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Saturday Quiz – June 25, 2011 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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In policy you have to wish for the possible

I am travelling today and so have to steal time to write this blog between other commitments. Later this week I am presenting a paper at a workshop on stock-flow consistent macroeconomics and I was thinking over the weekend just gone what I would do with the time I have for the presentation (1 hour). I started putting together a database of IMF forecasts out to 2016 for various nations and simulating the implications for the sectoral balances. Then I thought I would discuss the internal inconsistencies of those forecasts from a stock-flow perspective and the implications of those inconsistencies. I will write a blog later in the week on that once I have finalised the presentation. But the preliminary thinking led to today’s blog. In policy you have to wish for the possible.

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Ineluctably compromised

Today I was reflecting on the role of students in social change. I was a student activist and took that role very seriously when I was a full-time student. I did have a sense of entitlement that it was our future and we had to rock the boat to make it work in the way we wanted. I probably proposed things without fully understanding them – that is the nature of being a student – enthusiasm gets ahead of judgement. But I also was lucky to have a few really great mentors in my earlier days who helped me. It is the role of the mentors and teachers to steer that youthful zeal to develop mature, knowledge-based assessments and informed action. I find my profession to be seriously defective in that sense because they indulge more in propaganda than they do in educating the students who want to learn economics. I do not think the average economics program to be of much educative value. But I understand the conservative nature of my profession and the reasons they behave in that way. What is more objectionable is when a self-styled progressive organisation engages in the same sort of exercise with students yet denies that they are doing it. The problem then is the beautiful enthusiasm of our youth becomes manipulated by their mentors and what should have been an educative process becomes a compromise ideological exercise serving the top-end-of-town. So today – continuing my truth theme – I am writing about processes and organisations that become ineluctably compromised.

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When a former US president makes things up

Some years ago – I did not have sexual relations with that woman – were the famous words that seemed to redefine everything we had come to think of sexual relations between two consenting partners. Suddenly we could have sexual relations without having them. The same person has come up with a new conclusion – the US never ran “permanent structural deficits of any size before 1981”. Hmm, you mean that for 84 per cent of those years from 1930 when the US federal government ran deficits they were just cyclical events indicating deteriorating economic conditions? Maybe the former president might say a structural deficit equivalent to 3 per cent of GDP was not of “any size”. My conclusion is different – that this statement like the previous one was another case of a former US president making things up.

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The US is living below its “means”

The US press was awash with claims over the weekend that the US was “living beyond” its “means” and that “will not be viable for a whole lot longer”. One senior US central banker claimed that the way to resolve the sluggish growth was to increase interest rates to ensure people would save. Funny, the same person also wants fiscal policy to contract. Another fiscal contraction expansion zealot. Pity it only kills growth. Another commentator – chose, lazily – to be the mouthpiece for the conservative lobby and wrote a book review that focused on the scary and exploding public debt levels. Apparently, this public debt tells us that the US is living beyond its means. Well, when I look at the data I see around 16 per cent of available labour idle in the US and capacity utilisation rates that are still very low. That tells me that there is a lot of “means” available to be called into production to generate incomes and prosperity. A national government doesn’t really have any “means”. It needs to spend to get hold off the means (production resources). Given the idle labour and low capacity utilisation rates the government in the US is clearly not spending enough. The US is currently living well below its means. But the US government can always buy any “means” that are available for sale in US dollars and if there is insufficient demand for these resources emanating from the non-government sector then the US government can bring those idle “means” into productive use any time it chooses.

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Who the cap fits?

In his recent New York Times column (April 21, 2011) – What Are Taxes For? – continues to engage with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) but trips up because his mainstream view (dressed up as a progressive) reveals serious flaws in reasoning about the way a fiat currency system operates viz-a-viz the former monetary system based on convertibility via some commodity standard. In this blog I correct some of the analytical mistakes that appear in that article. Krugman concludes by claiming that he is really disturbed by those who don’t get mainstream logic – and is especially upset by “a lot of people with Ph.D.s in economics who can throw around a lot of jargon, but when push comes to shove, have no coherent picture whatsoever of how the pieces fit together”. My only response is to look in a mirror Paul or in the words of Bob Marley ask “who the cap fits”.

