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Oh to be truly brilliant

I am sick of reading or hearing how brilliant such and such economist is and how they should be regarded as oracles because of this “brilliance”. In all these cases, the reality is usually that these characters have left a trail of destruction as a result of applying their brilliant minds. The terminology is always invoked by financial commentators and the like to elicit some authority in the ideas of the person. Apparently, if someone is deemed brilliant we should take heed of their words and judgements. How could we ever question them? In this neo-liberal era, many such “brilliant” minds have been placed in positions of authority and their influence has shaped the lives of millions of people. The financial and then economic crisis has shown categorically that their mainstream macroeconomic insights are not knowledge at all but religious beliefs that bear no relation to real world monetary systems. But still these characters strut the policy stages – shameless – and, in doing so, continue to destroy the prospects for many. It would be good it they were truly brilliant and could see the destructive consequences of their religious zealotry. Oh to be truly brilliant.

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In austerity land, thinking about fiscal rules

I am now in Maastricht, The Netherlands where I have a regular position as visiting professor. It is like a second home to me. The University hosts CofFEE-Europe, which we started some years ago as a sibling of my research centre back in Newcastle. My relationship with the University here is due to my long friendship and professional collaboration with Prof dr. Joan Muysken who works here and is a co-author of my recent book – Full Employment abandoned. Our discussions last night were all about the Eurozone and I was happy to know that most of the Dutch banks are now effectively nationalised as part of the early bailout attempts. It is also clear that the ECB is now stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. If it stops buying national government debt on the secondary markets those governments are likely to default and the big French and German banks the ECB is largely protecting will be in crisis. Alternatively, every day it continues with this policy the more obvious it is that the Eurozone system is totally bereft of any logic. Once the citizens in the nations that are being forced to endure harsh austerity programs realise all this there will be mayhem. The other discussion topic was the possible revision of the fiscal rules that define the Maastricht treaty. That is what this blog is about.

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Saturday Quiz – September 11, 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 authority to justify fiscal austerity is lapsing

Yesterday, two public statements were made which caught my roving eye. First, the British Government claimed they were going to cut harder than planned to weed out the unemployed who took income support payments to support their “lifestyles”. That was the approach the previous conservative government took in Australia between 1996 and 2007 and so we have experience with it. It failed dismally to achieve anything remotely positive. Second, the OECD released their Interim Assessments to update the May Economic Outlook publication. It showed that the GDP growth forecasts for 2010 and beyond were being revised sharply downwards. The OECD now claims there are many negative indicators and that governments should not push ahead with their austerity plans if the world economy is really slowing. The British government has used the earlier May EO forecasts (which were overly optimistic) as authority to justify their proposed cutbacks. Well now that authority is gone. However, their proposal to further cut back public spending would seem to be in denial of what is now obvious to even the right-wing hacks at the OECD. It is time for George to admit his austerity push is purely ideological in motivation.

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The IMF continue to demonstrate their failings

On the first day of Spring, when the sun shines and the flowers bloom, the IMF decide to poison the world with some more ideological positioning masquerading as economic analysis. I refer to their latest Staff Position Note (SPN/10/11) which carries the title – Fiscal Space. I think after reading it the authors might usefully be awarded an all expenses trip to outer space. It is one of those papers that has regressions, graphs, diagrams and all the usual trappings of authority. But at its core is a blindness to the way the world they are modelling actually works. I guess the authors get plaudits in the IMF tea rooms and get to give some conference papers based on the work. But in putting this sort of tripe out into the real policy world the IMF is once again giving ammunition to those who actively seek to blight government intervention aimed at improving the lives of the disadvantaged. The IMF know that their papers will be picked up by impressionable journalists who are too lazy to actually seek a deeper understanding of the way the monetary system operates but happily spread the myths to their readers.

