Last week (April 11, 2023), the IMF released their half-yearly update – World Economic Outlook: A Rocky Recovery, April 2023 – which excited the headlines in the media with predictions of gloom and calls for fiscal austerity and more interest rate hikes. The only good thing about these reports every six months is the accompanying datasets, which allows for fairly quick comparative analysis across nations. Other than that, the textual narratives are pure mainstream economics Groupthink and demonstrate how if one starts from a particular and flawed set of principles, everything else that follows undermines the stated goal. This is a recurring story – we have seen this with these multilateral agencies over and over again. The point to understand is not to try to interpret these IMF reports as being knowledge-based or compiled as if they are pursuing knowledge. They are parts of the ideological weaponry that seeks to sustain and advance neoliberalism and the power relations inherent in that ideology while purporting to be expert commentary.
Yesterday, I commented on Tuesday’s RBA interest rate rise. I wasn’t complementary. In the last two days, more data has been released since the decision, which further suggests that the RBA erred. It also suggests that part of the housing problem everyone is focused on is not due to lax monetary policy, which is the mainstream mantra, but is, rather, due to flawed tax policy. So, we have seen housing loan demand in decline and building approvals plummetting in the last month, a sign that the housing market, especially for owner-occupiers is in decline. Further, the growth in retail sales was only 1.6 per cent, and while mainstream economists are pointing to the rapid growth over the 12-month period (9.4 per cent March to March), they ignore the fact that the the March 2022 observation shows a decline on the previous month. The RBA statement yesterday did not mention housing at all, even though its decision has already pushed up mortgage rates in an already declining market. All they seem to want to do is cause massive damage to low income workers through even lower real incomes and rising unemployment and underemployment. There are fiscal options that should be pursued right now but the policy makers appear blind to them.
On December 14, 2016, the US Federal Reserve Bank pushed up its policy target interest rate from 0.5 per cent to 0.75 per cent. In its – Press Release – it said that the “labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been expanding at a moderate pace since mid-year”. It acknowledged that “business investment has remained soft”. But it believes that even though it has increased the rate by 25 basis points, there is still room for “some further strengthening in labor market conditions and a return to 2 percent inflation”. The logic is very confused in my view. First, the US labour market is weak (in inflation pressure terms) notwithstanding the reduced official unemployment rate. Real wages growth has been effectively zero and the broad measure of labour underutilisation (U6) remains at 9.3 per cent (as at November). Second, the emphasis on central bank policy shifts is based on a view that elements of total spending are sensitive to interest rate changes and by increasing rates, price pressures will attenuated. The only problem with that logic is that all the elements of spending in the US (private investment, household durable goods) are hardly setting the world on fire. Private investment, in particular, is in poor shape. So by the US Federal Reserve bank’s own logic (which I do not share) it should be expecting on-going further poor investment growth, which will further undermine potential productive capacity. Not a sound strategy at all.
On Friday (January 29, 2016), the Bank of Japan issued a seven-page document – Introduction of “Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing with a Negative Interest Rate” – which left me confounded. Do they actually know what they are doing or not? For years, the liquidity management conducted by the operations desk at the Bank has been impeccable, in the sense that they have maintained near zero interest rates in the face of growing fiscal deficits. There was always some doubt when they were the early users of quantitative easing which many claimed was to provide the banks with more reserves so that they would increase their lending to the private domestic sector in order to stimulate growth, after many years of rather moderate real performance to say the least. Of course, banks are not reserve constrained in their lending so the the only way that this aspect of ‘non-conventional’ monetary policy would be stimulatory would be if investment and purchasers of consumer durable were motivated to borrow at the lower interest rates that the asset swap (bonds for reserves) generated. The evidence is that the stimulus impact has been low and that there are many other factors other than falling interest rates governing whether borrowers will approach their banks for loans. In their latest announcement, the logic appears to be that by reducing reserves they will induce banks to lend more. Go figure that one out!
I have noted in recent weeks a periodic reference to long-run neutrality of money. Several readers have written to me to explain this evidently jargon-laden concept that has pervaded mainstream economics for two centuries and has been used throughout that history, in different ways, to justify the case against policy-activism by government in the face of mass unemployment. It is once again being invoked by the deficit terrorists to justify fiscal austerity despite the millions of productive workers who remain unemployed. I have been working on a new book over the last few days which includes some of the theoretical debates that accompany the notion of neutrality. There will also be a chapter in the macroeconomics text book that Randy Wray and I are working on at present on this topic. Essentially, it involves an understanding of what has been called the “classical dichotomy”. It is a highly technical literature and that makes it easy to follow if you are good at mathematical reasoning. It is harder to explain it in words but here goes. I have tried to write this as technically low-brow as I can. The bottom line takeaway – the assertion that money is neutral in the long-run is a nonsensical contrivance that the mainstream invoke to advance their ideological agenda against government intervention. It is theoretically bereft and empirical irrelevant. That conclusion should interest you! But be warned – this is just an introduction to a very complex literature that spans 200 years or so.
