One of the problems of neoliberalism is that it is anti-people. This makes it hard for governments to actually impose austerity and so they work out ways to lessen the visibility of their pernicious policy choices, except if you are in Greece that is. The ways they deflect the political fall out are many and include use the depoliticisation strategy – like appealing to TINA demands from external bodies such as the IMF (circa British Labour Party 1976), claiming central banks are independent, and hacking into expenditure items that delay recognition in the public eye that damage is being done. This blog post focuses on the latter. I have been studying the shifts in government spending in the European Union since the GFC and it is apparent that final consumption expenditure and outlays on social benefits have not been the focus of the austerity to the same extent as government spending on capital formation (public infrastructure). It is much harder politically for governments to cut recurrent spending because it usually impacts on people straight away. Cut a pension and the hurt is visible. Cut lots of pensions and there is a political problem. But cutting back on public infrastructure is less visible and the damage takes time to manifest as the depreciation process sets in, maintenance delayed and additional new capacity is lagging. But make no mistake – cutting capital spending undermines the future productivity of the nation and paves the way for a diminished future for our grandkids, the very ones, mainstream economists claim they are protecting by advocating austerity.
Yesterday, apparently I disappointed several people by analysing the Australian National Accounts release instead of concentrating on what ripper music release we could discuss. Well, I cannot stop the ABS releasing the GDP data on a Wednesday. But I can call Thursday Wednesday when they do release the data and so here we are. I also have to travel a lot today so it is good that I don’t have to spend much time writing this blog post. The music tribute today is to the famous Bunny Livingstone, one of the best Jamaican musicians who died earlier this week. What else could it be. I also have some other snippets that interested me, including a rather interesting BBC video short which well and truly tells us that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) ideas are invading the mainstream even if they would never care to admit that publicly. Happy days.
What simple measures might we use to see whether a system is working or not? Well that depends on the objective of the system. For me, one of the worst things that can happen in a social context is a capitalist system is involuntary unemployment because work is intrinsic to our beings. From the time we crawled out of the slime we have had to transform nature in order to survive. That reality goes to the heart of human existence and gives us purpose and builds our sense of network and cooperation and giving. I know all the arguments – this is a filthy capitalist system and why would we want people to be wage slaves – I am older now. I have been a left-winger all my life. I heard these arguments decades ago. And until those revolutionary armies that are apparently hiding out in the suburbs arms themselves and appear in the streets, I am thinking of the actual societies we live in and have to make the best of. We would spend our whole life times talking about revolution while workers around the world are being made to bear the costs of the failing neoliberal system.
The tensions in the public policy debate between economists is intensifying and on show in Europe, where these sort of obvious conflicts between adherence to dogma and a recognition that ‘out-the-box’ solutions are not only possible but preferred. More of these latter thought offerings are starting to appear as more people come to understand that the mainstream dogma has become more of a security blanket for reputations rather than saying anything about reality. One such proposal emerged last week in the form of a letter to the major European newspapers signed by more than 100 economists and politicians calling for the ECB to write-off its massive public debt holdings, which currently amount to around 25 per cent of total outstanding public debt. It is a good idea but some of the framing leaves a lot to be desired. At any rate, central banks everywhere should be buying up massive amounts of government debt and hitting the keyboard with zeros and writing it off. The world would be a much better place if they did that.
There is a new variant of the global virus spreading again after being subdued throughout 2020. This is a very dangerous variant and if it takes hold will guarantee massive human suffering, and, a further, substantial shift in national income towards the top-end-of-town. I refer to the creeping infestation that is starting to pop up claiming that austerity will be required to pay for all the “profligacy” associated with government approach to the pandemic. I have seen this virus in the wild and it is creepy and being spread by those who seem to want to gain attention as time passes them by. Overheating threats, austerity threats – it is all part of the economics establishment trying to remain relevant. A vaccine will not work. They need to be permanently isolated.
