Given yesterday’s detailed monetary policy analysis, I am using today to present an array of news items and some brief analytical thoughts on central bank monetary policy. The latter is based on a very interesting speech that the governor of the Bank of Japan gave in Nagoya earlier this week. The juxtaposition with the way the Western central banks are behaving at present is stunning. There is also some self promotion and some announcements. Then we get to listen to Ron Carter. A good day really.
It’s Wednesday and I use this space to write about any number of issues or items that have attracted my interest and which I consider do not require a detailed analysis. The issues discussed may be totally unrelated. Today, I provide my response to yesterday’s decision by the Bank of Japan to vary its Yield Curve Control (YCC) policy, which some commentators are frothing about. The change was very minor and is not a sign that the expansionary position of the Bank is shifting significantly. I also discuss the culture of denial in the US State Department and then rock out to come classic swamp.
Today, I am heading to the airport for travel to Japan. For the next several months I will once again be working as a professor at Kyoto University as part of the research team concerned with integrating the macroeconomic principles in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles into a broader framework to build national resilience in the face of climate change, demographic challenges, transport and housing challenges and more. So from tomorrow I will be in Kyoto and depending on commitments my blog posts might be a little less regular although I think I will be able to continue the usual output. I will have more to say about what we are working on, including the release of a book we have been completing from last year’s collaborations. There is also a major event planned for later in November in Tokyo to launch our latest work. I will provide details later when I know them. We are also talking about hosting an Modern Monetary Theory symposium in Kyoto next April to welcome in the Spring and the cherry blossoms. When I know more I will relate the details here. I am also working on my next book which will traverse the topics of degrowth, the sustainability of capitalism and more. Japan’s shrinking population presents an opportunity to lead the world in reducing the society’s reliance on economic growth and exploring more substantial aspects of human existence. I mapped out that argument in this blog post – Degrowth, deep adaptation, and skills shortages – Part 4 (October 31, 2022). Anyway, until I resurface tomorrow beside the Kamo River, we can listen to some music.
The media and the phalanx of mainstream economists from banks etc, the latter of which have a vested interest in interest rates rising in Japan for various reasons, are constantly predicting that the Bank of Japan will relent to the ‘market pressure’ and reverse its current monetary policy stance and fall in line with the majority of central banks. While the concept of ‘market pressure’ is held out as some economic process – something inevitable to do with basic fundamentals governing resource supply and demand – it is really, in this context, just gambling positions that speculators have taken in the hope that the Bank will relent and reward their bets with stupendous profits. So last week, the Bank of Japan announced that it was changing its policy towards Yield Curve Control (YCC), which set the cat among the pigeons again. This is what it was all about.
Last week – RBA wants to destroy the livelihoods of 140,000 Australian workers – a shocking indictment of a failed state (June 22, 2023) – I wrote about the sense of being in a parallel universe when one reads official statements from the Bank of Japan and juxtaposes them against the stream of statements coming out of other central banks. The day after I wrote that post (June 23 2026), the Japanese e-Stat service (the portal for Japanese government statistics) released the latest – Monthly CPI data – which showed that the annual inflation rate fell by 0.2 points to 3.2 per cent in May, on the back of significant easing in electricity and gas prices, in part the result of government policy aimed at reducing energy prices rises in the domestic economy. Here is some more about the parallel universe. I conclude that the experiment underway between central banks is indicating that Japan’s zero interest rate regime (with fiscal expansion) is not an inflationary factor. It has not driven dangerous shifts in inflationary expectations for businesses or households. Further, the decision by the Bank of Japan not to hike rates has reduced the cost-of-living squeeze on mortgaged households that is being imposed by the (transitory) inflationary pressures. By way of contrast, other central banks have imposed extra burdens on those with debt and are engineering a massive redistribution of income from poor to rich into the bargain. As they continue with their blindness, they are risking recession and a major rise in unemployment, which will add to the pain the citizens are enduring.
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.
