There is hope – neo-liberalism is an historical aberration

Another lesson from history coming up. People of my generation studied the great books by Charles Dickens, which apart from their literary form, left an indelible impression of life in England during the period covered by the 1834 Poor Law. We also read George Orwell’s account of working class life in Northern England in the pre-World War 2 period. These impressions meant that we heralded in the creation of comprehensive welfare states in the Post World War 2 period as evolutionary innovations made possible by increasing national prosperity. We formed a common belief that this prosperity allowed us to escape the sort of conditions that Dickens was describing in early industrial England. And if prosperity fell, we would have to rein in some of the generosity that the welfare state systems provide. How many times have you read or heard some politician or corporate lobbyist claim that advanced nations, with fiat currencies, can no longer ‘afford’ to fund comprehensive welfare states that protect the poorest citizens in their societies. Many of these speeches are made at glittering functions where business types enjoy sumptuous lunches with plenty of wine and fine food and listen to politicians talk about running out of money and the need to pull our belts in. The arguments are used to attack the comprehensive welfare systems that emerged in the post World War 2 period as governments took responsibility for improving the plight of the poor. But, an understanding of history allows us to appreciate that the modern welfare state was nothing particularly new. There had been a comprehensive welfare support system in place in Britain for 300 years before the 1834 Poor Laws ended that system. This should give us hope – 1601 Poor Law (comprehensive welfare system) -> 1834 Poor Law Amendment (demolished it and blamed the poor for their plight) -> Modern Post World War 2 welfare states (comprehensive welfare system recognising systemic failure rather than individual blame) -> neo-liberalism (back to the 1834 mentality) -> ???? – hopefully another progressive reaction to the greed driving the current system.
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    Posted in Britain, Economics, UK Economy | 19 Comments

    The Italian elites knew all along that the Eurozone would be a disaster

    There is often a discussion about whether politicians and government officials introduce policy changes that end up being damaging to the well-being of the people are ignorant or wilful. It is sometimes hard to discern what the agendas are and who knows or understands what. The release of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified report – Economic Intelligence Weekly Review 9 November 1978 – tells us a lot about the deliberate deception that goes on where the citizens are kept in the dark and the politicians deliberately make decisions that they know are not in the best interests of the nation. The questions then are why do they do that and what can citizens do about it? In the case of Italy – and the decision to enter the European Monetary System (EMS) in 1978, which was the precursor to the Eurozone, the motivations are fairly apparent. They knew that the EMS would not be in the best interests of Italy from an economic standpoint but were lured by the ‘European dream’. This is the idea that ‘Europe’ (by which we mean the formal European Union) is a representation of political stability and sophistication. The southern European states never felt part of ‘Europe’ and considered that their own political stability and oversight of corrupt politicians would improve if they went along with any idea proposed by the European Union. Italy had been a foundation state but still doubted their own legitimacy. The neo-liberals that were taking over the European integration process by the late 1970s sold this line to subtlety coerce these nations into joining up. It worked. But the polity and the technocrats knew all along that entry into the EMS and later the Eurozone was not in Italy’s best economic interests.
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      Posted in Eurozone, US economy | 12 Comments

      Another Milton Friedman legacy bites the dust

      Milton Friedman and his gang at Chicago, including the ‘boys’ that went back and put their ‘free market’ wrecking ball through Chile under the butcher Pinochet, have really left a mess of confusion and lies behind in the hallowed halls of the academy, which in the 1970s seeped out, like slime, into the central banks and the treasury departments of the world. The overall intent of the literature they developed was to force governments to abandon so-called fiscal activism (the discretionary use of government spending and taxation policy to fine-tune total spending so as to achieve full employment), and, instead, empower central banks to disregard mass unemployment and fight inflation first. Several strands of their work – the Monetarist claim that aggregate policy should be reduced to a focus on the central bank controlling the money supply to control inflation (the market would deliver the rest (high employment and economic growth, etc); the promotion of a ‘natural rate of unemployment’ such that governments who tried to reduce the unemployment rate would only accelerate inflation; and the so-called Permanent Income Hypothesis (households ignored short-term movements in income when determining consumption spending), and others – were woven together to form a anti-government phalanx. Later, absurd notions such as rational expectations and real business cycles were added to the litany of Monetarist myths, which indoctrinated graduate students (who became policy makers) even further in the cause. Over time, his damaging legacy has been eroded by researchers and empirical facts but like all tight Groupthink communities the inner sanctum remain faithful and so the research findings haven’t permeated into major shifts in the academy. It will come – but these paradigm shifts take time.
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        Posted in Economics, Fiscal Statements | 9 Comments

        Australian Labor Party fails the fiscal test – badly

        I guess the venality of the new US Presidency isn’t creating enough news for the Australian press. On January 29, 2017, the Fairfax press wheeled out the veritable debt scaremongering in this article – Scott Morrison to lift credit limit as Australia’s debt hurtles towards $500 billion – reporting that the Australian government “will be forced to lift its own self-imposed credit limit in the coming months as debt hurtles towards half-a-trillion dollars”. Instead of writing about how stupid and unnecessary this ‘self-imposed limit’ is, the journalist wanted to talk about the disaster that awaits us as the debt of the currency issuing government “hurtles” like some asteroid to its death towards half-a-trillion dollars. As I said, must have been a day that imagination in the journalistic world was lacking. The worst part of the story is not the idiocy of its logic or the fact that it links to an inane Australian Debt Clock home page, but, rather, the reported response from the Labor Party Shadow Treasurer. The Labor party is meant to represent the workers and claims to be the progressive force in Australian politics. That ladies and gentlemen is the sick joke of all time. This is a party that has abandoned its traditional remit (to defend the well-being of workers) and instead spouts neo-liberal gibberish without knowing it.
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          Posted in Central banking, Economics, Fiscal Statements | 10 Comments

