Martin Höpner, who works at the Max-Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, recently sent me a copy of his latest paper – The German Undervaluation Regime under Bretton Woods: How Germany Became the Nightmare of the World Economy (published January 2019). He presented this research at a Makroskop workshop in Wurzburg on October 13, 2018 – I was on the same panel as him at that workshop and enjoyed some very productive conversation about these issues. It is a very interesting historical analysis of the way that the German elites (central bank, industry groups, banks, politicians, and trade unions) have collaborated since the 1950s to suppress domestic consumption and maintain the nation’s export competitiveness, even though this has undermined material prosperity for workers. The relevance of the analysis to current debates about the Eurozone and its capacity for reform are that the undervaluation regime is entrenched in Germany’s institutions, its history, its culture, and its power elites and have been that way for many decades. What the Europhile progressives, who still think reform is possible, have to show is that this entrenched position can somehow be abandoned. They have never provided any convincing argument to substantiate that hope/belief. That is why I continue to call them out as dreamers – good intentions but naive to history.
I have just finished reading a recently published book – The European Illusion – written by academics associated with Attac Austria and it demonstrates the dilemma that European progressives have created for themselves. The 348-page book is freely available in – PDF – for download. The dilemma slowly reveals itself as the various chapters unfold. The format of the book is odd – conventional prose, interviews between the contributors, and opinion pieces. As we transit through the book we learn that the European Union is neoliberal central. Okay, that is a helpful start to a progressive vision. Then we read that, as such, it is impossible to reform. We learn that movements such as DiEM 25 are dreamers. Getting better! But then we read that Lexit strategies are unhelpful and a sort of Project Fear rationale is proffered – risky, uncertain and the rest. So, on the one hand, the EU is a disaster that has deliberately set out to destroy the working class and that that cannot be reformed. But, on the other hand – TINA – it is counterproductive to dismantle it. Solution – a grassroots campaign of rebellion – “strategic disobedience”. It beggars belief actually. Apparently, we can democratise neoliberal central by disobeying the EU rules, even though the EU cannot be reformed. Yes, and pigs might fly!
In yesterday’s short blog post – Some Brexit dynamics while across the Channel Europe is in denial (January 2, 2019), I noted that various European Commission officials were boasting about how great the monetary union had been over the last 20 years. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had the audacity (and delusion) to claim it had “delivered prosperity and protection to our citizens. it has become a symbol of unity, sovereignty and stability”. I think he was either drunk or in a parallel universe or both. I provided two graph (GDP growth and employment) to show how poorly performed the monetary union has been since its inception. Today, I want to bring to your attention a Bank of International Settlements (BIS) research report which categorically finds that the European banks during the pre-crisis period not only fuelled the massive boom in sub-prime loans and doomed-to-fail assets that were floating around at the time, but also “enabled the housing booms in Ireland and Spain”. Rather than the US banking system being primarily responsible for the pre-crash buildup of private debt, the European banks were also helping the “leveraging-up of US households”. The “European banks produced, not just invested in, US mortgage-backed securities”. This role is not well understood or recognised. And it was because the Single Market mentality of the neoliberal European Union which abandoned proper prudential oversight and regulation allowed it to happen. So much for “prosperity”, “protection” and “stability”.
I don’t have much time today as I am travelling from Lisbon back to London for a series of meetings. My next public speaking engagement is on Saturday in Germany (see below). But I read an interesting report yesterday, which confirms the belief that Germany is a long way from ever permitting any wholesale reform of the Eurozone, along the lines necessary to make it functional. The research paper – Attitudes towards Euro Area Reforms: Evidence from a Randomized Survey Experiment – was published by the European Network for Economic and Fiscal Policy Research (econPOL) in June 2018. Even a weak sort of ‘federal’ move – to implement a European-wide unemployment benefit scheme – is rejected by a strong majority of German citizens. The same respondents firmly believe a Member State that finds itself in financial trouble should not be bailed out by the other Member States but should be allowed to go broke (exit the Eurozone). These sort of results are consistent across time. They were present when the Eurozone was initially designed, which is why the foundations were rotten from the start. And they condition all the talk since of reform once it is generally agreed that the system is dysfunctional. Which is why we see deeply flawed changes such as the bank union and the like. It is the differences in cultures and economic structures that preclude genuine reform. And so it will always be. The Europhile Left, who hang on to the eternal hope of eventual reform, should drop the Europhile bit and start acting like the Left.
