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The German model is not workable for the Eurozone

I had an interesting meeting in Melbourne yesterday and the topic of the discussion, among other things, was the propensity of the current economic malaise in Europe to invoke associations with its historical past – in particular, the rise of the ugly German. In my blog earlier this week (January 30, 2012) – Greece to leave the Eurozone and become a German colony – one might have been tempted to conclude that I was invoking memories of the Germany’s annexation of Austria (the Anschluss). I even used the word Teutonic – a rather old-fashioned term for Germanic peoples (broadly) – in the phrase “My how audacious our Teutonic friends have become!”. This was in a discussion about the leaked German document which urged the EU Summit on Monday to effectively put Greece into receivership. But in fact, what I have been at pains to bring to the public debate is not an urging that we construct the current nasty statements from German politicians and its press about lazy Greeks etc in terms of these historical enmities but rather see them for what they really are – deeply flawed macroeconomic reasoning. A thorough understanding of macroeconomics would lead to the conclusion that the German model is not workable for the Eurozone. It will not help Germany nor anyone else. It is a deeply flawed economic doctrine that reflects the same neo-liberal ideology that led to the the original design of the European Monetary Union. Whether the “ugly German” is also implicated is another question altogether.

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Monetary movements in the US – and the deficit

This week I seem to have been obsessed with monetary aggregates, which are are strange thing for a Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) writer to be concerned with given that MMT does not place any particular emphasis on such movements. MMT rejects the notion that the broader monetary measures are driven by the monetary base (hence a rejection of the money multiplier concept in mainstream macroeconomics) and MMT also rejects the notion that a rising monetary base will be inflationary. The two rejections are interlinked. But that is not to say that the evolution of the broad aggregates is without informational content. What they paint is a picture of the conditions in the private sector economy – particularly in relation to the demand for loans. In this blog I consider recent developments in the US broad aggregates and compare them to the UK and the Eurozone, which I analysed earlier this week. But first I consider some fiscal developments in the US, which, as it happens, are tied closely to the movements in the broad monetary measures. The bottom-line is that the US is growing because it has not yet gone into fiscal retreat and the broad monetary measures are picking that growth up. The opposite is the case of the European economies (counting the UK in that set) where governments have deliberately undermined economic growth and further damaging private sector spending plans.

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Latest ECB data shows how bad things have become in Euroland

I was reading the recently published January 2012 Monthly Bulletin from the ECB yesterday. It provides a massive amount of interesting data about the developments in the Eurozone plus analysis. The descriptive analysis is fine (this went up, this went down) but the conceptual analysis leaves a lot to be desired. This is an institution that still talks about reference values of broad money as a policy target to control inflation. Basically, that idea has no application in our monetary system. But that aside, the release of the latest M3 data tells us how bad things are getting in the Eurozone and do not augur well for the coming year, despite the up-beat forecasts for real GDP that the ECB are still providing. The latest ECB data shows how bad things have become in Euroland.

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Greece to leave the Eurozone and become a German colony

The Euro leaders are having another Summit in Brussels today – another one – the 17th in two years. I think they are getting used to the nice wine and sumptuous food that is served up. Little ever comes from these summits that is of any productive import. This time they plan to set in concrete balanced budget rules to be embedded into the national legislation of EU member states yet at the same time propose job creation and growth strategy. The job creation strategy is allegedly going to focus on the youth of Europe who are becoming unemployed and excluded in increasing numbers as time goes by. The lunacy is that Europe’s youth started losing their jobs some years ago yet the leaders are now expressing concern. Also over the weekend, there was a leaked German proposal for today’s summit detailing how Greece should leave the Eurozone and become a German colony. My how audacious our Teutonic friends have become!

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The US is not an example of a fiscal contraction expansion

Recent data releases suggest that the current economic experience on the two sides of the Atlantic is very different. The latest data shows that the UK economy is now contracting and unemployment is rising as fiscal austerity begins to bite. Conversely, the latest US data shows that growth is on-going and the unemployment rate is finally starting to fall. This may be a temporary return to growth because the political developments that may occur later in this year could see some serious, British-style fiscal austerity being imposed on the US economy. At present though, my assessment of these disparate trends is that fiscal austerity is contractionary if non-government spending is insufficient to offset the decline in public spending. However, some observers are trying to hold out the US experience as vindicating those who believe in the notion of a “fiscal contraction expansion”. But the data tells us clearly that the US is not an example of this mania.

