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Real resource constraints and fiscal policy design

There is an interesting dilemma currently emerging in Australia, which provides an excellent case study on how governments can use fiscal policy effectively and the problems that are likely to arise in that application. At present, the Australian states are engaging in an infrastructure building boom with several large (mostly public sector) projects underway involving improvements to road, ports, water supply, railways, airports and more. I travel a lot and in each of the major cities you see major areas sectioned off as tunnels are being dug and buildings erected. Not all of the projects are desirable (for example, the West Connex freeway project in Sydney has trampled on peoples’ rights) and several prioritise the motor car over public transport. But many of the projects will deliver much better public transport options in the future. On a national accounts level, these projects have helped GDP growth continue as household consumption has moderated and private investment has been consistently weak to negative. But, and this is the point, there have been sporadic reports recounting how Australia is running out of cement, hard rock and concrete and other building materials, which is pushing up costs. This is the real resource constraint that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) emphasises as the limits to government spending, rather than any concocted financial constraints. If there are indeed shortages of real resources that are essential to infrastructure development then that places a limit on how fast governments can build these public goods. The other point is that as these shortages are emerging, there is still over 15 per cent of our available labour resources that are being unused in one way or another – 714,600 are unemployed, 1,123.9 thousand are underemployed, and participation rates are down so hidden unemployment has risen. So that indicates there is a need for higher deficits while the infrastructure bottlenecks suggest spending constraints are emerging. That is the challenge. Come in policies like the Job Guarantee.

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If Africa is rich – why is it so poor?

When I was a student, that is, formally studying for degrees rather than the constant-learning approach which makes us permanent students, I was very interested in development economics and have carried that into the career phase of my work, including doing commissioned work for international agencies in Africa and Asia. One of the things I have come up against in that work has been the question of why are the nations in Africa, for example, so poor, when it is obvious to all and sundry that they possess massive resource wealth. My student days introduced me to dependency theory, which provided a solid framework for understanding the nature of underdevelopment. It stood in contrast to the mainstream development theory that was presented in most textbooks and which we would now call the neo-liberal approach. That approach is publicly enunciated by the IMF and the World Bank as if it is reality. In fact, it is a chimera! The framework of development aid and oversight put in place by the richer nations and mediated through the likes of the IMF and the World Bank can be seen more as a giant vacuum cleaner designed to suck resource and financial wealth out of the poorer nations either through legal or illegal means, whichever generates the largest flows. So while Africa is wealthy, its interaction with the world monetary and trade systems, leaves millions of its citizens in extreme poverty – unable to even purchase sufficient nutrition to live. It is a scandal of massive proportions and should become the target of all progressive governments (as they emerge).

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The case against free trade – Part 4

I am travelling most of today and do not have much time. However, there were a few more issues I wanted to raise in relation to the ‘Free Trade’ mini-series of blogs but on Tuesday I ran short of time and thus I thought I would take this chance to round the discussion off. So this blog might be considered Part 4 in that series on free trade. In Part 1, I showed how the mainstream economics concept of ‘free trade’ is never attainable in reality and so what goes for ‘free trade’ is really a stacked deck of cards that has increasingly allowed large financial capital interests to rough ride over workers, consumers and undermine the democratic status of elected governments. In Part 2, I considered the myth of the free market, the damage that ‘free trade’ causes’. In Part 3, fair trade was considered along with so-called ‘free trade’ agreements. Today, some nuances and additional thoughts are provided. The aim of this mini-series is to build a progressives case for opposition to moves to ‘free trade’ and instead adopt as a principle the concept of ‘fair trade’, as long as it doesn’t compromise the democratic legitimacy of the elected government. There is also a video of my keynote presentation at UMKC in September 2016 available in this blog.

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The case against free trade – Part 3

This blog continues my mini-series of free trade. In Part 1, I showed how the mainstream economics concept of ‘free trade’ is never attainable in reality and so what goes for ‘free trade’ is really a stacked deck of cards that has increasingly allowed large financial capital interests to rough ride over workers, consumers and undermine the democratic status of elected governments. In Part 2, I considered the myth of the free market, the damage that ‘free trade’ causes’. The aim of this mini-series is to build a progressives case for opposition to moves to ‘free trade’ and instead adopt as a principle the concept of ‘fair trade’, as long as it doesn’t compromise the democratic legitimacy of the elected government. This is a further instalment to the manuscript I am currently finalising with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi. The book, which will hopefully be out soon, traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. In this blog (Part 3 and final) I consider the concept of ‘fair trade’ as an alternative to the current situation where modern democracies demonstrate an unwillingness to resist the ever-increasing demands of global capital to cede democratic legitimacy in favour of corporate profits.

