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Timor-Leste – challenges for the new government – Part 3

This is Part 3 (and final) of my mini-series analysing some of the challenges that the newly elected majority government in Timor-Leste faces. In Part 2, I discussed the progress of the Strategic Development Plan and the challenges ahead in terms of poverty, unemployment, and other indicators relating to the development process. In Part 2, I focused more on the currency debate – documenting how the IMF and World Bank had infused its ideological stance into the currency arrangements that Timor-Leste set out with as a new nation. I made the case for currency sovereignty which would require Timor-Leste to scrap the US dollar, convert the Petroleum Fund into its stock of foreign exchange reserves, and to run an independent monetary policy with flexible exchange rates, mediated with the capacity to use capital controls where appropriate. In this final discussion I consider specific policy options that are required to exploit what is known as the ‘demographic dividend’ where the age-structure of the nation generates a plunging dependency ratio. To exploit that dividend, which historically delivers massive development boosts to nations, the shifting demographics have to be accompanied by high levels of employment. That should be policy priority No.1.

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Progressive cause in Australia seriously undermined by … progressives

I am travelling most of today with heavy commitments at the other end so only a short blog today with some great music to calm the soul. Yesterday, a group of high-profile, so-called progressives in Australia placed a paid-for advertisement in the leading daily newspapers as part of a new campaign for the government to increase taxes to get back into surplus so that (as their narrative goes) it can afford to maintain services for the needy. Yes, it was not the Right voices in our debate articulating this. The campaign is being led by a group that is often referred to as ‘left-leaning’ and calls itself the “most influential progressive think tank” in Australia. Modesty doesn’t exist it seems. But these sorts of descriptors are when the English language loses all meaning. The advertisement and subsequent follow-up interviews in the media yesterday by signatories and supporters of the “Letter” articulate a pure neoliberal line of deception about fiscal positions, the role of taxes and the virtuousness of fiscal surpluses. From my assessment, this headline-grabbing display of stupidity will set back the progressive debate in Australia even further. A total disgrace.

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The Weekend Quiz – February 24-25, 2018 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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Censorship, the central bank independence ruse and Groupthink

A few things came up late last week which demonstrate the neoliberal Groupthink is alive an well at the highest levels of policy in Australia (and elsewhere). First, there was a story that a report from an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) journalist on the Australian government’s corporate tax cuts was withdrawn after publication by the ABC after receiving several complaints from senior government ministers including the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. The story was not even radical. The journalist who I have had dealings with is a neoliberal herself when it comes to understanding macroeconomics. Second, one of the claims that the neoliberals make is that central banks are now firmly independent and not part of the political process. This is all part of the depoliticisation process whereby governments absolve themselves of political responsibility for policies that harm the citizens by appealing to ‘independent’ external authorities (such as the IMF, or central banks). Well we know that the claim about central bank independence is not true both in terms of the way the monetary system operates but also in the conduct of various central bankers over the last few decades. Last week, the Reserve Bank of Australia governor once again demonstrated how politically independent he is NOT by invoking key mainstream neoliberal myths about deficits and grandchildren. And then an old hack and largely failed British Labour politicians got in on the act. The Groupthink is powerful but becoming increasingly desperate under the increasing pressure from citizens for more accountability.

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The Weekend Quiz – February 10-11, 2018 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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Europhile Left deluded if it thinks reform process will produce functional outcomes

A recent twitter exchange with some Europhiles who believe that it is better to wait for some, as yet unspecified, incremental reform process for the Eurozone rather than precipitate exit and the restoration of currency sovereignty was summed up for me by one of the tweets from Andrew Watt. In trying to defend the abandonment of sovereignty and make a case for continuing with the so-called reform dialogue, he wrote (October 27, 2017): “Unemployment in “periphery” was v hi before €. Fell rapidly. Then rose sharply, has now fallen somewhat. So picture very mixed.” I found that a deeply offensive claim to make and responded: “It is not a mixed picture at all. Youth unemployment has never been as high. Greek unemployment was never > 12%. Now > 20% indefinitely.” I also attached a graph (see over). I think this little exchange captures the essence of the delusion among many in the Left that we document in our new book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). The Europhiles maintain a blind faith in what they claim to be a reform process, which when carried through will reduce some of the acknowledged shortcomings (I would say disastrously terminal design flaws). They don’t put any time dimension on this ‘process’ but claim it is an on-going dialogue and we should sit tight and wait for it to deliver. Apparently waiting for ‘pigs to fly’ is a better strategy than dealing with the basic problems that this failed system has created. I think otherwise. The human disaster that the Eurozone has created impacts daily on peoples’ lives. It is entrenching long-term costs where a whole generation of Europeans has been denied the chance to work. That will reverberate for the rest of their lives and create dysfunctional outcomes no matter what ‘reforms’ are introduced. The damage is already done and remedies are desperately needed now. The so-called ‘reforms’ to date have been pathetic (think: banking union) and do not redress the flawed design. And to put a finer point on it: Germany will never allow sufficient changes to be made to render the EMU a functioning and effective federation. The Europhile Left is deluded if it thinks otherwise.

