In yesterday’s blog post – Australian national accounts – growth continues but deep uncertainty looms (September 5, 2018), my theme was that the current period of economic growth in Australia was being built on what we might consider to be quicksand – increasing household debt and a run-down in household saving. Australia’s household saving ratio is now down to 1 per cent and falling, which is taking us back to the madness of pre-GFC. By any stretch this is an unsustainable growth path. Last Monday (September 3, 2018), the Australian Bureau of Statistics published their data series – Business Indicators, Australia, June 2018 and – Retail Trade, Australia, July 2018. The latter gives a more recent estimate of what the economy is doing, given the national accounts data that came out yesterday covers the period from April to June. Things are definitely not going in the right direction. The data shows that the benefits of growth are being disproportionately captured by profits and wages are lagging well behind. Overall, this is a recipe for disaster.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest June-quarter 2018 National Accounts data today (September 5, 2018). While the economy recorded a relatively robust 0.9 per cent growth for the quarter and 3.4 per cent over the 12 months to March 2018, the economy remains reliant on household consumption expenditure, which, in turn, is being driven by credit and declining savings as household income growth moderates. There is very little growth contribution coming from the external sector and the contribution from private investment was zero. That is an unsustainable mix. All this means that the current overall growth trajectory is fairly fragile. There is a high probability that household consumption expenditure will slow right down as debt levels become unmanageable. Whether that happens will depend on the wages growth trajectory in future quarters and the outlook on that front is mixed. Overall, this is not a balanced growth outcome.
Regular readers will know that I have become interested in the concept of messaging and language to help in the practical goal of widening the spread of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) knowledge and putting really powerful tools into the hands of activists who build social and political movements. There are some great efforts underway (for example, Real Progressives in the US). On October 5, 2018, I will be launching the Gower Initiative for Modern Monetary Studies and running some workshops for them in London. This is another excellent activist group setting out and prepared to climb the hill and all the mainstream economics obstacles that are in their way. The aim is to build a network of these groups around the Globe (Italy, where there is already a solid network; Spain, similar; Germany – I will be there October 13); Finland, already solid activity; Scotland, I will be there October 10; Ireland, I will be there October 3-4, and elsewhere). On this theme, some current research, which Dr Louisa Connors and myself will unveil at the The Second International Conference of Modern Monetary Theory (New York, September 28-30), is the role that social media (among other things) plays in spreading knowledge. Regular readers will know I occasionally point to what I see as the futility of twitter firestorms where some MMT activists interact with some neanderthal-economics type who can’t get Zimbabwe typed quick enough and a drawn out back-and-forth of tweets, which can sometimes go for days, with increasing numbers of twitter addresses copied into the thread. They usually end in grief. The question is whether these social media platforms are suitable given what we know about effective framing and the type of language and strategy that is necessary to make that framing persuasive.
On August 1, 2018, the 10-year Japanese government bond yield, shot through the roof (albeit a very low one). Yields shifted from 0.05 per cent on July 31 to 0.129 on August 1, which was the largest one-day rise since July 29, 2016 (when the yield rose 0.101 per cent). The Financial Times article (August 1, 2018) – Japanese bond market jolted as traders test BoJ resolve – wrote that “traders wasted no time in testing the Bank of Japan’s resolve to loosen its target range for the debt benchmark”. So what was that all about? And what key point does it demonstrate that seems to be lost on mainstream economists who continually claim that government debt is, or can become a problem once bond markets demand higher yields? The Japanese bond market has shown once again that private bond traders cannot set yields on government bonds if the central bank intervenes. Next time you hear some mainstream economist claiming a currency issuing government is running deficits at the will of the investors (read bond markets) politely tell them they are clueless. Japan once again provides the real world Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) laboratory – every day it substantiates the underlying insights contained within MMT and refutes the core mainstream propositions. The bond market over the last month or so demonstrates that the Japanese government is increasingly net spending by using credits created by the Bank of Japan, whatever else the accounting structures might lead one to believe. With inflation low and stable, these dynamics surely put paid to the various myths that a currency-issuing government can run out of money and that central bank credits to facilitate government spending lead to hyperinflation.
Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’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.