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Please note: there is no sovereign debt risk in Japan!

Sometimes you read an article that clearly has a pretext but then tries to cover that pretext in some (not) smart way to make the prejudice seem reasonable. That is the impression I had when I read this Bloomberg opinion piece by William Pesek (January 31, 2011) – Pinnacle Envy Signals New Bubble Is Inflating – which I was expecting to be about real estate bubbles but which, in fact, turned out to be an erroneous blather about Japanese debt risk. Please note: there is no sovereign debt risk in Japan!

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Japan … just wait … your days are numbered

I was reading this IMF working paper today – The Outlook for Financing Japan’s Public Debt – which was released in January and was on my pile of things to catch up on. The paper is now being used by journalists to predict doom in the coming years for the Land of the Rising Sun. As I note, the stark deviation of the Japanese experience with the predictions of the mainstream macroeconomics models has given the conservatives a headache. As an attempt to reassert their relevance to the debate, the mainstream commentators are inventing new ploys so that they can say – yes we agree that the facts in the short-run don’t accord with our models but brothers and sisters just wait for what is around the corner. My assessment is that they have been saying this for 20 years already. In 5 more years, they will still be disappointed and still prophesying doom. They are pathetic!

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Japan grows along with the hysteria

Today, the Cabinet Office in Tokyo issued the third-quarter Japanese national accounts data which showed that the economy has posted positive growth for the second consecutive quarter and is now motoring along at an annualised rate of 4.8 per cent (1.2 per cent in the September quarter). In the June quarter growth resumed at 0.7 per cent (2.8 per cent annualised) and so the recovery is getting stronger. Given they did not allow labour underutilisation of labour to rise very much (a large increase by Japanese standards but relatively small compared to countries such as the UK and the US, they should be able to absorb the jobless fairly quickly. But this will only strengthen the growing call for the government to cut back net spending. It is a case of denying what is staring you the face.

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Japan – up against the neo-liberal machine

I have been intrigued with Japan for many years. It probably started with the post-war hostility towards them by the soldiers who saw the worst of them. The Anzac tradition was very unkind to Japan and its modern generations. It always puzzled me how we could hate them so much yet rely on them for our Post-World War II boom. I also thought we owed them something for being part of the political axis that dropped the first and only nuclear weapon on defenceless citizens when the war was over anyway. Whatever, I have long studied the nation and its economy. So yesterday’s election outcome certainly exercises the mind. Will it be a paradigm shift or a frustrating period where an ostensibly social democratic government runs up against the neo-liberal machine? I put these thoughts together about while travelling to and from Sydney on the train today.

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The Weekend Quiz – October 9-10, 2021 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’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 Weekend Quiz – October 2-3, 2021 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’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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ECB researchers find fiscal policy is very effective and more so if central banks buy up the debt

The ECB published a Working Paper recently (September 2021) – Monetary and fiscal complementarity in the Covid-19 pandemic – which represents progress in the narrative. While the technical model that the ECB uses is just an ad hoc attempt to reverse engineer the reality so they can claim they can explain it, what is useful from the exercise is that the old mainstream narratives that fiscal policy is ineffective in providing permanent boosts to real output (or that austerity does not permanently damage the growth trajectory) can no longer be sustained. The taboo surrounding central bank purchases of government debt because they cause accelerating inflation can no longer be sustained. The claims that fiscal deficits drive up interest rates can no longer be sustained. Now the public debate just has to reflect that reality and we will have made progress. Of course, this is all core MMT – we knew it all along!

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They never wrote about it, talked about it, and, did quite the opposite – yet they knew it all along!

During the GFC, a new phenomenon emerged – the ‘We knew it all along’ syndrome, which was characterised my several mainstream New Keynesian macroeconomists coming out and claiming that some of the insights provided by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists were banal and that their own theoretical framework already accommodates them. The pandemic has brought a further rush of the ‘We knew it all along’ syndrome. Apparently, mainstream macroeconomics is perfectly capable of explaining the fiscal reality the world has found itself in and there is no need to MMT, which, by assertion, is saying nothing new. These sorts of statements are not coming from Facebook or Twitter heroes who might have done a few units in economics or even acquired a degree in the discipline. They are coming from senior professors in the academy. The curious thing, which really lifts their cover, is that if you examine the academic literature you won’t find much reference to these sorts of ‘insights’ at all. What you find, and what students are taught, are a completely different set of propositions with respect to fiscal policy. So if they ‘knew it all along’ why didn’t they ever write about it? Why is their published academic work replete with conclusions that run contrary to the conclusions MMT economists make? You know the answer. These ‘knew it all along’ characters have just been caught out by the poor empirical performance of their paradigm and now they are trying to salvage their reputations and position by trying to blur history. They really should be sacked.

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The Weekend Quiz – September 4-5, 2021 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’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 Weekend Quiz – August 21-22, 2021 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’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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Inflation is coming, well, it could be, or, it might happen, gosh …

One could make a pastime observing the way that so-called ‘expert’ commentators change their commentary as the data unfolds. As one rather lurid prediction fails, their narrative shifts to the next. We have seen this tendency for decades when we consider the way mainstream economists have dealt with Japan. The words shift from those implying immediacy (for example, of insolvency), to those such as ‘could’, ‘might’, ‘perhaps’, ‘under certain conditions’ and more. The topics shift. The commentariat were obsessed with ‘this time is different’ during the GFC and the ‘debt insolvency threshold’ rubbish that the likes of Reinhardt and Rogoff propagated. That is, until they were sprung for spreadsheet incompetence. More recently, we have apparently forgotten how many governments were about to go broke and the mania has shifted to inflation. The data shows some price spikes earlier in the year which set of the dogs. Now, things might be shifting again. It is a pastime following all this. Short memories, no shame is the only requirement that is required to be a mainstream economics commentator. Prescient knowledge is not included in that skill set.

