Saturday morning traditions … a long early ride on my bike (70 odd kms), then off to the local cafe for a cup of tea. Yes, time to read an actual paper paper. Time to talk about the state of the swell and wind direction (off-shore and pumping at present). The big match (Saints v Geelong, both unbeaten after 13 rounds – note no rugby here!). Perhaps some local gossip (who paid off who to get what development up!) … that sort of thing. Probably some politics. But no, before anything interesting could be raised by the assembled regulars … someone (a non-economist who claims he is just interested) had to begin proceedings with “Bill, why does the federal government borrow when you say it does not have too?” Can you put a sock in it, please! What about the surf? But why if they don’t have too? Saturday morning … the problem of being a macro economist. Things started getting ugly at this point.
Today the ABS released the May 2009 Retail Sales data which showed that retail spending is continuing to grow despite the gloom that surrounds the economy. The main culprit – the fiscal package. While the jumps in retail sales earlier in the year were tentatively ascribed to the fiscal intervention it was clear we had to wait a few more months before we could be more definite in our assessment. As of now we can confidently say that the early interventions by the Government have had positive impacts on the economy. Whether they will last depends on what happens to unemployment. If it continues to rise then ultimately this will undermine the positive spending trend. Then significantly more fiscal intervention will be needed.
Well I am now back in Newcastle and in the last two weeks the ocean has slumped from a cold 19 celsius to a freezing 16. See what happens when you turn your back. I think the sharks like the cold water less though. At least that is what I am telling myself as I read another surfer (on the south coast) was mauled last week. Anyway, my casual travel reading also saw me read the July edition of the Harper’s Magazine which had two very interesting articles about developments in the US, which ultimately have global implications. In recent months, I have been becoming more pessimistic about the idea that the current global economic crisis will represent a major change in ideology, away from free market neo-liberalism towards a more sustainable and fairer social democratic policy structure. The articles reinforce that pessimism.
While I am still reflecting on the UNDP workshop I participated at earlier this week in New York, another issue which came up repeatedly during the workshop is the on-going dispute between those who advocate income guarantees against those (such as me) who advocate employment guarantees. I didn’t cover this dispute at all in yesterday’s blog – Bad luck if you are poor!. When you start digging into the claims made by the income guarantee lobby you realise that most of their case is built on a failure to understand how a modern monetary economy works. For those who understand the opportunities available to a government which issues a sovereign currency, then the attractiveness of income guarantees disappears (in my opinion). So this blog documents some of this debate.
Greetings from College Park, Maryland (pronounced Marrilynd! in Australian). It is near Washington (DC) and I have work here (at the UMD) and in the capital for the next 2 days. Weather is hot but we are 189 kms or 2.8 hours from the nearest surf according to Google maps, which is equivalent to being landlocked to me! So no quick surf before work! Losers! I came down here late yesterday (5 hour drive) after a workshop at the Levy Institute jointly hosted with the United Nations Development Program, which was held in upstate New York. No summer up there at the moment but the Catskills Mountains are very beautiful – it is near to Woodstock. Anyway, I left the workshop thinking – bad luck if you are poor!
Yesterday I reported on a document I received from one of the largest international investment banks in the world. That document is part of that organisation’s advice it gives to bond investors. I used some of the document to illustrate that the understandings of how a modern monetary system operates that I write about here are also now out there in the real world – in the financial markets where bonds are bought and sold. I didn’t identify the document because it is a subscribers-only publication sent to me by the author and I respect his privacy. Today’s blog provides some more insights that will help you better understand the public debate and allow you to cut through the nonsense being peddled by all and sundry.
I received a document today from one of the largest international investment banks in the world. One of its major offices is not far from where I am typing this right now in New York City. The document is a subscribers-only publication and so I cannot make it accessible here. But this blog discusses some of the contents of the document which might help readers who keep worrying about whether anyone important out there believes in the stuff that I write about. There is a constant undercurrent in the comments and private E-mails I receive that says that the treasurer, the central bank, the mainstream journalists and a host of other seemingly important people do not share my views on how the fiat monetary system operates. The issue then is one of credibility.
I am now in New York on business for the next few days then off south to the capital Washington. In this blog I want to outline the horrible scenario that everyone has been predicting would happen – the increasing fiscal deficits will increase taxation. I know that has been on our minds. I have reached the ineluctable conclusion that future taxation will increase as a direct consequence of the current deficits. The tax revenue gained by the government will also reduce future deficits. Wouldn’t it be preferable that we didn’t push future taxation up and instead controlled net government spending? If you believed that you would have rocks in your head. In this blog I will be also be discussing debt, inflation, and other nasties.
In this blog I will complete my analysis of the concept of fiscal sustainability by bringing together the discussion developed in Part 1 and Part 2 into some general principles. The aim is to provide a blueprint to cut through the deceptions and smokescreens that are used to deny fiscal activism and leave economies wallowing in persistently high levels of unemployment. So read on.
I wrote this for the Fairfax press early this morning before a 10km run around the Vondelpark in the heart of Amsterdam – in cold pouring rain. They call it high summer. Anyway, the opinion piece was confined to 500 words. I could have said a lot more but you can extrapolate each line accordingly. I also did an ABC radio interview hiding under a tree in the park – the juxtaposition of talking to Sydney about the NSW Government’s failure to deliver adequate services and being among the wonderful urban amenities (for example, public transport and bike paths) and public spaces provided by the Dutch was not lost on me. Pity public spending can’t fix the lousy weather over here. Anyway, now I am off to work for the day over here. Part 3 of the fiscal sustainability series coming next – for Wednesday.
