I am writing this while waiting for a train at Victoria Station (London), which will take me to Brighton for tomorrow’s presentation at the British Labour Party Conference. The last several days I was in Kansas City for the inaugural International Modern Monetary Theory Conference, which attracted more than 200 participants and was going well when I left it on Saturday. A great step forward. I believe there will be video for all sessions available soon just in case you were unable to watch the live stream. Today’s blog completes my little history of the US Treasury Federal Reserve Accord, which really marked a turning point (for the worse) in the way macroeconomic policy was conducted in the US. In Part 1, I explained how from the inception (1913), the newly created Federal Reserve Bank, America’s central bank, was required by the US Treasury Department to purchase Treasury bonds in such volumes that would ensure the yields on long-term bonds were stable and low. There was growing unease with this arrangement among the conservative central bankers and, in 1935, the arrangement was altered somewhat to require the bank to only purchase debt in the secondary markets. But the change had little effective impact. The yields stayed low as was the intent. Further, all the prognistications that the conservatives raised about inflation and other maladies also did not emerge (which anyone who knew anything would have expected anyway). In Part 2, I traced the increased tensions between the central bank FOMC and the Treasury, which in part was exacerbated by the slight spike in inflation that accompanied the spending associated with the prosecution of the Korean War in the early 1950s. The tension manifested into open disagreement about the FOMC’s desire to raise interest rates and end the pegged yield arrangement with the Treasury. In Part 3, we discuss the culmination of that tension and disagreement and examine some of the less known and underlying forces that were fermenting the central bank desire for rebellion.
I have all that much time today to write this up and it is going to be one of those multi-part blogs given the depth of the historical literature I am digging into. So this is Part 1. The topic centres on an agreement between the US Federal Reserve System (the central bank federation in the US) and the US Treasury to peg the interest rate on government bonds in 1942. What the agreement demonstrated is that a central bank can always control yields on government bonds, which includes keeping them at zero (or even negative in the current case of Japan). What it demonstrates is that private bonds markets, no matter how much they might huff and puff about their own importance or at least the conservatives who are ‘fan boys’ of the bond markets), the government always rules because of its currency monopoly
In The role of literary fiction in perpetuating neo-liberal economic myths – Part 1, I noted introduced the idea that fictional literature plays a significant role in framing false economic concepts and, thus, can promotes neo-liberal biases among the readership, even when the plot of the narrative is ostensibly about something other than economics. In other words, what parades as fiction becomes a powerful tool for spreading ideological propaganda, often in a very subliminal or subtle way. In Part 2, I demonstrate that further and provide correct Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) interpretations of popularised economic statements that the characters in the book in focus (The Mandibles) weave into their conversation as if they are accepted facts. The lesson is clear. To further advance Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) ideas, novelists who are sympathetic to the cause should construct their narratives consistent with the MMT principles, where economic matters are touched upon in their work. This will help to counter the misconceptions that arise in literary fiction when authors engage with flawed neo-liberal arguments about the monetary system. It might also help educate book reviewers who often, knowingly or unknowingly, reinforce the myths in the main text.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog – Reflections on a visit to New Zealand – which began by summarising some research I am working on which will be presented (with Dr Louisa Connors) at the upcoming MMT conference in Kansas City. This specific paper will be examining the role that fictional literature plays in framing false economic concepts and, thus, promoting neo-liberal biases among the readership, even when the plot of the narrative is ostensibly about something other than economics. We show that fiction is a powerful tool for spreading ideological propaganda, often in a very subliminal or subtle way. The lesson we draw from this work is that to further advance Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) ideas, authors, who introduce economic concepts into their writing, should construct their narratives consistent with the MMT principles. This will help to counter the misconceptions that arise in literary fiction when authors engage with flawed neo-liberal arguments about the monetary system. This blog is in two parts and today is Part 1. Part 2 will come another day (soon).
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has just hosted its annual Economic Policy Symposium at Jackson Hole in Wyoming where central banks, treasury officials, financial market types and (mainstream) economists from the academy and business gather to discuss economic policy. As you might expect, the agenda is set by the mainstream view of the world and there is little diversity in the discussion. A Groupthink reinforcing session. One paper that was interesting was from two US Berkeley academics – Fiscal Stimulus and Fiscal Sustainability – which the news reports claimed suggested that governments should be increasing fiscal expansion even though they may be carrying high levels of public debt. The conclusion reached by the paper is correct but the methodology is mainstream and so progressives should not get carried away with the idea that there is signs that some give is emerging, which will lead to more progressive outcomes. A progressive solution will only come when the neo-liberal dominance of my profession is terminated and an entirely new macroeconomics paradigm based on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is established. There is still a long way to go though.