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Saturday Quiz – August 28, 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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There is no solvency issue for a sovereign government

Yesterday, I indicated that I would provide some commentary on the latest Morgan Stanley briefing (August 25, 2010) – Sovereign Subjects – which received a lot of press coverage in the last few days and roused the interest of many of my readers. I cannot link to it as it is copyrighted. But the MS document is another example of how you can spread nonsense by ignoring the elephant that is sitting in the corner of the room. The MS briefing is essentially a self-aggrandising rant which perpetuates the standard neo-liberal myths and offers nothing new. I sincerely hope that the author’s company and all of their clients take his advice and lose significant amounts of their investment funds. The more losses are made in this respect the more quickly people will see through the cant that is served up by these clowns.

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Income distribution matters for effective fiscal policy

I read a brief report from the US Tax Policy Center – The Debate over Expiring Tax Cuts: What about the Deficit? – last week which raises broader questions than those it was addressing. I also note that Paul Krugman references them in his current New York Times column (published August 22, 2010) – Now That’s Rich. The point of my interest in these narratives is that I have been researching the distributional impacts of recession for a book I am writing. The issue also bears on the design of fiscal policy and how to maximise the benefits of a stimulus package.

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Several universities to avoid if you want to study economics

Today I am catching up on things I read last week. Each year, there are various publications provided to high school students telling them about all the programs that are on offer at Universities. The prospective students use these publications to help them decide which program they want to pursue after high school and at which university or other higher educational establishment they might want to pursue it at. There is a lot of lobbying by institutions to get favourable reviews. But there is never a catalogue published which advises students where not to study. So today I am noting three economics departments which should be on the blacklist of any student who is considering undertaking the studies in that discipline. They are on my blacklist because of the questionable competency of at least some of their staff members. I will expand this list over time!

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Saturday Quiz – August 14, 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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When facts get in the way of the story

Every day now as the Australian federal election day approaches (August 21) the calls for fiscal austerity increase and the justifications become further removed from reality. I note The Greens, who are held out as our only hope are still running their neo-liberal line that budgets should be balanced over the cycle (see Neo-liberals invade The Greens! for more discussion on that). But the US political scene is even more moribund than ours if that is possible. Even the progressives are claiming there is a fiscal crisis. The facts speak otherwise.

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Saturday Quiz – August 7, 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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Saturday Quiz – July 31, 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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OECD – GIGO Part 2

The OECD is held out by policy makers and commentators as an “independent” authority on economic modelling. The journalists love to report the latest OECD paper or report as if it means something. Most of these commentators only mimic the accompanying OECD press release and bring no independent scrutiny of their own to their writing. Government officials and politicians also quote OECD findings as if they are an authority. The reality is that the OECD is an ideological unit in the neo-liberal war on public policy and full employment. They employ all sorts of so-called sophisticated models that only the cogniscenti can understand to justify outrageous claims about how policy should be conducted. In an earlier blog – The OECD is at it again! – I explained how the OECD had bullied governments around the world into abandoning full employment. Now they are providing the “authority” to justify the claims being made by the austerity proponents that cutting public deficits at a time when private spending is still very weak will be beneficial. The report I discuss in this blog is just another addition to the litany of lying, deceptive reports that the OECD publish. These reports have no authority – they are just GIGO – garbage in, garbage out!

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Modern monetary theory and inflation – Part 1

It regularly comes up in the comments section that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) lacks a concern for inflation. That somehow we ignore the inflation risk. One of the surprising aspects of the public debate as the current economic crisis unfolded was the repetitive concern that people had about inflation. There concerns echoed at the same time as the real economy in almost every nation collapsed, capacity utilisation rates were going down below 70 per cent and more in most nations and unemployment was sky-rocketing. But still the inflation anxiety was regularly being voiced. These commentators could not believe that rising budget deficits or a significant build-up of bank reserves do not inevitably cause inflation. The fact is that in voicing those concerns just tells me they never really understand how the monetary system operates. Further in suggesting the MMT lacks a concern for inflation those making these statements belie their own lack of research. Full employment and price stability is at the heart of MMT. The body of theory and policy applications that stem from that theory integrate the notion of a nominal anchor as a core element. That is what this blog is about.

