Is the British Labour Party aboard the fiscal dominance train – Part 2?

I am typing some of this on the train from Brighton back to London, after a day of speaking events in Brighton, where the British Labour Party conference is currently being held. I spoke at two events: (a) the GIMMS event on MMT and the Green New Deal and a video will be available soon; and (b) at an event alongside British Labour MP Chris Williamson, where were talked about how an Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) understanding can enhance the progressive policy cause and advance a transformation towards a ‘socialist’ (whatever that might be) state. It was great to see everyone at the events. The second event was attended by many people involved in the Labour Party itself and I hope that being exposed to new ideas will activate further grassroots resistance to the neoliberal system that undermines our material prosperity. So this two-part series is a reflection on the state of economic policy thinking within British Labour in the context of the paradigm shift that is going on now, around the world, in macroeconomic policy thinking. As I noted in – Part 1 – we are now seeing economists and policy makers, lining up, to tell us that a reliance on monetary policy has run its course and a new era of fiscal policy dominance is the only viable way ahead. That means that New Keynesian economics is over. That means that fiscal credibility rules that reflect an adherence to neoliberal constructs will need to be abandoned. And it seems that British Labour are lagging behind these major shifts that have been going on in economic policy thinking. Only Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) offers a consistent and credible path for Labour to make the shift into this era.

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Is the British Labour Party aboard the fiscal dominance train – Part 1?

As I type this (Sunday), I am heading to Brighton, England from Edinburgh. We had two sessions in Edinburgh yesterday (Saturday) and it was great to share ideas with some really committed people. We had to dodge a Hollywood closure of the streets (‘Fast and Furious 9 had commandeered the inner city to film a car or two swerving out of control or whatever, and I hope the city received heaps for the inconvenience to its citizens. But, with the direction now south, and tomorrow’s two events (more later), I am thinking the place of the British Labour Party in the progressive struggle. It doesn’t look good to me. The news overnight has been that the Party’s “head of policy and the author of the party’s last election manifesto” (quoting the Times today) has quit the Party claiming “I no longer have faith we will succeed”. The blame game starts and, as usual, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is in focus. The Times cartoon had the caption “They’ve got what it takes to form a government” with two ducks (in Brighton) looking at a sign against a wall saying “Labour Civil War Chaos”. What should we make of all this? My take is this: there is a clear paradigm shift going on in macroeconomic policy thinking. Every day (it seems) a new article pops up with someone claiming monetary policy has run its course and a new era of fiscal policy dominance is the only viable way ahead. That means that the central bank imprimatur on policy – determining whether such policy can continue to be effective and relying on interest rate adjustments etc as the primary counter-stabilisation policy – is over. That means that New Keynesian economics is over. That means that fiscal credibility rules that are neoliberal central are over. And that is why I think British Labour are looking poorly in the polls. They have taken advice from a number of characters who have pushed them into a ‘New Keynesian’ mindset and they are now ‘yesterday’s news’. They have missed the boat on these major shifts that have been going on. That is why they need a major shift in macroeconomic thinking. Only Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) offers a consistent and credible path for them to make that shift.

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Progressive media criticising fiscal stimulus as a recession threatens – such is the modern Left

I have regularly noted how the UK Guardian, the so-called newspaper for progressives as opposed to The Times, which serves the Tories, has been a primary media instrument for propagating neo-liberal economic myths. It has also been part of Project Fear, which the Remainers thought would see the June 2016 Referendum resolved in their favour, and have ever since been moaning about the need for another vote – you know, democracy as long as it delivers what you want. But when the Tories outflank them by electing Boris Johnson who then determines he will take the intransigent European Union on by calling their bluff and pushing ahead with Brexit by hook or by crook, the Remainers scream about democracy being trampled and all the rest of it. And when the Johnson Tories announce that they will introduce a significant fiscal stimulus to head-off any possible non-government recessionary forces (which is sensible and responsible fiscal conduct), the Remainers open their beloved Guardian to find their favourite journalists raving on about how such a move is risky because it will ‘damage public finances’ and predicting, derisively, that the Government will have to break their ridiculous fiscal rules because of the scale of the stimulus required. This is par for the course for the Europhile Left these days – champions of neoliberalism.

