You know, an Italian won the British Open golf championship yesterday (the first Italian to ever win a golf major) because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations. The causality is impeccable. I am sure about that, although it might take me a while to work it out. But if a British golfer cannot win their Open Championship (Rose tied for second, two shots back) then it must be because of Brexit. Everything else that goes wrong is, so why not the golf? It is the same when three former US policy makers, central bankers, Wall Street-types, claim that the US no longer “have to tools to counter the next financial crisis”. They know full well that that statement is a blatant lie. But they say it. To remain relevant as their stars dim? To do service to their conservative mates? All of the above and more. But the media grab the headline and the American public and the public in general is dealt another piece of neoliberal misinformation that helps entrench the hold on power by the elites. But things are changing, and these entrenched elites and the vested interests they serve don’t like it a bit.
Wednesday and a relatively short blog post after two rather long posts in the preceding two days. The first topic concerns the limits to government spending. The second brief topic reports on research where it was found that the music of AC-DC confounds Lady Beetles and soybean aphids. Who would have thought! Which was by far the most interesting research paper I have read this week after dealing with the likes of Stuart Holland on Monday and Tuesday. And then some music from around the world to smooth out the day.
This is the second and final part in my response to the Social Europe article by Stuart Holland (July 11, 2018) – Not An Abdication By The Left – where he attempts to eviscerate various writers who have dared to suggest that the “social democratic Left in Europe … has run out of ideas” or that “there has been an intellectual abdication by the Left”. He uses his experience as an advisor to Harold Wilson in the 1960s and to Jacques Delors in the early 1990s as an ‘authority’ for his rejection of the claims that the Left has abandoned its social democratic remit. He holds the likes of Delors and António Guterres has shining Left lights. In Part 1, I showed that the view that Delors and Guterres are beacons of Left history and that the social democratic Left has not sold out to the neoliberal orthodoxy (particularly at the political level) is unsustainable. Holland distorts history to suit his argument and is in denial of the facts. In Part 2, I trace the argument further by examining the 1993 Delors White Paper, which was meant to be the European Commission’s response to the mass unemployment that was bedevilling the Continent at the time (and remains, by the way) and later propositions that Holland was associated with in relation to Greece during the GFC. They further demonstrate that Stuart Holland is attempting to maintain an indefensible position.
Former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky was quoted as saying during the 1979 Austrian election campaign that: “I am less worried about the budget deficits than by the need for the state to create jobs where private industry fails”. That is the statement of a social democrat. That is a progressive Left view. In June 1982, with French unemployment at 7.2 per cent (having risen from 2.4 per cent in 1974 after a near decade of austerity under the right-wing Prime Minister Raymond Barre), the French Minister of Economy and Finance cut 30 billion francs from government spending so that the fiscal deficit would remain below 3 per cent. In March 1983, the same Minister pressured his colleagues including President François Mitterrand, into imposing a further bout of austerity, cutting another 24 billion francs and increasing taxes by 40 billion francs. These were very deep cuts. The austerity under the so-called ‘Barre Plan’ had failed to reduce inflation. When the turn to austerity was repeated under Mitterand’s so-called Socialist government, France was already in a deep recession. Under the Socialist austerity period unemployment rose sharply to further to 9.3 per cent by 1987. By then the architect of that austerity, one Jacques Delors, was European Commission President and starting work on his next exercise in neoliberal carnage – the Eurozone. None of his behaviour during that period remotely signals a position we could call progressive or Left. Like his austerity turn (“tournant de la rigeur”), Delors had turned into just another neoliberal obsessed with fiscal surpluses, free markets (he oversaw the 1987 Single European Act), and privatisation (which he claimed was necessary to attract foreign direct investment) (Source). This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the abdication of the Left, which some still choose to deny.
Its Wednesday, so just a few short snippets that came to my attention, some comedy and some great music that has kept me company today while I have been working today. The first snippet concerns my revelation that fiscal policy in Australia is undermining the future of our grandchildren. Yes, an out-of-control government is spending our way to a future oblivion. The second snippet is my analysis of the latest INSA/YouGov German poll which shows that the euphoria if you can call it that which followed the formation of the GroKo has now dissipated and the AfD have overtaken the SPD in popularity. Which tells you that the progressive movements in Germany are failing. Why? Because they decided not to be progressive and, instead, decided to ape the conservatives. Not a good idea. The polls are showing why.
