Many central bank officials have been trying all sorts of conditioning narratives to convince us that their interest rate hikes have been justified. Now they are actually defying the information presented in the official data to simply make things up. Last Wednesday (May 17, 2023), the Bank of England governor gave a speech to the British Chamber of Commerce – Getting inflation back to the 2% target − speech by Andrew Bailey. It came after the Bank raised the bank rate by a further 25 points to 4.5 per cent the week before. In that speech, he admitted inflation was declining and the main supply-side drivers were abating. But he said the rate rises were justified and unemployment had to rise because there was now persistent inflationary pressures coming from a “wage-price spiral”. The problem with this claim is that there is no data to support it.
In my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale (published May 2015) – I traced in considerable detail the events and views that led to the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU, aka the Eurozone) once the Treaty of Maastricht was pushed through as the most advanced form of neoliberalism at that time. The difference between the EMU and other nations who have adopted neoliberal policies is that in the former case the ideology is embedded in the treaties, that is, in the constitutional system, which is almost impossible to change in any progressive way. In the latter case, voters can get rid of the ideology by voting the party that propagates it out of office. It is true that in current period, even the parties in the social democratic tradition have become neoliberal and there is little choice. But the EMU is different and has entrenched the most destructive ideology in its legal structures. We are reminded of this recently (April 26, 2023), when the European Commission released its latest missive – Commission proposes new economic governance rules fit for the future. Once operational, the policies advocated in this new governance structure will ensure that Europeans are once again made to endure persistent and elevated levels of unemployment and continued deterioration in the quality and scope of public infrastructure and welfare provision. The collapse of this ideological nightmare cannot come soon enough.
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.
We start to see the absurdity of the current reliance on monetary policy as a counter-stabilisation tool, when you read the calls from the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member talking about the risk of a ‘significant inflation undershoot’. In a detailed analysis of the current situation, the external MPC member noted that inflation was falling faster than expected because the supply constraints were reversing quickly. She also noted that the interest rate hikes had now reached a point where unemployment was certain to rise and lead to, in the face of the supply reversals, to deflation. And that would require faster and larger interest rate cuts. Here is an insider admitting that the Bank of England is more or less gone rogue and out-of-step with reality. Overshoot at the top of the hiking cycle, swinging to a massive undershoot at the bottom. Absurd.
The transitory view of the current inflation episode is getting more support from the evidence. Yesterday’s US inflation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (March 14, 2023) – Consumer Price Index Summary – February 2023 – shows a further significant drop in the inflation rate as some of the key supply-side drivers abate. All the data is pointing to the fact that the US Federal Reserve’s logic is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose. Today, I also discuss the stupidity that is about to begin in Europe again, as the European Commission starts to flex its muscles after it announced to the Member States that it is back to austerity by the end of this year. And finally, some beauty from Europe in the music segment.
Yesterday (March 7, 2023) two big things happened. The first is that I got a lovely bunch of sunflower blooms for my birthday present. Which was ace. The second, the RBA Board wheeled out the governor to announce the 10th consecutive interest rate rise even though inflation has been falling for several months. The RBA has now become preposterous and the Government should definitely terminate the tenure of the Governor in September when his term is up for renewal. In the meantime, it should clean the RBA Board out, or introduce legislation that says each member including the governor gets the real disposable loss that they are imposing on the worker deducted in percentage terms from their own salaries. A further deduction would be made (quantum to be determined) for each percentage point the unemployment rate rises. That might give them pause for thought. The music segment will definitely lift your spirits after reading through the following gloom.
Given yesterday’s extensive National Accounts analysis replaced my usual Wednesday blog post, I am using today to discuss a range of issues and provide a musical interlude into your lives for peace. Yesterday’s bad National Accounts data release took the headlines away from another data release from the ABS yesterday – the monthly CPI data results. Inflation is falling in Australia and has probably peaked. The RBA still thinks it is going to hike rates a few more times. As more data comes out, their cover (justifications) are evaporating by the day and it is becoming obvious that they are pushing rates up because they want to reclaim the territory as the ‘boss’ of macroeconomic policy irrespective of the costs and hardships they impose on lower-income Australian families. Shocking really. I also look at the new RadioMMT show which launched last week. And the debate about Covid continues but the evidence is being distorted badly by those who continue to claim it was all a conspiracy to bring us to heel. And then some music.
Last Monday, I wrote about the global need for us to abandon meat production for food, and, instead take up plant-based diets. Many people interpreted that argument as a personal attack on their dietary freedom, which indicates they fell into a fallacy of composition trap and declined to see the global issue. As part of my series on the Degrowth agenda, the other aspect about food which is important is that we have a propensity to produce too much food and distribute what we produce unfairly. I will deal with the distributional issues in another post. Today, I want to talk about the over-abundance of food in nations which means too much land, water and other resources is devoted to its production with commensurate negative environmental consequences. One manifestation of that phenomenon is food loss and food waste, which are different terms for the segment of the food supply chain where wastage occurs. If we are serious about dealing with the environmental disaster then we have to eliminate or dramatically reduce wastage. This will require significant investments in some nations to improve storage etc and a dramatic change in other nations in terms of attitudes to aesthetics, packaging, and more.
