Person the life-boats! Get the hard hats out! Strife and pestilence is coming! I am wondering what all these loons – the deficit terrorists – who are now elevating a simple endogenous fiscal balance into a national emergency – will say in a few years when growth returns, unemployment falls, people start rebuilding their savings and most importantly their children do not go into slave camps making widgets to send back to the previous generation to pay for the fiscal balances and … the sky stays firmly above our heads although it does rain occasionally down on us to help farmers grow vegetables. What will these hysterical idiots say then? Today, the budget deficit has become the latest WMD. A seek and destroy mission is required. Bring out the military and attack treasury offices everywhere. Rally patriots the hour of calling is nigh?
Tonight’s blog title L’horreur Economique is taken from one of my favourite (though depressing) books by a French writer (Viviane Forrester). I will discuss the book a bit at the end of the blog. But I was thinking about it (and re-reading it) today when I reflected on the US President’s most recent Radio address on the reining in budget deficits. We – collectively – have allowed the most grotesque set of lies, half-truths and irrelevancies to become the centrepiece of the public debate on the economy. The crisis exposed the lack of credibility that mainstream economics has and should have dispatched the ideas to the rubbish bin forever. Instead, as unemployment and poverty rates continues to rise the mainstream ideas are now taking centre-stage again. And the policies that result will be to our collective misfortune. It really is “L’horreur economique”.
Three happenings in the last 24 hours confirm to me that neo-liberalism is alive and well in the US and the rest of the World. The first of those happenings is the almost grotesque statements coming out of the EMU about Greece. The second is the 70/30 vote supporting the re-appointment of Ben Bernanke as the US central bank boss; and the third is the US President’s State of the Union speech. I wonder how the millions of unemployed around the World would feel about any of those happenings?
Today a relatively short blog buts lots of different colour graphs. I have been going through the updated IMF growth forecasts released on January 26 and doing some projections of what this might mean for the capacity of this growth to reduce the unemployment rate. Like any projection exercise you have to make assumptions. And it seems that there is still quite a bit of dispute about whether we are going to recover fairly steadily or keep skidding along the bottom in 2010 with tepid growth in 2011. The IMF are the most optimistic around at the moment and as you will see, even this level of optimism doesn’t paint a very good labour market picture.
I get a lot of E-mails (and contact form enquiries) from readers who want to know more or challenge a view but who don’t wish to become commentators. I encourage the latter because it diversifies our “community” and allows other people to help out. The problem I usually have is that I run out of time to reply to all these E-mails. I apologise for that. I don’t consider the enquiries to be stupid or not deserving of a reply. It is just a time issue. When I recommitted to maintaining this blog after a lull (for software development) I added a major time impost to an already full workload. Anyway, today’s blog is a new idea (sort of like dah! why didn’t I think of it earlier) – I am using the blog to answer a host of questions I have received and share the answers with everyone. The big news out today is Australia’s inflation data – but I can talk about that tomorrow. So while I travel to Sydney and back by train today, here are some questions and answers. I think I will make this a regular exercise so as not to leave the many interesting E-mails in abeyance.
Today is a national holiday in Australia (more about which later). In the lead up to the US President’s State of the Union speech tomorrow came news that he was planning to freeze public spending from next year to get the budget back on track. I wondered what track that might be. Governments all around the world are now being pressured by conservative lobbies to engage in a renewed period of fiscal austerity even though the respective labour markets are disaster zones. History has a habit of repeating itself. The US government did exactly this in 1937 and the unemployment worsened. Japan did it in 1997 with the same outcome. The UK government is likely to do it in 2010 with totally predictable results – their economy will falter. What the US government is now in danger of repeating is taking its economy down the fast track to a double-dip recession. It is plain stupidity and the “freeze” doesn’t reflect the reality they are in.
Today I delve into the world of financial advice by E-mail. There are a growing number of subscription lists that people are exhorted to join to receive the latest in analysis from so-called experts. Most of it would qualify as spam. They seem to follow a formula – stir the emotions, offer great deals (which appear to be the motive – to make money), and spread dangerous half-truths and total fallacies. I get a lot of E-mails myself from readers asking me to comment on some of the claims that they have been reading in these “products”. So today I thought I would meet those requests by focusing on a particular newsletter that is broadly representative of the genre. My advice is to avoid wasting your time on these lists and read billy blog instead!
Ahh … the Great Moderation – now wasn’t that a laugh. Today I have been examining data in preparation for a new project I am beginning on inflation response functions. Thinking about the data made me recall the sheer arrogance of my profession. And an article in the Melbourne Age prompted this further by way of coincidence. The idea that the economics profession had solved the business cycle by implementing inflation targetting-type policies and pursuing fiscal austerity was the flavour of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I was even told several times in the last decade that I was mad running a research centre which focused on unemployment because that problem had been solved too. Economists of my persuasion were regularly ridiculed at conferences and meetings. And then … the crisis struck confirming everything that us “idiots” had been saying for more than a decade. And yet, the chief proponents of the Great Moderation lie still aspire to top public office.
