: The restructuring of European public debts – on the same day, which makes it easier for more people to read. With Germany now the dominant economic and political force in Europe, bullying other nations to support pernicious policies in southern Europe, their latest plan demonstrates clearly that their conception of European integration bears no resemblance to a structure that might allow the common currency to function effectively in the interests of European citizens.
My blog in the next week or so will be possibly rather holiday-like given the time of the year and the fact that I have rather a lot of travel and related commitments to fulfil over that period. So I will be pacing myself to fit it all in. Today, a brief comment on an article that appeared in the December 2015 issue of The Region, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis – Should We Worry About Excess Reserves (December 17, 2015). It is that one of those articles that suggests the author hasn’t really been able to see beyond his intermediate macroeconomics textbook and understand what is really been going on over the last several years.
Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
Welcome to the Special Boxing Day Billy Blog Saturday Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
It is my Friday Lay Day blog and it is going to be relatively quick. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal (December 23, 2015) – Economists Say ‘Bah! Humbug!’ to Christmas Presents – that says a lot about how my profession struggles to appreciate reality in all its dimensions. Every year, it seems that this type of article is written. It discusses whether giving gifts at this time of year “represents an inefficient reallocation of resources”. As my friend Scott tweeted this morning it is just another example of (mainstream) rebuking parallel lines for not remaining straight.
On December 10, 2015, the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) released the – National Accounts, Quarter 3, 2015 – data, which showed that real GDP had increased by 1.4 per cent over the last quarter while real GNP had declined by 0.8 per cent. On an annual basis, real GDP increased by 6.8 per cent in the September-quarter 2015 and real GN increased by 3.2 per cent over the same period. I’ll discuss the difference between GDP in GNP later but is clear that Ireland is in terms of real economic growth leading the Eurozone at present. In narrow terms, it is also clear that over the last two years the nation has recorded consistent growth. A question that is often asked is whether Ireland defies those who claim that austerity is flawed strategy. I get various E-mails along those lines, some polite, some rude. My answer to the polite ones is that it is difficult to hold out Ireland as an example of austerity-led growth. Ireland is, in fact, a rather strange Eurozone Member State, and is more firmly plugged in to the Anglo world than other Eurozone nations. It just happens, that while the Irish government was suppressing domestic demand through austerity from as early as 2009, significant trading partners (such as, Britain, the US and China) were maintaining expansionary fiscal positions, which allowed Ireland to resume growth. Further, a narrow focus on the growth cycle misses significant aspects of national prosperity. Even with two years of economic growth, real earnings growth is flat to negative, the rate of enforced deprivation remains around 30 per cent, and there is a rising proportion of people at risk of poverty. On top of that, net emigration of skilled workers continues, which means that the official unemployment rate is much lower than it would have been if these workers had not left the country.
I think the progressive side of politics has a real problem when it is increasingly gazumped in policy insights by politicians and/or commentators from the populist, xenophobic, racist, homophobic, far right-wing. Whether Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini is all of those things or just nationalistic and far right (one of the members of his Finns party wants homosexuals and some foreigners rounded up and sent to some remote Baltic Sea island), he is certainly correct when he told the press yesterday that “Finland should never have signed up to the single currency union” and “could have resorted to devaluations had it not been for its Euro membership” (Source). Earlier this month (December 4, 2015), Statistics Finland published the latest National Accounts data for the third-quarter 2015, which showed that real GDP declined by 0.5 per cent in that quarter and by 0.2 per cent over the previous 12 months. In the past 12 months, both exports and imports declined by 3.4 per cent, the former signalling declining markets and the latter declining domestic income – both bad. Investment spending fell by 3.9 per cent in the year to September, which will further undermine the nation’s potential growth. It is now becoming the basket case of advanced Europe.
Last week (December 16, 2015), the US Federal Reserve Bank raised its policy interest rate by 25 basis points (1/4 percentage point) for the first time since 2005. In its – Opening Statement – the Federal Reserve chairperson said that the decision reflected the Bank’s judgement that there had been “further improvement toward our objective of maximum employment” and that it “was recently confident that inflation would move back to its 2 per cent objective over the medium term”. They did, however, acknowledge that “some cyclical weakness likely remains” and referred to the significant drop in labour force participation, the rise in underemployment, and the almost non-existent wages growth. Taken together, it was a strange decision to take given that the labour market is still a long way from where it was pre-crisis (unemployment has been replaced by underemployment and non-participation) and that the price level inflation is well below their two per cent target (even taking into account the extraordinary drop in energy prices).