On December 19, 2018, the Federal Reserve Bank Open Market Committee (FOMC), which determines the monetary policy settings in the US, increased the policy interest rate by 25 basis points to 2.5 per cent, as part of its plan to ‘normalise’ monetary policy. Even within the parameters of their own logic, it is hard to see any inflation threat. Long-term inflationary expectations suggest that people expect an unchanged situation over the next decade. Which suggests that the current unemployment rate is not seen as a threat to the price level. Now, while the FOMC decision may or may not cause some slow down in real GDP growth, given the blunt and ambiguous nature of monetary policy adjustments, the really disturbing aspect of the policy change is the fact that the FOMC members were plotting to push up unemployment by more than 1.2 million people as a plan to lower the inflation rate by a few basis points. Not only is that an obscene revelation but the fact that the FOMC use economic models that cannot tell them that the economic costs of such a shift are massive compared to any benefits that might arise from a slightly lower inflation rate tells us that policy is being made using deeply flawed, useless economic theory and models. Moral bankruptcy and incompetence rules.
Wednesday and a shorter blog post so that I have a little more time to do other things. I don’t know what topic attracts the most hate E-mails that I receive on an almost daily basis: my position on the Eurozone, my position on the EU generally, my position on Brexit, my position of surrender monkey social democrats (parties and people), or my work on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I guess I could count and build up a frequency distribution but I just prefer to delete them these days – the first few words give the game away. Save your time. This week, I have had a torrent of such E-mails telling me more or less “see, you claimed Brexit would be good, but it is a disaster”. Last time I checked Brexit hasn’t happened yet. All that we are witnessing is a conservative government of considerable incompetence in disarray after being bullied by the neoliberal, corporatists in Brussels into a ridiculous ‘agreement’ that changed hardly anything. But there were some interesting data releases in the last few weeks that bear on the Brexit question. I have been looking into them.
It is Wednesday, and only a short blog post beckons today. I have restrained myself from commenting on Theresa May’s unbelievable Brexit deal, which has the dirty paws of the European Commission all over it. Regular readers will know that if I had have been a voter in Britain in June 2016, I would have resolutely and happily voted in favour of Brexit. And if I was a British Parliamentarian now I would vote to reject the ‘deal’ and force the Brexit on British terms. I will write a little more about that in a further post. But today, I just want to pass comment on the extraordinary UK Guardian article from Phillip Inman – A leftwing UK post-Brexit is as likely as a socialist Rees-Mogg (November 24 2018) – which summarises the problem quite well. I say ‘well’ because it illustrates the progressive surrender that has allowed the neoliberal era and monstrosities like the European Union to persist. You can see it all over the place – surrender that is. The Democratic obsession with Paygo in the US. The British Labour fiscal rule in Britain. The ‘we will have a bigger surplus’ boast from the Australian Labor Party, when there is around 15 per cent underutilised productive labour. Inman’s article is encouraging the Left in Britain to lie down and surrender to the dictates of the neoliberal, corporatist machine that is the EU. It presents an impoverished vision of the future and a disgustingly vapid depiction of the possibilities that a truly progressive British Labor government could achieve once it jettisons the neoliberal frames.
In a blog post last week – Financial services agreements – the EU as a neoliberal, corporatist project (November 13, 2018) – I wrote about the way the EU compromised the capacity of elected Member State governments to advance the well-being of their nations by the way they negotiate trade arrangements in services, particularly with respect to the financial services sector. For all those Europhiles that regularly deny the core agenda of the EU is to compromise democratic outcomes in favour of capital, that analysis, alone, should be sufficient to discourage those thoughts. Of course, that isn’t the only manifestation of this neoliberal, corporatist bias in the way the EU has developed over the last decades. I mostly conduct my analysis at the macroeconomic level but I am also interested (as my publication record demonstrates) in urban and regional analysis. At the level of the European city, the EU is behaving in the exactly the same way – to curb that ability of city authorities to render their cities favourable environments for the residents who live there.
I am travelling most of today to distant climes. And it is Wednesday, my alleged shorter blog day. Apart from some scintillating music suggestions today, I foreshadowed in Monday’s blog post, which analysed the British national accounts, that I would make some statements about the EU forecasts released in their latest – European Economic Forecast. Autumn 2018 – (published November 8, 2018). The forecasts posited that the UK would be among the two worst performers for 2019 in terms of Real GDP growth, accompanied by the waning Italy. And within seconds of the forecasts being published, social media was a light with those opposed to Brexit, using the forecasts to claim that Brexit would be a disaster – again! Brexit may still turn out to be a disaster. But these forecasts should be treated with a grain of salt – they are ideological in nature and the forecasting performance of the EU has not been good.
