Many progressives are claiming that the EU has seen the light as evidenced by their relaxation of the harsh Stability and Growth Pact rules during the pandemic. There are even papers coming out advocating a ‘Post Third Way’ revival of social democratic forces in Europe to further integrate and reorient it along the lines of the social Europe narratives. I think this enthusiasm misrepresents what is going on in Europe at present. The hard-core, neoliberal DNA has not morphed. There has been no relaxation of the SGP rules given that a thorough knowledge of the legal basis of the Pact shows that there is scope in the rules for what is going on at present. Further, there is evidence that even though the temporary provisions in the SGP are being exercised, the European Commission is resorting to blackmail by imposing conditionality on Member States who want access to the stimulus funds. It seems that to get the funds, Member States have to fast track structural reforms, which means the stimulus funds are not stimulus funds at all, but, rather offsets, partial or otherwise, for the damage that cutting pensions etc will cause. Europe’s neoliberal DNA is still at work!
I read a very interesting study by two Dutch academics last week – The ECB, the courts and the issue of democratic legitimacy after Weiss – which will be published in the Common Market Law Review (Vol 57, No 6, 2020). It examines the way in which the ECB operations and policy interventions have gone way beyond their original conception in the Maastricht Treaty and now conflict with democratic accountability. While the authors propose ways to address the democratic deficit, I am sceptical. Essentially, there needs to be a fundamental change in the Treaty and the establishment of a federal fiscal capacity embedded into a genuine European government. But then pigs might fly!
It’s Wednesday and so only some snippets today. First, a video of a seminar I participated at the other day where we talk about the future of Europe (and the World). Second, some working papers that might be of interest. And finally a music segment. I felt like posting the 1980s song from The Vapors – Turning Japanese – after the Reserve Bank of Australia announced yesterday they were now modelling their monetary policy interventions of the excellent template that has been pioneered by the Bank of Japan. You know get the government to buy all of its debt – then pay itself back – then remit the payments as ‘dividends’ back to itself. Right pocket meet Left pocket. I will analysis the big shift in the RBA’s position tomorrow. And when you listen to the RBA Governor this morning trying to tell Australians that black is white when we all know it is black and they have let the cat out of the bag, you will realise why the whole hysterical show they are putting on is important. But that is tomorrow. And I hated the song anyway.
The German daily business newspaper Handelsblatt published an interesting article last week (September 17, 2020) – Schäuble fordert Debatte über lockere Geldpolitik der EZB – which said that the former German Finance Minister and now President of the Bundestag was calling for a debate on the ECBs ‘loose’ monetary policy. He has circulated a letter and a discussion paper among the new discussion group within the Bundestag, created after the German Constitutional Court had ruled adversely in relation to the ECBs public asset purchase programs. The letter criticises the low interest rate policy of the ECB and the various asset purchase programs conducted by the ECB. It appears to be in denial with the state of affairs across Europe, which are heading catastrophic territory with the second wave of the virus gathering pace and authorities having to face the need for a second lockdown.
Piety has no bounds it seems. The Sunday Times ran an Op Ed at the weekend (September 12, 2020) – John Major and Tony Blair: Johnson must drop shameful no-deal Brexit bill or be forced to by MPs (paywall) – which told us how angry former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major are with Boris Johnson about the Government’s intention to introduce the Internal Market Bill to ensure the so-called Withdrawal Agreement is compatible with national law. They started by appealing to the international treaty status of the Withdrawal Agreement, which outlined Britain’s terms of exit from the EU. The Op Ed called the decision by government as “shocking”. The Remainers are jumping on the ‘breach of international law’ bandwagon like there is no tomorrow. Of course, they never highlight the fact that they want to be part of an arrangement, which is created by international law and which regularly violates that law to serve its own political and elite interests. And those breaches, which include gross human rights abuses and deliberately undermining the prosperity of its own citizens through mass unemployment and more, have had severe consequences for humanity. The fact that the British government is now declaring national law will no longer be subjugated and subservient to international agreements is not in the same ball park of international violations.