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British Chancellor and his Shadow – arm in arm promoting fiscal myths

Last week (June 20, 2019), the British Chancellor (for now) gave his – Mansion House dinner speech 2019 – Philip Hammond – at the Lord Mayor’s residence just across the road from the Bank of England in London, which should have conditioned the content of his speech. The guests at Hammond’s evening were mostly male bankers with the usual cohort of politicians. This event is the UK equivalent of the US President’s State of the Union speech except at the British event, both senior economic officials, the Chancellor and the governor of the Bank of England address the audience. The Chancellor’s speech, aimed mostly at the potential PM candidates tried to claim that the if Britain was to exit the EU without a ‘deal’ then the Government would run out of money. He didn’t use those words but shrouded the message in buzz-terms such as “fiscal space” and “fiscal headroom”, which are among those mainstream macroeconomic terms that mean nothing when coming from a guy like Hammond. Worse, was the response over the weekend by the Shadow Chancellor.

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The effectiveness and primacy of fiscal policy – Part 3

This is the final part of my three-part series on the why I have confidence in the primacy of fiscal policy over monetary policy and eschew any proposals, by other Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) advocates or others, to replace the so-called ‘independent’ central bank, with an ‘independent’ fiscal authority, which they seem to think would take the ‘politics’ out of fiscal policy decision-making and focus it on advancing the well-being of the people. Such a proposal is not core MMT. It is an opinion that, in my view, is based on deeply flawed logic and would would constitute the continuation of the neoliberal practice of depoliticisation and further increase the democratic deficit that is common in our nations these days. In this final part, I extend the reasons that progressives should oppose such outsourced decision-making and, instead, advocate the introduction of processes that always make our elected politicians fully responsible for the decisions they take on our behalf. Our polity should be always be held accountable for those decisions and not be allowed to defer responsibility to an external source (like an ‘independent’ central bank or fiscal authority).

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The effectiveness and primacy of fiscal policy – Part 2

This is the second part of a three-part series discussing the political issues that give me confidence in the primacy of fiscal policy over monetary policy. The series is designed to help readers see that the recent criticisms of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as being politically naive and unworkable in a real politic sense have all been addressed in the past. In Part 1, I gave examples of how ‘agile’ or ‘nimble’ fiscal policy can be when an elected government has it in their mind to use their spending and taxation capacities to change the direction of the non-government economic cycle. It is simply untrue that fiscal policy is inflexible and cannot make effective, well-designed policy interventions. In this second part, I will address aspects of how such interventions might be organised. Specifically, some people have advocated that MMT might replace the so-called ‘independent’ central bank, with an ‘independent’ fiscal authority, which they seem to think would take the ‘politics’ out of fiscal policy decision-making and focus it on advancing the well-being of the people. The intentions might be sound but the idea is the anathema of what progressives, interested in maintaining democratic accountability would propose. I consider such an independent fiscal authority would constitute the continuation of the neoliberal practice of depoliticisation and further increase the democratic deficit that is common in our nations these days. Politicians are elected to take responsibility and make decisions on our behalf. They should be always be held accountable for those decisions and not be allowed to defer responsibility to an external source (like an ‘independent’ central bank or an external fiscal authority).

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The effectiveness and primacy of fiscal policy – Part 1

I did an interview overnight with a WSJ journalist from London on the ‘political’ aspects of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). This blog post covers some of that conversation, although I started writing this a few weeks ago. Regular readers will recall I was promising a post about the ‘nimbleness’ of fiscal policy. That promise instigated the request from the WSJ. When I write about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), I try to be careful to distinguish between what we might consider the core MMT principles (theory, description, accounting) and the imposition of my own values (political and otherwise) that is informed by those core principles. That separation is important and should (but doesn’t) stop others misrepresenting the core principles by appealing to proposals that might flow from the value imposition. An example of this separation (and confusion), a topic which I receive many E-mails from people which seek clarification, is the concept of setting up an independent fiscal authority. The proposal to establish such an authority is not a core MMT principle. It might reflect an opinion that has been expressed by someone writing about MMT but that is as far as it goes. For the record, I am deeply opposed to establishing such an authority. It would constitute the continuation of the neoliberal practice of depoliticisation and further increase the democratic deficit that is common in our nations these days. Politicians are elected to take responsibility and make decisions on our behalf. Can we trust them? We have elections to deal with those issues. Should technocrats rule? Technocrats do not stand for election. They give advice but have no democratic responsibility. Is fiscal policy agile enough to be an effective source of counter-stabilisation against the non-government spending cycle? That is what this blog post is about. This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Part 2 will be published on Monday.

