Last week, Eurostat released the latest – Retail Sales – data for the EU. It formalised what has been obvious for some time – private spending in the European economy is going backwards. But didn’t leading economists, including Nobel Prize winners, tell us a few years ago that if governments imposed austerity, the private sector would lose their worries about future tax hikes and start spending? Didn’t the current British Government say the same thing as a justification for the ficsal austerity that now looks like pushing the UK into a triple-dip recession (almost unheard of)? The answer is that these economists and politicians tried to convince us that there was such a thing as a fiscal contraction expansion. Fancy words like Ricardian Equivalence were dragged from the sordid annals of mainstream macroeconomics to give this notion some “authority” (because they knew hardly anyone understood what it was anyway). The wash up is they were wrong. And millions more are unemployed and moving towards or into poverty as a consequence. There is a wholesale failure of government at present in most advanced nations. A current proposal in Europe is to introduce a Youth Guarantee. However, for it to be effective it has to include a Job Guarantee component as its centrepiece. More supply-side activation is part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution.
I lived in the North-West of England for a time in Lancashire as I pursued my PhD at Manchester University. It was during the UK Miners’ Strike 194-85, which was in response to the Thatcher Government’s attack on the major unions in the UK to further its ideological war on workers’ rights and welfare provision. The union lost dramatically after a struggle of 12 months symbolising the rise of neo-liberalism. The same ideology that sought to undermine the rights of workers also led to policy changes that, ultimately, caused the financial crisis and on-going real recession. The reason I raised that experience is because I read a report from a Manchester research organisation over the weekend which highlighted a major problem in that region (poverty wages etc) but also, without stating it, provided an alternative policy approach to the current crisis which would quickly get economies moving again – creating jobs and enhancing the capacity of households to spend. A policy response that antithetical to what is being tried at present is to increase minimum wages and introduce employment guarantees for the most disadvantaged workers whose welfare has been disproportionately undermined by the crisis. That would not only help alleviate the major problem at present – deficient aggregate demand – but also redress some major equity issues that the crisis has accentuated.
If anybody knows David Cameron’s mobile phone number give him a call and tell him that as he scorches the British economy (more bad news about consumer sentiment yesterday) he should also introduce a Job Guarantee as a way of using the workers he declares irrelevant more productively. A Job Guarantee is the perfect accompaniment to a full-blown fiscal austerity program and will not compromise any ideological beliefs except those that say that some people should be unemployed. But how could I advocate this? Doesn’t the Job Guarantee require a demand expansion? Isn’t that the whole point of it? Answer: no! Recommendation: Austerity proponents should adopt a Job Guarantee. Am I mad? Answer: probably but read on …
Today is my last day in London and I am tied up all day with meetings and activities and then later I am travelling back to Australia. So I invoked the guest blogger facility and asked Victor Quirk to share his views on employment guarantees. Victor has just finished a doctoral dissertation and has produced one of the most compelling research efforts I have had the pleasure to supervise. He chose a very challenging topic overall – the political constraints on full employment – and compiled a very rich argument based on a substantial interrogation of an extensive array of primary documents which he sourced from various national archives in Australia, Britain and the US. Now that Victor has finished his work I hope he will share more of it as a guest blogger. So … over to Victor.
I was a speaker at the Sydney Greens Forum yesterday and today I am on a panel with Bob Brown at the Greens National Conference in Adelaide. Regular readers will know that in the past months we have been engaging with the Greens after I wrote – Neo-liberals invade the Greens. The initial reaction towards me was hostility but that soon gave way to a more reasoned engagement which I have found to be extremely beneficial. That is why I accepted invitations to speak at their functions. While there is a long way to go in fully articulating a modern monetary paradigm within the context of the generally sophisticated social and environment policy that The Greens have already developed I think the possibilities are now there. One issue that does emerge in my discussions is that of whether a person should have to work under a Job Guarantee approach to full employment. That is, should the Job Guarantee be compulsory?
In the current edition of the German weekly Magazine Der Spiegel (“The Mirror”) there is an article about a “new idea to keep unemployment down” entitled Germany Mulls ‘Parking’ Unwanted Labor in New State-Funded Firms. The thrust of the proposal is that Germany is now examining a proposal to set up government-funded “transfer companies” for workers who lose their jobs as a means of keeping unemployment in check. A reader wrote to me saying that it sounds a bit like the Job Guarantee that I have been advocating for years! Closer examination suggests that while the Germans are starting to come to terms with how bad their economic situation is, they are still a long way off understanding how to get out of it. In that respect, they share the ignorance with most governments. However, being a Euro zone member, the German government has voluntarily lumbered itself with even more constraints that will make it harder to insulate its people from the ravages of the recession.
