We have been here before …

The daily rhetoric being used to promote fiscal austerity maybe couched in the urgency of the day but we have heard it all before. In this blog I just reflect on history a little to remind the reader that previous attempts to carve public net spending, based on the “expectations” belief government was not going to tax everybody out of existence, failed to deliver. The expected spontaneous upsurge in private activity has never happened in the way the mainstream macroeconomic supply-siders predicted. Further, the chief proponents usually let it out in some way that the chief motivation for their vehement pursuit of budget cuts was to advance their ideological agendas. Of-course, the arguments used to justify the cuts were never presented as political or class-based. The public is easily duped. They have been in the past and they are being conned again now. My role is to keep providing the material and the arguments for the demand-side activists to take into the public debate.

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Saturday Quiz – July 10, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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Modern Monetary Theory – a personal note

In recent days there has been some discussion about the way different Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) thinkers might see the development of the paradigm. There has be some remarks that MMT should be explained in little steps and only then presented as a menu of policy choices so that all ideological persuasions might embrace it. There have also been statements that my US-based colleagues have agreed to that strategy and are now discounting any advocacy of full employment because the US population en masse (allegedly) find such notions repugnant. I disagree with all of those propositions. I consider that a sovereign government, which is not revenue-constrained because it issues the currency, has a responsibility for seeing that the workforce is fully employed. If they don’t take that responsibility and use the fiscal capacities that they have courtesy of their sovereignty, then there will typically be mass unemployment. An understanding of MMT makes that clear. The discussion also has raised questions about the purpose of my blog and I reflect on that in what follows.

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Labour market – just marking time

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for June 2010 which show that the unemployment rate is stable at 5.1 per cent (last month was revised down to 5.1 per cent) with virtually no change in the number of jobless. While employment growth is remains positive it is just keeping pace with the growth in the labour force. Further, the recent trend towards full-time employment growth has moderated and part-time growth dominated this month’s employment gains. As a result, aggregate hours worked fell in June which suggests that underemployment will have risen slightly. But a positive note is the reversal in the falling participation rate. While the bank economists have hailed today’s figures as indicative of an economy “near full capacity”, the reality is that the data is consistent with a broad array of statistics showing the Australian economy is slowing as the effects of the fiscal stimulus dissipate and and private spending remains subdued.

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Modern monetary theory and inflation – Part 1

It regularly comes up in the comments section that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) lacks a concern for inflation. That somehow we ignore the inflation risk. One of the surprising aspects of the public debate as the current economic crisis unfolded was the repetitive concern that people had about inflation. There concerns echoed at the same time as the real economy in almost every nation collapsed, capacity utilisation rates were going down below 70 per cent and more in most nations and unemployment was sky-rocketing. But still the inflation anxiety was regularly being voiced. These commentators could not believe that rising budget deficits or a significant build-up of bank reserves do not inevitably cause inflation. The fact is that in voicing those concerns just tells me they never really understand how the monetary system operates. Further in suggesting the MMT lacks a concern for inflation those making these statements belie their own lack of research. Full employment and price stability is at the heart of MMT. The body of theory and policy applications that stem from that theory integrate the notion of a nominal anchor as a core element. That is what this blog is about.

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Fiscal austerity – the newest fallacy of composition

The origins of macroeconomics trace back to the recognition that the mainstream economics approach to aggregation was rendered bereft by the concept of the Fallacy of Composition which refers to errors in logic that arise “when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part)” (Source). So the fallacy of composition refers to situations where individually logical actions are collectively irrational. These fallacies are rife in the way mainstream macroeconomists reason and serve to undermine their policy responses. The current push for austerity across the globe is another glaring example of this type of flawed reasoning. The very fact that austerity is being widely advocated will generate the conditions that will see it fail as a growth strategy. We never really learn.

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The Celtic Tiger is not a good example

I am back from the US now and have been reading a lot about how Ireland is poised to show all of us deficit supporters the “what for”. The crazies (the Flat Earthers or deficit terrorists) are now starting to suggest that the recent Irish national accounts results for the first quarter 2010 are the sign that the austerity drive has made Ireland more competitive and that an export-led growth era is emerging. You always have to be careful when using official data to conclude anything. The reality is that the national accounts data show that the Irish economy is still declining domestically and this is causing the labour market to deteriorate even further. The growth that is being observed is generating income that is being expatriated to foreigners. So not only is the Irish economy sacrificing real goods and services to increase exports but then the benefits of that sacrifice are being sent abroad to foreigners. If that is an example of how austerity benefits the local population then it just shows how impoverished the conception held by the crazies is. Ireland remains a good example of what happens when you withdraw public spending support for an economy facing a major collapse in private spending.

