It’s my Friday Lay Day blog and today I’m spending some time travelling and some time thinking about the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) textbook that I’ve been promising to finish for some time. I can confidently say now that we are on track to finish the first edition by March 2016. Randy Wray and I have taken on a third author (Martin Watts) and have agreed on a completion plan. More information on availability will be available in the new year as we get closer to completion. This week I noted a lot of comments (particularly with respect to my Job Guarantee post) that suggested many readers still do not exactly know what MMT is. Further, there was a heterodox conference in Sydney this week, where MMT proponents were accused of being neo-liberals and politically naive. Unfortunately, other commitments prevented me from attending the conference this year but I read the paper in question and wondered why salaried academics would bother writing it. So a few reflections on both those matters today.
The unemployment rate in Finland is climbing steadily and in October 2015 was 9.6 per cent (seasonally adjusted) and the employment to population ratio stood at 60.1 per cent and was trending down. Finland is fast becoming the next basket case of the Eurozone. What was once a highly supportive society is steadily being turned into a austerity-ridden backwater. The latest news, however, that the Finnish government is due to debate a proposal to provide every citizen with a basic income of €800 a month has excited the progressives – unfortunately. The proposal currently being prepared by the national agency that administers the Finnish welfare system (KELA) would offer this basic allowance in lieu of all other existing benefit payments. It would be paid regardless of whether the person received income from any other source. I have been considering the Finnish welfare system over the last month or so since my visit there in October. This is in relation to a series of queries I had from activists there who were keen on the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) Job Guarantee proposal but were wondering how it would situate itself within the existing system of unemployment benefits in Finland. This blog captures my thoughts on both of those topics.
Its my Friday lay day blog and I am working on various projects today so I will cut this blog relatively short. Two things came up this week that I thought were interesting but only require a noting by way of blog entry. The first was a report about a mini-Job Guarantee type program in the New Mexico city of Albuquerque, which is demonstrating that public job creation programs can change peoples’ lives for the better when there is no hope and no other opportunities. The second story I read that was interesting was the Wolf Street Report (October 24, 2015) – Barcelona Threatens to Print Parallel Currency, Madrid Seethes – which discussed the plan by “Barcelona’s left-wing city council plans to roll out a cash-less local currency that has the potential to become the largest of its kind in the world”. The austerity-mavens in Madrid and their puppet masters in Brussels will be having conniptions at the prospect.
An editorial article in BloombergView (July 15, 2015) – Leaving Euro Is Better Than Eternal Greek Crisis – argued, with providing evidence, that “it would be better for Europe’s economic policy makers to spend their time figuring out how to manage an orderly Greek exit than continuing to negotiate deal after sure-to-fail deal to keep Greece in the euro”. Regular readers will know that I support an orderly breakup of the entire monetary union and if that is not possible then individual nations should exit on their own accord and reestablish some sane proportion in their macroeconomic policy settings. But exit is not a sufficient condition for restoring prosperity to a nation. They would also have to simultaneously abandon the neo-liberal Groupthink that holds the Eurozone economy in a vice-like grip of austerity. Under those provisos, the Greek economy would return to growth immediately and they could eliminate unemployment within a few quarters.
Its my Friday lay day blog. So a rather short blog but with a research trail that can occupy the reader for hours if they pursue all the links. It seems that the mainstream American is rather progressive. Who would have thought given that public opinion is being continually drowned out by the deafening shrieking from the conservative think tanks and their media bully boys. In March 2013, a research paper from Northwestern and Princeton academics – Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans – demonstrated the vastly different policy preferences held by high income Americans (in this case the top 1 per cent of the income distribution) relative to the general public. The research was motivated by the observation that the “wealthy exert more political influence than the less affluent do” and so if their preferences were not representative of American society in general then that would be “troubling for democratic policy making”. The authors find that the high income earners in the US are not only very active politically but hold ultra conservative views “concerning taxation, economic regulation, and especially social welfare programs” that are not remotely shared by the general public. The results might surprise people.