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S&P ≠ ECB – the downgrades are largely irrelevant to the problem

The Australian Prime Minister, trailing hopelessly in the public opinion polls, made a fool of herself yesterday by commenting on last week’s S&P downgrade of European government debt ratings. she not only gave S&P more credibility than they are worth, but also demonstrated, once again, the mangled macroeconomic logic that is driving her own government’s obsessive pursuit of budget surpluses to our detriment. But there has been a lot of mangled logic about the S&P decision from a number of quarters in the last few days. Ultimately, the decision is only as relevant as the EU authorities allow it to be. The reality is that the fiscal capacity of the Eurozone is embedded in the ECB, which while ridiculous and reflecting the flawed design of the EMU, still means that the private bond markets can be dealt out of the game whenever the ECB desires it. In that context the S&P decision is irrelevant except for its political ramifications. And they arise as a result of the government’s own flawed rhetoric with respect to the role the ratings agencies play. That flawed rhetoric is exemplified by the Australian Prime Minister’s weekend offerings not to forget the French central bank governor’s recent claims that S&P should downgrade Britain’s debt ratings before it downgrades France. But does the downgrading matter? Answer: only if the ECB allows it to matter. The ratings agencies do not wield power. The issuer of the currency in any monetary union has the power – always.

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They better keep the vacuum on or else!

While the Eurozone leaders appear to be obsessed with a relentless series of meetings which discuss largely irrelevant problems that they identify, there is a growing chorus that is highlighting the reality facing the region. It is patently obvious that the only short-term solution to the Euro crisis is for the ECB to keep its vacuum cleaner on and keep “hoovering” up the debt of governments who are unable to gain access to funds in private bond markets at reasonable yields. While the long-term solution is an orderly dismantling of the monetary union, the ECB is the only show in town at present that can in the spiralling crisis and ensure that the Eurozone countries return to growth as quickly as possible. This is even more paramount now Germany has recorded a negative quarter of growth with worse expected in the coming months. It beggars belief that the Euro elites have engineered a crisis of such a proportion that that their worst fears become the only solution.

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Rehn fiddles, while Europe burns

According to the popular legend Nero, Roman Emperor from 54 to 68 and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty allegedly “fiddled while Rome burned” (played his lyre and singing) during the fire in 64 which destroyed most of Rome. His rule (and dynasty) ended 4 years later. The imagery of this out-of-touch and cruel leader strumming/plucking his stringed instrument (rumour notwithstanding) while his city and, soon after, his dynasty collapsed is powerful. Last Friday, Eurostat released the latest unemployment data for November 2011. The results were shocking with unemployment rates in Spain now close to 23 per cent (as at November 2011 and rising) and Greece 18.8 per cent (as at September 2011) and rising. Greece’s unemployment rate rose 4.8 per cent in the first 9 months of last year. Meanwhile, the European Commission is occupying itself with other concerns. Its Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner and Vice President, Olli Rehn has been sending letters out to member states indicating that he is disappointed they are falling behind their budget deficit reduction targets under the Excessive Deficit Procedure (embedded in the Stability and Growth Pact) and that the EC would be considering fines.

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Hungary helps to demonstrate MMT principles

I have received a lot of E-mails overnight about developments in Hungary. The vast majority of these E-mails have suggested that these developments (sharp rise in government bond yields since November) coupled with the fact that the Hungary uses its own currency (the forint) and floats in on international markets provide problems for the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) understanding of the monetary system. I have been digging into the data on Hungary for some months now as I learn more about the history of the nation and its political and institutional structure. I am always cautious researching foreign-language material because outside of documents published in Dutch or French my comprehension skills are weak and I know that even in English documents there are tricks in trying to come to terms with the way data is collected, compiled and disseminated. However, unlike many non-English-speaking nations, access to very detailed data for Hungary in English is reasonable. I will have more to write about their problems in the future as I accumulate and process more information. But at present what I can say is that Hungary is a very good example of what a government with its own currency should not do and the current developments reinforce the insights available from MMT rather than present us with problems. Hungary is in deep trouble exactly because it has violated some of the basic macroeconomic principles defining sound fiscal and monetary policy.

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The Eurozone failed from day one

The current Eurozone crisis is getting worse and has concentrated our minds on the most recent period of European history. As in all these situations where focus is very immediate our memories get a little blurred and we are inclined to accept propositions that closer analysis of the data suggest do not hold water. January 1 was the tenth anniversary of the date when Euro notes and coins began to circulate. It had of-course been operating since January 1, 1999 but only in a non-physical form (electronic transfers etc). If you believe the rhetoric from the Euro bosses in the first several years of the Euro history and didn’t know anything else you would be excused for thinking that it was a spectacular success. The Celtic Tiger, the Spanish miracle, the unprecedented price stability and all the rest of it. But the reality is a little different to the hype. The fact is that the common currency did not deliver the dividends that were expected or touted by the leaders leading up to the crisis. All the so-called gains that the pro-Euro lobby claim were in actual fact a sign of the failure of the design of the union although it took the crisis to expose these terminal weaknesses for all to see. My view is that the Euro was failing from day one and it would be better to disband it as a failed experiment that has caused untold damage to the human dimension.

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