It is Wednesday, and only a short blog post beckons today. I have restrained myself from commenting on Theresa May’s unbelievable Brexit deal, which has the dirty paws of the European Commission all over it. Regular readers will know that if I had have been a voter in Britain in June 2016, I would have resolutely and happily voted in favour of Brexit. And if I was a British Parliamentarian now I would vote to reject the ‘deal’ and force the Brexit on British terms. I will write a little more about that in a further post. But today, I just want to pass comment on the extraordinary UK Guardian article from Phillip Inman – A leftwing UK post-Brexit is as likely as a socialist Rees-Mogg (November 24 2018) – which summarises the problem quite well. I say ‘well’ because it illustrates the progressive surrender that has allowed the neoliberal era and monstrosities like the European Union to persist. You can see it all over the place – surrender that is. The Democratic obsession with Paygo in the US. The British Labour fiscal rule in Britain. The ‘we will have a bigger surplus’ boast from the Australian Labor Party, when there is around 15 per cent underutilised productive labour. Inman’s article is encouraging the Left in Britain to lie down and surrender to the dictates of the neoliberal, corporatist machine that is the EU. It presents an impoverished vision of the future and a disgustingly vapid depiction of the possibilities that a truly progressive British Labor government could achieve once it jettisons the neoliberal frames.
President Trump banned a CNN reporter only to find his position overturned by the judicial system. Well CNN is guilty of at least one thing – publishing misleading and alarmist economic reports about Japan. In a CNN Business article last week (November 13, 2018) – Japan’s economy has a $5 trillion problem – readers were told that the Bank of Japan has no “dwindling options to juice growth if a new crisis hits” because “it’s now sitting on assets worth more than the country’s entire economy”. The real story should have been that the Bank of Japan continues to demonstrate the categorical failure of mainstream macroeconomics and, conversely, ratify the core principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). That is what the Japanese experience since the early 1990s tells us. And all the stories about special cases; cultural peculiarities, closed markets, etc that the mainstream economists wheel out when another one of their predictions about how Japan is about to sink into the sea as a result of its public debt levels, or that interest rates are about to go through the roof because of the on-going and substantial fiscal deficits; or that inflation is about to accelerate because of the massive monetary injections; and more, are just smokescreens to divert our attention from the poverty of their analytical framework. The Japanese 10-year bond trade is called the ‘widow maker’ because hedge funds who try to short it lose big. The Japanese monetary system is my real-time, non-linear economic laboratory which allows all the key macroeconomic propositions to play out live. And MMT is never very far off the mark. Try juxtaposing New Keynesian theory against Japan – total dissonance.
In a blog post last week – Financial services agreements – the EU as a neoliberal, corporatist project (November 13, 2018) – I wrote about the way the EU compromised the capacity of elected Member State governments to advance the well-being of their nations by the way they negotiate trade arrangements in services, particularly with respect to the financial services sector. For all those Europhiles that regularly deny the core agenda of the EU is to compromise democratic outcomes in favour of capital, that analysis, alone, should be sufficient to discourage those thoughts. Of course, that isn’t the only manifestation of this neoliberal, corporatist bias in the way the EU has developed over the last decades. I mostly conduct my analysis at the macroeconomic level but I am also interested (as my publication record demonstrates) in urban and regional analysis. At the level of the European city, the EU is behaving in the exactly the same way – to curb that ability of city authorities to render their cities favourable environments for the residents who live there.
Regular readers will know that I place great value in the disciplines we broadly describe as the Humanities. An understanding of knowledge that history, language, philosophy, geography, politics, sociology, anthropology, music, drama, classical studies and the like is essential if we are to advance societies and avoid the mindless descent into tribalism and authoritarianism. Last month, two things were revealed. First, the Federal Minister for Education vetoed successful grant applications for funding under the Australian Research Council processes, effectively politicising the process. He took exception to the topics. His decision was only revealed months later through interrogations during a Senate Estimates hearing. Second, an Australian university released a research report it had commissioned – The Value of the Humanities – which sought to articulate “the value of the Humanities to students thinking about their education and career options and to businesses faced with hiring choices”. It shows the immense value that teaching and research in the Humanities brings to employers, individuals and society in general. It makes the Federal minister look like a fool, although that was not its intent. A fool and one who is deeply insecure about allowing knowledge to proliferate. The latter is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.
One of the themes that has emerged in the discussions of the British Labour Party Fiscal Credibility Rule (which should be renamed the Fiscal Incredulous Rule) is when is the right time for a political party to show leadership and start educating the public on new ideas. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) project has been, in part, about educating people even if our ideas have been strongly resisted by the mainstream. The mainstream (New Keynesian) paradigm in economics is degenerative (meaning it has little empirical validation) and eventually it will fade into historical obscurity. For many of us that cannot come quickly enough. The defenders of the Rule argue that progressive politicians have to tread carefully or else the amorphous financial markets will turn on them and destroy their initiatives. The problem is that by kowtowing to the City or Wall Street, the progressive political forces become captured and redundant. Witness the electoral demise of social democratic parties over the last several decades. The conditions are ripe (see below) for a courageous head-on attack on these financial market elites and educate the public so that they allow elected governments to legislate for all rather than serving the interests of the elites, which has become the norm over the last several decades. The problem is that progressive political forces are also taking advice from mainstream economists who use the tools of neoliberalism. The upshot is that progressive political leadership is absent but desperately required.