This time last month I was trying out the mobile office concept up the coast (see blog). The experiment was a success but the blog I wrote that day coincided with the decision of the Reserve Bank (RBA) to hike short-term interest rates again, which I considered to be a mistake. Exactly, one month later, the RBA is at it again however I am in Newcastle and there is no surf! The RBA announced today, quite predictably, that the policy rate will rise by 0.25 per cent which will push mortgage rates above 7 per cent. Our greedy private banks get another free ride out of this and the decision confirms that the crisis has not really changed the neo-liberal economic policy dominance. Inflation targeting which uses labour underutilisation as a policy weapon and fiscal surpluses which further drag the economy down – are well and truly entrenched. Spare the thought.
Today’s blog comes to you from beautiful Boomerang Beach, on the mid-North Coast of NSW and within the Booti Booti National Park. I am experimenting with the concept of a mobile office – well a cabin by the beach. Armed with my USB turbo mobile broadband and my portable computer, some files and books (not to mention a guitar and a couple of surfboards) I decided I can work nearly anywhere these days. Connectivity is no longer a problem. So I decided to head north for a couple of days to see how the concept works. Maybe it will begin a gypsy research life although I know one person who won’t allow that to happen! Anyway, it is a lovely setting and I can walk about 200 metres to the surf through the sand dunes. The perfect antidote to the sort of hysteria I covered in yesterday’s blog. Today I am considering corporate welfare among other topics and you definitely need a peaceful and soothing location to delve into that topic in any depth.
The media is increasingly reporting that the RBA will hike interest rates by the end of 2009. I consider this to be a nonsensical suggestion given that unemployment and underemployment will still be rising and it is unclear whether employment growth will be anything than near zero at that time. From a theoretical perspective, at the root of all the conjecture, whether the journalists actually realise it or not, is a concept called the “neutral rate of interest”, which is just another neo-liberal smokescreen. That is what this blog is about.
Today’s Australian newspaper, sadly our national daily carries a story – Stimulating our way into trouble – by Griffith University professor (and ex-federal treasury official) Tony Makin. I pity the students who have to study with him. The article continues the News Limited campaign against the government stimulus package and demonstrates the extent that is prepared to use the services of so-called experts (that is, titled mainstream economists) who seem prepared to grossly mislead the readership to advance their ideological strategy. Whatever it takes seems to be the strategy. Anyway, once again the mainstream macroeconomics textbook is called upon to make policy statements.
Britain is now in a very undesirable state. The governing Tories are bereft of any sensible ideas and likely to lose the next General election in 2024 to Labour, who are promising to be the party of ‘sound finance’, which means they will be incapable of dealing with the challenges that face the nation in a highly volatile world and will likely end up losing popularity and ceding government back to the Tories. And just as in 2010, the Labour reputation will tarnished and they will be lost again for another sequence of elections. That sort of future prospect is not inspiring is it. Caught between a rock and a hard place.
Today, I am reflecting on the evolution of the body of work known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and responding to many E-mails I get seeking clarification about things and some that keep getting things wrong. Some of the things I write today might introduce some dissonance, which just means that those feeling that have not really got to the bottom of the matter before and thought they knew what isn’t. This blog post also forms part of my – MMT Provenance – series where I trace the development of MMT in historical terms – who said what, who were there, who weren’t etc. And it is good sometimes to reflect on your work to see where it has gone and to wonder why. So, a bit of a different post today as we wait for tonight’s fiscal statement from the Australian Treasurer.
The current period is really exposing what is wrong with the world order based on Capitalism. Those in the know have always understood that the system is not designed to advance human prosperity generally. At times in history, it has required the general improvement in material living standards to accomplish its aims – which are different from that improvement. So, it has tolerated a more equitable distribution of income and access to consumption purchasing power. But while the masses became complacement as they polished their big (oversized) SUVs, which sit in their driveways next to their big (oversized) motor boat and out the front of their big (oversized) house that is ill-designed for a carbon-neutral future, the bosses have been beavering away working out how to continue to meet their aims independent of us.
