The conservatives in the British Labour Party are obviously worried. The UK Guardian article (December 2, 2017) – Labour faces subversion by Momentum and far left, says Roy Hattersley – reports the claim by former Deputy leader, Roy Hattersley that British Labour is “facing the biggest crisis in its history” because left-wingers are engaged “in a systematic takeover of the party”. Gosh. Sounds shocking. A traditionally left-wing political party slowly wresting it back to mission after being hijacked by the right-wing, neoliberal Blairites. That sounds like Armageddon. The Blairites tried to kill off Jeremy Corbyn several times as they continued to undermine him in the public eye and bleated about how he was going to destroy the Labour Party. They then fell silent when he nearly delivered the Party government in the recent national election and saved many of their jobs. Now, with a by-election in Watford, the conservatives are back to it although it has to be said that Hattersley cannot be called a Blairite. He represents the pre-Blairite right-wingers who backed Dennis Healey as he imposed Monetarist ideology on the Party in the mid-1970s. And this article came out soon after the Tory government announced a major ‘socialist’-style industrial plan. In its press release (November 27, 2017) – Government unveils Industrial Strategy to boost productivity and earning power of people across the UK we learn that the Tories are finally understanding that it can actually improve the fortunes of British workers by abandoning the failed neoliberal, ‘free market’ narrative and recognising, instead, the central role to be played by the nation state in advancing well-being and economic fortune.
Maybe the British Labour Party could get Nancy Pelosi to do some stupid tweets for them as well. She is an expert at it – see my blog – When neoliberals masquerade as progressives. She thinks it is smart progressive politics to post tweets criticising her political opponents for a policy that “explodes the deficit … dumping … debt on every man, woman & child in America”. A fallacious argument. But moreover, a very stupid strategic argument because it fails to educate the public on what deficits and public debt are and what the capacities of a currency-issuing government and locks the progressive side of politics into no-win dilemmas. When it is their turn to govern they quickly find that they have no room to move on government spending because their own taunts when in opposition are thrown back at them. Same the world over. The progressive side of politics seems to have a lame obsession with meaningless aggregates – like the size of the fiscal deficit or public debt to GDP ratio. Pathetic is not the word.
One wonders what goes on in the heads of politicians sometimes. Perhaps not much other than a warped sense of their purpose in life – which for some seems to be to advance themselves rather than advance societal well-being. In recent days, fiscal debates have raged on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, there is the Trump tax cut debate. The correct progressive response would be to focus on why these cuts will not advance anybody but the rich and will do very little if anything to create new jobs. Unfortunately, prominent Democrats such as the awful Nancy Pelosi have been spouting stuff about the tax cuts increasing the federal deficit and federal debt. At a time, when the Republicans are abandoning the deficit terrorism to advance their own interests, the Democrats seems to be reinforcing the ‘deficits are bad’ narrative. Instead, they could have seized the opportunity to say to the American people – see deficits are fine but the real issue is what we do with them. Pelosi and her ilk seem incapable of adopting that quality of leadership. In the UK, the reality is dawning on the British government that the austerity harvest is anything but what they had hoped it would be. No surprises there. Austerity undermines growth which can easily increase the fiscal deficit when the goal is the opposite. But the way that reality is being handled in the progressive press is pathetic. The UK Guardian, for example, has headlines about ‘black holes’ and is giving oxygen to reports that talk about the deteriorating fiscal situation in the UK. Readers are left with nothing but neoliberalism reinforcement of the ‘deficits are bad’ myth. A shocking indictment of the progressive debate in the UK.