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The ‘fiscal contraction expansion’ lie lives on – now playing in Italy – Part 1

Pathetic was the first word that came to mind when I read this article – The Italian Budget: A Case of Contractionary Fiscal Expansion? – written by Olivier Blanchard and Jeromin Zettlemeyer, from the Peter Peterson Institute for International Economics. Here is a former IMF chief economist and a former German economic bureaucrat continuing to rehearse the failed ‘fiscal contraction expansion’ lie that rose to prominence during the worst days of the GFC, when the European Commission and the IMF (along with the OECD and other groups) touted the idea of ‘growth friendly’ austerity. Nations were told that if they savagely cut public spending their economies would grow because interest rates would be lower and private investment would more than fill the gap left by the spending cuts. History tells us that the application of this nonsense caused devastation throughout, with Greece being the showcase nation. The damage and carnage left by the application of these mainstream New Keynesian ideas are still reverberating in elevated unemployment rates, high poverty rates, broken communities and increased suicide rates, to name a few of the pathologies it engendered. But the ‘boys are back in town’ (sorry Thin Lizzy) and Blanchard and Zettlemeyer are falling in behind the IMF and the European Commission against the current Italian government by demanding fiscal cutbacks. It will turn out badly for Italy if the government buckles under this sort of pressure. It once again shows that the mainstream economics profession has learned very little from the GFC. For them the story stays the same. It is one that we should reject in every circle it arises. This is Part 1 of a two-part analysis of the latest incarnation of this ruse my profession inflicts on societies.

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British fiscal statement – no end to austerity as the Left face plants

Last night in Britain (October 29, 2018), the British Chancellor released the – Budget 2018 – aka the 2018 fiscal statement (my terminology, to avoid triggering the flawed household budget analogy). The detailed analysis is being done by others and I haven’t had enough time to read all the documents produced by the Government and others yet anyway. But of the hundreds of pages of data and documentation I have been able to consult, the Government is trying to win back votes while not particularly changing its austerity bias. That is fairly clear once you dig a little into the outlook statement produced by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). The Government’s strategy is also unsustainable because it continues the reliance on debt accumulation in the non-government sector, which will eventually hit a brick wall as the balance sheet of that sector becomes overly precarious. Nothing much has been learned from the GFC in that respect. The Government can only cut its debt by piling more onto the non-government sector. Second, the response of the Left has been pathetic. The Fabians, for example, has put out a document that uses all sorts of neoliberal frames and language, making it indistinguishable from something the mainstream macroeconomists would pump out – the anathema of the constructs and language that the Left should be using. There is a reason the political Left has fallen by the wayside over the last 3 or so decades. And their penchant to write and speak like neoliberals is part of the story.

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The British Labour Fiscal Credibility rule – some further final comments

Over the last weekend, it seemed that we had a return of the Spanish Inquisition with a prominent British academic, who by his own words designed the fiscal rule that British Labour has unwisely adopted, repeatedly demanding that MMT Tweeters confess to knowing that I was completely wrong on my interpretation of the fiscal rule. It is apparent that my meeting with the British Shadow Chancellor in London recently and my subsequent discussion of that meeting has brought the issues relating to the fiscal rule out into the open, which is a good thing. It is now apparent that British Labour is still, to some extent, back in the 1970s, carrying an irrational fear of what financial markets can do when confronted with the legislative authority of a sovereign government. I am not a psychologist so I cannot help them heal that irrational angst. But the claims that I misunderstood the fiscal rule – which are being repeated daily now by the fanboys of the rule are just ludicrous. The rule is simple. And it will bring Labour grief politically. Rolling windows or not!

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Australian fiscal statement 2018-19 – an election stunt, limited economic coherence

The Australian Treasurer brought down the 2018-19 Fiscal Statement (aka Budget) on Tuesday evening with much fanfare. The one message that dominated the cant and hypocrisy was that there will probably be an early election, maybe later this year. The Government is scandal-ridden, is enduring destructive infighting over leadership and policy direction, and has made some monumentally disastrous decisions in the current term of office (for example, denying the need for a Royal Commission into the financial sector, which they were bulldozed into finally accepting, and, which is now revealing massive corruption in our banks and insurance companies). Being so far down in the opinion polls means one thing. They use the annual ‘fiscal’ show to make themselves look good and dollop out (albeit with a lag) some scraps (tax cuts) to the masses, while reserving the huge tax cuts for the top-end-of-town. And, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I didn’t even bother to listen to the Treasurer’s speech. In fact, I could write some text generating code which would generate a ‘Budget Speech’ that was remarkably similar to the Treasurer’s speech. So why waste 30 minutes in the evening listening to it. I would prefer to be sorting socks in my sock draw!

