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The Weekend Quiz – March 6-7, 2021

Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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It isn’t just like household debt!

Yesterday, apparently I disappointed several people by analysing the Australian National Accounts release instead of concentrating on what ripper music release we could discuss. Well, I cannot stop the ABS releasing the GDP data on a Wednesday. But I can call Thursday Wednesday when they do release the data and so here we are. I also have to travel a lot today so it is good that I don’t have to spend much time writing this blog post. The music tribute today is to the famous Bunny Livingstone, one of the best Jamaican musicians who died earlier this week. What else could it be. I also have some other snippets that interested me, including a rather interesting BBC video short which well and truly tells us that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) ideas are invading the mainstream even if they would never care to admit that publicly. Happy days.

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Australian national accounts – second quarter of strong growth but still below where economy was a year ago

Coming off a low base. That is how to view the latest data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, December 2020 (released March 3, 2020). It shows that the Australian economy grew by 3.1 per cent in the December-quarter after growing by 3.4 per cent in the September-quarter. But the economy is still 1.1 per cent smaller than it was this time last year. The other thing to take from the data is that it once again confirms that nations that took the virus elimination strategy have done the best in economic terms compared to those nation which resisted tight lockdowns and other restrictions and are still enduring high infection rates and stalled economies. Household Consumption expenditure rose strongly as opportunities to spend increased and disposable income recovered somewhat. How long this considerable rebound can continue is another question. With the government fiscal support due to end soon and the base now higher, the coming quarters will not be as robust. And remember that the economy is still 1.1 per cent smaller and the labour market is still struggling and the Government’s fiscal support will still be required in certain sectors, which are still unable to achieve recovery (arts, tourism).

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We are undermining our futures by deliberately wasting our youth

What simple measures might we use to see whether a system is working or not? Well that depends on the objective of the system. For me, one of the worst things that can happen in a social context is a capitalist system is involuntary unemployment because work is intrinsic to our beings. From the time we crawled out of the slime we have had to transform nature in order to survive. That reality goes to the heart of human existence and gives us purpose and builds our sense of network and cooperation and giving. I know all the arguments – this is a filthy capitalist system and why would we want people to be wage slaves – I am older now. I have been a left-winger all my life. I heard these arguments decades ago. And until those revolutionary armies that are apparently hiding out in the suburbs arms themselves and appear in the streets, I am thinking of the actual societies we live in and have to make the best of. We would spend our whole life times talking about revolution while workers around the world are being made to bear the costs of the failing neoliberal system.

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Real wages in Australia continue to go backwards

Last week, two major wage data releases came out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. On Wednesday (February, 24, 2021), the – Wage Price Index, Australia – which was followed on Thursday (February 25, 2021) by the latest – Average Weekly Earnings, Australia. The two series are quite different as I note below. Both demonstrate poor wages outcomes in Australia. The ABS reported that Australia “maintained the historically low annual growth rate of 1.4 per cent for a second quarter” and that the data “showed a large proportion of the private sector wage growth came from the continued restoration of hourly wages back to pre-pandemic levels”. In other words, the cuts firms got away with last year were restored, which is a different thing to on-going growth. Private sector grow was just 0.7 per cent and public sector growth was just 0.3 per cent. The overall WPI growth was just 0.6 per cent. The public sector is clearly not demonstrating leadership with their ridiculous wage freezes and wage caps stifling wages growth not only in the public sector but also via the spillover effects to the private sector. With the quarterly inflation in the December-quarter was recorded at 0.22 per cent, real wages thus rose for Australian workers. But if we consider the annual movements private sector wages grew by 1.4 per cent while annual inflation (excluding volatile items) was 1.5 per cent, so real wages fell over the year to December 2020. Further, over the longer period, real wages growth is still running well behind the growth in GDP per hour (productivity), which has allowed profits to secure a substantially increased share of national income.

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The Weekend Quiz – February 27-28, 2021 – 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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Some historical thinking about the Job Guarantee

I noted yesterday that I was appearing at a Seminar via Zoom with my MMT colleague, Pavlina Tcherneva, where we will discuss the concept of a social contract and where Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) fits into that, especially in the context of our idea of employment guarantees. The seminar – MMT and the new social contract: Lessons from Covid-19 – will be held on Saturday, February 27, 2021, from 10:00 Australian Eastern Daylight time and you can find details of how you can participate – HERE. I was thinking about what I would contribute to this workshop and rather than just rehearse the standard discussion about the Job Guarantee I have thought going back to square one would be a good place to start. This is especially a good thing to do, given that I increasingly see progressive people embrace the concept but try to do ‘too much’ with it. That is, place too much emphasis on it, especially in the context of Green Transitions. Pouring all our activist and political energy into getting a Job Guarantee up is not a sensible strategy for reasons I will explain. Second, a lot of critics, especially those who talk big on Twitter about ‘Bill Mitchell wanting people to starve’, clearly haven’t gone back to understand the roots of the concept and where it fits in. So today, I want to further clarify some significant issues that arise when both sides – pro and con – come in contact with the concept of employment buffer stocks for the first time and think they know all about.

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Enforced poverty and torture for the victims of government policy failure – welcome to modern Australia

My Wednesday blog post with a few snippets. Don’t forget to enrol in our MOOC which begins next week. Also, some news from Britain that shows once again the British Labour Party has the gun aimed straight at its foot. And some comments on yesterday’s Australian government decision to increase the unemployment benefit by $25 per week and claiming this was appropriate – when it still means the recipients are $163 per week below the accepted poverty line. Enforced poverty by a government that refuses to create enough jobs and then punishes the victims of the policy failure. This all amounts to War and we can sing along to that after getting angry about the rest.

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Have mainstream economists really embraced large deficits and central bank bond purchases?

When John Maynard Keynes wrote his essay – Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren – which was published in 1930 he considered that workers would be able to work just 15 hours a week because of the likely technological shifts over the 100 years from the date of his publication. He was right about the productivity gains that have been created but wrong about the benefits workers would gain from them. He thought the productivity would be more evenly shared out. He underestimated the capacity of capital to extract the gains for profits and capture the state to ensure it used its legislative and regulative capacity to suppress wages growth. Mainstream economists have aided and abetted the rising inequality and the reconfiguration of the state as a agent for capital. This bears on how we understand some of the apparent shifts in views by mainstream economists about fiscal deficits and central bank debt purchases. Yesterday, it was all bad. Today, all good. History warns us to be cautious in how we appraise these shifts. There is something to be said for consistency.

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