This is the final part of my four-part Q&A series arising from my recent trip to Japan. In this post, I answer just one question. The answer goes to the heart of the relationship between the national government (finance division) and the central bank and illustrates the complexity of reserve accounting. So it needs some background by way of education. Recall that these questions about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) were raised with me during my recent trip to Japan. The public discussion about MMT in Japan is relatively advanced (compared to elsewhere). Political activists across the political spectrum are discussing and promoting MMT as a major way of expressing their opposition to fiscal austerity in Japan. The basics of MMT are now as well understood in Japan as anywhere and so the debate has moved onto more detailed queries, particularly with regard to policy applications. So as part of my current visit to Japan, I was asked to provide some guidance on a range of issues. In my presentations I addressed these matters. But I thought it would be productive to provide some written analysis so that everyone can advance their MMT understanding.
Only a short blog post today as it is Wednesday. My father, in fact, used to say that ‘leopards do not change their spots’, when referring to people who in one period behaved one way and then when sprung would pretend they were reformed. I was thinking about that when I noted that the queue to the magical reinvention door is getting longer by the day. This is the process, whereby a person, who previously advocated neoliberal macroeconomic policy interventions from the sidelines (as an academic economist or media commentator) and/or executed them from a position of power (say, as a Treasurer or Minister of Finance), starts attacking present day governments, who inherited their own fiscal surplus obsessions, and are, like they did themselves, driving their economies into the ground as a result of the same obsessions. Who is in the spotlight today? None other than the former Australian Treasurer, Paul Keating who was reported in the press this morning (October 30, 2019) – Paul Keating slams Liberal party ‘surplus virus’ (paywall) – as being critical of the current government for keeping the “Australian economy ‘idling at the lights'” as a result of “running Australia’s budget like a ‘corner shop'”. He urged the government to stimulate the economy with fiscal policy. Now before we get too excited, and this applies to all the goons who come out claiming they wanted fiscal stimulus all along, these characters typically blow their cover and reveal their true DNA when they reflect on their own track records on the subject. But it is an interesting, if not amusing, pastime watching these characters try to revise their CVs to look like they ‘knew it all along’ as they try desperately to retain relevance and get on the right side of history. We are not that stupid though.
A little bit of a different blog post format today. I mentioned in this blog post – Apparently core MMT idea is now supported by the mainstream (October 16, 2019) – that the Japanese government had taken issued a statement, by way of a formal answer to a series of questions from Japanese CDR politician Kazuma Nakatani on the opening day of the new Parliament (October 4, 2019). The Japanese government reply was not available in full at the time I wrote that but it was reported in the Japanese Media that the Government response could be summarised as “As a government, we don’t implement policy based on the idea that Japan is a successful case of MMT because its inflation and interest rates are not rising despite massive debt … We are working to restore fiscal health”. Which I thought was an interesting way of trying to deny the undeniable but also missed the point somewhat – being that MMT is not a ‘case’ but rather just provides an alternative lens to understanding the way in which modern monetary systems operate, the capacities of the currency-issuing government within those monetary systems, and the consequences of particular policy choices. In that context, over the last 3 odd decades, the Japanese government has pushed policy into new domains – large-scale central bank government bond purchases with continuous, and, at times, relatively large fiscal deficits yet has seen interest rates fall to zero and below, inflation low to negative and negative long-term bond yields. The consequences of the policy choices have been anathema to those predicted by mainstream macroeconomists. Japan has essentially defied mainstream economics and demonstrated its falsities. The only body of macroeconomic thought that gets close to explaining the Japanese situation is Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). That is why our work is being discussed at the highest levels in Japan. Anyway, today, I can present full translations of the Questions and the Government response with my annotations of that response. My translation was considerably enhanced by Kobayashi Chie and I thank her heaps for her help.