The British newspaper, The Independent seems to be getting in beds with Commies lately. The evidence I elicit is the recent article (November 4, 2017) – Actually the magic money tree does exist, according to modern monetary theory – by a journalist Youssef El-Gingihy. It gives oxygen to the views of an Australian economist, one William Mitchell who espouses what is known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – yes, you got it in one – another crackpot economic approach that fails to recognise that most professional economists reject it, which means it must be wrong. Right! More than two thousand people have shared the article, which means the socialist cancer is being spread by these Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) fanatics. One commentator thought it was a “rearly stupid article”. Don’t worry about the spelling error. The opinion is what mattered and it was dead-centre true. Mitchell must be one of the most stupid economists ever. Like his MMT mates who seem to be tweeting and being retweeted in ever increasing frequencies these days, which just goes to show that people can be indoctrinated to believe anything. Some comments were made on the article, which just reflected what anybody who knows anything about economics would say – you know – government spending will ultimately cause “hyperinflation” – everybody knows that. Further, one insightful commentator noted that because Britain is not at war there is “no justification to rack up big debts” – everybody knows that. Mitchell obviously wants the government to rack up huge debts, although he doesn’t actually say that. But if the government does run deficits it will obviously intend “to soft-default on debts through inflation” which will then mean “the markets will smash the pound”. Everybody knows that too. For me, I couldn’t get any traction in the comments section – most commentators seemed to be supportive of this mad professor’s crazy ideas – so I decided to E-mail him. I didn’t get any satisfaction from that either. He is obviously a commie in disguise. He said something about Chartalism. I think that was just a typo in his reply – probably he was trying to say that he was a charlatan. What is the world coming to!
Apparently, whenever some poor economic news is published about the United Kingdom, journalists have to weave in their on-going gripe about the outpouring of democracy in June last year that saw the Brexit vote to leave successful. Its hysterical really. The most recent example is from the otherwise sensible Aditya Chakrabortty from the UK Guardian (October 17, 2017) – Who’s to blame for Brexit’s fantasy politics? The experts, of course. The story has nothing much to do with the June 2016 Referendum but more about massive forecasting failures of the Office of Budget Responsibility. But somehow the story opines about the lies told about Brexit and a fiscal “bloodbath” – the latter being the description for the fact that the fiscal deficit is likely to increase a little as a result of a slower than expected economic growth outcome. The UK Guardian continually writes about these two obsessions – the first that Brexit will be a disaster and the second that the fiscal position of the British government is in jeopardy and will undermine the capacity of the government to defend the economy if a major downturn comes along (as a result of the ‘Brexit disaster’). The narratives are interlinked – Brexit is bad, it will cause deficits to rise which are bad, and the government will be powerless as a result of the rising deficits to stop the bad consequences of Brexit – which is a big bad. All propositions are largely nonsense. Brexit will be bad if the British government continues to implement neoliberal policy. Rising deficits do not alter the spending capacity of government. And as a currency-issuing government, Britain can always arrest a recession, if there is political will. The fact is that the OBR forecast errors are just part of the neoliberal lie. And the productivity growth slump the OBR has now ‘discovered’ predates the Brexit referendum by years and is all down to the misplaced austerity imposed by George Osborne in June 2010. But it is disappointing to read this sort of stuff being repeated by so-called progressive commentator. There is clearly more work to be done via education.
It is clear that the British Tories are looking like the tawdry lot they are as the infighting over the leadership goes on, more often rising to the surface these days as wannabees circle the failing leader Therese May. Her performance at the Tory Annual Conference was poor, and I am not referring to her obvious difficulties with the flu (or whatever it was). I have been stricken with the flu since I left the US a few weeks ago and occasionally struggled for a voice as I gave talks every days for the 2 weeks that followed. It is obvious there is little policy substance in the Tories now and it is only a matter of time before she is ejected. At the same time, the British Labour Party leadership is showing increased confidence and are better articulating a position, that is resonating with the public. They are even starting to look like an Oppositional Left party for the first time in years and I hope that shift continues and they drop all the neoliberal macroeconomic nonsense they still utter, thinking that this is what people want to hear. A growing number of people are educating themselves on the alternative (Modern Monetary Theory, MMT) and demanding their leaders frame the debate accordingly and use language that reinforces that progressive frame. And, in that context, it didn’t take long for the mainstream media to start to invoke the scaremongering again. It is pathetic really. The New York Times article (October 5, 2017) – Get Ready for Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn – rehearses some of these ‘fears’. It is also true that the Shadow Chancellor has expressed concern himself about these matters – without clearly stating how a sovereign state can override anything much the global financial markets might desire to do that is contrary to national well-being.
