This is Part 2 of my analysis of the way that fundamental ideas in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) are totally consistent with a reasonable interpretation of Marx’s work. The motivation to clarify these issues came after I spoke at an event last weekend in the UK and shared a panel with a critic who claimed that Marx’s work established that MMT is wrong to assume that unemployment is a monetary phenomenon (insufficient spending) and that government spending can do anything about it. The claim was based on a view that Marx thought that capitalist firms have some unique logic that if they decide not to produce no amount of sales orders will induce them to expand production even if they have massive excess capacity (‘machines lying idle’) and a huge pool of idle labour to draw upon. No reasonable reading of Marx’s work would lead to that conclusion. In this part, we will consider what Marx thought about crisis and some later developments of his reproduction schemes, which make it clear that effective demand drives capitalist output, which conditions their employment decisions.
It’s Wednesday, and I have been following the British Labour Party conference and it seems they are conducting business as usual. That is, working out new and old ways to keep themselves unelectable even when the Tories are one of the worst British governments in history I would think. But so it goes. A split is the only way forward I guess. The Blairites can then hold conferences, stack votes to have unelectable leaders and design fiscal rules to their hearts content. At least they will be saving me time this time around. I will just be able to cut and paste my previous critiques of John McDonnells’ neoliberal Fiscal Credibility Rule and apply the analysis to the new Rachel Reeves’ rules. Not much has changed. Who is giving this lot advice? After that, I am sure you will appreciate that the IMF is now considered to be past its use-by date and currently mired in a data-fudging scandal. And then some Rock Steady to calm us down. That’s what today’s blog post offers.
I gave a talk at the Resist Event in Brighton UK last Sunday evening. On the panel was a person who dismissed Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as irrelevant to the real challenges that arose under Capitalism and he invoked Marx a lot. It was not a very illuminating interchange because not only did he misrepresent what MMT was but, in my view, he also seemed to think that we could extrapolate Marx’s scant ideas of money directly into the situation faced by nations today. Marx considered money to be a commodity (gold) and he did not present any meaningful analysis of the role played by the modern consolidated central bank-treasury function (aka government). Last Sunday’s critic claimed that MMT is wrong to assume that unemployment is a monetary phenomenon (insufficient spending) and that government spending can do anything about it. Apparently, Marx thought that capitalist firms have some unique logic that if they decide not to produce no amount of sales orders will induce them to expand production even if they have massive excess capacity (‘machines lying idle’) and a huge pool of idle labour to draw upon. Marx would never have agreed with that idea. Marx’s writings are not the Bible. They are insights gleaned at specific points in history with specific institutional arrangements, some of which remain relevant today, some which do not. Modern Marxist-oriented scholars are aware of that point. A deterministic application of his thinking is not very likely to yield insights when the context is very different. In this two-part series, I seek to lay out a clear reason why MMT is not a violation of a correctly interpreted Marx.
Its seems the conservative economics press is going through a hard time as it tries to wrest itself from its past litany of errors of judgement, backing the wrong horse, whatever. The latest example is The Economist Magazine, which ran a Leader Article over the weekend (September 25, 2021) = The mess Merkel leaves behind. It eviscerates the Merkel period for leaving Germany with a legacy that will cause headaches for future leaders and for the German people. This runs counter to the usual stuff the Magazine has offered about the soundness of Germany over many years as a bastion of stability and good financial management. It also provides a dose of reality to the raft of ridiculous glowing assessments of the Merkel years. In my view, she has overseen a government that has undermined its own prosperity, deliberately disobeyed the very rules it enforces on other nations in the Eurozone, and bullied leaders of other nations to enact dreadful policy shifts that have impoverished defenceless citizens. It is a cause of celebration that she is going not because we laud her work, quite the opposite. One failure less in public office.
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.
Victorians (those from the State of) tend to like – Australian Rules Football – which is our eccentric own code that developed in Melbourne in the 1850s. Not all of us follow the game, but a huge number. We have tribal loyalties to football teams and play-act those passions out every weekend – with mock hatred for the opposition and the like. Some take it further than that and enter states that border on mental disease. But most don’t and they understand perspective – that it is just a game, a distraction in our lives. I follow the – Melbourne Football Club (MFC) – the Demons, the Dees, the Red and the Blue, which is the oldest club in the game having been founded in 1858. Tomorrow is a very big day for supporters of the Melbourne Football Club (MFC) because our team is finally in a Grand Final and has the chance to break the longest premiership drought in the history of the competition.
Part of my working day is spent updating databases and studying the additional observations. I learn a lot that way about trends and how far off the mark my expectations of a particular phenomenon might be. Today I updated various labour market datasets from Britain and did some digging into the relationship between vacancies and pay. It is clear that as the British economy opens up again, that unfilled job vacancies have grown very strongly over the Northern summer. While that is a good thing because it means there are opportunities for workers to gain employment, shift employment to better paying jobs etc, the message is no unambiguous. If the vacancy growth is biased towards low-pay work then the chances for upward mobility might be stifled. Such a trend might also reflect the fact that employers are now finding that their old practices of accessing vast pools of EU labour willing to work at low wages are being constrained and that will signal the need for a change in strategy, including restructuring, capital investment and better paid jobs. It is too early to discern which way that will go. But what I found while looking at this new data is that while job vacancies are booming, the majority of them are in below-average pay sectors. More analysis is needed to fully assess the implications. Here is where I started on this path …
It’s Wednesday and so not much blog writing today. I have a few writing commitments to finalise in the coming few weeks and I need some time to do that. So today I provide some working notes and analysis of the data on UK Zero-hour contracts after I updated my dataset today. Some advertising of upcoming events follows and then some great guitar playing. A typical Wednesday at my blog it seems.
The ECB published a Working Paper recently (September 2021) – Monetary and fiscal complementarity in the Covid-19 pandemic – which represents progress in the narrative. While the technical model that the ECB uses is just an ad hoc attempt to reverse engineer the reality so they can claim they can explain it, what is useful from the exercise is that the old mainstream narratives that fiscal policy is ineffective in providing permanent boosts to real output (or that austerity does not permanently damage the growth trajectory) can no longer be sustained. The taboo surrounding central bank purchases of government debt because they cause accelerating inflation can no longer be sustained. The claims that fiscal deficits drive up interest rates can no longer be sustained. Now the public debate just has to reflect that reality and we will have made progress. Of course, this is all core MMT – we knew it all along!