The news that the Democrats lost their long-held and iconic Massachusetts Senate seat has had the news services in apoplexy this week. One gets the impression from listening to the mainstream media, which is becoming more right-wing by the day, that the US President is on his last legs. The so-called progressive reaction seems to be that the “reform” agenda now has to be scaled back and a fiscal consolidation is required to steady nerves. While it is hard to actually see a progressive reform agenda in any country anyway, the more immediate danger is that the fiscal support that has been keeping our economies afloat all around the World will be withdrawn. The share markets are back, Goldman have record profits … so the crisis is over … That message dominates the business news. That the progressive side has not been able to take overwhelming command of the public debate, given the scale of the crisis and the fact that the neo-liberals/neo-cons etc have all been caught red-handed, is a stunning reflection of its obsequious and disorganised organisation. We need something very different to happen if things are not to revert to where they were.
I am going to start a public campaign to help our friends in the financial markets. I would like all caring citizens to start donating comics and other light material and send it to the business houses so that the workers can actually read something productive during there time in the offices rather than the usual stuff that circulates. Unfortunately the usual so-called analysis spreads out into the wider research world – which means I read it too. Today we consider a classic case of manipulation to make a case. A denial of the empirical reality, a spurious claim to an historical relationship, and an assertion of an authority – the “bond markets” – that ultimately doesn’t exist. Classic propaganda but some lessons to learn as well.
As one dead-end traps the mainstream deficit terrorists’ relentless “hyperinflation is coming”, “the deficits are large and unsustainable” campaign another road is opened. New ways are found of pushing the same boring message. I read several papers and article today that all try to come up with a new tack – a new way of scaring the bjesus out of us and steer our minds towards what they assert is misguided government policy. They actually just don’t like any government claim on real resources because they think there is less for them then. Even when they don’t want to create jobs for the unemployed they resent government employing these people because it would just be a “waste of resources”. Its got worse as I read on. I tell you keeping up with all this stuff is surely going to be “a hard road till I die”.
Today I have been working in the Australia’s national capital Canberra. I have been discussing the work I am doing to develop a new geography for Australia based around the concept of functional economic regions with the Australian Bureau of Statistics which is currently seeking to revise their own geography along similar lines. You can find out about this work if you are interested via the CoffEE Functional Regions homepage. It will provide you with quite a different perspective on my other research interests beyond macroeconomics. Anyway, on the plane I was reading some monetary analysis and recalling a blog from the weekend by our favourite (not!) macroeconomics textbook writer. I started humming Take the power back to myself as I considered the damage this sort of textbook is doing to the minds of our students and the future policy makers.
Today I am travelling to the Baltic States of Estonia and Latvian, both of which are mired in a very deep recession bordering on depression. What you see in these economies is a demonstration of right-wing neo-liberal ideology at its crudest … and the damage it causes … at its magnified worst. Both economies are an indictment of the economics profession and the multi-lateral agencies like the IMF and the European governments. It is hard to come to terms with national governments who could easily enjoy currency sovereignty – voluntarily choosing to do otherwise for ideological reasons and then using what policy space they have left to inflict harsh pro-cyclical cutbacks on the economies they are meant to be nurturing. It is surreal at best and sometime in the future there will be retrospective consensus that this era we are living in was dominated by cruel and tyrannical policy makers.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone some 15,000 children die every day from poverty-related diseases. Yet still the governments are required to pay out some $US30 million every day to the World Bank, IMF, and rich creditor nations. Every $US1 that’s given to that region in aid, $US1.50 goes out to cover debt repayments (source: The Debt Threat: How Debt is Destroying the Developing World). I have been thinking about that in the light of the current situation in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and a nation that has been burdened with debt since the time it escaped the chains of slavery. This blog looks into these sorts of issues.
In past blogs I have indicated that nations were mad entering the EMU and surrendering their fiscal sovereignty. This is especially so for the so-called peripheral nations (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, to some extent Italy) who have become basket cases in a system that prevents individual member’s from using fiscal policy to improve the circumstances of their citizens. Indeed it is a system that forces aggregate policy to act in a pro-cyclical manner for nations that are undergoing crisis – that is, the politicians have somehow managed to convince their populations that it is a credible position for them to use their policy power to make things worse rather than better. So policy which should reduce poverty and empower the youth of a nation with education and employment opportunities is now doing exactly the opposite. As I noted last week, one statistic is enough to tell you the EMU system is a failure – 53 per cent of Spanish youth are now unemployed! So can a nation exit the EMU? What would happen if it did? I had some thoughts on this today.
Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for December 2009 and it confirms that the Australian economy is still recovering under the steam of the fiscal stimulus. Total employment has grown by three times more than expected and participation is constant. Which means that unemployment has started to fall although underemployment hasn’t budged. While the media commentators today (including myself) have been fairly upbeat I have been reminding the public in media interviews that I have done that broader labour underutilisation (sum of unemployment and underemployment) remains at 13.5 per cent. But optimistically the trend is now looking as though the aggregate unemployment rate may have peaked. So it is now to start looking beyond the peak.
