Last week, the British Labour Party released its election – Manifesto 2019 – which they describe as “the most radical, hopeful, people-focused, fully-costed plan in modern times”. There is a lot to like about that Manifesto from a progressive perspective. However, in my mind, there were two unresolved tensions that I think damage the Party’s credibility. The first, is its, yes, continued embrace of neoliberal macroeconomic frames, epitomised by its so-called Fiscal Credibility Rule that has already had to be changed because so-called independent analysts agreed with my assessment that the manifesto and the ‘Rule’ were inconsistent. The second, is the Party’s position on Brexit, which I believe continues to hamper its chances of election and also brings into focus the inconsistencies in the Party’s stance and behaviour over the last 2 years. Elections are not won by counting votes up. Rather, they are won by winning seats, which means that votes are counted in specific constituencies (electorates). I have maintained the view that the Labour Party’s meandering position on Brexit, to satisfy the Europhile urban members, would damage them, given that the majority of their members of parliament were elected by Leave majority constituencies. Seats not votes win elections. It doesn’t matter if the majority of Labour voters are Remainers, if their are spatial disproportionalities in the vote spread. The latest YouGov MRP estimates of voter intention for the upcoming election indicate that my assessment may, in fact, turn out to be accurate.
Just a short blog post today (short in research) as I devote Wednesday’s to other writing and I have to travel a lot today. More a collection of snippets that I come across over the course of a day’s work. Today, we think about Bolivia and the right-wing thugs that have overthrown a legitimate government advancing the well-being of its people. We also see senior progressive politicians falling into a myriad of lies and misconceptions about the monetary system and handing political initiative to the right wing as a consequence, even though they think they are being clever in their framing. And we think of Japan a little. And then some music offerings or two.
I am travelling most of today and so no standard blog post. For a fair part of the day I also will not be able to moderate comments so there might be some delay. But thanks to the great work by Christian Reilly and Patricia Pino at the – MMT Podcast – my talk at the Brighton Labour Party Fringe Event with British Labour MP, Chris Williamson, was captured for all to hear. It means the event will survive the moment. To give context to the audio that the MMT Podcast has made available, I offer some commentary in this blog post. The comments and the audio should keep people busy until I am able to get back to normal writing. Now in New York City and looking forward to meeting the gang at the – MMT Conference – which runs this week.
At present, the Australian Parliament is debating whether the unemployment benefit (called Newstart) should be increased. The conservative government is refusing to budge claiming it prefers to create jobs and get people of benefits – arguing that it will generate 1.25 million jobs over the next 5 years. The Opposition Labor Party are attacking them for being mean but are just rehearsing the massive hypocrisy that has defined that party since it became a voice for the ‘neoliberal lite’ path. Every time the Labor Party spokespersons criticise the Government for not bringing unemployment benefits above the poverty line, Australians should remember that when they were in office the Labor Ministers ran the same line – they wanted to move people into jobs and would not compromise their obsessive pursuit of a fiscal surplus. Same logic. Disgusting and dishonest then. As it is now. The fact is that the successive governments have forced the unemployed to remain jobless (through austerity policies) and then increasingly plunge into deeper poverty (by refusing to increase the income support level in line with movements in poverty lines). In this blog post, I show that even if the 1.25 million pledge is achieved (and there are reasons why they might struggle to achieve it), there would be thousands of workers remaining in a jobless state by June 2024. This denies the Government’s claim that the pledge will eliminate the need to increase the unemployment benefit. Given that the current policy mix is likely to force thousands to remain in elevated levels of unemployment, the unemployment benefit should be increased, immediately, by more than $A200 per week, in the first instance, for a single adult. And then the government should introduce a Job Guarantee to allow workers to transit from joblessness to work at a decent, socially inclusive minimum wage (well above the revised unemployment benefit level). That would be the responsible thing for government to do in this regard. I am not holding my breath.
It is Wednesday and I have only a short blog post today as I have had a lot of commitments that stop me from writing. But I did read a recent Australian Treasury paper – Wage Growth in Australia: Lessons from Longitudinal Microdata (July 2019) – which purports to model the reasons why there is wage stagnation in Australia. The results were presented at the Australian Economists Conference earlier this week and set off a storm because it appeared, at first blush, to blame workers lassitude and excessive risk averse attitudes for the lack of wages growth. I read it slightly differently. It tells me that, first, the Treasury is reluctant to acknowledge the legislative attacks on unions’ capacities to gain wage increases that have been characteristic of the neoliberal era; and, second, that the unions might take the message as a call to arms – take the employers on more often through costly industrial action within the tight legal environment that is left to them.
