Claims that mainstream economics is changing radically are far-fetched

I have received several E-mails over the last few weeks that suggest that the economics discipline is finally changing course to redress the major flaws in the curricula that is taught around the world and that perhaps Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) can take some credit for some of that. There has been a tendency for some time for those who are attracted to MMT to become somewhat celebratory, even to the point of declaring ‘victory’. This tendency is not limited to the MMT public who comment on social media and the like. My response is that we are probably further away from seeing fundamental change in the economics profession than perhaps where we were some years ago – after the GFC and in the early years of the pandemic (which continues). My answer reflects the incontestable fact that the make up of faculties within our higher education systems has not changed much, if at all, and the dominant publishing and grant awarding bodies still reflect that mainstream dominance. There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of ‘funerals’ to attend (à la Max Planck).

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Keynes was wrong because he failed to consider class conflict

I was asked during an interview the other day from Paris whether I was a Post Keynesian. I replied not at all and explained that I have never felt that my ideas fit into that category although in a facile sense we are all post keynesian in a temporal sense. Most progressive economists would answer yes if confronted with that question, even most of the economists involved in advancing Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). My point of departure is that while there was a lot of important analytical material in Keynes’ writing that is worth preserving and integrating into, say, MMT, where Keynes went astray was his antipathy to the insights provided by Karl Marx. In particular, I consider that Keynes seriously misunderstood what the dynamics of the class conflict were within a capitalist mode of production. Keynes made major errors in his predictions that one can directly attribute to this blinkered approach to capitalism. I was reminded of this when I read an Op Ed in the Japan Times this week (March 10, 2024) – The economic future of our overworked grandchildren. This blinkered approach, which has fed into the modern Post Keynesian literature – which examines capitalism as if it is an ahistorical, neutral system of production and distribution – is a major reason that I do not associate my work with that school of thought.

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Not trusting our political class is no reason to avoid introducing progressive policies

There is a consistent undercurrent against Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) that centres on whether we can trust governments. I watched the recent Netflix documentary over the weekend – American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders – which reinforces the notion I have had for decades that there is a dark layer of elites – government, corporations, old money, criminals – that is relentlessly working to expand their wealth and maintain their power. Most of us never come in contact with it. They leave us alone and allow us to go about our lives, pursuing opportunities and doing the best we can for ourselves, our families and our friends. But occasionally some of us come into contact with the layer and then all hell breaks loose. The documentary started with a journalist being killed because he had started penetrating an elaborate conspiracy which began with the US Department of Justice stealing software from a company and then multiplied into money laundering scams (Iran contra), murder of various people who got in the way, and went right up to Ronald Reagan, George Bush and other senior politicians. It was a sobering reminder. I will write more about this topic in the upcoming book we are working on (with Dr L. Connors) but I was reading some articles over the weekend (thanks to Sidarth, initially) about the way the MGNREGA in India, which is a public job guarantee-type scheme has been corrupted as the ideology of the government shifted and it bears on this question of trust.

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Australia’s growth rate declines further and danger of recession increases on the back of the policy squeeze

Today (March 6, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, December 2023 – which shows that the Australian economy grew by just 0.2 per cent in the December-quarter 2023 and by 1.5 per cent over the 12 months (down from 2.1 per cent). If we extend the September result out over the year then GDP will grow by 0.8 per cent, well below the rate required to keep unemployment from rising. GDP per capita fell for the third consecutive quarter and was 1 per cent down over the year. This is a rough measure of how far material living standards have declined but if we factor the unequal distribution of income, which is getting worse, then the last 12 months have been very harsh for the bottom end of the distribution. Households cut back further on consumption expenditure growth. Moreover, there is now a very real possibility that Australia will enter recession in the coming year unless there is a change of policy direction. Both fiscal and monetary policy are squeezing household expenditure and the contribution of direct government spending, while positive, will not be sufficient to fill the expanding non-government spending gap. At the current growth rate, unemployment will rise. And that will be a deliberate act from our policy makers.

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E.P. Thompson and why class remains an important organising framework

I have been travelling for most of today so I have to keep this post short. Well shorter than usual. Edward Palmer Thompson – who died at the age of 69 in 1993, was a British writer who wrote the exceptional book – The Making of the English Working Class – which was a very long social history published in 1963, and considered essential reading for young leftists at the time. I read it in the early 1970s as part of my rites of passage into Leftist intellectual thought and while I prefer books that are less than 800 pages (-:, I found it absorbing. I was reminded of it when I recently read a UK Observer article (February 4, 2024) – What a legendary historian tells us about the contempt for today’s working class – by Kenan Malik.