I have been reading the new book by Costas Lapavitsas – ‘The Left Case Against the EU’ – which has been recently published. It is solid and clearly explains why the EU is not an institution or structure than anyone on the progressive Left should support or think is capable of reform any time soon. It has become a neoliberal, corporatist state and hierarchical in operation, with Germany at the apex bullying the weaker states into submission. Divergence in outcomes across the geographic spread is the norm. It is also the anathema of our concepts of democracy both in concept and operation. It is more like a cabal of elites who are unelected and, largely unaccountable. By giving their support to this monstrosity, the traditional Left political parties (social democrats, socialists etc) have been increasingly wiped out such is the anger of voters to what has become a massive coup by capital against labour. These are the themes that Thomas Fazi and I also explored in our recent book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). I also just finished reading an interesting report – Financial Regulation challenged by European Trade Policy – published by the Veblen Institute and Finance Watch (October 2, 2018), which examines “the impact of European trade policy on financial regulation”. It is essential reading for those progressives who still think that Britain should remain in the EU. If they understand the research findings they would change their minds.
On Thursday (November 8, 2018), the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released the – GDP first quarterly estimate, UK: July to September 2018 – data, the first release under their new publication model, which is designed to improve “the accuracy and reliability” of the initial (formally denoted the “preliminary”) release. The next update will come in December and the expectation is that there will be less revisions, which is a good thing for those trying to assess where things are at. Remember, also that national accounts data is a rear-vision view of the economy – where its been rather than necessarily where it is at, although the two ‘views’ are obviously linked. The third-quarter national accounts data shows that Britain grew by 0.6 per cent, with “all four sectors” contributing to what is a strong result. But, under the headline, are mixed trends: household consumption spending continues to grow with rising debt, although wages growth appears to be moving finally; business investment was negative; and net exports “contributed 0.8 percentage points” with a strengthening of exports. What the data tells us at this stage is that Britain continues to defy the claims that a meltdown is imminent as a result of Brexit. There appears to be a resilience that is driving relatively strong growth. And, for all those who have been hammering the point that Britain is the worst-performed (in growth terms) of the EU Member States, they will have to revise their scripts. Britain is now growing much faster than many other European economies.
It is Wednesday, so a truly short blog. We have to proof read the final copy edit of our Macroeconomics textbook by the end of the next fortnight. Tough ask. But apart from a music journey today, the richest people living in Britain are planning journeys as I write (they certainly are not sleeping) because they are scared witless about what Jeremy Corbyn will do to them once he is elected. This fear is even greater than anything Brexit will bring and the proponents of this narrative have also admitted that Brexit will not alter Britain’s position as a “global wealth hub”. Pity about that. I was hoping they would take all their banks and dodgy financial companies with them. Anyway, I am an Australian, as I am being increasingly told these days by those who claim I should stay out of British debates. Primer: I am not uncertain about my nationality. And, I am fast becoming a major critic of Modern Monetary Theory … read on.
Last night in Britain (October 29, 2018), the British Chancellor released the – Budget 2018 – aka the 2018 fiscal statement (my terminology, to avoid triggering the flawed household budget analogy). The detailed analysis is being done by others and I haven’t had enough time to read all the documents produced by the Government and others yet anyway. But of the hundreds of pages of data and documentation I have been able to consult, the Government is trying to win back votes while not particularly changing its austerity bias. That is fairly clear once you dig a little into the outlook statement produced by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). The Government’s strategy is also unsustainable because it continues the reliance on debt accumulation in the non-government sector, which will eventually hit a brick wall as the balance sheet of that sector becomes overly precarious. Nothing much has been learned from the GFC in that respect. The Government can only cut its debt by piling more onto the non-government sector. Second, the response of the Left has been pathetic. The Fabians, for example, has put out a document that uses all sorts of neoliberal frames and language, making it indistinguishable from something the mainstream macroeconomists would pump out – the anathema of the constructs and language that the Left should be using. There is a reason the political Left has fallen by the wayside over the last 3 or so decades. And their penchant to write and speak like neoliberals is part of the story.
Over the last weekend, it seemed that we had a return of the Spanish Inquisition with a prominent British academic, who by his own words designed the fiscal rule that British Labour has unwisely adopted, repeatedly demanding that MMT Tweeters confess to knowing that I was completely wrong on my interpretation of the fiscal rule. It is apparent that my meeting with the British Shadow Chancellor in London recently and my subsequent discussion of that meeting has brought the issues relating to the fiscal rule out into the open, which is a good thing. It is now apparent that British Labour is still, to some extent, back in the 1970s, carrying an irrational fear of what financial markets can do when confronted with the legislative authority of a sovereign government. I am not a psychologist so I cannot help them heal that irrational angst. But the claims that I misunderstood the fiscal rule – which are being repeated daily now by the fanboys of the rule are just ludicrous. The rule is simple. And it will bring Labour grief politically. Rolling windows or not!