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The pandemic exposes the damage that neoliberalism has caused

Australia is now locked into a new phase of the pandemic where NSW is in danger of allowing the virus to run free throughout the population due to the incompetence of the conservative state government. For the duration of the pandemic up until now, the NSW government has been lecturing the other states (mostly run by Labor governments) about how they had a superior health system (health is organised along state/territory lines in Australia) and how they valued freedom more than the dictatorial Labor states that go into lockdown very quickly if a case threatens. It turns out NSW has just been lucky to now and the latest outbreak has revealed their ‘freedom first’ approach is a false freedom. Sydney has been locked down for weeks now and cases are still rising and it seems the contact tracers have lost control. But the hubris from the NSW government has really exposed a much deeper malaise that has been evident for years now as a result of the way neoliberalism has reconfigured the public sector and the role of government. The pandemic is just exposes the erosion of government capacity to provide public services and infrastructure and deal with public emergencies. That is one of the important revelations to come out of the pandemic.

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Has global trade peaked?

I have recently updated my trade databases as I write a book chapter on the topic. I am also curious about the dramatic growth in freight charges over the last 12 months in international shipping. I have a friend who runs a business importing cement who is now paying 5 times the freight charges now than he was a year ago. Why that would be the case is an interesting question. I have previously written about the way that the neoliberal ideology became conflated with the trends towards globalisation in supply chains. Globalisation, was then weaponised with the ‘free market’ ideology, which undermined key aspects of the benefits of trade, particularly for poorer nations. The ‘free market’ mantra became code for increasing the rate of surplus extraction from these nations by financial interests in the richer nations – a sort of more sophisticated version of the way colonialism sucked wealth from the colonies to the benefit of the metropolitan economies. But in recent years (since about 2007), a fundamental shift in the relationship between trade volumes and income growth (a relationship that is often used as a proxy for the pace of globalisation) has occurred. Some think this indicates that peak trade has been reached. There are good reasons for thinking that to be the case.

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Inflation rises in Australia – but transitory factors and natural disasters are the reason

Today, my on-going inflation watch turns to Australia, given the release today (July 28, 2021) of the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the June-quarter 2021. The data is consistent with what we are seeing across many nations as supply chains are disrupted by the pandemic. Energy prices are adjusting back upwards and because the base from which we are judging these quarterly rises was lower as a result of price suppression during the downturn, the recovery in the pre-pandemic price levels deliver larger than usual price increases (when the base is higher). In Australia’s case, a major recent flood and a long drought before that have also complicated matters by driving up food prices. All these impacts are transitory. The CPI rose by 0.8 per cent in the June-quarter 2021 and over the 12-months to June 2021 it rose 3.8 per cent. But the key to understanding the trends in the data is to appreciate that the less volatile series were still rising at rates below the RBAs inflation targetting range – the Trimmed Mean rose just 0.5 per cent and the Weighted Median rose 0.5 per cent. So nothing to see here. The most reliable measure of inflationary expectations are flat and below the RBA’s target policy range.

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And the winner is Brisbane … well kind of … or maybe not

Just when we were meant to be waving our national flags, standing to attention at the medal ceremonies and enjoying the Olympic Games from our various states of lockdown or in my case (day 12) quarantine, Professor Scott Baum sends me his latest guest blog telling us how bad the Games are. What a spoilsport (sorry). So, today, Scott from Griffith University, who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time, brings the wet blanket to wreck our fun, and just as Victoria (where I am holed up in quarantine at present) comes out of lockdown. Over to Scott …

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The Weekend Quiz – July 24-25, 2021 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’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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British House of Lords having conniptions about QE – a sedative and a lie down is indicated

When I studied British politics (as one unit in a politics minor) at university, I was bemused by the role of the House of Lords. I know it is a curiously British institution that would be hardly tolerated anywhere else. But the fact that it serves as a part of the British democratic system continues to amaze me. Recently, the Economic Affairs Committee has been investigating (if that is what they get up to) Quantitative Easing because, apparently, some of the peers were worried about the “operational independence” of the Bank of England and the “economic effects” (read: inflation fears) among other concerns. They published their first report last week (July 16, 2021) – 1st Report – Quantitative easing: a dangerous addiction? – and it is littered with errors. The government has until September 16, 2021. The reply does not have to be long – they could just submit this blog post and get on doing things that matter, although the Tories are currently finding it hard to get their head around that essential task at the moment.

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Investors lose out following the advice of New Keynesian (mainstream) macroeconomics

I have been doing a lot of talks over the last few years discussing Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) with financial professionals. I stress that I am not acting as a consultant, to allow this community to make more money. I often joke I hope they all go broke. My motivation is education and one hopes that these communities will spread our ideas through their own influential networks. The aim is to put pressure on the public policy makers to restore full employment and reorient the public imagination away from the gloom that the neoliberal years has imposed on our policy aspirations. One of the things I confront these audiences with is the reality that an adherence to the precepts of mainstream macroeconomics and the predictions that flow from them have undermined their own objectives (which, shh, is to make money). I can easily point to many ways in which the mainstream of my profession have vicariously made predictions that could never be accurate, yet have been relied on by investors as if they were derived from valid knowledge. I have no sympathy for those who have made massive losses in this way, but when the consequences spread into the real economy and start costing jobs and work-related incomes, then the concerns rise. In the last few weeks, we have seen a classic example of this phenomenon and the message is – won’t they ever learn!

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The Weekend Quiz – June 19-20, 2021 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’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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