In the last week, we have heard from the Chief Economist at the OECD (Laurence Boone), who has been touted on social media as offering a fundamental shift in economic thinking at the institution towards fiscal dominance. This is an example of a series of public statements by various New Keynesian (that is, mainstream macroeconomists) who are apparently defining the new macroeconomics of fiscal dominance. The point is this. Within the mainstream macroeconomics there was always scope for discretionary fiscal intervention under certain conditions. The conditionality is what separates their version of the possibilities from those identified and explained by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Just because these characters are coming out of their austerity bunkers to scramble to what they think is the right side of history doesn’t mean their underlying economics has changed. If you dig, you will find the same framework in place, just nuanced a little to suit the times. But the leopard hasn’t changed its spots. The underlying train wreck is still there and will be rehearsed again at some future date unless we push forward in abandoning the whole New Keynesian approach.
So Britain finally became free – sort of – from the European Union last week. I haven’t fully read the terms of the departure but the progress I have made so far in the text (several hundred pages) leads me to conclude that Britain has not gone completely free from the corporatist cabal that is the European Union. The agreement will see a Partnership Council established which locks Britain in to an on-going bureaucratic process dominated by technocrats – the sort of things the EU revels in and gets it nowhere. Overall, though, despite all the detail, Britain’s future policy settings will be guided by its polity and resolved within its own institutions. That means that the Labour Party has the chance to really push a progressive agenda. I doubt that it will but there are no excuses now. Which brings me to look at some data which shows how the fiscal rules imposed by the European Union, particularly in the 19 Member States who surrendered their currencies, have constrained prosperity and worked against everything that citizens were told.
Many progressives are claiming that the EU has seen the light as evidenced by their relaxation of the harsh Stability and Growth Pact rules during the pandemic. There are even papers coming out advocating a ‘Post Third Way’ revival of social democratic forces in Europe to further integrate and reorient it along the lines of the social Europe narratives. I think this enthusiasm misrepresents what is going on in Europe at present. The hard-core, neoliberal DNA has not morphed. There has been no relaxation of the SGP rules given that a thorough knowledge of the legal basis of the Pact shows that there is scope in the rules for what is going on at present. Further, there is evidence that even though the temporary provisions in the SGP are being exercised, the European Commission is resorting to blackmail by imposing conditionality on Member States who want access to the stimulus funds. It seems that to get the funds, Member States have to fast track structural reforms, which means the stimulus funds are not stimulus funds at all, but, rather offsets, partial or otherwise, for the damage that cutting pensions etc will cause. Europe’s neoliberal DNA is still at work!
I read a very interesting study by two Dutch academics last week – The ECB, the courts and the issue of democratic legitimacy after Weiss – which will be published in the Common Market Law Review (Vol 57, No 6, 2020). It examines the way in which the ECB operations and policy interventions have gone way beyond their original conception in the Maastricht Treaty and now conflict with democratic accountability. While the authors propose ways to address the democratic deficit, I am sceptical. Essentially, there needs to be a fundamental change in the Treaty and the establishment of a federal fiscal capacity embedded into a genuine European government. But then pigs might fly!
It’s Wednesday and so only some snippets today. First, a video of a seminar I participated at the other day where we talk about the future of Europe (and the World). Second, some working papers that might be of interest. And finally a music segment. I felt like posting the 1980s song from The Vapors – Turning Japanese – after the Reserve Bank of Australia announced yesterday they were now modelling their monetary policy interventions of the excellent template that has been pioneered by the Bank of Japan. You know get the government to buy all of its debt – then pay itself back – then remit the payments as ‘dividends’ back to itself. Right pocket meet Left pocket. I will analysis the big shift in the RBA’s position tomorrow. And when you listen to the RBA Governor this morning trying to tell Australians that black is white when we all know it is black and they have let the cat out of the bag, you will realise why the whole hysterical show they are putting on is important. But that is tomorrow. And I hated the song anyway.
The German daily business newspaper Handelsblatt published an interesting article last week (September 17, 2020) – Schäuble fordert Debatte über lockere Geldpolitik der EZB – which said that the former German Finance Minister and now President of the Bundestag was calling for a debate on the ECBs ‘loose’ monetary policy. He has circulated a letter and a discussion paper among the new discussion group within the Bundestag, created after the German Constitutional Court had ruled adversely in relation to the ECBs public asset purchase programs. The letter criticises the low interest rate policy of the ECB and the various asset purchase programs conducted by the ECB. It appears to be in denial with the state of affairs across Europe, which are heading catastrophic territory with the second wave of the virus gathering pace and authorities having to face the need for a second lockdown.
Piety has no bounds it seems. The Sunday Times ran an Op Ed at the weekend (September 12, 2020) – John Major and Tony Blair: Johnson must drop shameful no-deal Brexit bill or be forced to by MPs (paywall) – which told us how angry former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major are with Boris Johnson about the Government’s intention to introduce the Internal Market Bill to ensure the so-called Withdrawal Agreement is compatible with national law. They started by appealing to the international treaty status of the Withdrawal Agreement, which outlined Britain’s terms of exit from the EU. The Op Ed called the decision by government as “shocking”. The Remainers are jumping on the ‘breach of international law’ bandwagon like there is no tomorrow. Of course, they never highlight the fact that they want to be part of an arrangement, which is created by international law and which regularly violates that law to serve its own political and elite interests. And those breaches, which include gross human rights abuses and deliberately undermining the prosperity of its own citizens through mass unemployment and more, have had severe consequences for humanity. The fact that the British government is now declaring national law will no longer be subjugated and subservient to international agreements is not in the same ball park of international violations.
Wednesday brings music and not much blog posting activity. But I have been following the debate in the UK and Europe about the likelihood of some sort trade deal or not with some interest and amusement. There are several facets to the discussion: (a) the on-going hypocrisy of the European Union elites; (b) the necessity for major state intervention in Britain (and everywhere) and the possibility that the Tories will abandon Margaret Thatcher’s EU single market legacy is another sign that the paradigm shift in macroeconomics is well under way. (c) the way in which the Labour party are being wedged on the issue and refusing to come out in support of further state aid. Instead, inasmuch as they are saying anything, they are just repeating the mindless, neoliberal dogma about ‘free trade’. They will lose on that one, one thinks. All round it is interesting to follow as an external observer.
The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the – Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2020 (Advance Estimate) – data last week (July 30, 2020). It shows that the US economy has declined by 9.49 per cent between the March- and June-quarters. On an annual basis the decline was 9.54 per cent. This is the largest quarterly contraction in recorded history. Consumption expenditure declined by 10.1 per cent in real terms and business investment by 17.4 per cent. The collapse in consumer expenditure was mostly concentrated in services (-22.6%), which reflected lockdowns and the unwillingness of consumers to continue normal practices. Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income jumped dramatically from 9.5 per cent in the March-quarter to 25.7 percent in the second quarter. That is a testament to the endemic uncertainty that the pandemic has created. The contribution of net exports actually rose, not because exports rose (their individual contribution was -9.38 points), but because of the slump in imports – a smaller leakage from the expenditure system (adding 10.1 points t growth!). Overall, there is no trend – just a massive mess. How the second wave of the virus impacts is anybody’s guess but lots more deaths and more disruption is certain.
Today’s blog post is a draft for another deadline I have this week, this time writing for a European publication on the state of affairs in the Eurozone. I have four major pieces of work to finalise this week so, as in yesterday, I am using this time to progress those goals. For many regular readers it will be nothing new. But, putting the arguments together in this way might just provide some different angles for people who haven’t thought about things in this way before. Regular transmission will resume on Thursday (probably).