ECB research shows huge output gap and need for fiscal expansion

Last week, I reported on some claims by Australian private sector economists that the Australian government was deplete of policy tools (“run out of ammunition” was the cute term used among these self-serving characters) and would not be able to handle the Brexit fallout – see When journalists allow dangerous economic myths to pervade. It was obvious that the statements were nonsensical and only reflected the dangerous neo-liberal ideology that discretionary fiscal policy should be constrained to the point of being not used! In the last week, some major central bankers around the world have given speeches which suggest they also understand that fiscal policy has come to the fore and provide some certainty to the world economy. The latest estimates from the ECB of the Eurozone output gap certainly provide the evidence base to justify a major expansion of fiscal deficits across the Eurozone. The research is suggesting that there is a significant output gap which is evidence of insufficient aggregate spending rather than any structural shifts in potential GDP. I guess they are warming the Member States for more expansionary action although the message is very clear – the European Commission has to abandon its austerity mindset and provide some old-fashioned deficit stimulus – quick smart!

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OECD joins the rush to fiscal expansion – for now at least

In the last month or so, we have seen the IMF publish material that is critical of what they call neo-liberalism. They now claim that the sort of policies that the IMF and the OECD have championed for several decades have damaged the well-being of people and societies. They now advocate policy positions that are diametrically opposite their past recommendations (for example, in relation to capital controls). In the most recent OECD Economic Outlook we now read that their is an “urgent need” for fiscal expansion – for large-scale expenditure on public infrastructure and education – despite this organisation advocating the opposite policies at the height of the crisis. It is too early to say whether these ‘swallows’ constitute a break-down of the neo-liberal Groupthink that has dominated these institutions over the last several decades. But for now, we should welcome the change of position, albeit from elements within these institutions. They are now advocating policies that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents have consistently proposed throughout the crisis. If only! The damage caused by the interventions of the IMF and the OECD in advancing austerity would have been avoided had these new positions been taken early on in the crisis. The other question is who within these organisations is going to pay for their previous incompetence?

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There is no secular stagnation – just irresponsible fiscal policy

I am in Barcelona today until later then I am off to Valencia for two days. More on the Spanish tour later. The latest edition of the ECB’s Economic Bulletin released on May 5, 2016 carried and – Update on economic and monetary developments – provides more evidence, as if any was needed, that the current reliance on monetary policy – standard or otherwise – to reboot the stagnant economies of Europe has failed and will continue to fail. Why? It is the wrong policy tool. Journalists are increasingly writing that policy options are exhausted because central bankers ‘have fired all their shots’ and the “more shots they fire, the less effective they become”. The implication is that the world is locked into a future of secular stagnation with elevated levels of unemployment and low productivity growth. They seem to have forgotten that fiscal policy remains effective if it is used properly. There is no secular stagnation – just irresponsible fiscal policy use.

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Spanish government discretionary fiscal deficit rises and real GDP growth returns

I am off to Spain in a few weeks to undertake a lecture tour associated with the publication of a Spanish translation of my current book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale (see details below if you are interested). I noted by way of passing in a blog last week that a recent article in Spain’s highest-circulation newspaper El País (March 31, 2016) – Public deficit for 2015 comes in at 5.2%, exceeding gloomiest forecasts. The latest data shows that the Spanish government is in breach of Eurozone fiscal rules and is growing strongly as a result. Those who claim that Spain demonstrates how fiscal austerity can promote growth should examine the data more closely. The reality is that as growth has returned (albeit now moderating again), the discretionary fiscal deficit (that component of the final deficit that reflects the policy choices of government) has increased. Government consumption and investment spending has supported the return to growth, which had collapsed under the burdens of fiscal austerity between 2010 and 2013. Spain demonstrates how responsible counter-cyclical fiscal policy works.

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Ireland demonstrates that fiscal deficits promote growth

On December 10, 2015, the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) released the – National Accounts, Quarter 3, 2015 – data, which showed that real GDP had increased by 1.4 per cent over the last quarter while real GNP had declined by 0.8 per cent. On an annual basis, real GDP increased by 6.8 per cent in the September-quarter 2015 and real GN increased by 3.2 per cent over the same period. I’ll discuss the difference between GDP in GNP later but is clear that Ireland is in terms of real economic growth leading the Eurozone at present. In narrow terms, it is also clear that over the last two years the nation has recorded consistent growth. A question that is often asked is whether Ireland defies those who claim that austerity is flawed strategy. I get various E-mails along those lines, some polite, some rude. My answer to the polite ones is that it is difficult to hold out Ireland as an example of austerity-led growth. Ireland is, in fact, a rather strange Eurozone Member State, and is more firmly plugged in to the Anglo world than other Eurozone nations. It just happens, that while the Irish government was suppressing domestic demand through austerity from as early as 2009, significant trading partners (such as, Britain, the US and China) were maintaining expansionary fiscal positions, which allowed Ireland to resume growth. Further, a narrow focus on the growth cycle misses significant aspects of national prosperity. Even with two years of economic growth, real earnings growth is flat to negative, the rate of enforced deprivation remains around 30 per cent, and there is a rising proportion of people at risk of poverty. On top of that, net emigration of skilled workers continues, which means that the official unemployment rate is much lower than it would have been if these workers had not left the country.

