Earlier this week my professional association (which I decline to join) – the Economics Society (ACT Branch) awarded its inaugural Enemy of the State/Friend of the People award to a microeconomist for advocacy in defence of economics and its application to public policy. The stunt reflects the major historical revisionism that is now a daily occurrence and appears worse than anything that occurred in the communist states. Those who think they have an entitlement to make huge profits (helped by government guarantees) yet return to behaviour that brought the world economy unstuck are now in attack mode. There is denial, outright deception, constant hectoring. To redress this issue, I am now calling for nominations for the Modern Monetary Theory’s (MMT) Friend of the state, Friend of the people award. It will be awarded to all persons (we believe in collectives) who understand how our monetary system operates and how it can be managed via fiscal policy to serve public purpose and advance the welfare of the most disadvantaged.
It is on days like today that you see how far away from the mainstream economic opinion my macroeconomic thinking is. Why today? For overseas readers, the central bank (RBA) started hiking its official cash rate target by 0.25 basis points to 3.25 per cent. What is wrong with this? There is around 14 per cent of available labour resources currently underutilised and rising. Last month full-time employment continued its collapse. The only signs of activity in the labour market are some casualised, low-skill, low-paid jobs being created. My conclusion: neo-liberal paradigm remains intact. Stay tuned for the next crisis.
Today we go into the kitchen cupboard for a lesson in macroeconomics. That is according to the main economics writer of the Sydney Morning Herald, which is published in a city of over 4 million people. The reality is that while we are encouraged to get our heads into the cupboard, all we succeed in doing is further obscuring any understanding at all of how budgets work and the opportunities and capacities of a sovereign government operating within a fiat monetary system. We were really scraping the barrel today!
In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the Opposition Shadow Treasurer revealed two things. First, he doesn’t know a thing about economics and would be dangerous in that position should he ever get the chance. Second, he is prepared to say anything to undermine the government whether he understands it or not. What it tells me is that this is a pretty good reason for the current government to stay in power! Spare that thought.
In yesterday’s (August 23 2009) Financial Times, so-called financial markets expert Nouriel Roubini wrote that The risk of a double-dip recession is rising. The American academic was recently in Australia as a speaker at the Diggers & Dealers Forum which is an annual mining conference. The problem is that Roubini is an influential advisor to the US Government and so will have a hand in determining the direction of fiscal policy. He continually demonstrates, however, that he does not understand how the fiat monetary system operates and in that context becomes part of the problem.
I am catching up on the mountains of things I have to read. It is a pointless task – the pile rises faster than my eyes can process it. But I try. There was an article in the June 25, 2009 edition of The Economist entitled A slow-burning fuse, which carried the by-line “Age is creeping up on the world, and any moment now it will begin to show. The consequences will be scary”. It definitely might be scary getting old but the discussion that needs to be had is nothing remotely like the discussion that dominates the current policy debate about the ageing society.
I wrote the following piece this morning for tomorrow’s local Fairfax newspaper. While some of the content is definitely of local interest there might be some things of interest to the broader debate. Also it is written to fit a column so it doesn’t allow for much elaboration.
The world seems to be going more insane every time I check. I have this naive belief that we bother to elect governments because we understand they can do things (as a collective) that we cannot do very easily (as individuals). I also assume we all think our elected governments will broadly use their fiscal powers to pursue an agenda that will advance public purpose – that is, seek ways to improve our standard of living and ensure all citizens participate in the bounty that the economic system generates (including sharing the losses when it doesn’t so generate). Of-course, I know that our polities basically govern to keep themselves in power. But there is the occasional election. Anyway, recent events suggest that governments seem to be able to construct popularity by taking actions that do us harm.
I read the headline in the UK press this morning – UK can’t afford another fiscal rescue – as a sure sign that all current and future keyboard operators within the UK Government had resolutely decided to refuse to enter a number in any government spending account from now on. This clearly would make it hard for the Government to continue spending given that a sovereign government like in the UK just spends by crediting private bank accounts and only a typist or two is needed to make that happen any time the government desires. I wondered what the Government had done to their operational staff that they would take such drastic action. So I started out to investigate what seemed to be a major yet fascinating industrial relations dispute between a government and its typists.
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.
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.
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!
