On August 27, 2020, the US Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell made a path breaking speech – New Economic Challenges and the Fed’s Monetary Policy Review. On the same day, the Federal Reserve Bank released a statement – Federal Open Market Committee announces approval of updates to its Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy. I analysed that shift in this blog post – US Federal Reserve statement signals a new phase in the paradigm shift in macroeconomics (August 31, 2020). It appeared at the time, that a major shift in the way central banking policy was to be conducted in the future was underway. A Reuters’ report (August 28, 2020) – With new monetary policy approach, Fed lays Phillips curve to rest – reported that “One of the fundamental theories of modern economics may have finally been put to rest”. At the time, I didn’t place enough emphasis on the ‘may’ and now realise that nothing really has changed after a few years of teetering on the precipice of change. The old guard is back and threatening the livelihoods of workers in their usual way.
The French National Assembly results from the weekend are a good outcome. Not the best, but good, although the continued presence of the Right is disturbing. At least Macron’s group of Europhiles has lost its absolute majority with the new Left alliance becoming a viable opposition. The polarisation – with a surge from the Right and the strong performance of the real Left rather than the lite Socialist Party version – is indicative of what Europe has become – a fractured, divided, divergent set of nations and regions. If the Left had have seen the value in this unity ticket during the Presidential election things might have been different. But better late than ever. France will now find it hard pushing further neoliberal policies and there will be pressures on the government to defy the fiscal rules and redress some of the shocking deficiencies that the neoliberal period has created. But, those pressures are coming squarely up against the impending crisis facin gthe monetary union. All the economics talk in Europe at the moment is indicative of the plight that monetary union faces after papering over the cracks during the first two-and-a-half years of the pandemic. After years of holding the bond spreads down, with their asset purchasing programs, things are changing as the ECB is pressured to follow suit and hike interest rates and abandon their bond buying. If they do both things, then there will be a crisis quick smart because nations like Italy will face increasing yields on their borrowing which will run out of control. So, the solution – another ad hoc response – an “anti-fragmentation” tool. If it sounds like a joke that keeps on rolling, you would not be wrong. More paper, same cracks.
It’s Wednesday and I just finished a ‘Conversation’ with the Economics Society of Australia, where I talked about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to current policy issues. Some of the questions were excellent and challenging to answer, which is the best way. You can view an edited version of the discussion below and then enjoy The Meters.
Last week, I provided a graph in this blog post – The Left/Right distinction is as relevant as ever as corporations gouge profits out of pushing inflation (May 2, 2022) – which showed negotiated wages growth in Europe was declining and real negotiated wages had fallen sharply over the last several months. I am continually on the lookout for evidence that the current inflationary episode, no matter how alarming, is not being driven by structural forces in the labour market even though unemployment rates have fallen somewhat. A music segment follows.
Apparently, the Left/Right Paradigm is dead. This narrative keeps coming back. In the 1980s, when governments, coopted by corporate lobby groups, went on a privatisation spree, which transferred billions of dollars worth of public assets into the hands of private wealth holders, and enriched lawyers, management consultants etc into the bargain, we were told that we are all capitalists now because our pension funds bought the assets. Joke. Anyway, I keep reading and being told that there is no longer any meaningful distinction between Left and Right, with both falling into the hands of totalitarian discourse. Even so-called progressives advocate that the traditional Left should partner up with the traditional Right (and far Right) to keep ‘centrists’ out of power or to stop governments taking basic actions to protect public health. It is the ultimate victory for the neoliberals to have persuaded the Left that they have more in common with the Right than ever before. This is another example of how duped the Left has become.
Emmanuel Macron won the second-round of the Presidential election in France at the weekend (April 24, 2022), as expected. He easily beat the right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen – scoring 58.54 per cent of the vote compared to 41.46 per cent for Le Pen. Some might say that Le Pen was closer this time, having improved on the 66.1 versus 33.9 per cent from the 2017 run-off. That is true and the spatial concentration of the 2022 vote intensified with Le Pen improving her vote in the East, North, and South as well as the overseas territories. One of the notable features this year was the 28.01 per cent absentee vote (some 13.6 million registered voters), which represented more voters than actually cast their support for Le Pen (13.3 million). There is a lot of speculation about what the vote means in European terms and in Left-Right terms. I noted some commentators from the Left urging the voters with progressive inclinations to vote for Le Pen because she represented the best deal for workers. My view is that would have been a disastrous strategy for the Left to follow. That is what this blog post is about.
Australia will go to a federal election on May 21, 2022 with the current conservative government looking in bad shape and the Opposition Labor Party has been helped a little by interventions from the French president. Emmanuel Macron candidly called the Australian Prime Minister a liar which further dented his already fractured image as the most untruthful politician in Australia. I hope the conservatives are routed but, in saying that, I know it means the Labor Party will take power and continue their embarrassing pretence to be progressive, while preaching the very mainstream economics that has damaged so many of the people that the Labor politicians claim to represent. A bad situation really. We are not yet in a situation where the traditional conservative and labour parties are being challenged by new entrants to the field. The first round of the French presidential election for 2022 were held at the weekend with some very interesting results and definitely showed that the traditional political voices in France are dead – something we could only wish for in this country.
Inflation data continues to come in from various nations indicating an ongoing escalation in prices dominated by energy and cars (in the US), housing and transport (UK), housing and transport (Australia) and so on. The major question I always ask is this: What would you expect to happen after a major global pandemic that has lasted more than 2 years and is still not resolved and which has closed factories, ports, transport networks, made workers sick so they cannot work, choked shipping, kept people at home while governments have to varying extents maintained their income, shifted spending to home maintenance etc away from haircuts, and the rest of it. And then, add an uncompetitive cartel that manipulates supply to gouge profits (OPEC). And on top of all that have some bushfires and floods around the place. And to even top all of that have a character who thinks he is a Tsar invading a neighbour and creating havoc and destruction. What else would you expect? Oh, its all down to QE and fiscal deficits, I hear them say. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) again – now we know those ideas are defunct. We told you so! And repeat. Interest rates have to rise. Repeat. At least the ECB seems to understand the situation more than most, which is something.
There has been some very interesting data and other research published recently that allow us to more fully understand what is driving the current inflationary pressures. There is a massive lobby now pushing the idea that the central bank bond-buying programs and the rising fiscal support during the pandemic are responsible. This sort of narrative is coming from the mainstream economists who are suffering attention-deficit disorders (even though they get the top platforms all the time to preach their views), and, who in the last few weeks have become increasingly vehement and personal in their attacks on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Their actions are a sign that the cognitive dissonance is getting to them and they realise they have been left behind. But the evidence that is continually coming out across a number of indicators continues to reaffirm my view that the current inflationary spikes are being driven by the total abnormal circumstances the world has found itself in as a result of the pandemic. The usual institutional and structural drivers of an inflation – which were certainly prominent in the 1970s – seem to be absent at present. I will present further research next week on this topic as I build further evidence.
Last week (January 20, 2022), Eurostat released the latest inflation data – Annual inflation up to 5.0% in the euro area – which followed the release from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data (January 12, 2022) – Consumer Price Index Summary , the latter, which shocked people, given that it recorded an annual inflation rate of 7 per cent before seasonal adjustment. The Euro area inflation rate over the same period was published as 5 per cent. It is obviously hard to see clearly through the data trends given the amount of pandemic noise that is dominating. But I stand by my 2020 assessment (updated several times since) that we are still seeing ephemeral price pressures as a result of the massive disruption the pandemic has caused to production, distribution and transport systems. In a sense, I am surprised the inflationary pressures have not be greater.