I am “on the road” again today so short of time (as usual). But yesterday, Eurostat released the latest labour force data from the EU and the Eurozone for the month of August 2012. It showed that the labour market continues to deteriorate and youth unemployment in some countries is heading into unprecedented territory. I have examined various speeches that representatives of the Troika have made when discussing fiscal austerity over the last few years and I have failed to find any specific reference to the the labour market collapse. There is lots of talk about fiscal consolidation and the need to maintain confidence with the “investors” (the bond market recipients of corporate welfare). But very little focus on the real human tragedy – which is epitomised by the rising joblessness. There is a huge disconnect operating between the policy makers and the people. I saw something of the way the European policy makers live and interact during my recent trip to Brussels. They should get out more and travel to Greece and see what is happening on the street where there are now more than 55 per cent of the 15-24 year olds unemployed – and without very many future prospects.
It is a public holiday in NSW today – Labour Day – to celebrate the 8-hour day although for many workers that victory is now a thing of the past as labour market deregulation bites harder on the hard-won conditions that workers enjoyed during the full employment period. I am also ailing (with “the bug” that is “going around”) and I have two major pieces of work to finish (one completed this morning). There is also a birthday in my immediate family and so I am partying tonight (in relative terms). So all that means a shortish blog. I was giving a talk in Perth last week about the absurdity of state (non-currency issuing) governments running down public infrastructure because they refuse to borrow all in the name of preserving their AAA credit rating from the corrupt ratings agencies. The obvious question seems to evade people – why have AAA credit rating if you refuse to borrow. The ridiculousness of the ratings game raised its head again last week when one of the ratings agencies threatened to downgrade the British Government’s rating. It is clear that the agency is probably needing a revenue boost so tried to attract some publicity. If I was the Chancellor I would have told them to buzz off and to stress how irrelevant they really are. But the reaction was typical – angst and worry. For what? Nothing. The only thing it demonstrated was how mislead the public are and how mindless this “dark age” that we are living through at present really is.
I am in Perth today speaking at a public service employees union congress. The talk is based on a major report we have just finished tracking the implications of public spending cutbacks in Australia on the volume and quality of public service delivery. We did several case studies – one of which was child protection – and the cutbacks will lead to increased child abuse in Australia without doubt. The story is pretty grim and I will write about it once the Report is made public by the commissioning party. But with travel (Perth is a long flight from anywhere and I have to get back to Newcastle tonight – 6 hours) and commitments I haven’t much time to wax lyrical on my blog. But I have been meaning to write about the upcoming Scottish referendum on independence from Britain and it fits a nice theme with yesterday’s blog – The demise of social democratic parties – they are all neo-liberals now – where I argued that good intentions come to naught if the economic policy paradigm used is erroneous. I would recommend the Scots vote yes at the 2014 referendum. But only if they introduce their own unpegged, floating currency and avoid any talk of joining the Eurozone. Further, the yes vote should be conditional on the government committing itself to achieving full employment on the back of their newly created currency sovereignty. Then the yes vote will improve welfare for the Scottish people. If they continue to use the British pound – then nothing will be gained.
It will be a relatively short blog today as I am off travelling again. Yes, I was home one day! Real GDP gaps, which measure the extent to which economies are producing below their potential (indicated by full employment of labour and existing capital resources), remain large across many of the large advanced economies. That means one thing – current output growth is not strong enough given the real resources available to these nations. It means another thing – that potential growth will start to fall as investments in productive capital and human capital falters as a result of the lack of demand for current output. Given current capacity (labour and capital), the utilisation of it depends on spending and spending alone. That means another thing. Policies that deliberately undermine the current demand for output will not help economies to exit this crisis. So the only debate worth having is how to stimulate spending and that leaves all the discussions about the need for fiscal austerity on the sidelines of irrelevance. At what point will the economists supporting austerity realise that?
Today’s article from the relics (my office clear out continues) is actually two articles. One by Arthur Okun and the other by fellow US macroeconomist Gardner Ackley. Both economists are now dead but during their careers were aware of the role of government in a monetary economy. They were antagonistic to the conservative views of economists that wanted to push fiscal rules such as balanced budgets. They understood that these views not only undermined democracy but also made it impossible for governments to pursue their legitimate goals of promoting public purpose. In the current environment, if they were still alive they would be castigating those who seek to impose pro-cyclical fiscal austerity. Their insights remain relevant today. Just think about yesterday’s public finance data release in Britain. The debt reduction forecasts from the British government are in tatters because tax revenue is collapsing further and welfare spending is rising. The operation of the automatic stabilisers is signalling that the British government has more than adequately demonstrated its incompetence.
