When fiscal policy is misrepresented

On Tuesday, Australians woke to headlines – Treasurer Joe Hockey faces $51 billion deterioration in finances between budget and MYEFO, economists say – and a story of “black holes”. The so-called director of budget and forecasting at a consulting firm in Australia (inaptly named Macroeconomics) claimed that the May fiscal statement (aka The Budget) was “economically sound”, which just tells you that the director is not worth listening to on matters macroeconomic. Then along came the US-China so-called ‘historic’ climate deal to muddy the waters further. And nothing I have read in the news since Tuesday about either issue makes any sense from a macroeconomic perspective.
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    Posted in Economics | 7 Comments

    Back to 1917 – the wealth distribution in the US

    The current evolution of Capitalism is taking the world back to where it was in the early C20th, before trade unions were strong enough to protect workers’ rights, before central governments were willing to mediate the class struggle and step in to make sure workers had the means to enjoy the material prosperity that the system generated, before wages growth allowed workers to share in productivity growth and build a modicum of material wealth. There is no class struggle, Bill! How many times do I hear that now. It is just a convenient sop by those with a vested interest in promoting that view or who has been conned to believe that to be the case. Of course there is a class struggle. Industrial capital might be sharing the hegemony with totally unproductive financial capital and the robber barons of the C19th and early C20th are less prominent and the banksters and the politicians in their pay have replaced them, but don’t ever think that there is a massive conspiracy to undermine the welfare state and put workers back into an even more subservient position than before. Unemployment, part-time precarious work, tax evasion and all the rest of the scams are working a treat.
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      Posted in Economics, Labour costs, US economy | 11 Comments

      Catalonia’s vote largely misses the point

      The bets are on at the moment that the Eurozone will dip back into recession for the third time since 2008 such is the incompetence of the policy makers and the policy framework they have erected to operate within. There is constant talk that the ECB will once again step in to save the day but all they can do is stop a nation going broke by guaranteeing their fiscal deficits and/or buying their debt. The central bank has very limited capacity to actually stimulate aggregate spending, which is the source of economic growth when there is massive idle productive capacity. In this context, the vote on Sunday by Catalonians (well around 33 per cent of them), which was overwhelmingly yes (81 per cent), is interesting although I doubt it will lead to anything constructive – like the Community exiting the Eurozone and really becoming independent. Most likely, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajo will come up with some fiscal compromise to relieve the calls about Spain robbing Catalonia blind and the same problems will persist. I don’t pretend to know much about the cultural issues but in the scheme of things as I show below the economic circumstances the Community finds itself in are a direct consequence of being part of the Eurozone. That would have to change for there to be any meaning to the calls for secession. I don’t hear those arguments coming out strongly at all.
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        Posted in Eurozone | 9 Comments

        European Commission is once again bereft of credibility

        The European Commission released its – European Economic Forecast – Autumn 2014 – which is its bi-annual statement of economic outlook. In his editorial to the outlook, Director General Marco Buti admits that “euro area is still projected to have spare capacity in 2016″, which means the Commission is overseeing economic policy choices that will deliberately impose a recessionary bias for the next two years (at least) and deliberately force millions of Europeans to endure joblessness, savings erosion and the march towards poverty and despair for the next two years. Its a statement of monumental policy failure and the Director General Marco Buti should resign immediately just after he sacks his policy advisers.
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          Posted in Eurozone | 4 Comments

          Saturday Quiz – November 8, 2014 – answers and discussion

          Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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.
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            Saturday Quiz – November 8, 2014

            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.
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              Friday lay day – US midterm election show lack of progressive leadership

              Its my Friday no blog day yet a brief discussion of this week’s US mid-term elections cannot be resisted. In the spirit of the lay day, I will just have a little stretching and warm up type blog though. What the F*&#! The largest economy with the biggest weapons has just voted into majority positions in both houses of their parliament a bunch of crazies, who are only slightly crazier than the alternatives they might have chosen. Although in many cases, the crazies were voted in uncontested.
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                Posted in Friday | 10 Comments

                Australia Labour Force – weak and no signs of improvement

                Today’s release of the – Labour Force data – for October 2014 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics is the since it made extraordinary admissions about the breakdown of seasonally adjustment methodology, which had made the last three months’ data largely unbelievable. See below for comment on that. Today’s major revision shows that employment growth was modest in October after two consecutive months of negative growth. Unemployment edged up again this month although the unemployment rate remained stable (when rounded to one decimal place – it actually rose a little in unrounded terms). The participation rate edged up a little but remains well below recent peaks. Monthly hours of work rose but that was due to the fact that full-time employment growth dominated the overall tepid employment expansion. The teenage labour market deteriorated further and has been signalling a state of emergency for several years now – a crisis ignored by the policy makers.
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                  ABS revises labour force methodology – things are much worse than we thought

                  Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released an extraordinary press notice – Statement from the Australian Statistician on the Labour Force estimates – which aimed to help everyone understand why the Labour Force data has been so weird lately. A lot of readers E-mail me seeking help understanding what seasonal adjustment is all about. It is a dry topic and not one I relish even though I have a background in statistics and econometrics. But given yesterday’s announcement and the disarray that people have sensed with the official labour force data in Australia recently, I thought I might try a non-technical explanation of what has been going on. Here goes! And for those who like attacks on austerity etc, underpinning this whole discussion is the mindlessness of neo-liberalism. That should get you reading!
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                    Posted in Economics, Labour Force, Teaching models | 4 Comments

                    Japan demonstrates the real limits on government spending

                    Last week, Reuters put out a story (October 30, 2014) – Special Report: Tsunami evacuees caught in $30 billion Japan money trap (thanks Scott Mc for the link) – which provides an excellent demonstration of the true limits of government spending in a currency-issuing nation. The underlying principles should be understood by all as part of their personal mission to expel all neo-liberal myths from their thinking and to help them see the nature of issues more clearly. Unfortunately, the application we will talk about is sad and has tragic human and environmental consequences, but that doesn’t reduce the relevance of the example for conceptual thinking. In a nutshell, the central Japanese government has transferred some $US50 billion worth of yen to the local government to combat the destruction caused by the tsunami in March 2011. Thirty billion is unspent despite people still living in temporary housing and suffering dramatic psychological trauma as a result. Why is this happening? Doesn’t Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tell us that a currency-issuing government can spend what it likes? Well, not exactly. What MMT tells us is that a currency-issuing government can purchase whatever is for sale in its own currency and that propensity is limited by the availability of real resources. Here is a classic demonstration of the limits of government nominal spending.
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                      Posted in Inflation, Japan, Labour costs | 9 Comments