Yesterday’s fiscal statement analysis replaced my usual Wednesday news and music blog post, so that appears today. I have hardly any time today anyway as the commitments associated with that statement are queuing up. So, today I want to reflect on the sanity in Japan and the ECB before some Duke. So we now have an experiment underway again. Most central banks are buckling under the pressure the financial markets are putting on them to raise interest rates. But the Bank of Japan, and to a lesser extent the ECB are not. We will see how that plays out. I think the Bank of Japan has its finger on the pulse and the other central banks are going down the wrong path.
Inflation data continues to come in from various nations indicating an ongoing escalation in prices dominated by energy and cars (in the US), housing and transport (UK), housing and transport (Australia) and so on. The major question I always ask is this: What would you expect to happen after a major global pandemic that has lasted more than 2 years and is still not resolved and which has closed factories, ports, transport networks, made workers sick so they cannot work, choked shipping, kept people at home while governments have to varying extents maintained their income, shifted spending to home maintenance etc away from haircuts, and the rest of it. And then, add an uncompetitive cartel that manipulates supply to gouge profits (OPEC). And on top of all that have some bushfires and floods around the place. And to even top all of that have a character who thinks he is a Tsar invading a neighbour and creating havoc and destruction. What else would you expect? Oh, its all down to QE and fiscal deficits, I hear them say. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) again – now we know those ideas are defunct. We told you so! And repeat. Interest rates have to rise. Repeat. At least the ECB seems to understand the situation more than most, which is something.
According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the price of coffee has risen for 17 consecutive months and the sector is being hit with sequential shocks, the latest being the Ukrainian conflict, which is having impacts on both the demand and supply sides. I was talking with a friend over the weekend just gone and they were complaining that a cup of coffee had risen to $A7 or thereabouts, which was really squeezing people’s incomes. As a disclaimer, I have never had a cup of coffee in my life – just the aroma is enough to turn my stomach. But I was thinking about coffee over the last few weeks for another reason. I am currently doing some research on Timor Leste in anticipation of a change in the Presidency. The first round of the elections were held last weekend and it looks like Ramos-Horta will win the second round run-off in April. One of the things I am working on is a plan to diversify the nation’s exports as the inevitable decline in oil revenue starts to impact. I am also in developing models of fair trade that allow for sustainable agriculture (that is, not cash crop mania that wrecks subsistence farming and ends in farmers being locked up in international debt) but also allow the nation to diversify their export portfolio. Fairness and sustainability are good ideals to have. There is an opportunity here for a nation such as Australia to reform its ways and break out of the dog-eat-dog ‘free trade’ mantra and actually start doing some good in our region. That is what this blog post is about.
The current period is really exposing what is wrong with the world order based on Capitalism. Those in the know have always understood that the system is not designed to advance human prosperity generally. At times in history, it has required the general improvement in material living standards to accomplish its aims – which are different from that improvement. So, it has tolerated a more equitable distribution of income and access to consumption purchasing power. But while the masses became complacement as they polished their big (oversized) SUVs, which sit in their driveways next to their big (oversized) motor boat and out the front of their big (oversized) house that is ill-designed for a carbon-neutral future, the bosses have been beavering away working out how to continue to meet their aims independent of us.
It is hard work being an economist. Especially when about 90 per cent of what one reads each day is fiction masquerading as truth. That wouldn’t be so bad because fiction is good when it is in the right place. But in this context, the fiction that comes out from economists and their lackeys in the financial media causes massive damage to innocent citizens who lose their jobs, have their pay aspirations stifled, enter poverty, lose their homes and commit suicide out of sheer hopelessness with the situations that are forced upon them. When you dig into some of the media coverage you realise that it is really just a self-serving promotion for speculators in financial and share markets and has very little foundation in a deeper understanding of economics. This so-called Op Ed piece in The Age (March 14, 2022) – No-win situation: The Fed is paying the price for dragging its feet – is representative of the nonsense that parades as economic commentary. It reflects a sad state of affairs.
With Russia now invading Ukraine and adding to the already highly disrupted supply chains linking products and nations, and the price fixers in OPEC and OPEC+ having a picnic on the uncertainty, inflationary pressures will continue to rise for the time being. Many commentators keep falling into the trap of saying that history is repeating itself – meaning that it is the 1970s over again. I maintain my position that this is not akin to what was going on in the 1970s although there are similarities – energy price rises accompanying war, etc. And if we make the same mistakes that were made in the 1970s now, then not only will the inflation persist but millions of workers will lose their jobs and their incomes.
Yesterday, I published a full analysis of the national account release in Australia, so today I am pretending it is my Wednesday ‘news’ blog with the music segment that seems to be popular. The news is all floods in Australia, death and destruction in the Ukraine and big talk (about 2 or more decades too late) from the Western governments. I note that the German government has confiscated a luxury yacht owned by some Russian ‘oligarch’ (don’t you just love their terminology) while stacks of other oligarch yachts are heading or are in the Maldives to avoid such a fate. Stupid question: if these oligarchs are so bad and their fortunes ill-gotten why have we waited so long to do something? Today we talk briefly about the resolve of the RBA to resist the gambling addiction of speculators in the financial markets. We also consider a discovery I made last week that top New Zealand economists seem to support Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and then if that isn’t enough – some music.
Recently (February 22, 2022), I received the latest E-mail update from the IMF blog advertising their new post – Should Monetary Finance Remain Taboo? – which obviously attracted my attention. One of the most deeply entrenched taboos in economics relates to central banks directly facilitating government spending without any other monetary operation. In an important sense, the characterisation of ‘monetary financing’ by the mainstream economists is erroneous and leads to all sorts of fictions that undermine sensible and responsible economic policy making. But, we can work through those fictions to discuss what the IMF is talking about. Importantly, they find that this taboo, which has been broken during the pandemic in many countries (although Japan has been leading the way for decades) does not lead to enduring inflation or a rise in inflationary expectations. Another major plank of mainstream macroeconomics gone. That is something to celebrate.
At present, the unemployment rate in Australia is 4.2 per cent and falling. If the rate of new immigrants remains low for a while as our external borders open, then it is likely the unemployment rate will fall into the 3 per cent range soon. What people are learning is that the claims made by mainstream economists that full employment was anything between 5 and 8 per cent (at various times to suit their arguments) was a lie. It just suited their ideological agenda and flawed theoretical framework to maintain that narrative. Of course, underemployment is still very high, which means that even if the unemployment rate falls further, we are still a way from being at full employment. But with prices accelerating at present, we are seeing calls for government to pursue an austerity fiscal approach, which would prevent the unemployment rate falling further. We have been here before. Today, I document a major turning point in Australian politics, when the Labor government became the first to abandon the national government’s commitment to full employment, a policy approach that had defined the post Second World War period of prosperity. So … back to 1974 we go.
There was an informative article in the UK Guardian over the week (January 13, 2022) – Australia’s supply chain issues likely to continue despite drop in Covid cases – which documented the many ways in which the pandemic has led to difficulties in getting goods supplied to retail outlets or their destination (in the case of overseas mail deliveries). The majority of recent articles about the economy and policy options have erred on the side of the need for interest rate hikes and fiscal policy cutbacks, which assume the rising inflation rates around the world are the demand-side events. But it is obvious to anyone other than private bank economists who are lobbying for interest rate rises to increase the profits for their banks, or, mainstream economists, who oppose central bank bond-buying and fiscal deficits, that the cause of the problems at present is not being driven by an explosion of nominal spending – neither from the non-government sector or through fiscal policy. Here is some more evidence to support that conclusion.