Here is some twisted logic if you ever saw it. Sydney Morning Herald main economics writer Ross Gittins wrote yesterday that the Opposition leader’s scaremongering about the build-up of debt is a faux concern and amounts to hysteria. So he sets about soothing us with some explanation. But it is the explanation that leaves out some of the more important insights which if known would alter the way the reader understood the article and the issue being discussed.
The public debate is constantly distorted by claims that cannot be substantiated. One such claim is that the current period of budget deficits is building a stock of future claims on the well-being of the future generation – our kids. Accordingly, the neo-liberal deficit terrorists claim that the best thing we can do for the future generation is to avoid running deficits. My view is that we have been imposing a huge future burden on our children but this would be larger if we tried to run surpluses now. In fact, the years of surpluses exacted a huge toll on our children’s prospects that they will have to endure for years to come.
While I am still reflecting on the UNDP workshop I participated at earlier this week in New York, another issue which came up repeatedly during the workshop is the on-going dispute between those who advocate income guarantees against those (such as me) who advocate employment guarantees. I didn’t cover this dispute at all in yesterday’s blog – Bad luck if you are poor!. When you start digging into the claims made by the income guarantee lobby you realise that most of their case is built on a failure to understand how a modern monetary economy works. For those who understand the opportunities available to a government which issues a sovereign currency, then the attractiveness of income guarantees disappears (in my opinion). So this blog documents some of this debate.
I am now in New York on business for the next few days then off south to the capital Washington. In this blog I want to outline the horrible scenario that everyone has been predicting would happen – the increasing fiscal deficits will increase taxation. I know that has been on our minds. I have reached the ineluctable conclusion that future taxation will increase as a direct consequence of the current deficits. The tax revenue gained by the government will also reduce future deficits. Wouldn’t it be preferable that we didn’t push future taxation up and instead controlled net government spending? If you believed that you would have rocks in your head. In this blog I will be also be discussing debt, inflation, and other nasties.
In this blog I will complete my analysis of the concept of fiscal sustainability by bringing together the discussion developed in Part 1 and Part 2 into some general principles. The aim is to provide a blueprint to cut through the deceptions and smokescreens that are used to deny fiscal activism and leave economies wallowing in persistently high levels of unemployment. So read on.
Greetings from Amsterdam where I am spending the next few days talking about what drives spatial changes in unemployment at a Tinbergen Institute regional science workshop. The spatial econometric work that I am outlining tomorrow provides the conceptual framework for the construction of the Employment Vulnerability Index, which received a lot of press earlier in the year. But while I was flying over here I thought about the concept of fiscal sustainability which is now getting a lot of press. So this is the first of a multi-part series on what constitutes a sustainable fiscal policy. Its that time again. Time to debrief!
I saw this in The Australian (on-line) front-page today – “POLL: Do unions have too much power?” So the campaigns are emerging: deficits, debt and union power. Seems like we are back in the 1970s when the conservatives last ran the union power campaign. The topic is apposite given the Government’s reaction last week to union requests to eliminate some of the nasty elements that remain from Work Choices. I laughed when I saw the poll – who are they trying to kid. Anyway, the current Government is playing hard cop with the union movement exploiting the lack of capacity of the latter to fight back.
It is interesting when a local journalist exploits the work of a foreign journalist to perpetuate neo-liberal myths about the way the modern monetary economy works without any critical scrutiny of the underlying ideas that he is mimicking. So we have one US journalist reiterating the views of a so-called “top US policy maker” without critical scrutiny then being copied a few days later by a senior Australian journalist who also doesn’t bother to question whether the underlying economics being fed to his readers makes any sense at all. Pretty poor really – the power of the conservative press!
Yesterday we had the rather unusual situation of the Treasury Head presenting a robust defence of his Department’s work after various commentators have suggested the forward estimates were flaky to say the least. Overall, it is an amazing exercise given that the issue is about how quickly the federal budget balance will return to surplus. So instead of a robust debate about why the Government is allowing unemployment to blow out and long-term unemployment to become entrenched again, all the hot air is about how quickly the federal government can start trashing the saving capacity of the private sector again. You get some feel for how low brow the debate actually is out there in expert media commentary and interview land by reading the ABC 7.30 Report transcript from last night when the presenter tried to question the Opposition Treasury spokesperson. It was as bad as it gets.
