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Australia – inflation mania is alive and well but running on fumes!

There is an increasing frequency of articles appearing in the financial press in Australia about how inflation is back and that the RBA had better start hiking rates and stop buying government debt. Warnings to home buyers that mortgage rates are about to go through the roof. And all that sort of stuff. Moronic. If you examine today’s data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Consumer Price Index, Australia (January 25, 2022) – which relates to to the December-quarter 2021, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. Inflation rose slightly in the December-quarter 2021 and was driven by rising automative fuel costs (uncompetitive cartel and deliberate government petrol tax policies), global supply chain disruptions (pandemic) and material shortages (supply chain and bushfires). Not much more to see than that really. I note the same journalists are out there beating the inflation mania drum. Don’t they get sick of being wrong all the time. Their wages should be linked to their predictive capacity – they would starve!

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Euro area inflation is not accelerating out of control

Last week (January 20, 2022), Eurostat released the latest inflation data – Annual inflation up to 5.0% in the euro area – which followed the release from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data (January 12, 2022) – Consumer Price Index Summary , the latter, which shocked people, given that it recorded an annual inflation rate of 7 per cent before seasonal adjustment. The Euro area inflation rate over the same period was published as 5 per cent. It is obviously hard to see clearly through the data trends given the amount of pandemic noise that is dominating. But I stand by my 2020 assessment (updated several times since) that we are still seeing ephemeral price pressures as a result of the massive disruption the pandemic has caused to production, distribution and transport systems. In a sense, I am surprised the inflationary pressures have not be greater.

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More evidence that the current inflation is ephemeral

When I am asked whether I still consider the recent bout of inflation to be transitory, I say that transitory means as long as the pandemic disrupts the balance between supply and demand. Note: demand. I have been getting lots of E-mails telling me that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a fraud because of the inflation spike and our denial of the demand (spending) involvement. Apparently, the data shows that large fiscal deficits and central bank bond-buying programs are always inflationary. Good try. I last provided data and analysis of this issue in this blog post – Central banks are resisting the inflation panic hype from the financial markets – and we are better off as a result (December 13, 2021) – where I made it clear that the spikes are a unique coincidence between abnormal, pandemic-related demand and supply patterns. That couldn’t be clearer. And when that sort of imbalance occurs, with the addition of cartel-type price gouging (which has nothing to do with fiscal or monetary policy settings) then MMT predicts a nation will encounter inflationary pressures. The idea that the economy is defined by periods below full capacity when there will be no inflation and beyond full capacity when there will be inflation is not part of the MMT body of knowledge. It is more complicated than that dichotomy which we address in our textbook – Macroeconomics. Supporting this view, is a recent ECB research paper, which uses fairly advanced econometric techniques to decompose one measure of inflationary expectations in a component that reflects short-term risk and another that reflects longer term inflationary expectations. They find the former is driving the current inflation trajectory while the latter is largely stable. That means, in English, that the current inflation is likely to be of an ephemeral nature driven by how long the pandemic interrupts supply chains.

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Turkey tells us nothing about MMT – but MMT tells us a lot about why Turkey is in trouble

I have noticed a lot of Internet traffic about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the situation in Turkey at present. Apparently, as the narrative goes, MMT is finally being revealed as a fraud because Turkey’s economy is going backwards and its currency is depreciating rapidly. The logic, it seems, is that if a nation enters rough economic waters and the financial markets sell its currency (although remember someone has to be buying it simultaneously) then that proves MMT is false. An extraordinarily naive viewpoint if you think about it. This viewpoint has somehow missed the train on understanding what MMT actually is and seems to think that MMT economists have seen Turkey as a policy model. In this blog post, I consider some aspects of this naivety. It won’t silence the critiques, but it, hopefully will educate those who are interested in the topic and are learning about MMT.

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Central banks are resisting the inflation panic hype from the financial markets – and we are better off as a result

Regular readers will know that I think the current inflationary phenomenon is transitory. They will also know that I see the continual claims by financial market economists that central banks have to increase interest rates now to avoid an accelerating inflationary episode as having little economic content and lots of self interest content. If rates go up, they win their bets and the more they can bully authorities to do their bidding the more certain their bets become profitable. I am glad that central banks around the world are resisting that game of bluff. In previous periods, they have not resisted and have handed the financial speculators (the top-end-of-town) massive and unjustified profits and forced millions of workers to endure joblessness. It is also interesting that the mainstream press is starting to work that out too. Some progress.