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The Weekend Quiz – October 28-29, 2017 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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The ‘infinite-horizon fiscal gap’ is just an infinity of nonsense – try measuring that!

The ‘infinite-horizon fiscal gap’ is just an infinity of nonsense. That is, if such a level of ridiculousness can be measured, which it cannot. So suffice to say a pretty large dose of nonsense. Certainly nothing to take seriously. Anyone who sprouts this nonsense declares themselves unqualified to discuss notions of sovereignty and the capacities of a currency-issuing state. But while some mainstream economists are firmly stuck in their Groupthink-riddled stupors with their ‘infinite-horizon fiscal gap’ calculations producing ever increasing (scaremungous) $ sums that the US government is allegedly unable to ever pay, the movers and shakers of the political scene, such as the Koch Brothers in the US, feel no compunction to stick with a consistent line attacking fiscal deficits. A few years ago they were predicting mayhem and insolvency just like the stupified academics. How things change when some dollars are up for grabs even if the fiscal deficit has to rise to transfer that largesse to the non-government sector. Then it is look the other way on the deficit and send us the cash. Sickening.

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Paradigm shift – not from the CORE Econ Project – as mainstream as you will get

Next Friday (September 22, 2017), I will be presenting at a panel on developments associated with the proposed MMT University and our new MMT Macroeconomics textbook, which will be published by Macmillan in April 2018. The panel will present during the First International MMT Conference, to be held in Kansas City. In part, my contribution will be to discuss the general pedagogical concerns that we (Randy Wray, Martin Watts and myself) had as we wrote the textbook over what turned out to be several years. We were confronted with the situation that we want our textbook to be used as widely as possible in the first and second years of a typical undergraduate program, but also didn’t want to fall into the trap of compromising what we considered to be a unified body of theory based upon Modern Monetary Theory (MMMT) for what other colleagues (particularly, mainstream academics) would claim to be necessary material to prepare a student for the labour market. We now have what we believe is a very strong two-year sequence in macroeconomics, firmly founded on MMT principles, with a good balance between discursive narrative, historical context, empirical challenge, and formal (mathematical) reasoning. When one compares it to other post-GFC developments in the pedagogy of macroeconomics, some of which have received the headlines in the past week, I think the curriculum embodied in our text is progressive, consistent, and doesn’t fall into the typical neoliberal default regarding governments and the monetary system.

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When neo-liberal masquerades as anti-establishment

Regular readers will know I was doing some speaking engagements in New Zealand a few weeks ago. Please read my blogs – Travelling all day today but here is something to watch and listen to and Reflections on a visit to New Zealand – for more coverage of that visit. New Zealand is in the midst of a national election campaign and it seems that one of the aspiring parties – The Opportunities Party (TOP) – which is trying to carve out a niche for itself as an ‘anti-establishment’ party in opposition to neo-liberalism – obviously determined that the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) message that I introduced many progressive New Zealanders to during my visit threatened their own credibility (which is a reasonable perception). So, to kill off the threat TOP went on the attack, although as you will read they found it impossible producing a credible critique of MMT and still maintain their alleged anti-neoliberal stance. Whatever, I would hope not too many New Zealand voters get lulled into believing that TOP is somehow a progressive force. Their macroeconomic narrative is strewn with neo-liberal falsehoods that are like neon-signs advertising their roots!

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The Weekend Quiz – August 5-6, 2017 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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A government can always afford high-quality health care provision

The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based research foundation that analyses health care systems, recently released an interested international comparison of the performance of such systems across a number of criteria (July 2017) – Mirror, Mirror 2017: International Comparison Reflects Flaws and Opportunities for Better U.S. Health Care. Health care is one of several policy areas where the debate descends into fiasco because the typical application of mainstream economics obscures a widespread understanding of how the monetary system operates and the opportunities that system provides a currency-issuing government. Once an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is achieved the choices available in health care policy become more obvious and better decision-making is likely. The Commonwealth Fund report provides useful information in this regard, although the MMT understanding has to come separately.

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Why are CEOs now supporting basic income guarantees?

