Yesterday (November 30, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – which is a new data series that the ABS has introduced to augment the quarterly CPI index release. Regular readers will know that I have considered this period of inflation to be transitory, which means that it is likely to dissipate rather quickly once the driving factors abate. It doesn’t mean that those driving factors are necessarily short-term in horizon. They might persist. But the important point is that second-round propagating mechanisms such as the wage-price distributional battle over markups are not present as they were in the 1970s, which is why that episode had a life of its own once the initial oil price supply shock adjustment was made. The other significant aspect of my assessment is that this current inflationary period does not indicate excessive fiscal support nor does it justify central banks hiking interest rates. The drivers at present are originating from the supply-side (pandemic, long Covid, OPEC+ and the Ukraine situation) and are not sensitive to any degree to interest rate changes. I have received a lot of criticism for holding this view. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is dead crowd constantly E-mail me or try to push acrid comments on this blog telling me to get another life or end my existing one. The problem for them is that the latest data from around the world is telling me that this period of inflation is peaking as the supply drivers start to wane.
It’s Wednesday and I am reverting to my usual pattern of discussing a few items in less detailed form and including some music to lighten the load. Today we consider the apology that the RBA governor issued to mortgage holders that the central bank duped. We also consider the question of what is ‘normal’ in a pandemic. And more.
The IMF published a new blog the other day (November 21, 2022) – How Fiscal Restraint Can Help Fight Inflation – which demonstrates that the organisation is still stuck in a New Keynesian world and despite all the empirical dissonance that has been building over the last decades to militate against that economic approach, little evolution in thinking is apparent. The battle to dispense with the mainstream approach is going to be harder and longer than many thought.
Today we consider how asinine Australian’s monetary policy makers are now sounding. Yesterday, I reported the massive income redistribution that is going on at present as a consequence of central banks now hiking interest rates. This not only favours those with interest rate sensitive assets and punishes borrowers, but also necessitates, under current policy settings that central banks pay millions to trillions of cash to the banks that hold excess reserves. The excess reserves are the consequence of quantitative easing programs. Some might say this is the fault of the QE programs. But an Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) interpretation is that under optimal policy where no public debt is issued at all, the bank reserves would still accumulate. The MMT position would see no support rate paid and a Japan-style zero interest rate regime maintained at the short-end of the yield curve. In that case, there would be no transfers of cash to the banks as a result of their excess reserve holdings. Today, there is more though. On Tuesday (November 22, 2022), the Reserve Bank of Australia governor gave an address (November 22, 2022) – Price Stability, the Supply Side and Prosperity – to the Annual CEDA dinner in Melbourne. He told the audience that we are entering a period of global uncertainty which will require more rapid adjustments in interest rate settings, up and down, to deal with the growing threat of inflation. It was an appalling display of hubris and September cannot come quick enough – when his contract as governor expires.
It’s Wednesday, and before we get to the music segment, I document some developments in the banking system which are not receiving much press at the moment. I refer to the fact that the rate hikes now being implemented by most central banks are not just allowing the commercial banks to widen spreads between deposit and lending rates which will generate significant windfall profits for the banks and their shareholders. The increasing interest rates are also delivering massive cash injections to the banks who hold reserve accounts at the central banks. Why? Because the quantitative easing programs from the past have resulted in a massive buildup of excess reserves which are liabilities for the central banks. They are paying support returns on those reserve, which are scaled against the rising policy target rates. So the payments have escalated significantly and delivering a massive corporate welfare boost to the banks while the same interest rate rises are causing hardship to borrowers, especially those on low incomes. And amazing redistribution of income towards the ‘champagne socialists’ all via our central banks.
There is no doubt that the on-going pandemic has left a trail of economic problems including major supply constraints, the growing problem of long Covid and other issues that are challenging policy makers. They have been exacerbated by the behaviour of OPEC+ and the Ukraine situation. We now have a period of inflation, real wage cuts and most central banks doing their best to make matters worse. However, we now have a phenomenon that goes like this. In the UK, everything ‘bad’ that arises is apparently because of Brexit even if the trends were there before the move or the problems are being shared across all countries. I imagine even if the English cricket team loses it is because of Brexit. This phenomenon has generalised however. Now, we have the claim that all bad economic news is because governments ‘followed’ MMT or something akin to it. Those who are insecure about MMT because it does better at explaining the real world than the mainstream theories are the same as the Remainers who predicted that the British economy would crash badly in 2017 and then every year after that. To soothe their worried souls they consider any ‘bad’ news to be because of ‘MMT’ or in the case of Britain because of Brexit. Neither proposition has any foundation.
It’s Wednesday and so we have a few brief items relating to monetary policy and property scandals before a final music offering to calm our nerves.
Yesterday (October 26, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the September-quarter – Consumer Price Index, Australia – which revealed that the quarterly CPI rose by 1.8 per cent (relatively large increase) and rose over the 12 months by 7.3 per cent, the highest annual inflation rate since 1990. The most significant contributors over the year were owner-occupied housing (bushfires wiping out materials), food (floods destroying crops), and gas supplies (cartel profit gouging). So some of the factors driving the inflation are short-term and the others will be resolved by factors outside our control. But with wage pressures absent and the most reliable indicator of medium- to long-term inflation now falling, it is hard to make a case that the rising inflation is now entrenched. The correct policy response should be to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises at present.
There were two headlines on Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC’s news site this morning that tell us that there has been little progress made in helping people better understand the way the monetary system operates and the capacities of the currency-issuing government within it. Both articles merely rehearsed the standard mainstream fictions, which makes them dangerous, in that they perpetuate the system that has held the world back from addressing its major challenges. By creating false ‘challenges’ and false ‘probabilities of crisis’, these stories delay action that is necessary to deal with the real problems of climate change, inequality, degradation of public infrastructure and services, the health crisis, etc
The other problem is that these ‘analysis’ columns pretend to be balanced with is a ruse to bestow legitimacy or authority on themselves. ‘Experts’, who are wheeled out to ratify the fiction, are just part of the Groupthink. It is a circular system of nonsense. Very disappointing.
It’s Wednesday and we have some snippets that really just make way for the music feature. Today, I consider the recent inversion of the US yield curve, which is typically a sign that recession is around the corner. We also learn that while most people are being hit with rising prices and flat wages, the banks are recording record net interest income as a result of their non-competitive, cartel like behaviour. And we wonder how more silly can the Swedish central bank prize in economics become. And then, after all that, we have the music feature to rescue the day.