Friday lay day – real resources are available but not used, why?

Its Friday and I am writing a short blog only. A lot of people I meet find it hard to understand what a cost is in economics. They are too accounting oriented, in the sense that think a dollar sign on a piece of paper (such as a fiscal statement) represents a cost. In some contexts, it is sensible to think about dollars but when considering what a government should do, the only thing that really matters is the real resource cost. That may be calibrated in dollar terms but is not a monetary amount. In walking around three large Italian cities in the last week (Florence, Rome and Milan) I saw a lot of idle resources. The real costs of this idleness are massive – lost production, lost real income, lost lives. I saw many people not working and many others trying to scratch out an income selling trinkets on street corners. I also saw rubbish and urban decay everywhere such that the urban amenity was severely diminished. I didn’t see a shortage of productive jobs that could be done to improve the civic (public) parts of Italian life. But no-one was doing them. Why? The potential jobs were latent only because there was no-one willing to pay the idle workers to perform these productive tasks. That happens when there is a shortage of spending and has nothing to do with structural parameters.
Read the rest of this entry »

Spread the word ...
    Posted in Friday | 11 Comments

    The loaded language of austerity – but all the sinners are saints!

    The US National Institute of Justice tells us that – Recidivism is “is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice. It refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime”. You know murder, rape, theft, and the rest. According to the European Commissioner for digital economy and society and Vice-President German Günther Oettinger running a fiscal deficit above 3 per cent when you economy is mired in stagnation is a criminal act! This religious/criminal terminology is often invoked. German Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble told the press before a two-day summit in Brussels in March 2010 on whether there should be Community support for Greece, that “an automatic system that hurts those who persistently break the rules” was needed to punish the “fiscal sinners”. This sort of language, which invokes metaphors from religion, morality and criminology is not accidental. Especially in Europe, where Roman Catholocism still for some unknown reason reigns supreme in society, tying fiscal deficits to criminal behaviour or sinning is a sure fire way of reinforcing the notion that they are bad and should be expunged through contrition and sacrifice. The benefits of fiscal deficits in circumstances where the non-government sector is saving overall are lost and the creation of the metaphorical smokescreen allows the elites to hack into the public sector and claim more real resources for themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Spread the word ...
      Posted in Eurozone, US economy | 8 Comments

      The Italian left should hang their heads in shame

      Today is a blog lay day only because I now have to pay the piper for being Australian but having to undertake work commitments in Europe – a very long tiring flight. At least I can read a lot of detective novels. But there was a story on Monday in the Italian media that I report on now as a conclusion to my stay here in Italy. The only conclusion is that the Italian left should hang their heads in shame for being surrender monkeys to the neo-liberal forces defined by the Troika.
      Read the rest of this entry »

      Spread the word ...
        Posted in Eurozone | 31 Comments

        Austerity hacks into our cultural heritage

        As I noted last Friday, the Australian government has announced it will be cutting a massive part of the budgets of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), both publicly-owned national media organisations as part of its mindless fiscal austerity push. The Minister claims there is plenty of fat in these organisations but the ABC news report (November 24, 2014) – ABC cuts: Managing director Mark Scott announces more than 400 jobs to go – tells us that nearly 1 in 10 staff will be sacked and programs scrapped to meet the funding cuts. The ABC and SBS are jewels in Australian cultural life. They support local filmmakers, musicians, artists, and advance a more sophisticated understanding of what is going on around us. I am very critical of the way they have succumbed to neo-liberal economics, but in general, the alternative is a mind-numbing Fox-type flow of game and reality shows and sensationalist news. The only thing that is worth watching on commercial TV is the coverage of AFL football and even then one has to turn the sound off and have the ABC radio commentary accompanying the TV coverage to ensure a quality experience.
        Read the rest of this entry »

