In discussions about the significant differences that we have observed over the last 30 odd years between the conduct of economic policy in Japan and elsewhere, the usual response from mainstream economists, when challenged to explain the outcomes in the former nation, is that it is ‘cultural’ and cannot be applied elsewhere. I always found that rather compromising because mainstream economics attempts to be a one-size-fits-all approach based on universal principles of maximising human behaviour. So, by admitting ‘cultural’ aspects to the discussion, this is tantamount to admitting that the ‘market-based’ micro founded approach to macroeconomics is incapable of explaining situations. That is the first black mark against the veracity of mainstream theory. But when one prods further, it becomes clear that the term ‘culture’ is fairly vacuous and blurred in this defense of the mainstream framework. I respond by pointing out that essentially the monetary system dynamics in Japan are identical to the way the system works elsewhere. The institutions might have subtle variations but essentially the operations are so similar that the ‘culture’ bailout doesn’t help resurrect the appalling lack of predictive accuracy when it comes to examining the macroeconomics of Japan. Cultural aspects, however, are crucial to understanding the differences. The trick is understanding how these monetary and fiscal institutions are managed. This is where the cultural aspects impact. And, while I have learned a lot about Japanese cultural nuances, some of the more important ‘cultural’ drivers are transportable to any nation – if only we cared enough and valued people in the same way.
I wrote about what I am terming a ‘poly crisis’ in this recent blog post – The global poly crisis is the culmination of the absurdity of neoliberalism (July 18, 2022). I am working on material for my next book to follow up – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017). The German word ‘Zeitenwende’ means turning point. A fork in the road. It carries with it, from one interpretation, a recognition that the path that has been traversed to date is not the path that should be followed in the future. Something has to give. Whether Albert Einstein actually said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” is an interesting literary issue but the essence of the quote (correctly attributed to him or not) is sound. The idea of a ‘poly crisis’ is that big shifts in thinking and behaviour are required. We simply cannot continue to act in the same way as before whether it be on an individual level (us making our own choices) or at a societal level. The organisation of economic activity, our patterns of consumption and conduct of economic policy must all change – radically – for the planet to survive. Tinkering around the edges will be insufficient. Identifying a ‘poly crisis’ is tantamount to declaring the neoliberal experiment has failed dramatically and taken us all to the brink. It cannot form a basis for the future. But there is massive resistance to change and in Australia in the last week we have seen that in spades.
We will have Wednesday on a Thursday this week, given my detailed analysis of Australia’s inflation data release yesterday. So today I write less here to write more elsewhere and finish with some of the greatest guitar playing you might ever hope to hear. My topic today is the issue of the ‘work from home’ phenomenon, which is one of the better things Covid has produced. I explain why. But I also realise a lot of commentators view the phenomenon negatively. Some on the Left allege it just means the ‘woke’ class have abandoned the low-paid workers to Covid, while those on the Right are aghast because they realise that, at least, some workers have more ‘control’ over their working lives. My view is that we should celebrate the fact that some workers are happier. I don’t accept the argument from the ‘Left’ commentators that every worker should be miserable if every worker cannot be happier.
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.