On May 6, 1997, just 4 days after coming to office in what was to become Tony Blair’s retrogressive regime, the then British Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that Labour would legislate the so-called independence of the Bank of England. The BBC claimed this was the “most radical shake-up in the bank’s 300-year history”, which gave “the bank freedom to control monetary policy”. Gordon Brown’s legacy to the British people, of course, is in his famous ‘light touch’ regulation, which he boasted about in the lead up to the GFC but went silent about soon after. But he has come out of the woodwork recently to reflect on his decision to set up the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) within the Bank of England and abandon the practice where the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank would meet on a monthly basis to determine interest rates. He claims that decision kept Britain out of the euro and was a great success. But then in the same speech he railed against the ‘political’ intrusion of the MPC into broader fiscal policy debates and its failure to conduct monetary policy correctly during the GFC. A very confused narrative. The point is that central banks can never be independent of treasury departments and the claims to the contrary were just part of the depoliticisation of policy that accompanied neoliberalism. Brown is also wrong that setting up a separate MPC kept the nation out of the euro. Britain realised the euro would be a disaster long before 1997.
One of the abiding and recurring trends, accentuated in the neo-liberal era, is the apparent ‘concern’ for the low-paid by the captains of industry. They continually warn against allowing pay increases for this cohort because they are – so the story goes – deeply concerned about the damage it will do to the employment prospects. What they really mean is that they know pay rises at the bottom end of the pay structure don’t alter employment levels significantly but have some impact on profitability. That is, they reduce profits a little. And that is the concern they are really expressing. The British Chambers of Commerce have called for a freeze on real wages for the lowest paid workers in Britain despite profitability soaring and the share of business profits in national income rising. The expression ‘where do these characters get off’ comes to mind. Although it is hardly surprising. British entrepreneurs tend to be lazy and take the easy way out when they can to further their own ends.
Earlier this month (July 3, 2017) the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released a research report – Wage growth in Pay Review Body Occupations – which basically summarises what has gone wrong with the world under neo-liberalism. While the Report is about the UK, which has particular characteristics, the trends identified are almost universal and reflect the dominance of the ‘free-(not!)-market’ austerity mentality that has crippled progress around the world. It also helps us understand why the British economy is stalling again and why the latest data on household spending is so disturbing. These trends have nothing to do with Brexit. They are all down to misguided government policy (austerity) and erroneous strategies that seek to generate fiscal surpluses when the non-government sector needs to also run surpluses (and the two aspirations are not simultaneously achievable). British workers are paying for this incompetence. The economists who gratuitously hand out the spurious advice, unfortunately do not lose their jobs.
When I was trawling through the British fiscal statements in 2010 and 2011, hidden in all the detail (an obscure Annexe) was a very explicit statement that told me that the British government was inflicting austerity on the economy and relying largely on the growth of non-government indebtedness to offset the fiscal drag and restore the growth cycle. In the same documents but more visible (in the main fiscal statement), the Government was claiming that the non-government debt position that had deteriorated sharply in the lead up to the crisis was unsustainable as a growth strategy. The mainstream press didn’t pick up on the contradiction. Now, the same press seems alarmed with the latest data from the British Office of National Statistics that shows that the Government’s strategy has been working like a charm – the non-government saving ratio has plunged, household debt escalated sharply, non-mortgage debt has accelerated and to top of the impending disaster – real household disposable income growth has been negative for three successive quarters (the first time since the mid-1970s). None of these trends are surprising. I predicted them 6 or 7 years ago. I have been watching the results steadily unfold. But for the mainstream commentators it is all a big headline – ‘look at what we have discovered’ … As Marcellus in Hamlet notes as the dead king’s ghost appears in the palace – “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” although he might have been referring to modern-day Britain under the Tories (apologies to William Shakespeare).