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Saturday Quiz – April 16, 2011 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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 full employment fiscal deficit condition

Many readers ask me to provide a Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) rule for sound fiscal management. I had done this often but apparently not concisely enough. It is important to understand what the limits on fiscal deficits are in term of prudent fiscal practice given that terms such as fiscal sustainability, fiscal consolidation, fiscal austerity are in the media almost every day without fail. The mainstream version of fiscal responsibility is based on false premises and is not an applicable guide for sovereign governments to base their policy decisions on. MMT provides a coherent fiscal position for governments to aim for. In this blog, I juxtapose that position with the sort of narrative that is now coming out of the OECD with renewed vigour – after they went a bit quiet once it was clear they were exposed by the magnitude of the economic crisis. But they are back, strutting and arrogant as before and threatening the jobs of millions. So here is the full employment fiscal deficit condition that makes a mockery of the IMF and OECD narratives.

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Saturday Quiz – April 9, 2011 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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Life in the IMF fantasy world

I gave an interview on the national broadcaster ABC about the latest talk in Australia to ramp up the pernicious Work for the Dole program. I noted that the unemployment problem in Australia at present reflects a systematic failure to produce enough jobs rather than the personal failures of the unemployed themselves. Standard stuff. The interview got me thinking of about make work schemes and unproductive labour and boondoggling! and leaf-raking. My mind turned, immediately, to the IMF which runs one of the largest make work programs in the world and employs thousands of workers on good pay to do nothing constructive at all. The IMF is the exemplar of leaf-raking. You only have to read their working paper series – where multiple authors attach their name to senseless reports about nothing. These papers are always “Authorized for distribution by x” – that is, some higher-up leaf-raker who spent years learning the craft of being occupied doing nothing. All IMF economists aspire to be the person who sits in the office and authorises for distribution the papers that all the peons pump out which provide nothing useful to anyone. At least aggregate demand is being maintained via the workers’ wages. Pity the IMF couldn’t find something more productive for their workforce to do. Perhaps they are not skilled enough though. Anyway, life in the IMF fantasy world!

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Saturday Quiz – April 2, 2011 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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Europe is still pursuing the wrong goal

Europe has another … yes, yet another … solution. But we have to wait until June for it so be fully revealed. Meanwhile Portugal is about to go under. There are simmering stories emerging that the banking system in Europe is teetering despite there being silence on the viability of the banking system in Europe from the Euro bosses. Despite the decisions (or rather non-decisions) of the European Council last week – the intent is the same – fiscal consolidation including retrenchment of safety net benefits supplemented with further labour market deregulation which will further reduce living standards, especially for the poor. Their position is a denial of basic macroeconomic understanding and doesn’t address the inherent design flaws in the monetary union. I predict things will get worse. The political leaders in Europe have the wrong goal in mind (stubbornly saving the euro) and do not even have an effective solution to defend that goal, flawed as it is. The problem is that Europe is still pursuing the wrong goal.

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Saturday Quiz – March 26, 2011 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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Fiscal responsibility index – reductio ad absurdum ad infinitum

I am Australian but not a proud one. That doesn’t mean anything other than I don’t consider nationalism to be a particularly appealing trait. I would perhaps defend our borders from attack and I prefer Australia winning at sport than the English (but not the West Indies!). But when I read a newspaper headline (March 24, 2011) – Australia tops index ranking for maintaining strong fiscal balance – I feel ashamed that I live in such a nation. Given the methodology that went into construct this index, Australia would be better off being down the bottom of the rankings – by choice rather than inaction. Just when you thought the public debate about fiscal policy couldn’t deteriorate any further … it plunges to new depths. This index is published in a new “study” (I would not actually give it the gravitas of a study) – is actually an exercise in reductio ad absurdum ad infinitum aka total BS.

