For years, students have been taught that fiscal policy is an ineffective policy tool to regulate fluctuations in national income derived from changes in spending and saving decisions in the non-government sector. This narrative justified the austerity purges that we have become accustomed to pre-pandemic. The elevation of the fiscal surplus to some desired goal has been instilled in our minds and we have voted to support governments that record these surpluses because we have thought they were being fiscally responsible. The GFC, and, more recently, the pandemic has helped undermine that narrative as people have realised that the only thing between them and hunger has been government spending. The ‘market’ hasn’t helped them. The evidence that government spending has reduced poverty and created opportunities for families that were not previously possible is strong. One such measure is the – Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) – which was first published by the US Census Bureau in 2011. This blog post records my notes on that data release.
It’s Wednesday and I have been digging a bit into what appears to be a growing coalition opposing lockdowns, mask wearing, vaccine rules, and vaccinations in general. The claims are that none of these things work and that the economy is better off without them. I am not writing today about these matters (I have in the past) but rather about the nature of these coalitions. One of the things that has held back progressive causes in the past is the tendency of social democratic type interests to adopt the mainstream macroeconomics, which not only limits what they can do but exposes them to accusations that the government will run out of money and cause inflation if they have ambitious programs. The pattern of progressive interests aligning with non-progressive voices is thus not new. I am seeing it again in the context of the public health debate, which, in part, explains why our world is in such a Covid-mess. It isn’t all bad today – there is some nice music to finish, being Wednesday.
One of the joys of living is reading brilliant writing and I read a lot as a consequence. Not all of my reading is brilliant though, as you might expect, given my profession. As a young postgraduate student, one of the best books I read, among many, was – Labor and Monopoly Capital – which was written by – Harry Braverman – and published by the Monthly Review Press in 1974. It was a prescient piece of writing and is still 100 per cent relevant to the struggles today for working people against capital – both industrial and financial. It provides us with a path to resistance. It also points us in the direction of identifying the problems in the world today. And those problems start at the most elemental level – us.
I usually use Wednesday to write less here. But because sometimes a data release is on Wednesday, Thursday then becomes my lighter day. And I also have to travel a lot today. But there is a relatively important issue to address. I have been receiving a lot of E-mails over the last several months that question me about my position on government restrictions with respect to the Covid pandemic. Apparently, it has seeped into the debate that the mainstream Left have been silent while governments around the world have imposed draconian social control on their citizens, which have been targeted against the workers. The questions all seems to suggest that I have been silent on that issue, which is indicative that I have adopted the ‘woke’ Left position. I beg to differ.
The British Labour Party leader (for now) Keir Starmer gave a – Keynote Speech – to the Annual Conference of the Confederation of British Industry in Birmingham on November 22, 2021. If you read it or heard it you will know that his leadership marks the return of British Labour as class traitors. He started by saying the “Labour is back in business”, which should have been ‘Labour is the agent of business’ He played up the line that Britain’s future depends on the business sector profits growing stronger than they are now and that everyone benefits when profits are high and growing. Even at the most elementary level that statement defies the evidence. But for a Labour leader to make it spells trouble for the Party. So what else is new.
One of the recurring criticisms I face when presenting at events comes from those who say they are ‘socialists’ or ‘Marxists’. They accuse me in various ways of being an apologist for capitalism, for offering palliative solutions to workers, which will delay the break down of the system and the revolution to socialism and communism. These critics proudly announce they follow Marx’s solutions and that they reject Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) because it is just a stooge for capitalism. The problem is that Marx had no real vision of how we would transit to Communism. A recent book referred to Marx’s philosophical position on this as a ‘dream’ (more later). And MMT is not specific to any mode of production, by which I mean, who owns the material means of production. It is applicable to any monetary system, and I cannot imagine any modern, technologically-based society functioning outside of that reality – socialist, capitalist or otherwise. But, moreover, the critics seem to be displaying a lack of basic humanity where they exercise reasoning that Noam Chomsky regularly refers to as belonging in a philosophy seminar. Even progressives (and socialists) have to be aware of humanity – as they plot and scheme for the revolution.
This is Part 2 of my analysis of the way that fundamental ideas in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) are totally consistent with a reasonable interpretation of Marx’s work. The motivation to clarify these issues came after I spoke at an event last weekend in the UK and shared a panel with a critic who claimed that Marx’s work established that MMT is wrong to assume that unemployment is a monetary phenomenon (insufficient spending) and that government spending can do anything about it. The claim was based on a view that Marx thought that capitalist firms have some unique logic that if they decide not to produce no amount of sales orders will induce them to expand production even if they have massive excess capacity (‘machines lying idle’) and a huge pool of idle labour to draw upon. No reasonable reading of Marx’s work would lead to that conclusion. In this part, we will consider what Marx thought about crisis and some later developments of his reproduction schemes, which make it clear that effective demand drives capitalist output, which conditions their employment decisions.
Last Saturday, September 11, we observed the anniversary of a terrible terrorist act, inflicted on a free people with a democratically-elected government by multinational conspiratorial forces. The terrorist attack happened on a Tuesday. It resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people and the offenders have never been brought to justice. We should etch that day – Tuesday, September 11, 1973 – in our consciences, especially if you are an American, British or Australian citizen, given the culpability of our respective governments in that despicable coup d’etat. Today, a bit of a different blog post as I remember this historical event and the way it undermined progressive thought for years. The type of economic policies introduced by Pinochet on advice from the ‘Chicago Boys’ became the standard approach for even the traditional social democratic parties in the 1980s and beyond. We still haven’t abandoned the macroeconomic ideology that accompanies this approach. And Chile, 1973, was the live laboratory. Yes, the Blairites and the Delors-types and the American Democrats, etc don’t chuck inconvenient people out of planes in the ocean to get rid of them like Pinochet did on a daily basis, but the macroeconomics invoked is not that different.
One of the emerging discussions is what will the post-coronavirus world look like both within nations and across nations. There is a growing thread about the worries of increased state authoritarianism as governments have imposed an array of restrictions. There is also an increasing debate about the need for nations to return to enhanced national self-sufficiency to avoid the disruptions in the global supply chain that the pandemic has created. In 1933, John Maynard Keynes gave a very interesting lecture on this topic in Dublin. In this blog post, I consider that lecture and assess its currency in the contemporary setting.
In the wake of further Covid angst in Australia, the airlines are once again laying off thousands of workers. One of the airlines, Qantas, formerly the publicly-owned national carrier announced last week major job cuts soon after it secured a rather substantial rescue package from the Federal government. Qantas makes a habit of crying poor despite paying its executives slavishly large salaries and aggressively using its market power to undermine smaller regional airlines that have served Australia for years. Mainstream economists, who were cheer boys for the privatisation in the first place, continue to extol the virtues of selling off the airline at bargain prices to private interests. The reality is however different. The airline provides an overpriced service and can no longer be considered the ‘national carrier’, even though it continues to trade on that reputation. So, today, Scott from Griffith University, who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time, reexamines the case in the light of recent evidence to bring the airline back into public ownership. Over to Scott …