It’s Wednesday and a shorter blog post, which includes the latest from Turkey and some music. The mainstream narrative against Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has been ramped up significantly in recent weeks as a result of events in Turkey, where, up until yesterday, the currency had depreciated significantly. The screams for interest rate rises from bankers etc (of course! they profit or protect foreign debt exposure) have been deafening. But the most recent monetary policy decision was on December 16, 2021, when the CBRT reduced its policy rate (the one-week repo auction rate) from 15 per cent to 14 per cent. The ‘markets’ can’t really get a handle on the current government’s thinking because it is running against the mainstream in several ways, including cutting rates to reduce inflationary pressures (see Press release on Interest Rates – from the CBRT). Overnight a big swing happened after the government made a significant fiscal policy announcement. That will further confound the markets who were forced to scramble to close out short-selling positions as the lira appreciated by around 25 per cent in one day. The fiscal squeeze worked. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
I have noticed a lot of Internet traffic about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the situation in Turkey at present. Apparently, as the narrative goes, MMT is finally being revealed as a fraud because Turkey’s economy is going backwards and its currency is depreciating rapidly. The logic, it seems, is that if a nation enters rough economic waters and the financial markets sell its currency (although remember someone has to be buying it simultaneously) then that proves MMT is false. An extraordinarily naive viewpoint if you think about it. This viewpoint has somehow missed the train on understanding what MMT actually is and seems to think that MMT economists have seen Turkey as a policy model. In this blog post, I consider some aspects of this naivety. It won’t silence the critiques, but it, hopefully will educate those who are interested in the topic and are learning about MMT.
It’s Wednesday and I load up other things to do on this day and thus write less here. I also am in the process of moving offices at the University – and after some 18 years in different locations, I am now returning to the Social Sciences Building where I first had an office when I came to the University from Adelaide. Which feels sort of okay, given by opposition to economics being treated as a business discipline. But thanks to a deal I made with the University in 2007, my research centre left the ‘business faculty’ and went out on our own. Hence, my office doesn’t have to be with the other economists, which I am happy about. This morning, I read the most stupid thing I think one could ever read about economics. It came from a UK Guardian article (December 14, 2021) – Sunak warns over multibillion cost of booster programme – where the Chancellor basically disqualified himself from office. Once we get through the trauma of that sort of news, I promise there is some great music to finish with.
Some recent research highlights the point I have made in the past that who your parents are matters for your future prospects. We all make choices as we emerge into the adult world, but the constraints that are dished up to us by our parents are in many cases more important in determining our future outcomes than the choices we make. The mainstream neoclassical explanation for income differentials focus on the choices – for education, training, and other career development pathways. From a policy perspective, I think it is more sensible to focus on the constraints as they are in many cases fairly easily altered by sensible government intervention. However, in the real world, not only are the constraints that individuals face conditioned by the circumstances that they are born into, but those circumstances also influence the choices the individuals make. Recent research has found that educational programs for parents in disadvantaged situations to show them what determines child development not only improves the lives of the adults involved but also delivers much better outcomes for their children. They are able to make better decisions which, in turn, improve the environment in which they are learning and building their skills. The policy implications are clear.
Regular readers will know that I think the current inflationary phenomenon is transitory. They will also know that I see the continual claims by financial market economists that central banks have to increase interest rates now to avoid an accelerating inflationary episode as having little economic content and lots of self interest content. If rates go up, they win their bets and the more they can bully authorities to do their bidding the more certain their bets become profitable. I am glad that central banks around the world are resisting that game of bluff. In previous periods, they have not resisted and have handed the financial speculators (the top-end-of-town) massive and unjustified profits and forced millions of workers to endure joblessness. It is also interesting that the mainstream press is starting to work that out too. Some progress.
In 1983, I started a PhD at the University of Manchester working within the Phillips curve framework. At the time, all the talk was Monetarist – eschewing the use of fiscal policy to reduce unemployment. Unemployment was high after the OPEC oil shocks and governments were abandoning their responsibilities to reduce it because they had drunk the Monetarist Kool-aide. The Monetarists invented a concept – the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) or the ‘natural rate of unemployment’, which became part of the dominant macroeconomic approach and influenced policy makers to pursue microeconomic reform (deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing etc) and obsessing about fiscal surpluses. My work was an attempt to show this shift in thinking – away from a commitment to full employment was based on a lie. The whole NAIRU story was a fraud. I was largely ignored along with other progressive economists who were also producing credible research that refuted the main propositions. Some 40 years later, the ECB has produced a research paper which now supports the position I took back then. Millions of jobless people later!
It’s Wednesday so not much today. I offer some comments on the latest data release from Germany (not good) and the probability that the new German finance minister will be anything other than a dangerous dud. An announcement about the edX MMTed course (coming back). And then Blind Willie Johnson serving up Great Depression angst.
Australia has a dire housing crisis, particularly in the low-income or social housing end. Since the 1990s, successive federal governments, who fund the social housing, have abdicated from their responsibilities citing a lack of funds and the need to run fiscal surpluses in order to save money for the future. While it has been starving the social housing sector, it has been investing billions of dollars in its Future Fund, ostensibly to cover future liabilities. So instead of spending funds on hospitals, education, housing and other important infrastructure needs, the government has been spending on speculative financial assets in global markets, some of which have been scandalous (see below). The whole narrative has been based on the falsehood that the government is like a household and has to save to expand its future spending possibilities. That logic has killed off many valuable initiatives, including maintaining adequate social housing stocks such that now low income Australians are increasingly becoming poor or homeless due to the high cost of private-provided housing at market rents. Today, a new proposal was launched by a think tank advocated that the Australian government should borrow to build the Future Fund so it can deliver speculative returns to help fund the dramatic shortfall in social housing. That is, they are using the same logic (the government is financially constrained) to solve a problem the logic created. It would be hard to make this stuff up.
It’s Wednesday and only a few items today. It seems that the mainstream economists are emerging again and making all sorts of claims that fiscal policy has to target lower deficits and monetary policy needs to tighten (interest rates rise) to stop our governments going broke and inflation going wild. It really is like a tired broken record, isn’t it. They have sort of gone underground during the crisis and more are thinking it is time to reassert the nonsense of the past. And so it goes. But at least Wednesday brings music to this blog – and what a treat we have today.
Today, we have a guest blogger in the guise of Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time. Today, he follows on from my previous post – The financial markets should be kept away from the climate crisis solution (November 10, 2021) – and discusses the failure of the Australian federal government to produce a workable net-zero emissions plan. So, it’s over to Scott.