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We’re sticking to our strict fiscal rules

I am travelling today and have commitments which will take me into the night. So I have limited blog time. But there is always something to say and while I might say the same thing often I figure that there are thousands of commentators to my one who all say the same (different) thing every day. Anyway today you will learn that the Japanese government can call on the central bank to buy its bonds whenever it wants. You will also learn how crazy the British government is and how obsessive compulsive behaviour locks a nation into slow growth and entrenched unemployment. We’re sticking to our strict fiscal rules – no matter what! Simple conclusion for today – the budget madness continues.

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There are no better or worse deficits

I have been travelling today and so haven’t had much time outside of my commitments. But I did read some truly astounding articles today. As the conservatives take control of the political processes in the advanced nations they are revising history faster than we can read about it. Meanwhile they use the TINA claim to implement policies that damage the well-being of the average citizen and set up dynamics that will manifest as the next crisis. And we say we like it – because we have been bluffed into the TINA lie. The fact that the public believe all the conservative dogma and go along with it astounds me. Economics is not that hard. If no one is spending then output will fall and unemployment will rise. But somehow the public believes the opposite. They have been conditioned to believe that a rising (large!) budget deficit is bad and a falling (small!) deficit is good. The reality is that there are no better or worse deficits.

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Making profit from lies – isn’t that illegal?

I recall from my days studying law that there were express terms and implied warranties underpinning every contract. The express terms were those agreed between the parties. The implied terms were binding even if they were not discussed between the parties to the sale or deal. I recall that among the usual implied terms were things like quality of the materials used and fitness of purpose. If a product or service is not sold where the seller knows the materials to be of poor quality or will not perform the functions that are held out to the buyer then a civil claim is open in tort to negate the contract and pursue damages. Anyway there are a number of private sector organisations out there that pump out so-called expert economic and financial analysis for profits that if you actually understand the product would lead you to conclude they are fraudulent products and not fit for the purpose that is held out. The ratings agencies (which threatened Japan again this week) fall into that category. But there are others. Today I consider the so-called Fiscal Risk index put out by a British firm that claims that the austerity campaign being pursued by the British government is helping it reduce its risk of bankruptcy. That is an outright lie! I thought that selling dodgy goods and services was illegal.

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They were wrong before … so what’s changed?

Back in warm and sunny Newcastle. It is quite amazing how strident the attack on government deficits has become. There is very little recognition of the scale of the economic disaster that still plagues our economies. Even relatively unscathed economies like Australia is carrying 12.5 per cent labour underutilisation rates. That is bad enough. The majority of nations are in much worse shape. The scale of this disaster is so great that you might wonder who is going to be made to pay – given that the crisis was brought on by human folly. Why are those responsible being brought to account? The reality is that the criminals who led us into this disaster have done very well out of the bailout packages that they now oppose. You would have to indict the majority of my profession to achieve justice. So we might want a “national reconciliation” process to allow us to move on and forgive those that caused this. The problem is that the perpetrators are not humble in their failing. Far from it – they are now leading the charge attacking budget deficits using the same economic theories that caused the crisis. How the hell does anyone think these characters have anything to say any more? They were wrong before … so what’s changed?

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Employers have too much power

I have been travelling the last two days and have disrupted work patterns. But I did manage to read a few things in between other things today which made my hair stand on end and suggest that the austerity debate has moved ground. So desperately lacking is the real evidence which might support the economic claims the conservatives have been using to justify their manic desire to savage public spending when there is 10 per cent unemployment (and worse) – that the deficit terrorists are now appealing to morality – that public deficits and debt are immoral. It makes you wonder why these characters just don’t become stand-up comedians. But given how dangerous they are as a result of their positions in government it is clearly not a laughing matter. I would seek to try these characters for crimes against humanity when it becomes obvious to everyone how wrongful their actions are. It is interesting though – the descent into “moral” arguments means that you can conclude that even the conservatives know that the bevy of economic arguments that they use to justify their damaging policies are nonsense. But there is a new emerging problem. As I write today the entrenched unemployment that the deficit terrorists are now acknowledging they will cause to worsen is giving rise to employers discriminating against the most disadvantaged workers that are seeking work. What this tells us is that the employers have too much power.

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Saturday Quiz – February 19, 2011 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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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