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The BIS is part of the problem

It is now 2.15 am in Boston on a Thursday morning (16:15 Thursday afternoon in Australia East Coast). I always try to stay on Australian time when I make these short trips. It is hard while you are away but easier to adjust back when you get home. No real jet lag. Yesterday (Wednesday) I gave a Teach-In on the concept of fiscal sustainability to an interesting group of participants ranging from those with an active role in the financial markets to those with more general business interests. The participants came from all around as far as I can gather – many from New York which is a fair hike for a single day workshop. The discussion that followed my presentation was very interesting and while the concerns reflected the usual issues – solvency, exchange rates, intergenerational issues – the standard of debate was civilised. I don’t know how many Warren and I convinced to probe deeper but I hope we planted some seeds of doubt in the minds of the audience that the mainstream macroeconomics position is wrong and therefore untenable. After the Teach-In I read the BIS Annual Report 2009/10 – which signalled to me that they are now firmly part of the problem that we face when dealing with the task outlining fiscally sustainable policy positions.

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A total lack of leadership

Tonight (Tuesday Boston time as I write) my very kind and gracious host took me to an early evening Ringo Starr and his All Starrs concert down on the waterfront. I never knew so many Beatles fans from the 1960s had survived the boredom. They were out in force tonight as he sang Yellow Submarine and other pop relics. The highlight of the evening was Edgar Winter (who is one of his all starrs) featuring on Frankenstein which he made a hit in 1972. But where do all these Beatles fans go during the day! Scary. And by the way, Rick Derringer who was in the original Edgar Winter Band was also in Ringo’s band tonight playing some nice guitar (if you like Gibson-motivated pop – I don’t). My host decided to call it an early night and I left with him – while Warren and his partner bopped on. A neat exit you might say! But Ringo at least provided some leadership – poppy and pretty soppy at that. But much better than our leaders of government are providing if the recent G20 declaration is anything to go by. They have just ceded leadership to the IMF – that unelected rabble. Stay tuned for things to get worse.

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Ignorance leads to bad policy

Today (and yesterday – being Tuesday in Australia now) I have been travelling. If you grow up and live in Australia everywhere except the local beach is a long way away. Sometimes it would be very convenient to just to be able to buzz up to San Francisco from LA or from New York to Washington or from Brussel to Paris. Australians never enjoy that sort of proximity. So travel is part of our growing up. I am used to it but hate it. Anyway, it always allows me to catch up on reading (especially fiction), listen to a lot of music and write a lot. Today’s blog focuses on recent events in Australia but the truth is that the principles raised are universal. You hear the same debates and responses all across the globe. The theme today is how ignorance leads to bad policy – my usual theme. But I am a persistent type and I am observing (via my blog statistics) that as I pursue this repetitive strategy – grinding it out every day – more and more people are coming to the site and many (most) are probably staying (IP address analysis). I have managed to keep the gold bugs at bay – they target easier victories – and the standard of debate is generally high. So my role is to keep offering it up and watching the numbers grow. I am in Boston now and will be talking about fiscal sustainability to hedge fund managers and bankers. Penetrating their world is a good thing. And then on Thursday, I board the jet and retrace my tracks – but then I will be close to the beach again. You mostly can’t have it both ways.

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Saturday Quiz – June 26, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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Something is seriously wrong

The Toronto G-20 leaders’ meeting is being held this weekend (June 26-27, 2010) and one expects it will endorse the position taken at the recent G-20 annual Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in South Korea. The communiqué released from that meeting illustrates how influential the deficit terrorists have become. At the Pittsburgh meeting of the G-20 leaders in September 2009 the communiqué talked about the sufficiency and quality of jobs. Six months later they had abandoned that call and are now preaching higher unemployment and increased poverty via austerity packages imposed on fragile communities. This is in the context of dramatic increases in global poverty rates in 2009 due to income losses associated with entrenched unemployment. Then I note that the recently released 2010 World Wealth Report shows that the world’s rich got richer during the 2009 recession. The only reasonable conclusion is that something is seriously wrong in the world we have constructed.

