On the back of a decelerating inflation rate, Italy in recession, Germany not far behind, terrible PMI in Europe, Eurostat released the latest retail sales data yesterday (February 5, 2019) – Volume of retail trade down by 1.6% in euro area. Not good news. Remember all those Europhile Left reformers telling us that now was the time to reform the EU while the ‘sun was shining’. Well, its black clouds again and they didn’t get to first base in the reform basis. Lots of hot air – none of it got near disturbing the neoliberal austerity bias. But this austerity bias is not just a feature of the currency union. Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released two data sets – Retail Trade and Balance of International Trade – and they both tell the same story. The interesting thing was that the trade data recorded a “record trade surplus” and I heard commentators actually claiming this was a great result. Wrong. Exports declined, but more slowly than imports. And imports declined because consumer spending and business investment was weak. Not a great result at all. At some point, the austerity bias around the world has to stop. But nations are heading south again in the meanwhile. With all that gloom, the best thing to do is enjoy my regular Wednesday music spot (if you like). And if you don’t like it, then maybe, appreciate the artistry of the musicians.
Remember back in early 2009, when the then head of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet (boasted that the “euro … is a success … it helps to secure prosperity in participating states”. He was still making these claims in October 2018. At an event in honour of he and former German finance minister Theodor Waigel, organised by the Banque de France, Trichet said that “the euro is a historic success … in terms of credibility, resilience, adaptability, popular support and real growth during its first 20 years is impressive”. He particularly singled out the “delivery of price stability”. Well the latest data confirms beyond doubt that the ECB has failed to deliver on its price stability charter. Further, the descent back into recession in Italy and probably Germany in the December-quarter 2018 tells us that this reliance on monetary policy to stimulate growth while maintaining ridiculous levels of fiscal rectitude has undermined growth and unnecessarily condemned millions to unemployment and rising poverty.
In the blog post earlier this week – The conflicting concepts of cosmopolitan within Europe – Part 1 (January 29, 2019) – I juxtaposed two concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ which appeared to be part of the early moves to achieve European integration. On the one hand, there was a Kantian-style desire to create, through cooperation between previously warring states, a peaceful and prosperous future for a ‘one’ Europe. This construct would be welcoming to outsiders, progressive, and celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity. It was a rights-based conception of citizenship and democracy, which closely aligned with the growing popularity of the social democratic polity. On the other hand, the early moves to overcome the resistance to creating a supranational entity that would increasingly compromise national sovereignty – the so-called “functionalist” approach of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, created a pragmatic, free market-based cosmopolitanism, which set the Member States against each other as competitors. As I demonstrated, over time, the economic cosmopolitanism channeled the burgeoning neoliberalism of the 1980s and compromised the rights-based, political cosmopolitanism, to the end that we now talk about democratic deficits as the European Commission and its unelected allies such as the IMF trample over the rights of citizens across the geographic spread of Europe. Europhile progressives hanker for the first conception of European cosmopolitanism and proffer various reform proposals, which they claim will tame the economic dimensions and restore the ‘European Project’ as a progressive force in the world. In this second part of the series I will argue that from the outset the cosmopolitanism embedded in the ‘Project’ was deeply flawed and it is no surprise that democracy is now compromised in the European Union. I argue that reform is not possible such is the extent of the failures.
In the past week, the UK Guardian readers were confronted with the on-going scandal of wealthy British politicians and ‘peers’ receiving massive European Union subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The article (January 27, 2019) – Peers and MPs receiving millions in EU farm subsidies – recounted the familiar tale –
“Dozens of MPs and peers, including some with vast inherited wealth, own or manage farms that collectively have received millions of pounds in European Union subsidies”. The story is not new and this scandal is just a reflection of the way in which the development of the European Union has contradicted the idealism that the Europhile Left associate with ‘Europe’. As an aside, it would be telling, one imagines to map the EU payments (and well-paid job holdings) with Brexit support – one would conjecture a strong negative correlation. This is a two-or-three part mini-series on the evolution of concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the European context. It is part of work I am doing for the next book Thomas Fazi and I hope to publish by the end of the year. In this blog post, I introduce the conflict that is inherent in the European Union, and the way the Europhile Left has been seduced by a concept of cosmopolitanism that bears not relevance in the reality of modern Europe.
