A short blog post today (Wednesday and all). I am working on the revisions to our Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) textbook that will be published by Macmillan-Palgrave in November 2018. We have all the editorial and external reviews available now and are working through the editorial process to complete the final version. Mostly clarifications and style issues. There will be a slight rearrangement of chapter order and emphasis but nothing major. In the meantime, some thoughts on UBI and some music for today. A more detailed blog post will come along tomorrow.
Poverty arises for a number of reasons but a lack of income has to be a central characteristic of someone who is poor. And notwithstanding the increasing tendency for people who work full-time to be found earning wages that place them below the poverty line, the major reason for people having a lack of income is unemployment. That typically makes poverty a systemic event rather than an individual failure because mass unemployment is easy to understand – it occurs when the system fails to produce enough jobs to meet the desires for work by the available labour force. Then, to understand why the system fails in that way, we know that once the spending and saving decisions of the non-government sector are made, if there is still a spending shortfall in the economy, which generates the mass unemployment, then it has to be because the net spending position of the national government is short. That is, either the fiscal surplus is too large or (usually) the deficit is too small. In that sense, the introduction of a Job Guarantee would eliminate poverty arising from unemployment and the working poor because the Government could condition the minimum wage by where it set the Job Guarantee wage. If it truly desired to end poverty among those in employment then it would set the Job Guarantee accordingly. Others argue that a more direct way of dealing with poverty and lack of income is to just provide the income via a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). The BIG idea has captured the progressive side of politics and many on the Right. It is another one of those sneaky neo-liberal ideas that look good on the surface but are rotten not far below. Supporters of BIG are really absolving currency-issuing governments of their responsibility to use their fiscal capacities to ensure there are sufficient jobs created – whether in the non-government or government sector. They are thus going along with the neo-liberal attack on the right to work. Moreover, closer analysis reveals that the introduction of the BIG would not, under current institutional arrangements reduce poverty at all.
A reader pointed out the other day that a good idea remains a good idea even if bad people advocate it. This was in relation to my blog – Why are CEOs now supporting basic income guarantees?. It reprised an issue that has a long history in culture and the arts. Should we hate Wagner because it was symbolic for the Nazis? What about the work of Budd Schulberg who produced the screenplay for ‘On the Waterfront’ but was simultaneously dobbing people into the House Un-American Activities Committee? There are countless examples of this sort of quandary, or not, depending on your viewpoint. As I wrote in the earlier blog (cited abive), I am always suspicious when the elites advocate something. It is not just a taste for Wagner they are articulating. Generally, they are advocating further pathways that they can shore up their control and power. Which means bad things for the rest of us! The BIG is one of those pathways and it leads to impoverishment and an on-going capitalist domination. A basic income guarantee is not a path to nirvana – I see it as just a neo-liberal strategy for serfdom without the work.
It does not quite add up. But then why should it. Spin is spin. On the one hand, we are being constantly told that the world has entered a new era of secular stagnation, driven by an ageing population and a fall off in productive innovation, and we just have to get used to the elevated levels of unemployment that come with that. Yet, other spin doctors are talking about the innovation revolution, the second machine-age, where the march of the robots who will be embedded with AI that will make them smarter than us, big data, automation, the Internet of Things, and more will render work obsolete. In both cases, apparently, the introduction of a guaranteed income is recommended. Suspicious? Then there is more. When CEOs of big companies start advocating a policy that they claim will improve the lot of workers I become immediately suspicious. And why would people with a progressive bent advocate policies that are part of the continuing conservative ambition to achieve social control and which essentially amount to an abandonment of responsibility that government has for maintaining employment for those who cannot otherwise find jobs? So what is with this rush of support for a basic income guarantee (BIG) from all sides of politics??
This is Part 5 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. It finishes this part of our discussion. Today, I consider how society establishes a fair transition environment to cope with climate change and the impacts of computerisation etc. I outline a coherent adjustment framework to allow these transitions to occur equitably and where they are not possible (due to limits on worker capacity) alternative visions of productive work are developed? I argue that while work, in general, is coercive under capitalism, the provision of employment guarantees is a more equitable approach than relying as the basic income advocates envision on the exploitation of some to provide the freedom for others. Further, I argue that the Job Guarantee is a better vehicle for creating new forms of productive work. Adopting a basic income guarantee in this context just amounts to surrender. Our manuscript is nearly finished and we hope to complete the hard edits in the next month or so and have the book available for sale by the end of this year. More information on that later.