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European Court of Justice effectively rules that Eurozone is a shambles

On June 2015, the – Court of Justice of the European Union – issued a press release summarising their decision with respect to the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) programme – Judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-62/14 Gauweiler and Others. The decision (No.70/2015) is a devastating indictment of the Eurozone and the elites that designed it and maintain its capricious and destructive behaviours. The latest events in Greece highlight how neo-liberal Groupthink can extend into the realm of venal fantasy in defiance of reality. The European Court of Justice decision ruled that the ECB was not acting unlawfully in implementing its bond buying program, despite the German Constitutional Court ruling otherwise. The point of the ruling is that the Court has decided to take a convenient line because the economic policy making institutions in the Eurozone are so parlous that the role of the ECB can be blurred to mean anything. What a shambles.

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Germany’s serial breaches of Eurozone rules

Last week (May 5, 2015), the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Economic an Financial Affairs (ECFIN) published the – Spring 2015 European Economic Forecast – which provide a picture of what they think will happen over the next two years across 180 variables. To the extent that the forecasts reflect past trends (given the inertia in economic time series outside major cyclical events), they provide a clear picture of what is wrong with the Eurozone. The salient feature of the Forecasts is that the European Commission expects Germany to increase its already astronomical Current Account surpluses to peak at 7.9 per cent of GDP in 2015 and falling only to 7.7 per cent in 2017. The Commission has in place a set of rules that require nations to restrict external surpluses to not exceed 6 per cent of GDP. Germany repeatedly fails to abide by those rules, yet lectures the rest of its Eurozone partners about their failures to meet the targets, crazy as they are. The unwillingness of the European Commission to enforce their own rules in relation to Germany is one of the telling failures of the whole Eurozone experiment.

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Fiscal surplus by 2017-18? A mindless goal guaranteed to cause havoc and fail

Its sad when politicians lie just to get political points as they face declining popularity. We saw last week that the Australian Prime Minister started attacking indigenous Australians for living in areas that they have occupied, one way or another, for somewhere up to 80,000 years. He claimed these settlements were “lifestyle” choices and people could no longer expect government support if they wanted to indulge in such choices. 80,000 years for a culture that has a deep connection with the ‘land’ is quite story compared to the Anglo settlement in Australia of 226 years for a culture that connects via iPhones! The PM was playing into the hands of the racist Australians who think the indigenous population here are skivers and drunks and should get no state support. They ignore that this cohort is one of the most disadvantaged peoples of the World. In the last few days, the PM has been lying about the state of government finances and pledging to that “the government will have the budget back in balance within five years”. There was no mention of what this might imply for the real economy. I am surprised that the conservatives haven’t learned from the previous Labor Government who made continual promises of surpluses but failed each time – largely because they didn’t understand that they cannot control the fiscal outcomes no matter how hard they try. And when they do try and run against the spending desires of the non-government sector, they just cause havoc and damage and fail to achieve their goals anyway. Stupid is not the word for these sorts of promises.

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Fiscal austerity drives continuing pessimism as oil prices fall

The UK Guardian article (January 20, 2015) – Davos 2015: sliding oil price makes chief executives less upbeat than last year – reported that the top-end-of-town are in “a less bullish mood than a year ago” and that “the boost from lower oil prices is being outweighed by a host of negative factors”. The increasing pessimism is being reflected in the growth downgrades by the IMF in its most recent forecasts. A significant proportion of the financial commentators and business interests are now putting their hopes on the ECB to save the world with quantitative easing (QE). That, in itself, is a testament to how lacking in comprehension the majority of people are about monetary economics. QE will not save the Eurozone. But I was interested in this pessimism in the context of falling oil prices given that with costs falling significantly for oil-using sectors (transport, plastics etc) and disposable income rising for consumers (less petrol costs), the falling oil prices should be a stimulating factor. I recall in the 1970s when the two OPEC oil price hikes were the cause of stagflation. So why should the opposite dynamic cause ‘stag-deflation’ (a word I just invented)? There is a common element – fiscal austerity – which explains both situations.