The New York Times article (October 1, 2021, updated October 15, 2021) – Nobody Really Knows How the Economy Works. A Fed Paper Is the Latest Sign – reported on a paper by one Jeremy B. Rudd, who is a senior advisor in the Research and Statistics division at the Federal Reserve Bank in the US. The paper – Why Do We Think That Inflation Expectations Matter for Inflation? (And Should We?) – published as Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2021-062, by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, argues that a core aspect of New Keynesian macroeconomic orthodoxy “rests on extremely shaky foundations … and adhering to it uncritically could easily lead to serious policy errors.” The paper rejects the central notion in mainstream macro that the trajectory of inflation is driven by expectations. The idea that expectations are the key force has led central banks deliberately using the unemployed to fight an (imaginary) inflation threat. It has led fiscal authorities to pursue contractionary policies that have forced millions into unemployment. The Rudd paper is important because it shows the mainstream edifice is collapsing – it jettisons an other core concept. There is not much left in mainstream economics that hasn’t been rejected by evidence or exposed as being theoretically inconsistent.
This is Part 2 of my analysis of the way that fundamental ideas in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) are totally consistent with a reasonable interpretation of Marx’s work. The motivation to clarify these issues came after I spoke at an event last weekend in the UK and shared a panel with a critic who claimed that Marx’s work established that MMT is wrong to assume that unemployment is a monetary phenomenon (insufficient spending) and that government spending can do anything about it. The claim was based on a view that Marx thought that capitalist firms have some unique logic that if they decide not to produce no amount of sales orders will induce them to expand production even if they have massive excess capacity (‘machines lying idle’) and a huge pool of idle labour to draw upon. No reasonable reading of Marx’s work would lead to that conclusion. In this part, we will consider what Marx thought about crisis and some later developments of his reproduction schemes, which make it clear that effective demand drives capitalist output, which conditions their employment decisions.
On September 2, 2021, the Head of the BIS Monetary and Economic Department, Claudio Borio gave an address – Back to the future: intellectual challenges for monetary policy = at the University of Melbourne. The Bank of International Settlements is owned by 63 central banks and provides various functions “to support central banks’ pursuit of monetary and financial stability through international cooperation”. His speech covers a range of topics in relation to the conduct of monetary policy but its importance is that it marks a clear line between the way the mainstream conceive of the role and effectiveness of the central bank and the view taken by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists. I discuss those issues in this blog post.
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.
It is Wednesday and I am catching up on other things. But In a rather extraordinary article (May 16, 2021) – Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explains why he’s more left-wing than the Modern Monetary Theory crowd – we learn about hubris. I provide some brief commentary on that claim before chilling out to some great post minimalist music.
The capacity of prominent people in economics to attempt to airbrush history and forget what they said and did in the past continues to amaze me. It always has. The problem for them though is that there is a public record. Yet, the mainstream media seems to ignore that public record as they give these characters continued coverage without noting the contradictions and about turns that have been going on. The issue is the past keeps catching up with these characters but they just maintain their authority in the public debate as they freely morph between contradictory and inconsistent positions, without ever having to provide any sort of accounting for those shifts. It would clearly help if the media held these people to account because then the public would realise that some of the things that they had said in the past, which led, because they had positions of power, to devastating policy impacts on workers and their families, were false all along and should never re-enter the policy debate.
I was in a meeting the other day and one of the attendees announced that they were sick of government and were looking at other solutions such as social capital and community empowerment to solve the deep problems of welfare dependency that they were concerned about. The person said that all the bureaucrats had done was to force citizens onto welfare with no way out. It had just made them passive and undermined their free will. It was a meeting of progressive people. I shuddered. This is one of those narratives that signal surrender. That put up the white flag in the face of the advancing neoliberal army intent on destroying everything in its way. The ultimate surrender – individualise and privatise national problems of poverty, inequality, exclusion, unemployment – and propose solutions that empower the individuals trapped in ‘le marasme économique’ created by states imbued with neoliberal ideology. The point is that the Asset-Based-Community-Development (ABCD) mob, the social capital gang, the new regionalists, the social entrepreneurs are just reinforcing the approach that creates the problems they claim they are concerned about. The point is that it is not the ‘state’ that is at fault but the ideologues that have taken command of the state machinery and reconfigured it to serve their own agenda, which just happen to run counter to what produces general well-being. That is why I shuddered and took a deep breath.
I haven’t had time yet to fully work through the decision by the European Commission yesterday to provide grants and loans to struggling Eurozone countries. I will comment on that when I have had time to understand the implications and be in a position to provide fair comment. It seems to be a vastly inadequately response in quantum, on top of an existing lack of fiscal support. But more on that another day. Today, I am investigating the latest data from the ECB. On May 26, 2020, the ECB released its bi-annual – Financial Stability Review, May 2020 – which seemed to excite some journalists to advance narratives that ‘sovereign debt’ investors (although none of the Eurozone nations are sovereign) will soon become spooked by the sharp rise in public debt levels in Europe, which will “threaten to undermine private-sector spending” and stall any growth prospects. The quote is from a Financial Times article (May 26, 2020) – ECB warns of challenge for eurozone from soaring public debt – which followed the release of the ECB’s Review. The elephant is, of course, the ECB assets and its ability to control all yields on public debt at will.