This is Part 4 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. It is the ‘robot edition’. The march of the robots is the latest pretext that basic income proponents (including the IMF now) use to justify their policy advocacy. There is some truth in the claims that the so-called ‘second machine age’, marked by the arrival of robots, is not only gathering speed, but is different from the first period of machine development with respect to its capacity to wipe out human involvement in production. But the claims are somewhat over the top. Further the claims that these trends are inevitable are in denial of the basic capacities of the state to legislate in the common interest. While the innovations in technology will free labour from repetitive and boring work and improve productivity in those tasks, there is no inevitability that robots will develop outside the legislative framework administered by the state and overrun humanity (even if the predictions of robot autonomy are at all realistic). We will surely need to develop a coherent adjustment framework to allow these transitions to occur equitably and where they are not possible (due to limits on worker capacity) alternative visions of productive work are developed?
Further, the Job Guarantee is a better vehicle for handling these type of transitions and creating new forms of productive work. Adopting a basic income guarantee in this context just amounts to surrender.
This is Part 3 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. While there is a lot of literature out there on the merits of introducing a basic income guarantee very rarely will you read a detailed account of the macroeconomic implications of such a scheme. It is inescapable that the basic income proposal lacks what I call an inflation anchor. That is, to provide an adequate stipend and generate full employment (ensure there are enough jobs for all who want to work), the basic income guarantee is inherently inflationary and sets in place destructive macroeconomic dynamics which make it unsustainable. To suppress the inherent inflationary bias of the proposal, the stipend has to be so low that the recipients are freed from work but not poverty. The Job Guarantee, by way of contrast, is designed to provide an explicit inflation anchor and allows the government to continuously maintain full employment and provide a decent wage to those who from time to time will be in the Job Guarantee pool. It does not rely on poverty wages or unemployment to maintain price stability. That alone is a fundamental advantage of the Job Guarantee over the basic income guarantee – it is sustainable.
This is Part 2 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. The topic of a basic income guarantee seems to evoke a lot of passion and in all the discussions I rarely read anyone going carefully through the macroeconomic implications of bringing in a scheme. I get lots of E-mails accusing me in varying degrees of politeness of being on a moral crusade in my opposition to basic income proposals. I wonder how much of my work over the years such correspondents have read. Not much is my conclusion. Whatever you think of the morality of having a system where some people work while others are supported in one way or another without having to work, even though they could (so I exclude the aged, sick, severely disabled here), the fact remains that a policy proposal won’t get much traction from me if it has a deep inflation bias and adopts neo-liberal explanations for economic outcomes like unemployment. I will also never support a proposal that absolves the national government from taking responsibility for providing enough work via its currency capacities and treats individuals expediently as ‘consumption units’ – to be maintained at minimum material levels. Anyway, we explore a few of those issues in this blog.
This is Part 1 in my mini-series on my version of the debate between employment guarantees and income guarantees. An earlier post rightfully belongs in the series as Part 0 – Work is important for human well-being. This discussion will form part of the Part 3 of my next book (with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and started to believe that the state had withered and was powerless in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Accordingly, social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and compromise the well-being of their citizens as a result. In Part 3 of the book, which we are now completing, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world, are available. Wherever one turns these days, a so-called progressive pops up with a megaphone (conceptual) shouting that a basic income guarantee is the panacea for all manner of evil – starting back some years ago with unemployment and moving more recently, as that rationale was exposed, to the need to counter the expected ravages of the second machine age. As regular readers will know I am a leading advocate for employment guarantees. I consider basic income proposals to represent a surrender to the neo-liberal forces – an acceptance of the inevitability of mass unemployment. Further, the robot argument doesn’t cut it. Anyway, in Part 1 – Work is important for human well-being – I considered the need to broaden the definition of productive work. I also emphasised the importance of an on-going availability of work for human well-being. In Part 2, we sketch the arguments that have been advanced to justify the basic income proposal and find them inconsistent, illogical and deficient.