In the latest IMF Finance and Development journal (March 2023), there is an interesting article by the former governor of the Bank of Japan, Masaaki Shirakawa – It’s time to rethink the foundation and framework of monetary policy. It goes to the heart of the complete confusion that is now being demonstrated by central bank policy makers. With their ‘one trick pony’ interest rate attacks on inflation, not only have they been inconsequential in dealing with that target (the so-called price stability responsibility), but, in failing there, they have undermined the achievement of the other central bank target (financial stability) and probably worsened the chances of sustaining the third target (full employment). Sounds like a mess – and it is. We are witnessing what happens when Groupthink finally takes over an academic discipline and the policy making space. Blind, unidirectional policies, based on a failed framework, steadily undermining all the major goals – that is where we are right now. And not unsurprisingly, those who have previously preached the doctrine are now crossing the line and joining with those who predicted this mess. And, as usual, the renegade position is somehow recast as we knew it all along’ when, of course, they didn’t. When you get to that stage, we need music – and given it is Wednesday, I oblige at the end of this post.
Its been around 9 months since the central banks of the world (bar Japan) started to push up interest rates. This reflected a return to the dominant mainstream view that fiscal policy should aim to support monetary policy in its fight against inflation and thus be biased towards surpluses, while central banks manipulated interest rates to deal with any inflationary pressures. The central banks would somehow form a ‘future-looking’ view that inflation was about to spring up and they would push rates up to curb the pressures. The corollary was that full employment would be achieved through price stability because the market would bring the unemployment rate to a level consistent with stable inflation. So full employment became defined in terms of inflation rather than sufficient jobs to meet the desires of the workforce. This is the so-called NAIRU consensus that has dominated the academy and policy makers since the 1970s. During the pandemic, it was abandoned and there was hope, particularly after statements made by the US Federal Reserve that this approach had unnecessarily resulted in elevated levels of unemployment for decades, that central bankers would target low unemployment as well as price stability. Progressive economists, of course, rejected the whole deal, noting that monetary policy shifts created uncertain distributional outcomes (creditors gain, debtors lose when rates rise) and also rising interest rates add to business costs which provoke further price rises. Anyway, after a short respite from this pernicious NAIRU logic, we are back to square one with central banks pushing up rates. The Bank of Japan is now standing, again, in the wilderness, resisting this logic and demonstrating how government should deal with the sort of pressures being felt around the globe. And who isn’t happy? The grandstanding financial markets who thought they could make a quick buck but have come up against an ideology that rejects their claim to dominance. That is a happy story.
Today, I make available a video session that I recorded in Japan while I was working there in the latter part of this year. It sets out a range of interesting topics that form, in part, the research program that my colleagues and I at Kyoto University have mapped out to work on in the coming year. I hope that by the end of 2023 we will have advanced this program and perhaps will be able to stage some sort of event (Covid permitting) in Japan later next year to spread the knowledge.
The hysteria surrounding the decision by the Bank of Japan (released December 19, 2022) to make a minor adjustment to its yield curve control ceiling on Japanese government 10-year bonds has been predictable but uninformed and full of vested interest agendas. You know the type of agenda that investment bankers engage in where they consistently pump out their media statements, which are soaked up by the financial media as if they are knowledge that needs repeating, that claim interest rates have to rise to deal with some inflation emergency or something. The media doesn’t tell the public who absorb this stuff that the actual agenda is that bankers want higher interest rates because they make more profit and that the reason the media statements give is largely fiction. So we are seeing more of that in the last few days. My understanding of the decision is that it does not signal a fundamental change in monetary policy in Japan. It is a minor shift to tweak the interface between the government bond market and the corporate bond market in order to maintain financial stability – the most important role of a central bank. All those characters that are claiming the hedge funds have won and the Bank of Japan is now conceding power to them with interest rate hikes to come are not reading the room. They are just pushing their self-interest in vain. No interest rates went up and my reading of the statement and what I know informally via contacts is that the Bank is committed to its current policy position because it considers, as I do, the inflationary pressures to be transitory and doesn’t want to respond to an ephemeral problem by creating a more entrenched problem of real economy recession and rising unemployment.
