It is Wednesday, so just a few snippets and some music. My main comment today is on the report released yesterday (December 15, 2020) by the national body Infrastructure Australia. The report – Infrastructure beyond COVID-19: A national study on the impacts of the pandemic on Australia – once again demonstrates the way in which mainstream macroeconomics, which has restricted government investment in essential instrastructure over the last three decades or so, has created poor outcomes and has failed to prepare the nation for the future. This sort of myopia just repeats itself across all nations. Hopefully, the fiscal response to the pandemic, even though in many countries it has been inadequate, is demonstrating that the mainstream approach is deeply flawed and provides no guidance for the way policy should be conducted into the future.
It is Wednesday and so just a few snippets before we get funky. Yes, jazz-funky. That should do it. In the last week, a credit ratings agency downgraded the rating of the state of Victoria to AA from AAA claiming that the the state was in fiscal trouble. They also downgraded the credit rating for the NSW government credit from AAA to AA+. You might wonder how the hell these corrupt and irrelevant organisations managed to survive the GFC, given the sectors complicity with the financial frauds and overreach that drove the world to near financial ruin? Well they survive because people still believe in the fictions that lie behind the whole concept of government debt ratings. Should anyone be worried about these changes in Victoria and NSW? Not at all. The announcements were just noise and tell us, in part, how far we have to go in expunging these fictions from our understandings.
I guess if mainstream economists use Milton Friedmanesque smears they think that will be sufficent to discredit Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). There have been a few critiques in the financial media recently along those lines. The authors tell their readers that they get the impression that MMT is just about a free lunch. Throw in Zimbabwe or Weimar are few times during the article and there you have it – rather tawdry attempts at maintaining mainstream thinking when the world has entered a new era of fiscal dominance as policy makers discard their reliance on monetary policy to stabilise economies. This policy shift is diametric to what mainstream macroeconomists have been advocating for decades as they repeatedly warned that high deficits and public debt levels and large-scale central bank bond purchases would lead to disaster. However, their predictions have been dramatically wrong and provide no meaningful guidance to available fiscal space nor the consequences of these policy extremes for interest rates and inflation. The world is leaving them behind and it is interesting to see how they are trying to reposition themselves.
I saw a letter published by IPPR – who call themselves “The Progressive Policy Think Tank” – urging the BBC to change the way it conducts economic commentary. The letter – Economists urge BBC to rethink ‘inappropriate’ reporting of UK economy – was sent to the Director-General of the BBC following some “BBC reporting of the spending review” which they say “misrepresented the financial constraints facing the UK government and economy.” The H.M. Treasury – Spending Review 2020 – was published on November 25, 2020. I decided not to comment on it publicly given that my time is poor at the moment with lots of writing deadlines and travel now resuming with pent-up demand for my services (in person). It was what you would expect from the British Treasury. But some of the signatories to this latest letter criticising the BBC coverage of the Spending Review should look in the mirror. They seem to have short memories or perhaps they are learning the error of their ways. We can only hope.
What are the prospects for the British Labour Party? Since losing office in 2010, they have lost 3 subsequent general elections against one of the worst Tory governments in history. The government exemplifies bumbling incompetence. But that seems to be all that is required to outwit the Labour Party and its advisors. Since the disastrous December 2019 election, nothing much seems to have changed. Well, that is not exactly right is it. Things have become worse. They scrapped a leader that a significant portion of MPs could not support after having undermined him relentlessly in the leadup to the last election. It was as if they preferred to lose than have Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Then they kicked him out of party representation because he apparently has failed to ratify the dirty campaign against him. The new leader, was one of the most vehement proponents of the strategy that saw Labour turn its back on voters who had elected the majority of its MPS and keep harping on about a second referendum on Europe. The denial of the Brexit vote and failure to become the voice of Brexit cost Labour the last election no matter what those who try to manipulate the data to say something different might have you believe. The new leader also appears to be losing credibility over his purge of the previous leader. One can be as smooth and sophisticated as one likes. But if you don’t tell the truth, eventually, you pay the piper – even Trump has found that out, not that he exemplifies either smoothness or sophistication. And the other death knell – their fiscal rule – looks like it is now being recycled by the new Shadow chancellor. That means they will go to the next election in an unwinnable position because the citizens that they have conditioned to believe in the neoliberal macroeconomic fictions will, in turn, not believe that the Party can deliver a progressive agenda without causing financial chaos. You reap what you sow. So it doesn’t appear that they have learned very much so far.