While the Brexit shambles wound on in London, with the Prime Minister being walloped one day by her own party, and then the next given a victory, courtesy of some Labour Party bungling (the no-confidence motion), across the Channel things have been turning markedly sour. While the Europhile Left hold Europe dear to their hearts, the reality is that their dreamworld is falling apart. This is not only because of the incompetence of its polity but also because of the deliberate strategies of the polity to privilege ideology over economic reality. But if the Europeans continue down their ideological path, there mightn’t be much to exit from for the British. Late last week (January 14, 2019), Eurostat published their latest output data – Industrial production down by 1.7% in euro area – which as the title indicates is not good. Once again, the fiscally-starved Eurozone is trailing behind a sinking EU28. Over the 12 months to November 2018, industrial production in the Eurozone fell by 3.3 per cent and by 2.2 per cent in the EU28. The declines are across all product categories – capital goods, energy, durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and non-durable consumer goods. What we understand from this is that the policy makers in the European Union deliberately choose to subjugate economic prosperity and the well-being of people (jobs, incomes, savings, etc) to maintain an adherence to an ideology that purposely redistributes real resources and incomes to the top end of the distribution and provides lucrative paths for European Commission executives to move between these ‘political’ roles into highly paid banking and related jobs. It is neoliberal central, in other words, and is beyond reform.
I suppose Brexit is to blame for the fact that Britain is now growing faster than the major European economies. The latest ‘monthly’ GDP figures show that the British economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the three months to November 2018 and will probably sustain that rate of growth for the entire final quarter of 2018. This is in contradistinction to major European economies such as Germany (which will probably record a technical recession – two consecutive quarters of negative growth) with France and Italy probably following in Germany’s wake. I have made the point before that the growth trajectory of the British economy (inasmuch as there is one) is very unbalanced and reliant on households and firms maintaining expenditure by running down savings and accessing credit – which means ever increasing private debt burdens. With private credit growth weakening as the debt levels become excessive and the rundown of saving balances being finite, Britain will face recession unless the fiscal austerity is reversed. Earlier in 2018, the Guardian Brexit Watch ‘experts’ were continually pointing out that Britain’s growth rate was at the bottom of the G7 as evidence that Brexit was causing so much damage. So now European G7 nations are starting to lag behind, these commentators will have to find another ruse to pin their anti-Brexit narrative on. We also consider in this blog post some more Brexit-related arguments – pro and con – which reinforce my conclusion that a No Deal Brexit will not cause the skies to fall in.
The UK Guardian continued its anti-Brexit bias in its article (January 4, 2019) – Brexit anxiety drags UK economy almost to standstill. Read the words which clearly mean – Brexit anxiety causes UK economy to stall. No nuance. No comparability. Just plain, unproven bias. Now, let’s be clear. The British economy has slowed considerably in the last quarter and the chaotic political behaviour among the British government is bound to be causing anxiety among voters. The British establishment is looking more comical lately than it usually does. But, as I have demonstrated previously, the trajectory of the British economy that is emerging pre-dates the Brexit referendum and has more to do with austerity biases in policy design and the state of private domestic balance sheets (accumulated debt positions) than it has to do with Brexit anxiety. Further, the data that the Guardian reports (the latest PMI results) also suggest that the Eurozone and Germany, in particular, are also recording similar declines in sentiment and activity. It is hard to blame Brexit on that.
In yesterday’s short blog post – Some Brexit dynamics while across the Channel Europe is in denial (January 2, 2019), I noted that various European Commission officials were boasting about how great the monetary union had been over the last 20 years. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had the audacity (and delusion) to claim it had “delivered prosperity and protection to our citizens. it has become a symbol of unity, sovereignty and stability”. I think he was either drunk or in a parallel universe or both. I provided two graph (GDP growth and employment) to show how poorly performed the monetary union has been since its inception. Today, I want to bring to your attention a Bank of International Settlements (BIS) research report which categorically finds that the European banks during the pre-crisis period not only fuelled the massive boom in sub-prime loans and doomed-to-fail assets that were floating around at the time, but also “enabled the housing booms in Ireland and Spain”. Rather than the US banking system being primarily responsible for the pre-crash buildup of private debt, the European banks were also helping the “leveraging-up of US households”. The “European banks produced, not just invested in, US mortgage-backed securities”. This role is not well understood or recognised. And it was because the Single Market mentality of the neoliberal European Union which abandoned proper prudential oversight and regulation allowed it to happen. So much for “prosperity”, “protection” and “stability”.
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.