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UK productivity slump is a demand-side problem

I have recently had discussions with a PhD student of mine who was interested in exploring the cyclical link between productivity growth and the economic cycle in the context of the intergenerational debate about ageing and the challenge to improve the former. The issue is that sound finance – the mainstream macroeconomics approach – constructs the rising dependency ratio as a problem of government financial resources (not being able to afford health care and pensions) and prescribes fiscal austerity on the pretext that the government needs to save money to pay for these future imposts. Meanwhile, the real challenge of the rising dependency is that the next generation will have to be more productive than the last to maintain real standards of living and if austerity undermines productivity growth then it just exacerbates the ageing problem. My contention has always been the latter. That governments should use their fiscal capacity now to make sure there is a first-class education and training system in a growth environment to prepare us for the future when more people will have passed the usual concept of working age. This question also is hot at the moment in the Brexit debate in Britain and in this blog post I offer some empirical analysis to clear away some of the myths that the Remainers have been spreading.

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    US labour market – weaker than 2018 with occupational polarisation evident

    Last week’s (August 2, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2019 – reveals a labour market performance that is below the performance achieved in 2018 although there has been considerable month-to-month volatility. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) remains high even though the official unemployment is plumbing new (recent) lows. And there has been a significant hollowing out of jobs in the median wage area (the so-called ‘middle-class’ jobs), which is reinforcing the polarisation in the income distribution and rising inequality.

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      The Weekend Quiz – September 7-8, 2019 – 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 – September 7-8, 2019

        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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          An MMT-Green New Deal and the financial markets – Part 2

          This is Part 2 of the series I started earlier this week in – An MMT-Green New Deal and the financial markets – Part 1 (September 2, 2019). In the first part, I discussed Chapter 12 in John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory, published in 1936, where he outlined how the growth of financial markets was distorting investment choices and biasing them towards speculative wealth-shuffling exercises, which had the potential to destabilise prosperity generated by the real economy (production, employment, etc). His insights were very prescient given what has transpired since he wrote. He was dealing with what we would now consider to be a tiny problem given the expansion of the financial markets over the last three decades. In this part, I am briefly outlining what I think an MMT-Green New Deal agenda would encompass in the field of financial market changes. The MMT association is that such an understanding opens us up to appreciate a plethora of policy options that a strict sound finance regime rejects or neglects to mention. That policy proposals and reform agenda I outline here reflects my MMT understanding but also, importantly, my value set – what I think are important parameters for a futuristic progressive society. So we always have to separate the understanding part from the values part (although that is sometimes difficult to do). The point is that a person with a different value set who shared the MMT understanding could come up with a totally different agenda to deal with climate issues and the need for societal restructuring. You can see all the elements of my thinking on this topic under the category – Green New Deal – which also contains a long history (now) of relevant commentary. Most of my writing on the topic are about the societal aspects of the GND transformation rather than the specific climate issues. That is obviously because I am not a climate scientist. But as I signalled in Part 1, I am about to announce a coalition (in the coming week I hope) which does include climate science expertise to broaden the capacity of the MMT-GND agenda.

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            Australian national accounts – the economy is grinding to a halt

            I am in Brisbane today as an expert witness in an industrial hearing where the public education workers are trying to secure a wage increase in the face of fierce opposition from the Labor State government who insist on maintaining a wage cap that is depressing income growth and helping to cause the economic slowdown. The Government’s defense is that a wage rise would damage their fiscal plans which are to record recurrent surpluses of such magnitude that they can fund all capital spending out of recurrent revenue. Yes, a modern Labor government at work. They seem unable to that their suppression of wages growth is undermining overall growth, which undermines their tax revenue and makes their ridiculous fiscal goal unattainable anyway. Walking around in increasingly smaller circles. Anyway, it was a good day to be discussing these matters as it coincided with the latest release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – June-quarter 2019 National Accounts data (September 4, 2019). That data shows that annual GDP growth of 1.4 per cent (down from 1.6 per cent) and now around 1/3 the historical trend rate. This is a very poor on-going result. The weaker performance started in the last 6 months of 2018 and has continued into the first six months of 2019. However, due to a fairly strong terms of trade, Real net national disposable income rose, which signifies rising material living standards. But those terms of trade gains will prove to be ephemeral and a related to disturbances in world markets (Brazil, etc). Overall, the quarterly growth rate was just 0.5 per cent. Net exports were strong (terms of trade effect) and government consumption expenditure was strong courtesy of some policy measures in disability, health and aged care coming on-line. Their boost will also dissipate fairly quickly. Longer-term worries include the weak household consumption growth and the on-going negative business investment growth. Further, the fall in the saving ratio once again illustrates the folly of suppressing wages growth through wage caps etc. It is also apparent that the positive spending effects of the large government infrastructure projects (State-level) are now working their way through the system and their impact is declining. The overall picture is not good and the future is looking rather dim at present. A major shift in fiscal policy towards expansion is definitely now required.

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              Progressive media criticising fiscal stimulus as a recession threatens – such is the modern Left

              I have regularly noted how the UK Guardian, the so-called newspaper for progressives as opposed to The Times, which serves the Tories, has been a primary media instrument for propagating neo-liberal economic myths. It has also been part of Project Fear, which the Remainers thought would see the June 2016 Referendum resolved in their favour, and have ever since been moaning about the need for another vote – you know, democracy as long as it delivers what you want. But when the Tories outflank them by electing Boris Johnson who then determines he will take the intransigent European Union on by calling their bluff and pushing ahead with Brexit by hook or by crook, the Remainers scream about democracy being trampled and all the rest of it. And when the Johnson Tories announce that they will introduce a significant fiscal stimulus to head-off any possible non-government recessionary forces (which is sensible and responsible fiscal conduct), the Remainers open their beloved Guardian to find their favourite journalists raving on about how such a move is risky because it will ‘damage public finances’ and predicting, derisively, that the Government will have to break their ridiculous fiscal rules because of the scale of the stimulus required. This is par for the course for the Europhile Left these days – champions of neoliberalism.

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                An MMT-Green New Deal and the financial markets – Part 1

                Next week, I am attending a meeting which I hope will finalise discussions I have been having with some key prospective partners in putting together a major MMT-Green New Deal initiative in Australia which will have global ramifications. It will bring together MMT with climate action and indigenous rights interests. We propose to begin a ‘roadshow’ in November to start our campaign. Our discussions to date have been very productive and we will issue a ‘White Paper’ in the coming months to articulate what we conceive as a jobs-first, equity-first MMT-Green New Deal might look like. This work will also form the basis of talks I am giving in the coming month throughout Europe and the UK. I have already started sketching elements of my thinking on this topic under the category – Green New Deal – which also contains a long history (now) of relevant commentary. Today, I am focusing on another element that I consider to be a core part of a progressive MMT-Green New Deal campaign – dealing with unproductive financial markets. I am not for one minute thinking any of the analysis today (or any of the GND stuff) is likely to be implemented without a massive and lengthy struggle. I think I understand vested interests. So a valid retort to the ideas is not to accuse me of being politically naive. My role, as an academic, is to work through things and lay out blueprints to guide directions of activity based on that thinking. It is not to assess the likelihood of success of the blueprints being implemented. I sort of see these blueprints as being benchmarks – to assess where we are at and how far it is to go. And as debating vehicles which define what opponents have to address. But, moreover, I do see them as being guides for campaigning strategies, which can then be implemented by those who know more about those things than I ever will. This is a two-part series.

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                  The Weekend Quiz – August 31-September 1, 2019 – 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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