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The case against free trade – Part 2

This blog continues my mini-series of free trade. In The case against free trade – Part 1 – I showed how the mainstream economics concept of ‘free trade’ is never attainable in reality and so what goes for ‘free trade’ is really a stacked deck of cards that has increasingly allowed large financial capital interests to rough ride over workers, consumers and undermine the democratic status of elected governments. The aim of this mini-series is to build a progressives case for opposition to moves to ‘free trade’ and instead adopt as a principle the concept of ‘fair trade’, as long as it doesn’t compromise the democratic legitimacy of the elected government. This is a further instalment to the manuscript I am currently finalising with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi. The book, which will hopefully be out soon, traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. In Part 2, I consider the myth of the free market, the damage that ‘free trade’ causes and move towards a discussion of fair trade. I will complete the series in a third part soon.

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The case against free trade – Part 1

Like many aspects of mainstream economic theory – free trade – is one of the concepts that sounds okay at first but the gloss quickly fades once you understand the basis of the theory and how it derives its seemingly ideal results. In practice, the textbook ‘model’ is never attainable in reality and so what goes for ‘free trade’ is really a stacked deck of cards that has increasingly allowed large financial capital interests to rough ride over workers, consumers and undermine the democratic status of elected governments. Further, even within the mainstream approach the terrain has moved. The old perfectly competitive ‘models’ of free trade, which go back to the Classical economist David Ricardo and were embodied in the so-called Heckscher-Ohlin and were used to disabuse notions of government intervention (protection, tariffs, import duties etc), have been surpassed in the literature. This blog is Part 1 in a two-part (might be three) series on why progressives should oppose moves to ‘free trade’ and instead adopt as a principle the concept of ‘fair trade’, as long as it doesn’t compromise the democratic legitimacy of the elected government. This is a further instalment to the manuscript I am currently finalising with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi. The book, which will hopefully be out soon, traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. This segment fits into Part 3 which focuses on ‘what is to be done’.

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Ending food price speculation – Part 2

This is Part 2 of the blog I started yesterday outlining the case to regulate food price speculation out of existence. This discussion is part of the policy section of what will soon be my latest book (with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. In Part 3 of the book, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world are available. This discussion is part of a chapter that will concentrate on financial market reforms (what to do with banks etc) and considers what can be done about food speculation. We argue that food speculation causes havoc in poor nations and a progressive stance should make it illegal. The enforcement would be through the new institutional framework I outlined previously. In today’s blog I complete the arguments advanced to justify our position.

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Ending food price speculation – Part 1

We are currently finalising the manuscript of my latest book (with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. We argue that while social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and, as a result, champion right-wing policies that compromise the well-being of their citizens, the reality is that currency-issuing governments retain the capacity to ensure there is full employment and can advance the material well-being of their citizens. In Part 3 of the book, which we are now completing, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world are available. A chapter in Part 3 will concentrate on financial market reforms (what to do with banks etc) and one topic in that context relates to the area of food speculation. We argue that food speculation causes havoc in poor nations and a progressive stance should make it illegal. The enforcement would be through the new institutional framework I outlined previously. In today’s blog I discuss the arguments advanced to justify our position.

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Work is important for human well-being

I am now in Kansas City for the next several days, so blogs might come at odd times. I am getting close to finalising the manuscript for my next book (this one with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and started to believe that the state had withered and was powerless in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Accordingly, social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and compromise the well-being of their citizens as a result. In Part 3 of the book, which we are now completing, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world, are available. One proposal that seems to have captivated so-called progressive political forces is that of the need for a basic income guarantee. As regular readers will know I am a leading advocate for employment guarantees. I consider basic income proposals to represent a surrender to the neo-liberal forces – an acceptance of the inevitability of mass unemployment. In that sense, the proponents have been beguiled by the notion that the state can do nothing about the unemployment. It is curious that they think the state is thus powerful enough to redistribute income. I also consider basic income proposals demonstrate a lack of imagination of what work could become and a very narrow conception of the role of work in human well-being. This blog will be the first in several (probably about four) where I sketch the arguments that will be developed (but more tightly edited) in the final manuscript.

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Reforming the international institutional framework – Part 2

This blog is the second part (now of three) where I discuss how the international institutional framework has to be reformed to serve a progressive agenda where rich countries (and the elites within them) do not plunder then pillory poor countries. In this blog I detail why we should dissolve the World Bank, the OECD, and the BIS, all of which have become so sullied by neo-liberal Groupthink that they are not only dysfunctional in terms of their original charter but downright dangerous to the prosperity and freedoms of people. The third part will consider what a new international institution might look like and the role it can play in aiding poor nations, particularly those who are reliant on imported food and energy. We will also discuss reforming the foreign aid system.

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