Today I have been thinking how extraordinarily stupid human beings are. The so-called Club Med Eurozone nations are being fast tracked into a crisis by a pernicious concoction of corrupt and lazy ratings agencies, Northern European truculence, and a ridiculous monetary system that provides no fiscal support within what is really a federal system. And as the ailing governments boldly and stupidly declare a willingness to play ball with the Brussels-Frankfurt consensus bullies there are signs that social order is beginning to break down. Then I read that an American city is turning its lights off at night to save money. Then I read some goon telling everyone to short US bonds because there will be a debt meltdown. And all of this stuff stems from unnecessary constructions and constraints that we have placed on systems that should be geared to advancing general welfare.
… who needs enemies. Today’s blog is Part 2 in a series I am running about the propensity of self-proclaimed progressive commentators and writers to advance arguments about the monetary system (and government balances) which could easily have been written by any neo-liberal commentator. The former always use guarded rhetoric to establish their “progressive” credentials but they rehearse the same conservative message – the US has dangerously high deficits and unsustainable debt levels and an exit plan is urgently required to take the fiscal position of the government bank into balance. In doing so, they not only damage the progressive cause but also perpetuate myths and lies about how the monetary system operates and the options available to a currency-issuing national government.
Today a relatively short blog buts lots of different colour graphs. I have been going through the updated IMF growth forecasts released on January 26 and doing some projections of what this might mean for the capacity of this growth to reduce the unemployment rate. Like any projection exercise you have to make assumptions. And it seems that there is still quite a bit of dispute about whether we are going to recover fairly steadily or keep skidding along the bottom in 2010 with tepid growth in 2011. The IMF are the most optimistic around at the moment and as you will see, even this level of optimism doesn’t paint a very good labour market picture.
I get a lot of E-mails (and contact form enquiries) from readers who want to know more or challenge a view but who don’t wish to become commentators. I encourage the latter because it diversifies our “community” and allows other people to help out. The problem I usually have is that I run out of time to reply to all these E-mails. I apologise for that. I don’t consider the enquiries to be stupid or not deserving of a reply. It is just a time issue. When I recommitted to maintaining this blog after a lull (for software development) I added a major time impost to an already full workload. Anyway, today’s blog is a new idea (sort of like dah! why didn’t I think of it earlier) – I am using the blog to answer a host of questions I have received and share the answers with everyone. The big news out today is Australia’s inflation data – but I can talk about that tomorrow. So while I travel to Sydney and back by train today, here are some questions and answers. I think I will make this a regular exercise so as not to leave the many interesting E-mails in abeyance.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone some 15,000 children die every day from poverty-related diseases. Yet still the governments are required to pay out some $US30 million every day to the World Bank, IMF, and rich creditor nations. Every $US1 that’s given to that region in aid, $US1.50 goes out to cover debt repayments (source: The Debt Threat: How Debt is Destroying the Developing World). I have been thinking about that in the light of the current situation in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and a nation that has been burdened with debt since the time it escaped the chains of slavery. This blog looks into these sorts of issues.
Last week, the Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke received endorsement for a further term from the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (popularly known as the US Senate Banking Committee). There is much controversy about this re-nomination along the lines that he was Chairman as the crisis unfolded and he did nothing about it until it was too late. There is also angst about his refusal to provide Congress with specific information about institutions that the Federal Reserve bailed out. These issues are not unimportant. But the strongest reason why he should be dispensed with is that his public statements leads any informed analyst to conclude that he doesn’t really understand the monetary system. From a modern monetary theory (MMT) perspective his comments on the monetary system are as sophisticated as the most flawed mainstream macroeconomics textbook.
What do you get when a bunch of former politicians who have an inflated sense of self-importance and cannot stay out of the public glare? Well one answer is nonsense. The related answer is the so-called Pew-Peterson Commission report Red Ink Rising, which was released in December 2009 with the by-line “A Call to Action to Stem the Mounting Federal Debt”. And with the Copenhagen climate change talks being the big public interest story of the week it was only a matter of time before soon goon started mapping the public debt-hysteria debate into the climate change debate to bring home the message to all of us that we are doomed unless we do something drastic. Its been quite a day down here!
I was going to write about manufacturing today in the light the Campaign for America’s Future staging of Building the New Economy conference in Washington DC today. I started investigating what it was about. It raises a lot of issues what a progressive position should constitute. However, I got way laid by other things which were also interesting and will leave my blog about the demise of manufacturing for another day. But what this conference demonstrates to me is that we have a long way to go before we get a united progressive understanding of the way the modern monetary system works. And until we have that understanding, no real progress will be made reforming the economy. We will always be trading off tax cuts for spending increases and all that sort of mainstream mumbleconomics and feeling defensive any time a deficit arises. And then today, I started reading the latest report from the IMF …
This week’s Economist Magazine (print edition) is running a story Making fiscal policy credible – Bind games, continues the mounting conservative push for governments to return fiscal conduct back to the days before the crisis. The conservatives (except the really loopy ones) are begrudgingly being forced to recognise that the fiscal stimulus packages have saved the World economy from a total disaster. But after taking a deep breath they get back on track with the “debt is bad” “surplus is good” mantra that got us into this mess in the first place.
