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.
Its Wednesday, so just a few short snippets that came to my attention, some comedy and some great music that has kept me company today while I have been working today. The first snippet concerns my revelation that fiscal policy in Australia is undermining the future of our grandchildren. Yes, an out-of-control government is spending our way to a future oblivion. The second snippet is my analysis of the latest INSA/YouGov German poll which shows that the euphoria if you can call it that which followed the formation of the GroKo has now dissipated and the AfD have overtaken the SPD in popularity. Which tells you that the progressive movements in Germany are failing. Why? Because they decided not to be progressive and, instead, decided to ape the conservatives. Not a good idea. The polls are showing why.
Tomorrow, I will consider the furore that has arisen in the last few days after the US Congressional Budget Office released its latest forecasts, which showed the US deficit will rise, and, because they still insist in matching the deficit with bond-issuance to feed the corporate welfare machine, public debt will also expand. With an on-going jobs gap and depressed labour force participation rate, the rising deficit if properly targetted would be desirable. The rising public debt is a negative but only as a result of its unnecessary corporate welfare dimension rather than any concerns about capacity to pay etc. But today, given it is Wednesday and a ‘blog light’ day for me now I have only one related observation to make, which will contextualise tomorrow’s more detailed discussion. For today though I am mostly engaged in revising the final manuscript of our new, upcoming Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) textbook after receiving edits from the publishers, Macmillan.
I have now escaped the near-Arctic chill and back to warmer climes for a little while. While I was in Finland though, the Finnish news media was agape over the – Joint Statement – released by 8 Finance Ministers from the smaller Northern EU Member States (March 6, 2018). The statement released by the finance ministers of Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden aired their views on how the Eurozone (EMU) might develop. Nobody should be under any delusion that significant reforms are going to come soon. These characters are locked into the austerity mindset and any claims that a new Macron-Merkel partnership will take the EMU into more progressive territory should be viewed as blind hope rather than bedded down in any realistic understanding of what is likely or possible.
Regular readers will know I was doing some speaking engagements in New Zealand a few weeks ago. Please read my blogs – Travelling all day today but here is something to watch and listen to and Reflections on a visit to New Zealand – for more coverage of that visit. New Zealand is in the midst of a national election campaign and it seems that one of the aspiring parties – The Opportunities Party (TOP) – which is trying to carve out a niche for itself as an ‘anti-establishment’ party in opposition to neo-liberalism – obviously determined that the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) message that I introduced many progressive New Zealanders to during my visit threatened their own credibility (which is a reasonable perception). So, to kill off the threat TOP went on the attack, although as you will read they found it impossible producing a credible critique of MMT and still maintain their alleged anti-neoliberal stance. Whatever, I would hope not too many New Zealand voters get lulled into believing that TOP is somehow a progressive force. Their macroeconomic narrative is strewn with neo-liberal falsehoods that are like neon-signs advertising their roots!
I have avoided discussing the British and French parliamentary elections to date, mostly because I couldn’t stomach the outcomes – May back and the neo-liberal Macron dominant. I also was tired of reading stupid columns from the likes of William Keegan and the rest of the Guardian neo-liberals raving on about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn. Keegan is like an old record that lets the needle get stuck in a groove. He seems to have written the same column since June last year where the reader is told about the Brexit disaster and how Britain will be impoverished. But both elections, particularly the British outcome confirms what we have been noticing for a few years now – there is finally what we might call a true oppositional Left forming and gaining political traction in these nations. This is a Left platform that concedes little to the neo-liberals. It is vilified by the conservatives and the so-called progressive commentariat (such as the Guardian writers) and politicians (New Labour in Britain) as being in “cloud cuckoo land” and predictions from all of sundry of electoral wipeouts have been daily. But the results demonstrated that the message (such as in the Labour Manifesto) resonates with millions of people (40 per cent of those who voted in Britain). It is now a mainstream Left message that has taken over the British Labour Party and the Blairites are hiding under rocks. There is hope. People will only tolerate being bashed over the head for so long. There is now retaliation going on.
Earlier this year, the French collectif Ecolinks, which is a group of economics academics and students in various French institutions published their Petit manuel économique anti-FN, which carried a preface from Thomas Piketty. The group says it is opposed to the current consensus in economics yet its blog seems to be full of Paul Krugman or Wren-Lewis quotes or links to their articles (or other New Keynesians – who are the ‘consensus’, unfortunately). They are obviously worried about the political popularity of FN (Marine Le Pen’s National Front) and have thus produced their anti-FN book as a critique of FNs economic approach. They claim that FN proposes policies that represent “le repli sur une identité étriquée et une vision fantasmée de la nation, rendent cette perspective catastrophique” or in translation, “a retreat into a narrow identity with a fantasised vision of the nation, which would be catastrophic”. The book has received some coverage since its release by a French press that is increasingly worried about Le Pen’s popularity. Please do not interpret in what follows any hint of support for FN from this blog other than as a ‘cat among the pigeons’ force in European politics, anything that upsets the right-wing, neo-liberal, corporatist elites that run the show is to be welcome. I also support Marine Le Pen’s observation that the “The EU world is ultra-liberalism, savage globalisation, artificially created across nations”. That is why I hoped the Leave vote in Britain would win. It is a pity that she marries these views with other hostile views towards immigrants etc, although I am not an expert on immigration so I do not write much about it. It is also a pity that the so-called progressive Left in France (or elsewhere) has left it to the likes of Le Pen to articulate what I would consider to be progressive economic policies. Although, that assessment has to be tempered by the observation that Le Pen’s approach to economic policy is somewhat confused – in part, by her ‘political’ assessment that France is not yet ready to leave to Eurozone. At that point, some bizarre contradictions emerge and the anti-FN book correctly points them out.
In 2012, while unemployment and underemployment was still at elevated levels after rising in the early days of the GFC, non-government spending was weak, the external deficit was around 4 per cent of GDP, real GDP growth remained well below its trend in the 5 years before the GFC, and the economy was no-where near full employment, the then Treasurer, Wayne Swan launched into the largest fiscal shift away from deficit in recent history (in the modern era since 1970). He was obsessed with ‘getting the budget back into surplus’ in the following year because somehow he had gleaned from the work of John Maynard Keynes that a responsible government has to pay back deficits with surpluses. The Australian government’s deficit had risen because tax revenue had fallen as a result of the slowdown in activity and because the Government introduced a rather large fiscal stimulus, which saved Australia from going down the recession route that other nations were mired in. Maintaining that deficit or enlarging it with further stimulus is what a responsible government should have done. But Swan, apparently thought that with Europe heading further into the morass (as a result of mindless austerity) that he had to show the world what a good government does – run surpluses. Apparently, he thought the credit rating agencies would close the government down. Apparently, he thought inflation would runaway from its low levels. Apparently, he believed the lie that fiscal deficits pushed up interest rates. Apparently, he didn’t know that introducing fiscal contraction when non-government spending was weak would further slow the economy and damage confidence. All of which happened. Quite obviously he didn’t know a thing. Swan, ever the politician (but in opposition now) is apparently thinking differently – now he is claiming fiscal deficits have to rise to push the economy towards full employment. This chameleon-like performance is rather sickening given the damage he caused when he was actually the Treasurer in charge of fiscal policy and full of neo-liberal lies and confusion.