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Our national broadcaster has become part of the problem

There was a time, in better days, that the evening news had news, sport and weather. Then, at some point, around the 1980s the national news started to host a Finance segment. Sometimes these segments are meagre reporting of what happened in the share markets. Even that benign news is symptomatic of the way neo-liberalism has infested our daily thinking and made the common folk feel part of the game that they are really can never be part of – wealth creation. At other times, the finance segments introduce economic theory and analysis as if it is news. Then the insidious nature of the neo-liberal propaganda machine becomes stark. But the starkness is lost on most because they think it is news and we have been led to believe that what gets pumped out at 19:00 on the national broadcaster (and other times by other broadcasters) are facts. Facts don’t lie do they? Well, when it comes to finance segments they are mostly lies.

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Exploring directions in fiscal policy

This blog extends the discussion in yesterday’s blog – Exploring pro-cyclical budget positions – which is why I am running them on consecutive days. Not that I think any of my readers (Austrian schoolers and other conservatives aside) have memory issues! The discussion that follows focuses on ways in which we can interpret the fiscal stance of a government and hopefully clears up some of the confusion that I read in E-mails I receive from readers. I say that not to put anyone down but rather to recognise that the decompositions of budget outcomes and analysing the direction of fiscal policy on a period-to-period basis is not something that the financial press usually focuses on. In avoid detailed analysis, the press leaves lots of misperceptions unchallenged and often the wrong conclusions are drawn. I am not talking about policy preferences here. Just coming to terms with the facts is sometimes difficult for many commentators to achieve. But, of-course, the “facts” are also sometimes difficult to discover given that the methods used to produce them are often ideologically biased (I am talking here about the decomposition of the actual deficit into structural and cyclical components requires a full employment benchmark, which is where the fun starts.

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Exploring pro-cyclical budget positions

Sometimes one agrees with a conclusion but realises the logic that was used to derive the conclusion was false. Which means that the person will get things wrong when applying the logic to other situations. This is almost always the case when we encounter the reasoning offered by so-called deficit doves. These are economists who do not out-rightly reject the use of deficits but typically believe them to be cyclical phenomenon only and should thus be offset at other points in the economic cycle by surpluses – the so-called balanced budget over the cycle rule. While many progressives think that is a sensible strategy – the reality is that it is an unsustainable fiscal rule to try to follow. The same economists talk about the dangers of pro-cyclical fiscal positions but fail to appreciate that such positions are desirable in certain cases and there is a fundamental asymmetry that applies to evaluation the desirability of a “cyclical” position. Fiscal austerity (pursuing surpluses when the economy is contracting) is never appropriate whereas expanding the deficit when the economy is growing might be. It all depends. This blog aims to clear up some of these misconceptions.

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When you’ve got friends like this – Part 10

In wishing us all happy new year, Jared Bernstein also pounded his readers with a confused macroeconomic logic, that if applied, would in all likelihood make their new year (collectively) worse. His article (December 29, 2012) – My Views on Spending Cuts and Entitlements – is another one of those cases when friendly fire shoots the progressive movement in the foot. You can read the previous editions of this theme – When you’ve got friends like this – to see what the problem is. In fact, I think I am being rather reasonable in only having this series extend to Part 10 so far. Given what is out there parading as progressive macroeconomic thinking the series might have been much longer than that by now. The simple point is that a truly progressive social agenda has to be grounded in solid macroeconomic principles. Trying to carve out a progressive agenda within a mainstream macroeconomic framework undermines the credibility of the former and plays straight into the hands of the conservatives.

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Haiti should build houses and schools and forget about the army

Several readers have asked me to comment on the recent New York Times Op Ed by Paul Krugman (October 30, 2011) – Bombs, Bridges and Jobs – which outlined the double standards among many conservatives who argue that “government does not create jobs” unless it engaged in military spending but still argued that such spending would be good for jobs and an increase would be welcome. It comes at a time when the new Haitian president is proposing to spend large sums of aid money on restablishing a military force in the nation despite not being able to offer basic housing, sanitation, education or health care. The appeal by the “military-industrial complex” that military spending is good for the economy is long standing and rarely refuted. After all, spending equals income and output which creates employment. But is expanding the military budget or insulating it from cuts the best way to create employment? Should we welcome, as Paul Krugman does, more military spending? The answer is that military spending has positive employment effects which are dwarfed by those pertaining to public spending on education, personal care services and other forms of public infrastructure. Haiti should build houses and schools and forget about the army.

