First, the Bank of England seems to have abandoned credibility. Not to be outdone, the fiscal policy makers in government have now joined in the absurdity of mainstream policy thinking by reimposing austerity at the same time as the economy heads into recession. Milton Friedman and his gang used to claim the problem of fiscal policy was that it was practiced in a ‘pro-cyclical’ manner, by which they meant that because of time lags involved in implementation, by the time a stimulus to deal with a recession was in place and impacting, the private economy was already on the upturn – so that fiscal policy was working to push the cycle harder in the same direction. They claimed that was inherent to the use of fiscal policy, which rendered it unsuitable for use as a counter-stabilising (-cyclical) measure. The fact that that claim (which is contestable) won the debate in the 1970s is why all the central bank independence nonsense entered the scene and why New Keynesians claim that monetary policy should be the tool of choice to stabilise spending fluctuations. Now, the Tories in Britain are deliberately using fiscal policy in a pro-cyclical way – pushing the already recessionary forces further into the morass. A totally unnecessary and patently dangerous action. It almost beggars belief that they are getting away with this and the Labour Party essentially just offers to tune up the governments ‘violin strings’ a bit.
There is a short memory in the public discussion about economics. If there wasn’t many players that get the wide platforms to express their views, opinions, forecasts, etc would burnout very quickly given how appalling their track records are. I was thinking about that while looking at the most recent Foreign Direct Investment data and reading UK Guardian articles about the demise of the most recent British Prime Minister. While it is very hard at present to trace the economic events in terms of individual drivers because Covid, the Ukraine situation and OPEC+ have certainly muddied the waters, there is some clear evidence available that demonstrates the mainstream anti-Brexit analysis and predictions was completely wrong. Given the same sort of characters and institutions are consistently given platforms in the media to proselytise and scare the b-jesus out of people about fiscal positions etc, one wonders why they retain credibility after being so wrong about Brexit, while commanding the floor of authority. My position is that they were wrong then and remain unreliable sources of information about what is happening now.
There was commentary earlier this week (September 26, 2022) from an investment banker entitled ‘MMT takes a pounding’. I won’t link to it because I don’t want to send traffic to their site. But it is the narrative that the financial market commentators who desire to politicise public debate and use it to attack their pet hates. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) apparently is a pet hate of this character and like many with similar biases he has been champing at the bit for some semblance of ‘evidence’ that MMT analysis is flawed. This week’s events in Britain have given them more succour. Except when you understand what has actually happened the events demonstrate key MMT propositions.
It’s Wednesday and so I write less on the blog to allow me to write more elsewhere. And, we get a chance to savour some music – today some of the best vibraphone playing that was recorded. Simon Jenkins wrote a column in the UK Guardian on Monday (August 8, 2022) – Who knows if Truss or Sunak is right on the cost of living crisis – where are all the economists? – which runs the line that my profession has gone to ground as the two Tory leadership hopefuls come out with diametrically opposed views as to how to fix the ‘cost of living crisis’ in the UK. Well, he could have answered his own question. Who would want the opinion of the ‘economists’ by which I mean the mainstream macroeconomists given they have an appalling record of prediction anyway. The majority are supporting the Bank of England’s kamikaze interest rate increases because they think monetary policy is an effective solution to inflationary pressures and they agree that unemployment should be a policy tool rather than a policy target. He might also have noted in his article that who gets a platform in the public debate about economic matters is heavily biased against those who might offer an alternative view. Try getting an Op Ed in the UK Guardian, for example, if you are non mainstream and not part of the ‘progressive, pro-Europe’ network in London. And on those cost of living pressures, no mainstream economist that the UK Guardian is likely to publish would propose nationalising energy supply, public transport, water supply and telecommunications anyway. Which is the best long-term solution to protect workers and low-income consumers. Further, the latest data from the US indicated that inflation has peaked and inflationary expectations are falling sharply. Did anyone mention the word ‘transitory’ around here?
