Yesterday (November 29, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest - Monthly…
So the IMF has come late to the transitory inflation party. What was obvious months ago is now at the forefront of IMF forecasts. Better late than never I suppose. It is becoming clear that most indicators are still not predicting a major demand-side collapse in most nations. Growth has moderated slightly and the forward indicators are looking up. At the same time, the inflation data around the world is suggesting the price pressures have peaked and lower inflation rates are expected. Real wages continue to fall, which means that the inflationary pressures were not being driven by wages. So no wage-price spiral mechanism at play. And PMI data and related indicators (such as shipping costs, etc) suggest the supply constraints which drove the inflationary pressures are easing. So has all this been the work of the interest rate rises imposed on nations by central bankers (bar Japan)? Not likely. The rising interest rates and falling inflation are coincidental rather than causal. Which means the damage to low income debt holders and the bank profits boom from the higher rates was for what?
What were the central bankers thinking?
Now that the IMF has bought into the inflation is subsiding (quickly) one wonders what the technocrats advising the central bank monetary policy committees (variously named around the world) are thinking.
We have had this gung ho central bank push for higher interest rates (except the very wise Bank of Japan) and what do we observe:
1. Growth is still bubbling along in most countries.
The EU economy is hard to assess because of the ridiculous way that Ireland accounts for capital investment these days.
The most recent national accounts data (released by Eurostat on January 31, 2023) – GDP up by 0.1% in the euro area and stable in the EU – suggests that if you take Ireland out (which is recording a 15.7 per cent annual growth rate for the December-quarter 2022), then the EU would be close to zero growth.
For example, in the December-quarter, Germany’s growth rate was negative (-0.2 per cent) as was Italy (-0.1 per cent).
The overall EU GDP growth rate for the December-quarter was 0.1 per cent with Ireland recording 3.5 per cent.
So perhaps Europe is heading for recession.
But given what is going on there (with the Ukraine situation etc), that is hardly a surprise and has scant to do with the recent decisions by the ECB.
2. Consumers in the US are still borrowing strongly.
The data on consumer credit in the US – Consumer Credit – G.19 – published by the Federal Reserve Bank, doesn’t show any fundamental slowdown in the percentage growth in outstanding consumer credit.
3. Wages are not overtaking the movements in the CPI (see below).
4. The inflation data around the world has peaked.
5. In its most recent World Economic Outlook Update (released January 30, 2023) – Global inflation will fall in 2023 and 2024 amid subpar economic growth – the IMF has predicted there will not be a global recession.
They are predicting a ‘faster fall in inflation’ is highly likely.
6. The – Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) – data for China, which was released on January 31, 2023, shows that even though people are dying in large numbers from the hard-to-fathom health policy shifts, economic activity was strongly higher in January 2023, with domestic consumption and orders driving the economy.
The rebound in the services sector was even stronger than it was for the manufacturing sector.
The following graph shows the movements over the last 12 months up to the end of January 2023.
The message is that the supply-side constraints are easing quickly.
So we have a problem.
There is an observational equivalence issue arising.
Those who think the interest rate increases were justified will point to the turn in the inflation data as ‘evidence’ that the monetary policy shifts worked.
Those who don’t think the interest rate increases were justified (such as this writer) will argue that the turn in the inflation data has come before any identifiable impacts of the rate rises can be discerned.
Which means the two phenomena – the rate rises and the inflation mechanism – are not causally related, just coincidentally related at this time.
The former group would have to point to economies tanking into recession and total spending collapsing to have any chance of relating the monetary policy shifts to the turn in the inflation data.
After all, that is how monetary policy (rate hikes) is meant to work in an environment of demand-pull inflation – that is, too much nominal spending chasing the available supply.
But as I have argued before, this period since the pandemic began has been rather extraordinary given the supply side impacts.
So yes, we might observe pockets of excess demand (spending) which have put a strain on prices.
But if the excess demand is the result of a temporary collapse in supply, which is on the path back to where it was before the pandemic, then it is a rather dangerous proposition to deal with price pressures that may arise as if nominal demand is outstripping the ‘normal’ growth in productive capacity.