It’s Wednesday and a lot is going on. The RBA governor appeared before the Commonwealth Senate Estimates Committee today and demonstrated what a troglodyte he is, defending massive bank profits and deliberately trying to cause unemployment. Meanwhile, US data shows that inflation has peaked and is now falling. The pace of the deceleration is picking up. Meanwhile – MMTed – is active and our 4-week course began today (see details below) and we are helping a new radio show to launch next week – Radio MMT. And we cannot go a Wednesday without some great music. All in a day.
This is Part 6 of a series on Deep Adaptation, Degrowth and MMT that I am steadily writing. I have previously written in this series that there will need to be a major change in the composition of output and the patterns of consumption if we are to progress towards a sustainable future. It will take more than cutting material production and consumption. We have to make some fundamental shifts in the way we think about materiality. The topic today is about consumption but a specific form – our food and diets. Some readers might know that there has been a long-standing debate across the globe on whether a vegetarian/vegan diet is a more sustainable path to follow than the traditional meat-eating diet. Any notion that the ‘meat’ industry is environmentally damaging is vehemently resisted by the big food corporations. Like anything that challenges the profit-seeking corporations there is a massive smokescreen of misinformation created to prevent any fundamental change. New research, however, makes it clear that we can achieve substantial reductions in carbon emissions by abandoning meat products in our diets and the gains are disproportionately biased towards the richest nations. I have long argued that I find a fundamental contradiction in those who espouse green credentials and advocate dramatic behavioural shifts to deal with climate change while a the same time eating meat products. The recent research supports that argument. So Greenies, give up the steaks and the chickens and get on your bikes and head to the greengrocer and start cooking plants.
There are regular interventions from commentators over time who repeat the same thing over and over – usually some prophesy that a currency (for example, the Yen or the USD) will collapse soon, and life goes on until they come out with the same predictions, which never turn out. The mainstream media loves to give these characters a platform because the headlines are sensational and I guess that sells ‘units’ for the companies. The latest I saw was from Mr. Roubini in the Financial Times, who has been predicting the collapse of the USD regularly. Time to give him a miss I think. A related topic of hysteria that ordinary folks seem to get agitated about but clearly don’t understand even the first principles involved is the old canard – central bank losses. This gets a little more abstract for most relative to the Roubini-type currency collapse headlines but the mainstream press still manage to whip up a doom scenario that somehow the central bank is about to go broke and governments will have to bail them out and taxes and debt will rise, and, somehow, ultimately, our grandchildren will find themselves in penury trying to pay back the debts our current governments ran up. A recent Bank of International Settlements Bulletin article (No. 68)- Why are central banks reporting losses? Does it matter? (released February 7, 2023) – bears on this issue. Conclusion: nothing to see here.
Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia lifted the interest rate target for the ninth consecutive time (they didn’t meet in January) claiming that they had to do this to stop inflation accelerating and restoring price stability. Except inflation already peaked in the March-quarter 2022 as a result of the driving factors abating. Further, none of the major driving factors are remotely sensitive to domestic interest rate movements. The RBA’s excuse is that there are dangerous domestic demand pressures that need to be curtailed. Except the evidence for that claim is lacking. Most of the demand measures are in retreat. So what gives? Well there is a massive income redistributing being engineered by the RBA from poor to rich and if they keep going unemployment will certainly rise, in part, because the lame Australian government is claiming it has to engage in fiscal restraint to ensure the RBA doesn’t hike rates even more than they are. It would be comical if it wasn’t damaging the prosperity and solvency of tens of thousands of the most vulnerable Australians. Disgraceful.
So the IMF has come late to the transitory inflation party. What was obvious months ago is now at the forefront of IMF forecasts. Better late than never I suppose. It is becoming clear that most indicators are still not predicting a major demand-side collapse in most nations. Growth has moderated slightly and the forward indicators are looking up. At the same time, the inflation data around the world is suggesting the price pressures have peaked and lower inflation rates are expected. Real wages continue to fall, which means that the inflationary pressures were not being driven by wages. So no wage-price spiral mechanism at play. And PMI data and related indicators (such as shipping costs, etc) suggest the supply constraints which drove the inflationary pressures are easing. So has all this been the work of the interest rate rises imposed on nations by central bankers (bar Japan)? Not likely. The rising interest rates and falling inflation are coincidental rather than causal. Which means the damage to low income debt holders and the bank profits boom from the higher rates was for what?