As Mario Draghi’s tenure at the helm of the ECB draws to a close, he becomes (slightly) more pointed and looser with his public statements. On Friday (October 11, 2019), he gave a speech – Policymaking, responsibility and uncertainty – at the Università Cattolica in Milan on the occasion of receiving the Laurea Honoris Causa (honorary degree). He broadened the scope of his policy ambit by saying that “I will not focus strictly on monetary policy or the business of central banking, but I would like instead to share my thoughts on the nature of policy responsibility.” In the same week, the Eurogroup (the European Finance Ministers) of the European Commission released a press release – Remarks by Mário Centeno following the Eurogroup meeting of 9 October 2019 (October 10, 2019) – which announced that they had agreed to a “a budgetary instrument for the euro area – the so-called BICC”. Don’t get too excited. The BICC will only achieve the status of an “Inter-Governmental Agreement”, meaning it will not be embodied in the Treaties. Also, the Member States will have to contribute funds in advance and must “co-finance” withdrawals. And, as usual, there was no mention of the fund size, which will be miniscule if history tells us anything. But this is all context for Mario Draghi’s Speech.
Last Friday (October 4, 2019), a group of former central bank governors and/or officials in Europe, issued a statement damming the conduct of the European Central Bank. You can read the full text at Bloomberg – Memorandum on ECB Monetary Policy by Issing, Stark, Schlesinger. The timing of the intervention is interesting given the change of boss at the ECB is imminent. As I explain in what follows, the Memorandum should be disregarded. Its central contentions are mostly correct but the alternative world it would have Europe follow would be a disaster for many of the Member States and the people that live within them. It would almost certainly result in the collapse of the monetary union – which would be a good outcome – in the face of massive income and job losses and the social and political instability that would follow – which would be a bad outcome. What it tells me is that the monetary union is a massive failure. It would be far better to dissolve it in an orderly manner to avoid those massive income and job losses and to support the restoration of full currency sovereignty and national central banks. That would be the sensible thing to do.
I am now back in Australia after the latest cross-country run and so am falling back to routine. Which means a relatively short Wednesday blog post. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut their policy interest rate by 0.25 points to 0.75 per cent, a record low level. The RBA governor cited the weakness in the labour market as the reason for the cut and continued to suggest that the Government, which is pursuing its mindless austerity goal to record a fiscal surplus as the economy tumbles towards recession, should expand fiscal policy to kick-start growth. Once again, a central bank is being pushed into ‘record-making’ policy territory because the treasury-side of government will not use its fiscal capacity responsibly. This is now a global trend and even the likes of Dr Schwarze Null is calling for more fiscal action. Another day passes that demonstrates the mainstream New Keynesian approach is rapidly being abandoned by policy makers and an era of fiscal dominance approaches. Not before time.
It is Wednesday today and only a short blog post. I am heading to New York city today from London. More on that tomorrow. It is clear now that journalists from all over the globe are starting to pick up on the shifts in policy thinking that I have been writing about – the admission by policy makers that monetary policy has reached the end of its effective life (not that it was ever particularly effective) and that there is a crying need for a return to fiscal dominance, which was the norm before the neoliberal era began several decades ago. We have not yet reached the stage where the dots are being fully joined – monetary policy dominance dead -> fiscal policy dominance desirable -> neoliberalism dead. But that will have to come because the fiscal policy activism will have to be aimed at addressing targets that have been neglected by the neoliberal era – real wages growth, quality and security of employment, restoration of public services, environmental care priorities, scope and quality of public infrastructure, and the like. But as the journalists are starting to file copy on this topic, some are very lazy – and just want to have it on the record that they were part of the throng. One of the laziest offerings I have read was published today in the Australian on-line newspaper, The New Daily (September 23, 2019) – The economic weapon too hot for the RBA to mention: Helicopter money – and written by finance journalist Michael Pascoe, who is usually more careful with his words. While many might think any publicity is good for the spread of our Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) work, my view is that falsely constructing MMT can add to the already stifling dissonance among the public that has been mislead for years by the framing and language of the mainstream economists.
