Extending unemployment benefits … an omen

As the danger of a global depression recedes, the themes I am picking up regularly now from commentators, politicians etc are all pointing back to the mainstream status quo version of the way the economy works, in particular, for the purposes of this blog the labour market. I expect to increasingly hear and read the rhetoric that dominated the public debates prior to the crisis – that unemployment is essentially a supply-side phenomenon reflecting choices made by individuals in the context of government welfare policy that distorts these choices in favour of not working. In this context, the simple act of extending unemployment benefits in the US has been controversial. This takes us back to the dominant debates over the last 20 years which saw governments all around the World pursuing policies that were antithetical to full employment and pernicious in their impact on the victims of their policy failures. Stay tuned – 2011 – the mainstream will be in full attack mode again – conveniently forgetting where we have been over the last 3 or so years.

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Would someone please put something in the water supply

When I read the financial and economic news every day I sense a global madness has emerged. Global political processes are becoming distorted by the types of debates that the conservative media companies and the mainstream economists are driving. Every day a new whacko proposition is suggested or entertained by governments. Old hatreds are also resurfacing as our economies labour on (or not labour to be more accurate!) in the face of a major private spending collapse accompanied by inadequate government fiscal responses. The collateral damage of the deficit terrorism is increasing and spreading and still the major political parties in most countries slug it out as to which one will deliver the most fiscal austerity. Would someone please put something in the water supply so that we can refocus this debate onto what is important. That was the plan in the late 1960s to chill everyone out and distinguish the meaningful from the nonsense. Something has to restore our sense of priorities. The longer this madness goes on the worse it is going to get. There is no sensible solution that will come from following the present path.

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Interest rates up – but its messy

Today’s blog comes to you from beautiful Boomerang Beach, on the mid-North Coast of NSW and within the Booti Booti National Park. I am experimenting with the concept of a mobile office – well a cabin by the beach. Armed with my USB turbo mobile broadband and my portable computer, some files and books (not to mention a guitar and a couple of surfboards) I decided I can work nearly anywhere these days. Connectivity is no longer a problem. So I decided to head north for a couple of days to see how the concept works. Maybe it will begin a gypsy research life although I know one person who won’t allow that to happen! Anyway, it is a lovely setting and I can walk about 200 metres to the surf through the sand dunes. The perfect antidote to the sort of hysteria I covered in yesterday’s blog. Today I am considering corporate welfare among other topics and you definitely need a peaceful and soothing location to delve into that topic in any depth.

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Hyperbole and outright lies

Its been a big weekend for hyperbole which in this context is a polite term for outright hysterical lies. Today’s blog reviews a few of the choice selections from a weekend’s reading. It amazes me how people can even mis-represent their own research when they know the audience hasn’t even read it in detail. It also is interesting to follow the way the media commentators are trying to out-do each other in use of superlatives – how much catastrophic can a catastrophy get – sort of thing. The analogies, the adjectives … are all designed to transport uninformed readers into a particular ideological space where the conservative forces can garner more of the national pie than otherwise might be the case. Anyway, that is what today’s blog is about.

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Saturday Quiz – February 27, 2010 – answers and discussion

Many people have written to me asking me to post answers to the Saturday Quiz. I am sympathetic to these requests but on the other hand the Quiz (which takes a few minutes to compile) is my “day off” the blog and so building in extra work would sort of defeat the purpose. But as it happens I was about to announce that from soon I was going to stop posting a regular Sunday blog. I play in a band which takes time and in a few weeks will have regular new commitments on Sunday evenings. If there is something happening that warrants comment I will but in general I was going to extend my “day off” to the whole weekend. But then I thought – I can write the answers up with some discussion on Sundays and so the weekends can become The Quiz Weekend, which should satisfy both the requests for more quiz feedback and my desire to grab some extra free (well non-blog) time. So that is the plan from now on. If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking.

