The IMF published its October – World Economic Outlook – yesterday (October 7, 2014) and the news isn’t good. And remember this is the IMF, which is prone to overestimating growth, especially in times of fiscal austerity. What we are now seeing in these publications is recognition that economies around the world have entered the next phase of the crisis, which undermines the capacity to grow as much as the actual current growth rate. The concept of ‘secular stagnation’ is now more frequently referred to in the context of the crisis. However, the neo-liberal bias towards the primacy of monetary policy over fiscal policy as the means to overcome massive spending shortages remains. Further, it is clear that nations are now reaping the longer-term damages of failing to restore high employment levels as the GFC ensued. The unwillingness to immediately redress the private spending collapse not only has caused massive income and job losses but is now working to ensure that the growth rates possible in the past are going to be more difficult to achieve in the future unless there is a major rethink of the way fiscal policy is used. The myopia of neo-liberalism is now being exposed for all its destructive qualities.
There are parallel universes operating when it comes to neo-liberal politicians attempting to deal with reality. The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors concluded their weekend talkfest in Cairns yesterday and you might be excused for thinking there is a jobs glut across their economies. As an aside, fortunately, this pathetic lot of individuals were meeting about as far north as one can go on the Australian continent, which meant they were kept out of the civilised parts of the nation where the rest of us live. Given Australia is currently hosting the G20 this year, the event gave our buffoon of a Federal Treasurer the chance to bathe in the limelight and deliver the major press conference.
Yesterday the IMF released new analysis of Quantitative Easing, specifically in relation to the Euro Area – Euro Area – Q&A on QE. This is in the context of the ECB beginning to discuss the possibility of introducing a large sovereign debt buy-up as the euro-zone inflation rate looks to be close to deflating (negative inflation). Once again, all the financial commentators are rehearsing their usual claims about driving up inflation etc. The reality is the QE will not provide much help for the euro-zone economies which are mired in recession or stagnant, low growth. What is needed are fairly substantial increases in the fiscal deficits in all Member States and none of the neo-liberal ideologues want to face up to that. So, instead, we get these ridiculous debates and analyses of QE – good and bad and all the rest. The IMF is wrong on QE. But then why should we be surprised about that. An apology or admission of error will be issued down the track, notwithstanding that in between all sorts of spurious forecasts about inflation, inflationary expectations and growth will be issued by them.
The IMF recently called on the euro-zone leaders to In its 2014 Consultation – 2014 Article IV Consultation with the Euro Area Concluding Statement of the IMF Mission – (an annual event the IMF does with each contributing member) the IMF said that the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) in the euro-zone “has become excessively complicated with multiple objectives and targets. Compliance with fiscal targets has been poor, reflecting in part weak enforcement mechanisms. And there is a worry that the framework discourages public investment.” The IMF might have mentioned that it also discourages private investment. The failure to include that in their warning is a reflection of their continued belief that fiscal austerity is good for the private sector. The evidence is very clear – it is bad for every sector. But at least the IMF is joining the chorus in opposition to the manic rule-driven approach the euro bureaucrats have put in place.
The abysmal performance of the IMF in recent years has been one of the side stories of the Global Financial Crisis. They have consistently hectored nations about cutting deficits using models that were subsequently shown to be deeply flawed. They bullied nations into austerity with estimates of multipliers that showed that austerity would yield growth when subsequent analysis reveals their estimates were wrong and should have shown what we all knew anyway – that austerity kills growth. Their predictions have been consistently and systematically wrong – always understating (by significant proportions) any losses that would accompany austerity and overstating the growth gains. At times, in the face of incontrovertible evidence they have admitted their failures. But a leopard can’t change its spots. The IMF is infested with the myths of neo-liberalism and only a total change in remit and clearing out of staff could overcome that inner bias. Their latest offering – Japan: Concrete Fiscal, Growth Measures Can Help Exit Deflation – is another unbelievable reversion to form.