It does not quite add up. But then why should it. Spin is spin. On the one hand, we are being constantly told that the world has entered a new era of secular stagnation, driven by an ageing population and a fall off in productive innovation, and we just have to get used to the elevated levels of unemployment that come with that. Yet, other spin doctors are talking about the innovation revolution, the second machine-age, where the march of the robots who will be embedded with AI that will make them smarter than us, big data, automation, the Internet of Things, and more will render work obsolete. In both cases, apparently, the introduction of a guaranteed income is recommended. Suspicious? Then there is more. When CEOs of big companies start advocating a policy that they claim will improve the lot of workers I become immediately suspicious. And why would people with a progressive bent advocate policies that are part of the continuing conservative ambition to achieve social control and which essentially amount to an abandonment of responsibility that government has for maintaining employment for those who cannot otherwise find jobs? So what is with this rush of support for a basic income guarantee (BIG) from all sides of politics??

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The Weekend Quiz – March 4-5, 2017 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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US labour market deteriorating – the losses from GFC will be long-lived

In September 2016, I assessed that – The US labour market is nowhere near full employment. This was in the context of an increasing number of commentators claiming that the US economy had already returned to full employment. The IMF World Economic Outlook is also estimating that the output gap in the US (actual relative to potential) has turned positive (meaning the US is beyond full employment). By way of contrast, the Congressional Budget Office considers the US had an output gap of around 0.9 per cent (actual below potential) in the December-quarter 2016. The facts point to even higher output gaps. The current BLS data release – Employment Situation Summary – January 2017 – has not altered my view. It showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 227,000 and the unemployment rate remained “little changed” at 4.8 per cent. But from the perspective of the labour force survey (Current Population Survey), total employment fell by 30 thousand. See below for an explanation of that paradox. The point is that employment still remains well below the pre-GFC peak and the jobs that have been created in the recovery are biased towards low pay. Additional research reveals that the losses from this sluggish economic performance will be long-lived and undermine the prospects of future generations. Fiscal austerity is bad for our grandchildren! In general, the problem is less job creation as quality of the work being created and the capacity of US workers to enjoy wage increases.

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The Weekend Quiz – February 4-5, 2017 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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Performing artists bear the brunt of austerity under neo-liberalism

A regular reader (thanks Sam) sent me some information about the cancellation of performing arts festivals in France as a result of austerity. This accelerating trend, which is worldwide, brings into focus the two pronged attack on workers by neo-liberalism. First, governments have been pressured or acceded to cutting public spending which has created higher unemployment, higher underemployment, casualisation and suppressed wages. Then, second, there has been a massive attack on income support systems with claims that they have become nonviable because of the increased demand for state support arising from the rising unemployment. The worker cannot win – which, of course, is the object of the exercise. Performing artists are among the most disadvantaged workers in the labour market and face particular problems – precarious, multi-employer jobs with variable pay interspersed with long periods of non-pay (although they are still working – rehearsal etc). The French developed a unique scheme to cope with this precarious existence, recognising the massive cultural and economic benefits that the arts industry generates. But even that scheme of income support is under attack as job opportunities decline even further in the face of public spending cuts. A Job Guarantee would go a long way to redressing these problems for musicians and other artists. It is a superior way to achieve progressive social change about the meaning of work and productivity.

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Cash transfers are not squandered on booze but do not replace the need for jobs

Some years ago I was asked to design a framework for the implementation of minimum wage system in South Africa as part of an ILO project my research group was involved. We were evaluating the first five years of the Expanded Public Works Programme in South Africa, which was a cut-down employment guarantee program (limited by supply-side constraints on public expenditure largely conditioned by the bullying of the South African government by the IMF). One of the issues I had to deal with was the belief among many economists that the existing cash transfer system introduced by the South African government after 1994 should be expanded into a full-blown Basic Income Guarantee and that any notion of employment guarantees should be rejected. Our work demonstrated quite clearly (in my view) the flawed logic in this argument. The cash transfer system was productive as it stood but was no reasonably extensible into a widespread income guarantee without significant negative consequences. The creation of an employment guarantee scheme to absorb the social transfers and leave them as supplemental to cope with varying family structures was a much better option. That conclusion holds for less developed nations and advanced nations alike.

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The Weekend Quiz – October 29-30, 2016 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 5

This is Part 5 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. It finishes this part of our discussion. Today, I consider how society establishes a fair transition environment to cope with climate change and the impacts of computerisation etc. I outline a coherent adjustment framework to allow these transitions to occur equitably and where they are not possible (due to limits on worker capacity) alternative visions of productive work are developed? I argue that while work, in general, is coercive under capitalism, the provision of employment guarantees is a more equitable approach than relying as the basic income advocates envision on the exploitation of some to provide the freedom for others. Further, I argue that the Job Guarantee is a better vehicle for creating new forms of productive work. Adopting a basic income guarantee in this context just amounts to surrender. Our manuscript is nearly finished and we hope to complete the hard edits in the next month or so and have the book available for sale by the end of this year. More information on that later.

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