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Chill out time: better get used to budget deficits

The latest economic news from the UK and the US is hardly inspiring. Further, detailed examination of the sectoral balances in the OECD nations reveals a massive drop in private demand since 2007. The mirror image of that spending collapse has been the increase in public deficits via the automatic stabilisers (discretionary stimulus packages aside). These swings are just signs that economies are adjusting back to more normal relations (private saving, public deficits). The sharpness of the swings reflects the atypical period that preceded the crisis where growth was fuelled by private debt in the face of fiscal contraction. It will take some years for the adjustment to be completed and the danger is that ideological attacks on the fiscal deficits will derail the process. But when the sectoral balances return to more normal levels in relation to GDP then guess what? We will still have budget deficits and we all better get used to it.

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Some movement at the station

Today I reflect on my weekend of media reading. Within the never ending media assault on budget deficits which is now being regularly elevated to “the fiscal crisis of the state” I read a few stories which actually took a different tack. One said that several national leaders were going to prioritise jobs over the wishes of the financial markets while the other said that the so-called “debt moralists” (aka deficit terrorists) are not on sound economic grounds. Amidst the continual conservative onslaught at present, both articles reflect some movement at the station!

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Questions and answers 2

This is the second Q&A blog where I try to catch up on all the E-mails (and contact form enquiries) I receive from readers who want to know more about modern monetary theory (MMT) or challenge a view expressed here. It is also a chance to address some of the comments that have been posted in more detail to clarify matters that seem to be causing confusion. So if you send me a query by any of the means above and don’t immediately see a response look out for the regular blogs under this category (Q&A) because it is likely it will be addressed in some form here. While I would like to be able to respond to queries immediately I run out of time each day and I am sorry for that.

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The vandals are gathering

Yesterday, the British government announced that they had actually recorded a deficit in January which is rare given they normally get a big revenue boost in that month. The reaction to the news has been hysterical and calls to invoke fiscal austerity measures in the lead up to their national election are gathering pace. You can imagine that these calls are suggesting exactly the opposite of what I think the British government should be doing. Given that they risk locking a generation of their youth into a lifetime of disadvantage, job creation programs are required now which will require further stimulus. That is the only responsible course of action. The bond markets disagree. But if the governments around the world really represented the interests of their citizens they would use their capacities to render all these vandals irrelevant. Most people, however, do not understand what that capacity is and how the government could use it. Anyway, now to the news …

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Person the lifeboats!

Last week (February 10, 2010), the ever-louder irrational rantings of Niall Ferguson about debt got another airing in the Financial Times in his article – A Greek crisis is coming to America. My two word reaction – which might be better than writing a whole blog was – Oh really! But the article demonstrates how desperate conservative academic commentary is becoming. The inflated self-importance of these characters quite obviously craves for ever increasing attention. However, not only does Ferguson demonstrate a poor attention to detail; a confusion about which monetary system is which; and a denial of history – but he also discloses such a vivid imagination that he might productively turn his hand to writing children’s fairy tales. Except then he would have to lighten up a bit or the kid’s would be having nightmares. As for the rest of us, we should be getting the lifeboats out if he is right. For me, I am staying on dry land except in the mornings when I chase those waves!

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A modern monetary theory lullaby

In recent comments on my blog concern was expressed about continuous deficits. I consider these concerns reflect a misunderstanding of the role deficits play in a modern monetary system. Specifically, it still appears that the absolute size of the deficit is some indicator of good and bad and that bigger is worse than smaller. Then at some size (unspecified) the deficit becomes unsustainable. There was interesting discussion about this topic in relation to the simple model presented in the blog – Some neighbours arrive. In today’s blog I continue addressing some of these concerns so that those who are uncertain will have a clear basis on which to differentiate hysteria from reality. We might all sleep a bit better tonight as a consequence – hence the title of today’s blog!

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Europe – bailout or exit?

First, devise a monetary union that is based on flawed notions of how the monetary system operates. Second, within that union invent nonsensical rules that give the system in general or member nations in particular the no capacity to deal with a damaging economic crisis. Third, allow countries within the union to game it to their own advantage at the expense of other member nations (for example, Germany – although the advantage was at the expense of German workers). Fourth, when a crisis hits elevate the nonsensical rules to the level of the sacrosanct and commit innocent citizens to years of unnecessary economic hardship. That is the level of sophistication that Europe has reached in 2010.

