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Zero trading in 10-year Japanese government bonds signals Bank of Japan supremacy

On July 21, 2022, the Bank of Japan issued this – Statement on Monetary Policy – which outlined that it would continue to use its capacities to implement ‘Yield curve control’, whereby the “Bank will apply a negative interest rate of minus 0.1 percent to the Policy-Rate Balances in current accounts held by financial institutions at the Bank” and “will purchase a necessary amount of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) without setting an upper limit so that 10-year JGB yields will remain at around zero percent”. Further, the Statement noted that “the Bank will offer to purchase 10-year JGBs at 0.25 percent every business day through fixed-rate purchase operations, unless it is highly likely that no bids will be submitted”. The only dissenter on an 8 to 1 vote, wanted even more easing of monetary policy! The BOJ has been implementing its yield curve control since March 2021. In the light of global trends in central banking, the Bank of Japan’s decisions are a standout and show how a sophisticated understanding of the monetary economy coupled with a desire by the Government to improve the lives of ordinary citizens expose the fictions of mainstream economics, which dominates policy making elsewhere.

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Two diametrically-opposed approaches to dealing with inflation – stupidity versus the Japanese way

Well things are going to get messier with the decision yesterday by the OPEC+ cartel to significantly reduce the oil supply and push up prices. On the one hand, when OPEC was first formed and pushed prices up, while there was significant disruption to oil-dependent nations, the substitution that followed (home oil heating abandoned, larger cars replaced by smaller cars, etc) was ultimately beneficial. So given that we need less cars on roads and less kms travelled by cars, one might consider the move to be fine. But given the way the central banks and treasury departments around the world are behaving at present, the short term impacts of the OPEC+ decision will be very damaging. How citizens endure whatever extra inflationary pressures that might emerge will depend on the fiscal and monetary policy responses. We have two diametrically opposed models: the one that most nations are following (hikes and austerity) versus the Japanese approach. I explain the difference below and predict that the latter will deliver much better outcomes for the people.

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Off to Japan I go

Today, I am skipping my Japanese language class and heading to the airport. I am taking up a position at Kyoto University under a JSPS Invitational Fellowship. I am working with the team in the Resilience Unit there on a project studying the design of fiscal policy for building national resilience using Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles. Resilience is an important part of the degrowth and deep adaptation agenda and I will spend some months there working on with other researchers. The – Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) is ‘Japan’s sole independent funding agency dedicated to the advancement of science’ and is overseen by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. I am very privileged to receive one of the invitations. So from tomorrow I will be in Kyoto and depending on commitments my blog posts might be a little less regular although I think I will be able to continue the usual output. Now, it is time to put my Tuesday languages class into action – along with Google translate! Some travelling music follows.

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The Japanese wage problem

I read a lot about Japan. It has interested me since the early 1990s commercial property collapse and the subsequent fiscal and monetary policy measures that the Japanese government deployed to deal with it, which took policy settings outside the bounds that mainstream economists could cope with. These economists predicted the worst based on mindless extrapolations of their ‘theoretical’ models, which are really incapable of dealing with the real world in any meaningful way. Their worst didn’t come and some 3 decades later, with policy settings still at ‘extreme’ levels compared to the way mainstream economists think (and the policy makers are not budging it seems), Japan continues to demonstrate why New Keynesian macroeconomics is inapplicable and why Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has traction. And while Japan provides first-class public transport, health and education systems, a viable housing policy, good urban systems, and has maintained low unemployment rates even during the GFC and the pandemic, there is one feature that is troublesome – the flat lining wages growth over the last 20 years. I have been very interested in learning the reasons for this phenomenon, which sets Japan apart from most other nations (who have also experienced low wages growth – but not that low). I plan to work on this aspect, in part, when I move to Kyoto next month for an extended stay.

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Why has Japan avoided the rising inflation – a more solidaristic approach helps

A few years ago, various policy makers, but mostly central bankers were keen to disabuse anyone of the notion that they were ‘doing’ Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Some were aggressive in denial, such as US Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell, who on February 26, 2019 announced to the US Senate Banking Committee that MMT was ‘just wrong’. There was a general pile on from other central bankers and commentators. No way, they were doing MMT. Okay, they were right, one doesn’t ‘do’ MMT, given it is an analytical framework (see below). But, curiously, now, the commentators are falling over themselves claiming that MMT is dead in the water given that it has been tried over the course of the pandemic to date and failed because inflation is out of control. Hilarious really. But what is interesting is Japan (as always). And I wonder whether any of these MMT critics now have considered why the Bank of Japan has not followed the lead of the other central banks that are rushing to exacerbate the temporary inflation spike by deliberately creating unemployment. It seems that there are different paths that policy makers can take within a capitalist monetary economy. They can allow corporations to profit gouge at the expense of the workers and then turn on the workers (creating unemployment) or they oversee a system where all parties (workers and corporations) take real income hits as a result of imported price pressures and wait it out. Japan is in the second category to its credit.