Wednesday brings music and not much blog posting activity. But I have been following the debate in the UK and Europe about the likelihood of some sort trade deal or not with some interest and amusement. There are several facets to the discussion: (a) the on-going hypocrisy of the European Union elites; (b) the necessity for major state intervention in Britain (and everywhere) and the possibility that the Tories will abandon Margaret Thatcher’s EU single market legacy is another sign that the paradigm shift in macroeconomics is well under way. (c) the way in which the Labour party are being wedged on the issue and refusing to come out in support of further state aid. Instead, inasmuch as they are saying anything, they are just repeating the mindless, neoliberal dogma about ‘free trade’. They will lose on that one, one thinks. All round it is interesting to follow as an external observer.
The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the – Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2020 (Advance Estimate) – data last week (July 30, 2020). It shows that the US economy has declined by 9.49 per cent between the March- and June-quarters. On an annual basis the decline was 9.54 per cent. This is the largest quarterly contraction in recorded history. Consumption expenditure declined by 10.1 per cent in real terms and business investment by 17.4 per cent. The collapse in consumer expenditure was mostly concentrated in services (-22.6%), which reflected lockdowns and the unwillingness of consumers to continue normal practices. Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income jumped dramatically from 9.5 per cent in the March-quarter to 25.7 percent in the second quarter. That is a testament to the endemic uncertainty that the pandemic has created. The contribution of net exports actually rose, not because exports rose (their individual contribution was -9.38 points), but because of the slump in imports – a smaller leakage from the expenditure system (adding 10.1 points t growth!). Overall, there is no trend – just a massive mess. How the second wave of the virus impacts is anybody’s guess but lots more deaths and more disruption is certain.
Today’s blog post is a draft for another deadline I have this week, this time writing for a European publication on the state of affairs in the Eurozone. I have four major pieces of work to finalise this week so, as in yesterday, I am using this time to progress those goals. For many regular readers it will be nothing new. But, putting the arguments together in this way might just provide some different angles for people who haven’t thought about things in this way before. Regular transmission will resume on Thursday (probably).
Things are obviously getting desperate out there in financial media commentary land. If one could express written text in graphical terms then there are a number of financial journalists out there that look – like a rabbit caught in the headlights – that is in a state “of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment.” A good example of this increasingly observed syndrome is an article in The Australian newspaper today (June 30, 2020) by Adam Creighton – Never forget that governments have no money – it is always ours (subscription required). This sort of journalism is becoming an almost daily occurrence as it becomes obvious that capitalism is now on state life support systems and the extremities of government intervention are demonstrating very clearly what Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists have been saying – and the only ones that have been saying it – for 25 years or so. I often note that Japan has already pushed the fiscal and monetary policy parameters beyond the limits most countries have explored in peacetime and mainstream economists have systematically predicted various scales of disaster and have always been wrong. Now all countries are at extremes and still no fiscal disaster. But the mainstream mouthpieces – these financial journalists who seem to think the stuff they read in first-year text books from mainstream economics programs are in same way the basis for expertise and knowledge – are in advanced states of dissonance. Drivel follows.
The – Battle of Sedan – in September 1870, was a decisive turning point in the relationship between France and Germany, which still resonates to this day and has influences many subsequent historical developments. When I was researching my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale (published May 2015) – I read a book by the French linguist and historian – Claude Digeon – which was a published form of his PhD Thesis. He analysed the impact of the loss at Sedan to the Germans on the French intellectual culture. He conjectured that between the loss in 1871 and the start of the First World War, France suffered from a “‘hantise chronique'”, une obsession pour l’Allemagne ou, tout du moins, pour une représentation de l’Allemagne (a ‘chronic obsession’, an obsession about Germany or, at least, about a representation of Germany). The same sense of inferiority continues to drive French behaviour, particularly in relation to Germany. It has created two negative dynamics: (a) it has increasingly divided the French population and opened the door to the Far Right to influence policy; and (b) led to France trying forever to command the world stage which has led to the Eurozone disaster.