The aptly named – Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) – “is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making”. It is relentless in exposing the corporate scams that result in European Union laws being biased towards corporations at the expense of the well-being of the broader population. The research results they publish are diametrically opposed to the claims by the Europhile Left, especially those from Britain, that posit that the EU is the exemplar of global organisation, defending workers’ rights and all manner of good things, and with just a few reforms here and there is the hope for a progressive future. CEO’s most recent report (February 6, 2019) – Captured states: when EU governments are a channel for corporate interests – allow us to see how the EU machinery has turned the Member States into a “channel for corporate interests” – “middlemen for corporate interests”. My position is that CEO has it right and the Europhiles a dreaming.
The British Office of National Statistics (ONS) published its latest labour market data last week (January 22, 2019) – UK labour market: January 2019. Employment continues to increase, unemployment is steady and inactivity is falling (participation is rising). Real wages are also finally starting to rise (average weekly earnings rose by 3.3 per cent over the last 12 months) after a decade of flat wages growth. The ONS say that the 4 per cent unemployment rate “has not been lower since December 1974 to February 1975”. But the labour market of 2019 is very different to that of late 1974. While the growth in real wages is a positive development, the large negative is that employment for employees fall in the three months to November 2018 and all the employment growth was taken by self-employed. The other disturbing statistic is that if we considered the involuntary part-time workers to be equivalent to the unemployed, then the adjusted unemployment rate would be around 6.6 per cent, a far cry from full employment.
My head is hurting less today! But while I haven’t been able to write much I have been able to amuse myself by examining the Brexit Referendum figures and juxtaposing them against the vote in the British Parliament last night. I realise (so don’t start Tweeting what a fool I am!) that the vote last night was not whether to exit or not! And if I was a British parliamentarian I would have certainly voted against the Act presented by the Prime Minister to the House of Commons last night. But then I favour (yes, Tweet away) a No Deal Brexit, which I believes puts the bargaining chips firmly in the favour of the British. But I have made that point often. The problem with last night’s vote is that it sets a dynamic for the parliament to reject the outcome of the 2016 Referendum outright, when the British government promised the people before the 2016 vote that they would respect and implement the outcome. The outcome wasn’t complex – it was clearly to Leave. And if last night’s vote leads to a process where the 2016 outcome is not implemented as promised then there are a lot of MPs who are behaving in a way that violates the wishes of their constituencies – the worst offenders being British Labour MPs. In the 2016 election, 60.7 per cent of the Labour constituencies voted to Leave (75.4 per cent of Tory constituencies). Yet only 3 out of 256 Labour MPs voted for the Act last night. One hopes that when it comes to the crunch a much higher proportion of Labour MPs will see to it that Brexit occurs.
I suppose Brexit is to blame for the fact that Britain is now growing faster than the major European economies. The latest ‘monthly’ GDP figures show that the British economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the three months to November 2018 and will probably sustain that rate of growth for the entire final quarter of 2018. This is in contradistinction to major European economies such as Germany (which will probably record a technical recession – two consecutive quarters of negative growth) with France and Italy probably following in Germany’s wake. I have made the point before that the growth trajectory of the British economy (inasmuch as there is one) is very unbalanced and reliant on households and firms maintaining expenditure by running down savings and accessing credit – which means ever increasing private debt burdens. With private credit growth weakening as the debt levels become excessive and the rundown of saving balances being finite, Britain will face recession unless the fiscal austerity is reversed. Earlier in 2018, the Guardian Brexit Watch ‘experts’ were continually pointing out that Britain’s growth rate was at the bottom of the G7 as evidence that Brexit was causing so much damage. So now European G7 nations are starting to lag behind, these commentators will have to find another ruse to pin their anti-Brexit narrative on. We also consider in this blog post some more Brexit-related arguments – pro and con – which reinforce my conclusion that a No Deal Brexit will not cause the skies to fall in.
The UK Guardian continued its anti-Brexit bias in its article (January 4, 2019) – Brexit anxiety drags UK economy almost to standstill. Read the words which clearly mean – Brexit anxiety causes UK economy to stall. No nuance. No comparability. Just plain, unproven bias. Now, let’s be clear. The British economy has slowed considerably in the last quarter and the chaotic political behaviour among the British government is bound to be causing anxiety among voters. The British establishment is looking more comical lately than it usually does. But, as I have demonstrated previously, the trajectory of the British economy that is emerging pre-dates the Brexit referendum and has more to do with austerity biases in policy design and the state of private domestic balance sheets (accumulated debt positions) than it has to do with Brexit anxiety. Further, the data that the Guardian reports (the latest PMI results) also suggest that the Eurozone and Germany, in particular, are also recording similar declines in sentiment and activity. It is hard to blame Brexit on that.