Today the UK Guardian editorial – The Guardian view on Rishi Sunak: time to create jobs, not anxiety – endorsed the introduction of a Job Guarantee to alleviate the terrible unemployment situation that Britain will create in the coming 12 months. Existing programs from the British government are “too small and too reliant on private companies to help much”. Even after the pandemic is solved (hopefully via vaccine) “the unemployment crisis will remain”. That is a positive step from the Guardian. And, it runs counter to the way many progressives are viewing the solution box, with UBI still figuring among their main options. The problem is that the UBI cannot deliver on its promises to everyone. But this blog post is not about UBI. As the Job Guarantee gains more profile in the public debate, several mainstream economists are now taking aim at it. The latest attempt, which I choose not to link to because it is not worth reading in full, invokes one of the arguments that mainstream economists developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to justify their attacks on discretionary fiscal policy and elevate rules-based monetary policy to become the primary, counter-stabilisation tool. It was, of course part of the neoliberal putsch that has seen sub-optimal outcomes ever since for most of us and superlative outcomes for the top ends of the income distribution. The reason I note this argument is because it is general in nature and should be understood. In other words, I do not have to talk about the paper that introduces this attack on the Job Guarantee, because it just mimics the standard criticisms of government policy making that have been around for ages. So any time some new government policy approach is proposed, these characters just whip out this tired old defense. But it is useful for my readers to be on the lookout for it.
I was in a meeting the other day and one of the attendees announced that they were sick of government and were looking at other solutions such as social capital and community empowerment to solve the deep problems of welfare dependency that they were concerned about. The person said that all the bureaucrats had done was to force citizens onto welfare with no way out. It had just made them passive and undermined their free will. It was a meeting of progressive people. I shuddered. This is one of those narratives that signal surrender. That put up the white flag in the face of the advancing neoliberal army intent on destroying everything in its way. The ultimate surrender – individualise and privatise national problems of poverty, inequality, exclusion, unemployment – and propose solutions that empower the individuals trapped in ‘le marasme économique’ created by states imbued with neoliberal ideology. The point is that the Asset-Based-Community-Development (ABCD) mob, the social capital gang, the new regionalists, the social entrepreneurs are just reinforcing the approach that creates the problems they claim they are concerned about. The point is that it is not the ‘state’ that is at fault but the ideologues that have taken command of the state machinery and reconfigured it to serve their own agenda, which just happen to run counter to what produces general well-being. That is why I shuddered and took a deep breath.
On Tuesday (November 3, 2020), the Reserve Bank of Australia made its monthly announcement with respect to the conduct of monetary policy. The governor Philip Lowe released this – Speech – to announce the decision. There were four elements to the decision, which I will explain. But the most significant aspects of the decision was to set the support rate on excess reserve balances to zero and increase their government bond buying program by 200 per cent. And the most significant aspect of that last decision was how much dodging and weaving went on to deny what they are actually doing. And, within the decision is a point that I would have expected State Premiers to be up and arms about but, instead, there was silence. All in a day of paradigm shift in economics.
Victoria went the so-called ‘double doughnut’ again today with zero new infections and zero deaths – the fourth consecutive day. It now has the lowest number of people sick with the virus (known) since the start of the pandemic in Australia in February. Only 38 active cases remain in Victoria after its 12 week lockdown. There is no community transmission reported now in Victoria and the other day Australia recorded zero (community transmitted) cases overall. So things are less tense than they were. I still haven’t been able to travel to my office in Melbourne which I have been away from since the lockdowns started in June. But hope springs eternal that the NSW government will open the border and let us move freely between the States. At the same time, the NSW government is demonstrating its economic incompetence. The State Treasurer announced that in the midst of the worst crisis in 100 years, it is cutting the pay of its public servants when it brings down its fiscal statement. Clue: when in a deep recession with records levels of household debt dramatically constraining growth in household consumption expenditure, which in turn, is killing growth, then the sure fire way to make matters worse by cutting the very source of consumption expenditure – yes, you get it – workers’ wages.
It’s Wednesday and just a few things today while I attend to other things (writing, meetings, etc). I will have an interesting announcement to make in a few weeks (around then) about a project I am working on that I hope have wide interest. Today, we have a podcast I recorded a few weeks ago with the Politics in the Pub, Newcastle group – now, in this coronavirus era being rebadged and reformatted as Politics in a Podcast. And then we celebrate a great musician who died last week but left some memorable songs for us to take into the future.