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Why history matters

In this recent blog – Who is in charge? – I outlined the case that all the so-called “financing” arrangements that government deploy which are held out to us as being required to allow them to spend are in fact voluntary and reflect deep-seated ideological anti-government positions. I wanted to make the point that it is governments not amorphous “bond markets” that ultimately in command of the destiny of their nations and that citizens are being grossly mislead by lies and half-truths into believing that governments have to introduce harsh austerity packages to appease the markets because if they do not the latter will “close them down”. I continue with that theme today and address some issues raised in the comments that accompanied that blog.

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Coming down the face

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for January 2010 and there was quite a strong growth in employment reveals, albeit it was dominated by part-time growth. The employment boost confounded the “markets”, some of the so-called experts had “factored in” contraction (so I guess their clients are dudded by their incompetence again!). With participation constant, the net jobs growth translates into solid reductions in unemployment. Unfortunately, total hours worked plummetted so I suspect it will be a grinding part-time led recovery. But the good news is that unless something bad happens elsewhere in the World we are now well over the aggregate unemployment rate peak and surfing down the face!

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Doomed from the start

Today I have been studying data from the EMU economies where the individual member states surrendered their currency sovereignty and comparing it to other nations which have sovereign currencies (Australia, Denmark, Japan, the UK and the US). This is part of a larger project I am involved in. While the glare of the spotlight is currently on Greece and how the EMU handles the issue, most commentators conveniently forget that this problem has been many years in the making and is both a product of initial design folly and subsequent behaviour by some member states.

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Who is in charge?

Today I was looking over some macro data from Ireland which is leading the charge among the peripheral EMU nations (the so-called PIIGS) to impoverish its citizens because: (a) the amorphous bond markets have told them too; and (b) they had previously surrendered their policy sovereignty. Their actions are all contingent on the vague belief that the private sector will fill the space left by the austerity campaign. The neo-liberals are full of these sorts of claims. More likely what will happen is a drawn out near-depression and rising social unrest and dislocation. But as long as the Irish do it to themselves then the Brussels-Frankfurt bullies will leave them to demolish their economy. It raises the question who is in charge – the investors or the government? The answer is that the government is always in charge but what they need to do to assert that authority varies depending on the currency arrangements they have in place.

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My Sunday media nightmare

Today started off as a usual Sunday – a long-ride on my bike interrupted by two punctures (why do they come in waves). Anyway, then some other things like a visit to the community garden where I have a plot. Then it was down to work and as I read news stories and academic articles I was continually confronted with the tide of hysteria surrounding the impending sovereign defaults (as we are led to believe). My principle conclusion was that these journalists etc have a pretty good job. They get paid for knowing nothing about the topics they purport to be experts about and instead just make stuff up and intersperse it with some mainstream economic ideology taken straight from Mankiw’s macroeconomic textbook. It would be an easy way to make a living. Get the text book out … turn to the chapter on debt this week (last week inflation) and start of with some “large” numbers which are “without precedent” and you are done. Easy pie! Problem is that it influences the readers who do not know these commentators are charlatans.

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On human bondage

Today I have been thinking how extraordinarily stupid human beings are. The so-called Club Med Eurozone nations are being fast tracked into a crisis by a pernicious concoction of corrupt and lazy ratings agencies, Northern European truculence, and a ridiculous monetary system that provides no fiscal support within what is really a federal system. And as the ailing governments boldly and stupidly declare a willingness to play ball with the Brussels-Frankfurt consensus bullies there are signs that social order is beginning to break down. Then I read that an American city is turning its lights off at night to save money. Then I read some goon telling everyone to short US bonds because there will be a debt meltdown. And all of this stuff stems from unnecessary constructions and constraints that we have placed on systems that should be geared to advancing general welfare.

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The latest WMD – public deficits!

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?

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L’horreur economique

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”.

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