You know, an Italian won the British Open golf championship yesterday (the first Italian to ever win a golf major) because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations. The causality is impeccable. I am sure about that, although it might take me a while to work it out. But if a British golfer cannot win their Open Championship (Rose tied for second, two shots back) then it must be because of Brexit. Everything else that goes wrong is, so why not the golf? It is the same when three former US policy makers, central bankers, Wall Street-types, claim that the US no longer “have to tools to counter the next financial crisis”. They know full well that that statement is a blatant lie. But they say it. To remain relevant as their stars dim? To do service to their conservative mates? All of the above and more. But the media grab the headline and the American public and the public in general is dealt another piece of neoliberal misinformation that helps entrench the hold on power by the elites. But things are changing, and these entrenched elites and the vested interests they serve don’t like it a bit.
Australia is currently being shocked on a daily basis with the revelations in our Royal Commission on Banking, which show that our financial services sector (banks, insurance companies, financial planning, etc) is deeply corrupt, with criminal behaviour clearly rife. Hopefully, many of the top executives and board members of these firms will be prosecuted and do time. Another ‘bank’ that has totally lost any sense of moral compass, not to mention effectiveness, is the World Bank. Its behaviour over the years has been scandalous. Earlier this year we learned that its so-called ‘Doing Business’ strategy deliberately manipulated its reporting to undermine a democratically elected government (Chile). And, last week (April 26, 2018), the World Bank released the Working Draft of its upcoming – World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work – where it attempted to pressure governments into widespread labour market deregulation, which if carried through would further disadvantage workers and further redistribute national income towards profits. The World Bank has outlived its purpose. It is now a seriously dangerous international institution and progressive governments should set about defunding it.
For readers who follow my Twitter account, you will be aware that occasionally I have have brief interchanges with various Europhiles who have an abiding faith in the capacity of the Eurozone to reform itself along progressive lines to make it resilient against economic cycles and capable of advancing the prosperity of all the citizens who share the currency. They were particularly incensed when my latest book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World with Thomas Fazi was published in September last year. Our argument has always been that Germany is Germany and as such there is little hope that the basic flaws in the EMU will be resolved any time soon. Well in the last week, the Europhile bubble has been well and truly pricked by the decision of new German finance minister Scholz to retain the hard-line order-liberal Ludget Schuknecht as the chief economist in the Finance Ministry. Signal: nothing is going to change in the EMU that matters.
I have now escaped the near-Arctic chill and back to warmer climes for a little while. While I was in Finland though, the Finnish news media was agape over the – Joint Statement – released by 8 Finance Ministers from the smaller Northern EU Member States (March 6, 2018). The statement released by the finance ministers of Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden aired their views on how the Eurozone (EMU) might develop. Nobody should be under any delusion that significant reforms are going to come soon. These characters are locked into the austerity mindset and any claims that a new Macron-Merkel partnership will take the EMU into more progressive territory should be viewed as blind hope rather than bedded down in any realistic understanding of what is likely or possible.
This is the final part of my four-part discussion of a so-called progressive proposal advanced by German academic Fritz Sharpf to reform the Eurozone into two tiers: a ‘Northern’ hard currency tier and a ‘Southern’ non-euro tier with the latter nations tying their currencies to the euro. We have seen that rather than providing a framework for convergence between the current Eurozone Member States, Sharpfs’ proposal would not liberate the weaker nations from the yoke of the euro, In fact, the proposal would just tie the exiting nations to the euro in a slightly different way – one that will not provide sufficient flexibility to make much difference. Further, Sharpf recommends that the ‘Northern’ nations should retain the euro and operate within the current European Commission orthodoxy. Yet he admits that this regime kills the democratic process. In other words, his proposal sustains that technocratic illegitimacy which would not appear to be the basis for a progressive solution. Finally, while he dichotomises the current 19 Eurozone Member States into a Northern and Southern grouping, there is no reliable way to allocate the Member States across the groups that would remain in the euro and those who would exit. What criteria would reasonably allocate nations to stay in the so-called Northern hard currency zone with the euro? For example, I do not think that a democratic France can ever function reasonably in a hard currency arrangement with Germany. The hard currency zone would effectively just revert to a ‘mark zone’ tantamount to the last EMS arrangement prior to the euro. That configuration was totally unworkable and that dysfunction would repeat itself. In other words, the proposal makes little operational sense. My view is that the vast majority of the Member States would be in the ‘Southern’ group, which would effectively end the EMU in any functional sense. Hardly a proposal for reform.