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It is easy to create jobs

The US President delivered his long-awaited speech outlining the proposed American Jobs Act today to a packed Congress. The room was full of self-serving, anti-intellectuals masquerading as the representatives of the people of America. Eventually, this sham will be clear to all and the “American people” will “demand action”. If they don’t then the neo-liberal domination of policy which has led to the crisis and the extended malaise will continue to impoverish them. Bold action was needed from the President at least to demonstrate leadership so that the democratic forces could start to pressure the T-pots. Unfortunately, the President doesn’t seem to understand that it is easy to create jobs. A government just has have the will to do so.

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When you’ve got friends like this … Part 6

Today I continue my theme “When you’ve got friends like this” which focuses on how limiting the so-called progressive policy input has become in the modern debate about deficits and public debt. Today is a continuation of that theme. The earlier blogs – When you’ve got friends like thisPart 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5 – serve as background. The theme indicates that what goes for progressive argument these days is really a softer edged neo-liberalism. The main thing I find problematic about these “progressive agendas” is that they are based on faulty understandings of the way the monetary system operates and the opportunities that a sovereign government has to advance well-being. Progressives today seem to be falling for the myth that the financial markets are now the de facto governments of our nations and what they want they should get. It becomes a self-reinforcing perspective and will only deepen the malaise facing the world.

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A celebration of 75 years since Keynes turns into a farce

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that Paul Krugman gave a plenary lecture over the weekend just gone at a conference held at Cambridge University. The conference – 75th Anniversary of Keynes’ General Theory – seems to have been a remarkable event. First, I don’t know everything but I always know when there is a major “Keynesian/Post Keynesian” conference and sometimes I even go. In the case of the 75th Anniversary conference I didn’t even know it was being held. It seems that wasn’t exceptional. As Ann Pettifor points out the UK Post Keynesian Economics Study Group, which is a leading group who focus on studying Keynes and, arguably, has the leading UK Keynesian scholars among its membership, “found out about the conference by accident.” Second, if you examine the speaker’s list and read the papers that are available you might wonder what this conference had to do with Keynes. Certainly if the Cambridge organisers were aiming to “honour” the message that Keynes gave, then they had a strange way of doing that. The reality is that the celebration of 75 years since Keynes was a farce.

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Ineluctably compromised

Today I was reflecting on the role of students in social change. I was a student activist and took that role very seriously when I was a full-time student. I did have a sense of entitlement that it was our future and we had to rock the boat to make it work in the way we wanted. I probably proposed things without fully understanding them – that is the nature of being a student – enthusiasm gets ahead of judgement. But I also was lucky to have a few really great mentors in my earlier days who helped me. It is the role of the mentors and teachers to steer that youthful zeal to develop mature, knowledge-based assessments and informed action. I find my profession to be seriously defective in that sense because they indulge more in propaganda than they do in educating the students who want to learn economics. I do not think the average economics program to be of much educative value. But I understand the conservative nature of my profession and the reasons they behave in that way. What is more objectionable is when a self-styled progressive organisation engages in the same sort of exercise with students yet denies that they are doing it. The problem then is the beautiful enthusiasm of our youth becomes manipulated by their mentors and what should have been an educative process becomes a compromise ideological exercise serving the top-end-of-town. So today – continuing my truth theme – I am writing about processes and organisations that become ineluctably compromised.

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Distorting history to appear progressive

In a blog last week – These were not Keynesian stimulus packages – I considered the trend among faux-progressives to invoke Keynes as their mentor as they advocated or were cutting back public deficits in a pro-cyclical manner. That is, they were proposing to cut back deficits just when they should be providing strong support for aggregate demand in the context of weak demand. The specific discussion was focused on a recent Australian Fabian Society essay (April 11, 2011) by the Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan – Keynesians in the recovery. There are two points I want to revisit in regard to this paper – one specific and one general. Both points demonstrate that the fiscal strategy of the Australian government is based on a false premise and that they are selling that strategy by distorting the historical evidence.

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Letter to Paul Krugman

I haven’t enough time to write a blog today because I have been writing a letter to Paul Krugman following his recent articles in the New York Times. That has taken up my spare time today. So as not to disappoint I have made by letter available for all to read. I am sure Paul won’t mind. So read on …

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When you’ve got friends like this … Part 4

Some time ago I started a theme “When you’ve got friends like this” which focuses on how limiting the so-called progressive policy input has become in the modern debate about deficits and public debt. Today is a continuation of that theme. The earlier blogs – When you’ve got friends like thisPart 0Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 – serve as background. The theme indicates that what goes for progressive argument these days is really a softer edged neo-liberalism. The main thing I find problematic about these “progressive agendas” is that they are based on faulty understandings of the way the monetary system operates and the opportunities that a sovereign government has to advance well-being. Progressives today seem to be falling for the myth that the financial markets are now the de facto governments of our nations and what they want they should get. It becomes a self-reinforcing perspective and will only deepen the malaise facing the world.

