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British voters depressingly caught between a rock and a hard place

Britain is now in a very undesirable state. The governing Tories are bereft of any sensible ideas and likely to lose the next General election in 2024 to Labour, who are promising to be the party of ‘sound finance’, which means they will be incapable of dealing with the challenges that face the nation in a highly volatile world and will likely end up losing popularity and ceding government back to the Tories. And just as in 2010, the Labour reputation will tarnished and they will be lost again for another sequence of elections. That sort of future prospect is not inspiring is it. Caught between a rock and a hard place.

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Bank of Japan continues to show who has the power

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.

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Military spending binge is working to keep economies growing

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.

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The Australian labour market enters a slow decline – with employment and participation falling

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (December 15, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for December 2022. My overall assessment is that the labour market started to enter a decline – albeit slowly in December 2022 with employment falling by 14,600 (-0.1 per cent) although full-time continued to grow but was outstripped by the decline in part-time employment. The participation rate fell 0.2 points, which meant the fall in the labour force reduced the rise in unemployment that occurred as a result of the employment decline. However, the underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 5.4 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.5 per cent, which indicates the labour market still has slack. There are still 1,361.7 thousand Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed).

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EU bonds will not become a ‘safe asset’ – Germany and Co won’t let that happen

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.

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The 714th and Final Weekend Quiz – December 31, 2022 – answers and discussion

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.

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Japan and the World Economy through the lens of MMT – video presentation

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.

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Central bankers have created excessive unemployment for decades because they use the wrong theory

It’s Wednesday and also a holiday period, so just a few things today. First, I discuss a research paper that has concluded that central bankers have been using the wrong model for years which has resulted in flawed estimates of the state of capacity utilisation, and, in turn, created excessive unemployment. Second, we have a little Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) primer before going to the beach.

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The Weekend Quiz – December 24-25, 2022 – answers and discussion

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.

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Older workers in Australia taking on more work, while in Britain they are bailing out

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.

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The Weekend Quiz – December 17-18, 2022 – answers and discussion

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.

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Australian labour force – stronger employment growth defying RBA interest rate hikes

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (December 15, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for November 2022. The labour market continued to improve in November 2022 with employment rising relatively strongly by 64,000 (0.5 per cent) on the back of strong full-time and part-time employment growth. The participation rate also rose by 0.2 points, which meant the change in the labour force was larger than the change in employment, and as a consequence, official unemployment rose. There is some evidence that more people are taking on extra work to cope with the cost-of-living pressures. While all this suggests a fairly tight labour market, the underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 5.1 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.4 per cent. There are still 1,325.5 thousand Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). The only reason the unemployment rate is so low is because the underlying population growth remains low after the border closures over the last two years. But that is changing as immigration increases.

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The monetary institutions are the same – but culture dictates the choices we make

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.

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Australia National Accounts – growth continues at a moderating pace

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, September 2022 – today (December 7, 2022), which shows that the Australian economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the September-quarter 2022 and by 5.9 per cent over the 12 months to the end of September 2022. Growth is being driven largely by continued growth in household spending (which has not yet succumbed to the cost of living squeeze exacerbated by the interest rate rises). There was a modest contribution from private capital formation. The terms of trade declined sharply signalling a negative contribution from net exports and declining real net national living standards. There was growth in employee compensation (the wage measure from the national accounts) of 3.2 per cent but that was largely due to administrative decisions (for example, minimum wage increases) that impacted in this quarter rather than being the result of market pressures.

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US labour market is a sort of holding pattern – declining but slowly

Last Friday (December 2, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2022 – which suggested that the US labour market showed signs of slowing further, with payroll employment growing by just 263,000 net jobs. The labour force measure showed employment and labour force growth turning negative as the participation edged down. The result was that the official unemployment rate remained largely unchanged – with both the demand and supply side falling in proportion. The quit rate is stable which suggests that the US labour market is in a sort of holding pattern – slowing weakening but not consistent with the Federal Reserve type narratives. There are also no fundamental wage pressures emerging at present to drive any further inflation spikes. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. The claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation is untenable given the data.

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The Weekend Quiz – December 3-4, 2022 – answers and discussion

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.

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RBA governor apologises for duping Australians – but then says we didn’t read the literature closely enough

It’s Wednesday and I am reverting to my usual pattern of discussing a few items in less detailed form and including some music to lighten the load. Today we consider the apology that the RBA governor issued to mortgage holders that the central bank duped. We also consider the question of what is ‘normal’ in a pandemic. And more.

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The Weekend Quiz – November 26-27, 2022 – answers and discussion

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.

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Kyoto Report No 7

This Tuesday report will provide some insights into life in Kyoto for a westerner in the age of Covid. This will be my last report as I am returning to Australia at the end of this week. I will return to my work in Japan in 2023 but now have commitments back in Australia. Today, we visit some temples, gardens and textile centres.

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The Autumn Statement – an exercise in absurdity and public harm

First, the Bank of England seems to have abandoned credibility. Not to be outdone, the fiscal policy makers in government have now joined in the absurdity of mainstream policy thinking by reimposing austerity at the same time as the economy heads into recession. Milton Friedman and his gang used to claim the problem of fiscal policy was that it was practiced in a ‘pro-cyclical’ manner, by which they meant that because of time lags involved in implementation, by the time a stimulus to deal with a recession was in place and impacting, the private economy was already on the upturn – so that fiscal policy was working to push the cycle harder in the same direction. They claimed that was inherent to the use of fiscal policy, which rendered it unsuitable for use as a counter-stabilising (-cyclical) measure. The fact that that claim (which is contestable) won the debate in the 1970s is why all the central bank independence nonsense entered the scene and why New Keynesians claim that monetary policy should be the tool of choice to stabilise spending fluctuations. Now, the Tories in Britain are deliberately using fiscal policy in a pro-cyclical way – pushing the already recessionary forces further into the morass. A totally unnecessary and patently dangerous action. It almost beggars belief that they are getting away with this and the Labour Party essentially just offers to tune up the governments ‘violin strings’ a bit.

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