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Market participants need public debt

I read a 2006 research paper from the New York Federal Reserve today entitled – Why Is the U.S. Treasury Contemplating Becoming a Lender of Last Resort for Treasury Securities?. The article bears on the discussions recently here about the motive for issuing bonds and the likely consequences of not issuing them. It also brings back the memory of how the Australian government was duped by financial markets into continuing to issue debt even when they were running surpluses. That single act demonstrated beyond doubt that that public debt-issuance isn’t about funding net public spending. Rather, the continued issuance of public debt is a form of corporate welfare which makes the task of making profits through trading financial assets in private captial markets that much easier. Typically, it is the top-end-of-town who complain about welfare payments making the poor lazy. Well, the on-going issuance of public debt makes the private users of the same lazy because they do not have to create low risk products themselves. It is a total con job!

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Do current account deficits matter?

I have noticed a few commentators expressing concern about the dangers that might arise if a nation runs a persistent current account deficit. There have been suggestions that this area of analysis is the Achilles heel of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I beg to differ. A foundation principle of MMT is that to be able to freely focus on the domestic economy, the national government has to be freed from targetting any external goals – such as a particular exchange rate parity. The only effective way for this to happen is if the exchange rate floats freely. In this sense, the exchange rate is the adjustment mechanism for external imbalances.

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Saturday Quiz – June 19, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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Flat earth theorists – dumb but sneaky

Last year (May 2009) I wrote that Flat Earth theory returns – budget aftermath. In that blog, I asked the reader to imagine the time when it was the mainstream view that the Earth was flat, representing an infinite plane. The view largely died at around 3 BC but there are still some characters out there who worry about falling off the South Pole. After all the Nile River runs for thousands of kilometres and drops barely a few feet over that distance which doesn’t fit well with convexity does it? We have been referring to the hysterical commentators and lobby groups who are seeking to undermine the use of fiscal policy as deficit terrorists. However, when I think about term it actually gives these characters too much credit. Terrorists are probably smart and possess skill notwithstanding that they are usually misguided. So we have decided to resurrect the term I used in that blog last year – flat earth theorists (FETs) – because that association more adequately captures how mindless they are.

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The real World Cup

Regular readers will by now know I am not a soccer fan. And my national team (now locally known as the shockeroos) seemed like rank amateurs the other day against the might of Deutschers. The German coach described the game as “a good warm-up”. Reality check! But of-course, there is a competition going on in South Africa that a lot of people are interested in. So I have been following it myself. I am of-course referring to the The First Poor People’s World Cup which is currently underway in South Africa. This event involves 36 teams from 40 different communities coming together on a shoe-string budget to play soccer. In cost benefit terms it will add a lot more value to South Africa than the other less important competition that is being simultaneously run in South Africa.

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The assault on workers’ rights continues

I have been trying to maintain a theme focusing on the absurdity of our economic systems and the way in which governments allow themselves to be held to ransom by a small group of largely unproductive financial traders and the associated institutions (credit rating agencies). I was reminded of this again today when I read a report on growing murders of trade union officials and the purging of working conditions in various countries as the economic crisis worsened. When you juxtapose this sort of news – about things that really matter – with the nonsensical antics of the financial markets in Europe you realise we have totally lost any notion of priority.

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The poet and the economist

Governments are starting to realise that the recovery is slowing and the previous estimates of growth are probably overly optimistic. The IMF and OECD have been pushing inflated forecasts throughout the crisis because they cannot face the fact that the policies they have advocated caused the crisis in the first place. So, in denial, they want to make it look as if things are better than they are so they can get back onto their mantra – cuts in deficits, etc. The austerity packages are being introduced into an environment where the probability of a global double dip recession is rising by the day. But worst, are the shameless sense of priorities being rehearsed by economists and policy makers as they carve into welfare and pension entitlements, privatise valuable public assets (handing them over the “markets”) and increase unemployment. But then the mantra comes back – the forced extra pain won’t be as bad as we expect. So the international agencies and mainstream economists inflate the good things and reduce the significance of the bad things as a way of covering their grubby tracks. And all the while, these estimates and prognostications are based on economic models that failed to explain the crisis or its remedy. It is back to ground zero – and the pain will mount for the most disadvantaged.

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Saturday Quiz – June 12, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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