90,000 jobs for 42 billion is a bad strategy …

Yesterday the Government announced its latest fiscal response to the rapidly worsening economic situation. They will spend $42 billion (mostly in 2009 and into 2010 to shore up aggregate demand. They estimate this will underwrite 90,000 jobs in the economy. That is not new jobs but existing jobs. They also estimate that the unemployment rate will rise to 7 per cent over the coming year which is around 300,000 people extra who will be without work. That will take unemployment towards 850,000 and underemployment will certainly rise in lock-step (already around 600,000) so you see the scale of the deterioration.

However, while I think the package is a step in the right direction, the Government has failed to really target jobs. If the Government had have introduced a Job Guarantee and paid the workers the current national minimum wage (with holiday pay etc) it could have hired 557,000 full-time equivalent workers for around $8.3 billion per year. Where does this figure come from?

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Job Guarantee success in Argentina

In the New York times article (December 26, 2004), from Larry Rohter – Argentina’s Economic Rally Defies Forecasts – it is reported that the Argentinian economy has made a surprising comeback. Rohter writes “When the Argentine economy collapsed in December 2001, doomsday predictions abounded. Unless it adopted orthodox economic policies and quickly cut a deal with its foreign creditors, hyperinflation would surely follow, the peso would become worthless, investment and foreign reserves would vanish and any prospect of growth would be strangled. But three years after Argentina declared a record debt default of more than $100 billion, the largest in history, the apocalypse has not arrived. Instead, the economy has grown by 8 percent for two consecutive years, exports have zoomed, the currency is stable, investors are gradually returning and unemployment has eased from record highs – all without a debt settlement or the standard measures required by the International Monetary Fund for its approval.”

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Progressive journalists in Britain so easily become willing mouthpieces for mainstream economic lies

Imagine if you are a UK Guardian reader and wanting to assess the options for an almost certain victory by Labour in the upcoming general election. Your understanding of the challenges facing the next government will be conditioned by what you have been reading in that newspaper. Unfortunately, there have been a stream of articles purporting to provide informed analysis of the challenges ahead and the capacities of the new British government to meet them which make it very hard for any progressive reader to assess the situation sensibly. These articles promote the usual macroeconomic fictions about the need for tight fiscal rules that will help the government avoid running out of money as it tries to deal with the decades of degeneration created by the austerity mindset. It is stunning how so-called progressive media commentators have so easily become willing mouthpieces for the mainstream economic lies which have only served to work against everything they purport to stand for. Business as usual though. Sadly.

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Australian labour market – employment grows but overall still marking time

Today (June 13, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for May 2024, which provides some increased clarity given the last few months have generated data that has been mixed in signal. The data for May 2024 shows employment continuing to increase, unemployment falling, and the participation rate steady. Taken together the demand-side of the labour market is running just ahead of the underlying population growth, although working hours are falling. Some clarity but it is still not absolutely clear which way the labour market is heading. The net change in employment was driven by full-time employment. But we should not disregard the fact that there is now 10.7 per cent of the working age population (1.6 million people) who are available and willing but cannot find enough work – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.

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Government debt fears – more fiction from the mainstream media

After all these years of trying, the insights provided by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) still haven’t cut through. One doesn’t even need to accept the complete box of MMT knowledge to know that, at least, some of it must be factual. For example, how much brainpower does a person need to realise that a government that issues its own currency surely doesn’t need to call on the users of that currency in order to spend that currency? Even if we could get that simple truth to be more widely understood it would change things. But every day, economists and the journalists demonstrate a lack of understanding of how the monetary system actually works. Are they stupid? Some. Are they venal? Some. What other reason is there for continuing to use major media platforms to to pump out fiction masquerading as informed economic commentary? And the gullibility and wilful indifference of the readerships just extends the licence of these liars. Some days I think I should just hang out down the beach and forget all of it.

