I was thinking about the recent European Council meeting today which was held in Brussels over the weekend. It is clear that the Eurozone bosses are choosing to ignore all the lessons that the current crisis has provided to them about the basic design flaws of their monetary system. They think the solution to their problems is to make it even harder for member governments to provide net spending to their economies at times of stress. They fail to articulate the most basic macroeconomic fact that confronts them – unemployment is rising across the zone and production generally is stagnant because there is not enough demand for sales of goods and services. If the private sector won’t provide that demand then the government sector has to given that they cannot rely on net exports to cure the deficiency. By deliberately restricting governments and effectively forcing them to engage in pro-cyclical fiscal responses the Euro bosses are not only prolonging the agony the citizens are facing but are also engaging in a self-defeating strategy. As we are seeing budget deficits are rising as austerity is imposed. The solution to the Eurozone problems is to disband the zone and restore individual currency sovereignty at the national level. It would be painful to do that but in the medium- to long-term it will be less painful than the trajectory they are following.
I am now in Maastricht, The Netherlands where I have a regular position as visiting professor. It is like a second home to me. The University hosts CofFEE-Europe, which we started some years ago as a sibling of my research centre back in Newcastle. My relationship with the University here is due to my long friendship and professional collaboration with Prof dr. Joan Muysken who works here and is a co-author of my recent book – Full Employment abandoned. Our discussions last night were all about the Eurozone and I was happy to know that most of the Dutch banks are now effectively nationalised as part of the early bailout attempts. It is also clear that the ECB is now stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. If it stops buying national government debt on the secondary markets those governments are likely to default and the big French and German banks the ECB is largely protecting will be in crisis. Alternatively, every day it continues with this policy the more obvious it is that the Eurozone system is totally bereft of any logic. Once the citizens in the nations that are being forced to endure harsh austerity programs realise all this there will be mayhem. The other discussion topic was the possible revision of the fiscal rules that define the Maastricht treaty. That is what this blog is about.
If I was to become the boss of a sovereign government, the first thing I would do would be to introduce a Job Guarantee and immediately set about restoring jobs and a living income to those who are without either. This would immediately boost aggregate demand and give business firms a reason to start investing and producing. The second thing I would do would be to pass legislation outlawing all the international rating agencies. If I was to become the boss of a government within the EMU, the ordering would be similar except that before I introduced the Job Guarantee I would withdraw from the monetary union, default on all Euro-denominated debt, and reintroduce a sovereign currency. Then I would offer a job to anyone who wanted one at a living minimum wage and outlaw the ratings agencies. All that could be done on the first day of my tenure in official office. The recession would be over within a few months and then I would set about nationalising the zombie banks. It would be a fun ride!
Today I consider the idea that governments which have surrendered their sovereignty either by giving up their currency issuing monopoly, and/or fixing their exchange rate to the another currency, and/or incurring sovereign debt in a foreign currency might find defaulting on sovereign debt to be their best strategy in the current recession. I consider this in the context that any government that has surrendered their sovereignty is incapable of pursuing policies across the business cycle that serve the best interests of their population. While re-establishing their currency sovereignty may not require debt default, in many cases, default will necessarily be an integral part of the move back to full fiscal sovereignty. This is especially the case for nations that have borrowed in foreign currencies and/or surrendered their currency issuing capacities to a common monetary system. So here are some thoughts on when default is a way for a nation to progress.
On the first day of Spring, when the sun shines and the flowers bloom, the IMF decide to poison the world with some more ideological positioning masquerading as economic analysis. I refer to their latest Staff Position Note (SPN/10/11) which carries the title – Fiscal Space. I think after reading it the authors might usefully be awarded an all expenses trip to outer space. It is one of those papers that has regressions, graphs, diagrams and all the usual trappings of authority. But at its core is a blindness to the way the world they are modelling actually works. I guess the authors get plaudits in the IMF tea rooms and get to give some conference papers based on the work. But in putting this sort of tripe out into the real policy world the IMF is once again giving ammunition to those who actively seek to blight government intervention aimed at improving the lives of the disadvantaged. The IMF know that their papers will be picked up by impressionable journalists who are too lazy to actually seek a deeper understanding of the way the monetary system operates but happily spread the myths to their readers.
Today I read a very interesting article in the Financial Times by a professional who works in the financial markets. It was in such contrast to the usual nonsense that I read that it made a special dent in my day. I also was informed that a leading US academic economist had recommended we read the same article. I found that a curious recommendation given that this economist is not exactly in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) camp. Indeed, if you examine the course material he inflicts on his macroeconomics classes you would reach the conclusion that his Department is another that should be boycotted by prospective students. Anyway, the FT article makes it very clear – there is no credit risk for a sovereign government – and that financial market investors who have bought into the neo-liberal spin that public debt default for such sovereign governments is nigh have made losses as a result.
The centre-left Parisian daily newspaper Libération recently published (July 8, 2010) an – Interview with Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB. The questions asked were nothing like those you would hear asked on Fox News in the US and essentially probed some of the key issues facing the EMU. The interviewer clearly understood the design flaws in the Eurozone system and pressed Trichet on them. Trichet’s responses were described by my friend Marshall Auerback in an E-mail to me this morning as allowing us to see “inside the mind of a cultist”. Here is a portrait of a neo-liberal cult leader!
I am back from the US now and have been reading a lot about how Ireland is poised to show all of us deficit supporters the “what for”. The crazies (the Flat Earthers or deficit terrorists) are now starting to suggest that the recent Irish national accounts results for the first quarter 2010 are the sign that the austerity drive has made Ireland more competitive and that an export-led growth era is emerging. You always have to be careful when using official data to conclude anything. The reality is that the national accounts data show that the Irish economy is still declining domestically and this is causing the labour market to deteriorate even further. The growth that is being observed is generating income that is being expatriated to foreigners. So not only is the Irish economy sacrificing real goods and services to increase exports but then the benefits of that sacrifice are being sent abroad to foreigners. If that is an example of how austerity benefits the local population then it just shows how impoverished the conception held by the crazies is. Ireland remains a good example of what happens when you withdraw public spending support for an economy facing a major collapse in private spending.
The G-20 held its annual Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in South Korea over the weekend. It was amazing to see just how comprehensive the impact of the deficit terrorists has been on the way in which the G-20 has shifted its views on the way to deal with the on-going economic crisis. The G20 communique released today clearly illustrates that the G-20 group have been won over by the terrorists and are now supporting austerity measures. This is another one of the amazing reversals in the public debate that are now becoming regular events. All of the reversals are making it harder for governments to do what we elect them to do – use their policy tools to advance public purpose. The increasing constraints that governments are voluntarily accepting to satisfy the demands of amorphous groups such as the “bond markets” impinge on the democratic rights of every citizen. We expect our governments will act in the best interests of the nation. Sadly they are no longer doing that because they have fallen prey of the deficit terrorists. We have a new term for this – democratic repression.
I trawl the financial and economics news from all and sundry, write and think economics all day most days, get embroiled in the technical and political arguments about monetary systems and labour market dynamics, and ideological battles and all this energy is constructed and conducted at the “level of the debate”. But the debate at that level is largely irrelevant and we get sidetracked by it. So can sovereign governments do this or that? But my interest in unemployment and inequality started when I was young and was particularly honed during my student days in the late 1970s in Melbourne when I realised that governments were deliberately imposing joblessness on my fellow citizens by retreating under pressure applied by the ideological attacks of the emerging neo-liberals. I realised then that underneath all this monetary talk are people who suffer and get left behind. And so we have to keep reminding ourselves – what the hell is all this really about?