Last weekend, the senior economics writer for the Sydney Morning Herald became a salesman. He has been seemingly recruited voluntarily into the marketing campaign for Mankiw’s economics textbooks which dominate the world supply. In his textbook the Principles of Economics, which is just palpable indoctrination, students are introduced at the outset to the 10 Principles of Economics. These principles resemble the hard sell you get from a salesperson who knows their product will not stand scrutiny but wants the commission nonetheless. But Gittins, knowing his power to influence the economic thinking among his readership, presents the principles as if they are all you need to know to understand economics. What a total con that is.
Several readers have E-mailed about the concept of a multiplier in macroeconomics particularly in light of comments I made yesterday about the current debate as to whether the deficits will be expansionary and whether it would be better to cut taxes rather than increase spending. There appears to be a lot of confusion about the most basic concepts involved so this blog seeks to address some of those issues. It is not a comprehensive literature review.
Tonight we consider the tale of two countries with some other snippets of good taste included for interest. In the last few days the Japanese government has announced the largest fiscal stimulus in its modern era (since records have been kept) while Ireland announced its 2010 budget which has been characterised as the harshest in the republic’s history. Both countries are mired in recession with only the most modest signs of any recovery. So on the face of it this is one hell of a juxtaposition. What gives?
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 five questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
It was a very quiet day at the office today. The day started out pretty much as normal – a bit of a surf down at Nobbys Beach in small waves with a few of the regulars out. Then as I was driving to work I wondered where everyone was. Anyway, an easy drive. Then I noticed there were no E-mails, no newspapers, no-one at the office … and only one Twitter from Sean Carmody saying he was going off-line for the day. Maybe this is my big chance to take control of economic policy and fix the current malaise? That would be good. There would be some legislative changes immediately. The first I would make (for the US) was the topic of a report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (December 24, 2009) which noted that the US Congress had raised the debt ceiling to allow the US Treasury to borrow through to Fedruary 2010. Hmm, get rid of that legislation as a first step. Then on we would go.
It is interesting how one’s ideology screens out options and alters the way we examine a problem. I was reminded of this when I read two articles in the Times the other day (December 23, 2009) – Thrifty families accused of prolonging the recession and – No evidence Britons can save the day which both focused on movements in the savings ratio. The claim is that with UK households now saving more to reduce their exposure to debt, the UK economy is facing a double dip recession. The ideological screening arises because they seem to think it is inevitable that rising savings will lead to a deepening recession. In doing so they fail to realise that the moves by the British government to “reign in the deficit” are the what will make this inevitable. If their world view was less tainted both articles would have focused on the spurious nature of the deficit terrorism rather than the desirable trend towards rising saving ratios in Britain (and elsewhere).
Many readers have E-mailed me asking me to explain yields on bonds and sovereign credit ratings. There has been press coverage in recent days that following the downgrading of Greece, sovereign debt in the UK, France, and Spain will be downgraded unless severe “fiscal consolidation” is begun. All these places are suffering very depressed domestic conditions with high unemployment, falling per capita incomes and civil unrest looming. The last thing these nations need is for their national governments to be raising taxes and cutting spending. But the financial press are using the threats from these nefarious and undemocratic credit rating agencies to berate governments to do just that. Undermine the welfare of their citizens. Further, judging from the E-mails I have received on this issue there appears to be a lot of uncertainty in the minds of interested people about what all this means. Here is a little introduction which I hope helps.
Today I have been reflecting on minimum wages and employment. As the Australian economy slides slowly along the bottom (close to zero growth), the conservative forces are mobilising to attack the changes that the current federal government made to the industrial relations laws when they won the last election. Ex-liberal party hack (advisor) and now Director of the conservative Sydney Institute and regular Sydney Morning Herald columnist Gerard Henderson is one person who is leading the charge. While the first of the changes will not come into effect until next month, employers who have revelled in the massive redistribution of national income that the deregulation the labour market delivered to them are already enraged and looking to commentators such as Henderson for succour. The problem is that there is no argument they can make that is defensible. This will become a new battlefront for unions who seek to defend the interests of the most disadvantaged workers in the land.
The calls from the conservatives right across the globe for a fiscal retrenchment are growing. They have seen the share markets rise and Wall Street are talking billion-dollar bonuses again and so it is assumed that all is well. But the wiser heads know that the economic situation is very fragile at present and the growth process is poised delicately on a knife’s edge. It is also clear that public net spending is driving growth everywhere and that the recovery in private spending is some way off yet. The private sectors around the world have barely started to repair their precarious debt-laden balance sheets. That process will require some years of robust saving and hence will contribute to on-going spending drag. So it is interesting to reflect on some data that shows categorically the impact that the fiscal intervention has had in underwriting growth and reducing employment losses.
Last week, the Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke received endorsement for a further term from the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (popularly known as the US Senate Banking Committee). There is much controversy about this re-nomination along the lines that he was Chairman as the crisis unfolded and he did nothing about it until it was too late. There is also angst about his refusal to provide Congress with specific information about institutions that the Federal Reserve bailed out. These issues are not unimportant. But the strongest reason why he should be dispensed with is that his public statements leads any informed analyst to conclude that he doesn’t really understand the monetary system. From a modern monetary theory (MMT) perspective his comments on the monetary system are as sophisticated as the most flawed mainstream macroeconomics textbook.