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ECB demonstrates that groupspeak is not dead in Europe – the denial continues

On February 10, 2024, a new agreement between the European Council and European Parliament was announced which proposed to reform the fiscal rules structure that has crippled the Member States of the EMU since inception. I wrote in this blog post – Latest European Union rules provide no serious reform or increased capacity to meet the actual challenges ahead (April 10, 2024) – that the changes are minimal and actually will make matters worse. Now the European Central Bank, the supposedly ‘independent’ bank that is meant to be outside the political sphere, has weighed in with its ‘two bob’s worth’ which is ‘sometimes modernised to ‘ten cents worth’) (Source), which would be overstating its value. Nothing much ever changes in the European Union. They have bound themselves up so tightly in their ‘framework’ and rules and jargon that the – Eurosclerosis – of the 1970s and 1980s looks to be a picnic relative to what besets them these days. The latest input from the ECB would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic in the way the policy makers have inflicted hardship on the people (many of them) of Europe.Today’s blog post is Part 1 of a critique of the ECB’s input into the Stability and Growth Pact reform process that is engaging European officials at present. It is really just more of the same.

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Australian government proves it can end poverty, but refuses to, and is deliberately pushing more people into that state

The Australian – Productivity Commission – was created in 1998 as a result of an amalgamation between the Industry Commission (established 1990), the Bureau of Industry Economics (established 1978) and the Economic Planning Advisory Commission (established 1983). As you will read below, its antecedents go back to 1921. The Commission is one of many government-funded institutions that have undergone structural shifts over time as their initial role becomes redundant, a redundancy that reflects the changing dominant ideology of the time. It is now the government’s principal ‘free market’ think tank that spews out predictable nonsense regularly – always ending with recommendations for more deregulation and less government intervention. Its latest offering was released on Monday (May 20, 2024) – A snapshot of inequality in Australia – which, in its own words, “provides an update on the state of economic inequality in Australia, reviewing the period of the COVID-19 induced recession and recovery” with a focus on women, older people, and First Nation’s peoples. It contains some interesting analysis but falls short because its fiscal framework, upon which it makes assessments about the data that is made available, is mainstream and assumes the Australian government has financial constraints. Once they adopt that fiction, then the scope for policy is limited and we end up not solving the problems discussed.

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Tracing the British Labour Party’s fears of The City – Part 1

When I met with John McDonnell on October 11, 2018 at his Embankment office block in London he was then the Shadow Chancellor. The theme of the meeting was dominated by the concerns (near hysteria) about the power of the City of London (the financial markets), expressed by his advisor, a younger Labour Party apparatchik whose ideas are representative of the bulk of the progressive side of politics in Britain. The topic of the meeting centred on the fiscal rule that the British Labour Party chose to apparently establish credibility with the financial markets (‘The City’). I had long pointed out that the fiscal rule they had designed with the help of some New Keynesian macroeconomists was not just a neoliberal contrivance but was also impossible to meet and in that sense was just setting themselves up to failure should they have won office at the next election. Essentially, I was just met with denial. They just rehearsed the familiar line that the British government has to appease the financial interests in The City or face currency destruction. That fear is regularly rehearsed and has driven Labour policy for years. It wasn’t always that way though. As part of preliminary research for a book I plan to write next year I am digging into the history of this issue. What we learn is that the British government has all the legislative capacity it needs to render The City powerless in terms of driving policy. That raises the question as to why they don’t use it. All part of some work I am embarking on. The reason: I am sick to death of weak-kneed politicians who masquerade as progressive but who bow and scrape to the financial interests in the hope they will get a nice revolving door job when they exit politics. A good motivation I think.

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Australian labour market – mixed signals but probably still in a weakening phase

Last month’s Labour Force data release for April 2024, revealed that the Australian labour market was starting to weaken in the face of the fiscal squeeze (the government announced a second successive annual fiscal surplus on Tuesday) and the 11 interest rate hikes since May 2022. Today (May 16, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for April 2024, which shows that there are mixed signals which make it hard to say categorically where things are or where they are going. Total employment growth was positive and the participation rate increased, which usually signals a strengthening labour market. But full-time employment fell and monthly hours worked were static. Further both the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate rose, which indicates weakness, notwithstanding the fact that the participation rate increase accounted for some of the rise in unemployment. Moreover, there is now 10.8 per cent of the working age population (1.58 million people) who are available and willing but cannot find enough work – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.