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Using the appropriate cost-of-living index (not CPI) reveal latest wage increases still trail inflation in Australia

Today (February 21, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 4.2 per cent over the 12 months (up 0.2 points). In relation to the December-quarter CPI change (4.1 per cent), this result suggests that real wages grew modestly for the first time in 11 quarters. However, if we use the more appropriate Employee Selected Living Cost Index as our measure of the change in purchasing power then the December-quarter result of 6.9 per cent means that real wages fell by 2.7 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 still 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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The Smith Family manga – Episode 12 – the Season 1 finale – is now available

Episode 12 – the finale for Season 1 in our new Manga series – The Smith Family and their Adventures with Money – is now available. We will let everyone calm down from the excitement for a little while to give us time to write and draw Season 2, which will begin on May 24, 2024.

In the meantime, have a bit of fun with it and circulate it to those who you think will benefit …

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Australia labour market – weakening under the brunt of poor policy, 10.7 per cent underutilisation rate

Today (February 15, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for January 2024, which confirms a weakening in the labour market. The signs of a slowdown were appearing in late 2023 and the January figures probably confirm that trend, although the changing holiday behaviour makes it difficult to be definitive. We will know more next month when the holiday period effects wash out. Employment growth was unable to even keep pace with the underlying population growth, which is why unemployment rose with participation constant. The best indicators that the labour market is weakening are the fall in the employment-to-population rate since November 2023 (down 0.5 points) and the sharp decline over the last few months in hours worked. It also appears that the slowdown is impacting teenagers disproportionately. There are now 10.7 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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RBA is now a rogue organisation and the Government should act to bring it back into check

Yesterday (February 6, 2024), the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) released its so-called – Statement on Monetary Policy – February 2024 – which is a quarterly statement that “sets out the RBA’s assessment of current economic and financial conditions as well as the outlook that the Reserve Bank Board considers in making its interest rate decisions”. It accompanied the latest decision by the RBA, which held the policy target rate constant at 4.25. However, the Governor told the press that they had not ruled out further rate rises despite the inflation rate falling quickly and strong indications that the economy is slowing rapidly. Just yesterday, the ABS released the latest – Retail Trade, Australia – for December 2023, which showed that volume trade is down 1.4 per cent over the last year. In the September-quarter 2022, growth in volume was 9.8 per cent (a sort of pandemic overshoot after the restrictions were eased). By the December-quarter 2023, the volume growth was minus 1 per cent, the third consecutive quarter of negative volume growth. It would be totally outrageous for the RBA to consider further hikes. But it has become a rogue organisation and its statements reveal how deviant its reasoning has become.

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British Labour Party running scared of the usual shadows

This is an election year in the UK and unless something dramatically changes, the Labour Party will be in power for the next term of Parliament and will have to manage a poly crisis that they will inherit from 40 or more years of neoliberalism. Note, I don’t confine the antecedents to the Tory period of office since 2010 because the decline started with James Callaghan’s Labour government in the 1970s and then just got worse during successive periods of Labour and Tory rule. During that long period, there has been no shortage of economists and public officials predicting that the financial markets would soon reap chaos as a result of the public debt levels being ‘too high’ (whatever that means). The most significant chaos came in 1992 when Britain was forced out of the European exchange rate system, which it should never have joined in the first place. While all these economists are now pressuring the likely next British government to pull back on their promises to ‘assuage’ the financial markets, there is not even a scintilla of evidence to support their predictions of doom. And the Labour party leaders are too stupid to realise that.

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The shift to the Right among the weak and powerful is a sign that mainstream economic thinking has failed

The – Australian Election Study (AES) – is the “leading study of political attitudes and behaviour in Australia” and has been running for 35 years. It provides a great time series for investigating electoral trends. The most recent analysis covers the period of the most recent federal election (May 2022). The data shows that Labor Party, which is currently in government has dramatically lost primary vote support over the period covered by the data and in particular among the younger voters. A similar trend is observed for the Coalition conservative parties. There is also strong evidence that ‘rusted on’ is no longer a thing among young voters. The proportions of ‘lifetime voting’ for either major party has fallen dramatically. While the Greens have benefitted from this shift in young voting patterns, there is evidence, which is also resonating globally, that young people are increasingly being attracted to what we term ‘far right’ political voices. That is, where the organised Left has failed. Young progressive minds are deserting the traditional progressive political institutions. Part of this reflects the failure of mainstream economics. The other part reflects the insecure being lured by influential characters who are increasingly embracing right agendas (for various reasons).

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US labour market – no sign of a major slowdown underway

Last Friday (December 8 , 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by 199,000 which is a good sign. The unemployment rate also fell as employment growth outstripped the growth in the labour force – down to 3.7 per cent (from 3.9 per cent). The participation rate rose by 0.1 point, indicating optimism among workers. I see no sign of a major slowdown emerging. Real wages have also started rising – modestly.

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Australian national accounts – growth falls to 0.2 per cent in September – and only because of fiscal support measures

Today (December 6, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, September 2023 – which shows that the Australian economy grew by just 0.2 per cent in the September-quarter 2023 and by 2.1 per cent over the 12 months. If we extend the September result out over the year then GDP will grow by 0.8 per cent, well below the rate required to keep unemployment from rising. GDP per capita fell by 0.5 per cent and Real net national disposable income fell by 0.6 per cent – a measure of how far material living standards declined. Households cut back further on consumption expenditure growth while at the same time saving less relative to their disposable income in the face of rising interest rates and temporary inflationary pressures. Temporary fiscal policy measures (to ease cost-of-living pressures) were the difference between poor growth and no growth at all.