I have been doing some work again on the costs of unemployment and this blog gives a snapshot of part of that research. One of the strong empirical results that emerge from the Great Depression is that the job relief programs that the various governments implemented to try to attenuate the massive rise in unemployment were very beneficial. At that time, it was realised that having workers locked out of the production process because there were not enough private jobs being generated was not only irrational in terms of lost income but also caused society additional problems, such as rising crime rates. Direct job creation was a very effective way of attenuating these costs while the private sector regained its optimism. In fact, it took about 50 years or so for governments to abandon this way of thinking. Now we tolerate high levels of unemployment without a clear understanding of the magnitude of costs that that policy position imposes on specific individuals and society in general. The single most rational thing a government could do was to ensure that there were enough jobs to match the available labour force. Mostly, they fail badly to achieve this level of sophistication.
Today we consider the causes of mass unemployment of the sort that most nations are enduring at present. This also involves the consideration of the relationship between wages and employment. This is an area in economics that has been hotly contested across paradigm lines for years. Mainstream economic commentators still claim that the employment situation can be improved if wages are cut. They are wrong. Modern monetary theory (MMT) is clear – mass unemployment arises when the budget deficit is too low. To reduce unemployment you have to increase aggregate demand. If private spending growth declines then net public spending has to fill the gap. In engaging this debate, we also have to be careful about using experience in one sector to make generalisations about the overall macroeconomic outcomes that might accompany a policy change.
… who needs enemies. I am forming the view that many so-called progressive economic think tanks and media outlets in the US are in fact nothing of the sort. Tonight’s blog is Part 1 in a series I will write but the series really started in November 2009 when I wrote about The enemies from within. Today I read two position pieces from self-proclaimed progressive writers which could have easily been written by any neo-liberal commentator. True, the rhetoric was guarded and there was talk about needing to worry about getting growth started again – but the message was clear – the US has dangerously high deficits and unsustainable debt levels and an exit plan is urgently required to take the fiscal position of the government bank into balance. Very sad.
… su tiempo para salir de la UEM. On Wednesday I was up in freezing Iceland and we saw how the threats of being prevented entry into the EMU had led the Icelandic government into bowing to the unjustifiable bullying of the UK and Dutch governments and violating the wishes of its own populations. A greater authority (the President) intervened and hopefully the Icelanders will tell goliath to take a walk. Today I have travelled south into the EMU – to Spain where the weather is kinder but the economic climate is very harsh indeed. The situation in Spain tells us all that the Euro system was always built on corrupted neo-liberal rhetoric and now it is buckling asunder as the first real test of its logic is causing havoc among ordinary people. I am sure those officials in their warm offices and well-paid jobs in Frankfurt and Brussels are not enduring what a significant minority of Spaniards are now going through. One statistic is enough to tell you the EMU system is a failure – 53 per cent of Spanish youth (16-19 year olds) who want to work are unemployed! So … España se está muriendo … su tiempo para salir de la UEM (Spain is dying … its time to leave the EMU).
Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the November Retail Sales data, which is being seen as a likely signal as to whether the RBA will increase interest rates when it meets next in February. The data shows that retail sales are holding up as the fiscal stimulus targetted at consumption gives away to a focus on public infrastructure investment. However, there are other signs that the Australian economy is not yet out of the danger zone.
What do you do when your government is selling you out? Get the titular head (president) to intervene. That is what seems to be happening in Iceland at the moment. While the president is being accused of being an old political hack who longs to be back in the limelight, the more accurate interpretation is that he is reflecting the mood of the population which have been abandoned by a government intent on big-noting itself on the world stage by pushing for EMU admission. The sources of the problems in Iceland mirror those that have been at work globally to undermine the stability of the financial system and plunge real economies into deep recession – a religious belief in the efficacy of unregulated markets and the efficiency of entrepreneurial zeal. Both beliefs are now in shatters along with many economies not the least being Iceland. It is time that Iceland invoked its status as a modern monetary economy whose government has sovereign status in its own currency and started showing leadership to advance public purpose.
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.
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!
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 …
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.
Last weekend, the senior economics writer for the Sydney Morning Herald became a salesman. He has been seemingly recruited voluntarily into the marketing campaign for Mankiw’s economics textbooks which dominate the world supply. In his textbook the Principles of Economics, which is just palpable indoctrination, students are introduced at the outset to the 10 Principles of Economics. These principles resemble the hard sell you get from a salesperson who knows their product will not stand scrutiny but wants the commission nonetheless. But Gittins, knowing his power to influence the economic thinking among his readership, presents the principles as if they are all you need to know to understand economics. What a total con that is.
Several readers have E-mailed about the concept of a multiplier in macroeconomics particularly in light of comments I made yesterday about the current debate as to whether the deficits will be expansionary and whether it would be better to cut taxes rather than increase spending. There appears to be a lot of confusion about the most basic concepts involved so this blog seeks to address some of those issues. It is not a comprehensive literature review.