This is Part 2 of my little mini-series on what we might conceive fiscal sustainability to be. In Part 1 we considered a current debate on the National Journal, which is a US discussion site where experts are invited to debate a topic over a period of days. By breaking the different perspectives that have been presented to the discussion, we can easily see where the public gets its misconceived ideas from about the workings of public deficits and the dynamics of the monetary system – its leaders. My aim in this 3-part series is to further advance an understanding of how a fiat monetary system operates so that readers of this blog (growing in numbers) can then become leaders in their own right and provide some re-education on these crucial concepts. So read on for Part 2.
Greetings from Amsterdam where I am spending the next few days talking about what drives spatial changes in unemployment at a Tinbergen Institute regional science workshop. The spatial econometric work that I am outlining tomorrow provides the conceptual framework for the construction of the Employment Vulnerability Index, which received a lot of press earlier in the year. But while I was flying over here I thought about the concept of fiscal sustainability which is now getting a lot of press. So this is the first of a multi-part series on what constitutes a sustainable fiscal policy. Its that time again. Time to debrief!
The talk at present is that while we are hoping for a V we might have to accept a W. Its all about shape. The shape of the future. The shape of the recovery! In Post-Lehman World Will Mean W-Shaped Recoveries we read that Japan’s former economic and fiscal policy minister, Hiroko Ota said that “The worst is over but I can’t say the economy is heading for a recovery at all”, Japan’s recovery may be W-shaped instead of V-shaped. There are some very real reasons why W might rule over V. They all relate to the lack of understanding of the characteristics of a fiat monetary system and the opportunities that such a system presents the sovereign government. Unfortunately, the ignorance (or wilful neglect) among policy makers may force millions of people to endure unnecessary hardship.
Today’s ABS Labour Force data confirms one thing. Whatever else the commentators say about the figures are not as bad as expected or that employment is still growing or whatever – there are 13.4 per cent of the willing and available labour resources not being fully utilised by this economy. Around 657 thousand have no jobs at all and another 866 thousand have a job but want more hours and cannot find the work. 1.5 million wasted workers is an appalling state that demands urgent action – like direct public sector job creation. Each day that we waste the capacity of those workers is another day of income and opportunity lost down the drain. It should be the absolute number one policy priority. And what it tells me is that the budget deficit is way to low as a percentage of GDP at present.
Its winter here in Newcastle! Today my shark-o’clock morning surf expedition was freezing! Full wetty and still cold! But for northern hemisphere readers pleased be warned that freezing means a water temperature of 19 degrees celsius and air temperature of 14 celsius. Anyway, the sudden sensation of cold reminded me of my mortal origins. One thing led to another and I was soon thinking of animal spirits! This is what JM Keynes said drives the business cycle up and down. And today (and yesterday) we have been reminded of the role that sentiment might play in economic life. The news is probably good and suggests that this downturn might be more moderate for Australia than the global experience would have indicated. But it might also be bad. Ahh, economics!
In today’s Melbourne Age there was a headline that attracted my attention – Hurling invective at CEOs over salaries is a bit rich. The writer from the conservative Institute of Public Affairs was reacting to a speech made by the President of the ACTU this week who proposed a salary cap on executives. The writer, Chris Berg claimed this was just whipping up some “traditional class conflict”. He asked: “who seriously believes that the level of CEO pay in Australia had anything to do with the subprime crisis that set off this whole mess?” Well, I for one think that the growth in executive pay was linked to the crisis. Here is the point.
I have been doing work on international trends in unemployment today and spent some time on the UK economy. Of-course, Britain is in the news at present because its polity is melting down rapidly. We have been laughing a bit I am sure about the so-called rorts scandal, especially the story about the ducks not liking their island anyway. I laughed anyway. I also applauded the skilled research that tracked the island down on Google Earth. Anyway, the rorts scandal is a sideshow in a much bigger problem that is unfolding in Britain at present. Its labour market is in free fall!
The euphoria over a 0.4 quarterly growth figure which translate into annualised GDP growth being at least 2.5 per cent less than would be required to keep the unemployment rate from rising should be attenuated by the fact that National Accounts data is very slow to come out. The picture it paints which conditions our current expectations and debates is old – at least 3 months old by definition. And it is sobering when amidst all the self-congratulation and applause for our strong export performance that newer data has come out today which suggests that GDP growth is probably now negative although we won’t find that out for three more months. Meanwhile the debt and deficits argument continues in the public debate. Here is an update.
Well the conservatives are scrapping between themselves, which is just as well because it might derail their drivel campaign about the trillion (whatever!) dollar debt wave that we are about to drown under. Me, I will surf it out with my longboard and enjoy the experience! Anyway, seems Mike wants to end our little engagement which is fine because tomorrow I will be talking about “R we or R we not”. National Accounts are out at 11.30. So this blog summarises where I think we are at. Remember that it started with the blog – Neoliberals invade The Greens! and the space theme continued with Mike conjuring up the Mitchell Strikes Back and today The return of Mitchell. Whatever, it is more clear than ever that the conservative macroeconomics has The Greens in its grip – sadly.
I was going to write about retail sales and company profits data today but the short story is that retail sales continue to defy the predictions (stimulus packages work). I ran a regression model today to generate a (reasonable) forecasting model of retail sales behaviour up to the point the stimulus packages were announced (November 2008) and then projected out to April 2009 and compared the dynamic trend with the actual data. Every data point since November 2008 is above the trend (which is why the ABS has abandoned its trend series for the time being). But it does tell you that the Australian economy is withstanding the world downturn. We will know more on Wednesday, when the national accounts (GDP) data comes out. Anyway, there has been more engagement with the “other side” or should I say “another side” today and I guess I should respond to that. And so the saga continues for another day.