Australia’s own little fiscal cliff

The Australian version of the “fiscal cliff” is about poor people living on income support waking up on New Year’s Day when everyone is full of bonhomie for their fellow Australian and finding out that recent legislative changes made by the supposed pro-disadvantaged government, which have now become active, will leave them, in some cases, $A120 worse of a week. That is, they are losing a considerable proportion of their income. The way I judge public policy is not by how rich it makes the highest earners and asset holders in our midst but how rich it makes the poorest members of society. A policy framework that deliberately targets the most disadvantaged and makes them poorer is a sign of a failed state. The recent legislative changes reinforce the Australian government’s refusal to provide sufficient income support for the unemployment despite it being widely accepted that they are being forced to live well below the poverty line. The Government’s justification is that they need to pursue a budget surplus and have deliberately undermined the capacity of the economy to generate enough work as a result. The relentless attacks on the poor in this country violate my pubic policy assessment rule and indicate we are indeed a failed state.

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Fiscal insanity – cutting the deficit only to get a larger one

Being a researcher is interesting and frustrating. But it almost always takes one on a ride that is unpredictable, which is part of the fun. Sometimes, you hit a dead-end (often = frustrating). Other times, you end up somewhere that you never planned but which is instructive in itself (= interesting). Yesterday, my blog was about financial market criminals that seem to escape prosecution. The insulation from prosecution of white collar criminals is not confined to the financial markets. Today, the basic message is that if a nation engenders growth the budget deficit will likely fall and the benefits of the growth will be higher employment, higher national income and improved material living standards. The opposite is the case when a nation contracts. The irony is that the nation will still probably have a budget deficit, but in this case it will be accompanied by stagnation. The first deficit is good and virtuous the second bad and irresponsible (from the perspective of the government fiscal policy stance). So even if you are obsessed with reducing deficits, the best way is to engender growth. The dumbest thing a government can do if it wants a lower deficit is to impose fiscal austerity. There are a lot of dumb governments out there. The problem is they are aided and abetted by criminal types who know full well it is dumb to cut net public spending but pressure governments to do so as long as the space for spending on them expands.

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Fiscal austerity is self-defeating

The British Office of National Statistics published the latest National Accounts data for the third-quarter 2012 yesterday, which showed a modest burst of growth, consumer driven via the Olympic Games. It is a temporary spike in a downward trend. I will consider the growth data another day. It follows the release last week (November 21, 2012) of the latest – Public Sector Finances – for October 2012, which demonstrates why fiscal austerity is self-defeating. By failing to acknowledge that when non-government sector spending is insufficient to drive economic growth at levels sufficient to reduce unemployment there is a need for increased discretionary government net spending to support growth, the British government not only is creating an increasing economic malaise but failing to achieve its own (mindless) targets – a reduction in the deficit and outstanding public debt. The lesson is that fiscal austerity is self-defeating on all counts – the things that matter (the real economy including unemployment) and the things that don’t matter (financial ratios).

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Australia’s MYEFO – some lies amidst the fiscal irresponsibility

It was a sort of relief being in Seoul for Monday and Tuesday immersed in discussions about development strategies for Kazakhstan and Korean experience. I could sort of kid myself that the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-13, which usually doesn’t come out until December, didn’t really happen. Out of sight out of mind sort of logic. It did come out and I read all the news and the – Treasury Document – that the Treasurer delivered to the Australian public on Monday. The latter will be oblivious to the chicanery contained in that document and the sheer absurdity of the message that the Treasurer triumphantly presented. This is high farce, high deception, vandalism, and ultimately, shocking politics, despite politics being the motivation for the strategy that the Treasurer is pursuing. Anyway, for two days I abstracted from it, despite calls from the Australian media asking my views. It was much more interesting considering the way in which Korean created its growth miracle. But more on that another day. For now, I am back in Australia (Sydney this morning early, now Darwin) and have to confront the reality – Australia is being governed by a party that is intent on deliberately creating unemployment and pushing more Australians into hardship and despair at a time when we should all be prospering. Interestingly, by next year that unemployment will extend to their own tenure in office such will be the economic consequence of their cynical political strategy, which will backfire gloriously.

