The ECB published a Working Paper recently (September 2021) – Monetary and fiscal complementarity in the Covid-19 pandemic – which represents progress in the narrative. While the technical model that the ECB uses is just an ad hoc attempt to reverse engineer the reality so they can claim they can explain it, what is useful from the exercise is that the old mainstream narratives that fiscal policy is ineffective in providing permanent boosts to real output (or that austerity does not permanently damage the growth trajectory) can no longer be sustained. The taboo surrounding central bank purchases of government debt because they cause accelerating inflation can no longer be sustained. The claims that fiscal deficits drive up interest rates can no longer be sustained. Now the public debate just has to reflect that reality and we will have made progress. Of course, this is all core MMT – we knew it all along!
It’s Wednesday, so just a few items that have passed me by this week. Eurostat published the latest national accounts data yesterday (September 7, 2021) that reveals that key Eurozone states are still lagging behind where they were before the pandemic. In some cases (Italy and Spain), they hadn’t even got back to pre-GFC levels of activity before the pandemic stuck. So a double hit to these nations in the space of a decade or so. That damage will be immense and demonstrates once again the dysfunctional nature of the currency union. Then I consider the latest nonsense from the Business Council of Australia – which is just a special pleading organisation for the top-end-of-town. They think it is time to go back to the deficits are bad narrative (except when their members are receiving corporate welfare that is). And to calm down after that we have some jazz, of course.
Last year, the US Federal Reserve dropped a bombshell on mainstream macroeconomics by abandoning the consensus approach to monetary policy, which prioritised fighting inflation over maintaining low levels of unemployment, and, increasing interest rates well before any defined inflationary pressures were realised – the so-called forward guidance approach. It has also been buying massive quantities of US government debt and controlling bond yields in the markets as a result. Attention has been on the ECB to see where it would pivot too and whether it was going to abandon its own massive government bond buying program any time soon, which has been effectively funding the fiscal deficits of the 19 Member-States of the Eurozone. Recent statements have indicated the QE programs in Europe will not be ending any time soon. And an ECB Board member all but tied the scale of the purchasing programs to the size of the fiscal deficits as a guide to how long and how large the QE interventions would be.
Today is Wednesday and we mourn the death of Charlie Watts. But while we are doing that, here are some snippets on C18th philosophy and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the ideological poverty of German politics, vaccines, and then some Charlie.
The article in the Socialist Worker Review (No. 89, July/August 1986, pp. 19–21), by Eammon McCann – The protestant working class – has kept me thinking for some years. I recalled it the other day when I was updating my Northern Ireland labour market data and working on some text. As a result of reading this article many years ago, I became very interested in the labour market dynamics in Northern Ireland, in particular, as they impact on the debate about unification and EU membership (yes, I have always been anti-EU). In that vein, I have been following the trends over time rather closely. More recently, the central place of the North Ireland Protocol in the Brexit discussions has increased the relevance of this research. I also benefitted from some very interesting conversations a few years ago with my host in Galway (forever thankful Niall), while I was visiting the Republic of Ireland on a speaking trip. These conversations filled in many gaps in my understanding of some of nuances of the issues involved. These trends provide some good background to what has been happening in a region that is undergoing significant change and how we might assess the Northern Ireland Protocol in a post-Brexit world. It also helps us understand the demise of the DUP as a relevant political force. They represent a different era. From my understanding, it is also the major economic changes that have been taking place in Northern Ireland that are more likely to influence the trend away from identifying as either unionist or nationalist or proceeding along ‘religious’ lines. A working class impoverished by austerity is a powerful solidifying force. The labour market has changed dramatically over the last several decades. In this multi-part series, I provide some reflections on these issues. This is part of a book project I am working on (more about which later).
It is Wednesday and I have been busy on other writing projects. But today I offer some data analysis on the Greek fire tragedy as well as a short video promoting a very important festival that is coming up. Then I offer some personal insights on the accusation by the right-wing press that on-line learning is just a ruse for lazy “work-shy” professors. And to calm us after all that – we have some fine jazz from 1960.
I have recently updated my trade databases as I write a book chapter on the topic. I am also curious about the dramatic growth in freight charges over the last 12 months in international shipping. I have a friend who runs a business importing cement who is now paying 5 times the freight charges now than he was a year ago. Why that would be the case is an interesting question. I have previously written about the way that the neoliberal ideology became conflated with the trends towards globalisation in supply chains. Globalisation, was then weaponised with the ‘free market’ ideology, which undermined key aspects of the benefits of trade, particularly for poorer nations. The ‘free market’ mantra became code for increasing the rate of surplus extraction from these nations by financial interests in the richer nations – a sort of more sophisticated version of the way colonialism sucked wealth from the colonies to the benefit of the metropolitan economies. But in recent years (since about 2007), a fundamental shift in the relationship between trade volumes and income growth (a relationship that is often used as a proxy for the pace of globalisation) has occurred. Some think this indicates that peak trade has been reached. There are good reasons for thinking that to be the case.
I keep reading that the European Commission has abandoned the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and that the euro is no longer a problem. I beg to differ. On June 6, 2021, the European Commission released a – Report prepared in accordance with Article 126(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – which updated their latest views on the state of fiscal balances in the EU. The Report confirms the Commission’s intention to return to the Excessive Deficit Mechanism process in 2023. The problem is that the whole assessment process is biased towards fiscal austerity. I show why in this blog post.
I have been updating my databases in the last few days and getting up to speed on the latest trends. In the past, I developed a set of broad labour market indicators for Australia with colleagues at the – Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE). Our quarterly measures of underemployment were precursors to the Australian Bureau of Statistics measures which are now published on a monthly basis. I was doing some calculations this morning using Eurostat data as part of some research I am doing to assess the inflationary potential that exists in various labour markets. As regular readers will know, my assessment of inflation risk starts in the labour market. Rarely do we encounter a situation where nominal spending outstrips the productive capacity of the economy (a demand-pull inflationary environment). That can occur is specific product segments but rarely overall. History tells us that there has to be some distributional struggle between labour and capital to drive an inflationary spiral. I am out there looking for any evidence of such a struggle. I am not having much success!
I have been working on an article that will come out in the press soon on inflationary pressures. It is obvious that characters like Larry Summers and Olivier Blanchard are trying to stay at the centre of the debate by issuing various lurid threats about the likelihood of an inflation outbreak in the US and elsewhere. Last week, the Financial Times published an article (June 3, 2021) by the former German Finance Minister and now President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble – Europe’s social peace requires a return to fiscal discipline. I was initially confronted with the juxtaposition of this author, who bullied all and sundry during to the GFC to ensure an austerity mindset was maintained at great cost to the millions who were deliberately forced to endure unemployment, with the photo of John Maynard Keynes under the title of the article. The title didn’t seem to match the picture. My first impressions were correct. Lessons have not been learned.