At the weekend, the German Social Democratic Party elected a new leadership from the Left of the Party, in the hope of resurrecting their disastrous political standings (Source), In rejecting the other main contender, current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the decision has apparently threatened the GroKo (Große Koalition), the coalition between Merkel’s CDU/CSU union and the SPD, which, arguably, has been the reason for the declining fortunes of the SPD. They have, in effect, abandoned their charter and become part of the neoliberal, austerity machine. The new leadership rejects the basis for the GroKo. At present, the SPD is only marginally ahead of the far-right AfD with the Union and Greens ahead of them. The same political dislocations are happening throughout Europe although the antagonism to the neoliberal austerity orthodoxy is more manifesting in chaos than a defined direction away from the major political parties (Britain is currently a good example of that). Meanwhile, the orthodoxy continues in the European Commission and in its – Autumn 2019 Economic Forecast: A challenging road ahead – they are requiring the majority of Member States to inflict more austerity on their nations even though a recession is looming. That is, business as usual as the madness continues.
Yesterday (November 26, 2019), the news came out from the Hellenic Minister of Finance that Greece had completed its latest repayment of 2.7 billion euros to the IMF early (Source). They owed around 9 billion euros to the IMF. Greece had to go ‘cap-in-hand’ to its “European creditors” to gain permission to make the payment early, which they claim saves them crippling interest rate payments. The loans were locked in at 4.9 per cent per annum – usury rates by any definition. Celebration seems to be the message from the neoliberals. But, from my reckoning, the disaster for Greece continues. On September 30, 2019, the IMF European Director Poul Thomsem gave an extraordinary (for its shameless arrogance) speech on Greece at the London School of Economics. Entitled – The IMF and the Greek Crisis: Myths and Realities – Thomson admitted that the IMF had revised its date at which they think Greece will finally get back (in GDP per capita terms) to the pre-crisis level. When they devised these usury loan packages, they claimed that “it would take Greece 8 years to return to pre-crisis level”. Now, they have revised that projection to 2034 – yes, you read that correctly – a generation of waste and foregone opportunities. When you look at their own scenarios for a unilateral exit in 2012, it becomes obvious (and I have said this all along) that exit could not have been worse than what the Greek people are enduring and will endure for an entire generation.
Last Friday (October 18, 2019), the GDP data for China was released and we learned that growth has slowed quite significantly. The ABC news report – China’s economy hits three-decade low, with GDP growth falling to 6pc – suggested that this is the “fifth consecutive quarter of slowing growth” and a fall of 0.2 points from the last release. Its trade accounts reveal slower exports growth, and, importantly, slower import growth as growth in domestic demand declines. That last fact should raise fears of recession for the Eurozone elites, who have been content to export their austerity bias and rely on spending within other nations (outside the Eurozone) to maintain the weak growth that we have witnessed. The chickens are coming home to roost at present and the irony of all this is that ultimately German and Dutch external surpluses will fall below the allowable EU imbalance threshold of 6 per cent of GDP, not because those nations are doing anything sensible to address their damaging stance, but, rather, because their economies have become dependent on export growth and with China slowing that will hurt them badly. In other words, they will only come back within the EU laws through domestic recessions, and then, their fiscal positions will come under scrutiny again. A crazy system.
As Mario Draghi’s tenure at the helm of the ECB draws to a close, he becomes (slightly) more pointed and looser with his public statements. On Friday (October 11, 2019), he gave a speech – Policymaking, responsibility and uncertainty – at the Università Cattolica in Milan on the occasion of receiving the Laurea Honoris Causa (honorary degree). He broadened the scope of his policy ambit by saying that “I will not focus strictly on monetary policy or the business of central banking, but I would like instead to share my thoughts on the nature of policy responsibility.” In the same week, the Eurogroup (the European Finance Ministers) of the European Commission released a press release – Remarks by Mário Centeno following the Eurogroup meeting of 9 October 2019 (October 10, 2019) – which announced that they had agreed to a “a budgetary instrument for the euro area – the so-called BICC”. Don’t get too excited. The BICC will only achieve the status of an “Inter-Governmental Agreement”, meaning it will not be embodied in the Treaties. Also, the Member States will have to contribute funds in advance and must “co-finance” withdrawals. And, as usual, there was no mention of the fund size, which will be miniscule if history tells us anything. But this is all context for Mario Draghi’s Speech.
Last Friday (October 4, 2019), a group of former central bank governors and/or officials in Europe, issued a statement damming the conduct of the European Central Bank. You can read the full text at Bloomberg – Memorandum on ECB Monetary Policy by Issing, Stark, Schlesinger. The timing of the intervention is interesting given the change of boss at the ECB is imminent. As I explain in what follows, the Memorandum should be disregarded. Its central contentions are mostly correct but the alternative world it would have Europe follow would be a disaster for many of the Member States and the people that live within them. It would almost certainly result in the collapse of the monetary union – which would be a good outcome – in the face of massive income and job losses and the social and political instability that would follow – which would be a bad outcome. What it tells me is that the monetary union is a massive failure. It would be far better to dissolve it in an orderly manner to avoid those massive income and job losses and to support the restoration of full currency sovereignty and national central banks. That would be the sensible thing to do.
