I keep reading ridiculous articles about Brexit in the UK Guardian. The latest was comparing it to pre-WWI Britain and suggesting there were no signs of a “Damascene moment remainers hoped for”. I thought that reference was apposite – given the reference invokes St Paul’s conversion after he was struck blind. Good analogy – blind and remainer. The Brexit imbroglio is all the more puzzling because it seems to be a massive mismatch of scale – a currency-issuing nation and an organisation with no currency and no democratic legitimacy. And that is before one even contemplates the nature of that organisation. On August 20. 2019, the European Union provided us with a perfect example of why no responsible government would want to be part of it. In its – Daily News 20/08/2019 – there were three items. The last item told us that construction output in the EU28 had declined by 0.3 per cent in June 2019. The first item was a sort of cock-a-hoop boast about how great Greece is after the EU saved it from disaster. Parallel universe sort of stuff. Britain will thank its lucky stars after October 31, 2019 when it goes free from that madness. Even though the remainers remain ‘blind’ without their Damascene moment”
Only a short blog post today – in terms of actual researched content. Plenty of announcements and news though, a cartoon, and some great music. I have been meaning to write about the household income and wealth data that the ABS released in July, which showed that real income and wealth growth over a significant period for low income families has been close to zero, while the top 20 per cent have enjoyed rather massive gains. These trends are unsustainable. A nation cannot continually be distributing income to the top earners who spend less overall while starving the lower income cohorts of income growth. A nation cannot also continually create wealth accumulation opportunities for the richest while the rest go backwards. These trends generate spending crises, asset bubbles and social instability. That is what is emerging in Australia at present.
At different times, the manias spread through the world’s financial and economic commentariat. We have had regular predictions that Japan was about to collapse, with a mix of hyperinflation, government insolvency, Bank of Japan negative capital and more. During the GFC, the mainstream economists were out in force predicting accelerating inflation (because of QE and rising fiscal deficits), rising bond yields and government insolvency issues (because of rising deficits and debt ratios) and more. And policy makers have often acted on these manias and reneged on taking responsible fiscal decisions – for example, they have terminated stimulus initiatives too early because the financial markets screamed blue murder (after they had been adequately bailed out that is). In the last week, we have had the ‘inverted yield curve’ mania spreading and predictions of impending recession. This has allowed all sorts of special interest groups (the anti-Brexit crowd, the anti-fiscal policy crowd, the gold bug crowd, anti-trade sanctions crowd) to jump up and down with various versions of ‘I told you so’. The problem is that the ‘inverted yield curve’ is not signalling a future recession but a total failure of the dominant mainstream macroeconomics. The policy world has shifted, slowly but surely, away from a dependence on monetary policy towards a new era of fiscal dominance. We are on the cusp of that shift and bond yields are reflecting, in part, the sentiment that is driving that shift.
I read an interesting research report recently – Exportweltmeister: The Low Returns on Germany’s Capital Exports – published by the London-based Centre of Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in July 2019. It tells us a lot about the dysfunctional nature of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and Germany’s role within it, in particular. Germany has been running persistent and very large external surpluses for some years now in violation of EU rules. It also suppresses domestic demand by its punitive labour market policies and persistent fiscal surpluses. At the same time as these strategies have resulted in the massive degradation of essential infrastructure (roads, buildings, bridges etc), Germany has been exporting its massive savings in the form of international investments (FDI, equity, etc). The evidence is now in that the returns on those investments have been poor, which amounts to a comprehensive rejection of many of the shibboleths that German politicians and their industrialists hold and use as frames to bully other nations
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 blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data today – Labour Force, Australia, July 2019 – which reveals a labour market with where employment growth is not strong enough to absorb the increasing labour force as participation continues to creep up. As a result, unemployment rose again, albeit modestly. The disturbing trend in this rather weak environment is that underemployment rose by 0.2 points) to 8.4 per cent further and the total labour underutilisation rate (unemployment plus underemployment) rose as a consequence to 13.6 per cent. Both the unemployment and underemployment rates are persisting around these elevated levels of wastage making a mockery of claims by commentators that Australia is close to full employment. The unemployment rate is 7 percentage points above what even the central bank considers to the level where inflationary pressures might be sourced from the labour market. This persistence in labour wastage indicates that the policy settings are to tight (biased to austerity) and deliberately reducing growth and income generation. My overall assessment is the current situation can best be characterised as remaining in a fairly weak state.
Wednesday and a short blog post. I regularly work for unions as an expert analyst/witness in their struggles to achieve wage justice with employers who are intent on paying as little as possible. Often these are private employers but at the moment I am helping a union with their campaign to win a reasonable wage increase against a state government. The logic deployed by the government in relation to their fiscal affairs and their wage setting behaviour is a classic demonstration of how neoliberalism has distorted any sense of reason and created self-fulfilling problems. So today, I will just introduce this issue – given how fascinating it is.
Last week (August 9, 2019), the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) – GDP first quarterly estimate, UK: April to June 2019 – told us that the UK economy contracted by 0.2 per cent in the June-quarter 2019 after having grown by 0.5 per cent in the March-quarter. The UK Guardian pundits and the Remain cheer squad all screamed Brexit and were heard to be walking around in circles saying “see, we told you so”. Meanwhile (August 7, 2019), not far away (according to the Remain crowd’s much-loved gravity trade models), Germany’s Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) press release – Production in June 2019: -1.5% seasonally adjusted on the previous month – told a sorry tale. In annual terms, Germany’s industrial production has contracted by 5.2 per cent. We also learned that Germany is probably in recession. According to the Remain-logic, that must be Brexit too, n’est-ce pas? Meanwhile, just a bit further south, Italy is in turmoil. Obviously, Brexit uncertainty. I jest of course (well a bit). But in a real sense, this is all tied into Brexit in one way – and it is not the way the Remain camp would like us to believe. In fact, what I have in mind gives more weight to the Leave position and reflects on how intransigent the European Union elites are in dealing with the Member States.
The dissonance in mainstream economics and the political debate about policy settings is getting deeper and more public. We now have examples of central bankers ‘throwing their hands up in the air’ and nearly begging governments to abandon their obsession with fiscal surpluses, and, instead, use fiscal policy to stimulate waning economic growth. What I think is happening is that we are entering a period of fiscal dominance, which will represent a categorical rejection of the mainstream macroeconomics consensus that has dominated policy making since the 1980s – the neoliberal era. In turn, this shift will ratify the main precepts of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). We are observing paradigm shift occurring as the dominant neoliberal paradigm fails at every turn. There is a long way to go though before the practitioners acknowledge that such a shift has occurred. But there is progress.