Modern monetary theory and inflation – Part 2

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released their monthly index of food prices yesterday (January 5, 2011) which showed that the index reached a record high in December 2010 “surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in “danger territory”” (Source). There are several reasons why food prices will move even higher – the catastrophic floods in Northern Queensland being among them. The rising food prices are once again leading to calls for interest rates to rise in order to minimise the inflationary consequences. That motivated me to write Part 2 of my series on inflation – in this case supply-side motivated inflations. In Part 1 of the series – Modern monetary theory and inflation – Part 1 – I concentrated on demand-side origins.

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Modern monetary theory and inflation – Part 1

It regularly comes up in the comments section that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) lacks a concern for inflation. That somehow we ignore the inflation risk. One of the surprising aspects of the public debate as the current economic crisis unfolded was the repetitive concern that people had about inflation. There concerns echoed at the same time as the real economy in almost every nation collapsed, capacity utilisation rates were going down below 70 per cent and more in most nations and unemployment was sky-rocketing. But still the inflation anxiety was regularly being voiced. These commentators could not believe that rising budget deficits or a significant build-up of bank reserves do not inevitably cause inflation. The fact is that in voicing those concerns just tells me they never really understand how the monetary system operates. Further in suggesting the MMT lacks a concern for inflation those making these statements belie their own lack of research. Full employment and price stability is at the heart of MMT. The body of theory and policy applications that stem from that theory integrate the notion of a nominal anchor as a core element. That is what this blog is about.

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Hyperdeflation, followed by rampant inflation

The title of the blog is a little misleading but was too good not to use. I get to that five-year forecast (2010-2015) later in the blog but the first part is material that sets the scene. Yes, I am writing about deficits and debts … again! But new nuances come out in the public debate which need to be addressed. The conservative assault on government support for their economies at present is multi-dimensioned and is being pushed along by two main journalistic approaches. The manic Fox new-type approach which I realise is influential but is so patent and ridiculous that I don’t care to comment on it often. Then we have the approach adopted by journalists in so-called credible media outlets such as the UK Guardian. They dress their deficit terrorism up in arguments that the middle classes, who think they are far above Fox new rabble intellectually, will find convincing. But when you bring both approaches down to basics – rubbish = rubbish.

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Building bank reserves is not inflationary

Today I am working in Dubbo, which is in the western region of NSW and getting into the remote parts of the state. There is a great beauty to enjoy in remote Australia which often passes people by. My field trip is in relation to continuing work I am doing with indigenous communities in this region. I will report on this work in due course. But today’s blog continues the theme I developed yesterday on bank reserves. In yesterday’s blog – Building bank reserves will not expand credit – I examined the dynamics of bank reserves but left a few issues on hold because I ran out of time. One issue is the possible impact of expanding bank reserves on inflation. This is in part central to the mainstream hysteria at present about the likely legacies of the monetary policy response to the crisis. The conclusion is that everyone can relax – the only problem with the monetary policy response is that it will be ineffective and more fiscal policy effort is required.

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Let’s just focus on inflation

It’s Friday and today has been very hot (nigh on 40 Celsius). One could also easily get hot (under the collar) just engaging in one’s daily reading given the amount of misinformation and sheer terrorist journalism and public commentary there is at present. The IMF released its latest Economic Outlook calling for a general return to surpluses. Why have we fallen prey to this insidious notion that government surpluses are normal and deficits are for fighting fires? In fact, the latter is more the truth. Surpluses are only required if the external sector is so strong that the economy will overheat if the government doesn’t drain private purchasing power. Anyway, I just stay calm through it all … like any good modern monetary theory (MMT) soldier. There is a war going on out there in ideas land and cool heads are needed.

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I have found an inflation threat

I read a news report today – 13,000 riot police, troops guard Obama. Hmm, I thought it might finally be the groundswell of people imbued with the logic of modern monetary theory (MMT) and anger over rising disadvantage, who had decided to take action. Especially after hearing the President’s latest foray into the media as an “expert” on matters fiscal. And only 13,000 troops … good odds I thought. But he was actually in South Korea and the report says that the assembled crowds were chanting “We love Obama”. Don’t they know anything … these people? Didn’t they hear or read his latest interview?

