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The OECD should close and its staff redeployed into productive activities

The now totally discredited OECD has started a special section of their WWW site which they call – Restoring public finances. Many person-hours of labour have gone into its construction and the documents and “analysis” (so-called) that you can access there. They even have an article from ECB boss Jean-Claude Trichet which would be laughable if it wasn’t so damaging (given his influence). The OECD is another of those organisations (such as the IMF) that promoted policy agendas (deregulation etc) which not only entrenched persistently high unemployment during the growth year but also set in place the conditions that ultimately led to the crisis. But like a drunk who sneaks a drink then denies it, the OECD seems incapable of introspection and acknowledging that it is part of the problem not the solution. Its policy agenda caused the crisis. Now it is lecturing the world in aggressive tones about how its policy agenda (unchanged) should be ramped up even more vigorously. My view is that OECD should just close its doors and its staff should be redeployed into productive activities.

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Misusing public information

This blog is about right-wing distortion of evidence and how opinion formation in the US appears to be, as expected, inconsistent and ill-informed. The US President brought down his 2012 Budget yesterday and as expected he promised very large public spending cuts at a time when the US economy cannot afford them. In doing so, the President was bowing to the extremist conservative views that get all the airplay and column inches in the mainstream media in the US. Fox News pumps this extremism out all day every day. But if you sought to understand what the “main street” American actually thought about deficits you might be surprised. The New York Times and CBS sponsor a regular poll and recently they delved into the issue of budget deficits. One right-wing journalist actually had the audacity to use this Poll as a vehicle for her claim that even larger cuts are required to balance the budget. It is easy to show how she misused this public information.

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The third great US “reds under the bed” scare

As an outsider, I am always perplexed by American attitudes. Some of the great writers have come from the US so their schooling system must have something going for it. Some of the great musicians have come from the US so there is creativity there. I could go on. But then you think back to the 1950s, when a whole nation was whipped up in the great propaganda traditions that would have made the Reich’s Ministry of Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels proud. Except this was America, alleged land of the free, unless you happen to take that seriously and find out that in fact the place is a repressive society bound to torture people and use martial force to suppress minority viewpoints. I refer here, specifically, of-course, to the McCarthy purges. Remember the Nazis hated the communists too. But today I read a speech from a governor of one US state who has identified a continuing red menace that will eat up the freedom of all US citizens and is the work of a sneaky but determined group of left-wing zealots (with Chinese overtones). If it wasn’t so serious it would be comical and all we would have to do is send the men in the white coats out to the governor’s office to take him away for treatment. The problem is that this is the third great US “reds under the bed” scare and like the previous scares this one is damaging millions.

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Destructive economic myths

As a service to humanity, I decided to rip off the title for today’s blog from an article that was published on Monday (February 7, 2011) in the Washington Times – Destructive economic myths. My blog is highly rated by Google so if some innocent bystanders happen to go searching for that article they might also bring up my blog, get confused, click my link instead of the Washington Times and learn some facts that will help them oppose the political nonsense that both sides of politics in the US is engaged in at present – as the vote to change the debt ceiling approaches (March 1, 2011). I might be too late but it is worth a try*. Anyway, the austerity push is being justified by recourse to the same misinformation and lies that was used to deregulate the world economy (particularly the financial system) which led to the financial and then economic crisis that still endures. Talk about destructive economic myths!

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Deterministic fiscal rules undermine public responsibility

Yesterday I was listening to the ABC Radio National program – Counterpoint – which interviewed author David Freedman about his 2007 co-authored book A Perfect Mess. I was very interested in this book when it was published. It is about the value of mess and the costs that organisational freaks impose on us. In the case of fiscal policy – the essence of good macroeconomic management is to allow policy settings to be responsive when needed. Why? To ensure that government action supports aggregate demand and is consistent with private sector saving desires. The control freaks want to impose “organisation” on governments by legislating debt brakes and this type of organisation amounts to a fundamental denial of the need for fiscal policy to be reactive and flexible. That is, of-course, no surprise given that deterministic fiscal rules are proposed by ideologues that are fundamentally opposed to public intervention in the first place. Deterministic fiscal rules in fact undermine public responsibility.

