The early 1970s brought into relief the internal contradictions of the capitalist system of production and distribution. This was never more evident than in Britain at the time. The trade unions, previously illegal had become more powerful and integrated as they defended the rights of their members. The very existence of the union movement exposed the conflictual nature of capitalism. The trade unions caused havoc in Britain in the early 1970s. But before we consider the role of the trade unions, it is important to understand what was happening on the capital side at the time. After the Monetarist ideas of Milton Friedman and his colleagues at the University of Chicago and beyond had seeped out of the academy into the policy and lobbying circles, it became obvious that capital would mount a major action against the unions and governments that gave them succour. Corporations and big money were far from passive. They didn’t buy the line that the Left has been lured into believing that the state had become increasingly powerless as capitalism became more global. Far from it. They got more organised than ever! The British Labour Party became lambs for the …
I read two articles/reports today about Japan. The first was a Fairfax article (March 21, 2016) from a journalist who invariably peddles the neoliberal economic myths. The second was from the IMF extolling the virtues of higher wages in Japan. What? Yes, you read the second point correctly. The IMF considers that an essential new policy element (a “fourth arrow”) is required in Japan in the form of real wages growth outstripping productivity growth by around 2 per cent. It wants the government to legislate to ensure that happens. In general, the IMF solution for Japan is in fact one of the key changes that nations have to do bring in to restore some sense of stability into the world economy. Governments around the world has to ensure that real wages growth, at least, keeps pace with productivity growth and that workers can fund their consumption expenditure from their earnings rather than relying on ever increasing levels of credit and indebtedness. This will of course require a fundamental change in our approach to the interaction between society and economy. It will require increased employment protection, larger public sector employment proportions, decreased casualisation, and legislative requirements imposed upon firms to pass on productivity gains. It’s no small order, but it is one of a number of essential changes that we will have to do introduce as part of the abandonment of neoliberalism.
I have been on the search for historical turning points again today. The famous Mitterand austerity turn in 1983 is one of these points. Another, which I will consider today, was the British Labour Prime Minster James Callaghan’s speech to Labour Party Conference held at Blackpool on September 28, 1976 was laced with pro-Monetarist assertions that have been used by many on the Left as being defining points in the decline of the state to run independent domestic policy aimed at maintaining full employment. This is a further instalment of my next book on globalisation and the capacities of the nation-state, which I am working on with Italian journalist Thomas Fazi. We expect to finalise the manuscript in May 2016. Today, I am writing about the background events that turned Britain on to Monetarism. Margaret Thatcher was, in fact, a ‘johnny-come-lately’ in this respect. The British Labour Party were infested with the Monetarist virus in the late 1960s and Callaghan’s 1976 Speech just consolidated what had been happening over the decade prior. Further, it was not the oil crisis in the early 1970s that provided the open door for governments to reject Keynesian policy. In Britain, the Treasury and Bank of England were captivated by the ideas of Milton Friedman some years prior to the OPEC price push.
In November 2015, the IMF released an IMF Staff Discussion Note (SDN/15/22) – Wage Moderation in Crises: Policy Considerations and Applications to the Euro Area – which purports to measure “the short-run economic impact of wage moderation and the implications for policy in the context of the euro area crisis”. It juxtaposes the impacts of the so-called internal devaluation approach with the impacts of Eurozone monetary policy. It recognises that the euro zone countries cannot use exchange rate depreciation to boost domestic demand but argues that instead, “lower nominal wage growth … and lower inflation or higher productivity growth relative to trading partners is needed”. The paper presents the standard mainstream arguments that: 1) wage cuts improve employment through increased competitiveness; 2) interest rate cuts stimulate overall spending; 3) quantitative easing stimulates overall spending. There is very little empirical evidence to support any of these statements, especially when fiscal austerity is accompanying these policy measures. The discussion does acknowledge wage cuts may be deflationary and “work in the opposite direction of the competitiveness affect”, in other words, domestic demand and overall growth declines. The unstated message is that internal devaluation doesn’t really improve competitiveness when it is imposed across the currency bloc and undermines domestic spending, which further impedes any export growth (because domestic income drives import demand).
The IMF has taken to advertising for the ratings agency Moody’s. It is a good pair really. Moody’s is a disgraced ratings agency and the IMF has blood on its hands for its role in less developed nations and for its incompetence in estimating the impacts of austerity in Europe. Neither has produced research or policy proposals that can be said to advance the well-being of nations. Moody’s has shown a proclivity to deceptive behaviour in pursuit of its own advancement (private largesse). The IMF struts around the world bullying nations and partnering with other institutions to wreak havoc on the prosperity of citizens. Its role in the Troika is demonstrative. Anyway, they are now back in the fiscal space game – announcing that various nations have no alternative but to impose harsh austerity because the private bond markets will no longer fund them. They include Japan in that category. Their models would have drawn the same conclusion about Japan two decades ago. It is amazing that any national government continues to fund the IMF. It should be disbanded.
There was a UK Guardian article yesterday (October 15, 2014) – Evo Morales has proved that socialism doesn’t damage economies – that recounted the recent economic history of Bolivia. There has been growing awareness in the Western press of what has been happening there given that the President Evo Morales has been once again re-elected for a third time, against the opposition of the financial elites in the so-called ‘first world’. A New York Times article (February 16, 2014) – Turnabout in Bolivia as Economy Rises From Instability – also noted the way in which Bolivia resisted the GFC to become a growth powerhouse in Latin America. The experience of Bolivia is a classic case of what can be achieved if a nation defies the international elites (such as the IMF and Wall Street) and carves out a path using its fiscal capacity to increase social capital and public infrastructure. When a nation can increase the real minimum wage by 87 odd per cent in a span of 8 years and see unemployment fall and real per capita income head for the stars then you know the mainstream neo-liberal mantras are wrong. Bolivia defied them and has prospered.
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.