Today I decided that there is another macroeconomics research unit that needs to be closed down. My decision was reached after I read the latest paper from the Bank of International Settlements – The future of public debt: prospects and implications – which confirms that the Monetary and Economic Department of that organisation is publishing deficit terrorist literature. The paper is so bad that I am sorry I read it. I may avoid BIS publications altogether in the future. But if I apply that reasoning I am going to be back to reading Stieg Larsson novels and there are only three of them and I have already read them!
Today I have been looking over documents from the EMU which emerged from last week’s summit in Brussels. Within the plush environs of their meeting halls and probably over very sumptuous dinners the best they could come up with was a half-baked plan to stop the daily headlines which have been indicating impending Greek default. Such a default would damage the Eurozone monetary system and probably show the way for other nations, which are being similarly bullied by the EU bosses into impoverishing their nations. Given some reporting today they may have succeeded … in stopping the headlines … for the moment. But the approach of the EMU leaders will do nothing to address the fundamental structural flaws in the their whole system. With the prospect of an extended period of austerity throughout the zone, they are really just making it more certain that the next major global downturn sinks them for good. That is, if social instability doesn’t do it beforehand.
The events continue to get more strange in the Eurozone by the day. Yesterday, Portugal was downgraded, which will worsen their situation, despite the rating agency claiming that the fiscal austerity plan in place was credible. Tomorrow, European leaders meet in Brussels but the German leader doesn’t even want the crisis on the agenda. The Germans only want to discuss imposing even tougher restrictions on the ability of governments to govern in the interest of their citizens. It is like a B-grade horror movie script. But all the intrigues that are playing out in the Eurozone at present demonstrate (albeit tragically so) the dynamics that led to the collapse of the fixed exchange rate system (the Bretton Woods arrangement). Same old story – bullies and the bullied. It means the only viable solution is to abandon the EMU as soon as possible and restore some sanity … and democracy.
Today I wasted 20 minutes reading about the end of the World. But before I did that I read some so-called progressive literature that was calling on the UK government in tomorrow night’s budget to seek a balanced budget. You say what? That’s right, what goes for progressive thought these days is what used to be the exemplar of fiscal conservativism not so long ago. While the current crisis exposed most of the myths that mainstream economists have promoted for years it seems that progressives are not seizing the day but trying to sound more reasonable (read: right-wing conservative) than the conservatives. The crisis has also pushed all these opinionated loonies like Niall Ferguson into prominence. Its getting pretty lonely out here …. wherever I am (and don’t say the left word)! (<= joke).
The title of the blog is a little misleading but was too good not to use. I get to that five-year forecast (2010-2015) later in the blog but the first part is material that sets the scene. Yes, I am writing about deficits and debts … again! But new nuances come out in the public debate which need to be addressed. The conservative assault on government support for their economies at present is multi-dimensioned and is being pushed along by two main journalistic approaches. The manic Fox new-type approach which I realise is influential but is so patent and ridiculous that I don’t care to comment on it often. Then we have the approach adopted by journalists in so-called credible media outlets such as the UK Guardian. They dress their deficit terrorism up in arguments that the middle classes, who think they are far above Fox new rabble intellectually, will find convincing. But when you bring both approaches down to basics – rubbish = rubbish.
I can now safely call my blog – ibilly blog or billy iblog thanks to a court ruling preventing Apple from monopolising the i construction. But then I would have to change the logo and I don’t have time to do that so I won’t take advantage of the court ruling just yet. But on more substantive matters, today I have been thinking about how much momentum the conservative lobby has at present and that history is being continually re-written to give these characters the oxygen they need to warp public opinion. We are now in danger of an even greater shift to the right in the coming years than was represented by the “neo-liberal” era. It is an ugly thought. But the macroeconomics is clear – if these ideas really take over the policy making process – then we will be facing a lengthy period of economic malaise.
I am now back in my normal office after a few days experimenting with a mobile office by the sea. Back in Newcastle I am still only a couple of minutes from the beach but somehow it was different being holed up in a little cabin. Anyway, on the way back down the coast this morning I was bemoaning the idiocy of the human race … again. Or rather cursing the vicarious way the elites exploit the lack of understanding in the community about economic matters to further their own ends. That is a better way of constructing the dilemma. Even some good intentioned souls are proposing “solutions” to non-problems which will worsen the actual problem. Other devious characters are continuing to reinvent themselves in the public sphere – presumably to get access to more personal largesse. Then whole blocks of nations are imposing penury on their citizens to make the “markets” happy while another national government has actually forgotten it is a currency-issuing government. All in a day’s work!
In recent comments on my blog concern was expressed about continuous deficits. I consider these concerns reflect a misunderstanding of the role deficits play in a modern monetary system. Specifically, it still appears that the absolute size of the deficit is some indicator of good and bad and that bigger is worse than smaller. Then at some size (unspecified) the deficit becomes unsustainable. There was interesting discussion about this topic in relation to the simple model presented in the blog – Some neighbours arrive. In today’s blog I continue addressing some of these concerns so that those who are uncertain will have a clear basis on which to differentiate hysteria from reality. We might all sleep a bit better tonight as a consequence – hence the title of today’s blog!
The other day I introduced a simple model of how a monetary economy works. The model was centred on the payments of my personal calling cards to elicit labour from the kids that live in my house. All the basic national accounting results that apply in a real economy were present. The simplicity extended to considering only two sectors – the kids (private) and the “house” (public). In terms of modern monetary theory (MMT) we start by examining the broad relationships between the government and non-government sector, where the latter comprises the private domestic and foreign sector. Some readers have suggested that the results obtained would not apply if I had have explicitly modelled the cross-border flows (that is, the external sector). Well today, I have some news … some neighbours have arrived next door to my place and the kids from each house are jumping fences.
On Friday (February 12, 2010) as Eurostats released the flash estimates of fourth quarter GDP for the EU (see below), the IMF released a new staff position note entitled – Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy. The bad news is the Europe is looking more like a region that is heading for a double dip recession. The even worse news is that that cretins at the IMF are claiming they know why they messed up in the past and how to address their failure. Stay tuned for a modified version of the same. The fact is that the IMF Report reveals they are as ignorant as ever of the workings of the modern monetary economy. So this revisionist exercise doesn’t signal a major paradigm stage.
Today I was looking over some macro data from Ireland which is leading the charge among the peripheral EMU nations (the so-called PIIGS) to impoverish its citizens because: (a) the amorphous bond markets have told them too; and (b) they had previously surrendered their policy sovereignty. Their actions are all contingent on the vague belief that the private sector will fill the space left by the austerity campaign. The neo-liberals are full of these sorts of claims. More likely what will happen is a drawn out near-depression and rising social unrest and dislocation. But as long as the Irish do it to themselves then the Brussels-Frankfurt bullies will leave them to demolish their economy. It raises the question who is in charge – the investors or the government? The answer is that the government is always in charge but what they need to do to assert that authority varies depending on the currency arrangements they have in place.
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.