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Inflation targeting spells bad fiscal policy

Australia’s central bank governor is now appearing in the world press as something of a hero for putting interest rates up recently in defiance of world trends. Today he is featured in many finance home pages for his statement that the RBA cannot afford to be timid in putting rates up in the current months. This has raised expectations that we are in a race to get the target rate up towards their so-called neutral rate sometime soon. So almost rock star status for our central bank governor. Pity, the whole paradigm he is representing is destructive and helped get us into this mess in the first place. This blog explains why inflation targeting per se is not the issue. The problem is that fiscal policy becomes subjugated to the monetary policy dominance. This passivity manifests as the obsessive pursuit of budget surpluses which allegedly support the inflation-first stance. But this policy strategy is extremely damaging in real terms and will provoke another debt-bust cycle sometime in the future.

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Real wage cuts continue in Australia as profit share rises

The Annual Fiscal Statement for Australia (aka ‘The Budget’) came out last night and ordinarily I would analyse it today. But I am travelling a lot today and also the wage data came out today, so I plan to leave the fiscal policy commentary until next week when I have more time to think about the shifts in policy. Today (May 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2024, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 4.1 per cent over the 12 months (down 0.1 point on the last quarter). In relation to the March-quarter CPI change (3.6 per cent), this result suggests that real wages achieved modest gains. However, if we use the more appropriate Employee Selected Living Cost Index as our measure of the change in purchasing power then the March-quarter result of 6.5 per cent means that real wages fell by 2.4 per cent. Even the ABS notes the SLCI is a more accurate measure of cost-of-living increases for specific groups of interest in the economy. However, most commentators will focus on the nominal wages growth relative to CPI movements, which in my view provides a misleading estimate of the situation workers are in. Further, while productivity growth is weak, the movement in real wages is such that real unit labour costs are still declining, which is equivalent to an ongoing attrition of the wages share in national income. So corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale. That is modern day Australia.

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The fiscal lunancy reaches peak levels this time of year

In the last week, as the Federal government comes towards next Tuesday’s annual fiscal statement (aka ‘The Budget’ although we don’t use that terminology around here, do we?) and the State Government’s are progressively delivering their own Budget Statements (they being financially constrained) we have witnessed the absurdity of the system of public finances that pretends the Federal government is a big household and that somehow monetary policy is the most effective way to deal with an inflation that is sourced in supply side constraints. Earlier this week, the Victorian government released a fairly shocking fiscal statement, which cut expenditure programs in many key areas such as health care (while the pandemic is still killing many people), public education, essential public infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, and more. Why? Because it built up a rather large stock of debt during the early years of the pandemic and is now in political jeopardy because the state debt is being weaponised by the conservatives who claim the government is going broke. Similar austerity agendas are being pursued by other state and territory governments although Victoria leads the way because it provided more pandemic support to offset the damage that the extensive restrictions caused. Meanwhile, the federal government is boasting that it is heading towards its second consecutive surplus, as unemployment rises, hours of work fall, and the planet requires massive investment to attenuate climate change. The madness compounds when we realise that around 85 per cent of all state and federal debt that was issued between March 2020 and July 2022 was purchased by the Reserve Bank of Australia – that is, effectively, by the federal government itself. If citizens really understood the implications of that they would never agree to the swingeing cutbacks in public expenditure and the user pays tax hikes etc, that have been justified by an appeal to the debt build up. Its just madness.

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The yen, podcast, and book announcement – all on International Workers’ Day

It’s Wednesday and today I consider the current yen situation which is causing some hysteria in the financial media even though there is not much to worry about. I also provide access to my latest podcast with the Washington-based Bad Faith, which traverses issues of class, the demise of the Left, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and degrowth. And the book announcement – pre-orders are now available. And finally an anthem for International Workers’ Day.

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IMF now claiming that Japan has to inflict austerity when the government’s current policy settings a maintaining stability

It was only a matter of time I suppose but the IMF is now focusing its nonsensical ‘growth friendly austerity’ mantra on Japan. In a recent interview, the former Portuguese Finance Minister now in charge of the IMF’s so-called ‘Fiscal Affairs Department’, Vitor Gaspar claimed that Japan is now in a precarious position and must start to impose austerity. Recall last week that I concluded that – The IMF has outlived its usefulness – by about 50 years (April 15, 2024). The current interventions from senior officials such as Gaspar only serve to reinforce that assessment. The problem is that they are still able to command a platform and a significant number of people in policy making circles actually believe what they say. It would be a much better world if the IMF and its toxic ideology and praxis just disappeared off the face of the Earth. Then we could send all the highly educated officials to thought reassignment camps to allow their considerable intellectual capacity to search for cures to cancer or whatever.