I have a major reporting deadline today and also have to travel interstate, which means I have no spare time at all. So for today, I am promoting a Podcast I recorded a few weeks ago with Steve Grumbine at Real Progressives. We talked about my recent period living and working in Japan and questions of culture and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The discussion goes for just over an hour and you can shorten it by fast tracking with volume set to zero the musical introduction and the musical intermission. Steve’s tastes (heavy metal) are quite disturbing (-: I would sooner like a nice quiet jazz oriented introduction. So save yourself some time and skip the music!
On July 21, 2022, the Bank of Japan issued this – Statement on Monetary Policy – which outlined that it would continue to use its capacities to implement ‘Yield curve control’, whereby the “Bank will apply a negative interest rate of minus 0.1 percent to the Policy-Rate Balances in current accounts held by financial institutions at the Bank” and “will purchase a necessary amount of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) without setting an upper limit so that 10-year JGB yields will remain at around zero percent”. Further, the Statement noted that “the Bank will offer to purchase 10-year JGBs at 0.25 percent every business day through fixed-rate purchase operations, unless it is highly likely that no bids will be submitted”. The only dissenter on an 8 to 1 vote, wanted even more easing of monetary policy! The BOJ has been implementing its yield curve control since March 2021. In the light of global trends in central banking, the Bank of Japan’s decisions are a standout and show how a sophisticated understanding of the monetary economy coupled with a desire by the Government to improve the lives of ordinary citizens expose the fictions of mainstream economics, which dominates policy making elsewhere.
Well things are going to get messier with the decision yesterday by the OPEC+ cartel to significantly reduce the oil supply and push up prices. On the one hand, when OPEC was first formed and pushed prices up, while there was significant disruption to oil-dependent nations, the substitution that followed (home oil heating abandoned, larger cars replaced by smaller cars, etc) was ultimately beneficial. So given that we need less cars on roads and less kms travelled by cars, one might consider the move to be fine. But given the way the central banks and treasury departments around the world are behaving at present, the short term impacts of the OPEC+ decision will be very damaging. How citizens endure whatever extra inflationary pressures that might emerge will depend on the fiscal and monetary policy responses. We have two diametrically opposed models: the one that most nations are following (hikes and austerity) versus the Japanese approach. I explain the difference below and predict that the latter will deliver much better outcomes for the people.
Today, I am skipping my Japanese language class and heading to the airport. I am taking up a position at Kyoto University under a JSPS Invitational Fellowship. I am working with the team in the Resilience Unit there on a project studying the design of fiscal policy for building national resilience using Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles. Resilience is an important part of the degrowth and deep adaptation agenda and I will spend some months there working on with other researchers. The – Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) is ‘Japan’s sole independent funding agency dedicated to the advancement of science’ and is overseen by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. I am very privileged to receive one of the invitations. So from tomorrow I will be in Kyoto and depending on commitments my blog posts might be a little less regular although I think I will be able to continue the usual output. Now, it is time to put my Tuesday languages class into action – along with Google translate! Some travelling music follows.
I read a lot about Japan. It has interested me since the early 1990s commercial property collapse and the subsequent fiscal and monetary policy measures that the Japanese government deployed to deal with it, which took policy settings outside the bounds that mainstream economists could cope with. These economists predicted the worst based on mindless extrapolations of their ‘theoretical’ models, which are really incapable of dealing with the real world in any meaningful way. Their worst didn’t come and some 3 decades later, with policy settings still at ‘extreme’ levels compared to the way mainstream economists think (and the policy makers are not budging it seems), Japan continues to demonstrate why New Keynesian macroeconomics is inapplicable and why Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has traction. And while Japan provides first-class public transport, health and education systems, a viable housing policy, good urban systems, and has maintained low unemployment rates even during the GFC and the pandemic, there is one feature that is troublesome – the flat lining wages growth over the last 20 years. I have been very interested in learning the reasons for this phenomenon, which sets Japan apart from most other nations (who have also experienced low wages growth – but not that low). I plan to work on this aspect, in part, when I move to Kyoto next month for an extended stay.