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The New Economy cannot flourish with fiscal austerity

I often get E-mails from readers – some hostile others more reasonable – telling me that I should stop arguing for more economic growth. The reasoning is relatively straightforward – the Earth is buckling under the rapacious resources demands of the capitalist system and not only is that process likely to be finite, notwithstanding substitution via technological advances, but also in the process of exhaustion the amenity declines. The argument juxtaposes ecological claims with other claims relating to the desirability of the current neo-liberal dominated system which relies, seemingly, on creating more inequality, a reduction in government oversight and allows the worst aspects of the capitalist system to run amok. However, somewhere along the way, the 99% or whatever percentage it is (I think it is substantially lower than 99) miss the boat. The current crisis is used to demonstrate that conjecture. I haven’t time to reply to all the E-mails and I try to provide “collective” replies (which should tell you something in itself) via my blog posts. So today I am addressing that issue. The message is simple – I am very sympathetic to localised, new economy-type collective ways of organising social and economic activities. I support egalitarianism and co-operative solutions rather than competitive, dog-eats-dog approaches. I don’t mind working and giving my surplus to aid those who are unable for whatever reason to achieve the same material outcomes by their own hand. I am happy with consolidation rather than growth. But despite the romantic appeal of all this – as the solution – we have to understand that there is still something called a monetary system and a currency to deal with. Localised solutions are still constrained by the sovereign state they are located in and their fortunes are determined in no small way by the way the currency-issuing government conducts its fiscal policy. There is no escape from that.

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The left – entranced by the fiscal austerity mantra sold to them by the conservatives

There is increasing evidence that the manic obsession with fiscal austerity instead of employment-generating growth is not only further de-stabilising the EU economy and foreshadowed the next chapter in the crisis but is also undermining the political accords that were the rationale in the first place for political and economic “integration”. The news from France yesterday that Marine Le Pen received close to 20 per cent of the first-round vote in the Presidential election and the impending collapse of the Dutch coalition government as Geert Wilders torpedoed the fiscal austerity negotiations – outrightly refusing to agree to the cuts, tells me that the political scene is polarising and extreme right candidates are coming to the fore. The mainstream left parties stand indicted for embracing the neo-liberal economic myths and then trying to sell a softer vision for Europe. The reality is that Europe will only be able to implement and sustain progressive social agendas if the neo-liberal malaise is abandoned. That will mean that nations abandon the Euro and use fiscal policy to promote employment growth. However, the various political outcomes that we are witnessing in Europe indicate that we can expect no leadership from the mainstream left on any of these issues. They are entranced by the fiscal austerity mantra sold to them by the conservatives. Which gives credibility for the incredulous demands of Le Pen and Wilders!

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A fiscal collapse is imminent – when? – sometime!

Sometimes I wonder how it is that a bright person can stick to a story for so long when the evidential record is so contrary to the predictions that their story keeps forcing them to make. Then again the predictions are often couched in terms of “might” and “We don’t know what will trigger such a wave of selling” (don’t know!) and “interest rates would shoot up” (would!) and “if the number of people trying to sell them surges” (if) and “inflation would erode” (would! again). So nothing concrete – just a series of assertions. So such a person is never really confronted with the reality that they know “shite” (a word I read in a book by an Irish author I have just finished – In the Woods by Tana French – recommended). This sort of denial is an overwhelming characteristic of the mainstream of my profession. I would love to be proved wrong if private households and firms do turn out to be Ricardian and fiscal austerity leads to a boom with full employment. I would abandon my MMT leanings within a flash and get on the prosperity bandwagon. Why is it that the mainstream, which has the dominant influence on policy makers – and therefore get to see their theories applied in the real world – not adopt a similar position. The predictive capacity of their paradigm is next to zero!

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Keynes would not support fiscal austerity

On Wednesday, we learned that the real GDP growth rate had halved in the December 2011 quarter (to 0.4 per cent) and business investment had contracted. Next day, we learned that the Australian labour market has deteriorated with employment contracting, unemployment rising and since November 2010, 140 odd thousand workers have left the labour force, presumably because employment growth had stalled. We already know that 2011 was a jobless year. Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released their International Trade in Goods and Services for January 2012, which shows that our trade balance went from a $A1325 million surplus to a $A673 million deficit (a “turnaround of $1,998m”). Unless that changes in the coming months, the contribution to growth from net exports will be solidly negative. All of these events have reduced the tax revenue for the government. But the response of the Government, which is pursuing a budget surplus this year at all costs, is that they will now have to cut their spending harder. Last year, the Treasurer claimed the authority for this pursuit was none other than John Maynard Keynes. More recently, the British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills claimed – Keynes would be on our side – in relation to the imposition of fiscal austerity. The reality is otherwise – Keynes would not support fiscal austerity under the current circumstances. The strategy is bereft of any credible authority and is being driven, variously, by politics and ideology.