I am typing some of this on the train from Brighton back to London, after a day of speaking events in Brighton, where the British Labour Party conference is currently being held. I spoke at two events: (a) the GIMMS event on MMT and the Green New Deal and a video will be available soon; and (b) at an event alongside British Labour MP Chris Williamson, where were talked about how an Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) understanding can enhance the progressive policy cause and advance a transformation towards a ‘socialist’ (whatever that might be) state. It was great to see everyone at the events. The second event was attended by many people involved in the Labour Party itself and I hope that being exposed to new ideas will activate further grassroots resistance to the neoliberal system that undermines our material prosperity. So this two-part series is a reflection on the state of economic policy thinking within British Labour in the context of the paradigm shift that is going on now, around the world, in macroeconomic policy thinking. As I noted in – Part 1 – we are now seeing economists and policy makers, lining up, to tell us that a reliance on monetary policy has run its course and a new era of fiscal policy dominance is the only viable way ahead. That means that New Keynesian economics is over. That means that fiscal credibility rules that reflect an adherence to neoliberal constructs will need to be abandoned. And it seems that British Labour are lagging behind these major shifts that have been going on in economic policy thinking. Only Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) offers a consistent and credible path for Labour to make the shift into this era.
As I type this (Sunday), I am heading to Brighton, England from Edinburgh. We had two sessions in Edinburgh yesterday (Saturday) and it was great to share ideas with some really committed people. We had to dodge a Hollywood closure of the streets (‘Fast and Furious 9 had commandeered the inner city to film a car or two swerving out of control or whatever, and I hope the city received heaps for the inconvenience to its citizens. But, with the direction now south, and tomorrow’s two events (more later), I am thinking the place of the British Labour Party in the progressive struggle. It doesn’t look good to me. The news overnight has been that the Party’s “head of policy and the author of the party’s last election manifesto” (quoting the Times today) has quit the Party claiming “I no longer have faith we will succeed”. The blame game starts and, as usual, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is in focus. The Times cartoon had the caption “They’ve got what it takes to form a government” with two ducks (in Brighton) looking at a sign against a wall saying “Labour Civil War Chaos”. What should we make of all this? My take is this: there is a clear paradigm shift going on in macroeconomic policy thinking. Every day (it seems) a new article pops up with someone claiming monetary policy has run its course and a new era of fiscal policy dominance is the only viable way ahead. That means that the central bank imprimatur on policy – determining whether such policy can continue to be effective and relying on interest rate adjustments etc as the primary counter-stabilisation policy – is over. That means that New Keynesian economics is over. That means that fiscal credibility rules that are neoliberal central are over. And that is why I think British Labour are looking poorly in the polls. They have taken advice from a number of characters who have pushed them into a ‘New Keynesian’ mindset and they are now ‘yesterday’s news’. They have missed the boat on these major shifts that have been going on. That is why they need a major shift in macroeconomic thinking. Only Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) offers a consistent and credible path for them to make that shift.
This is Part 2 of my two-part commentary and analysis of the – Monetary policy decisions – by the ECB (September 12, 2019). In Part 1, I discussed the shifts in the deposit rate and the changes to the Targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs). In Part 2, I am focusing on the decision to introduce a two-tiered deposit rate on excess reserves, which is designed to reduce the costs of the penalty arising from the negative deposit rate regime that the ECB has had in place since June 2014. But the most important aspect of the ECB decision was not the monetary policy changes, which will have relatively minor impacts on the real Eurozone economy. The telling part of the whole episode was Mario Draghi’s comments on fiscal dominance. We are entering a new era where the neoliberal obsession with so-called monetary policy reliance is becoming increasingly discredited and exposed by the evidence base. Fiscal dominance is approaching. And the only body of work that has consistently argued for this approach to macroeconomic policy making has been Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) despite what the mainstream economists who are now starting to realise their reputations are in tatters might say.