When I was a student, that is, formally studying for degrees rather than the constant-learning approach which makes us permanent students, I was very interested in development economics and have carried that into the career phase of my work, including doing commissioned work for international agencies in Africa and Asia. One of the things I have come up against in that work has been the question of why are the nations in Africa, for example, so poor, when it is obvious to all and sundry that they possess massive resource wealth. My student days introduced me to dependency theory, which provided a solid framework for understanding the nature of underdevelopment. It stood in contrast to the mainstream development theory that was presented in most textbooks and which we would now call the neo-liberal approach. That approach is publicly enunciated by the IMF and the World Bank as if it is reality. In fact, it is a chimera! The framework of development aid and oversight put in place by the richer nations and mediated through the likes of the IMF and the World Bank can be seen more as a giant vacuum cleaner designed to suck resource and financial wealth out of the poorer nations either through legal or illegal means, whichever generates the largest flows. So while Africa is wealthy, its interaction with the world monetary and trade systems, leaves millions of its citizens in extreme poverty – unable to even purchase sufficient nutrition to live. It is a scandal of massive proportions and should become the target of all progressive governments (as they emerge).
Greece is back in the news as the IMF, the Germans and the European Commission slug it out pretending to talk tough and propose solutions to the Greek tragedy. There is no solution of course. All the debate about whether the primary surplus target should be 3.5 per cent of GDP (European Commission position) or slightly lower (IMF position) is just venal hot air. Anybody who knows anything and isn’t protecting their past mistakes would assess that a fairly large and sustained fiscal deficit is required in Greece to rebuild some of the lost capacity and to provide an inkling of hope to the youth who are facing a lifetime of diminished prospects as a result of the decisions the adults around them took. All the talk about ‘deficits mortgaging the grand kids future’ – sick. The austerity has meant the grand kids might not ever emerge given the constrained circumstances their would-be parents will face as they progress through adulthood. The reality remains – firmly – Greece should exit the Eurozone, convert any outstanding liabiliites into a new currency at parity, and stimulate its domestic economy with expansionary fiscal policy. It should continue to impose capital controls. As part of the stimulus, it should introduce an unconditional Job Guarantee at a decent wage to provide a pathway back into employment for the many that the Troika have rendered jobless.
This blog will be a bit different from my normal fare. It provides insights into how entrenched a destructive and mindless neo-liberal Groupthink pervades the economics profession. For the last several years I have been on the ‘expert’ panel for the Fairfax press Annual Economic Survey. Essentially, this assembles a group of well-known economists in Australia from the market, academic and institutional (for example, union) sectors and we wax lyrical about what we expect will happen in the year ahead. To be fair, there is a large element of chance in the exercise as there is in all forecasting. So I am never one to criticise when an organisation such as the IMF or the OECD or some bank economist gets a forecast wrong. The future is uncertain and we have no formal grounds for even forming probabilistic estimates, given we cannot even assemble a probability density function (an distributional ordering of all possible events ) to extract these probabilities. So guess work is guess work and you have to be guided by experience and an understanding of how the system operates and the elements within the relevant system interact. What I do rail against is the phenomenon of systematic bias in forecast errors. For example, the IMF always predicts stronger growth than occurs when it is advocating imposing austerity (thereby underestimating the costs of the policy). The systematic bias in their errors is traceable to the flawed models they use to generate the predictions, which, in turn, reflect their ideological slant against government deficits and in favour of fiscal surpluses (as a benchmark). As luck would have it, in the 2016 round of the Fairfax Scope survey, I was fortunate enough to achieve the status of Forecaster of the Year (shared with 2 other members of the panel) – see Scope 2017 economic survey: Stephen Anthony, Bill Mitchell; and Renee Fry-McKibbin tie for forecaster of the year – for detail. I tweeted over the weekend that as a result “MMT predicts well”. There was a lot underlying that three-word Tweet and it intersected with recent events that demonstrate how far gone mainstream macroeconomics is – it is in an advanced state of denial and has lost almost all traction on the real world.
This blog continues my mini-series of free trade. In The case against free trade – Part 1 – I showed how the mainstream economics concept of ‘free trade’ is never attainable in reality and so what goes for ‘free trade’ is really a stacked deck of cards that has increasingly allowed large financial capital interests to rough ride over workers, consumers and undermine the democratic status of elected governments. The aim of this mini-series is to build a progressives case for opposition to moves to ‘free trade’ and instead adopt as a principle the concept of ‘fair trade’, as long as it doesn’t compromise the democratic legitimacy of the elected government. This is a further instalment to the manuscript I am currently finalising with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi. The book, which will hopefully be out soon, traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. In Part 2, I consider the myth of the free market, the damage that ‘free trade’ causes and move towards a discussion of fair trade. I will complete the series in a third part soon.