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Why is Brussels supporting Ukraine?

It’s Wednesday, and as usual I scout around various issues that I have been thinking about rather than write a consolidated analysis on one topic. Today, I consider the question of why the EU elites are spending billions supporting the Ukraine government against Russia. They claim that Russia poses a major threat to European freedom but given the superior Russian military machine has not taken much territory after 783 days of war I conclude that such narratives are fanciful and deliberately being advanced to hide true motives. I also consider the situation in the Middle East and then offer today’s music segment to restore our peace of mind.

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The IMF has outlived its usefulness – by about 50 years

The IMF and the World Bank are in Washington this week for their 6 monthly meetings and the IMF are already bullying policy makers around the world with their rhetoric that continues the scaremongering about inflation. The IMF boss has told central bankers to resist pressure to drop interest rates, even though it is clear the world economy (minus the US) is slowing quickly. It is a case of the IMF repeating the errors it has made in the past. There is a plethora of evidence that shows the IMF forecasts are systematically biased – which means they keep making the same mistakes – and those mistakes are traced to the underlying deficiencies of the mainstream macroeconomic framework that they deploy. For example, when estimating the impacts of fiscal austerity they always underestimate the negative output and unemployment effects, because that framework typically claims fiscal policy is ineffective and its impacts will be offset by shifts in private sector behaviour (so-called Ricardian effects). That structure reflects the ‘free market’ ideology of the organisation and the mainstream economic theory. The problem is if the theory fails to explain reality then it is likely that the predictions will be systematically biased and poor. The problem is that the forecasts lead to policy shifts (for example, the austerity imposed on Greece) which damage human well-being when they turn out to be wrong.

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Latest European Union rules provide no serious reform or increased capacity to meet the actual challenges ahead

It’s Wednesday and we have discussion on a few topics today. The first relates to the new agreement between the European Parliament and the European Council that was announced on February 10, 2024, which purports to reform the fiscal rules structure that has crippled the Member States of the EMU since inception. The reality is that the changes are minimal and actually will make matters worse. I keep reading progressives who claim the EU fiscal rules are no longer operative. Well, sorry, they are and the temporary respite during the pandemic is now over and the new agreement makes that very clear. I also express disappointment that high profile progressives continue to misrepresent Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as they advance their own agenda, which effectively provides support to the sound finance narratives. Then some updated health data which continues to support my perspective on Covid. And then some anti-fascist music. What’s not to like.

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From the archives – my early statements on the need for degrowth and the resistance they received from progressives

As part of a another current project, which I will have more to say about soon, I was trawling through early Internet archives of the Post Keynesian Thought (PKT) listserv archives and was reminded that I began my degrowth journey many years ago. Going back in time and coming across things that one has written is an interesting experience. In this case, I reflected on my changing narrative style, my naivety in places, and the continuity of my thinking over the course of my academic career. The following discussion is the product of my archival research for another project of the Post Keynesian Thought (PKT) discussion list archives. It has been an interesting exercise and brought back interactions, personalities and the like that I have forgotten about. Many on that list have since died (sadly). But what is established is that 30 or more years ago there was widespread resistance still within the progressive economics community to the idea that the destruction of the planet would require major systemic change. This resistance bears on the debates now between the dominant ‘green growth’ group who think capitalism aided by global financial capital can achieve the changes necessary to meet the climate challenge and the degrowth camp who want fundamental system and behavioural change. My writings in 1995 placed me firmly in the latter cohort.

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Rinse and repeat – Truss chaos – the new benchmark