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The inexact science of calibrating fiscal policy

In the showdown between France and the European Commission last week, France clearly is the winner on points, which is not surprising given the impossibility of the task the Commission had set it in meeting the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) rules and the danger to the latter if France was to openly defy it. We have a sort of stand-off between the surrender monkeys – France is going along with the rules sort of and the Commission is bending the rules to save face. It is 2003 all over again. The public might actually think this EDP process is based on a fairly definite science with respect to measuring fiscal policy positions which provide unambiguous statements of deficits. The public would be very wrong if they did adopt that conclusion. In general, the applied work associated with informing the EDP process is very inexact. But, moreover, it is ideologically tainted which makes the process very damaging for any notion of prosperity. All applied work has measurement and other technical issues, which means it is always just an approximation. But when those errors are overlaid by a systematic bias against government net spending and therefore full employment, then the exercise becomes a scandal.

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Greece – return to growth demonstrates the role of substantial fiscal deficits

We had news this week that the annual rate of real GDP growth in Greece is finally positive after two quarters of positive growth. The austerity merchants are out in force congratulating themselves on a victory. Some victory. What the official data doesn’t publish are the long-term implications of the Depression that Greece has been locked in for the last six years. I look at that question in this blog (a little). Further, despite the claims by the European Commission and the lackies that it relies on to spread its distorted economic news that Greece has achieved a primary fiscal surplus, nothing is further from the truth. The fact is that the Greek fiscal deficit expanded considerably last year and despite all the austerity is still pumping public euros into the Greek economy and therefore supporting growth. The slight return to growth is not a victory for fiscal austerity but a demonstration that if large deficits are maintained for long enough growth will eventually rear its head.

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Japan returns to 1997 – idiocy rules!

The financial press was ‘surprised’ that Japan had slipped back into recession, which just tells you that their sources don’t know much about how monetary economies operate. Clearly they have had their heads buried in IMF literature, which tells everyone that cutting net public spending will boost growth because the private sector is scared of deficits. This prediction has never worked out in the way the theory claims. It is pure free market ideology with no empirical basis. The other problem is that cutting net public spending when private spending is weak also pushed up the deficit. Back in the real world, Japan believes the IMF myths, hikes sales taxes to reduce its fiscal deficit, and goes back into recession – night follows day, sales tax hikes moderate spending, and spending cuts undermine economic growth. Kindergarten stuff really. Eventually this cult of neo-liberal economics will disappear but in the meantime while all and sundry are partaking in the kool aid, millions will be losing their jobs, poverty rates will rise and the top 10 per cent in the income and wealth distributions will continue to steal ever more real income from the workers.

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Fiscal policy saved the world

There was an article in the Melbourne Age this morning (August 12, 2014) – As jobless numbers climb, RBA is perilously close to a rare mistake – that is running a theme that is increasingly being played out by the financial commentators. Basically, that monetary policy saved the world from the GFC but that central bankers may lose their resolve and hike interest rates too quickly. While I certainly do not advocate interest rates going up anywhere (that I am familiar with), what seems to be forgotten is that monetary policy is relatively useless at encouraging growth. It was fiscal policy that saved the world.

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A Brussels-run unemployment insurance scheme is no fiscal solution

The new European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is a federalist. He claims in his new role that his first priority is “to put policies that create growth and jobs at the centre of the policy agenda of the next Commission”. Juncker was also the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the so-called Eurogroup (2005-2013) which comprised of the Eurozone Finance Ministers, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the President of the ECB. Juncker and the Eurogroup were vehemently pro-austerity. He also reaffirmed last week at a – Meeting in Brussels of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, that “we need to keep austerity going”. Remember he was Angela Merkel’s choice for the EC Presidency! But there is new talk of federalist type fiscal innovations in Europe under the new Commission. The problem is that they are just neo-liberal smokescreens and will do very little to change the underlying problems that have prolonged the crisis and will ensure there is a repeat down the track.