I read the headline – Aussies don’t understand deficits: MP – in the Canberra Times with interest and after reading the article I returned to the on-going conversation I have with myself – why have we all been so stupid to have been so duped by the neo-liberal agenda? Almost all the public debate about the Federal Budget tomorrow is a total non sequitur. It bears no relation to the important questions that the Budget process has to deal with. Somehow, we are all sidelined by a rhetoric and a focus that conveniently diverts us away from these real issues and, instead, transfixes us on a piece of fiction. But a convenient fiction which maintains the relative power elites and perpetuates disadvantage. I understand all of that … but I still can’t get my head around why we have allowed ourselves to be so conned.
Today, the right-wing media that we are blessed with have wheeled out another one of their favourite little hobby-horses which they repeatedly use to promote the deregulation of the wages system. They are attacking the Government’s roll-back of Work Choices, which is aimed at restoring appropriate wages and conditions for non-standard work. In this specific case, two opinion columnists from the two major publishing houses are claiming that the Government is undermining the future employment prospects of our youth. Well if they had anything new to add by way of evidence it would be good for debate. As it is they both merely recite the dogma from the latest OECD report Jobs for Youth: Australia – and I don’t need to remind readers that that organisation has form. Its reputation in the area of labour market research is somewhat dubious after a series of recants over the last few years when confronted with solid evidence to the contrary. Anyway, here we go again.
Yesterday, after sort of saying it the day before and getting close to saying it late last week, and having to wait for the central bank governor to say it first, our Prime Minister, then in quick lock-step, our Treasurer both said the R-word. What gives with this political posturing. The Opposition is largely irrelevant at the moment anyway. The reluctance of the Government to admit the obvious is repugnant. It has been very obvious that the economy is in very bad shape and had been heading that way for some years despite the chimera of prosperity – as the snowball of future recession was growing in size with the private sector debt and the fiscal surplus. Right now, the Government needs to introduce policies that really arrest what we have known for months – that employment is going south and unemployment heading in the opposite direction. Perhaps today’s terrible projections from the International Monetary Fund will sharpen their focus on large-scale public sector job creation initiatives.
The recent policy decisions of the Federal government appears to be in line with those of the previous (insidious) regime when it comes to the unemployed. In expansion packages which have so far totalled more than $A50 billion, there has been an allocation of $650 million for a Jobs Plan and renewed funding for the privatised and failed Jobs Network. You might think that odd given that the unemployed bear the brunt of any economic downturn. I find it obscene. And with the May budget coming up, there will be increasing claims that there is “not enough fiscal room” to do anything more. After all, the Federal Employment Minister has told us “there is no quick fix” despite knowing full well they have the capacity to offer minimum wage public sector jobs to anyone who wanted one. We might take lessons from more enlightened
In this blog, we consider the debt question (again) with streamlined language to ensure it is accessible to all who choose to read it. Yesterday I asked whether future taxes will be higher, which is now being claimed by conservatives who are running a relentless political campaign against the demise of neo-liberalism. Today, the partner claim: will we be paying higher interest rates because of the borrowing? Answer: no! Whether interest rates are higher or lower in the future will have little to do with the movements in today’s budget balance. It is possible that voluntary arrangements set in place by the Australian government in the past will drive interest rates up. But if that occurs it will because the Government wants higher interest rates rather than having anything to do with the net spending that is being engaged in to stop employment growth falling off the cliff. So time to discuss bond markets a bit.
Can a city or state become a sovereign nation? We know what a sovereign nation is – one that has the capacity to issue its own currency and oblige its residents to pay their taxes in that currency. We also know that a state or city is thus not a sovereign nation because it uses the currency of the sovereign nation it “lives within”. So a state or a city is financially constrained in much the same way as a household. In that context, spending has to be financed either from higher taxes or debt issues which clearly places some limits on what programs a city or state can pursue. Further, a city can go bankrupt (become insolvent) in the local currency whereas a sovereign government cannot. So how might cities solve their infrastructure and social needs when they are so constrained?
The US Government has come up with its latest plan to solve the financial crisis which has now well and truly become a real (GDP and employment) crisis. While the initial reaction from the financial markets is generally favourable (and why wouldn’t it be), if you appraise it from the perspective of modern monetary theory and impose an equity bias then you conclude: (a) it will represent a major redistribution of nominal wealth to the already wealthy; and (b) it probably won’t help reduce unemployment because it is not tackling the real problem.
I read a headline in the Australian newspaper yesterday (March 19) – Nation building funding crisis as private sector fails to find cash. What? Nation building requires significant budget deficits. When was it dependent on the private sector having to trump up cash? I soon recalled that we have been living in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) era where governments have relinquished their responsibilities to build essential public infrastructure that not only supports a sense of public good but also underpins the prosperity of the private market economy. Its that time again. Time to debrief.