There was a wonderful article – The Origin of Job Structures in the Steel Industry – written by Katherine Stone and published in 1973. It was part of an overall research program that several economists and related disciplines were pursuing as part of the radical economics that was being developed at Harvard and Amherst in the early 1970s. One of the major strands of this research was to understand labour market segmentation and how labour market structure, job hierarchies, wage incentive systems and more are used by the employers (as agents of capital) to maintain control over the workforce and extract as much surplus value (and hopefully profits) as they can. It challenged much of the extant literature which had claimed that factory production and later organisational changes within firms were technology-driven and therefore more efficient. The Harvard radicals found that to be unsustainable given the evidence. They also eschewed the progressive idea that solving poverty was just about eliminating bad, low pay jobs, an idea which had currency in that era. They showed that the bad jobs were functional in terms of the class struggle within capitalism and gave the firms a buffer which allowed them to cope with fluctuating demand for their products. It also allowed them to maintain a relatively stable, high paid segment (primary labour market) which served management and was kept docile via hierarchical incentives etc. I was reminded of this literature when I read a recent paper from Dutch-based researchers on the way firms have evolved in the neo-liberal era of precarious work. Much is made of the supposed efficiency gains of a more flexible labour market. How it spurs innovation and productivity through increased competition and allows firms to be more nimble. The entire ‘structural reforms’ agenda of the IMF, the OECD, the European Commission and many national governments is predicated on these myths. The Dutch research shows the irony of these manic neo-liberals.
In Part 1 of this two-part blog I laid out a general analytical framework for considering fiscal rules that might allow governments to borrow for infrastructure as long as all current expenditure is at least matched by taxation and other current receipts. This is more or less the rule that the British ‘Charter of Budget Responsibility’ imposes and the approach that the new (previously called radical left) British Labour Party leadership aspires to obey. I use previously called ‘radical left’ advisedly because as the days pass the utterances of the economic leadership make it difficult to differentiate between Labour and the Tories. The main difference appears to be the worn out “we will tax the rich and the crafty tax dodgers to balance the budget”. A nonsensical stance for a progressive political force and verges on Game Over syndrome. John McDonnell’s presentation to the National Labour Conference yesterday was a further walk into obscurity. By claiming they are not “deficit deniers” and will close the deficit as a priority they have walked right through the Tory framing door. Not lingered on the doorstep and then sought more salubrious premises. But they are right inside – trapped into the same mantra – yes, they will cut the deficit but it will be a fairer cutting. The rich will pay. And pigs might fly.
In the UK Guardian article (September 26, 2015) – John McDonnell: Labour will match Osborne and live within our means – analysis of the position being taken by the new Shadow Chancellor in Britain, John McDonnell was provided. I have to say it seems to have caused some serious conniptions among those disposed to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) if I am to judge by the E-mails I have received in the last 36 hours and the tweeting activity that followed the publication. But if we consider what he said carefully, it may not be as bad as the Guardian headlines suggest. However, his statement discloses a deep insecurity in the Corbyn camp that leaves them adopting fiscal rules that are the hallmark of the neo-liberals. It retains focus on the fiscal balance, however, decomposed into current and capital, whereas the focus should be on creating full employment and prosperity. The adoption of the Tory fiscal rule – the so-called – Charter of Budget Responsibility – still provides some flexibility for government to avoid harsh austerity. However, it can easily become a source of unnecessary rigidity, which prevents the government from fulfilling its responsibilities to advance welfare. Overall, the insecurity it betrays is the worrying part of this statement. This blog is in two parts – today is more conceptual (and longer). Tomorrow – will be more empirical (and much shorter). We will conclude that the British Labour Party is mad to sign up to the ‘Charter of Budget Responsibility’, which is a chimera – it is not a responsible framework at all.
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.
Welcome to the Billy Blog Saturday Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
Its my Friday Lay Day blog and I have several deadlines on other projects coming up like today even! But I am sick of the Economist Magazine being held out as a voice of moderation and sound analysis. It has always been a merchant of so-called free market myths and adopting the conservative, anti-government intervention line. It claims that it “offers authoritative insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science and technology”. It frothed lovingly when Margaret Thatcher was running her wrecking ball through the UK under the guise of ‘reform’. It didn’t say a word when the financial market deregulation that her government and its successors, including Tony Blair’s New Labour, set in place and fostered, started to turn ugly well before the crash that started the GFC. It is not moderate at all. It has come to the Attack Corbyn Campaign somewhat later in the piece but better late than never I suppose. It article (September 24, 2015) – Murphy’s law unto himself – is a disgrace. Its reveals that the Econmomist is a tawdry little rag that feigns understanding but reveals ignorance. This article is really just a spewing out of some poor undergraduate mainstream macroeconomics textbook chapter or two without any guile or deeper comprehension.
Last weekend, the Greece people (or a declining proportion of them) elected a new national government. It was a farce. There was no competing electoral mandates sought. The population know what is in store for them. The policy mandate in force wasn’t even supported by popular vote. It comes from the Troika, which now effectively governs the Colony of Greece. The new Prime Minister, who sold the people out prior to the election, is now talking about making changes. Yeh, right! He is now just a tool for the Troika. National elections where the people do not vote for anything much don’t look like a healthy democracy to anyone who isn’t in denial as to what has been going on. Democracy is about the people being able to change governments that do them harm. In the Eurozone that is an old-fashioned idea. National elections have become a sop, a pretense. And the people knew it and stayed away in droves. The Greek election was a total farce – democracy died.
Last week (September 17, 2015), the US Federal Reserve Bank took the sensible decision to leave the US policy interest rate unchanged. Nine of the ten Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted accordingly. One dissenter wanted rates to rise by 25 basis points. The central bank made the correct decision, even if you might like to question their reasoning. The decision has not pleased the financial markets who have been baying under the moon for months if not years for interest rates to return to higher and more stable levels. There is no surprise in that. They make more profits under those conditions and when there are low rates and higher uncertainty about their direction (and adjustment speed), profits come less easily. Further, they long for what they call “normal levels” of interest rates despite the fact that reality changed with the GFC and we now know that monetary policy is relatively ineffective as a policy tool for controlling or influencing aggregate spending. And it is typical that they ignore the millions of people who remain idle in one way or another and are enduring flat real wages and rising poverty rates. There is no old “normal’ now. Things have changed.
It has been an interesting period watching the various ruses that conservatives are bringing to bear to attack Jeremy Corbyn and, somewhat unrelated, try to justify why the US Federal Reserve Bank should be raising interest rates. I will deal with the latter issue another day. Apparently, the grass roots rise of Jeremy Corbyn to leadership of the British Labour Party is actually a demonstration of the “rise of groupthink” in British politics and “threatens Britain’s membership of the EU – and the United Kingdom itself”. Indeed, more Corbynsteria as the terminology goes. This quietly-spoken British man seems to have a lot to answer for after having the audacity to intervene in the cosy little neo-liberal world of British party politics (Tory and New Labour). But the part that interested me was that the author – who is employed by the lofty sounding but usually disappointing, British-based Centre for European Reform (which gets funding because it is a mouthpiece for pro-European integration) – considers Corbyn has been the beneficiary of a new found groupthink. It beggars belief really.
Last week (September 17, 2015), the European Commission announced – Long-term unemployment: Europe takes action to help 12 million long-term unemployed get back to work. The press release summarised the latest proposal from the European Commission – On the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market – which outlines a series of initiatives that aim to “to better help long-term unemployed return to work”. I studied the proposal in detail and came to a stark conclusion – there is nary a job in sight!