It is Wednesday and so a shorter blog post today while I spend more time writing other things. But there was one issue that was raised in the comments in the last week following my blog post – Build it in Britain is just sensible logic (July 26, 2018) – that I thought warranted attention. The government is not a household is a core Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proposition because it separates the currency issuer from the currency user and allows us to appreciate the constraints that each has on its spending capacities. In the case of a household, there are both real and financial resource constraints which limit its spending and necessitate strategies being put in place to facilitate that spending (getting income, running down savings, borrowing, selling assets). In the case of a currency-issuing government the only constraints beyond the political are the available real resource that are for sale in that currency. Beyond that, the government sector thus assumes broad responsibilities as the currency issuer, which are not necessarily borne by individual consumers. Its objectives are different. Which brings trade into the picture. Another core MMT proposition is that imports are a benefit and exports are a cost. So why would I support Jeremy Corbyn’s Build it in Britain policy, which is really an import competing strategy? Simple, the government is not a household.
It is Wednesday and my blog-light day. I am travelling a lot today and so have little time anyway for blog activities. Today, though, I reflect on the current demand by the conservatives in Australia to privatise our national broadcaster. This is a brazen attempt by mindless people, who are scared of knowing about the world beyond their own prejudices and sense of entitlement, to shut down a broadcaster they perceive to be an ideological threat. The amusing aspect is that this lot are too stupid to realise that the ABC is not left-leaning anyway. It increasingly runs news and economic commentary that is neoliberal to the core! But it remains that a public broadcaster has an essential role to play in a media landscape where profit rules content. The ABC has a long tradition of providing quality programs and analysis and while it has gone off the rails in recent years with its economic analysis (bowing to the neoliberal norm) it still provides excellent material to the public without advertisements that the commercial broadcasters have (and would never) provide. I also have some nice music offerings today.
Although this blog post considers some very technical material its message is simple. Mainstream macroeconomic models that are used to determine policy choices by governments are deeply flawed and the evidence strongly supports a central thrust of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – that fiscal policy is powerful and that austerity will kill growth. In that sense, it helps us understand why various nations and blocs (such as the Eurozone) struggled after the onset of the GFC. It also explains why the deliberate attack on Greek prosperity by the Troika was so successful in demolishing any prospect of growth – an outcome that the official dogma resolutely denied as they constructed one vicious bailout after another. It also explains why New Keynesian approaches to macroeconomics are flawed and should be ignored. I was reminded this week by a research paper I had read last year (thanks Adam for the reminder) which presents a devastating critique (though muted in central bank speak) of the mainstream approach to macroeconomic modelling. A research paper from the ECB (May 2017, No 2058) – On the sources of business cycles: implications for DSGE models – provides a categorical critique of DSGE models and a range of other stunts that mainstream economists have tried to introduce to get away from the obvious – economic cycles are demand driven.
I was going to write about the situation in Timor-Leste after its national elections were held on Saturday. But I will hold that over for another day as I get some more information. So today, I think we can learn a lot from an issue raised in the Bloomberg article (May 14, 2018) – Kuroda’s Stimulus Saves Japan $45 Billion, Easing Debt Pressures – which discusses the QE program in Japan and introduces several of the basic errors that mainstream financial commentators make when discussing these issues. The article traverses all the usual suspects including the misconception that numbers in official accounts are ‘costs’ to government and that smaller numbers in official accounts mean the government can put larger numbers in other accounts than it might have been able to. These articles are as pervasive as they are erroneous. Hopefully, as the precepts of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) spread and are understood more journalists will endure scrutiny of the rubbish they write and the public commentary and debate will progress towards a more reasonable – realistic – appraisal of what is going on in the world of finance and money. This article is one of the worst I have read this year so far. And there have been some real terrors!
One of the ways in which the neoliberal era has entrenched itself and, in this case, will perpetuate its negative legacy for years to come is to infiltrate the educational system. This has occurred in various ways over the decades as the corporate sector has sought to have more influence over what is taught and researched in universities. The benefits of this influence to capital are obvious. They create a stream of compliant recruits who have learned to jump through hoops to get delayed rewards. In the period after full employment was abandoned firms also realised they no longer had to offer training to their staff in the same way they did when vacancies outstripped available workers. As a result they have increasingly sought to impose their ‘job specific’ training requirements onto universities, who under pressure from government funding constraints have, erroneously, seen this as a way to stay afloat. So traditional liberal arts programs have come under attack – they don’t have a ‘product’ to sell – as the market paradigm has become increasingly entrenched. There has also been an attack on ‘basic’ research as the corporate sector demands universities innovate more. That is code for doing the privatising public research to advance profit. But capital still can see more rewards coming if they can further dictate curriculum and research agendas. So how to proceed. Invent a crisis. If you can claim that universities will become irrelevant in the next decade unless they do what capital desires of them then the policy debate becomes further skewed away from where it should be. That ‘crisis invention’ happened this week in Australia.
