Victoria went the so-called ‘double doughnut’ again today with zero new infections and zero deaths – the fourth consecutive day. It now has the lowest number of people sick with the virus (known) since the start of the pandemic in Australia in February. Only 38 active cases remain in Victoria after its 12 week lockdown. There is no community transmission reported now in Victoria and the other day Australia recorded zero (community transmitted) cases overall. So things are less tense than they were. I still haven’t been able to travel to my office in Melbourne which I have been away from since the lockdowns started in June. But hope springs eternal that the NSW government will open the border and let us move freely between the States. At the same time, the NSW government is demonstrating its economic incompetence. The State Treasurer announced that in the midst of the worst crisis in 100 years, it is cutting the pay of its public servants when it brings down its fiscal statement. Clue: when in a deep recession with records levels of household debt dramatically constraining growth in household consumption expenditure, which in turn, is killing growth, then the sure fire way to make matters worse by cutting the very source of consumption expenditure – yes, you get it – workers’ wages.
Yesterday (October 21, 2020), the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released the latest – Public sector finances, UK: September 2020 – which, predictably tells us that government borrowing was “£28.4 billion more than in September 2019 and the third-highest borrowing in any month since records began in 1993” and that the public debt ratio has risen to “103.5% of … GDP … this was the highest debt to GDP ratio since … 1960.” Shock horror. While I yawn. The financial media went to town on the data. The Financial Times article (October 22, 2020) – UK government borrowing reaches record in first half of fiscal year – claimed the second wave that is now sweeping the northern hemisphere “have dampened hopes” that the stimulus “could be quickly scaled back” which has “fuelled concerns over the US’s mounting public debt”. It didn’t clarify as to who was concerned or why. The old canards seem to die slowly. Meanwhile, the IMF has changed tack somewhat after its tawdry display during the GFC. Overall, we should be relaxed about the records being set (deficits, public debt) and focus on what the net spending is doing to advance our interests. Focusing on the financial parameters will just divert our attention away from what is important.
Piety has no bounds it seems. The Sunday Times ran an Op Ed at the weekend (September 12, 2020) – John Major and Tony Blair: Johnson must drop shameful no-deal Brexit bill or be forced to by MPs (paywall) – which told us how angry former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major are with Boris Johnson about the Government’s intention to introduce the Internal Market Bill to ensure the so-called Withdrawal Agreement is compatible with national law. They started by appealing to the international treaty status of the Withdrawal Agreement, which outlined Britain’s terms of exit from the EU. The Op Ed called the decision by government as “shocking”. The Remainers are jumping on the ‘breach of international law’ bandwagon like there is no tomorrow. Of course, they never highlight the fact that they want to be part of an arrangement, which is created by international law and which regularly violates that law to serve its own political and elite interests. And those breaches, which include gross human rights abuses and deliberately undermining the prosperity of its own citizens through mass unemployment and more, have had severe consequences for humanity. The fact that the British government is now declaring national law will no longer be subjugated and subservient to international agreements is not in the same ball park of international violations.
Insolvency is a corporate term which refers to a situation where a company is unable to pay contractual liabilities when they become due. From a balance sheet perspective, it means that the assets are valued below the liabilities. The term cannot be applied to a national government that does not issue liabilities in foreign currencies. Such a government can always meet its nominal liabilities irrespective of institutional arrangements it might have put in place to create contingent flows of numbers from one ‘box’ (account) to another ‘box’. Those arrangements do not override the intrinsic capacity of the legislator. So when the British press went crazy the other day reporting comments made by the Bank of England governor that the British government was on the cusp of insolvency, they did the British public a disservice. Donald Trump would have been finally justified in accusing the media of pushing out ‘fake’ news.
Remember back just a few months ago. We are in Britain. All the Remainers are jumping up and down about Brexit. We hardly see anything about it now as the UK moves towards a no deal with the EU. Times have overtaken all that non-event stuff. Now the developments are confounding the mainstream economists – again. There will be all sorts of reinventing history and ad hoc reasoning going on, but the latest data demonstrates quite clearly that what students are taught in mainstream macroeconomics provides no basis for an understanding of how the monetary system operates. All the predictions that a mainstream program would generate about the likely effects of current treasury and central bank behaviour would be wrong. Only MMT provides the body of knowledge that is requisite for understanding these trends.