In examining the implications for an exit from a currency union, one of the issues that arises is the proportion of public debt that is issued under foreign law. This is a separate issue to the implications of foreign-currency denominated debt. Both issues are problematic and compromise a government’s capacity to remain solvent. I covered the former issue to some extent in my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – when I was considering different strategies for exit. There has been some further research on the question of foreign law debt issuance by the ECB and its Working Paper No. 2162 – Foreign-law bonds: can they reduce sovereign borrowing costs? – published June 2018, has relevance. It is clear that a government reestablishing its sovereignty has the upper hand, especially if it has issued debt under its own legal system. Which is why the likes of the IMF and the European Commission has been keen to increasingly pressure governments to issue debt under foreign laws under the ruse that this is a show of faith to the private bond markets. Once again the increasing bias towards foreign-law debt is all about privileging private capital over the interests of citizens in national states. What is absolutely clear is that a sovereign government should never issue debt instruments under any legal system other than their own. What is even clearer – such a government has no need to issue any debt at all.
On June 24, 2018, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) released their – Annual Economic Report 2018 – which contains their latest analysis of the global economy including the risks they think the current growth process faces. It is full of myth and like previous statements from the BIS it only serves to perpetuate the policy mentalities that caused the global financial crisis. These multilateral organisations (including the BIS, IMF, World Bank, OECD etc) have become the harbingers of the neoliberal ideology. In doing so, they have breached their original charter. They should be dissolved and replaced with new institutions within a revised international framework. We sketched that framework in our current book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017).
There is an interesting dilemma currently emerging in Australia, which provides an excellent case study on how governments can use fiscal policy effectively and the problems that are likely to arise in that application. At present, the Australian states are engaging in an infrastructure building boom with several large (mostly public sector) projects underway involving improvements to road, ports, water supply, railways, airports and more. I travel a lot and in each of the major cities you see major areas sectioned off as tunnels are being dug and buildings erected. Not all of the projects are desirable (for example, the West Connex freeway project in Sydney has trampled on peoples’ rights) and several prioritise the motor car over public transport. But many of the projects will deliver much better public transport options in the future. On a national accounts level, these projects have helped GDP growth continue as household consumption has moderated and private investment has been consistently weak to negative. But, and this is the point, there have been sporadic reports recounting how Australia is running out of cement, hard rock and concrete and other building materials, which is pushing up costs. This is the real resource constraint that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) emphasises as the limits to government spending, rather than any concocted financial constraints. If there are indeed shortages of real resources that are essential to infrastructure development then that places a limit on how fast governments can build these public goods. The other point is that as these shortages are emerging, there is still over 15 per cent of our available labour resources that are being unused in one way or another – 714,600 are unemployed, 1,123.9 thousand are underemployed, and participation rates are down so hidden unemployment has risen. So that indicates there is a need for higher deficits while the infrastructure bottlenecks suggest spending constraints are emerging. That is the challenge. Come in policies like the Job Guarantee.
This is Part 2 of my mini-series analysing some of the challenges that the newly elected majority government in Timor-Leste faces. Yesterday, I documented how the IMF and World Bank had infused its ideological stance into the currency arrangements that Timor-Leste set out with as a new nation. That infusion is still apparent in the major commentary on Timor-Leste’s future options – specifically that the dollarisation should continue and that fiscal austerity should be pursued (relative to the current fiscal stance) because the nation will run out of money. What they mean is that the Petroleum Fund will eventually run out of money. There is a major difference in those statements although under the current currency arrangements they are identical. The ‘run out of money’ story is only applicable as long as the new government resists adopting its own currency. I also showed how the development process has been stalled by the austerity bias. In Part 2, I explore the currency issue directly and make the case for currency sovereignty which would require Timor-Leste to scrap the US dollar, convert the Petroleum Fund into its stock of foreign exchange reserves, and to run an independent monetary policy with flexible exchange rates, mediated with the capacity to use capital controls where appropriate. In Part 3, which will come out next Monday, I will discuss specific policy options that are required to exploit what is known as the ‘demographic dividend’ where the age-structure of the nation generates a plunging dependency ratio. To exploit that dividend, which historically delivers massive development boosts to nations, the shifting demographics have to be accompanied by high levels of employment. That should be policy priority No.1. I will also complete some Petroleum Fund scenarios to complement the policy advice.
I was going to write about the situation in Timor-Leste after its national elections were held on Saturday. But I will hold that over for another day as I get some more information. So today, I think we can learn a lot from an issue raised in the Bloomberg article (May 14, 2018) – Kuroda’s Stimulus Saves Japan $45 Billion, Easing Debt Pressures – which discusses the QE program in Japan and introduces several of the basic errors that mainstream financial commentators make when discussing these issues. The article traverses all the usual suspects including the misconception that numbers in official accounts are ‘costs’ to government and that smaller numbers in official accounts mean the government can put larger numbers in other accounts than it might have been able to. These articles are as pervasive as they are erroneous. Hopefully, as the precepts of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) spread and are understood more journalists will endure scrutiny of the rubbish they write and the public commentary and debate will progress towards a more reasonable – realistic – appraisal of what is going on in the world of finance and money. This article is one of the worst I have read this year so far. And there have been some real terrors!