On Monday (July 8, 2013), the IMF released its “preliminary findings” of the – Article IV Consultation with the Euro Area. The nomenclature and turn of phrase alone are symptomatic of the organisation’s incapacity to come to terms of the problem it is addressing and its own role in creating and perpetuating the problem. On the one hand, they clearly acknowledge that “the economic recovery remains elusive, unemployment is rising, and uncertainty is high”. But on the other hand, they urge more of the same and claim the policies that have created this mess represent “progress”. The Euro area can do two things to improve the situation of citizens who live within it. First, abandon the voluntary fiscal rules which have not theoretical justification and allow nations to expand deficits to address the massive output gaps. If need be, fund the deficits via the ECB. Second, once the crisis is over, create a process whereby the monetary union voluntarily dissolves itself in an orderly manner. That is the only sure way of minimising the on-going damage. Oh, and third, withdraw all funding from the IMF and enter multilateral negotiations to create a new agency that helps poor nations defend themselves against speculative attacks on their currencies. And, while I am at it, fourth, reach an international accord to outlaw any speculative transaction that does not advance the real economy. That will keep them all busy and get the millions of people that the IMF and the Euro elites have deliberately made jobless busy again too.
Imagine a patient that goes in for surgery to fix an in-grown toe-nail. She comes out in a wheelchair after the surgeon has trimmed a little more than expected from the toe. The result is she loses her whole leg in the operation. When challenged, the surgeon says that they underestimated how much damage would be caused when they starting trimming the toe-nail and realised too late that they had actually cut her leg off by mistake. The surgeon also admits that they had major differences of opinion with the other specialists involved in the assessment about the extent of the cutting required and the degree to which the surgery would deliver relief to the patient but chose not to disclose that to the patient before hand because they didn’t want to risk slowing down the rush to surgery. After all, surgeons know only one thing – cutting and stitching. The one-legged patient sues the surgeon under tort and the authorities prosecute under criminal law. The surgeon is found guilty of criminal malpractice and negligence, is ordered to pay out millions to the patient and is sent to prison. The reality of professional risk. While the analogy is not perfect it leads to this sort of question: Why should professional economists working for the IMF, the EC and the ECB be above the professional standards and accountability that apply throughout the professional world?
I recall a professor in my student days (formal that is, given we are always students if we remain open) telling a postgraduate class that economic development could only occur if the social democratic pretensions of the left, including tolerance of trade unions, were suppressed – “in the interests of progress”. He laughed and said that it was no surprise that the most right-wing nations grew the fastest. His poster child was South Korea. I recalled that experience when I read two articles recently in the UK Guardian. They are reflections on how neo-liberalism is really the antithesis to democratic ideals. The so-called free markets have nothing to do with freedom or political inclusion.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) released its latest – Global Employment Trends 2013 – yesterday (January 22, 2013), which carried the sub-title “Recovering from a second jobs dip”. The way things are going in policy circles next year’s ILO Trends report will be titled something like “Heading into a third jobs dip”. There has been a lot of focus in the last few days on how central banks are standing ready or are about to inject liquidity into their respective economies as a further attempt to boost jobs. The press reports I have read (about Japan, UK etc) never also mention that these monetary policy gymnastics (quantitative easing) do nothing as they stand for aggregate demand. Japan will pick up its growth rate in the coming year not because the BoJ is buying bonds but because the Ministry of Finance will be increasing the budget deficit via some large spending injections. Unfortunately, the UK is determined to ensure it has a quadruple(bypass!)-dip recession. The ILO reports highlights the results of the policy folly in very sharp terms but, unfortunately, still situates that organisation within the neo-liberal orthodoxy when it comes to macroeconomic policy. Their heart is at least in the right place, they just have to move their institutional brain – about 180 degrees.
Earlier this year the President of the European Commission declared that “the euro crisis is a thing of the past” (Source). As with most things the President says the reality is different to his political speak. The latest news is that Germany went backwards in the fourth-quarter 2012 as the on-going fiscal austerity chokes any hope of growth. The data continues to negate the logic that emerges from agencies such as the IMF. In recent days, the IMF, fresh from admitting what amounts to professional malpractice (see – The culpability lies elsewhere … always! for example) – has just published a paper that seeks to classify governments as to whether they are fiscally prudent or profligate. As you will see these concepts might be bandied about in religious meetings but have no meaning in the way the IMF seeks to apply them to the real world economic debate. They are loaded terms that are defined without reference to anything that matters. The problem is that the policy advice that follows from this sort of irrelevant analysis causes massive damage to the lives of people by undermining the capacity of economies to meet the needs of these people.