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The BIS is part of the problem

It is now 2.15 am in Boston on a Thursday morning (16:15 Thursday afternoon in Australia East Coast). I always try to stay on Australian time when I make these short trips. It is hard while you are away but easier to adjust back when you get home. No real jet lag. Yesterday (Wednesday) I gave a Teach-In on the concept of fiscal sustainability to an interesting group of participants ranging from those with an active role in the financial markets to those with more general business interests. The participants came from all around as far as I can gather – many from New York which is a fair hike for a single day workshop. The discussion that followed my presentation was very interesting and while the concerns reflected the usual issues – solvency, exchange rates, intergenerational issues – the standard of debate was civilised. I don’t know how many Warren and I convinced to probe deeper but I hope we planted some seeds of doubt in the minds of the audience that the mainstream macroeconomics position is wrong and therefore untenable. After the Teach-In I read the BIS Annual Report 2009/10 – which signalled to me that they are now firmly part of the problem that we face when dealing with the task outlining fiscally sustainable policy positions.

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A total lack of leadership

Tonight (Tuesday Boston time as I write) my very kind and gracious host took me to an early evening Ringo Starr and his All Starrs concert down on the waterfront. I never knew so many Beatles fans from the 1960s had survived the boredom. They were out in force tonight as he sang Yellow Submarine and other pop relics. The highlight of the evening was Edgar Winter (who is one of his all starrs) featuring on Frankenstein which he made a hit in 1972. But where do all these Beatles fans go during the day! Scary. And by the way, Rick Derringer who was in the original Edgar Winter Band was also in Ringo’s band tonight playing some nice guitar (if you like Gibson-motivated pop – I don’t). My host decided to call it an early night and I left with him – while Warren and his partner bopped on. A neat exit you might say! But Ringo at least provided some leadership – poppy and pretty soppy at that. But much better than our leaders of government are providing if the recent G20 declaration is anything to go by. They have just ceded leadership to the IMF – that unelected rabble. Stay tuned for things to get worse.

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Ignorance leads to bad policy

Today (and yesterday – being Tuesday in Australia now) I have been travelling. If you grow up and live in Australia everywhere except the local beach is a long way away. Sometimes it would be very convenient to just to be able to buzz up to San Francisco from LA or from New York to Washington or from Brussel to Paris. Australians never enjoy that sort of proximity. So travel is part of our growing up. I am used to it but hate it. Anyway, it always allows me to catch up on reading (especially fiction), listen to a lot of music and write a lot. Today’s blog focuses on recent events in Australia but the truth is that the principles raised are universal. You hear the same debates and responses all across the globe. The theme today is how ignorance leads to bad policy – my usual theme. But I am a persistent type and I am observing (via my blog statistics) that as I pursue this repetitive strategy – grinding it out every day – more and more people are coming to the site and many (most) are probably staying (IP address analysis). I have managed to keep the gold bugs at bay – they target easier victories – and the standard of debate is generally high. So my role is to keep offering it up and watching the numbers grow. I am in Boston now and will be talking about fiscal sustainability to hedge fund managers and bankers. Penetrating their world is a good thing. And then on Thursday, I board the jet and retrace my tracks – but then I will be close to the beach again. You mostly can’t have it both ways.

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Something is seriously wrong

The Toronto G-20 leaders’ meeting is being held this weekend (June 26-27, 2010) and one expects it will endorse the position taken at the recent G-20 annual Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in South Korea. The communiqué released from that meeting illustrates how influential the deficit terrorists have become. At the Pittsburgh meeting of the G-20 leaders in September 2009 the communiqué talked about the sufficiency and quality of jobs. Six months later they had abandoned that call and are now preaching higher unemployment and increased poverty via austerity packages imposed on fragile communities. This is in the context of dramatic increases in global poverty rates in 2009 due to income losses associated with entrenched unemployment. Then I note that the recently released 2010 World Wealth Report shows that the world’s rich got richer during the 2009 recession. The only reasonable conclusion is that something is seriously wrong in the world we have constructed.

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