As I noted in the first two parts of this little mini-series (can a mini-series be anything other than little), multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF have outlived their usefulness, given changes in economic conditions and a need to abandon the neo-liberal Groupthink that has infested both structures. In the final two parts (today and tomorrow) I will discuss the necessary issues that have to be addressed in reforming these institutions (or replacing them) and what a new international architecture that serves a truly progressive interest rather than the interests of financial capital in the US might look like.
On June 26, 2016, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) published its – 86th Annual Report, 2015/16 – claimed that “there is an urgent need to rebalance policy in order to shift to a more robust and sustainable global expansion and address accumulated vulnerabilities”. Yesterday (October 5, 2106), the IMF issued its latest – Fiscal Monitor – Debt: Use it Wisely – which as the title might suggest focuses on what it sees as a dangerous exposure to global debt, which it currently estimates to be “at 225 percent of world GDP … currently at an all-time high.” Needless to say, this latest offering from the IMF has attracted news headlines with dire warnings about impending catastrophes. Some of this emphasis is justified but overall the IMF is erring, once again, in the opposite direction to its pre-GFC prediction errors. The context is obvious – mass unemployment continues as economic growth is stalling (or modest at best) because of a combination of non-government sector spending caution and the government obsession with fiscal austerity. The latter obsession has been stoked for years by the likes of the BIS and the IMF and while they do not explicitly recognise that in these latest documents, their stilted support for more fiscal action now, amounts to an admission of prior failures driven by the neo-liberal Groupthink that pervades these institutions.
This blog is the second part (now of three) where I discuss how the international institutional framework has to be reformed to serve a progressive agenda where rich countries (and the elites within them) do not plunder then pillory poor countries. In this blog I detail why we should dissolve the World Bank, the OECD, and the BIS, all of which have become so sullied by neo-liberal Groupthink that they are not only dysfunctional in terms of their original charter but downright dangerous to the prosperity and freedoms of people. The third part will consider what a new international institution might look like and the role it can play in aiding poor nations, particularly those who are reliant on imported food and energy. We will also discuss reforming the foreign aid system.
This blog continues the unedited excerpts that will appear in my new book (with Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which is nearing completion. This material will be in Part 3 where we present what we are calling a ‘Progressive Manifesto’, which we hope to provide a coherent Left philosophy to guide policy design and policy choices for governments that are struggling to see a way beyond the neo-liberal macroeconomics. In this blog I examine how the international institutional framework has to be reformed to serve a progressive agenda where rich countries (and the elites within them) do not plunder then pillary poor countries. Central to this new framework is the abolition of the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD, all of which have become so sullied by neo-liberal Groupthink that they are not only dysfunctional in terms of their original charter but downright dangerous to the prosperity and freedoms of people. Former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz told journalist Greg Palast in an interview in 2001 that the IMF “has condemned people to death” (Source). I will propose a new international institution designed to protect vulnerable nations from damaging exchange rate fluctuations and to provide investment funds for education, health and public infrastructure. We will explore how new institutions protect themselves from developing the sort of dysfunctional Groupthink that has crippled the existing institutions. We will disabuse ourselves of notions that are popular among some progressive voices that a fixed exchange rate, international currency system is required. This will be a two part blog and will also have context for other blogs where I discuss reforms to the global financial system.
I am in the final stages of completing the manuscript for my next book (this one with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and started to believe that the state had withered and was powerless in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Accordingly, social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and compromise the well-being of their citizens as a result. In Part 3 of the book, which we are now working on, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world, are available. Today, I discuss capital controls.
We left the trail last time with James Callaghan telling the British Labour Party Annual Conference on September 28, 1976 that governments can no longer spend their “way out of a recession” and that the Keynesian approach was an option that “no longer exists”. He even suggested that the Keynesian approach to stabilising economic cycles was never valid. Meanwhile, his Chancellor, Denis Healey, by then convinced that Monetarist had validity, was working behind the scenes at the Conference to duchess or beat his colleagues in submission and accept the TINA approach to bringing in the IMF. They worked hard to construct the situation as a crisis of massive proportions although much of the ‘crisis’ was the result of their extreme reluctance to allow the pound to depreciate, to impose capital controls to stop the non-productive speculative outflows that were causing the currency to drop in value, and to accept that in the Post Bretton Woods era they no longer had to match their fiscal deficits with private debt issuance. But in doing so, the British government effectively created their own ‘funding’ crisis. Things came to a head in November 1976 within the Labour Cabinet, which was still deeply divided over the IMF issue. We finish this analysis of Britain and the IMF today by tracing events at the end of 1976 before providing a general summation of what it was all about.