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Real wage cuts continue in Australia as profit share rises

The Annual Fiscal Statement for Australia (aka ‘The Budget’) came out last night and ordinarily I would analyse it today. But I am travelling a lot today and also the wage data came out today, so I plan to leave the fiscal policy commentary until next week when I have more time to think about the shifts in policy. Today (May 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2024, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 4.1 per cent over the 12 months (down 0.1 point on the last quarter). In relation to the March-quarter CPI change (3.6 per cent), this result suggests that real wages achieved modest gains. However, if we use the more appropriate Employee Selected Living Cost Index as our measure of the change in purchasing power then the March-quarter result of 6.5 per cent means that real wages fell by 2.4 per cent. Even the ABS notes the SLCI is a more accurate measure of cost-of-living increases for specific groups of interest in the economy. However, most commentators will focus on the nominal wages growth relative to CPI movements, which in my view provides a misleading estimate of the situation workers are in. Further, while productivity growth is weak, the movement in real wages is such that real unit labour costs are still declining, which is equivalent to an ongoing attrition of the wages share in national income. So corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale. That is modern day Australia.

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Degrowth will require humans shovel less energy … into our bodies

I haven’t much time free today and with the federal government’s fiscal statement coming out tomorrow night and wage data and the labour force data coming out Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, it is going to be a full week. Given I am using all my time to finish the manuscript for my next book which has to be delivered to the publisher on June 1, I am writing very little here today. But there was some interesting data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) last week that bears on my general theme of degrowth, in a roundabout sort of way. The data from the – National Health Survey 2022 – is very revealing and shows how far people will have to go to adopt degrowth behaviours at a personal level. And just so you know, while I wrote about health matters last week and will again today, I don’t intend to make it a regular habit on a Monday.

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The fiscal lunancy reaches peak levels this time of year

In the last week, as the Federal government comes towards next Tuesday’s annual fiscal statement (aka ‘The Budget’ although we don’t use that terminology around here, do we?) and the State Government’s are progressively delivering their own Budget Statements (they being financially constrained) we have witnessed the absurdity of the system of public finances that pretends the Federal government is a big household and that somehow monetary policy is the most effective way to deal with an inflation that is sourced in supply side constraints. Earlier this week, the Victorian government released a fairly shocking fiscal statement, which cut expenditure programs in many key areas such as health care (while the pandemic is still killing many people), public education, essential public infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, and more. Why? Because it built up a rather large stock of debt during the early years of the pandemic and is now in political jeopardy because the state debt is being weaponised by the conservatives who claim the government is going broke. Similar austerity agendas are being pursued by other state and territory governments although Victoria leads the way because it provided more pandemic support to offset the damage that the extensive restrictions caused. Meanwhile, the federal government is boasting that it is heading towards its second consecutive surplus, as unemployment rises, hours of work fall, and the planet requires massive investment to attenuate climate change. The madness compounds when we realise that around 85 per cent of all state and federal debt that was issued between March 2020 and July 2022 was purchased by the Reserve Bank of Australia – that is, effectively, by the federal government itself. If citizens really understood the implications of that they would never agree to the swingeing cutbacks in public expenditure and the user pays tax hikes etc, that have been justified by an appeal to the debt build up. Its just madness.

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The green growth paradigm has a long tradition – which has never been supportable

In October 1987, the United Nations published a report – Our Common Future – (aka Brundland Report) which was the work of the then World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) – that was chaird by the then Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. It laid out a multilateral approach to dealing with climate change and establishing a path to sustainable development (growth). While the Report was published by Oxford University Press, you can access it via the UN – HERE. It is the foundation of the more recent ‘green growth’ and ‘green new deal’ movements that have besotted the progressives in the advanced nations. The problem is that the framework presented implies that we can maintain the capitalist market system with some tweaks and continue prioritising the pursuit of private profit as the main organising principle for resource allocation. I disagree with that approach and my current research is building the case for system change and the abandonment of the ‘growth paradigm’.