Its been around 9 months since the central banks of the world (bar Japan) started to push up interest rates. And still there are no firms signs that a recession is impending. There are some signs of a growth slowdown but that is not uniform across the globe. The US seems to be continuing to grow. While that suggests that monetary policy is less effective than the mainstream economists claim – which is no surprise to non-mainstream economists who have long understood that fiscal policy is the tool of choice for counter-stabilisation, there are other offsetting factors that are at play here. Governments around the world have seriously ramped up their fiscal outlays over 2022 on military procurements as the perceived threat from Russia and China has been magnified by military generals and their mates in the big US weapons corporations, who have taken the opportunity to get make massive extra profits. The power of the military-industrial complex (MIC) is long-standing and well understood. It explains why all the usual disaster scenarios that accompany increasing fiscal outlays by governments haven’t attracted much criticism. Too many elites benefit from the military binge. But the fiscal expenditure also helps to counteract any spending contraction by households who are negatively impacted by interest rate increases.
It’s Wednesday and I have several items to discuss or provide information about today. Today, I discuss the future of the EU-bonds that were issued as part of two main emergency interventions in 2020 as policy makers feared the worse from the pandemic. The question is whether these assets can ever become ‘safe’ in the same way that Japanese government bonds or US treasury bonds are clearly ‘safe’. The answer is that they cannot and the reason goes to the heart of the problem besetting Europe – the fundamental monetary architecture is flawed in the most elemental way. I also provide some updates for MMTed and a great new book. And, of course, this week, I have to remember Jeff Beck in the music segment.
There was a Financial Times article recently (January 8, 2023) – Monetary independence is overrated, and the euro is riding high – from Martin Sandbu which strained credibility and continues the long tradition of pro-Euro economists attempting to defend the indefensible – fixed exchange rate, common currency regimes. He claims that the Euro is a better system in the modern era for dealing with calamity than currency independence. However, as I explain below, none of his arguments provide the case for the superiority of the Eurozone against currency-issuing independence. Currency-issuing government can certainly introduce poor policy – often because the policy makers refuse to acknowledge their own capacity and think they have to act as if the nation doesn’t have its own currency. But the negative consequences that flow from testify to the poor quality of the polity rather than any disadvantages of the currency independence. The Euro Member States are being bailed out by the central bank and if that stopped the system would demonstrate the inherent dysfunction of its monetary architecture and nations would fail.
It’s Wednesday and I am still not up to full blog speed after a week doing other things. But I am getting there. Today we consider the latest inflation data from Australia, some fun in the Guardian newspaper and some nonsense about debt ceilings in the US. Then a visit to Paris.
It’s Wednesday and a few items caught my interest in the last few days. I have been besieged with requests to comment on the Bank of Japan’s announcement yesterday to widen the range in which it conducts yield curve control for the 10-year Japanese government bond yield. Some of the besiegement (which means in English – aggressive pressure or intimidation) claims that the decision shows the private bond investors have finally won and is the last nail in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) coffin. If the senders were comics, they would be very funny. Otherwise, it signals a sad reluctance to face reality. It is called yield curve CONTROL for a reason. Anyway, I will analyse the decision for my readership tomorrow I think. Today, though, I saw two pieces of data that demonstrate the impacts of Covid and inflation on two different labour markets. In Australia, they are now calling it the ‘great unretirement’ as older workers flood into the labour market in recent years – allegedly, so the spin goes because of by “more favourable workplace conditions”. I think there is more to it than that. Over the other side of the World in freezing cold Britain, it appears that the impacts of Covid (“rising sickness”) have, in part, been responsible for an “exodus of more than half a million people from the British workforce”, which means the growth capacity is now more limited. These are interesting trends that need thinking about.
Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! 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. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
In discussions about the significant differences that we have observed over the last 30 odd years between the conduct of economic policy in Japan and elsewhere, the usual response from mainstream economists, when challenged to explain the outcomes in the former nation, is that it is ‘cultural’ and cannot be applied elsewhere. I always found that rather compromising because mainstream economics attempts to be a one-size-fits-all approach based on universal principles of maximising human behaviour. So, by admitting ‘cultural’ aspects to the discussion, this is tantamount to admitting that the ‘market-based’ micro founded approach to macroeconomics is incapable of explaining situations. That is the first black mark against the veracity of mainstream theory. But when one prods further, it becomes clear that the term ‘culture’ is fairly vacuous and blurred in this defense of the mainstream framework. I respond by pointing out that essentially the monetary system dynamics in Japan are identical to the way the system works elsewhere. The institutions might have subtle variations but essentially the operations are so similar that the ‘culture’ bailout doesn’t help resurrect the appalling lack of predictive accuracy when it comes to examining the macroeconomics of Japan. Cultural aspects, however, are crucial to understanding the differences. The trick is understanding how these monetary and fiscal institutions are managed. This is where the cultural aspects impact. And, while I have learned a lot about Japanese cultural nuances, some of the more important ‘cultural’ drivers are transportable to any nation – if only we cared enough and valued people in the same way.