I read an interesting research report recently – Exportweltmeister: The Low Returns on Germany’s Capital Exports – published by the London-based Centre of Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in July 2019. It tells us a lot about the dysfunctional nature of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and Germany’s role within it, in particular. Germany has been running persistent and very large external surpluses for some years now in violation of EU rules. It also suppresses domestic demand by its punitive labour market policies and persistent fiscal surpluses. At the same time as these strategies have resulted in the massive degradation of essential infrastructure (roads, buildings, bridges etc), Germany has been exporting its massive savings in the form of international investments (FDI, equity, etc). The evidence is now in that the returns on those investments have been poor, which amounts to a comprehensive rejection of many of the shibboleths that German politicians and their industrialists hold and use as frames to bully other nations
Last week (August 9, 2019), the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) – GDP first quarterly estimate, UK: April to June 2019 – told us that the UK economy contracted by 0.2 per cent in the June-quarter 2019 after having grown by 0.5 per cent in the March-quarter. The UK Guardian pundits and the Remain cheer squad all screamed Brexit and were heard to be walking around in circles saying “see, we told you so”. Meanwhile (August 7, 2019), not far away (according to the Remain crowd’s much-loved gravity trade models), Germany’s Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) press release – Production in June 2019: -1.5% seasonally adjusted on the previous month – told a sorry tale. In annual terms, Germany’s industrial production has contracted by 5.2 per cent. We also learned that Germany is probably in recession. According to the Remain-logic, that must be Brexit too, n’est-ce pas? Meanwhile, just a bit further south, Italy is in turmoil. Obviously, Brexit uncertainty. I jest of course (well a bit). But in a real sense, this is all tied into Brexit in one way – and it is not the way the Remain camp would like us to believe. In fact, what I have in mind gives more weight to the Leave position and reflects on how intransigent the European Union elites are in dealing with the Member States.
My Wednesday blog post is designed to be short in time commitment. It clears a bit of space in the day to catch up with other more mundane matters (research contracts, some coding – I am learning Swift at present, and stuff like that). But I thought a small viewpoint on the latest dealings over who will become IMF boss were easy to dispense with today. And in that context, it was hard to go past Wolfgang Münchau’s Financial Times column – Do not treat the IMF as an EU consolation prize (July 21, 2019). He sums up the situation perfectly – “The world needs a first-rate person to run the IMF. It should not allow Europe to treat the fund as a dumping ground for washed-up officials.” Adam Tooze also weighs in on the same issue in his Social Europe article – The International Monetary Fund leadership is not a bargaining counter (July 22, 2019). His conclusion is also spot on – “The eurozone crisis created a toxic codependency between the eurozone and the IMF which needs to be dissolved once and for all.” But it goes beyond the revolving door aspects of these positions and the Troika relationship that emerged during the GFC. The IMF is already in tatters – still in denial but realising its old positions are untenable – to allow the toxic austerity culture of Europe to take over the IMF would destroy any hope that the latter might abandon its neoliberalism and embrace the emerging macroeconomics paradigm that will replace dependency on monetary policy with fiscal dominance – just what Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has been promoting.
I thought the most interesting aspect of last weekend’s Greek election was the post election response of the European Commission. I had thought prior to the election, when it was obvious that Syriza would lose office to the New Democracy Party, that the European Commission would perhaps turn a blind eye for a time to the new Greek government and allow them to break some of the ridiculous fiscal shackles that the Greek colony is enduring. Just like the Commission ignored the rule breaking by the Spanish conservative government in the lead-up to the December 2015 general election to ensure the Government could stimulate the economy and restore growth and retain office. I was wrong. Spain is not yet a colony. Greece is. It is to be spared no quarter by the sociopaths. Within hours of gaining office, the New Democracy leaders were confronted with news from the Eurogroup President, Mario Centeno – “Commitments are commitments” – the fiscal surpluses will continue and the “strict budget targets that were agreed” will not be relaxed (Source). As you were Greece – remain in permanent depression.
I saw a Tweet overnight suggesting the so-called progressive British Remainers had been a little quiet in recent days following the comical display of anti-democratic, corporatism aka filling leadership positions in the EU and the Eurozone. Where are they? Why aren’t they out there in the media (social or otherwise) extolling the virtues of their much-loved European Union, where progressive policies are the norm and the peoples’ interests are held above the narrow corporate interests? The problem is that they cannot show up at present. The EU has managed to appoint a cabal of new leaders, many of whom are plagued by past scandals, allegations of nepotism, convictions for negligence in public office, and the Presidential nominee is under investigation in the Bundestag and has been acknowledged as a failure in her management of the German defense department. Come to think of it they seem perfect for the top jobs in the EU. And how was this motley lot selected? By denying even the limited sense of democracy that has been present in this process in the past. It is beyond a joke. But then this is the Europhile cosmo left’s vision for the future. One could not dream all this stuff up one they tried.