Yesterday, regular commentator JKH wrote a very long comment where he/she challenged some of the statements and logic that modern monetary theorists including myself have been making. While I don’t want to elevate one comment to any special status – all comments are good and add to the debate in some way – this particular comment does make statements that many readers will find themselves asking. In that sense it is illustrative of more general principles, points etc and so today’s blog provides a detailed answer to JKH and tries to make it clear where the differences lie. Some of these differences are at the level of nuance but others are more fundamental.
I read the headline in the UK press this morning – UK can’t afford another fiscal rescue – as a sure sign that all current and future keyboard operators within the UK Government had resolutely decided to refuse to enter a number in any government spending account from now on. This clearly would make it hard for the Government to continue spending given that a sovereign government like in the UK just spends by crediting private bank accounts and only a typist or two is needed to make that happen any time the government desires. I wondered what the Government had done to their operational staff that they would take such drastic action. So I started out to investigate what seemed to be a major yet fascinating industrial relations dispute between a government and its typists.
Greetings from College Park, Maryland (pronounced Marrilynd! in Australian). It is near Washington (DC) and I have work here (at the UMD) and in the capital for the next 2 days. Weather is hot but we are 189 kms or 2.8 hours from the nearest surf according to Google maps, which is equivalent to being landlocked to me! So no quick surf before work! Losers! I came down here late yesterday (5 hour drive) after a workshop at the Levy Institute jointly hosted with the United Nations Development Program, which was held in upstate New York. No summer up there at the moment but the Catskills Mountains are very beautiful – it is near to Woodstock. Anyway, I left the workshop thinking – bad luck if you are poor!
Several readers have asked me about fiscal rules and I have been promising to write about them for some time now. I was finally goaded into action by the current German rush to madness which will see them constitutionally outlaw deficits. When I saw the news that the German government was pushing constitutional change along these lines I thought good – the Eurozone will be dead soon enough and perhaps a better aligned fiscal and monetary system will emerge. Fiscal rules can take lots of different shapes all of which entrench chronic unemployment and poverty. The only fiscal approach that is applicable to a sovereign government operating within a fiat monetary system is one that ensures full employment is achieved and sustained. Anyway, here is an introduction to the mean-spirited and wrong-headed world of fiscal rules.
I am now in New York on business for the next few days then off south to the capital Washington. In this blog I want to outline the horrible scenario that everyone has been predicting would happen – the increasing fiscal deficits will increase taxation. I know that has been on our minds. I have reached the ineluctable conclusion that future taxation will increase as a direct consequence of the current deficits. The tax revenue gained by the government will also reduce future deficits. Wouldn’t it be preferable that we didn’t push future taxation up and instead controlled net government spending? If you believed that you would have rocks in your head. In this blog I will be also be discussing debt, inflation, and other nasties.
I am now in the US with a hectic week ahead. At present I am in Florida and for those who haven’t been here just imagine taking a landscape and pouring as much concrete as you can mix over as much of that landscape that you can access. Then once that sets, you build massive high-rise buildings and suburbs that span hundreds of kilometres and you have it. Oh, and plant a few palm trees as you concrete. But then there is surf nearby and before work this morning I am off to check it out. Anyway, in between other things I have been reading the so-called public debt exposition that appears in the latest issue of the The Economist Magazine. It will take a few blogs to work through it but here is Part 1. It might happen that there will be no Part 2 if I get so sick of reading this nonsense.
I wrote this for the Fairfax press early this morning before a 10km run around the Vondelpark in the heart of Amsterdam – in cold pouring rain. They call it high summer. Anyway, the opinion piece was confined to 500 words. I could have said a lot more but you can extrapolate each line accordingly. I also did an ABC radio interview hiding under a tree in the park – the juxtaposition of talking to Sydney about the NSW Government’s failure to deliver adequate services and being among the wonderful urban amenities (for example, public transport and bike paths) and public spaces provided by the Dutch was not lost on me. Pity public spending can’t fix the lousy weather over here. Anyway, now I am off to work for the day over here. Part 3 of the fiscal sustainability series coming next – for Wednesday.
As the Federal budget week approaches the various commentators and interest groups are whipping themselves into a lather about what choices the Government might have or not have. A recurring theme is whether the Government should honour its election commitment in 2007 to cut income taxes from July 2009. The debate is being constructed along the lines of whether the nation can now “afford these cuts” given the “rising debt” and the “shocking state” of the budget deficit. This debate demonstrates perfectly how bad policy can be made when the Government fails to understand its options as a monopoly issuer of a non-convertible currency.
Put People First group are running a grass roots campaign for all of us to send a message to the G20 about their priorities. The campaign symbol is the megaphone logo appearing below. Their campaign will culminate in a march in central London on March 28, 2009 to push a case for jobs, justice and climate. I am not associated with this group but I share their priorities, even if I might see them in different terms. Anyway, this is the first of my messages to the G20. In summary: they need to learn how the economy actually operates and then they would use their fiscal policy capacity to ensure everyone has a job in a sustainable economy.