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The path out of the low wage trap is limited by fiscal austerity

During my postgraduate study years I read a 1954 article by American economist Clark Kerr entitled – The Balkanization of Labor Markets – which attacked the mainstream labour market views that there was mobility within labour markets such that poverty arising from low-pay was a function of workers’ preferences for low education and more leisure (that is, unemployment). As such, there was no reason for the government to intervene to improve wages or job security. Kerr’s thesis was that there was not a ‘single’ labour market accessible to all, where individual mobility would result from personal investment in education and skill development. Instead, he argued that the US labour market was “segmented” by institutional arrangements, which trapped some demographic cohorts into low-pay and insecure jobs. Poverty could arise from these traps. The idea morphed into the segmented labour market literature of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The applications were mostly Anglo because in non-Anglo countries there appeared to be more resistance to institutional arrangements that undermined the chance for workers to enjoy job security with decent pay. However, in recent years (decade) the trend towards precarious work where certain groups (women, youth, migrants) are trapped in low pay and frequent spells of unemployment has spread, with devastating consequences. The largest European economies – Germany and France – are now bedevilled with this issue and with a bias towards fiscal austerity, the path for workers out of the trap is limited.

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Fiscal policy is effective, safe to use, and markets know it

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has just hosted its annual Economic Policy Symposium at Jackson Hole in Wyoming where central banks, treasury officials, financial market types and (mainstream) economists from the academy and business gather to discuss economic policy. As you might expect, the agenda is set by the mainstream view of the world and there is little diversity in the discussion. A Groupthink reinforcing session. One paper that was interesting was from two US Berkeley academics – Fiscal Stimulus and Fiscal Sustainability – which the news reports claimed suggested that governments should be increasing fiscal expansion even though they may be carrying high levels of public debt. The conclusion reached by the paper is correct but the methodology is mainstream and so progressives should not get carried away with the idea that there is signs that some give is emerging, which will lead to more progressive outcomes. A progressive solution will only come when the neo-liberal dominance of my profession is terminated and an entirely new macroeconomics paradigm based on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is established. There is still a long way to go though.

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Japan is different, right? Wrong! Fiscal policy works

Japan is different, right? Japan has a different culture, right? Japan has sustained low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, high public deficits and high gross public debt for 25 years, but that is cultural, right? Even the mainstream media is starting to see through the Japan is different narrative as we will see. Yesterday (August 14, 2017), the Cabinet Office in Japan published the preliminary – Quarterly Estimates of GDP – which showed that the Japanese economy is growing strongly and has just posted the 9th quarter of positive annual real GDP growth. Private consumption and investment is strong, the public sector continues to underpin growth with fiscal deficits and real wages are growing. The Eurozone should send a delegation to Tokyo but then all they would learn is that a currency-issuing government that doesn’t fall into the austerity obsession promoted by many economists (including those in the European Commission) can oversee strong growth and low unemployment. Simple really. The Japan experience is interesting because it demonstrates how the reversal in fiscal policy can have significant negative and positive effects in a fairly short time span, whereas monetary policy is much less effective in influencing expenditure.

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The ECB should not become a fiscal agent

On November 29, 2016, Mario Draghi, the President of the ECB wrote to Mr Jonás Fernández, a Spanish European Parliament member in reply to a request for clarification from the Chairman of the EP’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON). The Letter discussed whether it would be legal under the Lisbon Treaty for the ECB to engage in direct monetary transfers to citizens bypassing the Member States and whether such a policy would be beneficial for economic growth. Several commentators have seized on the response from the ECB as saying that such a policy innovation would be both legal and beneficial. My view is that, in forming this conclusion, they have not fully understood the difference between a monetary and a fiscal operation. While I think the policy would produce positive results, in the sense that it would stimulate growth and employment and reduce unemployment, I also believe it would be illegal under the Treaty. Further, I don’t think it is a progressive position to argue that a group of unelected and unaccountable technocrats in the central bank should be in charge of economic policy. That should be the responsibility of the democratically-elected members of the government who are fully accountable every electoral cycle. The ECB should not become a fiscal agent. Rather, if the Eurozone elites cannot implement (which they cannot) a full federal treasury function then it should disband the monetary union in an orderly way.

