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The natural rate of interest is zero!

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.

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Some myths about modern monetary theory and its developers

Today’s economics blog is about some reactions I have to the many pieces of correspondence I get each week about my work via E-mails, letters, telephone calls. It seems that there is a lot of misinformation out there and a reluctance by many to engage in ideas that they find contrary to their current understandings (or more likely prejudices). It always puzzles me how vehement some people get about an idea. A different idea seems to be the most threatening thing … forget about rising unemployment and poverty – just kill the idea!. So here are a few thoughts on that sort of theme.

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Debt is not debt

Some economists who are pushing the so-called de-leveraging story to explain the current downturn consider that the only sustainable basis for economic recovery requires that overall debt levels in the economy decline dramatically. They rightly argue that this requires a significant reduction in private debt. But they also argue that the public debt increases associated with the net public spending (the stimulus packages) – they erroneously use the term “to fund” the net spending – is self-defeating. In other words, they claim we are just substituting public debt for private debt and creating a new form of vulnerability (public insolvency – higher inflation etc) as we eliminate the private leverage. Apart from the failure of this story to link the private debt explosion with the pursuit of budget surpluses in the past, the major error that this camp makes is of the “oranges and apples” variety. That is, debt is not debt!

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Fiscal sustainability 101 – Part 3

In this blog I will complete my analysis of the concept of fiscal sustainability by bringing together the discussion developed in Part 1 and Part 2 into some general principles. The aim is to provide a blueprint to cut through the deceptions and smokescreens that are used to deny fiscal activism and leave economies wallowing in persistently high levels of unemployment. So read on.

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Fiscal sustainability 101 – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my little mini-series on what we might conceive fiscal sustainability to be. In Part 1 we considered a current debate on the National Journal, which is a US discussion site where experts are invited to debate a topic over a period of days. By breaking the different perspectives that have been presented to the discussion, we can easily see where the public gets its misconceived ideas from about the workings of public deficits and the dynamics of the monetary system – its leaders. My aim in this 3-part series is to further advance an understanding of how a fiat monetary system operates so that readers of this blog (growing in numbers) can then become leaders in their own right and provide some re-education on these crucial concepts. So read on for Part 2.

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Fiscal sustainability 101 – Part 1

Greetings from Amsterdam where I am spending the next few days talking about what drives spatial changes in unemployment at a Tinbergen Institute regional science workshop. The spatial econometric work that I am outlining tomorrow provides the conceptual framework for the construction of the Employment Vulnerability Index, which received a lot of press earlier in the year. But while I was flying over here I thought about the concept of fiscal sustainability which is now getting a lot of press. So this is the first of a multi-part series on what constitutes a sustainable fiscal policy. Its that time again. Time to debrief!

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Gold standard and fixed exchange rates – myths that still prevail

There has been a lot of E-mail traffic coming in after my blog on The Greens the other day. At the heart of the matter is the fundamental difficulty people have in appreciating that there has been a fundamental shift since the 1970s in the way our monetary system operates. This shift redefines how we should think about macroeconomics and the role of a national government which issues its own currency. The defenders of The Greens economic policy clearly misunderstand this historical shift. To really get to the heart of how a modern monetary system functions you have to appreciate the difference between a convertible and non-convertible currency and a fixed versus a flexible exchange rate system. The economics that apply to convertible currency-fixed exchange rate systems bears no relation to that which applies to the fiat currency-flexible exchange rate systems that prevail in most economies today. So before you attack my macroeconomics, make sure you understand what a government can do in a modern monetary paradigm. Otherwise, you are a dinosaur and they became extinct.

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Structural deficits – the great con job!

There has been a lot of talk lately about the need for the Government to plot a course over the coming years back into fiscal surplus. Our perceptions of fiscal responsibility are being conditioned by the relentless media campaign that this is the best thing for the Government to do. We are being told that cyclical deficits are unavoidable at this time but the “structure of the budget” should point us back to surplus as soon as possible. This campaign is being supported by official looking documents that are produced by Treasury (notably the Budget papers) which have all sorts of technical terms in them that only the cognoscenti understand. The term structural deficit is being touted around in these documents and appearing in the opinion columns. But the way this concept is being represented is very misleading and is deliberately being used to obfuscate the lack of intention by this Government to seriously pursue full employment. Well lucky for me I am part of the cognoscenti and cannot be so easily fooled. Here is the truth.

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Ratings agencies and higher interest rates

On Friday, April 24, 2009 there was a story in the Australian entitled Deficit spike may lift rates as Government considers $300bn debt blowout which introduced the next step in the neo-liberal fight to retain control of the policy debate – the dreaded ratings agencies. Accordingly, the Government spending (wait for it) … “blows out the deficit” and this will “jeopardise Australia’s triple-A credit rating, leading to higher interest rates.” So if you cannot win the “crowding out” battle to justify an attack on deficit spending its time to wheel out those credit rating agencies to scare the children of our land. As you will read this sort of reasoning is nonsensical in the extreme.

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