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US labour market – stronger in the first two months of 2020 but still scope for expansion

On March 6, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – February 2020 – which reveals a mixed picture – payroll employment growth has maintained its momentum since December, adding a further 273 thousand jobs and the unemployment rate fell marginally (although steady at the one-decimal point level). But the employment-population ratio fell by 0.1 points and the Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) rose in January by 0.1 point to 7 per cent because there were more underemployed workers. Further, while real wages grew marginally, they lag behind labour productivity growth, which means there is scope for faster wages growth without triggering inflationary impulses. And the polarisation between high-pay and low-pay continues. So getting workers into paid employment is one thing. Paying them decent wages and providing them with secure jobs is another. I conclude that there is still scope for expansion even though the unemployment rates are at levels not seen since the 1960s.

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The Weekend Quiz – March 7-8, 2020 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Special Birthday 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 Weekend Quiz – March 7-8, 2020

Welcome to The Weekend Special Birthday 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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Bundesbank remits record profits to German government while Greek health system fails

I am back into my usual patterns, which means that I plan to write less on a Wednesday for my blog than other days. I have a number of projects underway at present – academic and advocacy – and I need to devote writing time to those. Given that yesterday I wrote about the Australian National Accounts data release and today I have to travel a lot, it is another case of Thursday becomes Wednesday and I offer some snippets. I will write a detailed account of my view on how to deal with the coronavirus from an Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) perspective next week. But today I want to highlight something that just ‘goes through to the keeper’ (cricket reference meaning no-one pays attention to it) but is significant in understanding what is wrong with the Eurozone. I refer to information that is contained in the latest – Annual Report 2019 – released last week by the Deutsche Bundesbank. If you juxtapose that with another report on the Greek health system you get a fairly clear view on what is wrong with the whole EU set up.

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Australian National Accounts – continued weakness and highly vulnerable to recession

We have had a long drought. Massive bushfires. Floods. And, now, the coronavirus to deal with. The latest release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – December-quarter 2019 National Accounts data (March 4, 2020) – allows us to see some of the impacts of the bushfires, given it is a rear-vision view of where the economy was at in the last three months of 2019. The next quarter’s data (due early June) will start to tell us about the coronavirus effects. Today’s data confirms what we have been tracing for several quarters – the Australian economy is grinding to a halt with private business investment continuing to decline and only a falling household saving ratio keeping Household Consumption expenditure moving in the face of flat income growth. The data shows that annual GDP growth of 2.2 per cent remains well below the historical trend rate of between 3.25 and 3.5 per cent. The weaker performance started in the last 6 months of 2018 and has continued through 2019. Further, as the recent favourable terms of trade (as a result of the Brazilian environmental disaster) have reversed, Real net national disposable income is now falling, signifying falling material living standards. As a result of the falling terms of trade, exports have shrunk and will shrink further on the back of the virus impacts. In an environment where household debt is at record levels, the risks of unemployment are rising, wages growth remains stagnant, and business investment continues to contract – the recent negative shocks from fire, flood and now the virus expose the economy to a major contraction. The overall picture is not good and the future is looking rather dim at present. An urgent and major shift in fiscal policy towards expansion is definitely required.

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The EU outdoes itself in the madness stakes

One of the themes I exercised when speaking in Europe recently, particularly when presenting at the French Senate Commission and the Ministry of Finance, was that by pushing European integration into an unworkable currency union and refusing to budge, the European political class was undermining the valid aspects of the ‘European Project’, which the likes of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman saw as a way of bringing peace to the Continent after several attempts by Germany to usurp the rights of citizens in other European nations through military endeavours. Research released by the The PopuList Project, which is a UK Guardian motivated attempt to bring together academics and journalist to study shifts in European voting sentiment since 1989, is rather alarming for those who hang on to hope that the European Union is capable of progressive reform. And the latest shenanigans in the European Commission and the Council over the ‘Budget’ is indicative of why the PopuList Project is generating such results. If there was foresight among the leaders in Europe they would take a step back and restore national currencies and restore the quality of European democracy, which has been significantly compromised since the 1990s.

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The central bank independence myth continues

One of the enduring myths that mainstream macroeconomists and the politicians that rely on their lies to depoliticise their own unpopular actions continue to propagate is that of ‘central bank independence’. This is the claim that macroeconomic policy making improved in the ‘neoliberal’ era following the emergence of Monetarism because monetary policy was firmly in the hands of technocratic bankers who were not part of the political cycle. As such, they could make decisions based on fundamentals rather than the requirements of the political cycle. The corollary was that vote-greedy politicians, who operate on short-term political cycles, would be willing to compromise the ‘longer-term’ health of the economy to splurge on populist programs that might increase their chances of re-election. As a result of the mismatch between the political cycle and the, longer, economic cycle, the neoliberal solution was to make monetary policy independent of the political cycle. Except, of course, it didn’t and cannot. The latest scaremongering about the ‘loss’ of central bank independence was published in the UK Guardian last week (February 28, 2020) – From the Fed to Bank of England, central banks must up their game. The author is a former deputy governor of the Bank of England Board and former director general of the CBI. The interesting point about the article was not the further elaboration of the myth, but, rather, his assessment that the chances of reforming the European Union treaties in any direction “are vanishingly small”. Read: zero. From the mouth of the elites. I hope our Europhile Left colleagues absorbed that bit, at least.

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The Weekend Quiz – February 29-March 1, 2020 – 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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Our sequel to Reclaiming the State in now in progress

As parat of my recent European speaking engagements, I went to Rome on February 5, 2020 to speak at the Italian Senate on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the dysfunctional state of the European Union. The next day I had long discussions with one of my co-authors, Thomas Fazi, who I wrote – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017) with. We have been working on the sequel to that book for some time, and, in the process, have had to work through some difficult issues on which there has been some degree of difference in our viewpoints. While I was in Rome, Thomas and I also recorded a video of a conversation where we talk about our sequel. We provide that video here as well as a brief discussion outlining some of the major issues that the book will address.

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