The weekend before last I was in Germany (and Bavaria) at the same time as the – Bavarian state election. The results for the SPD (Social Democratic Party) were disastrous losing 20 seats (down from 42) and gaining only 9.7 per cent of the vote (down from 20.6 per cent). The Greens came second, winning 20 extra seats (to 38) and 17.5 per cent of the vote (8.6 per cent last election), while the neo-fascist AfD party, which did not contest the last election, came in fourth, gaining 22 seats (10.2 per cent of the vote). There is a growing fear that the AfD and its counterparts across Europe will grow further and push Europe back into its dark fascist days. One would not conclude that from the Bavarian voting patterns. Further, to construct what is going on in Europe as a right-wing counter to a ‘social democratised’ Europe, which is a common narrative among the Europhile Left is seriously missing the point. The social democratisation of Europe has been in retreat for decades under the onslaught of a very sophisticated campaign from the elites on the Right and often it has been the traditional Left political parties that have pushed the neoliberal agenda more vigorously than the conservatives. The AfD is a sideshow in this deeper take over of our democracies by capital. Root and branch change is needed not a few ‘reforms’ around the edges to make the Eurozone less of a disaster for workers than it currently is.
It is Wednesday and I am reverting to my plan to keep my blog posts short on this day to give me more time for other things. Today, I will briefly outline what happened last Thursday when I met with Shadow British Chancellor John McDonnell in London. As I noted yesterday, I was not going to comment publicly on this meeting. I have a lot of meetings and interactions with people in ‘high’ office which remain private due to the topics discussed etc. But given that John McDonnell told an audience in London later that evening that he had met with me and that I thought the proposed fiscal rule that Labour has adopted was “fine”, I thought it only reasonable that I disclose what happened at that meeting. I did not think the rule was fine and I urged them to scrap it and stop using neoliberal constructs.
It is Wednesday and only a short blog post. I am also ailing with the flu and my head hurts. As I noted in Monday’s blog post – The conservative polity is fracturing – an opportunity for the Left (August 27, 2108) – Australia now has a new prime minister, the former Treasurer. His elevation has been celebrated as a victory for the ‘moderates’, given that his main contender, the guy who attempted the coup in the first place and succeeded in getting rid of the incumbent PM, was rather obviously extreme right in his views. Some are saying we have been saved by the fact that he didn’t succeed. But to call the new PM ‘moderate’ is to lose all sense of meaning to our language. He is a dangerous neoliberal ideologue who has inflicted untold pain on many people as he has made his way to the top.
One of the principle ways in which so-called progressive political parties (particularly those in the social democratic tradition) seek to differentiate themselves from conservatives is to advocate large-scale public infrastructure investment as a way of advancing public good. You can see evidence of that in most nations. Nation-building initiatives tend to be popular and also are less sensitive to the usual attacks that are made on public spending when income support and other welfare-type programs are debated. Capital worked out long ago that public spending on infrastructure provided untold benefits by way of profits and influence. In the neoliberal era, the bias towards ‘competitive tendering’ and public-private partnerships has meant that private profit tends to dictate where and what public infrastructure is built. The problem is that large-scale projects tend to become objects of capture for the top-end-of-town. Research shows that these ‘megaprojects’ typically deliver massive cost overruns and significantly lower benefits than are first estimated when decisions are being made about what large projects to fund. Further, evidence suggests that this is due to corrupt and incompetent behaviour by private project managers (representing their companies) and empire-building public officials. They lie about the costs and benefits so as to distort the decision-making processes in their favour. Any progressive government thus must be mindful of these tendencies and behaviours. A progressive policy agenda needs to be more than just outlining a whole lot of nice sounding public infrastructure projects that the government will pursue. The whole machinery of public procurement that has emerged in this neoliberal era needs to be abandoned and replaced with decision-making processes and rules that privilege the advancement of public well-being over profit.
It is Wednesday and so a short blog. I am working on a number of things at present but getting the material sorted for my next book with Thomas Fazi is a priority at the moment. My snippet today though is about a study that has just come out in the American Political Science Review – Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion among Political Elites – by two US academics. The title is indicative. They explore what they argue is a disjuncture between what the politicians think voters want and what the voters actually want. This lack of congruence is also biased towards right-wing views. So, the politicians “believed that much more of the public in their constituencies preferred conservative policies than actually did”. They trace this bias to biases in the way the politicians get their information. The takeaway is that the progressive side of the debate has to be more active in framing distinctive messages and using multiple ways and avenues to communicate those messages to the candidates seeking election and the politicians that have been elected. And it must refrain from using conservative frames which advisors think neutralise difficult concepts etc. I think this sort of research provides some hope. I will be writing more about this in the weeks to come. And after that listen to some really classic minimalism from the C19th, which you might suspect on listening is very contemporary such was the genius of the composer.