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When common sense fails

I was at a social function last weekend and the conversation turned to economics – surprise surprise. I was the only professional economist in the group. I try very hard to avoid discussing economics in these circumstances because experience tells me that misunderstandings quickly occur as the “intuitive” or “common-sense” economists seek the floor. I would much rather talk about weeds growing than the sustainability of budget deficits in times like that. But, alas, someone said “but we’ve got a 50 million-dollar deficit who is going to pay for that?” Another member of the group, who is very articulate and fairly well-read in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) but not a professional economist stepped in to save the day. She proceeded to explain how common sense is a dangerous guide to reality and that not all opinions should be given equal privilege in public discourse. The conversation deteriorated because the “deficit worrier” and others immediately personalised this observation and considered it to be a attack on their life’s experience. Notwithstanding the tenseness of the situation, it was an interesting demonstration of the flaws in logic that govern the way people think about economics and the way politicians exploit our (flawed) reliance on common sense. Our propensity to generalise from personal experience, as if the experience constitutes general knowledge, dominates the public debate.

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Age discrimination against our teenagers should end

I haven’t much time to write today – I’m off to Sydney later where I will be a speaker at the following event – Open Forum: Young and old-age discrimination and the economy. I will be sharing the podium was the Age Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, a Federal government agency. The topic is how can Australian businesses and government make better use of our youth and senior citizens. As regular readers will know I regularly try to push the parlous state of the teenage labour market into the policy arena, with varying degrees of success. But today’s event is high-profile and provides a good platform for advancing these issues. This blog covers some of the issues that I will raise.

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The British government can never run out of money

Last week, the UK Office of National Statistics released their – Second Estimate of GDP Q4 2011 – which updates (once more information is available) the flash estimates that were released recently. The information confirms that the British economy went backwards in the fourth-quarter 2011 and confirmed that the September quarter 2011 growth was overestimated and the latest publication revised that downwards from 0.6 per cent to 0.5 per cent, a small revision but downwards nonetheless. There is now a real prospect of the economy entering a double-dip recession. The British government is now under pressure to revise its current budget strategy in order to prevent that probability. However the response of the British government (courtesy of the Chancellor) is to defend its ideological position with outright lies. The Chancellor claims that the British government can do nothing about the slide into recession because it is run out of money. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) demonstrates its impossibility of that event occurring from a financial perspective. What the Chancellor really is telling the British people is that the government refuses to stop unemployment rising. Why the Opposition and the Press are not exposing these lies is a further problem.

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Saturday quiz – February 25, 2012 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you understand the reasoning behind the answers. If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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The lesson for the Europeans is that the US fiscal stimulus worked

Today, I was reading the latest report from the US Congressional Budget Office – CBO’s Estimates of ARRA’s Economic Impact – which shows that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) has been successful in increasing real GDP growth in the US and reducing the rise in the unemployment rate. Some simple calculations reveal that in the absence of the ARRA US economy would still be in recession. That is, taking a European trajectory. There is also evidence that the Obama administration were presented with analysis that showed that a much larger stimulus than was chosen was necessary, yet this information was suppressed in final documents that were the basis of the fiscal intervention. It seems that the neo-liberal ideologues within the Obama camp deliberately undermined the fiscal intervention and so its impact, while positive, was far less than was required. I also read an interview with the ECB president, Mario Draghi today. The ECB is now pushing fiscal austerity as the only way out of the Euro crisis. In juxtaposition to the US experience, the Europeans remain fixed to the view that saving the flawed institutional structure (that is, the EMU) is a higher priority than insuring that people prosper. The lesson for the Europeans is that the US fiscal stimulus continues to work.

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Fiscal austerity undermines the future as well as the present

Amidst all the political turmoil in the Australian government this week, there was a highly significant report issued by the government (finalised December 2011 but released by the Government on February 20, 2012) – Review of Funding for Schooling – which showed not only how unequal our education system is but also how far behind we have fallen relative to other nations (particularly those that are more important trading partners). For a government which pretends to be concerned with equity and efficiency the Report posed huge challenges. Not only did it suggest current policy was failing, the Report estimated that over AU$5 billion should be invested in education reform to not only improve standards but also ensure that the massive inequalities between rich and poor with respect to educational access and outcomes are reduced. The response by the Australian government was that its priority remained the achievement of a budget surplus in 2012. Here is a classic demonstration of how a failure by the Government to understand the characteristics of the monetary system that it runs leads to poor outcomes in the short-run, but also undermines the future prosperity of the nation.

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Standby for the third Greek bailout

I suppose I have to write something about the extraordinary deal that emerged out of Brussels yesterday. I tweeted at the time that the “Latest EU Bailout will not end the uncertainty. Greece will not be able to withstand a decade of repressive economic policies”. The ABC National News last night introduced the bailout in terms of “finally resolving the uncertainty” and then proceeded to interview an analyst who outlined why the deal will increase uncertainty. This is the state of confusion among the media commentators who are bullied by the Troika to mouth is the official rhetoric but who must also realise that the projections underpinning the approach are deeply flawed and that the situation in Greece will continue to deteriorate. The reality is that this “deal” only buys some more time. In the meantime, the real situation in Greece will continue to worsen. Standby for the third Greek bailout.

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There is no unemployment in a non-monetary economy

I wrote recently about Eugene Fama, a Chicago economist who basically denied that a breakdown in the financial markets had caused the current crisis. Please see – Yesterday austerity, today growth – but leopards don’t change their spots – for further discussion. Last week (February 17, 2012), one of Fama’s colleagues wrote a Bloomberg Op Ed – How 3 Myths Drive Europe’s Response to Debt Crisis. The article by one Harald Uhlig, from the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago demonstrates the way that the Chicago School likes to obfuscate issues. He develops a model, which purports to show that the imposition of fiscal austerity and zero impact on the standard of living of the population. The only problem is that the model not only makes some false conclusion, within its own logic, but is also inapplicable as a vehicle for explicating problems that might arise in a modern monetary economy. This is typical Chicago economics – a stylised but irrelevant analytical framework.

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