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The lesson for the Europeans is that the US fiscal stimulus worked

Today, I was reading the latest report from the US Congressional Budget Office – CBO’s Estimates of ARRA’s Economic Impact – which shows that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) has been successful in increasing real GDP growth in the US and reducing the rise in the unemployment rate. Some simple calculations reveal that in the absence of the ARRA US economy would still be in recession. That is, taking a European trajectory. There is also evidence that the Obama administration were presented with analysis that showed that a much larger stimulus than was chosen was necessary, yet this information was suppressed in final documents that were the basis of the fiscal intervention. It seems that the neo-liberal ideologues within the Obama camp deliberately undermined the fiscal intervention and so its impact, while positive, was far less than was required. I also read an interview with the ECB president, Mario Draghi today. The ECB is now pushing fiscal austerity as the only way out of the Euro crisis. In juxtaposition to the US experience, the Europeans remain fixed to the view that saving the flawed institutional structure (that is, the EMU) is a higher priority than insuring that people prosper. The lesson for the Europeans is that the US fiscal stimulus continues to work.

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Tightening the SGP rules would deepen the crisis

This week, the European Union Summit should see the leadership take the monetary union further into the mire and further away from an effective solution to their woes. The German Chancellor has vowed to create a new fiscal union across the Eurozone. She announced this plan to the German Parliament and declared she would push for a change to the treaty that established the common currency. Let me state at the outset – the plan as the press are reporting it – will not work. It is just the latest in a long line of Euro “solutions” that has fallen on its face soon after being announced as the way forward for the EMU. It won’t work because it doesn’t address the problem and will make changes that will make the actual problem worse. Europe is suffering a lack of aggregate demand and needs to address that head on by increasing public spending. Further constraining the capacity of governments to spend will make the situation worse.

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Should fiscal policy always be counter-cyclical?

I am sitting at Melbourne airport today reading IMF working papers and typing this blog. You might speculate on what sort of life that is. Par for the course. The IMF recently released a new working paper – Is Fiscal Policy Procyclical in Developing Oil-Producing Countries? – which though reasonable in the context of the paradigm that the IMF works within (that is, that governments are revenue-constrained and bond markets are crucial to their functioning) – provides a classic example of why most of mainstream macroeconomics needs to be abandoned and replaced by an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The errors of logic and assumption that the paper makes permeates through the entire public debate and if the public only knew the real story the politics would change instantly and dramatically.

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Fiscal responsibility index – reductio ad absurdum ad infinitum

I am Australian but not a proud one. That doesn’t mean anything other than I don’t consider nationalism to be a particularly appealing trait. I would perhaps defend our borders from attack and I prefer Australia winning at sport than the English (but not the West Indies!). But when I read a newspaper headline (March 24, 2011) – Australia tops index ranking for maintaining strong fiscal balance – I feel ashamed that I live in such a nation. Given the methodology that went into construct this index, Australia would be better off being down the bottom of the rankings – by choice rather than inaction. Just when you thought the public debate about fiscal policy couldn’t deteriorate any further … it plunges to new depths. This index is published in a new “study” (I would not actually give it the gravitas of a study) – is actually an exercise in reductio ad absurdum ad infinitum aka total BS.

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US fiscal stimulus worked – more evidence

I am travelling today and then have commitments at the other end. So very little time to write. But I did read some interesting papers over the weekend which bear on the question of whether fiscal policy in the US was effective or not. The neo-liberals (mainstream macroeconomists) claim that fiscal policy is not effective. The extremists among them invoke – Ricardian Equivalence – which claims that private households and firms fear that the rising deficits will require higher tax rates and so they save more now – which means that for every dollar of new government spending there is a dollar less of private spending – so no effect. All the evidence contradicts the extreme view. There is also mounting evidence that the recent fiscal interventions have been very effective. A study I read yesterday went a step further and analysis the impact of targetting low income groups. They found that type of public spending was very expansionary. Their results support my contention that a Job Guarantee would be a very effective (and cheap) fiscal solution (as a first step) to a private spending collapse. But for all the naysayers – sorry, the evidence is mounting that fiscal policy saved the world.