In the New York times article (December 26, 2004), from Larry Rohter – Argentina’s Economic Rally Defies Forecasts – it is reported that the Argentinian economy has made a surprising comeback. Rohter writes “When the Argentine economy collapsed in December 2001, doomsday predictions abounded. Unless it adopted orthodox economic policies and quickly cut a deal with its foreign creditors, hyperinflation would surely follow, the peso would become worthless, investment and foreign reserves would vanish and any prospect of growth would be strangled. But three years after Argentina declared a record debt default of more than $100 billion, the largest in history, the apocalypse has not arrived. Instead, the economy has grown by 8 percent for two consecutive years, exports have zoomed, the currency is stable, investors are gradually returning and unemployment has eased from record highs – all without a debt settlement or the standard measures required by the International Monetary Fund for its approval.”
It is Wednesday and so my light blog writing day today. A few interesting things have come up today and yesterday which will promote further research. Also Week 4 of our edX MOOC – Modern Monetary Theory: Economics for the 21st Century got underway today so there is lots of new content and discussions to check out. The most important revelation in a week of shocking news from the Australian government that illustrates their incompetence was the fact that a job scheme that was meant to have created 10,000 jobs by now has only actually recorded – wait – and whisper this – 521 jobs. And the extent to which the Government is going to try to brush that up as good news and avoid obvious questions like why not just create work rather than try half-baked wage subsidy schemes that had no real chance of working is a thing to behold. Ducking and weaving but demonstrating gross incompetence. The pity is that the Labor Party opposition just keep kicking own goals and cannot be taken seriously.
When a nation or region is experiencing the worst crisis the IMF always comes to the party and makes it worse. The latest evidence from those who study the detail of IMF interventions across the globe have found that the IMF has imposed harsh conditionalities (healthcare spending cuts, cuts to jobless assistance, cuts to public service wages and employment) in 76 out of the 91 loans it has extended to nations in peril as a result of the pandemic. On the other hand, data show that the wealth of billionaires has scaled new heights between April 2020 to July 2020 – a 42.4 per cent increase in their total wealth. If all that doesn’t tell us that the neoliberal system has overextended it indecency and rebellion is required then what else would? The point is that when disaster strikes the poorest nations, the IMF guarantees to make it worse. It should be dissolved immediately through defunding from national states and a new progressive, multilateral institution created that helps people not punishes them.
In my monthly labour market updates for Australia, I always examine the teenage labour market. Not much media coverage is given to that cohort in this context. But as our societies age and require our younger workers to be more productive than their parents to maintain material living standards (even though we should be reappraising what is an environmentally feasible benchmark to maintain), how we deal with school-to-work transitions, vocational training, university education is a major issue. The fact that governments all around the world have been prepared to impose massive costs on the younger generation as they obsessively pursue fiscal surpluses is one of the scandals of the period and will have long-term consequences for society. Recent Australian research evidence, which is consistent with outcomes from similar international studies, provides strong evidence to support the case that governments should always ensure there are enough jobs for our young population and that fiscal austerity undermines that requirement. Running fiscal deficits doesn’t undermine our children’s futures. Starving them of job opportunities at crucial transition points in their lives definitely undermines their future. We should understand that and stop listening to economists who say otherwise.
I am back into my Wednesday pattern after experimenting or the last 10 weeks with the MMTed Q&A series. Soon there will more video content coming as skills are refined. So today I just report my notes as I analyse the latest Australian Tax Office payroll data – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 25 July 2020 – released yesterday (August 11, 2020) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Regular readers will know that I have routinely analysed this dataset ever since it first became available in March this year. It uniqueness is that it provides the most recent data upon which an assessment of where the labour market is heading. The monthly labour force data is about two weeks old by the time this data comes out. And the most recent release gives some insights into what the impact of the renewed and severe lockdowns in Victoria (the second largest State economy) has been. The data shows that the jobs recovery has stalled and emphasises the need for more federal fiscal support – but that support does not appear to be forthcoming.
The – Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights – for the UN was released this week (July 7, 2020). It was Philip Alston’s last report in that role. It is a shocking indictment of the way neoliberalism has distorted our societies and the way the governments with the capacity to ‘move mountains should they wish’ have been co-opted as agents of capital and perpetuate those distortions. The Report is 19 pages of horror. It also resonates with the latest information coming out of Australia’s Closing the Gap campaign, which aims to bring indigenous Australians up to the material level of non-indigenous Australians. The first ten years of the campaign have been an abject failure. And the latest targets don’t inspire any confidence that the outcomes will be any different. A lot of talk. A lot of consultants. But little effective action – for example, like just creating some jobs to reduce unemployment, allow for income security and poverty alleviation. How hard is it for the government to create some jobs?