In the last two days, some major leading indicators have been released for the US and Europe, which have suggested the world is heading rather quickly for recession. It seems that the disruptions to global trade arising from the tariff war is impacting on US export orders rather significantly. The so-called ISM New Export Orders Index fell by 2.3 percentage points in September to a low of 41 per cent. The ISM reported that “The index had its lowest reading since March 2009 (39.4 percent)”. This is the third consecutive monthly fall (down from 50 per cent in June 2019). Across the Atlantic, the latest PMI for Germany reveals a deepening recession in its manufacturing sector, now recording index point outcomes as low as the readings during the GFC. Again, exports are being hit by China’s slowdown. However, while export sectors (for example, manufacturing) are in decline and will need the trade dispute settled quickly if they are to recover, the services sector in Japan, demonstrates the advantages of maintaining fiscal support for domestic demand. Japan’s service sector is growing despite its manufacturing sector declining in the face of the global downturn. The lesson is that policy makers have to abandon their reliance on monetary policy and, instead, embrace a new era of fiscal dominance. With revenue declining from exports, growth will rely more on domestic demand. If manufacturing is in decline and that downturn reverberates through the industry structure, then domestic demand will falter unless fiscal stimulus is introduced. It is not rocket science.
I am now back in Australia after the latest cross-country run and so am falling back to routine. Which means a relatively short Wednesday blog post. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut their policy interest rate by 0.25 points to 0.75 per cent, a record low level. The RBA governor cited the weakness in the labour market as the reason for the cut and continued to suggest that the Government, which is pursuing its mindless austerity goal to record a fiscal surplus as the economy tumbles towards recession, should expand fiscal policy to kick-start growth. Once again, a central bank is being pushed into ‘record-making’ policy territory because the treasury-side of government will not use its fiscal capacity responsibly. This is now a global trend and even the likes of Dr Schwarze Null is calling for more fiscal action. Another day passes that demonstrates the mainstream New Keynesian approach is rapidly being abandoned by policy makers and an era of fiscal dominance approaches. Not before time.
This is Part 2 of my two-part commentary and analysis of the – Monetary policy decisions – by the ECB (September 12, 2019). In Part 1, I discussed the shifts in the deposit rate and the changes to the Targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs). In Part 2, I am focusing on the decision to introduce a two-tiered deposit rate on excess reserves, which is designed to reduce the costs of the penalty arising from the negative deposit rate regime that the ECB has had in place since June 2014. But the most important aspect of the ECB decision was not the monetary policy changes, which will have relatively minor impacts on the real Eurozone economy. The telling part of the whole episode was Mario Draghi’s comments on fiscal dominance. We are entering a new era where the neoliberal obsession with so-called monetary policy reliance is becoming increasingly discredited and exposed by the evidence base. Fiscal dominance is approaching. And the only body of work that has consistently argued for this approach to macroeconomic policy making has been Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) despite what the mainstream economists who are now starting to realise their reputations are in tatters might say.
I will have little time to publish blog posts in the next two weeks. But as I travel around I have to sit in trains, planes and cars and that is when I tend to write when I am away from my desk(s). Today, I am in Maastricht – after travelling by train from Paris. I have two events – one on framing and language and the other on Reclaiming the State and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) basics. Then I am heading to Berlin for a talk at PIMCO and on Friday I am presenting an MMT workshop at the European Central Bank. Last week, the ECB made its next move, the last one for current President Mario Draghi. It will also lock in Madame Lagarde for a time and represents a rather overt statement about the failure of mainstream macroeconomics. While the mechanics of their various policy decisions are interesting and are worth discussing (albeit briefly) the overall optics were more powerful. The ECB has now joined a host of central bankers around the world in, more or less, admitting that monetary policy has run its course and is being pushed into ever more desperate configurations. At the same time, the corollary is that fiscal policy makers are failing in their responsibility to use policy to avoid stagnation and elevated levels of unemployment. Despite rather significant monetary policy gymnastics, aimed at stimulating economic growth and lifting inflation rates, central bankers have largely failed. They have failed because they are wedded to mainstream theory. Fiscal policy makers are constrained by an austerity-biased ideology and/or voluntary institutional machinery that has been created to stifle fiscal initiative (destructive fiscal rules). The cracks are widening. We are approaching the period of fiscal policy dominance – finally! This is Part 1 of a two-part series on this topic. Part 2 will follow tomorrow.
Germany is proposing some more smokes and mirrors so that it can maintain its position as the exemplar of fiscal responsibility by obeying its ‘Debt brake’ yet inject significant deficit spending into its recessed economy, which is starved of public infrastructure spending. They are proposing to set up new institutions which will be funded by government-guaranteed debt and spend billions into the economy while ensuring these transactions do not show up on the official fiscal books of the German government. The only financial constraint these new agencies will be bound by are the European Commission’s Stability and Growth Pact rules. But because the allowable spending difference between the ‘Debt brake’ and the SGP is huge (but still well below what is needed to redress the years of austerity and infrastructure degradation) and so will provide a much-needed stimulus to the ailing German economy. Meanwhile, the Germans will tell the world how thrifty they are and how they obey their own rules. And then they can say that all other Member States should also stick to the rules. Meanwhile, the smoke and mirrors are going hammer and tong to create spending growth that bears no resemblance to the allowable growth under the Debt brake. The Debt brake then is just a sham. The upside is that needed public spending will enter the economy which tells us that the Debt brake should never have been introduced in the first place. Such is life in the EU – a daily circus.