Last Tuesday (May 15, 2018), the new German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz stood up in the German Bundestag and delivered his first fiscal policy presentation. Not only was “die schwarze Null” (Black Zero) sustained but in his address, the new German Finance Minister made it clear that Germany would not entertain any expansion of the EU fiscal capacity (thus rejecting Emmanuel Macron’s proposals) and wanted to delay other ‘reforms’ that Germany had previously suggested they would support (beefing up the Single Resolution Fund and the creation of the European Monetary Union). For those Europhile progressives who have been hanging their hat on the hope that the takeover of the German Finance Ministry by the SPD would be the deal breaker that the Scholz’s presentation was nothing short of a disaster. He reiterated Germany would not be shifting in any major way and that Member States just had to buckle down and follow Germany’s fiscal example – surpluses as far as the eye can see. None of this was a surprise to me. It has been clear for some time that Scholz is just a continuation of Schäuble. Indeed some pointed statements from Bundestag politicians next day in their responses suggested just that.
Regular readers will know that I have delved into social psychology in the last decade or so as a way of educating myself on why ideas survive when their logical consistency is lacking and their empirical content is zero. I have gained a good understanding of this phenomenon by exploring the literature on patterned group behaviour and the work by Irving Janis in the early 1970s on Groupthink. While I usually demonstrate instances of this destructive group behaviour on the part of the Right, it is also clear that that the Europhile Left is riddled with the problem. To the point of not even valuing debate anymore. At the weekend (April 29, 2018), the excellent Jacobin magazine published an Op Ed piece by myself and Thomas Fazi – Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit – which considered the Brexit issue and provided an up-to-date (with the data) case against the on-going hysteria that Britain is about to fall off some massive cliff as a result of its democratically-arrived at decision to exit the neoliberal contrivance that the European Union has become. The article was rather moderate in fact and considered the on-going failure of the apocalyptic arguments that have been introduced against Brexit, both before and after the Referendum. But the social media response (negative) has been at elevated levels of hysteria. Inane claims. Groupthink in action. And it is why the progressive cause is such a push over by the organised Right.
I am travelling most of today with heavy commitments at the other end so only a short blog today with some great music to calm the soul. Yesterday, a group of high-profile, so-called progressives in Australia placed a paid-for advertisement in the leading daily newspapers as part of a new campaign for the government to increase taxes to get back into surplus so that (as their narrative goes) it can afford to maintain services for the needy. Yes, it was not the Right voices in our debate articulating this. The campaign is being led by a group that is often referred to as ‘left-leaning’ and calls itself the “most influential progressive think tank” in Australia. Modesty doesn’t exist it seems. But these sorts of descriptors are when the English language loses all meaning. The advertisement and subsequent follow-up interviews in the media yesterday by signatories and supporters of the “Letter” articulate a pure neoliberal line of deception about fiscal positions, the role of taxes and the virtuousness of fiscal surpluses. From my assessment, this headline-grabbing display of stupidity will set back the progressive debate in Australia even further. A total disgrace.
When we published our latest book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World – last September, Thomas Fazi and I approached the UK Guardian to see if they would publish an Op Ed by us summarising the main arguments presented in the book. We received no response. Pluto tell us that the book is one of their better sellers since it was published. And it is not as if the topic is irrelevant in the Guardian’s assessment. That is clear from the fact that on April 5, 2018, they published one of their ‘long read’ articles by Rana Dasgupta – The demise of the nation state – which is a direct refutation of the ideas advanced in our book. This ‘long read’ also falls into the same traps and analytical errors that we point out has besotted the Left side of politics since the 1970s. The article is clearly part of the Guardian’s agenda to appear progressive but, in fact, be anything of the sort. As I have noted previously, the Guardian seems content to publish a torrent of anti-Brexit articles and criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn rather than provide any semblance of balance.
I read a very interesting Report last week – False Alarmism: Technological Disruption and the U.S. Labor Market, 1850–2015 – published on May 8, 2017 by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and written by Robert Atkinson and John Wu. The title is indicative of the message. Somehow, contemporary commentators including many on the so-called progressive Left are stuck in the ‘robots are coming for your jobs’ narrative, which then somehow morphs into a resignation that there will never be enough jobs for all those who desire them, and then surrender, we need a basic income to keep people eating. Apparently, then human creativity will spring forth from the despair of unemployment because the pittance received from the basic income will allow people to engage their inner entrepreneurial spirit with businesses popping up all over the place, great works of art and music being pumped out and all the rest of the basic income camp’s vision of blithe happiness. Pigs might fly! Of course, if this was happening at the pace that some would have us believe then productivity growth would be booming and investment to GDP ratios high. The robots camp then say – well it is only a matter of time – business needs time to adapt to the new technologies available (for example, Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics). Technological change is on-going and there have been great leaps in techniques in history. But the ITIF research suggests that the current era does not signal it is one of these great leaps, and, in fact, the “US labor market is experiencing unprecedented calm” right now.