          The Weekend Quiz – January 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 | 3 Comments

            The Weekend Quiz – January 28-29, 2017

            Welcome to The Weekend Quiz, which used to be known as the Saturday 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 | 3 Comments

              Upward mobility declines sharply as the rich make off with the growth

              Late last year (December 2016), an interesting academic research paper was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research – The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940 – which provides stark evidence of the way in which this neo-liberal era is panning out and suppressing the opportunities for the least advantaged. One of the constantly repeating claims made by conservatives is that if governments run deficits they are really undermining the future for their children and their children. The claim is that while the current generation is living it up (deficits are tantamount in this narrative to living a profligate existence), the next generations will have to pay for it via higher taxes and reduced services.It is a bizarre argument given that each generation chooses its own tax burden and we cannot transfer real resources through time. There is truth in the argument that if the current generation imposes terminal damage to our natural environment then we are diminishing the prospects for the future. But that is not the point that the neo-liberals make. Indeed, there is a strong positive relationship between conservative views of fiscal policy (deficits) and the propensity to engage in climate change denial. Recently released research is now showing that around 50 per cent of American children born in 1980 have incomes higher than their parents compared to 90 per cent born in 1940. The so-called ‘American Dream’ is looking like a nightmare. Other research has shown that the bottom 50 per cent of the US income distribution have not enjoyed any of the growth since 1980 and that the top-end-of-town has increased its share of income from 12 per cent in 1980s to 20 per cent in 2014. These shifts are the result of deliberate policy changes and inaction by governments, increasingly co-opted by the rich to serve their interests at the expense of the broader societal well-being. Revolutions have occurred for less.

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                Posted in Economics | 19 Comments

                Back to the future – employment freezes – they only degrade services

                A report in the The Washington Post (January 23, 2017) – The Trump administration just told a whopper about the size of the federal workforce – caught my attention earlier this week because it cut across some work I had been doing on public employment. The headline is self-explanatory – the accusation was that Sean Spicer lied in his first press briefing following the inauguration of the new President. The reporter in question (Christopher Ingraham) promoted his article with a Tweet and accompanying image which was then circulated widely on the Internet. The graph is what attracted my attention given that I rarely read the Washington Post, since it sold pages to the likes of Peter Peterson and allowed propaganda to parade as news. In this case, the problem was that the graph provided was highly misleading and didn’t refute anything that Sean Spicer had said about US federal government employment. Spicer had lied. But the Washington Post tweet didn’t prove that. This failing highlights an often-made confusion in the public – the difference between proportions and levels and the way graphs can lure us into wrongful conclusions. The sort of puzzle that young students in statistics are taught to work through. The other point is that employment freezes degrade public services and end up not saving cash anyway.
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                  Posted in Labour Force, US economy | 7 Comments

                  Mario Draghi uses TARGET2 to cower Italy into staying within the Eurozone

                  The new US President has now scrapped the TPP and is turning his attention to NAFTA. These are developments that those on the Left should applaud. No so the conservative, neo-liberal government in Australia which is claiming it is pushing ahead with the TPP (sure, with Indonesia) and hinting that China might be part of a new TPP arrangement sans the US. That, in itself, is incredible given that the TPP was designed to counter the growing trade strength of China. But the ground is certainly shifting. Even the IMF is embracing China and added the Renminbi to the Special Drawing Rights basket last September (along with the USD, the euro, Yen and pound), which is recognition that the IMF doesn’t think the Chinese have been manipulating the currency – one of the paranoid claims of the new US President. But in Europe, people are getting anxious after the President of the ECB Mario Draghi decided to put pressure on Italy with threats they would owe the Eurosystem (through the Banca d’Italia) some 358.6 billion euros, which are that nation’s TARGET2 liabilities as at November 2016. The real currency manipulator, German who continues to game its Eurozone partners (via an undervalued euro) is also claiming it is owed cash as a result of its increasing TARGET2 assets. The threat from Draghi is hollow and Italy should just ignore it and get on with leaving the Eurozone and restoring its prosperity as an independent currency-issuing state.
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                    Posted in Eurozone | 14 Comments

                    When mainstream economists jump the shark and lose it completely

                    There was an Op Ed last week from an Australian academic who attacked Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) along the lines that its proponents are “a bunch of cranks” and practice “charlatanism”. He also considers us to be sellers of “snake oil” and other nasty things. It was an extraordinary public intervention given that the argument was based on assertions drawn from an intermediate mainstream macroeconomics textbook, bereft of historical understanding and bereft of any real knowledge of the way the monetary system and the institutions within it (government, central bank, commercial banks) actually work. The MMT critique went like this: (a) misrepresent MMT through attributing claims to its proponents that are not remotely to be found in the literature; (b) claim you are not misrepresenting the MMT literature by selective quotes that are not actually consistent with the misrepresentations; (c) bring in one liners from textbooks that have been demonstrated to have no real world application and are patently wrong in many key elements of the banking system and the way bond markets operate; (d) call us fools for not knowing any of this. Well, it doesn’t take long into the article to realise who the fool is. The other point is that MMT is now clearly at the stage of development where the mainstream think they have to attack us and put us down. That is the next stage in our development (following years of being totally ignored). Progress is being made.
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                      Posted in Economics | 43 Comments