The hysteria surrounding the decision by the Bank of Japan (released December 19, 2022) to make a minor adjustment to its yield curve control ceiling on Japanese government 10-year bonds has been predictable but uninformed and full of vested interest agendas. You know the type of agenda that investment bankers engage in where they consistently pump out their media statements, which are soaked up by the financial media as if they are knowledge that needs repeating, that claim interest rates have to rise to deal with some inflation emergency or something. The media doesn’t tell the public who absorb this stuff that the actual agenda is that bankers want higher interest rates because they make more profit and that the reason the media statements give is largely fiction. So we are seeing more of that in the last few days. My understanding of the decision is that it does not signal a fundamental change in monetary policy in Japan. It is a minor shift to tweak the interface between the government bond market and the corporate bond market in order to maintain financial stability – the most important role of a central bank. All those characters that are claiming the hedge funds have won and the Bank of Japan is now conceding power to them with interest rate hikes to come are not reading the room. They are just pushing their self-interest in vain. No interest rates went up and my reading of the statement and what I know informally via contacts is that the Bank is committed to its current policy position because it considers, as I do, the inflationary pressures to be transitory and doesn’t want to respond to an ephemeral problem by creating a more entrenched problem of real economy recession and rising unemployment.
It’s Wednesday, and I have two things to write about briefly before exposing readers to some more music. First, the evidential base for my ‘this inflationary period is transitory’ narrative gains more weight. The latest CPI data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that inflation has peaked in the US and falling rapidly in the goods sector, which started this episode off. The second topic relates to measuring progress in the development and spread of new ideas. It is often difficult to know how far a new framework has penetrated the broader debate. But sometimes things happen that remind me of how far we have to go in changing the framing and language surrounding fiscal capacity and the related topics, that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has brought to the fore. We finish with some calming guitar playing.
I don’t really want to write this post today given the hysteria that has appeared in the media over the last week. But it is an important event so I better. Working in Kyoto for the last month has given me a sort of sense of dislocation from the day to day macroeconomic debate in Australia. I still read all the information and study the data but being somewhat distant from it – and not watching any current affairs or listening to the radio – provides for calm. Anyway, last night (October 25, 2022), the new Federal Treasurer released the annual ‘fiscal statement’ (aka ‘The Budget’), after telling the nation since he was elected that the sky was about to fall in because the previous government had left a ‘trillion dollars worth of debt’. The new Labor government is so intent on looking ‘responsible’ and the exemplars of ‘sound finance’ that the population has been subjected to a daily briefing from the Treasurer and the Finance Minister that amounts to little more than nauseating lies. And last night’s fiscal statement? A joke really. It neither does what the Treasurer claims nor does it deal with the numerous policy challenges that face the nation in any significant way. The fiscal statement essentially fails to meet the challenges that are before us and will worsen over the next few years. A gutless document really.
The British government has descended into high farce. It is rather embarassing to watch adults behave in the way they have conducted themselves in the last longtime. I also note that the usual suspects are out in force claiming (spuriously) that the economic turmoil that has beset Britain demonstrates categorically that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is deeply flawed and the real world is now teaching us that we should be discarded into the dustbin of history – or rather disgrace. These characters, which include so-called progressives think that hard core fiscal rules, like the British Labour Party took into the last election would have saved the day for Britain. I guess they are now mates with the IMF, who in their latest fiscal monitor – Fiscal Monitor – overnight (published October 12, 2022) – called for fiscal restraint. Also, central bankers who met in Washington over the last few days decided they had become the elected and accountable government making gratuitous threats that if fiscal policy wasn’t turned to austerity, they would punish citizens with further interest rate hikes. It is actually hard to find anything of sense in the current economic debate. It is despairing really.