This is the third part of my mini-series which have been evaluating one so-called progressive reform approach to the Eurozone disaster. Part 2 provided essential background, given that one of the proposals being circulated by progressives involves the weaker Eurozone nations re-establishing their own currencies and then pegging them against the Euro. I showed that attempts to maintain any form of fixed parities among the core European states has been chaotic and led to breakdown. Along the way, the weaker trading nations were subject to austerity biases and elevated levels of unemployment. Given the scope of the topic, it will take me two more parts to finalise the discussion. In this part and the final part 4 I will discuss the second proposal from German academic Fritz Sharpf, which appears to have gained some traction with the Europhile Left, much to my disappointment. Here we commence the analysis of Sharpf’s “Two-tiered European Community” proposal.
This blog continues the discussion from yesterday’s blog – The EMU reform ruse – Part 1 – where I consider the reform proposals put forward by German academic Fritz Sharpf, which have been held out by Europhile Leftists as the progressive way out of the disaster that the Eurozone has become. Yesterday, I considered his first proposal – to continue with the enforced structural convergence to the Northern model – the current orthodoxy in Brussels. Like Sharpf I agree that the agenda outlined in the 2015 The Five President’s Report: Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union would just continue the disaster and would intensify the political and social instability that will eventually force a breakup of the monetary union. Sharpf’s second proposal is that the EMU dichotomise into a Northern hard currency bloc while the Southern states (and others less inclined to follow the German export-led, domestic-demand suppression growth model) reestablish their own currencies and peg them to the euro with ECB support. While it is an interesting proposal and certainly more adventurous than the plethora of proposals that just tinker at the edges (for example, European unemployment insurance schemes, Blue Bond proposals and the like), it remains deeply flawed. While it is assumed that the Northern bloc would comprise core European nations such as Germany and France, it is not clear that either would prosper under the new arrangement. France and Germany were never been able to maintain stable currencies prior to the EMU. Further, the ‘exit’ proposal ties the poorer nations into a vexed fixed exchange rate arrangement, which would always compromise their domestic policy freedom, just as it did under the earlier versions of the Snake or the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Far better to just break the whole show up and let the nations go free with floating exchange rates.
On October 31, 2017, my blog – Europhile Left deluded if it thinks reform process will produce functional outcomes – countered some of the nonsense coming out of Europe (from the so-called progressive side) that the Eurozone hadn’t failed when judged by it bias towards mass unemployment and increasing precariousness of its citizens. I particularly noted the terrible record in terms of youth unemployment and NEETs. Yesterday’s blog – Massive Eurozone infrastructure deficit requires urgent redress – documented how much damage the austerity bias of the Eurozone has caused to essential productive infrastructure – human and physical and the ridiculous underinvestment by governments locked into mindless Stability and Growth Pact (and its recent derivatives) rules. Unphased, the Europhiles keep telling me that reform processes are underway and that we need to be patient. That the glorious vision outlined in the October 1990 European Commission Report – One Market, One Money Report, which, apparently outlined a vision of domestic-demand driven convergence bliss for the Economic and Monetary Union. I analysed that Report in detail in my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – and have to say that anyone who holds it out as a plan for the future must have been reading a different report or affected by heavy drugs. Today, I am considering recent reform proposals put forward by German academic Fritz Sharpf, who considers the neoliberal Eurozone experiment has failed but can be resurrected without abandoning the essential mechanics of the monetary union. Tomorrow, I will start to consider a so-called progressive proposal that breaks the EMU into two tiers – a Northern hard currency zone and a ‘Southern’ zone where nations reintroduce their own currencies, but peg them against the euro with ECB support. It will not surprise regular readers to know that I disagree with Sharpf’s reform agenda.
A recent twitter exchange with some Europhiles who believe that it is better to wait for some, as yet unspecified, incremental reform process for the Eurozone rather than precipitate exit and the restoration of currency sovereignty was summed up for me by one of the tweets from Andrew Watt. In trying to defend the abandonment of sovereignty and make a case for continuing with the so-called reform dialogue, he wrote (October 27, 2017): “Unemployment in “periphery” was v hi before €. Fell rapidly. Then rose sharply, has now fallen somewhat. So picture very mixed.” I found that a deeply offensive claim to make and responded: “It is not a mixed picture at all. Youth unemployment has never been as high. Greek unemployment was never > 12%. Now > 20% indefinitely.” I also attached a graph (see over). I think this little exchange captures the essence of the delusion among many in the Left that we document in our new book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). The Europhiles maintain a blind faith in what they claim to be a reform process, which when carried through will reduce some of the acknowledged shortcomings (I would say disastrously terminal design flaws). They don’t put any time dimension on this ‘process’ but claim it is an on-going dialogue and we should sit tight and wait for it to deliver. Apparently waiting for ‘pigs to fly’ is a better strategy than dealing with the basic problems that this failed system has created. I think otherwise. The human disaster that the Eurozone has created impacts daily on peoples’ lives. It is entrenching long-term costs where a whole generation of Europeans has been denied the chance to work. That will reverberate for the rest of their lives and create dysfunctional outcomes no matter what ‘reforms’ are introduced. The damage is already done and remedies are desperately needed now. The so-called ‘reforms’ to date have been pathetic (think: banking union) and do not redress the flawed design. And to put a finer point on it: Germany will never allow sufficient changes to be made to render the EMU a functioning and effective federation. The Europhile Left is deluded if it thinks otherwise.