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We have an experiment under way as the Bank of Japan holds its cool

Yesterday’s fiscal statement analysis replaced my usual Wednesday news and music blog post, so that appears today. I have hardly any time today anyway as the commitments associated with that statement are queuing up. So, today I want to reflect on the sanity in Japan and the ECB before some Duke. So we now have an experiment underway again. Most central banks are buckling under the pressure the financial markets are putting on them to raise interest rates. But the Bank of Japan, and to a lesser extent the ECB are not. We will see how that plays out. I think the Bank of Japan has its finger on the pulse and the other central banks are going down the wrong path.

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The Japanese denial story – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my analysis of the claim that Japan is not a good demonstration of what happens when macroeconomic policies are pushed beyond their usual limits. I have long argued that trying to apply a mainstream macroeconomics (New Keynesian) framework to the Japanese situation yields nonsensical predictions about rising interest rates, accelerating inflation, rising bond yields and government insolvency. Nothing like that scenario has emerged since Japan has introduced economic policies that ran counter to the mainstream consensus since the 1990s. Japan demonstrates key Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles and those that seek to deny that are really forced to invent a parallel-universe version of MMT to make their case. That version is meaningless. In Part 2, we extend that analysis to consider trade transactions, the fear of inflation, and the argument that the current generation are selfishly leaving their children higher tax burdens while we party on.

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The Japanese denial story – Part 1

Well, it’s 2022 already and we enter the 18th year of this blog. Regular readers will know that I have studied the Japanese economy in considerable detail over the course of my career and when it experienced one of the largest commercial asset price bubble busts in history in early 1992, the questions I was asking and the data I was looking out were important in framing the way I have done macroeconomics since. I consider Japan to be one of the nations that was early to embrace the madness of neoliberalism – credit binge, wild property speculation then crash – and the first nation to abandon it in favour of more responsible fiscal policy – which given the circumstances required on-going fiscal deficits exceeding 10 per cent of GDP at times. Its policy approach – including the relatively high deficits, the zero interest rate policy of the Bank of Japan, and then the massive bond-buying program by the same, became the target for various New Keynesian macroeconomists (including Krugman) to prophesise doom. Their textbook models predicted the worst – rising interest rates, accelerating inflation, rising bond yields and then government insolvency as bond markets bailed out and the currency plummetted. Nothing like that scenario emerged. Japan was playing out policies that ran counter to the mainstream consensus in the 1990s and beyond and I learned so much from understanding why things happened there as a consequence. This is Part 1 of a two-part discussion about why Japan demonstrates key MMT principles and how those who wish to deny that reality have to invent a parallel-universe version of MMT to make their case.

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My Op Ed in the mainstream Japanese business media

It’s Wednesday and my blog-light day. Today, I provide the English-text for an article that came out in the leading Japanese business daily, The Nikkei yesterday on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to the pandemic. Relevant links are provided in the body of the post. The interesting point I think is that ‘The Nikkei’ is the “the world’s largest business daily in terms of circulation” and has clear centre-right leanings. The fact that they are interested in disseminating ideas that run counter to the mainstream narrative that the centre-right politicians have relied on indicates both a curiosity that is missing in the conservative media elsewhere, and, the extent to which MMT ideas is becoming more open to serious thinkers. I have respect for media outlets that come to the source when they want to motivate a discussion on MMT rather than hire some hack to write a critique, which really gets no further than accusing MMT of being just about money printing.