The latest news I read from Germany was that the Rhine is now so low on water that its importance as a commercial waterway for transporting raw materials and finished products is being significantly compromised. The water level in places is now well below that required for navigation by the barges. It is the second time in the space of a few years that inland shipping in Europe has been thwarted by this sort of problem. The War in Ukraine is also causing bottlenecks in the inland transport routes as grain transports are being diverted as a consequence of the Black Sea blockades. Sure enough there are rail transports still capable of shifting the cargo but this problem is one of many now hitting Germany, which is finding out that its economic growth strategy is deeply flawed. It was only a matter of time before the ‘chickens came home to roost’. It was obvious for years that the Post-unification strategy the German government took as it entered the common currency could not deliver sustainable and stable growth. The reliance on suppressing domestic expenditure and wages growth in order to game its Eurozone partners so they recorded large external deficits in order to buy German exports was problematic given that the German insistence on austerity across the Eurozone resulted in stagnation and weaker export markets. Further, Germany relied heavily on diesel engines to underpin the strength of their dominant motor vehicle industry and not only did they lie about the quality of the products, but they failed to foresee the shifting sentiment away from polluting diesel. And, of course, they relied on imported energy from Russia to feed this industrial strength and supply their consumer markets, which assumed that Russia would remain reliable. At present they are also being impacted by the supply disruptions in China, given they have shifted their external sector towards an increased reliance on China. Some of these problems will ease but the reality is that the German model that they took into the Eurozone is now unsustainable. They must abandon their export led growth obsession, increase their reliance on domestic demand and improve the circumstances for their workers while dealing with the increasingly evident climate emergency.
It’s Wednesday and I have some comments to make about yesterday’s RBA decision (July 5, 2022) to continue increasing its interest rate – this time by 50 points – the third increase in as many months. If the rhetoric is accurate it will not the last rise by any means. In its – Statement by Philip Lowe, Governor: Monetary Policy Decision – the RBA noted that global factors were driving “much of the increase in inflation in Australia” but there were some domestic influences – like “strong demand, a tight labour market and capacity constraints” and “floods are also affecting some prices”. It is hard to make sense of their reasoning as I have explained in the past. Most of the factors ‘driving inflation’ will not be sensitive to increase borrowing costs. The banks are laughing because while they have increased borrowing rates immediately, deposit rates remain low – result: massive gains in profits to an already profit-bloated sector. But the curious part of the RBA’s stance is that they are defending themselves from the obvious criticism that they are going to drive the economy into the ground and cause a rise in unemployment by claiming that “many households have built up large financial buffers and are benefiting from stronger income growth” – so the increased mortgage and other credit costs will be absorbed by those savings (wealth destruction) allowing households to continue spending. You should be able to see the logic gap – if “strong demand” is driving inflation and that needs to come off for inflation to fall but the buildup of savings will protect demand – go figure. Monetary policy is in total chaos and being driven by ideology. And to calm down after that we have some great music as is the norm on a Wednesday.
There was an unedifying and fairly undignified war on Twitter recently about whether Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economics advocate using taxes to deal with inflation. Like all these Twitter ‘debates’, the opening proposition was a ‘gotcha’ attempt that was correct from one angle but then missed the point when it was applied to whether MMT is a valid framework or not. The responses from the MMT ‘activists’ were also overly defensive and reflected the fact that they had fallen for the framing trap presented by the antagonist. In this blog post, I want to clarify the MMT position on the use of taxes and inflation policy. What you will learn is that both positions presented in that Twitter war were largely erroneous, and, conflated concepts, either knowingly (probably not) or unknowingly, to leave a muddy mess. As the cloud became thicker, the ‘debate’ descended, as all these Twitter exchanges seem to, into unhelpful accusations of racial insult, claims of ignorance and stupidity, and worse. Not very helpful.
It’s Wednesday, and we have some analysis and news and then my music segment for the week. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) stunned the nation by pushing up interest rates by 0.5 points, claiming it was the responsible thing to do given that inflation was higher than expected. They then outlined all the factors driving inflation – none of which are going to be responsive to interest rate rises. Further, when one dissects the way in which interest rate rises work through distributional effects and effects on business costs, it is not clear that increasing rates will not just add to the stimulation rather than reduce it as the RBA claims. Next, we Fact Check the Fact Checkers and after all of that we have some Tupelo Blues, to restore some sense of decorum.
Yesterday (May 11, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index Summary – April 2022 – which showed the monthly increase in the CPI to be 0.3 per cent, the lowest monthly increase since August 2021 and, as it happens, just about right on the average monthly growth rate from January 1947 and April 2022. The result suggests a tapering of price pressures. The Energy component fell by 2.7 per cent in April after spiking at 11 per cent in March. Further, the growth in food prices fell for the third consecutive month. All of this has nothing to do with the recent interest rises imposed on the economy by the US Federal Reserve. They were already in train and confirm the transitory nature of this period of price instability. The US Treasury Department also published its most recent fiscal statistics yesterday – Monthly Treasury Statement – for April 2022, which reports a staggering $US533,794 fiscal shift between April 2021 and April 2022 – the fiscal drag embodied in that shift is massive and calls into question the conduct of the US Federal Reserve – why did they think they needed to push the economy towards recession? Fiscal policy is already working in that direction!