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The yen, podcast, and book announcement – all on International Workers’ Day

It’s Wednesday and today I consider the current yen situation which is causing some hysteria in the financial media even though there is not much to worry about. I also provide access to my latest podcast with the Washington-based Bad Faith, which traverses issues of class, the demise of the Left, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and degrowth. And the book announcement – pre-orders are now available. And finally an anthem for International Workers’ Day.

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IMF now claiming that Japan has to inflict austerity when the government’s current policy settings a maintaining stability

It was only a matter of time I suppose but the IMF is now focusing its nonsensical ‘growth friendly austerity’ mantra on Japan. In a recent interview, the former Portuguese Finance Minister now in charge of the IMF’s so-called ‘Fiscal Affairs Department’, Vitor Gaspar claimed that Japan is now in a precarious position and must start to impose austerity. Recall last week that I concluded that – The IMF has outlived its usefulness – by about 50 years (April 15, 2024). The current interventions from senior officials such as Gaspar only serve to reinforce that assessment. The problem is that they are still able to command a platform and a significant number of people in policy making circles actually believe what they say. It would be a much better world if the IMF and its toxic ideology and praxis just disappeared off the face of the Earth. Then we could send all the highly educated officials to thought reassignment camps to allow their considerable intellectual capacity to search for cures to cancer or whatever.

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Signs of weakening in the Australian labour market

Today (April 18, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for March 2024, which shows that the labour market is weakening with employment falling and unemployment rising now that more normal patterns in behaviour after the holiday period disruption have returned. The good news is that full-time employment continued to rise but was more than offset by the loss of part-time work. The stronger full-time outcome meant that underemployment fell marginally. The rise in unemployment would have been worse had not the participation rate fell. The drop in both employment and participation is a signal of weakening. There is still 10.3 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.

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The IMF has outlived its usefulness – by about 50 years

The IMF and the World Bank are in Washington this week for their 6 monthly meetings and the IMF are already bullying policy makers around the world with their rhetoric that continues the scaremongering about inflation. The IMF boss has told central bankers to resist pressure to drop interest rates, even though it is clear the world economy (minus the US) is slowing quickly. It is a case of the IMF repeating the errors it has made in the past. There is a plethora of evidence that shows the IMF forecasts are systematically biased – which means they keep making the same mistakes – and those mistakes are traced to the underlying deficiencies of the mainstream macroeconomic framework that they deploy. For example, when estimating the impacts of fiscal austerity they always underestimate the negative output and unemployment effects, because that framework typically claims fiscal policy is ineffective and its impacts will be offset by shifts in private sector behaviour (so-called Ricardian effects). That structure reflects the ‘free market’ ideology of the organisation and the mainstream economic theory. The problem is if the theory fails to explain reality then it is likely that the predictions will be systematically biased and poor. The problem is that the forecasts lead to policy shifts (for example, the austerity imposed on Greece) which damage human well-being when they turn out to be wrong.

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Book review: Fiat Socialism by Carlos García Hernández

When I was in London recently, I caught up with my good friend Carlos García Hernández, who is a Spanish radical and has a book publishing business – Lola Books – in Berlin, which publishes in English, German, Spanish and Italian. He gave me a copy of his own recently published book (2023) – Fiat Socialism – to read on the way home. It carries the sub-title ‘Achieving the goals of socialism through modern monetary theory’. I promised him that I would write some comments about it once I had taken it all in, even though I had read and sent him comments on earlier drafts. So today that is what I am going to do. At the outset, it is an important book because it addresses many of the misconceptions that Marxists and socialist-leaning people have regularly demonstrated about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I am in accord with much of the content but depart critically from his endorsement of nuclear energy as a solution to the climate crisis.

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