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Australian Labor Party fails the fiscal test – badly

I guess the venality of the new US Presidency isn’t creating enough news for the Australian press. On January 29, 2017, the Fairfax press wheeled out the veritable debt scaremongering in this article – Scott Morrison to lift credit limit as Australia’s debt hurtles towards $500 billion – reporting that the Australian government “will be forced to lift its own self-imposed credit limit in the coming months as debt hurtles towards half-a-trillion dollars”. Instead of writing about how stupid and unnecessary this ‘self-imposed limit’ is, the journalist wanted to talk about the disaster that awaits us as the debt of the currency issuing government “hurtles” like some asteroid to its death towards half-a-trillion dollars. As I said, must have been a day that imagination in the journalistic world was lacking. The worst part of the story is not the idiocy of its logic or the fact that it links to an inane Australian Debt Clock homepage, but, rather, the reported response from the Labor Party Shadow Treasurer. The Labor party is meant to represent the workers and claims to be the progressive force in Australian politics. That ladies and gentlemen is the sick joke of all time. This is a party that has abandoned its traditional remit (to defend the well-being of workers) and instead spouts neo-liberal gibberish without knowing it.

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Australia’s new central bank governor chooses to dissemble on fiscal issues

The new governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (our central bank) gave a speech in Melbourne yesterday (November 15, 2016) – Buffers and Options to the annual dinner of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). CEDA is a seedy type of organisation that typically advances the neo-liberal agenda. Please read my blog – The CEDA Report – one of the worst ever – for more discussion on this point. But that is not the topic today. The new governor has already began his tenure in disappointing fashion. I discussed his first foray into public life in this role in the blog – First appearance by Australia’s new central bank governor disappointing. His latest public intervention suggests he is hardening this stance – perpetuating the myths that a currency-issuing government is dependent on bond markets for its spending capacity and that public borrowing puts a burden on future generations. While today’s blog is about Australia, the principles elucidated are universal.

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Helicopter money is a fiscal operation and is not inherently inflationary

There was a Project Syndicate article (September 2, 2016) – The Unavoidable Costs of Helicopter Money – claiming that “In fact, there are major downsides to helicopter money”. Hmm. Should I read this article was my thought at the the time. Waste a few minutes of my life. I wondered if I could pen the article in advance and then check to see how close I was. The theme would be inflation. In that I was correct. But the author really innovated a bit and, in doing so, undermined his own argument. What we learn is fairly straightforward. If a government continues to increase nominal spending growth ahead of the growth in productive capacity then there will be inflation. The argument presented is, in fact, nothing to do with the monetary operations that accompany government spending – helicopter or otherwise. The inflation risk is in the spending. If private investment expenditure outstripped the capacity of the supply-side to produce the capital equipment demanded then the same outcome. Should we caution against such expenditure? Should be make it taboo? Obviously not.

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Time for fiscal policy as we learn more about monetary policy ineffectiveness

The week before last, the Bank of Japan didn’t set off any bazookas and basically held ground on monetary policy. In its – Summary of Opinions at the Monetary Policy Meeting on July 28 and 29, 2016 – (released August 8, 2016), we detect some tension among the Board members as to the effectiveness of monetary policy as a counter-stabilisation force (altering the economic cycle). The distinguishing feature about Japan is that monetary and fiscal policy are working in harmony in contradistinction to other nations (or currency blocs) where monetary easing is being accompanied by fiscal contraction. The latter ensures that growth will not occur, while the former provides a virtuous cycle. The recent retail sales data for Australia, released last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides further evidence that monetary policy is not very effective in stimulating spending. The same data demonstrated categorically in 2009 how effective fiscal policy can be. It is time for the Australian government to shift policy positions and introduce another major fiscal stimulus and stop relying on the central bank to salvage what is becoming an ugly situation. The latter simply hasn’t got the policy tools available to fulfill the task it has been (implicitly) set by the Government’s irresponsible pursuit of fiscal surpluses.

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Overt Monetary Financing would flush out the ideological disdain for fiscal policy

There was an article (May 24, 2016) – Helicopter money: The illusion of a free lunch – written by three institutional bank economists (two from the BIS, the other from the central bank of Thailand), which concluded that Overt Monetary Financing (OMF), where the bank provides the monetary capacity to support much larger fiscal deficits with no further debt being issued to the non-government sector, was “too good to be true”, in the sense that it “comes with a heavy price” – summarised as “giving up on monetary policy forever“. The argument they make is very consistent with the work that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents have published for more 20 years now, which is now starting to penetrate the mainstream banking analysis. However, the conclusion they draw is not supported by the original MMT proponents who would characterise OMF as a highly desirable policy development, more closely representative of the intrinsic monetary capacity of the government. The article also raises questions of what we mean by a “free lunch”, a term which was popularised (but not invented) by Monetarist Milton Friedman. Its use in economics is always loaded towards the mainstream view that government interventions are costly. But if we really appraise what the term “no such thing as a free lunch” really means then, once again, we are more closely operating in the MMT realm which stresses real resource constraints and exposes the fallacies of financial constraints that are meant to apply to currency-issuing governments.

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