US labour market – uncertainty remains paramount with data volatility

On November 3, 2017, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – October 2017 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 261,000 in October, which the BLS said “mostly offset … a decline in
September that largely reflected the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey”. For more on that issue see my analysis from last month – US labour market – hit by two hurricanes but improvement suggested. While the payroll data showed a strong rebound in employment, the Labour Force Survey data estimated a sharp drop in employment (484 thousand) in October while the labour force was also estimated to have contracted sharply by 765 thousand. The latter was due to a rather implausible decline in the participation rate (0.4 points), which will probably be revised next month. But, taking the data on face value, the BLS estimated that unemployment fell by 281 thousand and the official unemployment rate fell by 0.2 points to 4.1 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis. What was striking about the October data though was the dramatic fall in the labour force participation rate – by 0.4 percentage points allied with the decline in the Employment-Population ratio (0.2 points). I analyse those movements in this month’s focus section of this blog. On the face of the aggregate data, the US labour market is getting back to its pre-GFC position but there is evidence that the quality of work has declined and negative cyclical effects remain in the system.
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    Posted in Labour Force, US economy | 1 Comment

    The Weekend Quiz – November 4-5, 2017 – answers and discussion

    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.
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      Posted in Saturday quiz | 3 Comments

      The Weekend Quiz – November 4-5, 2017

      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.
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        Posted in Saturday quiz | 4 Comments

        Q&A from British Labour Party Annual Conference Event, September 2017

        This blog is short and only serves to provide a link to the video of the Q&A that followed my presentation at the British Labour Party Annual Conference Fringe Event on September 25, 2017. The presentation introduced the Reclaiming the State Project – and discusses my new book (with Thomas Fazi) – Reclaiming the State A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto, September 2017).
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          Posted in Reclaim the State | 6 Comments

          IMF policies undermine the health of mothers and children in the poorest nations

          In our new book Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017) – Thomas Fazi and I argue that a new progressive agenda would see the abolition of the IMF and the World Bank and the creation of a new multilateral institution that is entrusted with ensuring poor nations can access necessary funds to prevent their societies collapsing. This organisation would not be a bulwark for inflicting neoliberal policies on the poorer nations, but rather, a body that assisted nations in developing first-class health, education and environmental care capacities and infrastructure in a fully employed environment. It would help insulate such nations from the vicissitudes of global finance by supporting capital controls and other anti-speculative policy tools. The current multilateral framework dominated by the likes of the IMF and the World Bank have failed categorically in this regard. Recent research, which, in part consolidates a rich body of research going back to 1987, has found that the so-called ‘structural adjustment policies’ that accompany assistance from these organisations have materially damaged child and maternal health in the nations where these conditionality programs have been imposed. The IMF likes to talk about intergenerational fairness, especially in relation to the alleged burdens that fiscal deficits leave for future generations, but then they support and implement policies that unambiguously damage the health and well-being of children in poorer nations, while allowing real resources to be sucked out of those nations to the benefit of the global rich. A criminal enterprise.
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            Posted in Fiscal Statements, IMF, Reclaim the State | 9 Comments

            Australian inflation outlook benign – room for fiscal stimulus

            Central banks around the world have been demonstrating how weak monetary policy is in trying to stimulate demand. They have been building up their balance sheets (massively) by creating reserves in return for government and corporate paper in an attempt to push their inflation rates up. But the data suggests their efforts are in vain. Which should inform all those who think that if the government stopped issuing debt to match their deficits there would be horrible inflation to think again. Progressives should be calling for their governments to abandon the gold standard practice of issuing debt, which would change the political dialogue considerably. Australia is also struggling to push it inflation rate into the so-called policy range of 2 to 3 per cent. Last week’s Australian Bureau of Statistics inflation data release – Consumer Price Index, Australia – data for the September-quarter 2017 showed that the September-quarter inflation rate was 0.6 per cent with an annual inflation rate of 1.8 per cent (down from 1.9 per cent last quarter). The headline inflation rate has been below the Reserve Bank of Australia’s lower target bound of 2 per cent for nearly two years now. Clearly, within their own logic where an inflation rate within the 2 to 3 per cent band reflects successful monetary policy, the RBA is failing. The RBA’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are also now below the lower target bound and are not showing signs of moving up. The most reliable measure of inflationary expectations has also fallen quite sharply. With the labour market data demonstrating weakness and the economy stuck in this low inflation malaise, it is clearly time for a change in policy direction.
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              Posted in Central banking, Inflation | 12 Comments

