The Modigliani controversy – the break with Keynesian thinking

I have been continuing the research for my next book (hopefully to be finished by May 2016) on the way in which the neo-liberals convinced policy makers including those in progressive social democratic political parties that the globalisation of finance and capital flows meant that the currency-issuing state was no longer capable of maintaining full employment through appropriate use of fiscal policies. The tenet we are entertaining is that the state never went away, it was just co-opted by capital to serve its interests. This will be a two-part blog and centres on a critical period in economic history in the mid-1970s, which marked the break with the full employment system which had moderated the excesses of capitalism. This was the period when the neo-liberal period dawned, and which steadily, opened the way for these excesses to reemerge, in all their indecent indulgence and destruction. It is also the period in which a series of economic myths crystallised into the mainstream narrative we know today, which opposes government deficits and allows unemployment to remain elevated at excessive levels. It is really important to understand what went on then because we are living with the legacy of the falsehoods introduced during this period.
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    Posted in Demise of the Left | 21 Comments

    The government really is instrumental in creating growth

    Sometimes one reads a press article that is so obviously misleading that it is hard to know where to start with it. But perhaps the conclusion is the best place to start sometimes. Such is the case of a Bloomberg article (January 15, 2016) – What #ResistCapitalism Gets Wrong – written by American academic Noah Smith. Basically, the article attempts to attribute all of the post-Second World War prosperity to the “free market economy”, which he says is “a term many use synonymously with ‘capitalism’”. By the end of the article we learn that in fact that prosperity does not come from ‘free market’ liberalisation and that strong governments are essential for growth and reductions in inequality. The “boring old mixed economy” where, in Noah Smith’s words “government really is instrumental in creating growth”. Start with the conclusion and read backwards is my advice in this case.
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      Posted in Economics | 10 Comments

      Europe’s future is bleak with an ageing population and policy failure

      I read an interesting article that was published on December 18, 2015 by the Center for Global Development, which is one those centrist-type research and advocacy organisations that lean moderately to the right on economic matters. The article – Europe’s Refugee Crisis Hides a Bigger Problem – discusses what it considers to be “three population related crises”, two of which at the forefront of public attention (because they are moving fast) – the “refugee crisis” and the “terrorism crisis”. The third is “Europe’s slow moving and in inexorable ageing crisis”, which is largely being ignored in the public debate. The article provides a basis to link the three crises together – in the sense that “Europe actually needs millions of migrants a year to mitigate its ageing crisis”. While I have some sympathy with the article, there are many omissions that reflect the bias of the author. Two major issues – mass unemployment and productivity growth are ignored completely. The emphasis in the article is on whether the public sector can afford not to bring in more people to offset the ageing of the EU28 population. That emphasis discloses the bias of the author and diminishes the strength of the article.
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        Posted in Economics, Eurozone | 8 Comments

        Currency-issuing governments have unlimited financial resources to fight recession

        The elites are gathering for another junket aka the World Economic Forum, in the frosty, but salubrious surrounds of Davos this week (January 20-23, 2016). The Monday morning temperature there is forecast to be -22°C. According to the Forum’s Home Page – Searching for the 21st century dream at Davos – the delegates are going to be reimagining life under the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which is spin for eating a lot of gourmet food, drinking a lot of expensive wine, and, denying the presence of the very large elephant in the conference venue. I suppose it is easy for them to live in denial when the sort of policy regimes they have influenced have categorically failed and will continue to do so with the result that millions remain unemployed and poverty rates are rising. Apparently, the elites have to “‘defetish’ … dialogues about future technologies” and the “onset of a new era of ‘limits’ is a chance we must not miss to imagine and engineer the futures we want”. Here is some gratuitous advice to the elites – forget the robots; forget worrying about the so-called “inflection point … where social, economic and political crises meet rapid technological change, where progress feels like disruption, not promise”; and, instead, more fully understand why this obsession with “a new era of ‘limits'” (by which they mean fiscal limits on governments) has sidetracked any hope of progress and deliberately disrupted people’s lives in a way that dwarf the impacts of technological change.
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          Posted in Economics | 19 Comments

          The Weekend Quiz – January 16, 2016 – answers and discussion

          Here are the answers with discussion for The Weekend 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 – January 16, 2016

            Welcome to The Weekend Quiz, which used to be known as the 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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              Posted in Saturday quiz | 6 Comments