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The economics profession is a disgrace

It is funny being part of a profession which doesn’t deserve to exist in its current form. The fact is that I might have better helped the world if I was an anthropologist or perhaps just stayed being a professional musician. My profession is a total disgrace and our arrogance leaves us blind to reality. The latest survey by the National Association for Business Economics reinforces how far removed from reality my profession is. They think the most pressing problem in the US at the moment is the deficit and the public debt and downplay the importance of the entrenched unemployment. When pressed to explain this crazy set of priorities they invent a fantastic (as in fantasy) narrative about the dangers of deficits (which are?) and emphasise that unemployment is largely a voluntary choice by the individuals involved. The academic members of the profession teach their students this nonsense. They talk about the virtues of efficiency but ignore the huge losses that arise from unemployment. The reality is that the economics profession is a disgrace.

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When you know they don’t quite get it

I am travelling and engaged with commitments today and so am fitting this blog into a shorter time-span than I usually make. The floods in Australia have now become tragic (loss of many lives) but the Prime Minister still is insisting that the Federal government “will bring the budget to surplus in 2012-13, and, yes, that will entail some tough choices” even though it is being predicted that the impact on real growth of the Queensland economy virtually shutting down at present might be of the order of 1 per cent (see this account). Given the tepid economic growth that was revealed in the September quarter this would suggest that we are going back into recession territory. My advice to PM Julia in relation to her surplus aspirations – “automatic stabilisers – learn about them”. You can see the negative impact of the excessive rain over the last few months on coal exports already – see ABS data release yesterday for International Trade in Goods and Services. Anyway, I was thinking about this early today before I started attending to my commitments here (in Melbourne) and it related to something that I read in the New York Times this week. The issue is that so-called progressives often let the team down by using inappropriate constructs in the public debate. I am never absolutely sure whether they use these constructs because they don’t know better or they want some point of intersection with the mainstream debate. I usually conclude the former and there are times when you realise you know they don’t quite get it.

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Very costly fiscal programs are needed

In yesterday’s blog – Our children never hand real output back in time – I canvassed the recent speech by Japanese financial market expert Eisuke Sakakibara who emphasised that the world recession will be protracted (until 2015 at least) because governments are refusing to support output and income generation with appropriately scaled fiscal interventions. It was a timely warning I think. But organisations like the OECD are pressuring governments to do exactly the opposite. They want governments to accelerate their pro-cyclical fiscal austerity plans – that is, withdraw public spending while private spending languishes. It is a purely ideological demand – and will worsen the recovery prospects of any country that follows that course – Ireland is our beacon! What is required at present are very costly fiscal programs – programs that utilise as many real resources as are idle. Such a strategy would be the exemplar of responsible fiscal policy management.

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Saturday Quiz – December 11, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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In austerity land, thinking about fiscal rules

I am now in Maastricht, The Netherlands where I have a regular position as visiting professor. It is like a second home to me. The University hosts CofFEE-Europe, which we started some years ago as a sibling of my research centre back in Newcastle. My relationship with the University here is due to my long friendship and professional collaboration with Prof dr. Joan Muysken who works here and is a co-author of my recent book – Full Employment abandoned. Our discussions last night were all about the Eurozone and I was happy to know that most of the Dutch banks are now effectively nationalised as part of the early bailout attempts. It is also clear that the ECB is now stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. If it stops buying national government debt on the secondary markets those governments are likely to default and the big French and German banks the ECB is largely protecting will be in crisis. Alternatively, every day it continues with this policy the more obvious it is that the Eurozone system is totally bereft of any logic. Once the citizens in the nations that are being forced to endure harsh austerity programs realise all this there will be mayhem. The other discussion topic was the possible revision of the fiscal rules that define the Maastricht treaty. That is what this blog is about.

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Saturday Quiz – September 11, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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The letters economists write …

There is a long tradition of economists writing Open Letters to the media in support or in opposition to some government policy stance. The conservatives write them. The so-called progressives write them back. Usually around election times. Often the underlying economics supporting the arguments is difficult to differentiate given they both seek to comment on budgets and fiscal policy. In that context, the differences become matters of degree rather than substance. So the progressives usually take a deficit-dove position where they consider deficits are good sometimes but the budget needs to be balanced over some business cycle. In that sense, the progressives are not different to the more reasonable conservative economists. Neither position is correct and the continual repetition that deficits are only useful in times of recession demeans the public debate. The public ignorance about monetary matters and the role of deficits is continually being reinforced by these letters. Better to tell the truth I think – as long as you know what it is!

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Saturday Quiz – May 29, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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