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.
This is a further instalment in tracing through the British currency crisis in 1976 and its retreat to the IMF later in that year. Today we discuss the tensions within the British Labour Party at the time, the Callaghan Speech to the Blackpool Annual Labour Conference on September 28, 1976, the behind the scenes work by Denis Healey and some clandestine activity between the US and British bureaucracies which was aimed to bring Britain to heel, one way or another and to overcome its ‘immorality’ – yes, the US thought the fiscal deficits the Brits were running were immoral.
This is a further instalment in tracing through the British currency crisis in 1976 and its retreat to the IMF later in that year. Today we discuss whether it was the IMF that forced the change of direction for British Labour or all their own dirty work with the IMF just being used to depoliticise what Callaghan and Healey wanted to do (and were doing) anyway. We trace through the way the leadership of the British Labour government were building the case for austerity and the path they followed leading up to the request to the IMF for a stand-by loan. Far from being the only alternative available, the course taken by the Government was a triumph of ideology and perception over evidence and reality.
In the last month or so, we have seen the IMF publish material that is critical of what they call neo-liberalism. They now claim that the sort of policies that the IMF and the OECD have championed for several decades have damaged the well-being of people and societies. They now advocate policy positions that are diametrically opposite their past recommendations (for example, in relation to capital controls). In the most recent OECD Economic Outlook we now read that their is an “urgent need” for fiscal expansion – for large-scale expenditure on public infrastructure and education – despite this organisation advocating the opposite policies at the height of the crisis. It is too early to say whether these ‘swallows’ constitute a break-down of the neo-liberal Groupthink that has dominated these institutions over the last several decades. But for now, we should welcome the change of position, albeit from elements within these institutions. They are now advocating policies that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents have consistently proposed throughout the crisis. If only! The damage caused by the interventions of the IMF and the OECD in advancing austerity would have been avoided had these new positions been taken early on in the crisis. The other question is who within these organisations is going to pay for their previous incompetence?
Sometimes, it is almost as if I have to pinch myself to establish that what I am reading is not a dream. A few reports lately have had that effect, not the least being the latest IMF report – Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) for Greece, which is forecasting unemployment will remain above 10 per cent for several decades to come. The latest Eurostat data on gross labour flows also paints a dire picture for a nation that has been deliberately ruined by neo-liberal ideology. And, the latest Eurobarometer studying Europe’s youth in 2016 tells us clearly how the next generation of adults feel about all this – they feel marginalised from social and economic life. The Troika and its corporate pals are doing a great job killing off the prospects for Europe’s children and their grandchildren, and further on – their grandchildren’s children. People in a few hundred years will reflect back on this period of history as being a dark age where power hungry maniacs dominated the people before the latter revolted and mayhem ensued.
This blog continues the discussion of the British currency crisis in 1976. Today we discuss the way the US government was constructing the crisis. They had previously seen Europe in terms of military and political threats and had clearly developed a range of interventions in Europe (NATO, military bases etc) in response to their fear of Communism. But, it was clear that the US began to believe that the on-going financial turmoil that accompanied the OPEC oil shocks at a time when the world was trying to adjust to the collapse of the Bretton Woods system (and the Smithsonian agreement reprise), was undermining what they called their “assumptions of political stability” and increasing, in their paranoiac minds, the threat of the spread of communism. They considered that the IMF would have to be ‘steered’ to take a larger role in this period of turmoil to restore financial stability – a precondition for political stability (in their eyes). And if they couldn’t directly order the IMF to act in the perceived interests of the US government, then they would do it informally – through “‘conversations’ rather than meetings”. It is a very interesting period because the US clearly wanted to use the IMF to influence “the future shape of the political economy of Great Britain”. The ‘crisis’ was, in effect, manufactured to give those ambitions ‘ground cover’. At least, that is one plausible perspective of what happened in 1976.
There was another article in the financial media this weekend running the hypothesis that the stagnant economic conditions that Australia has found itself in is a “new normal”. This is now a repeating theme. I disagree with it. It ignores some basic realities and is ideologically loaded towards an austerity interpretation of the world. The article in the Fairfax press (May 21, 2016) – Low pay growth, price rises and the new normal – claims that the “central question in macro-economics today” is whether we are “waiting … for the economy to get back to normal, or has the economy shifted to a “new normal?”. I would pose the question differently. Waiting implies that we think it is just a matter of time before the ‘market’ does its work and restores normality. Moreover, Australia like most of the rest of the world remains locked in the aftermath of what we call a ‘balance sheet’ recession. As I explained to various audiences in Spain during my recent visit, this type of event is unusual (atypical or abnormal) and requires a quite different policy response to a normal V-shaped recession where private investment spending falls, governments stimulate, confidence returns and growth gets back fairly quickly on its trend path. The losses might be large but the recession and aftermath are short. A balance sheet recession requires elevated levels of fiscal deficits being maintained for many years to support growth as non-government sector spending remains below the norm while it reduces its debt levels (via increased saving). The problem in Australia, like elsewhere, is that governments have been hectored by neo-liberal ideologues to prematurely withdraw or reduce the fiscal support and growth has stalled. A range of problems then follow.
Today I am in Barcelona, Spain after travelling from Trujillo (in the western part of Spain). Today’s blog continues the analysis I have been providing which aims to advance our understanding of why the British government called in the IMF in 1976 and why it fell prey to a growing neo-liberal consensus, largely orchestrated by the Americans. Yesterday, we analysed the way in which the IMF reinvented itself after its raison d’être was terminated with the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system. Today’s part of the story, is to trace the growing US influence on the IMF and the way it manipulated that institution to further its ‘free market’ agenda on a global scale. We will consider what Jagdish Bhagwati called the “Wall Street-Treasury complex”, which referred to the way in which financial market interests in the US combined with (pressured) the US Treasury Department to advance the myth that liberalisation of global capital flows would deliver massive benefits in the post-1971 period after the convertible currency, fixed exchange rate system collapsed.