One bit of good news yesterday was that the Supercars event that has been imposed on the City of Newcastle over the last 3 years will not go ahead this year. This is an event that has massive state subsidies, creates health hazards for local residents, lies about crowd numbers to justify further state subsidies and severely divides the local community. They claim they love Newcastle, but with only a few events possible this year, they are clearly going where the highest subsidies are likely. So that is a relief for the inner city community. But there is not much else that one can be happy about right now. Today (May 19, 2020), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released their latest weekly employment data taken from Australian Tax Office data, which they release and analyse on a two-week cycle. The latest edition came out today – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 2 May 2020 – which covers the new data from April 18, 2020 to May 2, 2020. The data is suggesting that the worst of the job losses are now over, which doesn’t mean where we are at at present is nothing short of shocking. As the lockdown eases, we can now expect more jobs to come back. The question is how many businesses will go to the wall before we get a more usual scale of operation and interaction. My prediction is that many will disappear and so the recovery in employment will be protracted given how many jobs have been lost to date. A much larger fiscal intervention is required and it has to be directed at workers rather than firms and support direct job creation.
Last Thursday (April 30, 2020), the US Department of Labor’s – Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report – showed a further 3,839,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the US, taking the cumulative total since March 14, 2020 to 30,589,000. In a labour force of 164 million odd, that implies the unemployment rate is already around 22 per cent. The highest rate endured during the Great Depression was 24.9 per cent in 1933, which prompted the US President to introduce the major job creation program to stop a social disaster – the New Deal. History tells us that the major job creation programs (starting with FERA then morphing into the WPA) were opposed by the conservative (mostly) Republicans in the Congress. As is now! It wasn’t just the unemployment that mattered. Hours of work were also cut for those who maintained their jobs and some estimates suggest over 50 per cent of America’s labour force were underutilised in one way or another (read David Kennedy’s 2001 book for a vivid account of this period). The problem now is that the US has a Presidency that is unlikely to take the bold steps that Roosevelt took in the 1930s, even though the latter was a fiscal conservative and the former does not appear to be so inclined. However, some nations are leading the way – and they put the more advanced nations to shame in this regard.
It is Wednesday so music and some snippets. I have updated the US unemployment claims data with a new map and state table. Shocking. We are working on updated estimates of what the Australian government would need to invest to run a Job Guarantee. We haven’t done that for a while because I didn’t want the press to get obsessed with dollar amounts. But as I am currently talking a lot about the Job Guarantee in the media, I thought some numbers would be useful as a comparative exercise against the JobKeeper wage subsidy, which is the central stimulus plank of the Australian government. The current estimates suggest that to create around 685 thousand jobs might require an outlay of $34 billion over the course of a year. That got me thinking. The main response of the Australian government is the $A133 billion over 6 months JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. The Treasury claims it will be the difference between an unemployment rate of 10 per cent and 15 per cent. That difference is 685 thousand jobs. Then start doing some division and multiplication and you start to see that this doesn’t make sense as I explain below.
Last week’s (July 5, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2019 – reveals a steady labour market with month-to-month volatility. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The unemployment rate remains low (at 3.67 per cent) and the participation rate has moved up a tick, which is a good sign. It is also clear that there is still a substantial jobs deficit remaining and considerable scope for increased participation.
When the governments in the advanced nations abandoned full employment as an overarching macroeconomic objective, and instead, starting pursuing what I have called full employability, they stopped seeing unemployment as a policy target (to be minimised) and began using it as a policy tool to suppress inflation. As mass unemployment rose, the politics were massaged by the mainstream of my profession who claimed that the level of unemployment that constituted full employment had risen (this was the NAIRU era) and so there was really no problem. Governments adopted the neoliberal line that they ‘didn’t create jobs’ and had to target fiscal surpluses to ensure their position was ‘sustainable’. The costs in lost income and human suffering have been enormous – most people would not have any idea of the massive scale of these losses that accumulate day after day. Now, it seems, the ‘sound finance’ school is going a step further. We are probably facing an environmental emergency in the coming period (years, decades) but the question commentators keep asking is not what we can do about it but ‘how can we pay for it’? So ‘sound finance’ has already destroyed the lives of millions of people around the world as a result of mass unemployment and poverty, now it is turning its focus on the rest of us. Madness. Paradigm change has to come sooner rather than later.
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.
The latest labour force data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force data – for September 2017 shows that total employment growth was positive but weaker than last month with most of the action coming via part-time employment. However, total hours worked continued to rise, which suggests that employers are offering extra hours to existing jobs. Unemployment declined with a constant labour force participation rate, which says that employment growth was slightly stronger than the underlying population growth – a good sign. Labour underutilisation overall (underemployment and unemployment) was at 13.6 per cent summing to 1,814 thousand persons, which tells you that there is still considerable slack in the labour market. The teenage labour market showed modest improvement but remains in a poor state. Overall, my assessment from last month remains – it still to early to conclude that the uncertainty of the last few years is giving way to sustained growth.
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.