The British newspaper, The Independent seems to be getting in beds with Commies lately. The evidence I elicit is the recent article (November 4, 2017) – Actually the magic money tree does exist, according to modern monetary theory – by a journalist Youssef El-Gingihy. It gives oxygen to the views of an Australian economist, one William Mitchell who espouses what is known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – yes, you got it in one – another crackpot economic approach that fails to recognise that most professional economists reject it, which means it must be wrong. Right! More than two thousand people have shared the article, which means the socialist cancer is being spread by these Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) fanatics. One commentator thought it was a “rearly stupid article”. Don’t worry about the spelling error. The opinion is what mattered and it was dead-centre true. Mitchell must be one of the most stupid economists ever. Like his MMT mates who seem to be tweeting and being retweeted in ever increasing frequencies these days, which just goes to show that people can be indoctrinated to believe anything. Some comments were made on the article, which just reflected what anybody who knows anything about economics would say – you know – government spending will ultimately cause “hyperinflation” – everybody knows that. Further, one insightful commentator noted that because Britain is not at war there is “no justification to rack up big debts” – everybody knows that. Mitchell obviously wants the government to rack up huge debts, although he doesn’t actually say that. But if the government does run deficits it will obviously intend “to soft-default on debts through inflation” which will then mean “the markets will smash the pound”. Everybody knows that too. For me, I couldn’t get any traction in the comments section – most commentators seemed to be supportive of this mad professor’s crazy ideas – so I decided to E-mail him. I didn’t get any satisfaction from that either. He is obviously a commie in disguise. He said something about Chartalism. I think that was just a typo in his reply – probably he was trying to say that he was a charlatan. What is the world coming to!
Thomas Fazi and I recently published an Op Ed in Social Europe (October 20, 2017) – Everything You Know About Neoliberalism Is Wrong, which is a precis of the main arguments in our new book Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). It seems that our message resonates with a lot of people. And, inasmuch as it is deeply critical of the extant Left position on ‘internationalism’ who continually seem to live in terror of those amorphous financial markets just waiting for a chance to send a nation state bankrupt, it seems to have also upset some who I consider to be the ‘lost’ mainstream Left. One such critic accuses us of using a “presumptuous title” but he is seemingly unable to capture the pop culture irony that is inherent in the choice. Just a bit of fun Andrew. Since when is comedy presumptuous? But failing to grasp the subtlety of the title is just the start. Things go downhill from there.
Today, I have translated two interviews I did while I was in Europe recently. The original interviews were in Spanish. The first interview was with Andrés Villena Oliver for CTXT and was published in the Spanish newspaper Público. It was conducted at Ecooo in Madrid on September 28, 2017. The the second interview was with journalist Marta Luengo Garcés from the progressive newspaper El Salto Diaro. It was conducted at the Principe Pio Hotel in Madrid on September 29, 2017. You can get a feel for the concerns of the progressive journalists in Spain by the type of questions they asked me. I have also included the video of an interview I did yesterday (October 16, 2017) with Steve Grumbine of the Real Progressives. That should keep readers more than busy until tomorrow.
My blog today is short as I have been travelling back home and trying to land on both feet – running! Today, you can view a video of the Berlin event on September 28, 2017 and find out what the citizens of Newcastle have been doing while I was away – going down to the beach no less. Regular blogs will resume tomorrow.
I am now in Helsinki where the weather is distinctly cooler (did I say colder) than it has been down in Southern Europe the past week. I don’t have much time for writing today. Tomorrow, we will be conducting a dual book launch (see www.reclaimthestate.org for details) and on Thursday, I will be presenting a public lecture at the University of Helsinki which is open to all to attend. For today’s blog, I am now able to provide a full video (minus Q&A) of my presentation at the British Labour Party Annual Conference Fringe Event – Economics for a Progressive Agenda at Brighton (UK) on September 25, 2017.