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Japan national accounts – sales tax rise, growth collapses – as night follows day

In my blog post – Japan about to walk the plank – again (September 30, 2019) – I predicted that the decision by the Japanese government to increase the sales tax from 8 per cent to 10 per cent on October 1, 2010 would undermine non-government spending and growth and was totally unnecessary anyway. The government had fallen prey to the deficit terrorists who have been consistently bullying them into believing that their fiscal position is about to collapse and the bond markets would desert them. Funny that! The Bank of Japan has been buying the bulk of the public debt issued over the last several years anyway. The reality is that, given the instability of world conditions (US-China trade, European slowdown, Brexit, and, more recently, the Corona virus impacts), the Japanese government should have been increasing its fiscal deficit. Yesterday (February 17, 2020), the latest national accounts data from Japan tells us the damage that this policy folly has inflicted. Every time the Japanese government has hiked the sales tax (1997, 2014, 2019) real GDP growth has plummetted and pushed the economy into recession. In the final quarter of 2019, Japan’s growth rate slumped by an annualised 6.3 per cent, driven by a massive 11.1 per cent decline in consumption spending and capital investment decline of 14.1 per cent. Sure enough, Typhoon Hagibis was also a factor but it is undeniable that the sales tax hike was instrumental. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana had it in one when in his first volume (1905) of his book – The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress – said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

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Q&A Japan style – Part 5b

This is the final part of a two-part discussion about the consequences of a currency-issuing government exercising different bond-issuing options. The basic Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) position is for the currency-issuing government to abandon the unnecessary practice of issuing debt (which is a hangover from the fixed exchange rate, gold standard days). Currency-issuing governments should use that capacity to advance general well-being and providing corporate welfare to underpin and reduce the risk of speculative behaviour in the financial markets does not serve any valid purpose. However, when we introduce real world layers (politics, etc) we realise that some pure MMT-type options are not possible. This question introduces just such a case in Japan. Given the political constraints, we are asked to choose between two options for central bank conduct, when the government does issue debt: (A) Buy it all up in the secondary bond markets. (B) Leave it in the non-government sector. In this final part, I go through some of the considerations that might influence that choice.

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Q&A Japan style – Part 5a

This is a discussion about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the bond-issuing options for a currency-issuing government such as Japan and Australia. We will consider the three options that such a government has and discuss each from an MMT perspective. What an MMT understanding allows is a thorough appreciation of the consequences of each option. The conclusions we reach are quite different from those presented in mainstream macroeconomics, mostly due to the fact that we do not consider the bonds to be necessary to fund government spending beyond tax revenue and construct the operations of the central bank and the commercial banks to accord to the way they operate in reality rather than in the fictional world of the mainstream. This discussion also recognises the political dimensions of government rather than the technical way we often consider things in MMT. This is the first-part of a two-part answer which I will conclude on Thursday. Today, we consider the emergence of the so-called ‘reflationists’ in Japan who advocated large-scale, non-standard monetary policy in the late 1990s as a solution to the ‘Great Stagnation’ that had beset the Japanese economy.

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Japan announces a stimulus as the Right take over Bolivia

Just a short blog post today (short in research) as I devote Wednesday’s to other writing and I have to travel a lot today. More a collection of snippets that I come across over the course of a day’s work. Today, we think about Bolivia and the right-wing thugs that have overthrown a legitimate government advancing the well-being of its people. We also see senior progressive politicians falling into a myriad of lies and misconceptions about the monetary system and handing political initiative to the right wing as a consequence, even though they think they are being clever in their framing. And we think of Japan a little. And then some music offerings or two.

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Q&A Japan style – Part 4

This is the final part of my four-part Q&A series arising from my recent trip to Japan. In this post, I answer just one question. The answer goes to the heart of the relationship between the national government (finance division) and the central bank and illustrates the complexity of reserve accounting. So it needs some background by way of education. Recall that these questions about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) were raised with me during my recent trip to Japan. The public discussion about MMT in Japan is relatively advanced (compared to elsewhere). Political activists across the political spectrum are discussing and promoting MMT as a major way of expressing their opposition to fiscal austerity in Japan. The basics of MMT are now as well understood in Japan as anywhere and so the debate has moved onto more detailed queries, particularly with regard to policy applications. So as part of my current visit to Japan, I was asked to provide some guidance on a range of issues. In my presentations I addressed these matters. But I thought it would be productive to provide some written analysis so that everyone can advance their MMT understanding.

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Some reflections on my time in Japan while I am too busy to write

Today, I have several commitments in Tokyo and then a long flight so I decided not to try to finish Part 4 of my Q&A – Japan style series and will post the final part on Monday. For today, you will have to be content with some photos from the current trip to Japan and some comments. But who are those business-suited people in Tokyo wandering around in the mornings picking up garbage (see below)? Normal transmission resumes on Monday.