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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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Fiscal vandals chasing a dream

The Australian government is digging a hole for itself at present. In the May Budget it talked (neo-liberal) tough to demonstrate what it claimed was “Responsible Economic Management” – and this meant it entered a battle with the Opposition about who would deliver the biggest budget surplus. This became one of the comical (in a tragic way) features of the August federal election campaign. The respective treasury boof-heads from the Government and Opposition boasting about the size of their future budget surpluses. They also tried to win the battle of who would get there the quickest. The whole discussion was definitely mindless. Now with the Australian dollar appreciating fairly strongly the Government has realised the reduced economic activity that seems to be occurring is reducing its tax revenue prospects and therefore undermining its surplus projections. So what do they do next? Answer: announce they will cut spending by even more than originally planned. They are going to deliberately undermine employment growth and force even more people to lose their jobs at a time that labour underutilisation sits at the obscene level of 12.5 per cent and inflation is moderating. It is sadly a case of the fiscal vandals chasing a dream. The dream however is a nightmare.

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What is fiscal sustainability? Washington presentation

I am travelling today and have a full schedule ahead and haven’t much time to write anything. But it just happens that the multimedia presentations and documentation for the Fiscal Sustainability Teach-Ins and Counter-Conference which was held at the George Washington University, Washington DC on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 have just been made available by the team which organised the event. The Teach-In was a grass roots exercised designed to counter the conference organised by the arch deficit-terrorists at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which was also held on April 28 in Washington D.C. – just across town from our event. While that event also chose to focus on “fiscal sustainability”, the reality is that it will merely rehearsed the standard and erroneous neo-liberal objections to government activity in the economy. Given my time constraints today I thought it was serendipitous that this material became available overnight. So the following blog provides access to video and all the documentation for my session. Very special thanks to Selise and Lambert (and their team) for taking the time to document and prepare all this material.

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Private deleveraging requires fiscal support

The Economist feature column Economics by invitation where they ask some commentators to share their thoughts on some topical issue is running with household debt this week (September 11, 2010). The topic – How far along the process of deleveraging are we? – is examining the extent to which the record levels of private indebtedness are being run down and household balance sheets reconstructed. I also noted in the discussions that have been on-going about trade and deficits on my blog that someone said that there is no evidence that budget surpluses have caused the “sky to fall in”. In this blog I explain how budget surpluses are intrinsically related to the rising indebtedness of the private sector and hence under most conditions are destabilising.

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The authority to justify fiscal austerity is lapsing

Yesterday, two public statements were made which caught my roving eye. First, the British Government claimed they were going to cut harder than planned to weed out the unemployed who took income support payments to support their “lifestyles”. That was the approach the previous conservative government took in Australia between 1996 and 2007 and so we have experience with it. It failed dismally to achieve anything remotely positive. Second, the OECD released their Interim Assessments to update the May Economic Outlook publication. It showed that the GDP growth forecasts for 2010 and beyond were being revised sharply downwards. The OECD now claims there are many negative indicators and that governments should not push ahead with their austerity plans if the world economy is really slowing. The British government has used the earlier May EO forecasts (which were overly optimistic) as authority to justify their proposed cutbacks. Well now that authority is gone. However, their proposal to further cut back public spending would seem to be in denial of what is now obvious to even the right-wing hacks at the OECD. It is time for George to admit his austerity push is purely ideological in motivation.

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Fiscal austerity is undermining growth – the evidence is mounting

Remember what we were told a few months ago – that business and households were so terrified of higher future tax burdens associated with the budget deficits that they were not investing or spending and so governments were killing economic growth? This led to the deficit terrorists arguing (shouting) that the fiscal stimulus that governments had implemented to save their economies from the threat of a depression were actually undermining growth and that fiscal austerity was the key to growth. Accordingly, governments have increasingly been implementing or promising to implement so-called fiscal consolidation strategies because they have fallen prey to the austerity proponents. As the fiscal stimulus has waned across the world growth is slowing and there is now a real danger of a double-dip recession. In nations that have introduced formal austerity programs the evidence is now mounting … it damages growth and undermines business and household confidence. It has exactly the opposite effect to that predicted by the deficit terrorists which is no news to anyone who understands anything about how the economy works. The victims – the poor and disadvantaged …. AGAIN!

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The OECDs perverted view of fiscal policy

It is interesting how the big neo-liberal economic organisations like the IMF and the OECD are trying to re-assert their intellectual authority on the policy debate again after being unable to provide any meaningful insights into the cause of the global crisis or its immediate remedies. They were relatively quiet in the early days of the crisis and the IMF even issued an apology, albeit a conditional one. It is clear that the policies the OECD and the IMF have promoted over the last decades have not helped those in poorer nations solve poverty and have also maintained persistently high levels of labour underutilisation across most advanced economies. It is also clear that the economic policies these agencies have been promoting for years were instrumental in creating the conditions that ultimately led to the collapse in 2007. Now they are emerging, unashamed, and touting even more destructive policy frameworks.

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