Last night (May 9, 2023), the Australian government delivered the latest fiscal statement (aka ‘The Budget’), and, in doing so guaranteed that unemployment would rise. A deliberate act of sabotage of living standards for disadvantaged Australians. All the hype was about the miniscule fiscal surplus that was announced as if it is some sort of badge of honour that politicians aim for. If they went to the homes of the poor; if they visited the public hospital system that is still straining under Covid etc and years of fiscal neglect; if they examined the state of climate science; and if they just opened their eyes generally, they would see that a fiscal surplus is an indication at this stage in our history of deliberate neglect of the main challenges of the day. Sure enough, the Government handed out some dollops of cost-of-living relief to low-income families – a few pennies in the scheme of things. But while recording a surplus they still refused to lift the unemployment benefit recipients above the poverty line and ensured their would be more of the same forced to live in poverty. The priorities are all wrong and this is another neoliberal-lite effort from the Labor Party.
Last Friday (May 5, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – April 2023 – which revealed continuing employment growth and and modest declines in unemployment. While the US Federal Reserve is deliberately trying to undermine the labour market, even though the inflation rate is falling relatively quickly, the April data suggests that the interest rate increases are not achieving the aim. There is no surprise there. Monetary policy is a relatively ineffective tool to suppress demand. 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 finally showed some improvement 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.
The – Washington Consensus – has been out in full force this week with the US Federal Reserve and the RBA increasing interest rates further despite all the indications that inflation peaked months ago and its downward trajectory has had little if anything to do with the ridiculous interest rate rises since early 2022. Both banks, along with most other central banks, are just thumbing through the New Keynesian textbook to get their direction and pretending to be capable of assessing the situation correctly. Neither the textbooks nor the assessments are remotely accurate and unnecessary pain is just being inflicted on low income mortgage holders. But the public barely know that there is a grand global experiment being conducted by central banks which allow us to reflect on the veracity of competing economic theories and approaches. Most central banks are hiking rates at present as a reflection of the dominance of the New Keynesian prioritisation of monetary policy as a counter-stabilising, anti-inflationary policy tool over fiscal policy. One central bank is not following suit – the Bank of Japan. The BOJ has not shifted rates, is maintaining its yield curve control policy and the government is expanding fiscal policy. The diametric opposite to the New Keynesian approach. We now have enough data to assess the relative merits of the two approaches. Japan has lower inflation, no currency crisis and its citizens are better off as a result of the monetary-fiscal policy initiatives.
It’s Wednesday, and we have a few observations on recent events including a music feature. But the main issue in the last 24 hours is the decision by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to add an 11th interest rate increase at a time when inflation is falling significantly. As I noted last week, the narrative is now shifting among these characters – it is all about inflation not falling ‘fast enough’ and they still claim a wages explosion is likely unless they get inflation down more quickly. It now appears to me that the RBA has lost the plot completely. I have written regularly about this in the last 12 months, but today I have been exploring new data which shows that rising interest rates create a vicious circle of higher inflation which then precipitate further higher interest rates. My recommendation is that the Federal treasurer should use his powers under the RBA Act 1959 and overrule the RBA governor and his board and freeze interest rates. We have to stop this RBA madness somehow!
There is something deeply wrong with the world under Capitalism when the poorest countries in the world pay more out on debt servicing to loans that the wealthy countries have provided than they do on maintaining their health care services. I have been examining data derived from the World Bank WDI database and the IMF WEO database pertaining to the debt sustainability of the poorest nations in the world. Using 2019 data (most recent) 64 nations, for which coherent data is available, spend more on external debt services than they do on health care (Source). At the same time, the most recent assessment from the IMF and the World Bank, under their Debt Sustainability Program (DSA) shows that debt distress is rising fast across the low-income bloc of countries. The response of the multilateral institutions is to enter ‘agreements’ with these nations that impose fiscal austerity and enforce a range of changes such as privatisation, outsourcing and more. This strategy does not work and only serves to protect the assets of the rich countries and corporations. A debt jubilee is the only way low-income nations will escape the penury of debt distress and the austerity-obsessed clutches of the IMF and the World Bank.
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’.