I woke up to the headlines this morning about the apparently failed German bond tender yesterday and all the experts predicting doom. In my E-mail box there was around 30 requests for an explanation from readers who had read the news and concluded that it was a major event in the current crisis but didn’t really understand what the implications were. The implications are fairly simple – the bond markets are working out that no EMU government is free of insolvency risk because they all use a foreign currency (the Euro). Germany is better placed to resist the crisis because of the relative strength of its economy but it is not immune from it. Its economy will also deteriorate as the effects of austerity spread out through trade. While the “experts” waxed lyrical about the crisis being confined to profligate EMU states (the PIIGS), it was always clear that the northern strong-hold states were going to be dragged in as the crisis deepened. That is because the problem is the Euro itself and the way the monetary system is designed. All the other emotional stuff about lazy Greeks is a sideshow. Germany is starting to find that out – yesterday, it received its first strong message. The crisis is going right to the top in Europe now.
The laboratories are multiplying. We are in an interesting period – I say that in an intellectual sense only – where stark policy decisions have been taken based on certain theoretical economic claims and regular data is arriving which allows us to assess the viability of those claims. So as a researcher it is interesting. As a person I don’t find it interesting that governments are prepared to gamble with peoples’ lives in a self-serving way to appease the elites that fund them. For many years we have had Japan as an Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) laboratory. I gave a talk here in Maastricht yesterday and asked how any mainstream economic theory could explain Japan over the last two decades or so. By any standards if the mainstream macroeconomic theories were of any value then Japan should have very high interest rates and accelerating inflation and the government should have gone broke. It hasn’t and that tells you the value of mainstream theory. Now we have various fiscal austerity experiments being undertaken and the data is coming in daily to tell us that the claims made about the certainty of a “fiscal contraction expansion” are spurious. The most recent British labour force data released this week provides a very interesting laboratory terrain. Two geographic regions within the same nation, two governments (of different status) and two very different economic policy approaches. Result: one side of the border the labour market deteriorates, the other side it improves. So this blog is a tale of those two labour markets – one south of a border the other north. The data provides further evidence that fiscal austerity damages economic prosperity.
There has been a lot of “opinion” expressed over the last few days about the causes of the British riots. If I had a meter to assess the ideological biases given breath in the press over this issue to date it would be swinging out there in the right-wing of opinion – “cultural problem”, “lawless lazy youth fed by the welfare state”, “criminality”, “intolerable monsters” all words I have read or heard in the media recently. Anyway who has my view is labelled a “left-wing cynic” who want to “makes excuses for thugs”. Opinion is after all just that so it is always of benefit to temper it with research evidence. Anyway, the short conclusion – supported by the research evidence – is that I blame the British government for the riots.
It was the last day of the 12th Path to Full Employment Conference/17th National Unemployment Conference in Newcastle, which I host. The papers were interesting all day and I will report on some of them another day. But overnight, the big news was that the US Senate has finally succeeded in forcing the US Federal Reserve Bank to release details of more than 21,000 transactions it made as a reaction to the rapidly escalating global financial crisis. The lending rose to $US3.3 trillion at its peak and dwarfs the volumes involved in QE1 and QE2 amounts. This is relevant to a debate in the banking literature about the separation of monetary policy functions (setting interest rates) and the broader monetary interventions we have been witnessing in this crisis, which bear close similarity to fiscal policy functions. The question is which macroeconomic policy functions should be accountable to the ballot box. My view is all of them!
Its very balmy weather over here in the Netherlands at present – like early October and people were out in T-shirts are 21:00 last night. I went to Brussels in the afternoon and didn’t even take an overcoat! But in contrast, the economic climate is decidedly chilly. Each week new evidence emerges which demonstrates categorically that the fiscal austerity proponents have not clue about how real economies and monetary systems function. The world is not behaving as they predicted. The models and analysis they provided to governments as support for withdrawing fiscal support are bereft of any credibility. It is also common for economic commentators and policy makers to argue that problems are manifest and complex and there are no silver bullets. Well what Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tells you is that when there is a recession (and/or tepid growth) such as the world is enduring now and the non-government sector is drowning in debt and unwilling to expand spending the only solution is to expand public spending. That proposition is not manifest or complex. Its simple – more public spending is required.
The latest economic news from the UK and the US is hardly inspiring. Further, detailed examination of the sectoral balances in the OECD nations reveals a massive drop in private demand since 2007. The mirror image of that spending collapse has been the increase in public deficits via the automatic stabilisers (discretionary stimulus packages aside). These swings are just signs that economies are adjusting back to more normal relations (private saving, public deficits). The sharpness of the swings reflects the atypical period that preceded the crisis where growth was fuelled by private debt in the face of fiscal contraction. It will take some years for the adjustment to be completed and the danger is that ideological attacks on the fiscal deficits will derail the process. But when the sectoral balances return to more normal levels in relation to GDP then guess what? We will still have budget deficits and we all better get used to it.
Tonight we consider the tale of two countries with some other snippets of good taste included for interest. In the last few days the Japanese government has announced the largest fiscal stimulus in its modern era (since records have been kept) while Ireland announced its 2010 budget which has been characterised as the harshest in the republic’s history. Both countries are mired in recession with only the most modest signs of any recovery. So on the face of it this is one hell of a juxtaposition. What gives?
At present, Australia is embroiled in yet another outbreak of boat people hysteria such that 72 poor souls who took the extraordinary risk to travel across the Indian Ocean to improve their circumstances and perhaps escape political intolerance are cast as being threats to our national sovereignty. The current debate continues years of shameful hysteria which has seen our government imprison children indefinitely because their parents wanted something better. More people come in daily by air and remain illegally than will ever come by boat. Apart from my moral repugnance for the scaremongering, it appears to be hypocritical that the free market lobby always calls for the free flow of capital but rarely for the free flow of people while the left seem to adopt the opposite view. I was thinking about that today when I read that the British PM Gordon Brown has renewed his call for a Tobin Tax. How does that square with modern monetary theory (MMT)? Not very well.
The OECD, the organisation that has spearheaded the abandonment of full employment in all its member countries since releasing the supply-side blueprint in 1994 – The Jobs Study, has now finally realised that things are very bleak in labour markets across the World and is saying more action is desperately needed. All their rhetoric in the last decade about making labour markets resilient and flexible through active labour market programs has not apparently stopped the major economies from going belly up.
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.
I read a headline in the Australian newspaper yesterday (March 19) – Nation building funding crisis as private sector fails to find cash. What? Nation building requires significant budget deficits. When was it dependent on the private sector having to trump up cash? I soon recalled that we have been living in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) era where governments have relinquished their responsibilities to build essential public infrastructure that not only supports a sense of public good but also underpins the prosperity of the private market economy. Its that time again. Time to debrief.