The German propagandist Joseph Goebbels would have loved the so-called ‘NHS Funding Tool’ that the London-based Institute of Fiscal Studies has wasted hours of labour producing and making available on the Internet. In fact, history would show that the German menace was probably more circumspect in his propaganda activities that the IFS, which has set about to deliberately distort the public debate in the UK over NHS funding. Its latest entry (May 24, 2018) – Securing the future: funding health and social care to the 2030s – is nothing short of a disgraceful grab for headlines. The problem is that reports such as this then feed into an uncritical press, which then furthers the fictional world that my profession has created to hide their ideological preferences against public intervention – in this case, public health systems. The IFS Report is a typical case of neoliberal analysis, which contains hidden constraints that are designed to lead towards the TINA conclusion. Britain can afford to have a first-class NHS if it chooses and the real resources are available and people desire for them to be used in that sector rather than elsewhere. My bet is that the country would be much better off if there were less bankers and investment speculators (the occupations that the neoliberals revere) and more resources in the health sector. At present, constructing the NHS challenges, which are real and growing, as a tax rise or bust type scenario is dishonest in the extreme.
Regular readers will recall that Thomas Fazi and I published an article in the Jacobin magazine (April 29, 2018) – Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit – which considered the Brexit issue and provided an up-to-date (with the data) case against the on-going hysteria that Britain is about to fall off some massive cliff as a result of its democratically-arrived at decision to exit the neoliberal contrivance that the European Union has become. There was an hysterical response on social media to the article, which I considered in this blog post a few days later – The Europhile Left loses the plot (May 1, 2018). In recent days, two British-based academics have provided a more thoughtful response in the Jacobin magazine (May 18, 2018) – Caution on “Lexit”. Here is a response which was co-written with Thomas. As a general observation, I noted some prominent progressive voices citing their attack on us enthusiastically, one even suggesting it landed “some good punches” after taking “a while to warm up”. Well, I can assure Andrew that my face (nor Thomas’s) was the slightest bit puffy after reading the critique.
Regular readers will know that I have delved into social psychology in the last decade or so as a way of educating myself on why ideas survive when their logical consistency is lacking and their empirical content is zero. I have gained a good understanding of this phenomenon by exploring the literature on patterned group behaviour and the work by Irving Janis in the early 1970s on Groupthink. While I usually demonstrate instances of this destructive group behaviour on the part of the Right, it is also clear that that the Europhile Left is riddled with the problem. To the point of not even valuing debate anymore. At the weekend (April 29, 2018), the excellent Jacobin magazine published an Op Ed piece by myself and Thomas Fazi – Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit – which considered the Brexit issue and provided an up-to-date (with the data) case against the on-going hysteria that Britain is about to fall off some massive cliff as a result of its democratically-arrived at decision to exit the neoliberal contrivance that the European Union has become. The article was rather moderate in fact and considered the on-going failure of the apocalyptic arguments that have been introduced against Brexit, both before and after the Referendum. But the social media response (negative) has been at elevated levels of hysteria. Inane claims. Groupthink in action. And it is why the progressive cause is such a push over by the organised Right.
I have been doing some analysis of British and European Trade patterns over the Post World War 2 period. They reveal some very interesting insights that are seemingly lost in the on-going war by Europhiles against Brexit. One of the recurring themes in the Brexit debate is the so-called importance of membership of the European Union to on-going prosperity of Britain through trade. What the data reveals is that British exports growth did not accelerate with accession to the EU in 1973 and after the introduction of the ‘Single Market’, British exports to the EU started to level off and then decline rather sharply. In other words, Britain has been diversifying its exports and is less reliant on the EU than it was say in the early 1990s. The data also shows that the creation of the Single Market hasn’t even boosted intra-EU or intra-Eurozone trade. Additionally, and laterally, the data suggests that the introduction of the euro has not expanded intra-EMU trade. The claims by the Euro-elites that it would were a major part of their justification for pushing through to the common currency. I consider this sort of evidence has been largely ignored by those in the Remain camp, who prefer to base their assertions on the highly questionable ‘forecasts’ coming from neoliberal-inspired ‘models’, which have so far demonstrated an appalling record of accordance with the facts. The data I have shown here doesn’t provide an open and shut case for Brexit. But it does show that the importance of EU membership to Britain’s prosperity is probably overstated and that Britain will prosper if its own policy settings are appropriate.
I have now escaped the near-Arctic chill and back to warmer climes for a little while. While I was in Finland though, the Finnish news media was agape over the – Joint Statement – released by 8 Finance Ministers from the smaller Northern EU Member States (March 6, 2018). The statement released by the finance ministers of Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden aired their views on how the Eurozone (EMU) might develop. Nobody should be under any delusion that significant reforms are going to come soon. These characters are locked into the austerity mindset and any claims that a new Macron-Merkel partnership will take the EMU into more progressive territory should be viewed as blind hope rather than bedded down in any realistic understanding of what is likely or possible.
