On Sunday, May 12, 2019, I will be presenting a workshop in London on – Local Government Funding: Challenging the Status Quo. Basically, I will be speaking about the way in which flawed understandings of the capacities of currency-issuing governments, combined with a vicious, ideological attack on working people from a government fully invested in neoliberal transfers to the elites, have ravaged the capacity of local government in the UK to deliver essential public services. See the Events Page for more details. It is a public event and I hope people support it. To prepare for that workshop, I have been digging deeply into the data to fully acquaint myself with how the ideological austerity push has been distributed across central and local government service delivery. It is no easy task. The data is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ and coming to summary positions is quite time consuming. There are also nuances in the way local government is structured (particularly since the Thatcher years where devolution and cost-shifting was accelerated), which mean that care must be taken in making sensible comparisons. Here are some of the things I found. I have learned a lot in this process, which is a good thing. This is Part 1 of a two-part series.
In a few weeks I am off to Britain again to participate in a series of events. Two of these events will be in Scotland where we (Warren and I) will discuss, as outsiders, issues pertaining to the monetary arrangements that might accompany a move to Scottish independence. It is a controversial issue in itself, but, unfortunately, is also intertwined with the vexed issue of EU membership. And the complication then becomes that progressives, who might otherwise be attracted to the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) way of understanding the monetary system, also exhibit the standard misconstrued Europhile view that the EU, neoliberal though it is, can be reformed and that an independent Scotland should be part of that mess. And, in doing so, they then take problematic positions on the currency question. So a sort of ‘nest of vipers’ sort of situation, from the Aesop’s fable – The Farmer and the Viper. As in the Fable, the Europhiles embrace of the EU will always pay them back in grief. Anyway, while I am always cautious discussing the pro and con of situations where I have no direct material stake and a less than full understanding of specific cultural and historical influences that are at work, the Scottish question is interesting and demonstrates many of points that nations should be cogniscant of when discussing monetary sovereignty. And besides I have to get up in Edinburgh and Glasgow in a few weeks so as a researcher I am trained to be prepared and seek the best understanding that I can of the complexity of the situation. I will be writing a few posts on the Scottish issue as I prepare for that speaking tour.
It appears that the Brexit process in Britain will now stall. My understanding of the Referendum was the majority of British people who voted wanted to leave the EU and that the politicians from all sides of politics unambiguously stated they would honour the outcome, whichever way the vote fell. That is what democracies are about. A lot of people are disappointed by vote outcomes. They have to grin and bear it. But in the case of the Brexit vote, the Remainers have never accepted the outcome and have used various means – foul or otherwise – to undermine the choice of the majority. There have been regional strains involved and social class strains (cosmopolitans and the rest) involved. There have been nasty imputations that those who voted to Leave were ignorant, racist or otherwise not entitled to cast an opinion. The Europhile Left had conniptions because their dream looked like evaporating. I use the term ‘dream’ deliberately – as in, not ground in reality. As the incompetence of the Tory government in managing the exit process reaches new heights – embarrassing heights – the Europhile Left has become emboldened and are now reasserting their claims that the British Labour Party should articulate a clear Remain position and push to reform the prevailing European treaties, which embed neoliberalism in their core. Talk about dreaming.
Earlier this month (March 5, 2019), the Governor of the Bank of England fronted the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs for his annual grilling. The details of his evidence, covered in the transcript produced – Uncorrected oral evidence: Annual session with the Governor of the Bank of England – should have generated headlines in all the major British press outlets but the UK Guardian, noticeably, avoided reporting the details. The Guardian has jumped on every negative projection since before the 2016 Referendum and published volumes of Op Ed pieces from various correspondents amplifying the negativity. But it largely failed to report the Mark Carney’s backtracking. Turns out that the Bank of England thinks Brexit will be considerably less damaging than its headlined Project Fear estimates published last November, And that is without factoring in any fiscal response from government. It seems that the Bank now believes that a no-deal (disorderly) Brexit won’t be all that damaging at all and an orderly Brexit would be associated with an over-full employment boom over the next three years. Quite a different story to that offered in November 2018. The latest revelations will give Remainers some headaches – their collapse scenarios are evaporating.
On February 21, 2019, the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released the latest fiscal data for the British government – Public sector finances, UK: January 2019. There was a lot of press reaction applauding the result and even progressive writers found it possible to misrepresent what the data actually is telling us has been happening. The fact that the British government recorded a fiscal surplus of £14.9 billion in January 2019 was touted in terms of creating a ‘war chest’ that the Government will be able to delve into when the next crisis arrives (which might be soon if the current Brexit mishaps continue). The reality, is, of course, totally different. There is no stored up spending capacity (stock) created when a government runs a surplus. What is actually happening is that the net flows out of the economy to the government squeeze an already over-indebted non-government sector for liquidity and destroy that much of its wealth portfolio. Moreover, while all and sundry, including the Euro-leaning Left are frothing at the mouth over Brexit, new data now allows us to compute the losses arising from the deliberate strategy of fiscal austerity that the Government has pursued. Guess what? They appear to dwarf all the Project Fear estimates of losses arising from Brexit (notwithstanding the flaky nature of those estimates). Where is the Guardian’s column Austerity Watch to match its hapless Brexit Watch column? Where is the relentless stream of articles from Guardian journalists and Op Writers about austerity? Sorry, that would take up space which is occupied by the relentless stream of articles about Brexit?
It is Wednesday – so just a few observations and then we get down a bit dirty (funky that is). Today, I consider the GND a bit, critics of MMT, Japan, and more. Never a dull moment really. I didn’t really intend writing much but when you piece together a few thoughts, the words flow and so it is. The main issue is the recurring one – the lets have a little, some or no MMT narrative. This misconception regularly crops up in social media (blog posts, Twitter etc) and tells me that people are still not exactly clear about what MMT is, even those who hold themselves as speaking for MMT in one way or another. As I have written often, MMT is not a regime that you ‘apply’ or ‘switch to’ or ‘introduce’. An application of this misconception is prominent at the moment in the Green New Deal discussions. The argument appears to be that we should not tie progressive policies (for example, the Green New Deal) to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) given the hostility that many might have for the latter but who are sympathetic with the former. Apparently, it is better to couch the Green New Deal in mainstream macroeconomic concepts to make the idea acceptable to the population. That sounds like accepting Donald Trump’s current ravings about the scourge of socialism. It amounts to deliberately lying to the public about one aspect of the economics of the GND just to get support for the interventions. I doubt anyone who thinks democracy is a good thing would support such a public scam. And so it goes.
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.