I learned long ago that when you consult a surgeon the recommendation will be surgery. After about 10 or more knee operations (both legs) as a result of sporting injuries, and, then some, to undo the damage done by previous surgery, I ran into a physiotherapist who had a different take on things. He showed me ways the body can respond to different treatments and retain the capacity for high-level training and performance even with existing damage. I still run a lot and his advice was worth a lot. The point is to watch out for one-trick ponies. The analogy is not quite correct because sometimes surgeons get it right. I don’t think the same can be said for a mainstream economist, who are also one-trick ponies. If you ask a mainstream economist what to do about macroeconomic policy they recommend hiking interest rates and cutting fiscal stimulus if the CPI starts to head north, irrespective of circumstances. But the message is getting blurred by realities, especially since the GFC. More pragmatic policy makers realise that just responding in the textbook manner hasn’t provided a sustainable basis for nations to follow. In the last week, we have seen the contradiction between the one-trick ponies, who are desperate to get back into their textbook comfort zone, and those who see the data more clearly. In Britain, one part of the Bank of England, the Financial Policy Committee has indicated the way forward is going to require careful policy support for businesses because many SMEs have loaded up on debt during the pandemic and face a precarious future. In the same week, a private sector bank economist, who is also an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, called for interest rate hikes and a deeper withdrawal of fiscal support (and central bank coordination of that support) to deal with, an as yet, unclear inflation threat.
At present, Britain is still in the throes of a global pandemic that has devastated the nation. Last week, at Brighton, the key economic spokespersons for the TLP or the Tory-lite Party (short form, British Labour Party) told the voters of Britain why they should remain in opposition. They were sterling performances by the leader and shadow chancellor. Clarifying for all, the fact that the Party hasn’t learned much at all about their recent history. A history that has seen them lose 4 national elections in a row and in the face of one of the worst British governments in history (and that is really saying something), the TLP’s electoral fortunes continue to wallow in loss-making percentiles. Then we had the Tory version outlined by the actual chancellor on Monday. Taking advantage of the political space the TLP has given them to reinstate all the religious nonsense about the immorality of public debt and the rest of the stuff that cultists (mainstream economists) dish up.
It’s Wednesday, and I have been following the British Labour Party conference and it seems they are conducting business as usual. That is, working out new and old ways to keep themselves unelectable even when the Tories are one of the worst British governments in history I would think. But so it goes. A split is the only way forward I guess. The Blairites can then hold conferences, stack votes to have unelectable leaders and design fiscal rules to their hearts content. At least they will be saving me time this time around. I will just be able to cut and paste my previous critiques of John McDonnells’ neoliberal Fiscal Credibility Rule and apply the analysis to the new Rachel Reeves’ rules. Not much has changed. Who is giving this lot advice? After that, I am sure you will appreciate that the IMF is now considered to be past its use-by date and currently mired in a data-fudging scandal. And then some Rock Steady to calm us down. That’s what today’s blog post offers.
Part of my working day is spent updating databases and studying the additional observations. I learn a lot that way about trends and how far off the mark my expectations of a particular phenomenon might be. Today I updated various labour market datasets from Britain and did some digging into the relationship between vacancies and pay. It is clear that as the British economy opens up again, that unfilled job vacancies have grown very strongly over the Northern summer. While that is a good thing because it means there are opportunities for workers to gain employment, shift employment to better paying jobs etc, the message is no unambiguous. If the vacancy growth is biased towards low-pay work then the chances for upward mobility might be stifled. Such a trend might also reflect the fact that employers are now finding that their old practices of accessing vast pools of EU labour willing to work at low wages are being constrained and that will signal the need for a change in strategy, including restructuring, capital investment and better paid jobs. It is too early to discern which way that will go. But what I found while looking at this new data is that while job vacancies are booming, the majority of them are in below-average pay sectors. More analysis is needed to fully assess the implications. Here is where I started on this path …
As I provided a detailed analysis of the National Accounts release yesterday, today, I am writing less via the blog and am shifting the Wednesday music feature to Thursday. That makes sense. Today, I am bemoaning the creation of the Bank of Goldman Sachs, formerly known as the Bank of England. Groupthink seems to plague this institution. And then, to restore equanimity, we have a music tribute to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry who died in Jamaica this week.