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Saturday Quiz – January 29, 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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Its grim on both sides of the Atlantic

I have been sick today which is rare and have had trouble remaining vertical for very long. So the blog is a little shorter than usual. Just as well the subject matter might have disrupted my recovery. I note the UK economy is being deliberately sabotaged by its elected representatives which seems to conjure up a very weird construction of what we elect governments for. And in that context, the deficit terrorists are ramping up their calls for major fiscal retrenchment in the US. I thought Americans could read English – maybe they missed the British Office of National Statistics National Accounts release – it is pretty obvious – real GDP growth now negative again courtesy of a negative contribution from government in the December quarter. And the terrorists seem to want the same for the US. Its grim on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Sometimes even I cannot believe they could be serious

The stories that are headlined on Page 1 of the New York Times in its on-line edition late January 21, 2011 are almost beyond belief and are like spoofs – if only. I must admit the shock factor is diminishing in this neo-liberal era where the most absurd ideas are brush-stroked up to appear normal. Some time ago I would have just laughed and concluded that some extremist or another was getting a moment of airplay – a day in the sun and would then disappear to a dark room where they would continue writing endless handwritten letters to all and sundry outlining their crackpot ideas and schemes for the renewal of humanity – which always seemed to involve some communist purge (the reds are everywhere you know) and handing over authority to citizen militia’s. But these nutty ideas are gathering pace. It seems the deficit terrorists are getting bored with their predictions of inflation (that doesn’t arrive) or rising interest rates (which do not arrive) – so they have to invent even more bizarre angles. They get so far out there that sometimes even I cannot believe they could be serious.

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Saturday Quiz – January 15, 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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Flooded with nonsense

As the days go by we begin to realise the huge scale of the problem that the floods in Northern Australia are presenting our country. Whole communities are being forced to leave their homes and major disruptions to economic activity (in very important regions) are being experienced. The floods are being labelled the worst in Australian history (well the white European occupation of indigenous land history) although that depends on the area – certainly the worst since the early 1950s. The areas that are affected are major sugar, coal, iron-ore and food production regions. So real GDP growth will be reduced and this will exacerbate the already slowing economy. What should be the correct federal government response? Answer: to expand the budget deficit (via discretionary spending increases) to ensure that essential public infrastructure is replaced and private economies are able to function again. What is the current federal government contemplating? Answer: spending cuts. My assessment of this: they have no credibility as fiscal managers.

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Saturday Quiz – January 1, 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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There is no positive role for the IMF in its current guise

Most of my blogs are about advanced nations. Many of these nations are being plunged back in time by misguided applications of fiscal austerity and even when growth returns they will take a decade or more to get back to the per capita income levels that prevailed prior to the crisis. Many children and teenagers in these nations will be denied essential education, training and workplace experience by the deliberate choice by their governments to entrench long-term unemployment and to starve their economies of jobs growth. But it remains that these nations are not poor in general and while people are losing houses and other items on credit only a small proportion will starve. Not so the poorer nations that I rarely write about. These are the nations where a high proportion of the citizens live below or around the poverty line. These are the nations that are at the behest of the IMF and suffer the most from their erroneous policy interventions. Today I reflect on how those nations have been going during this crisis. The bottom line is that the way the Fund reinvented itself and reimposed itself on the poorer nations after the collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971 has damaged their growth prospects and ensured that millions of people around the world have remained locked in poverty. Along the way … children have died or have failed to receive the levels of public education that any child anywhere deserves. There is no positive role for the IMF in its current guise.

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Ex-IMF official still lost in the incredulous void

Sometimes ex-IMF officials shed the burden of having been associated with that institution and make a creative contribution to the public debate. More often they do not and continue to perpetuate the errors that underpin almost all of the IMF’s output. If there was ever an institution that has passed its use-by date it is the IMF. Today, ex-IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson (now at MIT) claimed that the way to assess fiscal sustainability is “whether a country has the political will to raise taxes or cut spending when under pressure from the financial markets”. You can imagine what I thought of that criterion! Not much but it is too late in the year to get really flustered and I have been listening to some pretty good music this afternoon. So for all those readers who have written in saying “doesn’t Johnson have credibility” and “therefore is what he is saying sensible” I have three words – No and No.

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Our children never hand real output back in time

There was an interesting conference in Tokyo last week which featured academic Eisuke Sakakibara, the former Japanese government vice minister of finance who is characteristically known as “Mr Yen” given his knowledge of banking and world financial markets. Sakakibara predicted a prolonged recession lasting until 2015 because fiscal deficits are being deliberately withdrawn by misguided governments. The neo-liberals are claiming that public debt ratios have to be cut to reduce the “future tax burden on our children”. The reality is that intergenerational burdens work in exactly the opposite way in a fiat monetary system to what the mainstream neo-liberal claim. The misguided fiscal policy direction the neo-liberals are pushing will impose real burdens on our children. They will be less educated, less skilled, less experienced, and have lower income as a whole as a result of the fiscal austerity. Their future possibilities will be reduced as a consequence. In fact, the whole anti-budget deficit argument is just a ploy to seek ways whereby the elites can get more real income now and more real income later for their own enjoyment. Spreading the real output more widely through fiscal interventions frustrates that aspiration. Significantly, our children never hand real output back in time to pay for the public debt incurred at a previous time.

