One should become more radical as one grows older

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.

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Economists are part of the problem not the solution

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!

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The year ends badly and then …

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 …

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Monetary policy was not to blame

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.

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One hell of a juxtaposition

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?

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When ideology blinds us to the solution

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).

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Time to outlaw the credit rating agencies

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.

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Creeping along the bottom only

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.

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Lost in a macroeconomics textbook again

Today’s Australian newspaper, sadly our national daily carries a story – Stimulating our way into trouble – by Griffith University professor (and ex-federal treasury official) Tony Makin. I pity the students who have to study with him. The article continues the News Limited campaign against the government stimulus package and demonstrates the extent that is prepared to use the services of so-called experts (that is, titled mainstream economists) who seem prepared to grossly mislead the readership to advance their ideological strategy. Whatever it takes seems to be the strategy. Anyway, once again the mainstream macroeconomics textbook is called upon to make policy statements.

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Building bank reserves is not inflationary

Today I am working in Dubbo, which is in the western region of NSW and getting into the remote parts of the state. There is a great beauty to enjoy in remote Australia which often passes people by. My field trip is in relation to continuing work I am doing with indigenous communities in this region. I will report on this work in due course. But today’s blog continues the theme I developed yesterday on bank reserves. In yesterday’s blog – Building bank reserves will not expand credit – I examined the dynamics of bank reserves but left a few issues on hold because I ran out of time. One issue is the possible impact of expanding bank reserves on inflation. This is in part central to the mainstream hysteria at present about the likely legacies of the monetary policy response to the crisis. The conclusion is that everyone can relax – the only problem with the monetary policy response is that it will be ineffective and more fiscal policy effort is required.

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Building bank reserves will not expand credit

In his latest New York Times article (December 10, 2009) – Bernanke’s Unfinished Mission – Paul Krugman reveals that he doesn’t really understand much about macroeconomics. Sometimes you read a columnist and try to find extra meaning that is not in the words to give them the benefit of the doubt. At times, Krugman like other columnists sounds positively reasonable and advances arguments that are consistent with modern monetary theory (MMT). But then there is always a give-away article that appears eventually that makes it clear – this analyst really doesn’t get it. In Krugman’s case, he doesn’t seem to have learned from his disastrous foray into Japan’s “lost decade” policy debate.

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The comedy begins

The political debate in Australia is never very inspiring. But in the last few days it has reached new heights … that is, lows. The Federal Opposition has now decided to address its rock-bottom political support by changing its shadow front-bench significantly and installing some of the most conservative members they could drag out. The strategy is clearly to “talk tough” and “take the fight up to the government” and all that sort of thing. The only problem is that it is already turning the public debate into a comedy show. I predict this conservative configuration will talk their way into oblivion much faster than the previous shadow cabinet. In the process, we will have plenty to laugh about.

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A Greek tragedy …

Today I have a wind in my sails and I am heading for Greece. I am wondering if any modern day Ulysses will find much of their homeland left given current trends. The current situation in Greece exposes the stupidity of the Euro monetary system. The Greek government is running a rising budget deficit in response to the economic crisis that it faces. Much of the budget change is being driven by the automatic stabilisers. Meanwhile the financial markets are playing their usual (unproductive) tricks and making matters worse. Sitting in the middle is the undemocratic ECB which is insisting on fiscal consolidation. Pity the poor Greeks who are increasingly without work. The solution is not straightforward but I would abandon the Euro and restore currency sovereignty.

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When I should have been reading Phantom comics

Today I was in Sydney for some meetings and also I attended the first sessions of the Society of Heterodox Economists conference. I took some papers with me to read on the train coming back to Newcastle. Sitting on the train for 3 hours presents a good opportunity to catch up on back-reading. While I would have been better off reading the Phantom comic that I had in my bag, I chose, instead, to read the latest fiscal analysis provided by the IMF. The paper I discuss here is typical of the whole debate at present. It cannot provide any evidence to advance its scary “deficit and public debt” vision, but it doesn’t let the facts get in the way of presenting it anyway. My professional assessment. These guys should get a real job.

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Oh my darling … mystery phenomenon spreads!

There is a mystery phenomenon and it appears to be spreading. The dangerous phenomenon is well understood by experts but the contagion is proving difficult to contain. Fortunately there are built-in checks and balances that will arrest the contagion … the only question is will the inflicted show any signs of life once the arrest is made. On Friday, we learned that the US government was running out of money. Overnight, the nasty syndrome has jumped across the Atlantic and the sovereign UK government is signalling that they are short. I suspect the contagion will spread more widely and inflict most sovereign governments before too long. Anyway, all I could do about it was to break into song …

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CofFEE conference – Day 1 report

Today is the first day of the 11th Path to Full Employment Conference/16th National Unemployment Conference in Newcastle, hosted by my research centre. As host I am of-course tied up in the event but I thought it would be of interest to visitors to my blog to provide some feel for what has transpired today. I only focus on the plenary talks. The other presentations in the parallel sessions have all been very interesting.

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Most bananas are atheists …

Over the course of this economic crisis, I have seen a lot of erroneous analysis based on the conflation of things that are not commensurate. It is getting worse as the debt hysteria mounts. These conflations are examples of category errors, which are common in monetary and macroeconomic analysis. Most of the theoretical development in macroeconomics text books used by universities fall foul of this type of error. The one thing that follows is that when you detect this type of error you should be deeply suspicious of the arguments being presented.

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More calls for job creation … but then

In the last few days I have seen more calls from commentators for policy makers to take new initiatives to generate jobs and growth. Some of these calls have come from commentators and research centres that sit on the “progressive” side of the macroeconomic debate. Unfortunately, their proposals are always compromised by their demonstrated lack of understanding of how the monetary system operates. In my view these proposals actually undermine the need to advance an understanding that sovereign governments can create true full employment and should do so as a matter of urgency. By playing ball with the conservatives and choosing to focus on deficit outcomes these progressives divert the policy focus away from the real issues. In short, the federal budget deficit outcome should never be the focus of policy.

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Dubai is not a case of sovereign default

The Australian financial press today pushed the message “Dubai shook investor confidence across the Persian Gulf after its proposal to delay debt payments risked triggering the biggest sovereign default since Argentina in 2001”. Last time I knew, Dubai was an emirate and Argentina a sovereign nation. While the current crisis in Dubai is clearly an issue it is not an instance of sovereign default. Some research is required.

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We are in trouble – squirrels are falling down holes

Today we explore the problem of squirrels falling down holes. The exact number and size of the holes is to be determined – there is some disagreement. Who the squirrels are is also somewhat confused. But some thorough analysis should get us through this difficult task. Suffice to say, I have been reading the World financial press again … as I do against my own better judgement on a daily basis … and have done for the last too many years.

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