One of the on-going themes that emerges from the neo-liberal commentariat is that fiscal deficits undermine the future of our children and their children because of the alleged higher implied tax burdens. The theme is without foundation given that each generation can choose its own tax structure, deficits are never paid back, and public spending can build essential long-lived infrastructure, which provides benefits that span many generations. The provision of a first-class public education system feeding into stable, skilled job structures is the best thing that a government can do for the future generations. Sadly, government policy is undermining the future generations but not in the way the neo-liberals would have us believe. One of my on-going themes is the the impact of entrenched youth unemployment, precarious work and degraded public infrastructure on the well-being and future prospects of society as neo-liberal austerity becomes the norm. This theme was reflected (if unintentionally) in a new report, release last week by the OECD – In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All. The Report brings together a number of research findings and empirical facts that we all knew about but are stark when presented in one document.
There are still those who criticise the concept of a Job Guarantee. I have received a lot of E-mail’s lately about a claim that the introduction of a Job Guarantee would be de-stabilising in a growth phase unless there is some time limit put on the jobs or the wage is flexible. Apparently, in a growing economy, the stimulus provided in the form of Job Guarantee wages (relative to what occurs when unemployment buffer stocks are deployed) will drive the economy into an inflationary spiral, which will then necessitate harsher than otherwise fiscal and monetary policy contraction. Further, the Job Guarantee is claimed to limit the size of the private sector relative to a system of unemployed buffer stocks and this distorts resource allocation and would undermine our overall material standards of living. The criticisms have been dealt with before – there appears to be a cyclical sort of pattern where newcomers seize on past criticisms and recycle them, without bothering to read the original literature on employment buffer stocks, which includes my work and several other authors. That literature considered all these possible issues – 15-20 years ago.
Last year, the concept of secular stagnation was reintroduced into the economics lexicon as a way of explaining the lack of growth in advanced nations. Apparently, we were facing a long-term future of low growth and elevated levels of unemployment and there was not much we could do about it. Now it seems more and more commentators and economists are jumping on the bandwagon such that the concept is said to be “taking economics by storm” – see Secular Stagnation: the scary theory that’s taking economics by storm. The only problem is that it first entered the economics debate in the late 1930s when economies were still caught up in the stagnation of the Great Depression. Then like now the hypothesis is a dud. The problem in the 1930s was dramatically overcome by the onset of World War 2 as governments on both sides of the conflict increased their net spending (fiscal deficits) substantially. The commitment to full employment in the peacetime that followed maintained growth and prosperity for decades until the neo-liberal bean counters regained dominance and started to attack fiscal activism. The cure to the slow growth and high unemployment now is the same as it was then – government deficits are way to small.
While the Australian government ramps up its war on terror rhetoric and sending our armed forces to Iraq again, thus providing a major political diversion from their virtually complete policy failure on the socio-economic front, the data keeps coming which highlights the failure of successive federal governments in this regard, the current regime included. The latest – Poverty in Australia report, published by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) – shows that poverty is rising in Australia with 13.9 per cent of all people living below the poverty line (17.7 per cent of children). The poverty rate has risen by 0.9 per cent since 2010.
Today I am reflecting on employment guarantees. I ran into a mate in a computer shop in Melbourne yesterday, totally by accident. He happens to be one of the big players in the job services sector – the unemployment industry. We exchanged our usual pleasantries and then we got angry together about the government policies – the usual interaction. Then I said well what we need is all you guys and the related charities (such as the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Smith Family) and other groups (such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International etc) all getting out of their comfort zones and agreeing that being angry is stupid and that action is required. These are the people who lobby government. Academics only create ideas and write them out. I suggested that these groups use their significant public profiles to organise a coalition of support for the Job Guarantee and really push it hard – if only to expose the denials and failures of the orthodoxy that besets us all. Anyway, that conversation just happened to dove-tail with an article I read last week about employment guarantees in practice that I found interesting and which was exposing the deniers for what they are – ideological sycophants. That is what this blog is about.