I find it amusing when some self-styled ‘progressive’ commentator, usually writing in the UK Guardian newspaper, bemoans Brexit and points to claims by business that there is a shortage of workers. The ‘shortage’, of course, is results from not being able to access unlimited supplies of cheap foreign workers as easily as before. When I see a shortage of workers, I celebrate, because it means employers will have to break out of their keep wages growth low mentality to attract labour; that they will have to offer adequate skills training to ensure the workers can do the work required; and, that unemployment will be driven as low as can be. What is not good about that? Brexit has done a lot of things, one of them being to provide the British working class to arrest the degradation in their labour market conditions that neoliberalism has wrought in a context of plenty of low wage labour always being in surplus. A similar thing will come from the pandemic in Australia where our external border has been shut for nearly 18 months now.
The article in the Socialist Worker Review (No. 89, July/August 1986, pp. 19–21), by Eammon McCann – The protestant working class – has kept me thinking for some years. I recalled it the other day when I was updating my Northern Ireland labour market data and working on some text. As a result of reading this article many years ago, I became very interested in the labour market dynamics in Northern Ireland, in particular, as they impact on the debate about unification and EU membership (yes, I have always been anti-EU). In that vein, I have been following the trends over time rather closely. More recently, the central place of the North Ireland Protocol in the Brexit discussions has increased the relevance of this research. I also benefitted from some very interesting conversations a few years ago with my host in Galway (forever thankful Niall), while I was visiting the Republic of Ireland on a speaking trip. These conversations filled in many gaps in my understanding of some of nuances of the issues involved. These trends provide some good background to what has been happening in a region that is undergoing significant change and how we might assess the Northern Ireland Protocol in a post-Brexit world. It also helps us understand the demise of the DUP as a relevant political force. They represent a different era. From my understanding, it is also the major economic changes that have been taking place in Northern Ireland that are more likely to influence the trend away from identifying as either unionist or nationalist or proceeding along ‘religious’ lines. A working class impoverished by austerity is a powerful solidifying force. The labour market has changed dramatically over the last several decades. In this multi-part series, I provide some reflections on these issues. This is part of a book project I am working on (more about which later).
It is Wednesday and I have been busy on other writing projects. But today I offer some data analysis on the Greek fire tragedy as well as a short video promoting a very important festival that is coming up. Then I offer some personal insights on the accusation by the right-wing press that on-line learning is just a ruse for lazy “work-shy” professors. And to calm us after all that – we have some fine jazz from 1960.
It’s Day 14 today and later this afternoon I am to be released from my stint in quarantine as a result of shifting myself from Newcastle to Melbourne 2 weeks ago. NSW (where Newcastle is located) is now an area of extreme risk according to the Victorian government, given the growing COVID outbreak in Sydney, and any resident travelling back into Victoria was required to do the 14 days in strict Iso. So today is my ‘freedom day’ after being stuck inside my residence for 2 weeks. Woo! Given my extensive CPI report yesterday, I am not treating today as my normal Wednesday work pattern and so apart from some great music, I offer a few observations on things that have come to mind recently.
When I studied British politics (as one unit in a politics minor) at university, I was bemused by the role of the House of Lords. I know it is a curiously British institution that would be hardly tolerated anywhere else. But the fact that it serves as a part of the British democratic system continues to amaze me. Recently, the Economic Affairs Committee has been investigating (if that is what they get up to) Quantitative Easing because, apparently, some of the peers were worried about the “operational independence” of the Bank of England and the “economic effects” (read: inflation fears) among other concerns. They published their first report last week (July 16, 2021) – 1st Report – Quantitative easing: a dangerous addiction? – and it is littered with errors. The government has until September 16, 2021. The reply does not have to be long – they could just submit this blog post and get on doing things that matter, although the Tories are currently finding it hard to get their head around that essential task at the moment.