In Deficits saved the world you read that a Nobel Prize winner not previously associated with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is starting to come round. The article by Paul Krugman highlights some of the basic elements of the sort of macroeconomics that I have been writing about for years and which forms the basis of this blog. It shows definitively the point I make about the macro balances – that a government surplus will squeeze the non-government sector into deficit and vice versa. It also addresses the current policy debate which is getting swamped a bit by idiots who are saying that fiscal policy is not working and should be constrained to get the government budget back into surplus.
There were two related stories this week from either side of the Pacific Ocean. From the east coast came – Rollout of jobs scheme ‘a sham’ and from the west coast – Stimulus Is Bankrupt Antidote to Failed Stimulus. While the US-based article is a polemic from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute and the second is a journalist’s reporting on Australian political trivia, they both raise interesting issues regarding the way fiscal policy is conducted. The issues raised provide further justification for employment guarantee schemes as a sophisticated addition to the automatic stabilisation capacity that is inherent in fiscal policy and makes it superior to monetary policy.
I read the headline in the UK press this morning – UK can’t afford another fiscal rescue – as a sure sign that all current and future keyboard operators within the UK Government had resolutely decided to refuse to enter a number in any government spending account from now on. This clearly would make it hard for the Government to continue spending given that a sovereign government like in the UK just spends by crediting private bank accounts and only a typist or two is needed to make that happen any time the government desires. I wondered what the Government had done to their operational staff that they would take such drastic action. So I started out to investigate what seemed to be a major yet fascinating industrial relations dispute between a government and its typists.
Last Thursday I briefly analysed the gross flows data that is published as part of the monthly Labour Force data. In this blog, I am extending this analysis to provide more detailed graphs which help us better understand the way the labour market is adjusting at present and how it adjusts over the course of a business cycle. This is the first part of a few blogs which aim to present a fairly complete summary of this data and what it tells us.
I had to double-check over the weekend whether I had actually read an article in the Fairfax press – Alarming debt bomb is ticking – given that my flu-ridden state was playing havoc with the clarity of my eyesight. Upon checking today, I concluded that I had read it. It is one of those articles that uninformed readers will consider erudite given the technical language it uses but which in fact is so misinformed at a theoretical level that it is has to be considered pure propaganda. It is sad that this sort of techno-mumbo-jumbo nonsense gets any space in our leading daily newspapers. I would rather more cartoons or brain teasers if they are struggling to fill their pages. Even an advertisement about the latest skin cream that not only eliminates wrinkles but also increases the reliability of the left-hander at Nobby’s would be better (Nobby’s = surf break)!
Been down, but now back on air … sounds like the opening of a blues song …
The monthly wait for the Labour Force data is over and we now know that how all the confusing messages coming from various indicators in the last few weeks are playing out in the labour market. Today’s data suggests that the labour market is starting to now turn for the worse. While today’s 5.8 per cent headline unemployment rate was less than the prediction by most economists (5.9 per cent), employment growth has fallen 3 out of the last 4 months and the in last month this descent quickened. The broader rate of labour underutilisation (sum of unemployment plus underemployment) is now worse at a comparable point in the cycle than it was in 1991 or 1982. That is a sign that things are sick and the employment growth slowdown is a sign that the situation will become sicker.
Some economists who are pushing the so-called de-leveraging story to explain the current downturn consider that the only sustainable basis for economic recovery requires that overall debt levels in the economy decline dramatically. They rightly argue that this requires a significant reduction in private debt. But they also argue that the public debt increases associated with the net public spending (the stimulus packages) – they erroneously use the term “to fund” the net spending – is self-defeating. In other words, they claim we are just substituting public debt for private debt and creating a new form of vulnerability (public insolvency – higher inflation etc) as we eliminate the private leverage. Apart from the failure of this story to link the private debt explosion with the pursuit of budget surpluses in the past, the major error that this camp makes is of the “oranges and apples” variety. That is, debt is not debt!
Sometimes in public policy a poor decision is made. Other times you conclude a very bad decision has been made. Then there are times when you witness one of the worst decisions that could be made. Today’s Australian Fair Pay (Not) Commission decision falls into this latter category. It was a decision made by highly-paid officials in secure employment which will impacts disastrously on the lowest paid workers and their families. in the context of a demand-deficient (that is, spending failure) downturn, the FPC has denied the low-paid workers a pay rise. The decision consolidates the triple whammy attack against the poor which is the Government is largely turning a blind eye too while it swans around preaching social inclusion.
While all the green shooters out there are constantly searching for signs that things are improving the fact is they are typically focusing on financial variables. So they feel good that the share market is recovering a bit (for the time being). But I almost always focus on real variables and then more usually on the labour market. Employment is the connection that the vast majority of us have with the economy and the distribution system and the quality and quantity of employment is a crucial indicator of how well things are travelling. The latest data out today reinforces the data from last week and shows one thing and one thing only – the labour market is sick. It also points to the urgent need for a third stimulus package which unlike its predecessors should be “job laden”. If the Government fails to take responsibility in the coming weeks and funds direct job creation projects on a massive scale then the situation will worsen and we will be stuck with high rates of labour underutilisation for the next several years.