I saw a Tweet overnight suggesting the so-called progressive British Remainers had been a little quiet in recent days following the comical display of anti-democratic, corporatism aka filling leadership positions in the EU and the Eurozone. Where are they? Why aren’t they out there in the media (social or otherwise) extolling the virtues of their much-loved European Union, where progressive policies are the norm and the peoples’ interests are held above the narrow corporate interests? The problem is that they cannot show up at present. The EU has managed to appoint a cabal of new leaders, many of whom are plagued by past scandals, allegations of nepotism, convictions for negligence in public office, and the Presidential nominee is under investigation in the Bundestag and has been acknowledged as a failure in her management of the German defense department. Come to think of it they seem perfect for the top jobs in the EU. And how was this motley lot selected? By denying even the limited sense of democracy that has been present in this process in the past. It is beyond a joke. But then this is the Europhile cosmo left’s vision for the future. One could not dream all this stuff up one they tried.
The European Parliament elections start today and finish at the weekend (May 23-26). The Europe Elects site provides updated information about the opinion polls and seat projections, although given the disastrous showing of the polls in last Saturday’s Australian federal election, one should not take the polling results too seriously. But it is clear that there is an upsurge in the so-called populist parties of the Right at the expense of the traditional core political movements (centre-right and centre-left). It is also easy to dismiss this as a revival of ‘nationalism’ based around concepts of ethnicity and exclusivity and dismiss the legitimacy of these movements along those lines. However, that strategy is failing because the ‘populist’ parties have become more sophisticated and extended their remit to appeal more broadly and make it difficult to relate them to fascist ideologies. The fact that the progressive (particularly Europhile variety) continue to invoke the pejorative ‘nationalist’ whenever anyone begs to differ on Europe and question why they would support a cabal which has embedded neoliberalism and corporatism in its very legal existence (the Treaties) is testament to why the traditional Left parties are showing up so badly in the polls these days. The British Labour Party, for example, should be light years ahead of the Tories, given how appalling the latter have become. But they are not a certainty if a general election was called and the reason is they have not understood the anxieties of the British people and too many of their politicians are happy to dismiss dissent as being motivated by racism. The Brexit outcome so far is a good case study in that folly.
The debates about MMT are expanding. There are weird offerings springing up each day. I read something yesterday about how MMT is really just Marxism in disguise and therefore a plot to overthrow entrepreneurship. Well in a socialist society there will still be a monetary system! Most of the critiques just get to their point quickly – MMT is about wild printing presses undermining the value of the currency! That should summarise 25 years of our work nicely. But there are also other developments on a global scale. A few weeks ago there was a lengthy debate in the Japanese parliament during a House of Representatives Committee hearing considering whether the October sales tax hikes should continue. The Finance Minister, Taro Aso was confronted by Committee members who indicated that it was useless denying that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) was some abstract theory that was wrong because the Japanese are already “doing it”. The Minister told the hearing that MMT was dangerous and would undermine financial markets if anyone said otherwise. An interesting discussion took place. It highlighted some key features of MMT. It also indicates that progress is being made in the process of education aimed at giving people a better understanding of how the monetary system that we live within operates.
Today’s blog post considers the Australian election and some issues that arose from my recent trip to Scotland – all of which bear on the progress of our work in the public debate. In Australia, we have just held a federal election and it was expected (and certainly the polls and bookies expected) that the Labor Party would win easily after 6 shocking years of conservative rule. Those 6 years have been marked by scandal, three leaders (Prime Ministers), massive internal divisions within the government, on-going climate change denial and a slowing economy. But Labor was thrashed in the election and I offer a few reasons why I think that happened. For Scotland, as they debate independence in the lead up to another referendum (as yet unscheduled) they have been struggling with the choice of currency issue and whether the new independent nation should join the EU. After initially thinking they would stick with the British currency for some time, the debate has swung heavily in favour of introducing their own currency as soon as is possible after the independence is achieved. Clearly, I have favoured that option for several years. But the overwhelming thinking is that the new nation should join the EU. That is a choice that I think would bring grief. And given the fact that the rUK will retain “continuing nation” status, a newly independent Scotland would be under significant pressure to use the euro. In other words, the currency choice and EU membership trends at present are incompatible. During my visit there I urged the activists to ditch their pretensions for EU membership and become truly independent.
The way in which Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has become politicised and misrepresented is quite something. The critics have all fallen into the same pattern. They rehearse a few statements that they claim represents what MMT is about, and, which they know will shock people who read and/or listen to them, into concluding that the proponents of MMT understandings are crazy. A whole host of wannabees are now jumping on the bandwagon. And last week, 5 Republican Senators in the US Congress tabled a bill which claims it is “the duty of the Senate to condemn Modern Monetary Theory and recognizing that the implementation of Modern Monetary Theory would lead to higher deficits and higher inflation”. For a start, these goons haven’t even cottoned on to the fact that one cannot implement Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – they are surrounded by it, every day of their lives. But then if they had got that far, they would have also realised that the rest of their arguments in the draft legislation is equally ridiculous. We are making progress though – and the more they come out of the woodwork the better. So far not a blow has stuck.