I am doing a bit of cleaning up old filing boxes each day now as the date I will be moving offices approaches. It is actually an interesting process – looking through boxes and articles that have been stored away for some years now. Today, I came across an article that was in the US Magazine Challenge (March-April, 1982) entitled The Guilds of Academe and written by one Jack Barbash, who was an academic at the University of Wisconsin. It discussed the way in which the economics profession protects its belief system from criticism and avoids, as far as possible, addressing real world problems. The mainstream will talk as if they are addressing a real world problem – such as entrenched unemployment – but when you realise the models they are dabbling with you know that they are really talking about nothing real at all. This leads onto a forthcoming book by some British conservative MPs who have the temerity to argue that the British unemployment problem is due to the workers being to idle and diverted by pop music to bother working. You know instantly that the underlying model has come from a mainstream economist who hasn’t recently looked out the window or read any data.
Here is a list of my professional colleagues who have learned nothing in the last 5 years. That is no surprise because they didn’t learn very much before that about how the monetary system works anyway. If their ideas were to be implemented I would guess that very few of them would publicly recant and admit they were wrong. They would obfuscate, deny, misconstrue but they wouldn’t admit they were wrong. At least prospective students have a good list of departments to avoid should they wish to study economics in the US. Keep it handy for future reference. Back in February 2010, there was a letter by 20 economists supporting the Tory proposals for fiscal austerity published in the Sunday Times. It was an unashamed attempt to influence the result of the May 2010 election. A week later 60 economists wrote that the 20 were nuts. It seems that some of the 20 rats have now deserted the Tory ship but won’t really tell us why.
Eurostat released the second-quarter 2012 National Accounts data for the Europe yesterday and, predictably, the recession is deepening in many countries. The Southern European nations saw their performance worsen and data shows that Spain’s house prices fell by 11.2 per cent last month (Source) and have fallen by 31 per cent since the crisis began in 2008. The deflationary impact of that alone would push the economy into recession. The Euro elites claim they will do everything to resolve the situation. And anything they do undertake – just makes it worse. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Romney camp has put out a very suspect economic paper – authored by some notable suspects in the propaganda campaign the neo-liberals are sponsoring to prevent governments from acting responsibly. The economic paper has been categorically demolished – even in the mainstream media. So it is another day – some more evidence against fiscal austerity – and still the criminals maintain their grip on the throne.
The European leaders are preparing for yet another summit, where the good food will be served and the fine wine will be flowing. One loses count of how many summits there have been since the crisis began. They all promise to deliver the solution but usually end up with some weak worded document about fiscal integration and growth, which quickly descends into increasingly zealous statements about obedience to fiscal rules and monitoring and punishment frameworks and, if you will excuse me, the whole Spanish Inquisition thing! I don’t mean to malign the Spanish here. Rather just calling up historical patterns of behaviour that always end in pain and suffering. The latest signs are that the ECB is continuing to keep the whole boat from sinking while the Germans continue to claim they are the victims. The Euro leadership continues to be obsessed with rules. The financial markets continue to punish the whole setup. Another day in the European crisis. There is a collective denial operating at present and until facts are faced up to (which might require some humble (vegetarian) pie being eaten rather than what is probably on offer in Rome during the current summit) – nothing much is going to be achieved other than rising unemployment and social dislocation. This is truly a mad situation.
Over the last week, a Londoner and a Glaswegian have publicly embarrassed themselves with statements made about the current economic situation. One is an academic historian who hasn’t fully understood history. The other a politician who is seeking to deny the obvious and somehow blur his own culpability in driving the British economy back into a double-dip recession. I guess the smokescreen approach works if yesterday’s Greek vote is anything to go by. I saw a headline in Bloomberg this morning which said that “Greece avoids chaos …”, which prompted me to wonder what chaos might look like if it is not hospitals unable to get access to essential supplies, a government killing its private sector by cutting spending and not paying legitimate bills, and an unemployment rate creeping towards 25 per cent and 50 per cent for youth. The Greeks were bombarded it seems with wilful lies and even then the conservatives on just led the vote count from their main anti-austerity rival. In all the denials and bluster, what I know categorically is that in the real world where we all live – sustaining rates of youth unemployment above 50 per cent – is definitely not protecting the grandchildren.