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Inflation falling sharply in Australia while the RBA still is out there threatening rate rises

Yesterday (November 29, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – for October 2023, which showed a sharp drop in inflation. This release resolves some of the uncertainty that arose when the September-quarter data came out last month, which showed a slight uptick. I analysed that data release in this blog post – Slight rise in Australian inflation rate driven by factors that do not justify further rate hikes (October 25, 2023) and concluded that the slight rise was not a sign of excess spending and would soon resolve. Today’s figures are the closest we have to what is actually going on at the moment and show that the inflation fell from an annual rate of 5.6 per cent in September 2023 to 4.9 per cent in October. The trajectory is firmly downwards. As I show below, the only components of the CPI that are rising are either due to external factors that the RBA has no control over and are ephemeral, or, are being caused by the RBA rate rises themselves. The RBA boss was in Hong Kong this week trying to justify the rate hikes by saying that Australian households are coping well. Her analysis is partial and ignores the massive distributional differences arising from the interest rate increases. Justifying the unjustifiable!

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Changes to RBA Act will further entrench the depoliticisation of economic policy and reduce democratic accountability

Today, I consider the latest development in the entrenchment of neoliberalism in the Australian policy sector, specifically, the latest decision by the Treasurer to excise his powers under Section 11 of the Reserve Bank Act 1959, which allowed the Treasurer to overrule RBA policy decisions if they considered them not to be in the national interest. This power was considered an essential aspect of a working democracy, where the elected member of parliament had responsibility for economic policy decisions that impacted on millions of people. The latest evolution will further see macroeconomic policy depoliticised and placed in the hands of a small cabal of mainstream economists who regularly advocate policies that serve special corporate interests and leave millions unemployed. I also provide a video from a TV show I appeared on in Tokyo the other day. Then some lovely guitar music. It’s Wednesday after all!

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UK Autumn Statement is appalling and ties the hands of Labour – the voters face a Hobson’s choice

Last Wednesday (November 22, 2023), the Tory government in Britain released their fiscal update known as the – Autumn Statement 2023 – which basically sets the course of fiscal policy in the UK for the period ahead. The Tories continue their appalling record. But they have also locked Labor into an austerity mindset. Meanwhile, neither party resonates with the sentiments expressed by the people if the latest Ipsos survey is representative of that sentiment. The British people face a Hobson’s choice!

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Australia – stronger nominal wages growth but still below the inflation rate – no justification for deliberately increasing unemployment

Last week (November 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 1.3 per cent over the quarter (up 0.5 points) and 4 per cent over the 12 months (up 0.3 points). The ABS noted this was a “record” increase in relation to the history of this time series, which began in 1997. The RBA and all the economists who want interest rates higher (mostly because the financial market institutions they represent profit from higher rates) are now claiming that the higher wages growth is evidence of a domestic inflation problem and higher unemployment is needed to force wages down. The problem is that the nominal wages growth is still well below the inflation rate (which is falling) and while productivity growth is weak, the decline in real wages is still larger than the decline in productivity growth. That combination, which I explain in detail below, signifies that 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.

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Australian labour market defying RBA rate hikes still although special factors were present in October

Today (November 16, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for October 2023. Employment rose by 55 thousand and unemployment rose by 27,900 on the back of a 0.2 points rise in participation – usually a sign of a healthy situation. But the special monthly factors (referendum and elections) which impacted positively on employment growth make it hard to assess where the labour market is at. I am guessing that November’s employment growth will be much lower and participation will fall again. In October, noting the special factors, employment growth was not strong enough in September to absorb the rise in the labour force as participation rose by 0.2 points. If the participation rate had not have changed, then the official unemployment rate would be 3.4 per cent rather than the official rate published of 3.7 per cent. There are now 10 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators.

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US labour market slower but relative to what?

In last month’s US labour market briefing – US labour market – stability abounds although, worryingly, real wage gains have evaporated (October 9, 2023) – I noted that while there was no major slowdown signalled, the real wage gains made in previous months had evaporated. I wasn’t sure whether that was a sign that a tipping point had been reached or was near. Last Friday (November 3, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – October 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by just 150,000, a significant dip in the previous month’s increase. The unemployment rate also continued to creep up to 3.9 per cent (from 3.8 per cent). While some might interpret this as a weakening trend, the question should be asked about the appropriate benchmark that we should be using. One could easily conclude that the aggregates are returning to pre-pandemic levels after all the pandemic noise. The alternative view is that there is a slowdown occurring. We will have to wait another month or so to distinguish between these two conjectures. After a few months of real wage gains, we are now observing nominal wages growth trailing the moderating inflation rate.

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