Last night (March 30, 2022), the Federal Treasurer released the annual ‘fiscal statement’ (aka ‘The Budget’), which revealed to everyone how cynical these exercises have become. The statement is normally released in May but the Federal government has to go to the polls then and they are so far behind the Opposition Labor Party in the opinion polling that they decided to bring forward the fiscal statement as a last ditch attempt to bribe the voters with pennies. I hope it doesn’t work. This is one of the most dishonest and incompetent governments we have ever had to deal with – and that is saying something given our history. While everyone is talking about the cash splash – it is offset by a range of cuts and dissipates in a few months anyway – just after the election. And the Government is once again revealing it has not foresight – to deal with the major challenges – climate, aged care, health care, higher education, social housing, etc. I can barely even write about the statement it is so bad.
There are some Op Eds that are bad, and then others that transcend that standard to become terrible. Such was the case last week when I read this article in the Australian press (Sydney Morning Herald) (February 18, 2022) – It’s time to return to Costello economics, whoever wins the federal election – which was written by a former advisor to the last Labor Prime Minister in Australia. The article is dishonest in that it completely ignores the most significant aspects of the period he seeks to eulogise. It is also scary if it reflects current Labor Party thinking, given the author’s previous associations.
It is hard to imagine that so little progress has been made in dismantling the mainstream macroeconomics paradigm over the last decade within the institutions of government. We have had the GFC, and now, the pandemic to disclose what does and does not happen when governments engage in relatively large fiscal shifts, yet the fictional world that is taught in mainstream university programs and echoed in policy making circles keeps being rehearsed. While researching the literature on rates of return on public infrastructure spending for a project (book chapter) I am working on at present, I came across the starkness of the mainstream deception. They are still claiming that public spending damages private spending.
There was an informative article in the UK Guardian over the week (January 13, 2022) – Australia’s supply chain issues likely to continue despite drop in Covid cases – which documented the many ways in which the pandemic has led to difficulties in getting goods supplied to retail outlets or their destination (in the case of overseas mail deliveries). The majority of recent articles about the economy and policy options have erred on the side of the need for interest rate hikes and fiscal policy cutbacks, which assume the rising inflation rates around the world are the demand-side events. But it is obvious to anyone other than private bank economists who are lobbying for interest rate rises to increase the profits for their banks, or, mainstream economists, who oppose central bank bond-buying and fiscal deficits, that the cause of the problems at present is not being driven by an explosion of nominal spending – neither from the non-government sector or through fiscal policy. Here is some more evidence to support that conclusion.
Last year, the US Federal Reserve dropped a bombshell on mainstream macroeconomics by abandoning the consensus approach to monetary policy, which prioritised fighting inflation over maintaining low levels of unemployment, and, increasing interest rates well before any defined inflationary pressures were realised – the so-called forward guidance approach. It has also been buying massive quantities of US government debt and controlling bond yields in the markets as a result. Attention has been on the ECB to see where it would pivot too and whether it was going to abandon its own massive government bond buying program any time soon, which has been effectively funding the fiscal deficits of the 19 Member-States of the Eurozone. Recent statements have indicated the QE programs in Europe will not be ending any time soon. And an ECB Board member all but tied the scale of the purchasing programs to the size of the fiscal deficits as a guide to how long and how large the QE interventions would be.
I keep reading that the European Commission has abandoned the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and that the euro is no longer a problem. I beg to differ. On June 6, 2021, the European Commission released a – Report prepared in accordance with Article 126(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – which updated their latest views on the state of fiscal balances in the EU. The Report confirms the Commission’s intention to return to the Excessive Deficit Mechanism process in 2023. The problem is that the whole assessment process is biased towards fiscal austerity. I show why in this blog post.
