So the IMF has come late to the transitory inflation party. What was obvious months ago is now at the forefront of IMF forecasts. Better late than never I suppose. It is becoming clear that most indicators are still not predicting a major demand-side collapse in most nations. Growth has moderated slightly and the forward indicators are looking up. At the same time, the inflation data around the world is suggesting the price pressures have peaked and lower inflation rates are expected. Real wages continue to fall, which means that the inflationary pressures were not being driven by wages. So no wage-price spiral mechanism at play. And PMI data and related indicators (such as shipping costs, etc) suggest the supply constraints which drove the inflationary pressures are easing. So has all this been the work of the interest rate rises imposed on nations by central bankers (bar Japan)? Not likely. The rising interest rates and falling inflation are coincidental rather than causal. Which means the damage to low income debt holders and the bank profits boom from the higher rates was for what?
Britain is now in a very undesirable state. The governing Tories are bereft of any sensible ideas and likely to lose the next General election in 2024 to Labour, who are promising to be the party of ‘sound finance’, which means they will be incapable of dealing with the challenges that face the nation in a highly volatile world and will likely end up losing popularity and ceding government back to the Tories. And just as in 2010, the Labour reputation will tarnished and they will be lost again for another sequence of elections. That sort of future prospect is not inspiring is it. Caught between a rock and a hard place.
Its been around 9 months since the central banks of the world (bar Japan) started to push up interest rates. This reflected a return to the dominant mainstream view that fiscal policy should aim to support monetary policy in its fight against inflation and thus be biased towards surpluses, while central banks manipulated interest rates to deal with any inflationary pressures. The central banks would somehow form a ‘future-looking’ view that inflation was about to spring up and they would push rates up to curb the pressures. The corollary was that full employment would be achieved through price stability because the market would bring the unemployment rate to a level consistent with stable inflation. So full employment became defined in terms of inflation rather than sufficient jobs to meet the desires of the workforce. This is the so-called NAIRU consensus that has dominated the academy and policy makers since the 1970s. During the pandemic, it was abandoned and there was hope, particularly after statements made by the US Federal Reserve that this approach had unnecessarily resulted in elevated levels of unemployment for decades, that central bankers would target low unemployment as well as price stability. Progressive economists, of course, rejected the whole deal, noting that monetary policy shifts created uncertain distributional outcomes (creditors gain, debtors lose when rates rise) and also rising interest rates add to business costs which provoke further price rises. Anyway, after a short respite from this pernicious NAIRU logic, we are back to square one with central banks pushing up rates. The Bank of Japan is now standing, again, in the wilderness, resisting this logic and demonstrating how government should deal with the sort of pressures being felt around the globe. And who isn’t happy? The grandstanding financial markets who thought they could make a quick buck but have come up against an ideology that rejects their claim to dominance. That is a happy story.
Today (January 25, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2022. It showed that the CPI rose 1.8 per cent in the quarter (down 0.1 point) and over the 12 months by 7.8 per cent (up 0.5 points). So, the annual inflation rate in Australia was higher in the December-quarter, but, the quarterly rate was lower, suggesting that the current episode is losing steam. The major sources of price increases are temporary – overshoots on pre-pandemic travel and holidays, anti-competitive cartel behaviour and the War in Ukraine. These influences are supplemented by shortages of building materials due to bushfires and food price inflation due to the major floods. The correct policy response should be to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises at present. Increasing interest rates again will not solve the problem that is already abating.
Today, I have a few news and information items. First, I detail how to migrate to Mastodon so that you can continue to follow me as I escape Twitter. Second, I provide enrolment details for the next offering of our MMT edX MOOC. Third, I provide access details to my annual Helsinki public lecture which will take place tomorrow starting at 19:00 EAST.
Its been around 9 months since the central banks of the world (bar Japan) started to push up interest rates. And still there are no firms signs that a recession is impending. There are some signs of a growth slowdown but that is not uniform across the globe. The US seems to be continuing to grow. While that suggests that monetary policy is less effective than the mainstream economists claim – which is no surprise to non-mainstream economists who have long understood that fiscal policy is the tool of choice for counter-stabilisation, there are other offsetting factors that are at play here. Governments around the world have seriously ramped up their fiscal outlays over 2022 on military procurements as the perceived threat from Russia and China has been magnified by military generals and their mates in the big US weapons corporations, who have taken the opportunity to get make massive extra profits. The power of the military-industrial complex (MIC) is long-standing and well understood. It explains why all the usual disaster scenarios that accompany increasing fiscal outlays by governments haven’t attracted much criticism. Too many elites benefit from the military binge. But the fiscal expenditure also helps to counteract any spending contraction by households who are negatively impacted by interest rate increases.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (December 15, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for December 2022. My overall assessment is that the labour market started to enter a decline – albeit slowly in December 2022 with employment falling by 14,600 (-0.1 per cent) although full-time continued to grow but was outstripped by the decline in part-time employment. The participation rate fell 0.2 points, which meant the fall in the labour force reduced the rise in unemployment that occurred as a result of the employment decline. However, the underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 5.4 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.5 per cent, which indicates the labour market still has slack. There are still 1,361.7 thousand Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed).
It’s Wednesday and I have several items to discuss or provide information about today. Today, I discuss the future of the EU-bonds that were issued as part of two main emergency interventions in 2020 as policy makers feared the worse from the pandemic. The question is whether these assets can ever become ‘safe’ in the same way that Japanese government bonds or US treasury bonds are clearly ‘safe’. The answer is that they cannot and the reason goes to the heart of the problem besetting Europe – the fundamental monetary architecture is flawed in the most elemental way. I also provide some updates for MMTed and a great new book. And, of course, this week, I have to remember Jeff Beck in the music segment.
There was a Financial Times article recently (January 8, 2023) – Monetary independence is overrated, and the euro is riding high – from Martin Sandbu which strained credibility and continues the long tradition of pro-Euro economists attempting to defend the indefensible – fixed exchange rate, common currency regimes. He claims that the Euro is a better system in the modern era for dealing with calamity than currency independence. However, as I explain below, none of his arguments provide the case for the superiority of the Eurozone against currency-issuing independence. Currency-issuing government can certainly introduce poor policy – often because the policy makers refuse to acknowledge their own capacity and think they have to act as if the nation doesn’t have its own currency. But the negative consequences that flow from testify to the poor quality of the polity rather than any disadvantages of the currency independence. The Euro Member States are being bailed out by the central bank and if that stopped the system would demonstrate the inherent dysfunction of its monetary architecture and nations would fail.
Jeff Beck has died! A masterful musician. Very sad. We move on. I read an interesting research paper recently – “The Great Retirement Boom”: The Pandemic-Era Surge in Retirements and Implications for Future Labor Force Participation – published in the US Federal Reserve Bank’s Finance and Economics Discussion Series (released November 2022), which illustrates how the pandemic is altering the behaviour of the US labour market. The lessons from the US are relevant everywhere as governments progressively ignore the reality that a dangerous virus is still in our midst and still causing havoc (deaths, long-term disability and more). For those who are continuing to claim the pandemic is some sort of conspiracy to control us or that Covid is less dangerous than influenza or that mask wearing is redundant and all the rest of the nonsense that seems to perpetrated by some on the Left who think they are for ‘freedom’ and those on the Right who just care about profits, this sort of research should presents a serious wake up call.