In yesterday’s short blog post – Some Brexit dynamics while across the Channel Europe is in denial (January 2, 2019), I noted that various European Commission officials were boasting about how great the monetary union had been over the last 20 years. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had the audacity (and delusion) to claim it had “delivered prosperity and protection to our citizens. it has become a symbol of unity, sovereignty and stability”. I think he was either drunk or in a parallel universe or both. I provided two graph (GDP growth and employment) to show how poorly performed the monetary union has been since its inception. Today, I want to bring to your attention a Bank of International Settlements (BIS) research report which categorically finds that the European banks during the pre-crisis period not only fuelled the massive boom in sub-prime loans and doomed-to-fail assets that were floating around at the time, but also “enabled the housing booms in Ireland and Spain”. Rather than the US banking system being primarily responsible for the pre-crash buildup of private debt, the European banks were also helping the “leveraging-up of US households”. The “European banks produced, not just invested in, US mortgage-backed securities”. This role is not well understood or recognised. And it was because the Single Market mentality of the neoliberal European Union which abandoned proper prudential oversight and regulation allowed it to happen. So much for “prosperity”, “protection” and “stability”.
It is Wednesday and I am going to stick to my decision to ‘not publish a blog post’ on Wednesdays unless there is some new data (such as the quarterly release of the Australian National Accounts). I want to use this time to attend to other writing obligations. But a few snippets won’t hurt, will they? The first, looks at some extraordinary denial from the European Union bosses. The second, looks at evidence that the Brexit environment is already providing positive dynamics for British workers in low-wage areas of the labour market. And that is being presented by the Remainers as something negative! We move into 2019, just as we left 2018!
What editorial control does the UK Guardian exercise on Op Ed pieces? Seemingly none if you read this article (December 24, 2018) – What Labour can learn about Brexit from California: think twice – written by some well-to-do American postgraduate working for DiEM25 in Athens. But when Thomas Fazi and I sought space to discuss our book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017) – or when I have sought space to provide some balance to the usual neoliberal, pro-Europe bias, the result has been no response (yay or nay). We never received a response to our solicitation. Even if we ignore the obvious imbalance in experience and qualifications (track record) of the respective ‘authors’, it seems that the UK Guardian only wants a particular view to be published even if the quality of that view would make the piece unpublishable in any respectable outlet. Go figure. Anyway, I now have read the worst article for 2018. And, I thought that the Remain debate had reached the depths of idiocy but there is obviously scope for more if this Guardian attempt at commentary is anything to go by. And I know the Guardian journalists read this blog – so why not allow Thomas and I to formally respond to all this Remain nonsense?
On December 19, 2018, the Federal Reserve Bank Open Market Committee (FOMC), which determines the monetary policy settings in the US, increased the policy interest rate by 25 basis points to 2.5 per cent, as part of its plan to ‘normalise’ monetary policy. Even within the parameters of their own logic, it is hard to see any inflation threat. Long-term inflationary expectations suggest that people expect an unchanged situation over the next decade. Which suggests that the current unemployment rate is not seen as a threat to the price level. Now, while the FOMC decision may or may not cause some slow down in real GDP growth, given the blunt and ambiguous nature of monetary policy adjustments, the really disturbing aspect of the policy change is the fact that the FOMC members were plotting to push up unemployment by more than 1.2 million people as a plan to lower the inflation rate by a few basis points. Not only is that an obscene revelation but the fact that the FOMC use economic models that cannot tell them that the economic costs of such a shift are massive compared to any benefits that might arise from a slightly lower inflation rate tells us that policy is being made using deeply flawed, useless economic theory and models. Moral bankruptcy and incompetence rules.
Wednesday and a shorter blog post so that I have a little more time to do other things. I don’t know what topic attracts the most hate E-mails that I receive on an almost daily basis: my position on the Eurozone, my position on the EU generally, my position on Brexit, my position of surrender monkey social democrats (parties and people), or my work on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I guess I could count and build up a frequency distribution but I just prefer to delete them these days – the first few words give the game away. Save your time. This week, I have had a torrent of such E-mails telling me more or less “see, you claimed Brexit would be good, but it is a disaster”. Last time I checked Brexit hasn’t happened yet. All that we are witnessing is a conservative government of considerable incompetence in disarray after being bullied by the neoliberal, corporatists in Brussels into a ridiculous ‘agreement’ that changed hardly anything. But there were some interesting data releases in the last few weeks that bear on the Brexit question. I have been looking into them.