Simply because if the central banks push rates hard enough against a rather resistance demand side then they will ultimately hurt low income earners who hold mortgages, most of whom will have borrowed up to (and probably beyond given the corrupt banking sector) their limits.
Which means that if rates suddenly start rising, those households then move closer to default and loss of homes to the banks under foreclosure mechanisms.
And, meanwhile, one of the largest income redistributions is being engineered by the central banks as the bank shareholding class rubs its hands together as bank profits boom.
And while that is happening, the temporary supply side constraints start to ease and productive capacity returns to more ‘normal’ levels and the ‘excess demand’ evaporates not because of changes in the demand side but because the supply constraints ease.
The rate rises have been a flagrant abuse of policy.
The latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on workers’ compensation is further compensation that the alleged ‘wage-price spiral’ that central banks have been hinting at as justification for their irresponsible interest rate rises is an illusion or should I saw delusion.
Real wages fell in all categories – civilian workers, private industry, and state and local government.
The following graph shows the situation for these groups in terms of total compensation and wage and salaries, the difference between benefits etc that are added onto wages and salaries.
Also note the vertical scale is different in the case of state and local government workers who are experiencing much harsher real pay cuts relative to the already harsh cuts for private workers and civilians in general.
The point is that since the inflationary pressures emerged in 2021 and intensified in 2022, nominal wages across the US economy have been lagging behind the movements in the CPI.
They have not been driving the CPI shifts.
The next graph shows the data in a different way.
I indexed the real total compensation for private industry and state and local government workers at 100 at the start of the pandemic (March-quarter 2020).
The graph shows the significant real cuts in total compensation since the pandemic accelerating in 2021 and 2022.
For All private industry workers, real total compensation is about the same as before the pandemic (December-quarter 2019).
However, for state and local government workers the December-quarter 2022 outcome in real terms takes them back to the September-quarter 2016.
MMTed and edX MOOC – Modern Monetary Theory: Economics for the 21st Century – enrolments now open
MMTed invites you to enrol for the edX MOOC – Modern Monetary Theory: Economics for the 21st Century – is now open for enrolments.
It’s a free 4-week course and the course starts on February 15, 2023.
You will be able to learn about MMT properly with lots of videos, discussion, and more. Various MMT academics make appearances.
For those who have already completed the course when it was previously offered, there will be some new material available this time.
New video and text materials will be presented to discuss the current inflationary episode from an MMT perspective.
There will also be a few live interactive events where students can discuss the material and ask questions with me.
Music – for travelling
Sometimes you need to really concentrate on a new album and play it several times to appreciate the nuances and subtlety of the performance by the artist(s) and the mastering by the producer.
It was released on July 31, 2020 and was “inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
This article (June 25, 2020) – Max Richter Announces New Album ‘Voices’ – provides some background about how the readings were organised and sourced.
The album has a voiced section (with various readings) and then the voiceless version of the music.
Here is the full album, which uses what Max Richter refers to as a “negative orchestra” (“nearly all basses and cellos”).
At some stages in the album you think you hear a deep rumbling – one of the deepest sound the human ear can hear I suspect – and it is a very stark background to the negative orchestra.
The whole album is 56 minutes then repeats in voiceless mode.
My favourite track is Mercy with the solo violin played by – Mari Samuelson.
Mercy begins at 48:51 and then at the end of the second version of the album.
A breathtaking way to spend 10 hours driving a car I can tell you.
Here is a short video from Max Richter explaining the motivation of the album and its meaning.
He always has a very sound and progressive intent behind his music.
He commented on the album:
I like the idea of a piece of music as a place to think, and it is clear we all have some thinking to do at the moment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something that offers us a way forward. Although it isn’t a perfect document, the declaration does represent an inspiring vision for the possibility of better and kinder world.
He goes further in this NPR interview (August 2, 2020) – Composer Max Richter On ‘Voices,’ A New Album That Envisions A Better World.
Here is a review of the album from British Gramophone – Richter Voices.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2023 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.