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.
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!