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The current inflation trajectory still looks to be transitory

On November 11, 2021, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) related their BIS Bulletin No. 48 – Bottlenecks: causes and macroeconomic implications – which presents evidence that should help people who are becoming het up about the inflation numbers lately to calm down a bit. On June 8, 2021, the UK Guardian published an Op Ed I had written – Price rises should be short-lived – so let’s not resurrect inflation as a bogeyman – which I stand by. I have been criticised for dismissing the inflation threat and I regularly get E-mails announcing the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is ‘over’ and has been proven wrong by the rising inflation rates around the world. Those interventions actually break up my day with ‘humour’ – I am continually amazed how little people know who have such strong opinions. I always adopted the view that you work something out before forming an opinion. In this ‘social media’ era, the working out bit seems to have lapsed and people just jump in. That used to be called blind prejudice. Anyway, the BIS research is interesting and supports my on-going view that the current inflation trajectory still looks to be transitory and the forces that led to the supply bottlenecks will also likely unwind in the other direction to depress price rises.

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Countries than run continuous deficits do not seem to endure accelerating inflation or currency crises

There was a conference in Berlin recently (25th FMM Conference: Macroeconomics of Socio-Ecological Transition run by the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung), which sponsored a session on “The Relevance of Hajo Riese’s Monetary Keynesianism to Current Issues”. One of the papers at that session provided what the authors believed is a damning critique of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Unfortunately, the critique falls short like most of them. I normally don’t respond to these increasing attacks on our work, but given this was a more academic critique and I was in an earlier period of my career interested in the work of Hajo Riese, I think the critique highlights some general issues that many readers still struggle to work through.

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Australia – annual inflation rate falls to 3 per cent with the quarterly rate stable and the press go crazy

Apparently, inflation in Australia has come ‘roaring’ back, if you believe one financial commentator today. There has been a lot of talk about how inflation is spiralling upwards and it demonstrates the MMT ‘quackery’. If you examine today’s data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Consumer Price Index, Australia (October 27, 2021) – which relates to to the September-quarter 2021, then it becomes clear that the slightly elevated CPI result is largely due to uncompetitive cartel behaviour and deliberate government petrol pricing policies that ensure that the cartel behaviour is ratified in the form of higher local petrol prices. Not much more to see than that really. Nothing much to do with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) at all. Sorry about that. The CPI rose by 0.8 per cent in the September-quarter 2021 and 3 per cent over the 12 months. The two main drivers were the rise in prices for New dwelling purchases by owner-occupiers (3.3 per cent) and Automotive fuel (7.7 per cent). Last quarter, the annual rate of CPI increase was 3.8 per cent, which makes statements like ‘roaring back’ seem ridiculous and designed to attract headlines.

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Federal Reserve research paper kills another core New Keynesian idea about inflation expectations

The New York Times article (October 1, 2021, updated October 15, 2021) – Nobody Really Knows How the Economy Works. A Fed Paper Is the Latest Sign – reported on a paper by one Jeremy B. Rudd, who is a senior advisor in the Research and Statistics division at the Federal Reserve Bank in the US. The paper – Why Do We Think That Inflation Expectations Matter for Inflation? (And Should We?) – published as Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2021-062, by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, argues that a core aspect of New Keynesian macroeconomic orthodoxy “rests on extremely shaky foundations … and adhering to it uncritically could easily lead to serious policy errors.” The paper rejects the central notion in mainstream macro that the trajectory of inflation is driven by expectations. The idea that expectations are the key force has led central banks deliberately using the unemployed to fight an (imaginary) inflation threat. It has led fiscal authorities to pursue contractionary policies that have forced millions into unemployment. The Rudd paper is important because it shows the mainstream edifice is collapsing – it jettisons an other core concept. There is not much left in mainstream economics that hasn’t been rejected by evidence or exposed as being theoretically inconsistent.

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They never wrote about it, talked about it, and, did quite the opposite – yet they knew it all along!

During the GFC, a new phenomenon emerged – the ‘We knew it all along’ syndrome, which was characterised my several mainstream New Keynesian macroeconomists coming out and claiming that some of the insights provided by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists were banal and that their own theoretical framework already accommodates them. The pandemic has brought a further rush of the ‘We knew it all along’ syndrome. Apparently, mainstream macroeconomics is perfectly capable of explaining the fiscal reality the world has found itself in and there is no need to MMT, which, by assertion, is saying nothing new. These sorts of statements are not coming from Facebook or Twitter heroes who might have done a few units in economics or even acquired a degree in the discipline. They are coming from senior professors in the academy. The curious thing, which really lifts their cover, is that if you examine the academic literature you won’t find much reference to these sorts of ‘insights’ at all. What you find, and what students are taught, are a completely different set of propositions with respect to fiscal policy. So if they ‘knew it all along’ why didn’t they ever write about it? Why is their published academic work replete with conclusions that run contrary to the conclusions MMT economists make? You know the answer. These ‘knew it all along’ characters have just been caught out by the poor empirical performance of their paradigm and now they are trying to salvage their reputations and position by trying to blur history. They really should be sacked.

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