I have been working on an article that will come out in the press soon on inflationary pressures. It is obvious that characters like Larry Summers and Olivier Blanchard are trying to stay at the centre of the debate by issuing various lurid threats about the likelihood of an inflation outbreak in the US and elsewhere. Last week, the Financial Times published an article (June 3, 2021) by the former German Finance Minister and now President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble – Europe’s social peace requires a return to fiscal discipline. I was initially confronted with the juxtaposition of this author, who bullied all and sundry during to the GFC to ensure an austerity mindset was maintained at great cost to the millions who were deliberately forced to endure unemployment, with the photo of John Maynard Keynes under the title of the article. The title didn’t seem to match the picture. My first impressions were correct. Lessons have not been learned.
My Wednesday blog post with a few snippets. Don’t forget to enrol in our MOOC which begins next week. Also, some news from Britain that shows once again the British Labour Party has the gun aimed straight at its foot. And some comments on yesterday’s Australian government decision to increase the unemployment benefit by $25 per week and claiming this was appropriate – when it still means the recipients are $163 per week below the accepted poverty line. Enforced poverty by a government that refuses to create enough jobs and then punishes the victims of the policy failure. This all amounts to War and we can sing along to that after getting angry about the rest.
As part of the paradigmic turmoil that is confronting mainstream economists, we are witnessing some very interesting strategies. Imagine you establish a set of principles that are seemingly inviolable. They are the bedrock of the belief system, even though it is not called that. These principles then offer all sorts of predictions about, yes, the real world. They are without nuance. The predictions are so worrying, that politicians, whether they are knowing or not, proceed with caution in some cases, and, in other cases, openly damage the well-being of citizens because they have been told that shock therapy is better than a long drawn out demise into ‘le marasme’. The authority for all the carnage that follows (unemployment, poverty, pension cuts, degraded public infrastructure and services, etc) is these ‘inviolable principles’. Economists swan around the world preaching them and bullying students and others into accepting them as gospel. The policy advice is hard and fast. Governments must stay credible. Except one day they completely change tack and all the policy advice that established certain actions to be totally taboo become the norm. We observe things are better as a result. Does this mean those ‘inviolable principles’ were bunk all along? Not according to the mainstream economists who are trying to position themselves on the right side of history. Apparently, their optimising New Keynesian models can totally justify fiscal dominance and central bank funding fiscal deficits when yesterday such actions were taboo. Which leg are they trying to pull?
Yesterday, I discussed the results of recent research that demonstrated the ‘trickle down’ hypothesis, which has been used to justify the sequence of tax cuts for high income recipients, was without any empirical foundation. While mainstream economists have been enchanted with that hypothesis, heterodox (including Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists have never considered it had any validity – neither theoretical nor empirical. But it is good that mainstream researchers are now ratifying that long-held view. Today, I am discussing another case of the mainstream catching up. When I say catching up, the implications of these new empirical studies are devastating for key propositions that the mainstream macroeconomists maintain. The ECB Working Paper series published an interesting paper (No. 2509) yesterday (December 21, 2020) by an Italian economist from the Bank of Italy – Losers amongst the losers: the welfare effects of the Great Recession across cohorts. In brief, the research found that younger people bear disproportionate burdens during recession in the short-run, but also, face diminished prospects over the longer-term. The paper bears on some of the major fictions that have been propagated to disabuse governments of using fiscal deficits to smooth out the economic cycle – namely, the alleged burden that is created by the current generation’s excesses (the deficit) for their children and grandchildren (who according to the narrative have to pay back the debt incurred by the excesses). This is another case of evidence being produced that ratify the analysis that MMT economists have been advancing for the last 25 years.
Last month, I noted that with the virus infections in the US increasing rapidly and renewed lockdowns almost inevitable combined with the lack of fiscal support from government, labour market conditions would probably deteriorate in November. I thought the US faced an uncertain and pessimistic future. The latest data reveals that assessment was accurate. On December 4, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2020 – which reveals a deteriorating situation. Employment growth has slowed dramatically and participation fell by 0.2 points, which is the only reason that the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 points. Once we take into account the decline in the labour force, we realise that the fall in unemployment is illusory – it just means that workers who would normally be considered unemployed are now being classified as outside the labour force (that is, as hidden unemployed). The impasse at Congress on the the size and design of the next tranche of fiscal support is not helping. And then the data shows the lax health policy is allowing the virus to run out of control and how that plays out is anyone’s guess. I suspect a nation has to get the health problem sorted before they can really sort out the economic problem. The US appears to be going in the opposite direction to that. I doubt it will turn out well.