When we elect governments we should expect that they will do what they promised and represent our best interests. We don’t expect them to represent a small, privileged sector of the economy at the expense of the rest of it. The problem is that we overlay these aspirations onto an economic ownership system which has a different logic to our understanding of the operations of a democratic state. And mainstream economics gives reverence and priority to the logic of capitalism rather than ensuring that the quality of democracy is maintained. Which reflects its origins – as an apologist for the unequal ownership of the material means of production and the consequences that arise from that inequality. We keep seeing a restatement of that priority from prominent policy makers and while that generation is in charge it will be hard to really shift the paradigm.
The tensions in the public policy debate between economists is intensifying and on show in Europe, where these sort of obvious conflicts between adherence to dogma and a recognition that ‘out-the-box’ solutions are not only possible but preferred. More of these latter thought offerings are starting to appear as more people come to understand that the mainstream dogma has become more of a security blanket for reputations rather than saying anything about reality. One such proposal emerged last week in the form of a letter to the major European newspapers signed by more than 100 economists and politicians calling for the ECB to write-off its massive public debt holdings, which currently amount to around 25 per cent of total outstanding public debt. It is a good idea but some of the framing leaves a lot to be desired. At any rate, central banks everywhere should be buying up massive amounts of government debt and hitting the keyboard with zeros and writing it off. The world would be a much better place if they did that.
It is Wednesday and I have been tied up all day working on the MOOC that will be launched in early March. We have been filming a lot and it is starting to take shape (see below for more details on how you can enrol). So just a light blog day but that doesn’t mean what I am writing is trivial. The two stories demonstrate how far we have to go on the progressive side of the debate before we actually make progress. It is, unfortunately a repeating tale and it is hard to define a strategy that will get through the blockades that some progressives erect that sustain neoliberalism at its most elemental level. While the British Labour Party is aiming to reinvent itself by pitching its message at the worst element of the voters that it has lost in recent years – patriotism, flags etc – that sort of nonsense – progressives in Australia are revealing how regressive they can be.
There is a new variant of the global virus spreading again after being subdued throughout 2020. This is a very dangerous variant and if it takes hold will guarantee massive human suffering, and, a further, substantial shift in national income towards the top-end-of-town. I refer to the creeping infestation that is starting to pop up claiming that austerity will be required to pay for all the “profligacy” associated with government approach to the pandemic. I have seen this virus in the wild and it is creepy and being spread by those who seem to want to gain attention as time passes them by. Overheating threats, austerity threats – it is all part of the economics establishment trying to remain relevant. A vaccine will not work. They need to be permanently isolated.
It’s Wednesday and a blog-light day as usual combined with some great jazz. But it is worth commenting briefly on yesterday’s monetary policy decision, which saw the Reserve Bank of Australia hold its policy rate at the record low of 0.1 per cent. That was no surprise. Mildly surprising given all the hype about the size of the public debt at present was the RBA’s decision to expand its asset purchasing program by an addition $A100 billion. In effect, the RBA is doing what many central banks are now doing – buying up the debt that has been issued to match (not fund) the expansion of fiscal deficits by governments as they try to deal with the negative consequences of the pandemic. While all this has helped the Australian economy record the disastrous economic impacts of the virus the state of affairs is still very poor. And the RBA knows that and is urging extending fiscal and monetary policy support until “at least” 2024. Yet, the Federal government is starting to talk about cutting fiscal support next month. This tension in aggregate policy was evident before the crisis. And it has been a global tension. The neoliberals haven’t disappeared. Austerity is in the wind. More struggle is necessary.
Since Britain left the European Union, the Remainer Woke Brigade (RWB) has associated every little bit of bad news that has been published about that nation to the decision to leave the EU. Op Ed articles, Tweets and the like. All scathing of the decision, indicating a failure to accept the democratic volition of the 2016 Referendum. They lost. They can’t get over it. But in the last few weeks there has been an extraordinary silence from this media ‘traffic’. It is of no surprise to me that this should be so. Their beloved EU has been demonstrating across multiple fronts why no sensible nation would want to be part of it bungling and dysfunctional membership. I also admit that I have been astounded how bad things have become under this European administration. Britain did the right thing in getting free of it even though its political scene is not yet capable of dealing with the new scope it now has. But the events of the last few weeks in Europe have been nothing short of breathtaking in their hypocrisy, incompetence and venality. The cosmopolitan progressive set have surely now realised that their dreams of pan-national workers paradise led by Brussels is just a figment of their own imagination.
