It is Wednesday and I am going to stick to my decision to ‘not publish a blog post’ on Wednesdays unless there is some new data (such as the quarterly release of the Australian National Accounts). I want to use this time to attend to other writing obligations. But a few snippets won’t hurt, will they? The first, looks at some extraordinary denial from the European Union bosses. The second, looks at evidence that the Brexit environment is already providing positive dynamics for British workers in low-wage areas of the labour market. And that is being presented by the Remainers as something negative! We move into 2019, just as we left 2018!
It is my last blog post for the year. And we leave the year with not much gained from a progressive perspective. The mid-term elections in the US just swapped deficit-terrorist Republicans (who have been compromised by the big-spending Trump) with ridiculous PayGo Democrats, who are intent on repeating all their previous mistakes. The Brexit negotiations reveal how appallingly compromised the Tories have become and how venal the European Commission is. The British Labour Party fiscal rule shows that the next British government hasn’t yet jettisoned its Blairite past and its New Keynesian economic advisors are dogmatically taking Labour down a path it will regret. Italy has been bashed into submission by the European Commission bullies, which a week or so later, choose to turn a blind eye to France breaking the rules, because the Gilets threaten the whole show. And Germany still accumulates massive external surpluses in violation of European law and nothing happens. Happy New Year.
What editorial control does the UK Guardian exercise on Op Ed pieces? Seemingly none if you read this article (December 24, 2018) – What Labour can learn about Brexit from California: think twice – written by some well-to-do American postgraduate working for DiEM25 in Athens. But when Thomas Fazi and I sought space to discuss our book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017) – or when I have sought space to provide some balance to the usual neoliberal, pro-Europe bias, the result has been no response (yay or nay). We never received a response to our solicitation. Even if we ignore the obvious imbalance in experience and qualifications (track record) of the respective ‘authors’, it seems that the UK Guardian only wants a particular view to be published even if the quality of that view would make the piece unpublishable in any respectable outlet. Go figure. Anyway, I now have read the worst article for 2018. And, I thought that the Remain debate had reached the depths of idiocy but there is obviously scope for more if this Guardian attempt at commentary is anything to go by. And I know the Guardian journalists read this blog – so why not allow Thomas and I to formally respond to all this Remain nonsense?
I have just finished reading a report published by the Transnational Institute (TNI), which is an “international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world”. The Report (published November 19, 2018) – Democracy Not For Sale – is harrowing, to say the least. We learn that in an advanced European nation with a glorious tradition and history an increasing number of people are being denial access to basic nutrition solely as a result of economic policy changes that have been imposed on it by outside agencies (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF). The Report shows how the food supply has been negatively impacted by the austerity programs; how food prices have been forced up at the same time as incomes have been forced down, and how collective and cooperative arrangements have been destroyed by privatisation and deregulation impositions. The Report concludes that the Greek State and the Eurozone Member States violated the Greek people’s right to food as a result of the austerity measures required by three Memorandums of Understanding (2010, 2012 and 2015). In other words, the austerity packages imposed on Greece contravened international human rights law. Not one person has gone to prison as a result of this deliberate and calculated violation of human rights.
The IMF hitman in Europe, one Poul Thomsem recently published a European Money and Finance Forum (SUERF) Policy Note (October 2018) – A Financial Union for the Euro Area – where he basically told us that any changes that the IMF will allow to occur in the Eurozone architecture will be minimal and will not stop Member States “from being forced to undertake large pro-cyclical fiscal adjustments when the next shock or major downturn hits”. The term “large pro-cyclical fiscal adjustments” means harsh fiscal austerity at the same time as the non-government sector spending in those Member States is collapsing. Fiscal policy thus reinforces the non-government spending withdrawal and worsens the outcome for employment, growth, income generation etc. Why? Because “all member countries” must “respect the Stability and Growth Pact”. End of story. Welcome to the Eurozone dystopia – the world where governments must follow rules set by technocrats which are incapable of delivering sustained prosperity for all but clearly suit the top-end-of-town. He then waxed lyrical about a whole set of neoliberal financial market reforms that the IMF is proposing which will further diminish the capacity of the Member States. But, at that point, he just starts to dream. The Member States are already deeply suspicious of the financial reforms that have been introduced to date, ineffective as they are. They are not about to cede more power to Brussels and Frankfurt any time soon.
The latest ‘reform’ proposals from Europe might be taken as a sick joke if the players were not serious. On Sunday, November 18, 2018, the French President gave a speech at the traditional commemorative ceremony in the German Bundestag to mark the Volkstrauertag (National Day of Mourning), which has been part of German life since 1922 (originally to mark those who died during World War 1). His speech (Jacques Chirac was the last French president to address the Bundestag on June 27, 2000). His speech was two days after the respective finance ministers signed an ‘agreement’ to establish a “Eurozone budget”, which the French finance minister hailed as being a “major political breakthrough”. While that summation is questionable, it certainly is not a major economic breakthrough. It is a dud. As dud as all the reform proposals that have come before it. Just like the fake window dressing in Eniskillen in preparation for the G8 Summit in June 2013. Macron might have felt he was a big player on the world stage but the Germans have his measure as they have had of all French Presidents over the last several decades. The French really were the drivers of the Eurozone and they thought they were destined to restore their prominence in Europe. The Germans knew otherwise. And so it goes with the latest ‘agreement’. There is nothing in it that will save the Eurozone from crisis or restore sustained prosperity. Another European dead end.