              Australian labour market – goes backwards again

              Today’s release of the – Labour Force data – for December 2015 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show a labour market in retreat. Total employment growth was a negative (barely) and labour force participation fell marginally. While total unemployment declined, it was only due to the fact that the labour force shrank by more than employment contracted, which means that actual unemployment was substituted for hidden unemployment. The data continues to strain credibility with some quite bizarre monthly shifts. The cautious position is to look at the trend over the last several months and that suggests that the labour market has improved marginally. However, the teenage labour market remains very weak with no discernible upwards trend revealing itself yet. If the forecasted decline in private investment occurs over the next 12 months, then this modest improvement in the labour market over the last six months will not persist.
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                Posted in Labour Force | 1 Comment

                The co-option of government by transnational organisations

                Today, some more analysis of the debate about globalisation and the capacities of the nation-state. We consider the debates in the early 1970s about the power of transnational corporations and the claims that they undermined the capacity of the nation-state to further the interests of the population. On the one hand, the free-market liberals claimed that the emergence of the transnational corporation was a move towards increased global efficiency and the nation-state, which served narrower interests, would be swept aside, along with its regulative structures, by this trend. Global welfare (and solutions to international poverty) would be maximised by the demolition of national borders by transnational capitalism. This view considered the nation-state to be ‘dispensable’ – that it only served narrow interests and the global organisation of production no longer required national governments to operate in this way. The Marxist position was, understandably, at odds with this view. It considered the nation-state to be indispensable to the growing needs of international capital. This was in the sense that governments could provide essential stability to reduce the risk of transnational operations. My position is more in line with the latter view although it clearly recognises the relevance (and power) of the national governments in which they choose to operate. Further, these transnational corporations are typically very large firms within the nations they operate. it is hard to differentiate the political clout that being large exerted from the influence of being global. Certainly, the early literature was not clear on that issue.

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                  Posted in Demise of the Left | 24 Comments

                  US labour market appears to be marking time

                  Last week (December 8, 2015), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics published the latest – Employment Situation – December 2015 – and the data shows that “Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 292,000 in December, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.0 percent”. The BLS noted that they had revised their estimates of the change in total non-farm payroll employment for October up by 9000, and the estimates for the change in November up 41,000. In other words, “employment gains in October and November combined worth 50,000 higher than previously reported”. The BLS also note that “over the past 3 months, job gains of averaged 284,000 per month.” This information was widely interpreted as a strong result with the employment growth spread across several industries and services. Construction employment was also strong for the third consecutive month. However, other indicators suggest a more static picture. Broad measures of labour underutilisation indicate no significant improvement in the latter part of 2015 in the US labour market. Further average hourly earnings were static and of not risen as strongly as in previous recoveries. The participation rate was unchanged at 62.4 per cent and remains well below previous peaks. As I have shown before, despite the robust employment growth, there is a bias towards jobs at the lower end of the pay distribution (see blog – US jobs recovery biased towards low-pay jobs.
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                    Posted in US economy | 9 Comments

                    Globalisation and currency arrangements

                    In today’s blog, I continue the discussion that I started last Thursday, and, specifically, focus on the critique that commentators have made about the loss of state control of their economies as a result of globalisation. The thesis advanced by many analysts is that globalisation has reduced the capacity of the nation-state and forced governments to adopt free market policies at the microeconomic level and austerity at the macroeconomic level, for fear that capital flight will destroy their economies. It is a neatly packaged thesis that the political Left has imbibed, and, in doing so, has undermined the progressive basis of these institutions and left voters with little choice between right-wing parties and the social democratic parties who formally represented the interests of workers and acted as mediators in the class conflict between labour and capital. The major distinguishing feature these days between these two types of parties, who were previously poles apart in approach and mandate sought, is that the so-called progressive side of politics now claims it will implement austerity in a fairer way. These austerity-lite parties, buying into the myth that globalisation has undermined the capacity of the state to pursue full employment policies with equitable income distribution, do not challenge the basis of austerity, but just quibble over who should pay for it. The aim of this research which will appear in my next book (with co-author Thomas Fazi) is to outline a manifesto by which progressive activists and political movements can claim back the space the current generation of sham progressives have ceded to the neo-liberals.

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                      Posted in Central banking, Demise of the Left | 18 Comments