It is now clear that to most observers that the use of monetary policy to stimulate major changes in economic activity in either direction is fraught. Central bankers in many nations have been pulling all sorts of policy ‘rabbits’ out of the hat over the last decade or more and their targets have not moved as much or in many cases in the direction they had hoped. Not only has this shown up the lack of credibility of mainstream macroeconomics but it is now leading to a major shift in policy thinking, which will tear down the neoliberal shibboleths that the use of fiscal policy as a counter-stabilisation tool is undesirable and ineffective. In effect, there is a realignment going on between policy responsibility and democratic accountability, something that the neoliberal forces worked hard to breach by placing primary responsibility onto the decisions of unelected and unaccountable monetary policy committees. And this shift is bringing new players to the fore who are intent on denying that even fiscal policy can stave off major downturns in non-government spending. These sort of attacks from a mainstream are unsurprising given its credibility is in tatters. But they are also coming from the self-proclaimed Left, who seem opposed to a reliance on nation states, and in the British context, this debate is caught up in the Brexit matter, where the Europhile Left are pulling any argument they can write down quickly enough to try to prevent Britain leaving the EU, as it appears it now will (and that couldn’t come quickly enough).
Thomas Fazi and I have been discussing the shape of our next book and I think it will be an interesting and worthwhile followup to Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). We hope it will be published some time late in 2019. One of the angles that will be delved into is the way in which neoliberal narratives and constructs have permeated individual consciousness. Yes, sounds a bit psychological doesn’t it. But there is a strong literature going back to well before the recent period of neoliberalism that allows us to draw some fairly strong conclusions on how the process has worked. It also allows us to make some coherent statements about the dis-junctures that are going on across the world between the people and their polities, which have spawned the support for Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the popularity of far-right movements, the electoral demolition of the traditional social democratic political parties, the election of the new Italian government, and the on-going trouble that the Gilets Jaunes are causing the mainstream political processes in France (and Brussels). The literature also provides a guide as to how the Left might break out of their current malaise based on their tepid yearning for cosmopolitanism, identity and their fear of financial markets to reestablish themselves as the progressive voice of the people. That is what I am writing about at present and here is a snippet.
I have just finished reading a report published by the Transnational Institute (TNI), which is an “international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world”. The Report (published November 19, 2018) – Democracy Not For Sale – is harrowing, to say the least. We learn that in an advanced European nation with a glorious tradition and history an increasing number of people are being denial access to basic nutrition solely as a result of economic policy changes that have been imposed on it by outside agencies (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF). The Report shows how the food supply has been negatively impacted by the austerity programs; how food prices have been forced up at the same time as incomes have been forced down, and how collective and cooperative arrangements have been destroyed by privatisation and deregulation impositions. The Report concludes that the Greek State and the Eurozone Member States violated the Greek people’s right to food as a result of the austerity measures required by three Memorandums of Understanding (2010, 2012 and 2015). In other words, the austerity packages imposed on Greece contravened international human rights law. Not one person has gone to prison as a result of this deliberate and calculated violation of human rights.
I am doing some work on the way technology can be chosen to maximise employment in the pursuit of advancing general well-being. This is in the context of some work I am doing on advancing what is known as ‘relative pro-poor growth’ strategies in Africa via employment creation programs and draws on my earlier work in South Africa on the Expanded Public Works Program. In the current work, I have been assessing ways in which the Labour Intensive Public Works program in Ghana has been deployed to serve this purpose. The problem one confronts when working as a development economist in less well-off nations is that the institutional bias promoted by the IMF and the World Bank is towards advancing, at best, what we term ‘absolute pro-poor growth’. But that sort of agenda typically fails to strengthen other aspects of a strong civil society because it is almost always accompanied by rising inequality which continues to concentrate power and influence at the top and leads to resources being disproportionately expropriated by the wealthy (and usually foreign) classes. Institutions such as democracy, justice, law and order and causes such as environmental sustainability are then compromised.
The recent political ructions such as the Brexit outcome in the UK, the popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US, the growing extremist popularist movements in Europe and elsewhere, and the scrape-in victory of the incumbent conservative government in Australia at the recent federal elections, have been attributed in no small part to a growing resentment against rising income (and wealth) inequality. A ‘progressive manifesto’ has to address this issue and work out ways that the gap between real wages and productivity growth is eliminated so that workers can rely more on wages growth to fund their consumption growth rather than credit. This blog continues to discuss the elements of such a Manifesto and today we focus on the question of income inequality and ways in which productivity growth can be better shared.
