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The Weekend Quiz – March 19-20, 2022

Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that 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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    Australian labour market rebounds from Omicron (perhaps) – but it is not as good as the media is claiming

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest labour force data today (March 17, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for February 2022. Last month the labour market took a dive as workers became increasingly sick from Omicron and the relaxation of the lockdowns and restrictions. This month a rebound. Next month? Floods and a new variant – stay tuned. Employment growth was very strong this month but it won’t last. Unemployment is down to the pre-GFC levels which is good as employers continue to face a restricted labour supply. When they get around to offering higher wages given their booming profits is another question. Participation is at peak levels which is good and underemployment is falling. All these are signs of an improving situation for workers but only within this weird bubble we are in – not much external migration yet and a Covid roller coaster of sickness, new variants, not to mention the floods. The flat population growth as external borders remain largely closed (or there is a slow take-up of international travel opportunities from foreign tourists) has helped keep the unemployment rate low. But it is a temporary reprieve I think. My ‘What-if’ unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent is closer to the mark of where we are at present once things normalise (whatever that means).

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      UK unemployment rate is more like 5.6 per cent rather than 3.9 per cent

      I have very little time today but there was one question I get asked on a regular basis that I thought I would this space to quickly answer. People wonder who the participation rate affects the official measure of unemployment. For example, the UK Office of National Statistics released data yesterday (March 15, 2022) – Labour market overview, UK: March 2022 – which showed the official unemployment rate had fallen to 3.9 per cent – a decline of 0.2 points. They said this was the result of employment rising by 275,000 in February (the employment to population ratio rose by 0.1 points). They also said that the inactivity rate for those between 16 and 64) had risen by 0.1 points to 21.3 points and was 1.1 points above the pre-pandemic level. So the question I get asked is whether things are really getting better? So here is how it works.

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        Inflation is not exploding out of control and interest rate rises will not help

        It is hard work being an economist. Especially when about 90 per cent of what one reads each day is fiction masquerading as truth. That wouldn’t be so bad because fiction is good when it is in the right place. But in this context, the fiction that comes out from economists and their lackeys in the financial media causes massive damage to innocent citizens who lose their jobs, have their pay aspirations stifled, enter poverty, lose their homes and commit suicide out of sheer hopelessness with the situations that are forced upon them. When you dig into some of the media coverage you realise that it is really just a self-serving promotion for speculators in financial and share markets and has very little foundation in a deeper understanding of economics. This so-called Op Ed piece in The Age (March 14, 2022) – No-win situation: The Fed is paying the price for dragging its feet – is representative of the nonsense that parades as economic commentary. It reflects a sad state of affairs.

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          We are not going back to the 1970s

          With Russia now invading Ukraine and adding to the already highly disrupted supply chains linking products and nations, and the price fixers in OPEC and OPEC+ having a picnic on the uncertainty, inflationary pressures will continue to rise for the time being. Many commentators keep falling into the trap of saying that history is repeating itself – meaning that it is the 1970s over again. I maintain my position that this is not akin to what was going on in the 1970s although there are similarities – energy price rises accompanying war, etc. And if we make the same mistakes that were made in the 1970s now, then not only will the inflation persist but millions of workers will lose their jobs and their incomes.

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            The Weekend Quiz – March 12-13, 2022 – 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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              The Weekend Quiz – March 12-13, 2022

              Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that 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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                Participation in our MMTed edX MOOC – gender, education and geographic breakdown

                Today’s blog post is a little different. Yesterday, the second running of our MMTed edX MOOC – Modern Monetary Theory: Economics for the 21st Century – came to an end after running for the last 4-weeks. This is a free course developed by the University of Newcastle and – MMTed – which provides an introduction to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The course is self-paced and contains a range of learning materials (videos, text, discussion forums, assignments, exercises, games, etc). After two years of offering, I thought you might like to see some statistics that relate to who participated in the course broken down by gender, educational background and geography. I have more data than I present today which I am examining as a way of understanding patterns of behaviour. We will use this data to improve our MMTed course offerings, as our funding base permits.

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                  Prospective future Labor Prime Minister wants to channel those who cut real wages, privatise and extol neoliberalism

                  It’s Wednesday, and I am flat out today on a range of things including two live events to finish of the edX MOOC we have been running over the last 4 weeks. These sessions go for around 90 minutes each and have given the participants from all over the world a chance to discuss things about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and clarify uncertainties etc. It also helps me find out what beguiles those who come into the material for the first time. So it works to benefit both ways. Today, I am sad that the Australian Labor Party federal leader, who is in the box seat to become the next Prime Minister in May this year has just announced his model is a past Labor prime minister (Hawke) who turned out to be a US corporate spy acting against the labour movement when he was President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (the peak body) and who fast-tracked neoliberalism in Australia during the 1980s. His other model apparently is John Howard, the conservative prime minister from 1996 to 2007, who accelerate that neoliberalism, locked up refugees on remote islands indefinitely (some are still there), turned against the unions, turned against the unemployed, and oversaw the explosion of household debt while his government ran surpluses and crippled public infrastructure and services. What gives? And the music today had to be an antidote to the anger that the Labor leader’s revelations today have engendered. And a tiny thought on Russia.

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                    Contrary to what you may have heard – governments can always reduce poverty if they choose to

                    For years, students have been taught that fiscal policy is an ineffective policy tool to regulate fluctuations in national income derived from changes in spending and saving decisions in the non-government sector. This narrative justified the austerity purges that we have become accustomed to pre-pandemic. The elevation of the fiscal surplus to some desired goal has been instilled in our minds and we have voted to support governments that record these surpluses because we have thought they were being fiscally responsible. The GFC, and, more recently, the pandemic has helped undermine that narrative as people have realised that the only thing between them and hunger has been government spending. The ‘market’ hasn’t helped them. The evidence that government spending has reduced poverty and created opportunities for families that were not previously possible is strong. One such measure is the – Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) – which was first published by the US Census Bureau in 2011. This blog post records my notes on that data release.

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