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When you are on a good thing, stick to it

I was pleasantly surprised this week when I received a telephone call from a reader wanting to chat about the current state of policy in Australia and the available options. We discussed a range of options and agreed that it didn’t make much sense to cruel the emerging economic growth in Australia while there were 12.1 per cent of available labour resources currently idle (either unemployed or underemployed). With world demand for our exports strong it seemed a perfect opportunity to really eliminate the pool of idle labour and return to full employment – a state that Australia has not been close to since the mid-1970s. The period since that time has been dominated by neo-liberal policy makers who have abandoned the responsibility that was previously vested in our macroeconomic policy arms (RBA and Treasury) to achieve and maintain full employment. We agreed that deliberately restricting growth just as it was gathering pace was a very restricted vision of national potential. The upshot of our discussion was that we agreed that fiscal policy could be targeted to redistribute the growth (to avoid specific sectors from overheating yet maintaining a growth stimulus to other sectors) and that monetary policy was too blunt an instrument to manage this process. But with growth emerging it is a case that policy makers should recite a daily mantra – when you are on a good thing, stick to it – rather than cutting it off at its knees before the benefits have spread widely throughout our nation and its people.

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NAIRU mantra prevents good macroeconomic policy

Today I have been working with various datasets (labour costs, long-term unemployment) and this blog provides some interesting aspects of what is going on at present. The blog should also be seen in the context of a speech made yesterday by the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Ric Battellino (a NAIRU devotee) to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia in Perth. His presentation was intending to justify the interest rate hikes that the RBA has been pursuing this year. He continued to assert the RBA line that the Australian economy is running out of spare capacity and so interest rate hikes are necessary. This is in the context of a sharp rise in the exchange rate which is deflationary, actual falls in the inflation rate (and well within their “target band”), more than 12.5 per cent of available labour resources remaining idle and long-term unemployment rising because employment growth can barely keep pace with labour force growth. Macroeconomic policy in Australia is severely distorted at the moment because of the dominance of monetary policy and the obsessions about budget surpluses. In summary, the NAIRU mantra is preventing good macroeconomic policy and the growing pool of long-term unemployed are carrying the burden more than most.

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Saturday Quiz – November 13, 2010 – 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 value of government

I often get asked by people I have consulted for to write justifications for their existence (that is, the organisation and its charter). Sometimes it is a trade union, another times a government department and on. In each case you have to think out what the essential interactions are between the organisation in question and the rest of the world and articulate some sense of value to those interactions. These calibrations may not necessarily be quantitative but often it is useful if they are because bean-counting economists around the place who read the analysis I provide in this part of my professional life rarely think more broadly and spare the thought – can probably not even spell “social benefit” much less conceive of it. In the current economic crisis the only problems that should be receiving daily scrutiny in the debate are unemployment, real income loss, and the resulting poverty. We rarely see those items headlined. Instead, we are barraged with a virulent confection of bile about things that do not matter – public deficit to GDP ratios etc. And this anti-government campaign is succeeding in part because people believe the rhetoric that government is wasteful and doesn’t do anything. Well I am here to tell you ….

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Saturday Quiz – November 6, 2010 – 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 vandals chasing a dream

The Australian government is digging a hole for itself at present. In the May Budget it talked (neo-liberal) tough to demonstrate what it claimed was “Responsible Economic Management” – and this meant it entered a battle with the Opposition about who would deliver the biggest budget surplus. This became one of the comical (in a tragic way) features of the August federal election campaign. The respective treasury boof-heads from the Government and Opposition boasting about the size of their future budget surpluses. They also tried to win the battle of who would get there the quickest. The whole discussion was definitely mindless. Now with the Australian dollar appreciating fairly strongly the Government has realised the reduced economic activity that seems to be occurring is reducing its tax revenue prospects and therefore undermining its surplus projections. So what do they do next? Answer: announce they will cut spending by even more than originally planned. They are going to deliberately undermine employment growth and force even more people to lose their jobs at a time that labour underutilisation sits at the obscene level of 12.5 per cent and inflation is moderating. It is sadly a case of the fiscal vandals chasing a dream. The dream however is a nightmare.

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