Earlier this week (April 25, 2023), I saw a Twitter exchange that demonstrated to me two things: (a) some mainstream media commentators are now understanding some of the principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and relating that knowledge to practical matters that concern them (lens being applied to values); and (b) high profile financial market players still command a platform in the media but have little understanding of what MMT is and consistently issue false statements. A lot of misinformation continues to be circulated about our work. Cursory inferences, usually based on an extrapolation of what the flawed mainstream theories say about policy interventions, are then conflated with assertions about MMT. In other words, MMT is interpreted through the terminology and conceptual structure of a rival paradigm. We reject such inferences and comparisons.
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.
It’s Wednesday and apart from music I am talking mostly about poverty – opposites indeed. The beauty of the beat against the ugliness of enforced poverty. Enforced by government policy, which if there is political will can always eliminate systemic poverty. Yesterday (April 18, 2023), a major report was released in Australia by the grand-titled Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee – 2023–24 Report to the Australian Government. It provided a series of recommendations to the new Labor government about how it should deal with poverty, disadvantage and the appalling state of income support in this country. Among its recommendations it found that “current rates of these payments are seriously inadequate, whether measured relative to the National Minimum Wage, in comparison with pensions, or against a range of income poverty measures. People on these payments face the highest levels of financial stress in Australia”. Accordingly, they recommended a “substantial increase in the base rates” for unemployment benefits and other payments. The new Labour government has already indicated it will not increase the rates in any significant way. The problem, though, is that the recommendation of the ‘Inclusion Committee’, is such that if introduced would still leave the unemployed being forced to live below the poverty line. Yet, its recommendation is now framing the ‘limit’ parameters of the debate. All sorts of so-called progressives are using the recommendation as the aspiration, which really becomes self-defeating. The ‘Inclusion Committee’ might better have been called the ‘Exclusion Committee’.
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.
This week is a big data week. Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data (April 13, 2023) – Labour Force, Australia – for March 2023. The March result is weaker than February’s strong outcome but still relatively robust. Employment rose with a bias towards full-time work and kept pace with population growth such that unemployment fell marginally. The employment to population rose modestly. Overall a good result. Some caution needs to be observed though – the underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 4.9 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.5 per cent, which indicates the labour market still has slack. The downside is that the broad underutilisation rate rose 0.3 points to 9.7 per cent and that means there are still 1,402.7 thousand Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). That extent of idle labour means Australia is not really close to full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators. The falling inflation rate coupled with the steady labour market which is maintaining relatively low unemployment runs counter to the RBA model, that is being used to justify the interest rate hikes. Guess which one is wrong?
Last Friday (April 7, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – March 2023 – which revealed continuing employment growth and rising participation with unemployment falling modestly. A good confluence of events. We have been looking for a turning point in the US labour market after several months of interest rate increases. But it hasn’t come yet. Indeed, it is going in the opposite direction to that envisaged by the Federal Reserve ‘model’, upon which they justify their interest rate decisions. Guess which is wrong? Most of the aggregates are steady and in terms of the pre-pandemic period, March’s net employment change was still relatively strong. Real wages continued to decline in the face of a decelerating inflation rate. Overall, the US labour market is steady and doesn’t appear to be contracting in the face of the Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.
It’s a holiday today in Australia and I am using the time to finish a major project so that I get started on the next (few)! I also published Episode 4 of my new podcast today. And I am listening to music so I can share that with you.
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.