Australia is currently being shocked on a daily basis with the revelations in our Royal Commission on Banking, which show that our financial services sector (banks, insurance companies, financial planning, etc) is deeply corrupt, with criminal behaviour clearly rife. Hopefully, many of the top executives and board members of these firms will be prosecuted and do time. Another ‘bank’ that has totally lost any sense of moral compass, not to mention effectiveness, is the World Bank. Its behaviour over the years has been scandalous. Earlier this year we learned that its so-called ‘Doing Business’ strategy deliberately manipulated its reporting to undermine a democratically elected government (Chile). And, last week (April 26, 2018), the World Bank released the Working Draft of its upcoming – World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work – where it attempted to pressure governments into widespread labour market deregulation, which if carried through would further disadvantage workers and further redistribute national income towards profits. The World Bank has outlived its purpose. It is now a seriously dangerous international institution and progressive governments should set about defunding it.
Over the last few years, it is clear that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is achieving a higher profile and the attacks are starting to come thick and fast. I see these attacks as being a positive development because it demonstrates that recognition has been achieved and a threat to mainstream ideas is now perceived by those who desire to hang on to the status quo. Hostility and attack is a stage in the process of a new set of ideas becoming accepted, ultimately. Clearly, some new interventions never receive acceptance because they are proven to be flawed in one way or another. But I doubt the body of work that is now known as MMT will be discarded quite so easily given my assessment that is is coherent, logically consistent and grounded in a strong evidence base. As part of this evolution there are now lots of what I call ‘sort of’ contributions coming from mainstream commentators. One of the ways in which mainstreamers save face is to claim they ‘knew it all along’ and that the existing body of practice can easily accommodate what might be considered ‘nuances’ or ‘special cases’. We are seeing that more now, with the more progressive mainstream economists claiming there is nothing ‘new’ about MMT that it is just what they knew anyway. Even though that approach is disingenuous it is part of the evolution towards acceptance. People have positions to protect. These ‘sort of’ contributions demonstrate a sort of half-way mentality – a growing awareness of MMT but with a deep resistance to its implications. A good example is the UK Guardian’s editorial (April 15, 2018) – The Guardian view on QE: the economy needs more than a magic money tree.
Over the last few months, we have had the Australian Treasurer clogging up the media with his relentless claims that Australia has no choice but to cut corporate tax rates to keep up with the rest of the world (this is after Donald Trump started the ball rolling). The Federal government is trying to eliminate the resistance in the Senate (Upper House) to their proposal to cut corporate rates from 30 to 25 per cent. The Treasurer is a really pathetic figure – a non-economist, mouthing platitudes over and over about matters that he has little understanding and which the research evidence doesn’t support anyway. Then, last week, the ultimate public purse dependents, big business sent the members of the Senate a letter (a sort of blackmail letter) claiming if the Senators stopped blocking the legislation, then their corporations would go on an investment, wage increasing, employment creating binge. It was sickening to read and listen to. These mendicants are trying to convince us that the only thing stopping an investment boom or wage increases is a 5 cents in the dollar tax impost that tax data reveals many of them don’t pay anyway. It was hypocrisy parading as blatant self-interest. These characters have no shame.
Here are a couple of Wednesday snippets on my (alleged) no blog post day. I have a great tip for the Remainers in Britian who are struggling to make any sense in their quest to hang on to the European dream (nightmare!). It is not a new argument but it has resurfaced in the US recently. Apparently, “the top US intelligence official” (words have meaning and intelligence usually means having some brain power) has told the US Congress that “the ballooning national debt … posed a ‘dire threat’ to … national security”. He told the Congress that the “fiscal crisis … truly undermines our ability to ensure our national security”. Truly used to mean something also. So here’s the thing all you so-called British Remainers. This will top your claims that Brexit will increase the rate of cancer in the UK. Just start raving on about threats to national security. A sure winner. It is the argument you introduce when you have run out of any semblance of an argument. Meanwhile, we now know that the British government, while in the EU, helped the right-wing forces (including the CIA) to kill the democracy in Chile in 1973, in what should be considered one of the more disgusting historical episodes. But then Salvatore Allende was clearly a threat to national security. What with all those Chileans that were improving their material standards of living under Allende and all!
Last week (February 8, 2018), we witnessed the US Senate spectacle with Rand Paul embarrassing himself with his lack of economic knowledge but also embarrassing both major parties – the Republicans for their gross hypocrisy and the Democrats for their gross idiocy. The – Congressional Record – of Paul’s speech (starting S817) is a classic. Also, last week, the stables were stirring apparently, as the ‘bond vigilantes’ were strapping on their saddles and getting ready to make the US government suffer for its so-called fiscal ‘ill discipline’. These characters apparently emerge out of the darkness of fiscal profligacy to defend our interests and force the government to run surpluses. Fantasy stuff all round. In fact, Rand Paul should resign and get a job he is more suited for (which would be?) and the bond vigilantes should make sure their Shetland ponies are not to wild for them. These bond traders play this elaborate game of bluff and pretend they have the power over the government. In fact, they are mendicants queuing up for their daily dollop of corporate welfare and the government could play them out of the game anytime it chose to. The problem is that the bluff works because governments are captive to the neoliberal nonsense that my professsion preaches.