One of the shifts I have observed in the last year or so in the way that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is being discussed in the public domain and the type of speaking invitations I am receiving is a growing interest from large financial market entities, who have not bought into the visceral, knee-jerk attacks from the populist academic type economists (Krugman, Summers, Rogoff, and all the rest that have jumped on their bandwagon). I spoke at a few workshops some years ago where economists from the large investment banks were the main audience and it was clear that they, in the main, appreciated what MMT was about. It is clear the characters that have to deal with putting funds at stake are keen to understand how the monetary system actually operates rather than how the mainstream macroeconomists pretend it operates – a pretense that advances particular ideological interests. What is also coming out more clearly is that the response from the mainstream is revealing a dissonance that they cannot seem to manage in any coherent way. We have seen statements from mainstream macroeconomists dismissing MMT as just ‘printing money’ and proposing Zimbabwe-like disasters. Others claim that they knew MMT all along and so there is nothing new. Others claim that all the insights that MMT holds out come down to whether one thinks monetary policy is less or more effective as a counter stabilisation told than fiscal policy. All statements attempt to simplify our work down to the level of irrelevance or downright crazy. Other interventions, such as the recent statements from the Bank of Japan Governor border on the surreal – ‘we are not doing MMT’ – well one doesn’t ‘do MMT’ anyway. But an MMT understanding provides a remarkably accurate depiction of what has been going down in Japan for nearly 3 decades – a depiction that the mainstream macroeconomists is incapable of providing. It seems that now, the financial markets are starting to get this point and seeking more engagement with MMT (if my invitations are anything to go by). This engagement is not without issues though. This is Part 1 in a two-part series discussing this topic. Part 2 will come tomorrow.
While the Europhile progressives are publishing papers and holding talkfests to discuss their latest EU reform proposals, the on-going reality of the European Union continues to reveal itself – the pretense that there is a rule of law operating – as laid out in the Treaties and the idea that all are equal under that law. When I was researching my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – and over the long period I have studied the concept of European integration it was obvious to me that despite the chimera of a strict, rule-based system that is run by technocrats, the actual practice of the Union is vicariously ad hoc – rules applied in cases where doing otherwise would present ideological problems, abandonment of the rules and outright illegal behaviour when there the interests of the corporate elites are at stake or the existence of the Union is threatened. And while law breaking, relevant officials produce complicated justifications of their behaviour as if what they are doing is within the boundaries specified by the Treaties. The Europhile progressives, meanwhile, continue to hold this embarrassing monstrosity out as the exemplar of freedom, globalism, cosmopolitanism and sophistication. They have reached such a state of denial that what is obvious to those looking in from the outside escapes their attention, or, in the mould of the European technocrats they just ride along with the spurious justifications for the unjustifiable. Europe in 2019.
On June 13, 2019, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) released its – Terms of Reference for the Evaluation of the Greek Programmes. At the same time, the head of the ESM (Klaus Regling) was lecturing Greece, which is approaching a national election next month, that it “risks missing its budget target” (Source). Apparently, as the failed Syriza government tries to gain electoral support after years of abusing the Greek people who put their faith in them, the bean counters are worried that the permanent state of austerity that the Greek colony is now being held in by the Euro technocrats (and the IMF) might be relaxed a little. Regling claimed there was “great risk” in the Greek government engaging in fiscal slippage. When you look at the data, a fiscal flood is needed not just some ‘slippage’. But such is the oppression of the colony that the technocrats are bearing down on the Government. Meanwhile, the Europhile Left continues to laud the EU as a productive arrangement protecting progressive values. It is beyond laughable.
Various people are vying for the key positions in the European structures (EC President, ECB head, and a range of other positions) at the moment. The presence of French and German interests typically dominate these outcomes, although as a result of the Treaty of Lisbon changes, more weight was given to the jockeying of the various political coalitions that find their way into the European Parliament. But that process has new been compromised by the decline of the traditional parties as other political forces (Greens, En Marche, Liberal Democrats etc) have gained ground. So Europe is back to its Franco-German rivalry and emerging out of that process is the unthinkable – Bundesbank President, Jens Weidmann – becoming a front-runner to take over the ECB role. He is a man with a past and his current ‘political’ statements, as he lobbies for the position he clearly covets, appear to contradict that past. A leopard never changes its spots. Beware.
Last week, the EU finance ministers (the ‘Eurogroup’) met (June 13, 2019) in Luxembourg as part of their regular schedule. There was a lot of talk in the lead-up to the meeting whether Emmanual Macron’s push for a more coherent EU fiscal capacity to act as a counter-stabilisation capacity for the beleaguered Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). As is normal, there was no progress made and the press reports said that the finance ministers “continued to clash over almost every feature of the new fiscal tool, including the source of funding” (Source). No surprises at all. So the ‘fix the roof while the sun is shining’ agenda, that many Europhile Left commentators have been hoping for, was abandoned. The roof still has gaping holes and the EMU will once again fail badly when the next economic cyclical downturn comes through. And further, the lack of leadership in the fiscal area is creating a massive dilemma for the ECB and its conduct of monetary policy. In effect, the lacuna is demonstrating to all and sundry that monetary policy is incapable of achieving the aims despite the ECB deliberately breaching the legal framework established for it in the Treaties. The Eurozone dysfunction goes to a new level – and it is a time of growth.