Given my inflation report yesterday, I have shifted my usual Wednesday light blog post day and music feature to today. The economic debate has moved in recent years from ‘when is the government going broke’ to ‘hyperinflation is approaching’. It amazes me how puerile the economic commentary is as journalists and economists seeking headlines trot out headlines about how bad something (insert: insolvency, inflation, whatever is the latest craze) is going to be and what needs to be done about it. Nothing much happens in the real world and they keep their jobs and begin the next mania. Replay. And so it goes. It seems though that within this fictional world, that masquerades as informed economic commentary, subtle changes are underway. Governments worked out that during the GFC, the only weapon they had that would save the system was fiscal policy. They also worked out that large-scale bond buying by their central banks complemented the effective use of fiscal policy and didn’t deliver all the maelstrom that the mainstream New Keynesian textbooks predicted. The pandemic has accentuated that. And now there is this sort of stand-off between the ‘markets’ that were given too much latitude in the pre-GFC period and governments. The market players, who have become accustomed to manipulating government policy to ratify their speculative bets, which delivered massive profits to the hedge funds and the like, are now confronting central banks and treasuries that actually have power and cannot be bullied into delivering such policy ratification. That is progress and interesting to observe.
It is a public holiday today celebrating – Labour Day – which recognises the struggles to successfully gain an 8-hour working day for workers. The first of the many marches in this struggle occurred in my hometown of Melbourne on April 21, 1856, and history shows that this march was successful in achieving the first 8-hour day decision in the world, without loss of pay. So today we think of that. If workers unite they have the capacity to achieve great things. What follows is a brief report and footage from a debate I participated in on October 2, 2021, which was organised by some groups in Helsinki, Finland.
Its seems the conservative economics press is going through a hard time as it tries to wrest itself from its past litany of errors of judgement, backing the wrong horse, whatever. The latest example is The Economist Magazine, which ran a Leader Article over the weekend (September 25, 2021) = The mess Merkel leaves behind. It eviscerates the Merkel period for leaving Germany with a legacy that will cause headaches for future leaders and for the German people. This runs counter to the usual stuff the Magazine has offered about the soundness of Germany over many years as a bastion of stability and good financial management. It also provides a dose of reality to the raft of ridiculous glowing assessments of the Merkel years. In my view, she has overseen a government that has undermined its own prosperity, deliberately disobeyed the very rules it enforces on other nations in the Eurozone, and bullied leaders of other nations to enact dreadful policy shifts that have impoverished defenceless citizens. It is a cause of celebration that she is going not because we laud her work, quite the opposite. One failure less in public office.
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.