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.
Given I provided a detailed National Account analysis yesterday, I am using today as a blog lite day with just some snippets and then a musical offering – as per my usual Wednesday practice. I did an interview for Real Progressives last week and some of the social media reaction has been hysterical – claims that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has gone political and that MMT advocates abandoning the capitalist system and so on so forth. Some of this stuff is coming from self-identified ‘progressives’, which makes me wonder how much meaning term retains. In some cases, the attacks were really Trojan horses for the dislike of my Brexit stance or my attacks on the British Labour Party for pushing an unworkable and neo-liberal inspired fiscal credibility rule, which they had to change just before the election anyway because it was unworkable in its original form. So the resentment of those who hang onto the ‘European dream’ for the UK manifests as stupid, lying attacks on anything I say. Fine. More importantly, Switzerland is having a little ‘Brexit’ sort of move itesel, that has angered the European Union and is another chink in the now very depleted European ‘dream’. And if all that is a bit much, we can finish with some Jazz.
Well, the Melbourne virus outbreak has scuttled lots of plans and events. We wouldn’t be in this situation if the Federal government had have invested in dedicated quarantine facilities last year when they were told to and taken advice to ensure their vaccination purchases were sufficient. Anyway, that is for another day. Today, I have been examining European data and matching them against a recent interview (May 26, 2021) – Interview with Fabio Panetta, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, conducted by Jun Ishikawa – that Nikkei published yesterday. Things have changed a bit in Europe since the GFC although the fundamental problem of the Eurozone remains – there is a disjuncture between fiscal responsibility and fiscal capacity and the only way that that mismatch is being addressed is the via the on-going ECB funding of fiscal deficits, despite the denial that that is what is happening. It is plainly obvious to all.
Last week (April 29, 2021), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product, First Quarter 2021 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that the US economy grew by 1. The following day (April 30, 2021), saw Eurostat announce that the Eurozone contracted by 0.6 per cent in the first-quarter 2021, which means it is now enduring a double-dip recession. The European Union, now without Britain as a member, contracted by 0.4 per cent. In contrast, with Britain now out of that mess and determining its own future, we saw the British economy return a positive GDP growth rate in February as exports rose and government stimulus sustained domestic activity. Why should we be surprised about this. In this post, I examine the US situation in more detail and reflect on some interesting trends in the UK. The Eurozone situation is too depressing to write about on a sunny day!
The banner on the home page of the German citizens’ group – Bündnis Bürgerwille e.V. – says “Recht gilt auch in der EU” (Law also applies in the EU) and the sub-header “EU – Verträge müssen eingehalten werden” (EU treaties must be complied with). I have sympathy for that sentiment but not the politics of the so-called ‘Citizens’ Will Alliance’, which recently sought to block German government approval of the much vaunted, much delayed, fairly small recovery plan. The mainstay of the EU is the Eurozone because it comprises 19 of the 27 EU nations and the largest nations. The dynamics of the EU economy are driven by what happens in the largest Member States of the Eurozone. The European Commission has been dithering for more than a year to get a fiscal stimulus plan in place and by the time it eventually gets the pittance proposed flowing, significant economic and social damage will have been done, given that if all 27 states ratify the plan, funds (loans mostly) will only start flowing in July – like 18 months after the pandemic began. The Bündnis Bürgerwille group has challenged the German participation in the German Constitutional Court, the Bundesverfassyngsgericht, which delivered its (interim) decision last week. Bündnis Bürgerwille lost, or did they?
Project-Syndicate recently published the latest Op Ed (April 16, 2021) from former German finance minister and current President of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble – Are We Risking a Debt Pandemic?. He is the person who personified the so-called ‘die schwarze null’ (Black Zero) while finance Minister. His conduct as finance minister was an instrumental element in extending the GFC across the Eurozone. He is still influential in European politics and his latest Op Ed makes it clear that the austerity mindset is still alive and well despite the current relaxation of the Stability and Growth Pact rules during the pandemic. The problem is that if Europe reverts back to that mindset, the essential changes to the monetary union that are necessary to make it viable will never be discussed. It will be just more of the same. And that same is pretty ordinary for the common folk across the EMU.
It’s Wednesday and my snippet day, which just means I don’t write as much so that I can write more elsewhere. But today, I summarise some research that has just been released which seeks to assess the sensitivity of the commitment by the Italian population to the euro to tolerating further austerity. The research finds that if the technocrats start forcing Italy into austerity measures via a return to the Excessive Deficit Mechanism (and enforcement of the Stability and Growth Pact fiscal rules) then the majority will prefer to leave the Economic and Monetary Union. The majority are happy to retain the euro but only if there is no austerity and structural reforms imposed on the nation. This is a big swing in public sentiment and will give the neoliberals in Brussels one huge headache. Either their neoliberal monetary union is done, or they will face instability from one of the largest euro economies.
The IMF recently updated their – World Economic Outlook database – April 2021 – which allows for quick cross country comparisons. Some of the data series are suspect (like structural deficit estimates) for reasons that I have explained before, but many of the national accounts series are useful. I have been doing work on the relative responses to the pandemic and the impact on economic performance as well as researching the next chapter of one of the current book chapters. So today, I just present some interesting graphs and calculations. Nothing deep but the figures then provoke some deep thinking. The lessons are pretty clear: Covid elimination strategies protect health and the economy better; Austerity is highly damaging; and there is a massive shift in the world order going on and we should be learning from that. And all of the trends I examine are ultimately the result of political choices. That is the important point to keep in mind.
The European Union officials seem to be ‘playing violins while the nations burn’, given Covid-19 is running out of control still (another wave coming) and new variants are outpacing the vaccine rollout (which wouldn’t be hard given how slow it has been). New extended lockdowns are coming, mass insolvencies are coming (once the relaxation of rules occurs), unemployment remains at obscene levels, and the whole show is lurching into stagnation, of the type only the EU elites can create. But what isn’t going wrong is the welfare system for the financial elites. They are rushing to purchase government bonds as if there is no tomorrow despite the deep crisis that the Member States are mired in. The bond investors are warmed by the knowledge that the ECB will do whatever it takes to keep bond yields low for fear that one or more Eurozone nations will become insolvent. The dysfunctional architecture of the common currency has ensured that the ECB has to keep buying government debt in large volumes to fund the growing fiscal deficits (despite their denial). The consequential outcome of this is that bond investors make tidy capital gains and the whole risk structure of investment in the EMU is corrupted.