Its my Friday lay day blog and I am limping into the weekend to rest up some more. There was an interesting article in the Washington Post (July 31, 2015) – Why Italy is the most likely country to leave the euro. This accords with the view I outlined in my book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – that a large economy such as Italy should demonstrate leadership in the Eurozone and pave the way for the weaker nations to restore their own growth. We would not have witnessed the torturous brutality that was dealt out to Greece recently if the Troika were dealing with Italy. The question is whether Italy is likely to provide that leadership. On July 22, 2015, Eurostat released the latest government debt data for the Eurozone which showed that – Government debt rose to 92.9% of GDP in euro area – which, of course is well above the 60 per cent threshold allowed for by the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). In the last 12 months “fourteen Member States registered an increase in their debt to GDP ratio at the end of the first quarter of 2015, twelve a decrease and in Estonia there was no change.” In the last quarter, fifteen states increased their debt ratios. Greece shows up as having the highest debt ratio but the largest reduction over the last year. But the interesting thing about the data is that Italy has the second-large public debt ratio (at 135.1 per cent) and is among the nations with the largest increases. On the numbers, Italy is being left behind, stuck in recession with high unemployment and a rising public debt ratio which will surely bring it into conflict with the Excessive Deficit Mechanism before too long.
I imagine we have all been keeping an eye on the evolving sham that is the British Labour Party election contest. When former leader Tony Blair, who will be forever remembered as being George Bush’s ‘poodle’ when he took Britain into the illegal invasion of Iraq and left a destabilised region, came into the fray urging party members to get a heart transplant if they thought supporting Jeremy Corbyn was an option, things turned really nasty. There has been a plethora of attacks on Corbyn alleging he is part of a sinister, return-to-Soviet control type candidate, an hysterical communist who wants to take Britain back to the dark ages, and more. What it tells me is that the Tories fear Corbyn as a candidate and would prefer the austerity-lite options like Liz Kendell to become leader because they know she won’t cause much trouble. What worries me is that Corbyn articulates a progressive set of values but might not yet have the macroeconomic understanding to defend them against a media attack primed to vilify anything that is not right-wing. British Labour must escape from its austerity lite prison but to do that they have to surround Corbyn with people who understand how the monetary system operates.
In the most recent take of the Greek crisis, the IMF seems to have come out as being the reasonable part of the Troika as a result of its last minute release of a document where it said that Greece’s debt position was unsustainable and that any longer-term settlement of the crisis would require “debt relief measures that go far beyond what Europe has been willing to consider so far”. But a closer reading of that report (July 14, 2015) – An Update of IMF Staff’s Preliminary Public Debt Sustainability Analysis – tells me that the IMF hasn’t learned very much at all from the disastrous and repeated mistakes they made that have deepened and prolonged the Euro crisis. They are still hanging on to the neo-liberal mantra that if only Greece had followed the ‘structural reform’ program fully it would now be out of crisis and not in need of debt relief. It is a pipe dream that only these neo-liberals can contrive when their whacky ideas are confronted with the reality of the monetary system.
When socio-economic historians reflect back in the decades to come, they will see the insanity that ruled the economic policy choices that have been taken in the last three or so decades more clearly than we seem to be able to discern as we live through the nightmare. They will conclude that arrangements such as the Eurozone was the work of lunatics who systematically undermined the prosperity of millions of people and polarised their societies as a consequence. There is no possible way that the Eurozone can be constructed as a successful monetary arrangement. The deeply flawed design of the common currency in Europe, was, in part, the product of the shift towards Monetarism and its microeconomic analogue (deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing etc) that surged back into dominance in the 1970s, after its main ideas had been thoroughly discredited and dismissed during the Great Depression. While Margaret Thatcher was not the first Monetarist government (that title goes to the government of President Giscard d’Estaing who appointed Raymond Barre as the Prime minister and Minister of Economy and Finance in 1976), her regime certainly influenced the spread of neo-liberal thinking among policy circles, particularly in the Anglo world. What is still not acknowledged is the damage done by that swing to so-called free-market policies, which would be better called pro-business capture given there was no real market forces unleashed, just an industry of parasitic, rent-seeking profiteers closely followed by the massive growth in the unproductive, wealth-shuffling financial sector. A recently released report (June 10, 2015) – The Macroeconomic Impact of Liberal Economic Policies – from researchers at the University of Cambridge lets us know more closely how damaging this period was and challenges the view that the best way forward is even more austerity and deregulation.
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 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.
This is a short update to today’s blog. I had a discussion today with a good friend who owns a significant private firm in Europe which is at the forefront of delivering innovative card payment services to banks and corporations throughout the Eurozone. He is an expert in IT solutions, has one of the best understandings of the technical structure of the financial system and the computer systems that support it. That is how he makes his living. He offered the following short additions to my blog. His knowledge is impeccable and his insights valuable.
Its my Friday lay day blog – and today we have a little digression in IT matters. The WWW site Naked Capitalism that has been less than hostile towards Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) perspectives over the last several years seems to have a fix against any notion that an exit by Greece from the Eurozone madness is a viable alternative. The logic evades me. Yesterday (July 23, 2015), they reproduced an article – Once Again on the IT Challenges in Converting to the Drachma – which is written from a ‘left’ perspective and the author claims to be one of the very few people who has any “inkling of the problem”. The author explicitly referred to my recent blog – A Greek exit is not rocket science – and noted that I had not referred to IT wants in my discussion. The arguments presented rely on a very old literature that was written for a different problem altogether – the introduction of the euro and the replacement of 11 separate national currencies and accounting and business systems. The challenges relating to that problem were solved and the knowledge is intact. Further, business systems have become much more homogenised and sophisticated since then. The exit of one Member State to create a new currency is a much smaller IT challenge. I wonder why Naked Capitalism chooses to lower its standard by on-publishing this sort of stuff.
Earlier this week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published its – Global Summary Information – June 2015 – which reported that in the period January to June 2015, the globally-averaged land and sea surface temperatures were the highest for those months since the data was first collected in 1880 (135 years). I am not a climate change expert but the array of data that I have looked at from a statistical perspective tells me that what the experts are saying with respect to global warming and climate change is probably correct – it is happening and it is happening relatively quickly. The conservative Australian government remains in denial of the global trends with respect to climate change. It is introduced various policies that have made us a national disgrace – such as, abandoning the mining and cut taxes introduced by the previous government, defunding a research institute set up to provide information about climate change, and instructing a public ‘Green Bank’ to not fund wind or solar projects. This week, the government has been castigated by a British Tory MP, who said that its approach to climate change was not that of a ‘conservative government’ and bordered on delusion. But the most important piece of data this week has been the latest figures from China that show that dramatic restructuring away from coal consumption is rapidly taking place which will undermine the viability of the Australian coal sector in the coming decade. So the ‘market’ is going to force change in Australia when it would be much better for government to plan an orderly transition away from coal.