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ECB researchers find fiscal policy is very effective and more so if central banks buy up the debt

The ECB published a Working Paper recently (September 2021) – Monetary and fiscal complementarity in the Covid-19 pandemic – which represents progress in the narrative. While the technical model that the ECB uses is just an ad hoc attempt to reverse engineer the reality so they can claim they can explain it, what is useful from the exercise is that the old mainstream narratives that fiscal policy is ineffective in providing permanent boosts to real output (or that austerity does not permanently damage the growth trajectory) can no longer be sustained. The taboo surrounding central bank purchases of government debt because they cause accelerating inflation can no longer be sustained. The claims that fiscal deficits drive up interest rates can no longer be sustained. Now the public debate just has to reflect that reality and we will have made progress. Of course, this is all core MMT – we knew it all along!

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They never wrote about it, talked about it, and, did quite the opposite – yet they knew it all along!

During the GFC, a new phenomenon emerged – the ‘We knew it all along’ syndrome, which was characterised my several mainstream New Keynesian macroeconomists coming out and claiming that some of the insights provided by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists were banal and that their own theoretical framework already accommodates them. The pandemic has brought a further rush of the ‘We knew it all along’ syndrome. Apparently, mainstream macroeconomics is perfectly capable of explaining the fiscal reality the world has found itself in and there is no need to MMT, which, by assertion, is saying nothing new. These sorts of statements are not coming from Facebook or Twitter heroes who might have done a few units in economics or even acquired a degree in the discipline. They are coming from senior professors in the academy. The curious thing, which really lifts their cover, is that if you examine the academic literature you won’t find much reference to these sorts of ‘insights’ at all. What you find, and what students are taught, are a completely different set of propositions with respect to fiscal policy. So if they ‘knew it all along’ why didn’t they ever write about it? Why is their published academic work replete with conclusions that run contrary to the conclusions MMT economists make? You know the answer. These ‘knew it all along’ characters have just been caught out by the poor empirical performance of their paradigm and now they are trying to salvage their reputations and position by trying to blur history. They really should be sacked.

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The Weekend Quiz – September 18-19, 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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Australian labour market in dire straits

At present, the pandemic is causing massive fluctuations in the labour force aggregates to the point that it is very difficult to know more than that things a bad even when conventional indicators would normally be moving in a direction that would lead to the opposite conclusion. Today (September 16, 2021), the Australian Bureau of Statistics put out the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for August 2021. The background is that the entire East Coast is in or has been in lockdown over the last few months and for the two largest labour markets (NSW and Victoria) that lockdown has been very tight. The August 2021 data reveals that the longer NSW lockdown is now impacting heavily on employment growth. Employment, working hours, and participation are now falling sharply and we have the situation where unemployment and the unemployment rate is falling because the labour force is declining faster than employment. Of course that just means that the workers who would normally have been counted as officially unemployed as they lost jobs are now outside the labour force – and we consider them to be hidden unemployed. Their participation decline is because employment opportunities have collapsed. The more stable ratio – the Employment-to-Population ratio fell by 0.8 points in August, which is a massive shift for one month. The situation will get worse in September. So while the unemployment rate might be falling the situation is dire. The lack of any significant stimulus from the federal government is telling. There is now definite evidence that further and rather massive fiscal support is required. The lack of support is one reason low-paid workers in high infection rate areas are still mobile – looking for work etc and spreading the virus further.

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Monetary policy is not effective in dealing with a pandemic – it must support active fiscal policy

It’s Wednesday and I have now settled back into my office after being stuck away from home for 9 weeks as a result of border closures between Victoria and NSW. So I am reverting back to the usual Wednesday pattern of limited writing, although today, the topic is worthy of some extended narrative. Before we get to the swamp blues music segment, I am analysing a speech made by the RBA governor yesterday on the role of monetary policy during a pandemic, whether low interest rates are driving house prices too high, and, what should be done about that. The conclusion is that he supports better use of fiscal policy – sustaining supportive fiscal deficits and dealing with the distortions that are contributing to high housing prices, via amendments to taxation (eliminating incentives for high income earners to buy multiple properties) and public infrastructure policies (more social housing).

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Travelling music

The Covid situation in Australia has deteriorated in recent months after the conservative NSW government allowed it to spread (after a lax approach to quarantine – privatising the service). For the last 9 weeks or so I have been stuck in another state, away from home, and wondering when I could get back across the border again. Well yesterday I finally acquired a travel permit to cross the border between NSW and Victoria and 10 hours later (by car) I am now back at home. So I am catching up on things this afternoon (with two computer monitors – yeah) and there will be no formal blog post. But there is some music. Back tomorrow.

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Remembering Tuesday, September 11

Last Saturday, September 11, we observed the anniversary of a terrible terrorist act, inflicted on a free people with a democratically-elected government by multinational conspiratorial forces. The terrorist attack happened on a Tuesday. It resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people and the offenders have never been brought to justice. We should etch that day – Tuesday, September 11, 1973 – in our consciences, especially if you are an American, British or Australian citizen, given the culpability of our respective governments in that despicable coup d’etat. Today, a bit of a different blog post as I remember this historical event and the way it undermined progressive thought for years. The type of economic policies introduced by Pinochet on advice from the ‘Chicago Boys’ became the standard approach for even the traditional social democratic parties in the 1980s and beyond. We still haven’t abandoned the macroeconomic ideology that accompanies this approach. And Chile, 1973, was the live laboratory. Yes, the Blairites and the Delors-types and the American Democrats, etc don’t chuck inconvenient people out of planes in the ocean to get rid of them like Pinochet did on a daily basis, but the macroeconomics invoked is not that different.

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The Weekend Quiz – September 11-12, 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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