Today I am in Melbourne (my home town) presenting a workshop on skills development for the new green jobs economy which is a joint Victorian Government/Brotherhood of St Laurence show. But that is not what I am writing about here. Regular readers of billy blog will know that when I talk about budget deficits I typically stress two points: (a) that the Government is not financially constrained and therefore all the hoopla about debt and future tax burdens are just a waste of time. But just because the Government can buy whatever is for sale by crediting relevant bank accounts doesn’t mean they should not place limits on the size of the deficit; and so (b) given the federal deficit “finances” private saving, it should therefore be aim to “fill” the spending gap left by the private desire to save. If the Government does that then it can maintain full employment and price stability and move towards a more equitable society. So it is of importance that we have some idea of the size of this spending (or output) gap.
Today I was looking through annual reports of the Australian Future Fund, which is an example of what is known the world over as a sovereign fund. I have been keeping an eye on the performance of the Future Fund not the least because it is so exposed by its stake in Telstra, which has gone downhill ever since the previous regime persuaded Australians to buy a stake in something they already owned!. Anyway, most people have been conned by the Future Fund concept – it is shrouded in lies and deceit. In general, the idea of a sovereign fund is based on a misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) of the way the modern monetary economy operates. So its time to debrief and make it clear that these policy choices by governments generally undermine public goods and full employment.
I rode my bike 80 kms early this morning (usual Sunday) in the beautiful Autumn weather that Newcastle (NSW) enjoys this time of year. The Pacific Ocean looks superb (although there is nothing surfable in sight – maybe tomorrow morning). The sun was out and we were heading for 26-27 degrees. Then it had to happen. When I returned home I opened this morning’s newspaper and came across an authoritative headline: US faces huge deficit blow-out, with the sub-line “Program cuts, tax hikes likely.” The journalist (added to my bogan list) probably got 0 out of 5 on last night’s quiz. Well the truth is that almost everything the journalist wrote is wrong if he is talking about the real world. Anyway, I thought so. Its that time again. Time to debrief.
Today I released a major new research report Red alert suburbs: An employment vulnerability index for Australia’s major urban regions which was the result of a collaboration with Scott Baum (URP, Griffith University) who I share a large ARC Discovery Grant with. The Report and its findings has already received front page coverage in the large Australian dailies – The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Many readers have asked me to explain why social security and pension schemes run by national governments can never become insolvent. Some have heard me commenting on the radio recently about this. In the current recession, where automatic stabilisers are pushing the budget back into deficit to dampen the fall in aggregate demand there are now renewed cries that social security funds around the World are likely to become insolvent. There are the familiar howls that all the “debt” that is being built up as governments go into deficits (mostly because they have been dragged into them by the cycle) will require huge future tax burdens that will undermine the capacity of governments to deliver adequate social security and health care systems. I think its time to de-brief again. The short answer to these claims is: sovereign governments can always fund social security in their own currency. Always, always, and even always.
After yesterday’s shock admission that our Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was losing sleep because he was worried about the Federal debt buildup, there he was on the ABCs 7.30 Report last night giving us more cause for concern that his sleeplessness is having a negative effect on his ability to conduct reasonable dialogue on economic matters.
Senior journalists often do more harm than good when they write about technical issues that they clearly do not understand. In many cases, they rely on the technical knowledge of their favourite economist or the flavour of the month economist and they are not skilled enough to know when their “economist” is also talking rubbish.
Today in the Fairfax press, economics writer Ross Gittins in an article entitled No good reason to feel depression claims that we should not be too worried about the looming recession because after all things aren’t likely to be that bad. Well from my perspective recessions are episodes that wreak havoc on the most disadvantaged citizens in our society and should never occur.