For years, those who want selective access to government spending benefits (like the military-industrial complex and other parasitic sectors), while claiming the government cannot afford to provide adequate income support to the most disadvantaged citizens have used various ruses to give an air of authority or legitimacy to their claims. So in the UK, the lie in 1976 by the then Labour government that it was going to have to borrow from the IMF to stay solvent has been regularly wheeled out. In Europe, it was the ‘tournant de la rigueur’ (austerity turn) introduced by the French government of François Mitterrand in 1983 that effectively cancelled the commitment to the progressive – Programme commun – that is often cited as a demonstration of the limited capacity of governments to resist the global power of the financial markets. The fact that it was progressive governments that instigated these events made it more emphatic – the Left essentially swallowed the fictions introduced by the Right and the corporate elites that governments were now powerless against the power of the financial markets. The macroeconomic contest was essentially ceded to the conservatives and it has been that way since. There is now a new ruse that the elites are using that the progressives are also spreading – the Liz Truss Ruse. This apparently tells us that governments must appease the financial markets or face currency destruction and rising bond yields. Like its predecessors, there is no validity to the claims. But the Left is so bereft that it cannot see through the smoke and mirrors. And that is why the world is in the parlous state that it is – the contest of ideas is non-existent. It is a case of rinse and repeat – except all is happening is lies and posturing is being recycled.

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Australian labour market – unemployment drops sharply – good news

Today (March 21, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for February 2024, which shows that the weakening we observed over the holiday period has reversed and was probably due to variations in flow behaviour over the break that has become evident since the pandemic. As I noted in the January analysis, the changing holiday behaviour that has become evident (many people now working zero hours in January) makes it difficult to be definitive about the February result, which is excellent. Employment growth was strong as those zero-hour workers resumed work and the net job creation easily outstripped the rising participation rate. The drop in unemployment is a boost as is the drop in underemployment. However, there is still 10.3 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market. The return to a 3.7 per cent unemployment – the level that was very stable in the period since mid-to-late 2022 makes a mockery of economists who think that interest rate hikes would always push up unemployment. And with unemployment and inflation falling, the current unemployment rate cannot be below some NAIRU, which also makes a mockery of the the RBA’s stated research and policy logic. The reality is that inflation has fallen as the supply factors abate and the interest rate hikes were totally unnecessary.

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Bank of Japan’s rate rise is not a sign of a radical policy shift

Yesterday, the Bank of Japan increased its policy target rate for the first time in 17 odd years and it set the noise level among the commentariat off the charts – ‘finally, they have bowed to the pressure from the financial markets’, ‘major tightening’, ‘scraps radical policy’, etc – all the hysteria. The reality is quite different as they moved the target from -0.1 per cent to 0 per cent – no major shift, just a modest variation after better than expected – Shuntō outcomes for workers, which may finally signal that the deflationary mindset among workers and firms is coming to an end. However, to think that the Bank of Japan has just radically changed its tune is naive and not consistent with the facts. After analysing the Japanese situation we have some nice music today – given it is Wednesday.

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Claims that mainstream economics is changing radically are far-fetched

I have received several E-mails over the last few weeks that suggest that the economics discipline is finally changing course to redress the major flaws in the curricula that is taught around the world and that perhaps Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) can take some credit for some of that. There has been a tendency for some time for those who are attracted to MMT to become somewhat celebratory, even to the point of declaring ‘victory’. This tendency is not limited to the MMT public who comment on social media and the like. My response is that we are probably further away from seeing fundamental change in the economics profession than perhaps where we were some years ago – after the GFC and in the early years of the pandemic (which continues). My answer reflects the incontestable fact that the make up of faculties within our higher education systems has not changed much, if at all, and the dominant publishing and grant awarding bodies still reflect that mainstream dominance. There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of ‘funerals’ to attend (à la Max Planck).

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Not trusting our political class is no reason to avoid introducing progressive policies

There is a consistent undercurrent against Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) that centres on whether we can trust governments. I watched the recent Netflix documentary over the weekend – American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders – which reinforces the notion I have had for decades that there is a dark layer of elites – government, corporations, old money, criminals – that is relentlessly working to expand their wealth and maintain their power. Most of us never come in contact with it. They leave us alone and allow us to go about our lives, pursuing opportunities and doing the best we can for ourselves, our families and our friends. But occasionally some of us come into contact with the layer and then all hell breaks loose. The documentary started with a journalist being killed because he had started penetrating an elaborate conspiracy which began with the US Department of Justice stealing software from a company and then multiplied into money laundering scams (Iran contra), murder of various people who got in the way, and went right up to Ronald Reagan, George Bush and other senior politicians. It was a sobering reminder. I will write more about this topic in the upcoming book we are working on (with Dr L. Connors) but I was reading some articles over the weekend (thanks to Sidarth, initially) about the way the MGNREGA in India, which is a public job guarantee-type scheme has been corrupted as the ideology of the government shifted and it bears on this question of trust.

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