It’s Wednesday – a day for a few short comments and then relaxing to music. Today I consider some statements from the Bank of International Settlements, which suggest that the mainstream inflation approach, based on the New Keynesian Phillips curve is subjected to “serious practical shortcomings”. In other words, it is unfit for purpose, which means you should not be surprised that central banks are hiking rates to stifle a transient supply-side inflation burst. Quackery leads to quackery. I also consider some recent evidence that supply disruptions are easing. And, then, we learn that that the British Labour Party no longer things workers should strike. And if that has driven you mad, then we restore calm with some great music from Jiro Inagaki.
Apparently, the Left/Right Paradigm is dead. This narrative keeps coming back. In the 1980s, when governments, coopted by corporate lobby groups, went on a privatisation spree, which transferred billions of dollars worth of public assets into the hands of private wealth holders, and enriched lawyers, management consultants etc into the bargain, we were told that we are all capitalists now because our pension funds bought the assets. Joke. Anyway, I keep reading and being told that there is no longer any meaningful distinction between Left and Right, with both falling into the hands of totalitarian discourse. Even so-called progressives advocate that the traditional Left should partner up with the traditional Right (and far Right) to keep ‘centrists’ out of power or to stop governments taking basic actions to protect public health. It is the ultimate victory for the neoliberals to have persuaded the Left that they have more in common with the Right than ever before. This is another example of how duped the Left has become.
With yesterday’s detail CPI analysis, I am transferring the news/music blog post that normally appears on a Wednesday to today. This morning, I read the newly published report from the UK-based – Institute for Public Policy Research – Health and prosperity: Introducing the Commission on Health and Prosperity (released April 27, 2022) – which provides a sobering (to say the least) evidence base for how the pandemic has impacted on Britain’s health system and labour market. As more evidence comes out from the experience of the last 2.4 years, I wonder when those who demanded nations learn to live with the virus – by basically denying its existence – will reflect on the folly of their laissez-faire positions.
I have very little time today but there was one question I get asked on a regular basis that I thought I would this space to quickly answer. People wonder who the participation rate affects the official measure of unemployment. For example, the UK Office of National Statistics released data yesterday (March 15, 2022) – Labour market overview, UK: March 2022 – which showed the official unemployment rate had fallen to 3.9 per cent – a decline of 0.2 points. They said this was the result of employment rising by 275,000 in February (the employment to population ratio rose by 0.1 points). They also said that the inactivity rate for those between 16 and 64) had risen by 0.1 points to 21.3 points and was 1.1 points above the pre-pandemic level. So the question I get asked is whether things are really getting better? So here is how it works.
It is Wednesday and I have three live presentations to make throughout the day. So we will be brief today. The ABS released the latest Wage Price Index today which shows that annual wages growth in Australia was 2.3 per cent, compared to the official inflation rate of 3.5 per cent. I will analyse that data in detail tomorrow, given I am short of time today. But there was also disturbing data coming out of the UK last week on the wages front, which reflects a major imbalance in priorities and also tells me that there is no wage demands driving the current inflationary episode.
The Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey caused a stir last week when he said that British workers should not get wage increases in the coming period. This was a day after the Bank of England raised interest rates, presumably because they have some theory that that will cure Covid and get trucks moving again. There was general outrage expressed by a range of voices, who often are not on the same page – unions, corporate interests, the ‘high wage’ aspiring Tory government (perhaps). The outrage was, unfortunately, personalised with critics pointing out that “Bailey was paid £575,538, including pension, last year” (Source) and hasn’t offered to give any of that fat cat salary back. But as in most things, getting personal usually misses the point. Beyond the rage, in a sense, he was correct to highlight that if the current supply-induced price pressures trigger a wider distributional struggle then accelerating inflation will result and the policy implications of such an event as that will be very damaging to workers in the UK. But, the problem was that he didn’t go far enough. This won’t be a popular view but it comes from studying inflationary mechanisms all my career, which means I think I understand how supply constraints move into a generalised wage-price spiral, which then causes worker more damage than some wage restraint. And, remember, we are talking about Capitalism here – not some profit-sharing, collectively-owned nirvana. The Bank of England Governor was clearly thinking that the conditions for a 1970s wage-price spiral are approaching for the UK, which means that wage restraint would be sensible if the goal was to insulate the current supply shocks arising from the pandemic and aberrant behaviour by OPEC etc and render them transitory. I don’t think the conditions are present yet and he should have generalised the concern to focus on other more obvious triggers that do exist at present.