It is Wednesday so music and some snippets. I have updated the US unemployment claims data with a new map and state table. Shocking. We are working on updated estimates of what the Australian government would need to invest to run a Job Guarantee. We haven’t done that for a while because I didn’t want the press to get obsessed with dollar amounts. But as I am currently talking a lot about the Job Guarantee in the media, I thought some numbers would be useful as a comparative exercise against the JobKeeper wage subsidy, which is the central stimulus plank of the Australian government. The current estimates suggest that to create around 685 thousand jobs might require an outlay of $34 billion over the course of a year. That got me thinking. The main response of the Australian government is the $A133 billion over 6 months JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. The Treasury claims it will be the difference between an unemployment rate of 10 per cent and 15 per cent. That difference is 685 thousand jobs. Then start doing some division and multiplication and you start to see that this doesn’t make sense as I explain below.
It is quite amusing really watching the way orthodox economists who know the game is up work like gymnasts to avoid actually spelling out directly what the facts are but spill the beans anyway. Last week (April 23, 2020), an ‘external member’ of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, one – Gertjan Vlieghe – gave a speech – Monetary policy and the Bank of England’s balance sheet. If the message was taken seriously, then the way monetary economics and macroeconomics is taught in our universities should change dramatically. At present, there is only one textbook that seriously caters for the message that is inherent in the speech – Macroeconomics (Mitchell, Wray and Watts). The speech leaves out important insights but essentially allows the reader to appreciate what Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has been on about, in part, for 25 years.
There was an interesting article posted on Alternet (April 12, 2020) – Leftist policy didn’t lose. Marxist electoral theory did – in response to the dismal showing by Bernie Sanders in the current Democratic Primaries. I think it summarises the confusion that is now abundant on the progressive side of the political struggle. The arguments presented highlight the dilemma facing the progressive side of politics. Should Leftists compromise with centrists to get more traction? Compromise with what? If you read between the lines, there is no argument being made for Leftists to challenge the basic macroeconomic myths of neoliberalism that social democratic politicians around the world have adopted and straitjacket by. Rather, Leftists should accept these constraints and work at local levels to make small gains for better housing etc. It is a defeatist agenda – a surrender to the main game. I reject it.
When the Remain vote lost the June 2016 Referendum there was a sense of denial. They had lost but only because of the ingrates that voted the Leave. And sooner, rather than later, those dolts would soon have the so-called Bregrets and another vote would be held and the Remainers would win. That sense of denial persisted past the 2017 General Election, which should have consolidated Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but didn’t. The biting sense of privilege that the Remain camp seemed to construct for itself slowly but surely ate into the Labour Party leadership, regularly feeding news stories to the press and social media about the impending doom facing the British economy (Project Fear), and pushing the myth (supported by all sorts of interpretable public polls) that a ‘peoples’ vote’ (I am not sure what they thought the Referendum was) was inevitable and would reverse the 2016 choice and restore equanimity. And the Labour leadership crumbled in the face of this onslaught from within and abandoned their previous commitments to their constituencies, which the majority of their elected MPs represented, and went along with this ‘peoples’ vote’ nonsense. The Tories, meanwhile, realised that the underlying sentiment that drove the Brexit choice was consolidating and pushed through a General Election which categorically demonstrated that the Labour Party were nowhere near the mark. That was a disastrous loss in any one’s estimation for Labour. But, still in denial, the apparatchiks in the Party, the hangers on, the wannabees, whatever you choose to call them are out there on social media now claiming that, in fact, despite the humiliating devastation at the December 15 polls, that the Labour Party’s agenda has been accepted as the norm – ‘we won the argument’ – and that they as good as won the election. And meanwhile, the leading contender for the leadership is suggesting they will campaign to be readmitted to the European Union. It is hard to make this sort of stuff up. A lost generation for Labour coming up unless it gets real.
It is Wednesday in Australia and my usual blog-light day to give me more time to write other things. Although, today (in Europe as I type) I had a long flight from Athens to Paris where I am speaking to the French Senate Commission at a reception this evening. I also had to leave Athens early, so when I reached Paris and found my hotel, I took off to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a 10kms run (laps of the grounds). My trip to Athens was very successful and I will be in a position to talk about that in the weeks to come once some work has been finalised and the plan developed. But today, I want to briefly comment on a story from the Guardian’s Larry Elliot (February 14, 2020) – PM’s Treasury power grab doomed to fail, warn former insiders – which reported that some Labour Party ‘insiders’ (aka gutless morons who won’t publicly take responsibility for spreading rumours) had determined that the current government ministers would not be able to win a power struggle against the powerful H.M. Treasury, who would withhold crucial information from the government to maintain their hegemony. What? The inference was that “the Treasury’s independence” – that is, in other, more accurate words, the right of unelected and unaccountable technocrats to impose their right-wing, neoliberal austerity ideology on the democratically-elected government – was a Labour ideal that should be preserved and that those awful Tories were trying to assert democratic control of its public service institutions.