As part of the paradigmic turmoil that is confronting mainstream economists, we are witnessing some very interesting strategies. Imagine you establish a set of principles that are seemingly inviolable. They are the bedrock of the belief system, even though it is not called that. These principles then offer all sorts of predictions about, yes, the real world. They are without nuance. The predictions are so worrying, that politicians, whether they are knowing or not, proceed with caution in some cases, and, in other cases, openly damage the well-being of citizens because they have been told that shock therapy is better than a long drawn out demise into ‘le marasme’. The authority for all the carnage that follows (unemployment, poverty, pension cuts, degraded public infrastructure and services, etc) is these ‘inviolable principles’. Economists swan around the world preaching them and bullying students and others into accepting them as gospel. The policy advice is hard and fast. Governments must stay credible. Except one day they completely change tack and all the policy advice that established certain actions to be totally taboo become the norm. We observe things are better as a result. Does this mean those ‘inviolable principles’ were bunk all along? Not according to the mainstream economists who are trying to position themselves on the right side of history. Apparently, their optimising New Keynesian models can totally justify fiscal dominance and central bank funding fiscal deficits when yesterday such actions were taboo. Which leg are they trying to pull?
It’s Wednesday and I have been tied up most of the day on things that keep me from writing. But I offer some comments on today’s inflation data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which will help you understand that we have to be very careful in analysing that data because quite often CPI increases are driven by government policy which allows administered prices to rise. Short conclusion: a rising inflation rate does not signal a growing economy necessarily. I also provide details about my current lecture series at the University of Helsinko, which the broader public are invited to participate in. And then some fusion.
There is clearly confusion among mainstream economists as the fractures in their paradigm are being revealed on an almost daily basis. And the more venal ideological motivations are also becoming clearer, that is, if they weren’t already completely transparent. On January 21, 2021, the World Bank published a Policy Research Working Paper – Does Central Bank Independence Increase Inequality? – which demonstrated that the way central banking has been conducted in this neoliberal era has been instrumental in the increasing income inequality that has manifested. A month earlier (December 21, 2020), we read that the IMF is waging a campaign against the democratically elected Ecuadorian government to further restrict its fiscal discretion as it struggles with a terrible pandemic situation, and set in place rules that will allow further resource plunder by foreign corporations. The latter really tells you that despite claims by mainstream economists that they have shifted away from the mainstream austerity bias, the truth is different. A quite remarkable juxtaposition that just demonstrates how confused this lot must be at present. Their attempts to cover their motivations in technical authority are clearly failing.
Last week, I wrote this blog post – OECD is apparently now anti austerity – warning, the leopard hasn’t changed its spots (January 12, 2021) – which warned against accepting the idea the growing number of mainstream economists, who were now advocating fiscal dominance, was evidence of a fundamental shift in New Keynesian thinking about macroeconomics. The reality is that they haven’t really shifted much at all and Max Planck’s postulate that paradigms shift one funeral at a time remains true. There are very few cases where the senior members of a dominant paradigm, voluntarily abandon their views when the evidence becomes overwhelmingly against them. They iterate, they declare ad hoc anomalies, they try to voice ideas that a new rival paradigm is articulating which resonate better with the data. This sort of strategy is common across academic disciplines which are under assault from a combination of poor predictive performance (data incongruity) and the arrival of a more convincing alternative paradigm. It is in full swing in macroeconomics now. But don’t believe these characters are suddenly accepting Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and realising their previous belief system was never a sound way of characterising our fiat monetary systems. If you dig you discover these characters remain charlatans and will do almost anything to maintain their status as the dominant economists.