        Spread the word ...
          Posted in Economics, Music | 10 Comments

          A depressing report from Florence

          I am in Rome today and tomorrow. This afternoon I am giving a presentation at the Roma Tre University (Università degli Studi Roma Tre) on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and how we might advance the spread of the ideas. There is a very committed group of people in Italy who want to build a political presence to counter the neo-liberal dominance, which has infested all the major parties here (and everywhere). The first thing they need to do is to forget MMT as an organising vehicle and, instead, articulate a vision that advances public purpose and prosperity. MMT is a tool box or framework to understand the consequences of economic decisions (private and public) on the macroeconomic aggregates. It is not a policy agenda. I have suggested they concentrate on full employment, job security, climate change and reducing inequality and advancing opportunity for all as the organising vehicle for their political endeavours. Otherwise, there is the danger that they become an MMT cult. Anyway, I left the Florence roundtable thinking that dramatic shifts are required in the way the EU is structured before Europe can make any significant return to those sorts of policy aims. I also concluded that the elite is so entrenched in its own neo-liberal Groupthink and its own advanced sense of preservation that very little will change and mass unemployment will persist for years to come. It is a very sad state.
          Read the rest of this entry »

          Spread the word ...
            Posted in Economics, Eurozone | 6 Comments

            Saturday Quiz – November 22, 2014 – answers and discussion

            Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you understand the reasoning behind the answers. 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.
            Read the rest of this entry »

            Spread the word ...
              Posted in Saturday quiz | 10 Comments

              Saturday Quiz – November 22, 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.
              Read the rest of this entry »

              Spread the word ...
                Posted in Saturday quiz | 1 Comment

                Friday lay day – freezing in Florence

                Friday lay day sees me in Florence, Italy. The G20 waste of time and real resources meeting in Brisbane is now over and the World leaders have departed or are swanning around Australia on goodwill tours aka trough sampling (as in pig snouts at the). Our conservative government deeply embarrassed itself and its electoral appeal with a petulant display of parochialism. Instead of outlining a vision for the world’s future and Australia’s place in it, our political leadership chose to focus on their internal policy disappointments (that the democratic process here is not allowing them to proceed with – all aimed at attacking the poorest members of our society). At the same time they were vigorously trying to stop climate change discussions featuring on the agenda. Pathetic really. This small-time austerity mindset was perfectly captured by The Shovel this week.
                Read the rest of this entry »

                Spread the word ...
                  Posted in Friday | 4 Comments

                  UK labour market continues to impoverish its workers

                  While a lot of focus is given to the necessary reform of the financial sector – like declaring all financial transactions that do not support the real economy (which is about 97 per cent of the total) illegal, there is also a need to make fundamental changes to the labour market to reverse the neo-liberal incursions that have casualised employment and systematically cut real wages. The labour market degradation over the last 2-3 decades have allowed for the massive redistribution of real national income in most nations away from workers towards profits. That redistributed surplus is, in part, the bounty that the financial markets have used to speculate with and further entrench their power as financial capital. It also is how the top 1 per cent (and the 0.01 per cent) of the income and wealth distributions have gained further at the expense of the rest. Yesterday (November 19, 2014), the British Office of National Statistics released two publications – Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2014 and – Low Pay, 2014 – both of which demonstrated how these trends are alive and well in the British labour market. The British trends are representative.
                  Read the rest of this entry »

                  Spread the word ...
                    Posted in UK Economy | 7 Comments

                    Greece – return to growth demonstrates the role of substantial fiscal deficits

                    We had news this week that the annual rate of real GDP growth in Greece is finally positive after two quarters of positive growth. The austerity merchants are out in force congratulating themselves on a victory. Some victory. What the official data doesn’t publish are the long-term implications of the Depression that Greece has been locked in for the last six years. I look at that question in this blog (a little). Further, despite the claims by the European Commission and the lackies that it relies on to spread its distorted economic news that Greece has achieved a primary fiscal surplus, nothing is further from the truth. The fact is that the Greek fiscal deficit expanded considerably last year and despite all the austerity is still pumping public euros into the Greek economy and therefore supporting growth. The slight return to growth is not a victory for fiscal austerity but a demonstration that if large deficits are maintained for long enough growth will eventually rear its head.
                    Read the rest of this entry »

                    Spread the word ...
                      Posted in Eurozone | 8 Comments