              Europhile Left deluded if it thinks reform process will produce functional outcomes

              A recent twitter exchange with some Europhiles who believe that it is better to wait for some, as yet unspecified, incremental reform process for the Eurozone rather than precipitate exit and the restoration of currency sovereignty was summed up for me by one of the tweets from Andrew Watt. In trying to defend the abandonment of sovereignty and make a case for continuing with the so-called reform dialogue, he wrote (October 27, 2017): “Unemployment in “periphery” was v hi before €. Fell rapidly. Then rose sharply, has now fallen somewhat. So picture very mixed.” I found that a deeply offensive claim to make and responded: “It is not a mixed picture at all. Youth unemployment has never been as high. Greek unemployment was never > 12%. Now > 20% indefinitely.” I also attached a graph (see over). I think this little exchange captures the essence of the delusion among many in the Left that we document in our new book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). The Europhiles maintain a blind faith in what they claim to be a reform process, which when carried through will reduce some of the acknowledged shortcomings (I would say disastrously terminal design flaws). They don’t put any time dimension on this ‘process’ but claim it is an on-going dialogue and we should sit tight and wait for it to deliver. Apparently waiting for ‘pigs to fly’ is a better strategy than dealing with the basic problems that this failed system has created. I think otherwise. The human disaster that the Eurozone has created impacts daily on peoples’ lives. It is entrenching long-term costs where a whole generation of Europeans has been denied the chance to work. That will reverberate for the rest of their lives and create dysfunctional outcomes no matter what ‘reforms’ are introduced. The damage is already done and remedies are desperately needed now. The so-called ‘reforms’ to date have been pathetic (think: banking union) and do not redress the flawed design. And to put a finer point on it: Germany will never allow sufficient changes to be made to render the EMU a functioning and effective federation. The Europhile Left is deluded if it thinks otherwise.
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                Posted in Eurozone | 12 Comments

                US growth performance hides very disturbing regional trends

                Last Friday (October 27, 2017), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published their latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2017 (Advance Estimate), which tells us that annual real GDP growth rate was 3 per cent in the September-quarter 2017, slightly down on the 3.1 per cent recorded in the June-quarter. As this is only the “Advance estimate” (based on incomplete data) there is every likelihood that the figure will be revised when the “second estimate” is published on November 29, 2017. The US result was driven, in part, by a continued (but slowing) contribution from personal consumption expenditure which coincided with record levels of household indebtedness. How long consumption expenditure can be kept growing as the debt levels rise is a relevant question. At some point, the whole show will come to a stop as it did in 2008 and that will impact negatively on private investment expenditure as well, which has just started to show signs of recovery. Governments haven’t learned that relying on personal consumption expenditure for economic growth in an environment of flat wages growth means that household debt will rise quickly and reach unsustainable levels. How harsh the correction will be is as yet unclear. But when it comes, the US government will need to increase its discretionary fiscal deficit to stimulate confidence among business firms and get growth back on track.
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                  Posted in US economy | 2 Comments

                  The Weekend Quiz – October 28-29, 2017 – answers and discussion

                  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.
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                    Posted in Saturday quiz | 6 Comments

                    The Weekend Quiz – October 28-29, 2017

                    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.
                    Read the rest of this entry »

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                      Posted in Saturday quiz | 6 Comments