It’s Wednesday and I am now ensconced in Kyoto, Japan for the months ahead. I will report on various aspects of that experience as time passes. Today, I reflect on a debate that is going on in Australia about the situation facing live musicians. Should promoters be able to employ them for poverty wages including ‘nothing’ while still profiting or should they be forced to pay the musicians a living wage. You can guess where I sit in the debate.
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We will have Wednesday on a Thursday this week, given my detailed analysis of Australia’s inflation data release yesterday. So today I write less here to write more elsewhere and finish with some of the greatest guitar playing you might ever hope to hear. My topic today is the issue of the ‘work from home’ phenomenon, which is one of the better things Covid has produced. I explain why. But I also realise a lot of commentators view the phenomenon negatively. Some on the Left allege it just means the ‘woke’ class have abandoned the low-paid workers to Covid, while those on the Right are aghast because they realise that, at least, some workers have more ‘control’ over their working lives. My view is that we should celebrate the fact that some workers are happier. I don’t accept the argument from the ‘Left’ commentators that every worker should be miserable if every worker cannot be happier.
I wrote last week in this blog post – We have a new federal government – finally some decency will hopefully return (May 23, 2022) – that Australia had finally rid itself of the disastrous conservative government that had violated our nation for the last 9 or so years. It was a moment to celebrate, given that we could not have fallen much further in the eyes of the world and that our society was falling apart from the neglect and inaction of that government and the favours it did for the cronies in business that supported it. But I stress the temporality of ‘a moment’. The new Ministers were sworn in yesterday and have hit the road running with all sorts of press conferences and statements. Some of the things I am hearing sound like an improvement. But the statements from the new Treasurer suggest that nothing much has been learned from the GFC, the pandemic and the period in between. And unless he changes his tack, we won’t see anything ambitious achieved in the next 3 years.
Last night (March 30, 2022), the Federal Treasurer released the annual ‘fiscal statement’ (aka ‘The Budget’), which revealed to everyone how cynical these exercises have become. The statement is normally released in May but the Federal government has to go to the polls then and they are so far behind the Opposition Labor Party in the opinion polling that they decided to bring forward the fiscal statement as a last ditch attempt to bribe the voters with pennies. I hope it doesn’t work. This is one of the most dishonest and incompetent governments we have ever had to deal with – and that is saying something given our history. While everyone is talking about the cash splash – it is offset by a range of cuts and dissipates in a few months anyway – just after the election. And the Government is once again revealing it has not foresight – to deal with the major challenges – climate, aged care, health care, higher education, social housing, etc. I can barely even write about the statement it is so bad.
Here is my Wednesday news blog post which ends as usual with some music – today some consummate guitar playing. Today, I discuss the dispute about M4A in the US and clear up some misconceptions. Many think that Medicare for All is defunct in the US because the ruling party – the Democrats have essentially rejected the lobbying attempts. Some people who have associated themselves with Modern Monetary Theory have, it seems, been advocating a state-based campaign to get single-payer schemes installed at that level. Is this a violation of MMT principles? Some think so. I do not. It might reflect ignorance of the nature of the sector but it doesn’t amount to a rejection of MMT. Anyway, I am a federalist and I explain why. I also bring attention to some anti-colonial struggles in the Caribbean.
It’s Wednesday and I am retaining my practice into 2022 of only offering a sort of short commentary or news with music service on this day, unless a major data release (like the national accounts) comes out. The title of this blog post was inspired by an interview I listened to on the radio the other day with a leading epidemiologist who noted Australia was becoming like some Orwellian dystopia as the national government elevates spin to new levels and effectively jettisons any semblance of leadership. We are now being treated as fools by our national and state governments on a daily basis and it is now approaching dangerous levels.
Some recent research highlights the point I have made in the past that who your parents are matters for your future prospects. We all make choices as we emerge into the adult world, but the constraints that are dished up to us by our parents are in many cases more important in determining our future outcomes than the choices we make. The mainstream neoclassical explanation for income differentials focus on the choices – for education, training, and other career development pathways. From a policy perspective, I think it is more sensible to focus on the constraints as they are in many cases fairly easily altered by sensible government intervention. However, in the real world, not only are the constraints that individuals face conditioned by the circumstances that they are born into, but those circumstances also influence the choices the individuals make. Recent research has found that educational programs for parents in disadvantaged situations to show them what determines child development not only improves the lives of the adults involved but also delivers much better outcomes for their children. They are able to make better decisions which, in turn, improve the environment in which they are learning and building their skills. The policy implications are clear.
In 1983, I started a PhD at the University of Manchester working within the Phillips curve framework. At the time, all the talk was Monetarist – eschewing the use of fiscal policy to reduce unemployment. Unemployment was high after the OPEC oil shocks and governments were abandoning their responsibilities to reduce it because they had drunk the Monetarist Kool-aide. The Monetarists invented a concept – the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) or the ‘natural rate of unemployment’, which became part of the dominant macroeconomic approach and influenced policy makers to pursue microeconomic reform (deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing etc) and obsessing about fiscal surpluses. My work was an attempt to show this shift in thinking – away from a commitment to full employment was based on a lie. The whole NAIRU story was a fraud. I was largely ignored along with other progressive economists who were also producing credible research that refuted the main propositions. Some 40 years later, the ECB has produced a research paper which now supports the position I took back then. Millions of jobless people later!
I read an August 2020 Bank of England Staff Working Paper (No.883) – Does quantitative easing boost bank lending to the real economy or cause other bank asset reallocation? The case of the UK – recently, which investigates whether the large bond-buying program of the Bank stimulates bank lending. They find that there was no stimulus to lending. Which would only be a surprise if one thought that mainstream monetary economics had anything useful to say. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists were not at all surprised by this finding.The reality is that the lack of bank lending during the GFC had nothing to do with a liquidity shortfall within the banking sector. It had all to do with a lack of credit-worthy borrowers – which should tell you that bank reserves do not constrain bank lending. The fact that mainstream institutions such as the Bank of England are now publishing this sort of research, which undermines the mainstream theory is the interesting fact.