Japan is different, right? Japan has a different culture, right? Japan has sustained low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, high public deficits and high gross public debt for 25 years, but that is cultural, right? Even the mainstream media is starting to see through the Japan is different narrative as we will see. Yesterday (August 14, 2017), the Cabinet Office in Japan published the preliminary – Quarterly Estimates of GDP – which showed that the Japanese economy is growing strongly and has just posted the 9th quarter of positive annual real GDP growth. Private consumption and investment is strong, the public sector continues to underpin growth with fiscal deficits and real wages are growing. The Eurozone should send a delegation to Tokyo but then all they would learn is that a currency-issuing government that doesn’t fall into the austerity obsession promoted by many economists (including those in the European Commission) can oversee strong growth and low unemployment. Simple really. The Japan experience is interesting because it demonstrates how the reversal in fiscal policy can have significant negative and positive effects in a fairly short time span, whereas monetary policy is much less effective in influencing expenditure.
When I was in Portugal a few years ago (Porto mainly), I noticed taxi drivers at the rank queue who would get out of their cars when the front of the queue changed and push them to the next spot in the queue. It was like something one would see in a very poor nation without fuel. But then austerity had created poverty in Portugal and the taxi drivers were just trying to eke out a living as best they could and make as many savings as they could along the way to spread the meagre receipts they earned as far as possible. But then that was just Portugal, right! They have been living beyond their means for years and needed the reality check that austerity brought, right! They should follow Germany’s lead and tighten their belts and enjoy low unemployment and the strongest economy in the Eurozone, right! But, of course, the reality is different. Germany has become so obsessed with recording fiscal surpluses that its trucks can no longer transit important bridges and so the export model is being undermined. It is so obsessed with screwing its own people and overseeing an increasing bias to precarious work with low pay that the future retirements of their workforce is in jeopardy. The chickens are coming hometo roost in a big way for Europe’s so-called powerhouse. No other nation should follow its lead.
I have written about Australia’s fraught venture into establishing a national broadband network (the so-called NBN) to apparently take us into the next era of communications, although it seems the lifespan of what they eventually will build will be short, in the sense, that it will need massive new investment almost immediately to make it workable. The current conservative (neo-liberal) government came into office not long after the NBN, which was commissioned by the outgoing Labor government, was in its development phase. It immediately altered the design to fibre-to-node (so optic fibre goes to boxes in suburbs and the final route relies on the dysfunctional copper wire), from fibre-to-home to apparently make it quicker to implement and require less government outlay. The changes and the ‘business model’ the government has forced on the NBN Company (the public monopoly constructor and wholesaler) have created such a mess with respect to our network availability and speed that it really serves as an ideal case study for students seeking to understand how the neo-liberal ideology stifles national interest and innovation. The latest dynamics being revealed about this disaster are simply staggering. We have moved so far away from an understanding of public infrastructure as the Government engages in its ideological crusade against innovation and government spending. Amazing really how all of us can be so stupid to tolerate it.
The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based research foundation that analyses health care systems, recently released an interested international comparison of the performance of such systems across a number of criteria (July 2017) – Mirror, Mirror 2017: International Comparison Reflects Flaws and Opportunities for Better U.S. Health Care. Health care is one of several policy areas where the debate descends into fiasco because the typical application of mainstream economics obscures a widespread understanding of how the monetary system operates and the opportunities that system provides a currency-issuing government. Once an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is achieved the choices available in health care policy become more obvious and better decision-making is likely. The Commonwealth Fund report provides useful information in this regard, although the MMT understanding has to come separately.
The 19 Member States of the Eurozone cover some 4,422,773 km2 of territory, much of that is densely populated. The geographic area of Australia covers 7,682,300 km2 and is mostly sparsely populated. The reason density matters is because it impacts on the resources that need to be expended to provide infrastructure across the geographic space. In the past month, the French people have elected a new President and a dramatically different National Assembly. In his election campaign, Emmanuel Macron spoke of being part of a major reform process for the dysfunctional Eurozone. To create some federal fiscal capacity including the idea of debt-mutualisation (issuing Euro-level debt) to match spending on public infrastructure etc, which could help to revitalise the stagnation that besets many regions across the currency union. In 2012, François Hollande was also elected on a reform ticket. The same day he was elected he visited Angela Merkel in Germany. The reform process ended before it started. He went away with no uncertainty about what the Germans would tolerate as masters of the union. Well within a short-time of being elected, Emmanuel Macron has also received his instructions from the Germans, this time in the guise of remarks made by Bundesbank boss Jens Weidmann. The orders are clear. Germany will never tolerate the creation of anything like a functioning federal fiscal capacity. End of story. Macron now knows the limits of his volition. What are the limits of being confined to a straitjacket?