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Q&A Japan style – Part 3

This is the third part of a four-part series this week, where I provide some guidance on some key questions about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) that various parties in Japan have raised with me. Today I am in Tokyo and doing a day of press interviews and some TV filming to promote MMT within the Japanese media. I had been very clear in press interviews already (yesterday) that I hope they they represent our ideas correctly to the people of Japan. For example, at yesterday’s press conference, after my lecture in the Japanese Diet (Parliament), I said that I didn’t want any of the many journalists present to leave the room and write that ‘MMT thinks that deficits do not matter’ or that ‘MMT was about governments printing money and spending it’. I hope the message gets through. As I noted in Parts 1 and 2, many people have asked me to provide answers to a series of questions about MMT, and, rather than address each person individually (given significant overlap) I think that answering them in some depth is the more efficient way to help them to better learn and understand the essentials of MMT and real world nuances that complicate those simple principles. These responses should not be considered definitive and more detail is available via the referenced blog posts that I provide links to. Today, the question is another one about the Green New Deal and the Job Guarantee with a diversion into basic income.

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Q&A Japan style – Part 2

This is the second part of a four-part series this week, where I provide some guidance on some key questions about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) that various parties in Japan have raised with me. I have so far given two presentations in Kyoto and today I am in Tokyo addressing an audience at the Japanese Diet (Parliament) and doing some interviews with the leading media organisations in Japan. Many people have asked me to provide answers to a series of questions about MMT, and, rather than address each person individually (given significant overlap) I think this is the more efficient way to help them to better learn and understand the essentials of MMT and real world nuances that complicate those simple principles. In my presentations I will be addressing these matters. But I thought it would be productive to provide some written analysis so that everyone can advance their MMT understanding. These responses should not be considered definitive and more detail is available via the referenced blog posts that I provide links to. Today, the questions are about the Green New Deal and the Job Guarantee.

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Q&A Japan style – Part 1

This is the first part of a four-part series this week, where I provide some guidance on some key questions about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) that various parties in Japan have raised with me. The public discussion about MMT in Japan is relatively advanced (compared to elsewhere). Questions are asked about it and answered in the Japanese Diet (Parliament) and senior economics officials in the central bank and government make comments about it. And political activists across the political spectrum are discussing and promoting MMT as a major way of expressing their opposition to fiscal austerity in Japan. The basics of MMT are now as well understood in Japan as anywhere and so the debate has moved onto more detailed queries, particularly with regard to policy applications. So as part of my current visit to Japan, I was asked to provide some guidance on a range of issues. In my presentations I will be addressing these matters. But I thought it would be productive to provide some written analysis so that everyone can advance their MMT understanding. These responses should not be considered definitive and more detail is available via the referenced blog posts that I provide links to.

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What is the problem with rising dependency ratios in Japan – Part 2?

This is Part 2 of my blog posts on population shifts in Japan. In – What is the problem with rising dependency ratios in Japan – Part 1? (October 28, 2019) – we considered the evolution of dependency ratios in Japan as a precursor to considering the nature of problems that accompany a rising dependency ratio. The purpose is to disabuse the public debate of the idea that rising dependency ratios constitute a fiscal crisis and point to the increasing prospect of fiscal insolvency. That erroneous assertion has been used as one of the justifications for pursuing austerity policies, which damage growth, cause rising unemployment and generally miss the point. The problem with this construction is that the solution adopted by the ‘sound finance’ lobby (austerity) to their ‘non problem’ only serves to exacerbate the real problem. Today, we will consider the productivity challenge that lies at the heart of the issues a nation with a rising dependency ratio will face.

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What is the problem with rising dependency ratios in Japan – Part 1?

Later this week I will be in Japan for a series of presentations and meetings with a broad spectrum of Japanese politics. The various hosts of the events which I will confirm in Wednesday’s blog post are all committed to advancing an MMT understanding in Japan and ending the hold that ‘sound finance’ has on the public policy debates and regularly lead to poorly contrived policy shifts (such as the recent sales tax hike) in pursuit of lower fiscal deficits. As part of my preparation for my presentations I have been studying various aspects of the Japanese situation so that I can address the issues with a solid evidence base. One of the recurring themes put forward by the ‘sound finance’ lobby (which includes much of the economics profession both inside and outside of Japan) is that its ‘challenging’ demography demands that the Government move to surplus to ‘save up’ to avoid the impending fiscal disaster associated with a rising dependency ratio. This issue is not confined to Japan, of course. It is just that Japan’s demography is a little further down the ageing road than other nations. But while rising dependency ratios matter and need attention, the construction of the problem by the ‘sound finance’ lobby misses the point completely and their ‘solution’ to their ‘non problem’ only serves to exacerbate the real problem. That is what today’s blog post is about. In Part 2, I will elaborate more on the nature of the productivity challenge and some of the options that have been suggested to deal with it.

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