I am going to start a public campaign to help our friends in the financial markets. I would like all caring citizens to start donating comics and other light material and send it to the business houses so that the workers can actually read something productive during there time in the offices rather than the usual stuff that circulates. Unfortunately the usual so-called analysis spreads out into the wider research world – which means I read it too. Today we consider a classic case of manipulation to make a case. A denial of the empirical reality, a spurious claim to an historical relationship, and an assertion of an authority – the “bond markets” – that ultimately doesn’t exist. Classic propaganda but some lessons to learn as well.
Today I have been working in the Australia’s national capital Canberra. I have been discussing the work I am doing to develop a new geography for Australia based around the concept of functional economic regions with the Australian Bureau of Statistics which is currently seeking to revise their own geography along similar lines. You can find out about this work if you are interested via the CoffEE Functional Regions homepage. It will provide you with quite a different perspective on my other research interests beyond macroeconomics. Anyway, on the plane I was reading some monetary analysis and recalling a blog from the weekend by our favourite (not!) macroeconomics textbook writer. I started humming Take the power back to myself as I considered the damage this sort of textbook is doing to the minds of our students and the future policy makers.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone some 15,000 children die every day from poverty-related diseases. Yet still the governments are required to pay out some $US30 million every day to the World Bank, IMF, and rich creditor nations. Every $US1 that’s given to that region in aid, $US1.50 goes out to cover debt repayments (source: The Debt Threat: How Debt is Destroying the Developing World). I have been thinking about that in the light of the current situation in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and a nation that has been burdened with debt since the time it escaped the chains of slavery. This blog looks into these sorts of issues.
Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the November Retail Sales data, which is being seen as a likely signal as to whether the RBA will increase interest rates when it meets next in February. The data shows that retail sales are holding up as the fiscal stimulus targetted at consumption gives away to a focus on public infrastructure investment. However, there are other signs that the Australian economy is not yet out of the danger zone.
In a sea of conservative media, two articles stood out this weekend which captures a debate that should be raging but will be quickly buried under the re-emerging neo-liberal hubris unless significant new alliances are formed. In recent weeks, as different economies are showing some signs of recovery, some key players within mainstream economics have been coming out in defence of the profession. They have been accusing critics of misunderstanding what economics is all about and saying that economists have actually saved the world. I covered some of this sort of positioning in Friday’s blog. In this blog I continue that theme but from a different angle. The conclusion is that if we want real change then “one should become more radical as one grows older”. We will see what that means as we go.
Welcome to 2010. Today, in the overcast summer that we are enduring here, in between other things I am finishing off, I was in my office reading about how mainstream economics actually saved us from a major depression over the last 2 years. Far from having to hang their heads in shame, the article indicated we had all embraced Keynes and glory be the day. I also read a counter to that which outlined what further needed to be done. I concluded neither writer really had grasped what has been going on and both would benefit from exposure to modern monetary theory. Not a lot has changed overnight. Happy new year!
The year and the decade are rapidly closing out (early evening Thursday AEST). It is been an incredible year to be an economist with some of the swings in aggregates not seen before in most of our lifetimes. The degree to which nation’s have gone backwards has been staggering. For a researcher like me it has opened up so many new lines of enquiry. I always worry that my major research angle – the study of unemployment – gives me a job as long as there are others without them. But someone has to keep the topic at the top of the agenda and that is what I have devoted my academic and public career to doing. I have also been staggered this year by the sheer audacity of the mainstream economists who went to ground when the crisis emerged because their theories were shamefully wrong – but who are now popping up again – in all their arrogance – leading the charge of the deficit terrorists and undermining the capacity of governments to fight the crisis effectively. They should have just stayed in their slime. Anyway, my final post for the year has some sad things to say … and then …
In the past, when I have advocated setting the central bank policy rate to zero and leaving it there several readers have suggested that this would set off uncontrollable asset price bubbles particularly in the housing sector. Indeed, the view among mainstream economists is that lax monetary policy in the US caused the sub-prime housing crisis. It is an intuitively attractive view for those who do not really understand how the monetary system operates and the complex distributional impacts that varying interest rates have. Today’s blog considers a US Federal Reserve research paper that has just been released which rejects the notion that “loose” monetary policy was to blame. It is an interesting research exercise.
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?
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 the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the September quarter National Accounts data which gives us the rear-vision mirror view of how the economy has been travelling while we have all been speculating. The good news is that real GDP continued to grow. The bad news is that the Australian economy is creeping along the bottom. It just managed to keep its head above zero line in the September quarter courtesy of the strong public investment associated with the now, daily-maligned, fiscal expansion. The labour market was clearly spared the worst by declining productivity. As productivity returns to more reasonable rates of growth, unemployment will rise unless GDP growth turns significantly upwards … quickly. Having said all that – there is nothing in today’s data to warm the frozen hearts of the conservative deficit-haters. They should just find a ship to get on and boost our exports.