A few years ago, various policy makers, but mostly central bankers were keen to disabuse anyone of the notion that they were ‘doing’ Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Some were aggressive in denial, such as US Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell, who on February 26, 2019 announced to the US Senate Banking Committee that MMT was ‘just wrong’. There was a general pile on from other central bankers and commentators. No way, they were doing MMT. Okay, they were right, one doesn’t ‘do’ MMT, given it is an analytical framework (see below). But, curiously, now, the commentators are falling over themselves claiming that MMT is dead in the water given that it has been tried over the course of the pandemic to date and failed because inflation is out of control. Hilarious really. But what is interesting is Japan (as always). And I wonder whether any of these MMT critics now have considered why the Bank of Japan has not followed the lead of the other central banks that are rushing to exacerbate the temporary inflation spike by deliberately creating unemployment. It seems that there are different paths that policy makers can take within a capitalist monetary economy. They can allow corporations to profit gouge at the expense of the workers and then turn on the workers (creating unemployment) or they oversee a system where all parties (workers and corporations) take real income hits as a result of imported price pressures and wait it out. Japan is in the second category to its credit.
Yesterday’s fiscal statement analysis replaced my usual Wednesday news and music blog post, so that appears today. I have hardly any time today anyway as the commitments associated with that statement are queuing up. So, today I want to reflect on the sanity in Japan and the ECB before some Duke. So we now have an experiment underway again. Most central banks are buckling under the pressure the financial markets are putting on them to raise interest rates. But the Bank of Japan, and to a lesser extent the ECB are not. We will see how that plays out. I think the Bank of Japan has its finger on the pulse and the other central banks are going down the wrong path.
Here is Part 2 of my analysis of the claim that Japan is not a good demonstration of what happens when macroeconomic policies are pushed beyond their usual limits. I have long argued that trying to apply a mainstream macroeconomics (New Keynesian) framework to the Japanese situation yields nonsensical predictions about rising interest rates, accelerating inflation, rising bond yields and government insolvency. Nothing like that scenario has emerged since Japan has introduced economic policies that ran counter to the mainstream consensus since the 1990s. Japan demonstrates key Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles and those that seek to deny that are really forced to invent a parallel-universe version of MMT to make their case. That version is meaningless. In Part 2, we extend that analysis to consider trade transactions, the fear of inflation, and the argument that the current generation are selfishly leaving their children higher tax burdens while we party on.
Well, it’s 2022 already and we enter the 18th year of this blog. Regular readers will know that I have studied the Japanese economy in considerable detail over the course of my career and when it experienced one of the largest commercial asset price bubble busts in history in early 1992, the questions I was asking and the data I was looking out were important in framing the way I have done macroeconomics since. I consider Japan to be one of the nations that was early to embrace the madness of neoliberalism – credit binge, wild property speculation then crash – and the first nation to abandon it in favour of more responsible fiscal policy – which given the circumstances required on-going fiscal deficits exceeding 10 per cent of GDP at times. Its policy approach – including the relatively high deficits, the zero interest rate policy of the Bank of Japan, and then the massive bond-buying program by the same, became the target for various New Keynesian macroeconomists (including Krugman) to prophesise doom. Their textbook models predicted the worst – rising interest rates, accelerating inflation, rising bond yields and then government insolvency as bond markets bailed out and the currency plummetted. Nothing like that scenario emerged. Japan was playing out policies that ran counter to the mainstream consensus in the 1990s and beyond and I learned so much from understanding why things happened there as a consequence. This is Part 1 of a two-part discussion about why Japan demonstrates key MMT principles and how those who wish to deny that reality have to invent a parallel-universe version of MMT to make their case.
It’s Wednesday and my blog-light day. Today, I provide the English-text for an article that came out in the leading Japanese business daily, The Nikkei yesterday on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to the pandemic. Relevant links are provided in the body of the post. The interesting point I think is that ‘The Nikkei’ is the “the world’s largest business daily in terms of circulation” and has clear centre-right leanings. The fact that they are interested in disseminating ideas that run counter to the mainstream narrative that the centre-right politicians have relied on indicates both a curiosity that is missing in the conservative media elsewhere, and, the extent to which MMT ideas is becoming more open to serious thinkers. I have respect for media outlets that come to the source when they want to motivate a discussion on MMT rather than hire some hack to write a critique, which really gets no further than accusing MMT of being just about money printing.