Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released an extraordinary press notice – Statement from the Australian Statistician on the Labour Force estimates – which aimed to help everyone understand why the Labour Force data has been so weird lately. A lot of readers E-mail me seeking help understanding what seasonal adjustment is all about. It is a dry topic and not one I relish even though I have a background in statistics and econometrics. But given yesterday’s announcement and the disarray that people have sensed with the official labour force data in Australia recently, I thought I might try a non-technical explanation of what has been going on. Here goes! And for those who like attacks on austerity etc, underpinning this whole discussion is the mindlessness of neo-liberalism. That should get you reading!
I have been travelling a lot today – train, car, plane, car – and in between speaking and other commitments so not much time to type some thoughts. Also a detective novel I am reading was quite interesting on the plane, which didn’t help. But I have been thinking about our upcoming textbook and what will differentiate it from the others apart from nearly everything. I have also been looking into what has been sponsored by George Soros’s iNET initiative (the so-called CORE curriculum) and the latest versions of the dominant macroeconomics book Mankiw’s textbook (now in its 8th edition). Juxtaposing those developments (if we can call retrogression development) with some papers that have come out recently from central bank economists and then thinking about my own project with Randy Wray makes it seems as though the so-called progressive development (iNET) is a ‘try hard’ effort to disguise a neo-liberal heart with some comforting concessions to reality, while the avowedly mainstream approach represented by Mankiw has barely learned a thing about reality and essentially aims at business as usual. That business is the business of deception. Here are some thoughts on this.
I have spent most of today working on a Chapter for the upcoming macroeconomics textbook that I am writing with Randy Wray (UMKC). It is a difficult task getting the balance between the content and the pedagogy more or less correct. One has to be interesting but not simplify to the point of distraction. Moreover one has to seek to impart knowledge. Which then takes one down the epistemological path as to what constitutes knowledge. How much simplification is too much? How much abstract modelling is feasible? Questions like that. But an overriding objective is to ensure that students who are using the book receive an education which means they should expand their critical faculties based on an expansion of knowledge. One of the worst aspects of my profession is that the vast majority of textbooks that students are forced to learn from do not advance these objectives. Whatever else one might conclude about their presentation etc, they mostly can be reduced to being considered as propaganda instruments. Most of them tell outright lies about the way the monetary system operates. The current crisis and the unusual policy interventions (particularly those employed by the central banks) have brought these lies into stark relief. We can conclude that mainstream macroeconomics textbooks do not impart knowledge they are dogma.
Many readers ask me to provide a Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) rule for sound fiscal management. I had done this often but apparently not concisely enough. It is important to understand what the limits on fiscal deficits are in term of prudent fiscal practice given that terms such as fiscal sustainability, fiscal consolidation, fiscal austerity are in the media almost every day without fail. The mainstream version of fiscal responsibility is based on false premises and is not an applicable guide for sovereign governments to base their policy decisions on. MMT provides a coherent fiscal position for governments to aim for. In this blog, I juxtapose that position with the sort of narrative that is now coming out of the OECD with renewed vigour – after they went a bit quiet once it was clear they were exposed by the magnitude of the economic crisis. But they are back, strutting and arrogant as before and threatening the jobs of millions. So here is the full employment fiscal deficit condition that makes a mockery of the IMF and OECD narratives.
I have been working today on the modern monetary theory text-book that Randy Wray and I are planning to complete in the coming year (earlier than later hopefully). It just happens that I was up to a section on what economists call the balanced-budget multiplier which is a way to provide stimulus without running a deficit when I read an article in the New York Times (December 25, 2010) by Robert Shiller – Stimulus, Without More Debt. I also received a number of E-mails asking me to explain the NYT article in lay-person’s language. So a serendipitous coming together of what I have been working on and some requirement for explanation and MMT interpretation. So what is the balanced-budget multiplier?
I am now in Maastricht, The Netherlands where I have a regular position as visiting professor. It is like a second home to me. The University hosts CofFEE-Europe, which we started some years ago as a sibling of my research centre back in Newcastle. My relationship with the University here is due to my long friendship and professional collaboration with Prof dr. Joan Muysken who works here and is a co-author of my recent book – Full Employment abandoned. Our discussions last night were all about the Eurozone and I was happy to know that most of the Dutch banks are now effectively nationalised as part of the early bailout attempts. It is also clear that the ECB is now stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. If it stops buying national government debt on the secondary markets those governments are likely to default and the big French and German banks the ECB is largely protecting will be in crisis. Alternatively, every day it continues with this policy the more obvious it is that the Eurozone system is totally bereft of any logic. Once the citizens in the nations that are being forced to endure harsh austerity programs realise all this there will be mayhem. The other discussion topic was the possible revision of the fiscal rules that define the Maastricht treaty. That is what this blog is about.
The other day I introduced a simple model of how a monetary economy works. The model was centred on the payments of my business cards to elicit labour from the kids that live in my house. All the basic national accounting results that apply in a real economy were present. The simplicity extended to considering only two sectors – the kids (private) and the “house” (public). In terms of modern monetary theory (MMT) we start by examining the broad relationships between the government and non-government sector, where the latter comprises the private domestic and foreign sector. Some readers have suggested that the results obtained would not apply if I had have explicitly modelled the cross-border flows (that is, the external sector). Well today, I have some news … some neighbours have arrived next door to my place and the kids from each house are jumping fences.
Today I have been thinking about the macroeconomics textbook that Randy Wray and I are writing at present. We hope to complete it in the coming year. I also get many E-mails from readers expressing confusion with some of the basic national income concepts that underpin modern monetary theory (MMT). In recent days in the comments area, we have seen elaborate examples from utopia/dystopia which while interesting fail the basic national income tests of stock-flow consistency. Most of the logic used by deficit terrorists to underscore their demands for fiscal austerity are also based on a failure to understand these fundamental principles. So once again I provide a simple model to help us organise our thoughts and to delve into the elemental concepts. It is clear that in order to come to terms with more complicated aspects of MMT, one has to “walk before they can run”. So its back home today.
Some readers have asked me to provide a simplified explanation of how the modern monetary economy works which is devoid of all the jargon that economists hide within. As part of another earlier blog, I did present a simple budget game which provides all the essential insights you require to understand how a modern monetary economy actually operates. Like all models it is stylisation. But there is nothing that I could add by way of complexity that would change the fundamental conclusions and understandings. So to make the model easier to find for reference purposes later on I an presenting it again as a stand-alone blog. Read on!