The BBC in Britain carried a story yesterday (July 25, 2021) – UK will be paying for Covid for decades, say MPs – that began with the assertion that “Taxpayers will bear the costs of Covid ‘for decades'”. I guess there is some truth in that statement – families will remember their loved ones that died from the virus and those who are stricken with Long COVID will probably endure the negative effects for the rest of their lives. In that sense, if they are also ‘taxpayers’ they will be ‘paying’ the ‘costs’ of the pandemic. But, of course, that is not what the BBC article was wanting its readers to absorb. The intent was to lie to British citizens that somehow their tax burdens would have to rise to offset the deficits that the British government has run dealing with the collapsing economy. I know the BBC was just reporting on a document released by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts – COVID 19: Cost Tracker Update (released July 25, 2021). But the role of the public broadcaster is not to act as a press releasing agency for such politicised organisations, which, given the absence of any alternative voice in the article, is exactly what it did. The demise of critical scrutiny in economics commentary by national broadcasters everywhere is a major problem and makes them indistinguishable from scandalous media organisations run by private sector owners.
When I studied British politics (as one unit in a politics minor) at university, I was bemused by the role of the House of Lords. I know it is a curiously British institution that would be hardly tolerated anywhere else. But the fact that it serves as a part of the British democratic system continues to amaze me. Recently, the Economic Affairs Committee has been investigating (if that is what they get up to) Quantitative Easing because, apparently, some of the peers were worried about the “operational independence” of the Bank of England and the “economic effects” (read: inflation fears) among other concerns. They published their first report last week (July 16, 2021) – 1st Report – Quantitative easing: a dangerous addiction? – and it is littered with errors. The government has until September 16, 2021. The reply does not have to be long – they could just submit this blog post and get on doing things that matter, although the Tories are currently finding it hard to get their head around that essential task at the moment.
Many social media commentators that have become interested in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) regularly cite sections of the article written by businessman and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Beardsley Ruml – Taxes for Revenue Are Obsolete – which appeared in the January 1946 edition of the American Affairs journal. The article was actually a speech that he made “before the American Bar Association during the last year of the war”. Some claim that the content provides an early underpinning for Chartalism, upon with MMT is, in part, derived. I disagree. If you read his work carefully, rather than selectively quoting convenient sentences, and, that work includes his more substantial book that was published in 1945 and from which the article cited above was derived, you would get no MMT succour. He was basically lobbying for zero corporate taxation and he expressed rather orthodox views about fiscal policy at the time, which are very non-MMT in substance.
It’s Wednesday and I have been tied up most of the day with commitments. So we will have to be content today with a couple of snippets. The first about the on-going inflation mania and the way in which the ECB seems oblivious to it. The second about the gross incompetence of the Australia government, who has put the health of the nation at risk and forced state governments to invoke rolling lockdowns as only a small number of us are vaccinated and cases keep seeping out of a flawed quarantine system (the latter being the federal responsibility). And once the anger subsides from that little discussion, we have the usual Wednesday music offering to restore peace.
In my daily data life, I check out movements in commodity prices just to see what is going on. As I wrote recently in my UK Guardian article (June 7, 2021) – Price rises should be short-lived – so let’s not resurrect inflation as a bogeyman – the inflation hysteria has really set in. I provided more detail in this blog post – Price rises should be short-lived – so let’s not resurrect inflation as a bogeyman (June 9, 2021). Yes, I stole the title of my article for the blog post if you are confused. The inflation hysteria really reflects the fact that mainstream economists are ‘lost at sea’ at present given the dissonance between the real world data and the errant predictions from their economic framework. They cannot really understand what is happening so when they see a graph rising it must be inflation and that soothes them because rising deficits and central bank bond purchases have to be inflationary according to their perverted theoretical logic. The financial market press then just repeats the nonsense with very little scrutiny. But given many graphs are falling again, this Pavlovian-type response behaviour must be really doing their heads in. I have no sympathy.
Today, I am publishing a special guest post from four authors working in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tradition about inflation in Brazil. They are examining recent claims by Paul Krugman that the Brazilian experience ratifies basic Monetarist theory that links excessive monetary expansion with inflation (and hyperinflation). It turns out that the reality is quite different which is no surprise when it comes to confronting Krugman’s assertions with facts. Over to Daniel and co …
It’s Wednesday and I am somewhat besieged. So just a few reflections today before we delve into our latest music offering. I had an Op Ed published in the UK Guardian today (my time) which analysed the latest inflation scares that have been dominating the popular media. More and more mainstream macroeconomists are coming out and asserting that economies will overheat. The usual gold bugs have been delighted by this shift in the narrative back to the obsessions and manias that keep them occupied on a daily basis. What was interesting to me was the responses of the commentators to the Guardian Op Ed. If the sentiments expressed represent the state of macroeconomic knowledge (presumably mostly in the UK) then we have a long way to go before Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the sensible policies that it might inform gain any serious traction. Given the GFC, the stagnation in the aftermath, 30 years of Japanese history, the pandemic, which have all combined to demonstrate why the mainstream approach is dysfunctional and provides no guidance to what might happen in the real world, the commentators continued to rehearse these failed ideas about inflation, interest rates, bond markets etc. Quite dispiriting.
I have been working on an article that will come out in the press soon on inflationary pressures. It is obvious that characters like Larry Summers and Olivia Blanchard are trying to stay at the centre of the debate by issuing various lurid threats about the likelihood of an inflation outbreak in the US and elsewhere. Last week, the Financial Times published an article (June 3, 2021) by the former German Finance Minister and now President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble – Europe’s social peace requires a return to fiscal discipline. I was initially confronted with the juxtaposition of this author, who bullied all and sundry during to the GFC to ensure an austerity mindset was maintained at great cost to the millions who were deliberately forced to endure unemployment, with the photo of John Maynard Keynes under the title of the article. The title didn’t seem to match the picture. My first impressions were correct. Lessons have not been learned.
Well, the Melbourne virus outbreak has scuttled lots of plans and events. We wouldn’t be in this situation if the Federal government had have invested in dedicated quarantine facilities last year when they were told to and taken advice to ensure their vaccination purchases were sufficient. Anyway, that is for another day. Today, I have been examining European data and matching them against a recent interview (May 26, 2021) – Interview with Fabio Panetta, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, conducted by Jun Ishikawa – that Nikkei published yesterday. Things have changed a bit in Europe since the GFC although the fundamental problem of the Eurozone remains – there is a disjuncture between fiscal responsibility and fiscal capacity and the only way that that mismatch is being addressed is the via the on-going ECB funding of fiscal deficits, despite the denial that that is what is happening. It is plainly obvious to all.
Don’t say its over until its over. There has been progress in the macroeconomics narrative since the GFC, which accelerated during the pandemic. Governments have certainly expanded fiscal deficits and taken on more debt and the usual hysteria, which many of those same governments helped to ferment in the public debate, has fallen away. Obviously, for political reasons, a government that has previously been terrorising the population about the dangers of deficits and rising debt as a cover for ideologically-driven austerity programs, has no incentive in continuing those narratives while they have been dragged into maintaining capitalism on life support. The question has been whether these narratives will return once the health emergency starts to fade a little. There is clear evidence emerging that the lessons that the pandemic has taught us are not being absorbed by the economics commentariat, who dominate the public space with their opinions. Two clear examples of this came out this week (already) in the Australian press, which replicates the sort of commentary I am increasingly seeing around the globe. Deeply sad.