The US Census Bureau released the latest edition of the – Income and Poverty in the United States 2014 – yesterday (September 16, 2015) along with a treasure trove of Income data and Poverty data. The data comes from the 2015 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Enough detail to keep anyone of the streets for a considerable time! The data can tell a lot of stories if prompted in a variety of ways but what I was interested in exploring was the cyclical movement as the US economy started its recovery and is now, seemingly, reaching the end of the current upturn. Who has gained from the recovery in national income and to what extent have the massive losses incurred during the Great Recession been recovered? That is what the blog is about today. A data hunt!
The Australian government is demonstrating to all of us that they are mishandling fiscal policy. The background is simple. Australia saw its growth vanish and unemployment start rising in December 2008 as the financial crisis spread into the real economy. The government responded, mostly correctly, and introduced a swift and significant fiscal stimulus. The economy resumed growth, the rise in unemployment was pegged (although there wasn’t enough done to generate sufficient jobs growth), and the budget deficit rose. Before the private sector had demonstrated it could take up the spending slack and support the growth process, the Federal government became obsessed with “returning the budget to surplus”, erroneously thinking that this would separate them, politically, from the Opposition. They were wrong. The imposition of fiscal austerity has caused economic growth to slow and tax revenue growth to fall well below projections (declining world commodity prices have also not helped). First, the government abandoned their surplus promise realising that the revenue side was not going to improve sufficiently. Now, they are implying they need to hike income taxes to cover the “revenue shortfall”. If they ever had any credibility as responsible fiscal managers then it is safe to conclude they have none now. Their continued claims about maintaining a “strict fiscal policy” (read: procyclical fiscal stance) are not only moronic but they are also leading to policies which are killing growth and employment.
Economists like to tell students about efficiency. The concept – which really distils down to – zero waste (even though that term is loaded) – is drilled into undergraduates and graduates alike as a dogma that should not be violated. Most of the attacks on government intervention by the mainstream economists are couched in terms of efficiency – or the alleged lack of it. The seemingly objective framework that defines the orthodox approach to efficiency allows all the ideological indisposition towards government involvement in the economy to be discreetly hidden. But even then the mainstream do not consistently apply their own constructs. And when the empirical world violates the utopian vision (for example, when there is mass unemployment), the response is to either blame the government some more or redefine the violation away and continue on as if nothing was amiss. This sort of intellectual dishonesty has never been more apparent than in the current period as nations struggle with a deep and enduring crisis. This blog is about two examples of that – health care and youth unemployment.
I get many E-mails every week from people asking me to explain exactly what a deficit is. They understand that a budget deficit is the difference between revenue and spending but then become confused as a result of being so ingrained with narratives emanating from politicians and lobbyists who misuse terms and always try to conflate deficits and debt. So today’s blog is a basic primer on deficits and why you should welcome them (usually) and why we all should sleep tight when the government is in deficit. So – budget deficit basics …
A debate in development economics concerns the role of cash transfers to alleviate poverty. This was reprised again in the New York Times article (January 3, 2011) – Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor – which I hopefully began reading with employment creation schemes in mind. I was wrong. The article was about the growing number of anti-poverty programs in the developing world, particularly in the left-leaning Latin American nations, based on conditional cash transfers. There is no doubt that these programs have been very successful within their narrow ambit. They also are used by some progressives to argue for an extension of them into what is known as a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). For reasons that are outlined in this blog I prefer employment guarantees as the primary way to attack poverty. I think the progressives who advocate BIGs are giving too much ground to the conservatives.
It is a beautifully warm and sunny end to the 2010 which in general has been a pretty awful year. Yesterday, US Department of Labor released the latest Jobless Claims data. That was good news and suggested that not only has the fiscal expansion in the US been supporting growth but that the economy may be turning the corner – albeit very slowly. Earlier in the week the extremists – the unrelenting deficit terrorists who don’t understand what has been going on were at it again. Like an old gramophone record stuck in a worn out groove they chanted their mantras about record debt levels and how best to cut the deficit. They appear to be stuck in a pre-1971 monetary system as well and haven’t yet caught up with the fact that times have changed. We have CDs, DVDs, MP3s and a fiat monetary system. Anyway, I guess we know have an inkling as to their problem now – see this blog – We always knew it – their brains are thinner!. They do not seem capable of understanding that if you want deficits to fall then you need growth. Growth occurs because spending equals income – public or private the cash till operators don’t discriminate. When there is insufficient private spending to support robust growth, then you have to supplement it with public spending. End of story.