This is Part 3 (and final) in the series which examines the robustness of claims made by two British academics about the desirability of the British government (particularly Labour) adopting further fiscal constraints on their flexibility to advance well-being in that nation. Part 3 further develops the critique and focuses on the validity of tightening voluntary constraints on government and outsourcing key parts of the fiscal policy development process to so-called ‘independent’ fiscal councils or boards. We conclude that these suggestions would further entrench the neoliberal dominance of government policy and reduce its capacity to serve the wider interest. In effect, taking this sort of advice would be counterproductive for British Labour, which really needs to to further break out of its recent Blairite neoliberal past and present a truly progressive manifesto to the British people that will force the Tories to move closer to the centre and squeeze the extreme right-wing elements. This will require more than articulating progressive-sounding social and environmental policies. It will require more than proposals to renationalise the railways. Effectively, British Labour has to reframe the macroeconomic debate and eschew the sort of reasoning that the mainstream of my profession offers. It must, in my view, embrace Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles to free itself from the shackles of all the neoliberal mumbo jumbo that the New Keynesians continually offer as economic verities. The reality is the the New Keynesian approach has one output – an elaborate litany of lies.
This is Part 2 of my Three Part exposition of how the standard New Keynesian approach to the specification of fiscal rules will generate poor advice for politicians desiring to achieve progressive socio-economic goals. The paper I am using to represent the New Keynesian approach has, by all indications, been somewhat influential in the formation of the macroeconomic approach currently being espoused by the British Labour Party. In that sense, the critique aims to disabuse the Labour politicians and their apparatchiks of building policy options based on fake economic knowledge, and, instead, embrace the principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which provides an accurate depiction of how the monetary system actually operates and the policy options for a currency-issuing government such as in Britain, and the likely consequences of deploying these options. The one major lesson that comes out is that the New Keynesian approach is an elaborate fraud. It plays around with so-called ‘optimising’ models asserting human behaviour that no other social scientist believes remotely captures the essence of human decision-making, and then derives conclusions from these models that are claimed to apply to the world we live in. Prior to the GFC, these ‘models’ didn’t even consider the financial sector. The fact is that nothing of value in terms of specifying what a government should do can be gleaned from a New Keynesian approach. It is barren.
The British Labour Party is currently leading the Tories in the latest YouGov opinion polls (February 19-20, Tories 40 per cent (and declining), Labour 42 per cent (and rising). They should be further in front, given the disarray of the Conservatives as they try to negotiate within their own party something remotely acceptable about Brexit. When there is this degree of political capital available, in this case for the Labour Party, a party should use it to redefine policy agendas that have gone awry. To build a narrative that will advance their cause for the future decades. British Labour has a chance to break out of its recent Blairite neoliberal past and present a truly progressive manifesto to the British people that will force the Tories to move closer to the centre and squeeze the extreme right-wing elements. In part, under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, Labour is making progressive noises on a number of fronts. But ultimately, where it really matters – the macroeconomic narrative – they are remaining firmly neoliberal and this will blight their chances of pursuing a truly progressive agenda. One of the glaring mistakes the Labour Party has made is to accept advice from neoliberal economists (so-called New Keynesians) who have instilled in them a need for fiscal rules. This is a three-part analysis of the sort of advice that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are getting and why they should ignore it. I have split it into two parts because it is long and quite involved at times.
There are times when so-called progressives outdo themselves with their (usually self-styled) ‘genius solutions’ to the ravages of neoliberalism. They come up with elaborate ‘solutions’ that people on the Left get feverishly excited about yet fail to see how obviously ridiculous these strategies are when all the options are allowed. They, in fact, step further into the mirky neoliberal world by trying to be progressive because they fail to see what the basic issue is. One recent example of this was the proposal by Britain’s Big Innovation Centre to divert the private sector into doing good for society in general. Apparently, the British government could resume control of the failing (privatised) essential services without laying out a single penny. This would apparently allow them to avoid running foul of Treasury borrowing limits yet satisfy the overwhelming desire by the British public for a restoration of quality services. It is clear that the British public are sick to death of the privatised services and are ready for a large revival of public sector activity. In that environment, why would the government, with such a powerful mandate and plenty of political cover, maintain the economic myths that were advanced to justify the (unjustifiable) sell-offs of public enterprises? Once we cut through these economic myths, it becomes apparent how lame these ‘solutions’, which perpetuate profit-seeking, corporate ownership of the essential services in Britain, really are.
Do you remember back to May 2016, when the British Treasury, which is clearly full of mainstream macroeconomists who have little understanding of how the system actually operates released their ‘Brexit’ predictions? The ‘study’ (putting the best spin possible on what was a tawdry piece of propaganda) – HM Treasury analysis: the immediate economic impact of leaving the EU – was strategically released to have maximum impact on the vote, which would come just a month later. Fortunately, for Britain and its people, the attempt to provide misinformation failed. As time passes, while the British government and the EU dilly-dally about the ‘divorce’ details, we are getting a better picture of what is happening post-Brexit as the ‘market’ sorts what it can sort out. Much has been said about the destructive shifts in trade that will follow Brexit. But these scaremongers fail to grasp that Britain has been moving away from trade with the EU for some years now and that process will continue into the future. I come from a nation that was dealt a major trading shock at the other end of Britain’s ill-fated dalliance with Europe. It also made alternative plans and prospered as a result. The outcomes of Brexit will be in the hands of the domestic policies that follow. Stick to neoliberalism and there will be a disaster. But the opportunity is there for British Labour to recast itself and seize the scope for better public infrastructure, better services and stronger domestic demand. Then the nation will see why leaving the corporatist, austerity-biased failure that the EU has become was a stroke of genius.