When I started studying economics at University, I had a lecturer in microeconomics who, thankfully, was an antagonist of the mainstream micro mantra about perfect markets and their capacity to deliver optimal, efficient outcomes for all. She is no longer with us but her early teachings have stayed with me (thanks Kaye!). She used to say that the market was like a voting system where the votes were cast in dollars. The rich have more votes and can sway the outcome in their favour. At the extreme, they can deprive the poor of the essentials of life, yet mainstream economists, who recite the mantra in those textbooks, would claim that outcome was optimal and efficient because supply and demand interacted to determine a ‘market-clearing’ price. For those who resisted the socio-pathological tendencies that arise from a complete undergraduate program in mainstream (neo-liberal) economics, it was obvious that the narrative was a fantasy. The real world is nothing like the requirements that the textbooks specify before ‘markets’ deliver optimal outcomes. Deeper study, not usually, taught in standard, mainstream economics programs also allowed one to understand that when the ‘market’ is not as specified in the textbook (read the real world) attempting to engineer ad hoc shifts towards that ‘idealisation’ probably resulted in even worse outcomes. At any rate, application of ‘perfectly competitive’ theory is fraught. And that is before we invoke basic morality and human valuation. Unfortunately, events like Hurricane Harvey, bring out economists who think it is smart to apply these ridiculous textbook models and claim authority over the rest of the citizenry. All they achieve is that they utter venal garbage and shame on the media outlets who give them oxygen.
On June 3, 1951, the Socialist International association was formed in London. It is still going. It is “a worldwide association of political parties, most of which seek to establish democratic socialism”. Its roots date back to the C19th (to the First International formed in 1864) when it was considered beneficial to unite national working class movements into a global force to overthrow Capitalism. Internal bickering among various factions led to various dissolutions and reformations over the last 150 odd years. In 2013, the membership split when the German SPD decided to set up an competing group, the Progressive Alliance, which saw a host of so-called social democratic parties (including the Australian Labor Party) join and desert the SI. Both bodies are dogged by internecine conflict and members who have fallen for the neo-liberal macroeconomic myths. More recently, DIEM25 has emerged to pursue a Pan-European vision of Left-wing politics. The more recent dynamics of these movements deny power of the nation state in a globalised economy and global financial flows. They are all failing because of this denial.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has just hosted its annual Economic Policy Symposium at Jackson Hole in Wyoming where central banks, treasury officials, financial market types and (mainstream) economists from the academy and business gather to discuss economic policy. As you might expect, the agenda is set by the mainstream view of the world and there is little diversity in the discussion. A Groupthink reinforcing session. One paper that was interesting was from two US Berkeley academics – Fiscal Stimulus and Fiscal Sustainability – which the news reports claimed suggested that governments should be increasing fiscal expansion even though they may be carrying high levels of public debt. The conclusion reached by the paper is correct but the methodology is mainstream and so progressives should not get carried away with the idea that there is signs that some give is emerging, which will lead to more progressive outcomes. A progressive solution will only come when the neo-liberal dominance of my profession is terminated and an entirely new macroeconomics paradigm based on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is established. There is still a long way to go though.
The latest report from the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors released on Thursday (August 24, 2017) – CEO Pay in ASX200 Companies: 2016 – shows how unfair and unsustainable the income distribution is in Australia. While there has been moderation in the growth of CEO pay after the ‘greed is good’ binge leading up to the GFC, the managerial class in Australia has still enjoyed real growth in pay at a time when the average worker is enduring either flat to negative growth in pay. Further, overall economic growth in Australia is being driven by increased non-government indebtedness as real wages growth (what there is of it) lags well behind productivity growth. And, at the same time, the Federal Government is intent on pursuing an austerity policy stance. All these trends are similar to the dynamics we experienced in the lead-up to the GFC. They are unsustainable. A major shift in income distribution away from capital towards workers has to occur before a sustainable future is achieved. The indicators are that there is no pressure for that to occur.
Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! 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 Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blogs I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
A good friend sent me a document that was released under the US Central Intelligence Agency’s rules about archives. The CIA has established a fabulous ‘Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room’ where all sorts of stuff is released after they deem it benign to current security concerns. The 1985 CIA document – France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals – written by CIA operatives, provides an analytical summary of the leading lights in the French left-wing intellectual thought in the 1980s with a view of promoting ….. It is redacted but only marginally. There is no doubt as to what the message is. It helps us understand the forces that were mounted against the progressive Left by right-wing, pro-market forces and how the public was manipulated to reject This is part of the research I am currently doing on the way literature, particularly fiction, is used to advance the neo-liberal ideological position – to make it look as though the ideas about governments running out of money and the like are just extensions of our usual individual experience in families and households. That research will be disseminated in a paper that Louisa Connors and I are giving at the upcoming MMT conference in Kansas City.
There was an article in the Financial Times last week (August 16, 2017) – Central banks hold a fifth of their governments’ debt – which seemed to think there was a “challenge” facing policymakers in “unwinding assets after decade of stimulus”. The article shows how central banks around the world have been buying huge quantities of government (and private) bonds and holding them on their balance sheets. Apparently, these asset holdings are likely to cause the banks headaches. I don’t see it that way. The central banks, in question, could write the debt off any time they chose with no significant consequence. Why they don’t is the question rather than whether they will become insolvent if the values crash (they won’t) or whether the yields will skyrocket if they sell them back into the non-government sector (they won’t). Last week (August 15, 2017), the US Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board put out their updated data on Foreign Holders of US Treasury Securities. Other relevant data was also published which helps us trace the US Federal Reserve holdings of US government debt. Overall, the US government holds about 40 per cent of its own total outstanding debt – split between the intergovernmental agencies (27.6 per cent) and the US Federal Reserve Bank (12.4 per cent). In some quarters, the US central bank has been known to purchase nearly all the change in total debt. That folks, is what we might call Overt Monetary Financing and the sky hasn’t fallen in yet as a consequence.
Earlier this month (August 11, 2017), Eurostat published the latest European Union data for – Young people in the EU: education and employment. This data now allows us to track the fortunes of three age cohorts – 15-19, 20-24 and 25-29 years since before the crisis to the end of 2016. So a teenager prior to the crisis (2007) would be transiting into the 25-29 years cohort in 2016. One of the disturbing trends shown in the data is the increasing number of young people in the older ‘youth’ categories that in 2016 we classified as being Neither in Employment, nor in Education or Training (NEET). Some will have been in that category for the entire duration of the crisis – that is, they dropped out of school early, are not receiving any skills development and are unemployed. Whereas in 2007, the proportion of NEETs in the 25-29 years cohort was 17.2 per cent, that figure has risen to 18.8 per cent by 2016 (although the peak of 20.7 per cent was reached in 2012). This suggests that the systems which provide transitions between education and employment are not working effectively because the demand-side of the labour market is deficient. That is, there is a lack of jobs available overall and the most disadvantaged youth workers are at the back of the queue along with the disabled and other stigmatised cohorts (for example, Roma people in the European context). There is an urgent need for a true Youth Job Guarantee, to replace the faux Youth Guarantee that was introduced in 2012. But then that would require abandoning the obsession with austerity and dysfunctional fiscal rules. The European Commission’s answer to the problem will be to have another ‘summit’ or two and issue plenty of statements replete with motherhood statements.
Regular readers will know I was doing some speaking engagements in New Zealand a few weeks ago. Please read my blogs – Travelling all day today but here is something to watch and listen to and Reflections on a visit to New Zealand – for more coverage of that visit. New Zealand is in the midst of a national election campaign and it seems that one of the aspiring parties – The Opportunities Party (TOP) – which is trying to carve out a niche for itself as an ‘anti-establishment’ party in opposition to neo-liberalism – obviously determined that the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) message that I introduced many progressive New Zealanders to during my visit threatened their own credibility (which is a reasonable perception). So, to kill off the threat TOP went on the attack, although as you will read they found it impossible producing a credible critique of MMT and still maintain their alleged anti-neoliberal stance. Whatever, I would hope not too many New Zealand voters get lulled into believing that TOP is somehow a progressive force. Their macroeconomic narrative is strewn with neo-liberal falsehoods that are like neon-signs advertising their roots!