On Monday (February 1, 2021), I wrote about recent developments in the EU, which make it hard to argue that it can be reformed in any way that would deliver progressive outcomes. There was also a good article in the London Review of Books (January 7, 2021) – Ever Closer Union? – by veteran British author Perry Anderson, which, while long, is worth reading if you somehow still think the EU is a haven for democracy and progressive potential. It provides a massive body of evidence that reinforces the view I presented in my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale (published May 2015). It amazes me that the EU is held out as something progressives should aspire to be members of.
Since Britain left the European Union, the Remainer Woke Brigade (RWB) has associated every little bit of bad news that has been published about that nation to the decision to leave the EU. Op Ed articles, Tweets and the like. All scathing of the decision, indicating a failure to accept the democratic volition of the 2016 Referendum. They lost. They can’t get over it. But in the last few weeks there has been an extraordinary silence from this media ‘traffic’. It is of no surprise to me that this should be so. Their beloved EU has been demonstrating across multiple fronts why no sensible nation would want to be part of it bungling and dysfunctional membership. I also admit that I have been astounded how bad things have become under this European administration. Britain did the right thing in getting free of it even though its political scene is not yet capable of dealing with the new scope it now has. But the events of the last few weeks in Europe have been nothing short of breathtaking in their hypocrisy, incompetence and venality. The cosmopolitan progressive set have surely now realised that their dreams of pan-national workers paradise led by Brussels is just a figment of their own imagination.
Last week, I wrote this blog post – OECD is apparently now anti austerity – warning, the leopard hasn’t changed its spots (January 12, 2021) – which warned against accepting the idea the growing number of mainstream economists, who were now advocating fiscal dominance, was evidence of a fundamental shift in New Keynesian thinking about macroeconomics. The reality is that they haven’t really shifted much at all and Max Planck’s postulate that paradigms shift one funeral at a time remains true. There are very few cases where the senior members of a dominant paradigm, voluntarily abandon their views when the evidence becomes overwhelmingly against them. They iterate, they declare ad hoc anomalies, they try to voice ideas that a new rival paradigm is articulating which resonate better with the data. This sort of strategy is common across academic disciplines which are under assault from a combination of poor predictive performance (data incongruity) and the arrival of a more convincing alternative paradigm. It is in full swing in macroeconomics now. But don’t believe these characters are suddenly accepting Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and realising their previous belief system was never a sound way of characterising our fiat monetary systems. If you dig you discover these characters remain charlatans and will do almost anything to maintain their status as the dominant economists.
In the last week, we have heard from the Chief Economist at the OECD (Laurence Boone), who has been touted on social media as offering a fundamental shift in economic thinking at the institution towards fiscal dominance. This is an example of a series of public statements by various New Keynesian (that is, mainstream macroeconomists) who are apparently defining the new macroeconomics of fiscal dominance. The point is this. Within the mainstream macroeconomics there was always scope for discretionary fiscal intervention under certain conditions. The conditionality is what separates their version of the possibilities from those identified and explained by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Just because these characters are coming out of their austerity bunkers to scramble to what they think is the right side of history doesn’t mean their underlying economics has changed. If you dig, you will find the same framework in place, just nuanced a little to suit the times. But the leopard hasn’t changed its spots. The underlying train wreck is still there and will be rehearsed again at some future date unless we push forward in abandoning the whole New Keynesian approach.
So Britain finally became free – sort of – from the European Union last week. I haven’t fully read the terms of the departure but the progress I have made so far in the text (several hundred pages) leads me to conclude that Britain has not gone completely free from the corporatist cabal that is the European Union. The agreement will see a Partnership Council established which locks Britain in to an on-going bureaucratic process dominated by technocrats – the sort of things the EU revels in and gets it nowhere. Overall, though, despite all the detail, Britain’s future policy settings will be guided by its polity and resolved within its own institutions. That means that the Labour Party has the chance to really push a progressive agenda. I doubt that it will but there are no excuses now. Which brings me to look at some data which shows how the fiscal rules imposed by the European Union, particularly in the 19 Member States who surrendered their currencies, have constrained prosperity and worked against everything that citizens were told.