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The fiscal role of the KfW – Part 1

This is the first part in what might be several blogs. I will see where my curiosity takes me. Today I want to invoke that well-known piece of inductive reasoning the – Duck Test. We all should know how that goes. But consider this reasoning. We have an institution that is 100 per cent government owned. It borrows millions and its liabilities are 100 per cent guaranteed by the federal government. It spends, I mean lends millions each year at very low rates to all manner of firms, organisations and even builds infrastructure. It also takes equity positions (provides capital) to a range of enterprises. It pays no tax having the same status as the central bank. It is not a duck but looks very much like a government fiscal entity. Welcome to the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (Reconstruction Credit Institute) or as it is now known the – KfW. This bank was created in 1948 as a German vehicle to faciliate the infrastructure rebuilding under the Marshall Plan. It has since grown (and diversified) into one of the largest banks in Germany (taken its main business units into account) and pumps millions of Euros in the domestic economy and the export sector (via IPEX, its 100 per cent owned subsidiary). It is a major reason why the public debt ratio in Germany is 80 per cent rather than close to 100 per cent. It is a major reason why the federal deficit has been reduced without scorching the German economy. It is a story about smoke-and-mirrors accounting, German-style.

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Fiscal deficits in Europe help to support growth

I read this article yesterday (published August 12, 2013) – The euro area needs a German miracle – among a group of articles that are concluding that things are on the improve in Europe. I expect a wave of articles which will be arguing that the harsh fiscal austerity has worked. I beg to differ. This article agrees that it is too early to “declare victory” because the austerity has to go further yet. My interpretation of that claim is that the author doesn’t think the ideological agenda to shift the balance of power away from workers has been completed yet. But the substantive point is that the fiscal austerity failed to promote growth and growth has only really shown its face again as the fiscal drag has been relaxed. This relaxation is much less than is required to underpin a sustained recovery at this stage but it is a step in the right direction. Governments, with ECB support, should now expand their deficits further and start eating into their massive pools of unemployment.

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US National Accounts – economy plodding along due to fiscal drag

Yesterday (July 31, 2013), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis – published the – US National Income and Product Accounts – for the June-quarter 2013 (the advanced estimates – subject to later revision). The US economy continues to grow but at a fairly sluggish pace. There will no significant incursions into the unemployment rate as a result of this performance. There was a slowdown in the contractionary impact of the fiscal drag coming from the government sector with the federal government’s negative contribution being reduced and a positive contribution to growth from State and local government spending (a rare event these days). There is still a huge output gap in the US (my estimate – around 10 per cent) and no signs of an inflationary surge. Combining that information with the parlous state of the labour market indicates that the US federal government should be increasing their net spending rather significantly at present.

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MMT Fiscal Principles

This is a background blog which will support the release of my Fantasy Budget 2013-14, which will be part of Crikey’s Budget coverage leading up to the delivery of the Federal Budget on May 14, 2013. This blog provides some general principles that should govern the design of a budget.

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Balancing budget over the cycle is not a sound fiscal rule

There were three data releases from the Australian Bureau of Statistics today and all showed that the Australian economy is continuing to weaken. The – Business Indicators, Australia – showed that company gross operating profits fell for the fifth consecutive quarter (7 our of the last 10). Second, the data for – Building Approvals, Australia – which is one indicator of the strength of the housing market and the construction industry, showed that the seasonally adjusted estimate for total dwelling approved fell by 2.4 per cent in January, the second consecutive monthly fall. Finally, the – Mineral and Petroleum Exploration, Australia – showed that “mineral exploration expenditure decreased by 10.2% in the December quarter 2012”. What this data tells us is that private spending is weak and probably weakening. It tells us that fiscal policy should be expansionary rather than following its present course of austerity. It tells us that unless the government reverses its current strategy, the Australian economy will weaken further. It also tells us that commentators and politicians that think fiscal rules such as “balancing the budget over the cycle” are sound strategies to adopt are either operating in a cloud of ignorance or deliberately misleading the public as to the likely outcomes that would follow from pursuing such a rule.

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US government has not exhausted its fiscal options

Today, I read a Bloomberg article – How the IMF Can Help Reduce Unemployment – which, in part, makes out that the IMF know what they are talking about when it comes to macroeconomic policy (that was the hilarious aspect). The article also claims that the US government has pursued “expansionary fiscal policy … aggressively but growth has remained too weak”. That claim, which surfaces most days, is being used to indoctrinate people into holding the view that fiscal policy has failed and there is little the government can now do other than turn it over the market (with very substantial handouts to the powerful lobby groups – of-course – but that isn’t really government spending is it – not like helping the pitifully poor unemployed who have no income and no power)! This theme repeats like a worn out record. The reality is that the US government didn’t give fiscal policy a chance to work fully. It was clear that the stimulus packages underpinned economic growth in 2009 and 2010 and led to an increase in private confidence (backed by growth in consumption and private investment spending). But the fiscal support was withdrawn too soon as the latest national accounts data clearly shows. The point is that the US government wasn’t aggressive enough, got cold feet too soon, and has never exhausted its fiscal options.

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