This is the second and final part in my discussion about the latest attempts by the IMF and notable New Keynesian macroeconomists to keep the ‘fiscal contraction expansion’ lie alive. The crisis in Italy is once again giving these characters a ‘playing field’ to rehearse their destructive ideas that rose to prominence during the worst days of the GFC, when the European Commission and the IMF (along with the OECD and other groups) touted the idea of ‘growth friendly’ austerity. Nations were told that if they savagely cut public spending their economies would grow because interest rates would be lower and private investment would more than fill the gap left by the spending cuts. History tells us that the application of this nonsense caused devastation throughout, with Greece being the showcase nation. The damage and carnage left by the application of these mainstream New Keynesian ideas are still reverberating in elevated unemployment rates, high poverty rates, broken communities and increased suicide rates, to name a few of the pathologies it engendered. In their article – The Italian Budget: A Case of Contractionary Fiscal Expansion? – Olivier Blanchard and Jeromin Zettlemeyer, from the Peter Peterson Institute for International Economics continue to argue the case for austerity in Italy as the only way to engender growth. In this second part of my analysis of their argument I show that there is little evidential basis for concluding that Italy is a special case. I argue that imposing fiscal austerity on Italy will turn out badly. The broader conclusion is that the mainstream economics profession has learned very little from the GFC. For them the story stays the same. It is one that we should reject in every circle it arises.
Pathetic was the first word that came to mind when I read this article – The Italian Budget: A Case of Contractionary Fiscal Expansion? – written by Olivier Blanchard and Jeromin Zettlemeyer, from the Peter Peterson Institute for International Economics. Here is a former IMF chief economist and a former German economic bureaucrat continuing to rehearse the failed ‘fiscal contraction expansion’ lie that rose to prominence during the worst days of the GFC, when the European Commission and the IMF (along with the OECD and other groups) touted the idea of ‘growth friendly’ austerity. Nations were told that if they savagely cut public spending their economies would grow because interest rates would be lower and private investment would more than fill the gap left by the spending cuts. History tells us that the application of this nonsense caused devastation throughout, with Greece being the showcase nation. The damage and carnage left by the application of these mainstream New Keynesian ideas are still reverberating in elevated unemployment rates, high poverty rates, broken communities and increased suicide rates, to name a few of the pathologies it engendered. But the ‘boys are back in town’ (sorry Thin Lizzy) and Blanchard and Zettlemeyer are falling in behind the IMF and the European Commission against the current Italian government by demanding fiscal cutbacks. It will turn out badly for Italy if the government buckles under this sort of pressure. It once again shows that the mainstream economics profession has learned very little from the GFC. For them the story stays the same. It is one that we should reject in every circle it arises. This is Part 1 of a two-part analysis of the latest incarnation of this ruse my profession inflicts on societies.
It is Wednesday and I am doing the final corrections to our Macroeconomics textbook manuscript before it goes off to the ‘printers’ for publication in March 2019. It has been a long haul and I can say that writing a textbook is much harder than writing a monograph not only because the latter are more exciting in the drafting phase. The attention to detail in a textbook that runs over 600 pages is quite taxing. Anyway, that is taking my attention today. I also plan to write some more about Brexit in the coming weeks and Japan (tomorrow). But today, I have updated some ECB data on household and corporate borrowing and the cost of borrowing to see what sort of recovery is going on. With nations such as Germany now recording negative growth in the third-quarter, it is clear that the Eurozone is stalling again. The explanation doesn’t require any rocket science. It is all there in the behaviour of the non-government sector (saving more overall) and fiscal rules that are too tight to offset that saving desire. The reliance on monetary policy is an ineffective tool to provide the offset in non-government saving overall. Fiscal policy has to be reinstated to the primary position and that means nations such as Italy must consider exiting the dysfunctional monetary union that biases nations to recession and stagnation.
Portugal has been held out by the Europhile Left as a demonstration of how progressive policies can manifest in the European Union, even with the Fiscal Compact and the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). In 2015, after the new Socialist government took over with supply guarantees from the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and The Greens (Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes”), it set about challenging the austerity mindset that has blanketed the European continent in stagnation. Things improved in 2016 with increased government spending. But by 2017, the European Commission had reasserted its austerity mindset and the supposed flexibility that the Left were hoping and which Portugal had briefly embraced in 2016 was gone. And we learned that the neoliberal bias of the Eurozone and its fiscal rules dominates any progressive ambitions that a nation state might entertain. Another blow for the Europhile Left. The lesson: start looking at and supporting exit if you are truly serious about restoring a progressive policy agenda in Europe.