As the title of my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – indicates, I am interested in both economics and patterned behaviour within groups and the way groups erect edifices (such as, denial) to defend positions. I am also interested in the way groups use language. In an upcoming edition of the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, I have an article written with Dr Louisa Connors entitled – Framing Modern Monetary Theory, which discusses this topic. Framing and language is a tool that reinforces Groupthink and allows group (organisations) to engage in denial even though the facts convey a different message. A 2015 analysis of World Bank Annual Reports from 1946 to 2012 is illustrative of the way in which framing, grammar and word usage can be used to clothe reality. The analysis published by the Stanford Literary Lab – Bankspeak: The Language of World Bank Reports, 1946–2012 – documents the shift in language by the World Bank between the first two decades of Annual Reports to the second two decades. They show how the Bank shifts from a language that is readily understood and considers a concrete world and offers very little prescriptive input to a narrative that becomes so opaque and filled with financial buzz words that comprehension is lost. They document the emergence of what they refer to as “Bankspeak”. Groupthink requires a certain language to reinforce the increasingly unsustainable reality that the group lives within. That is the role of the World Bankspeak! The Literary Lab analysis is worth reading because it provides a coherent analysis of the way words and sentence structures (grammar) are manipulated to shift focus, allay concern and basically, undermine accountability mechanisms that were established to ensure an institutional mission was being faithfully pursued.
On April 26, 2017, some smarta*!se journalists wrote a Bloomberg piece – The Brexit Banker Exodus Gains Momentum – with some not-so fancy graphics purporting to show where the “U.K. banking jobs might be headed” allegedly because Britain is to leave the European Union. On May 9, 2017, the increasingly terrible UK Guardian bought in on the frenzy with its article – City banks could move at least 9,000 jobs from UK due to Brexit . And so it goes. Apparently, Deutsche Bank is “leading the threatened exodus”, followed by JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. All exemplars of virtue, not! While the threat of the ‘City’ leaving London is now used to frighten British people about Brexit, the reality is, in my view, quite different. I would be celebrating the cleaning out this infestation of unproductive enterprises, which remain one of the destructive legacies of Margaret Thatcher and, later, New Labour and its so called ‘light touch regulation’.
On one side of the Atlantic, it seems that central bankers understand the way the monetary system operates, while on the other side, central bankers are either not cognisant of how the system really works or choose to publish fake knowledge as a means to leverage political and/or ideological advantage. Yesterday, the Deutsche Bundesbank released their Monthly Report April 2017, which carried an article – Die Rolle von Banken, Nichtbanken und Zentralbank im Geldschöpfungsprozess (The Role of Banks, Non-banks and the central bank in the money-creation process). The article is only in German and provides an excellent overview of the way the system operates. We can compare that to coverage of the same topic by American central bankers, which choose to perpetuate the myths that students are taught in mainstream macroeconomic and monetary textbooks. Today’s blog will also help people who are struggling with the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) claim that a sovereign government is never revenue constrained because it is the monopoly issuer of the currency and the fact that private bank’s create money through loans. There is no contradiction. Remember that MMT prefers to concentrate on net financial assets in the currency of issue rather than ‘money’ because that focus allows the intrinsic nature of the currency monopoly to be understood.
This is the fourth and final part of the discussion relating to reforming the international institutional framework. In brief, the argument is that there are several essential functions that a multilateral institutional framework has to serve that need to be incorporated within any new structure. It is clear that an agency to channel development aid remains essential. Further, it is important to create an agency that will provide liquidity to nations who are unable to access essential imported resources (such as food) without invoking exchange rate crises. While these functions seem to align with the current World Bank and the IMF, a progressive approach to service delivery in these areas would not resemble the operational procedures currently in place.
As I noted in the first two parts of this little mini-series (can a mini-series be anything other than little), multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF have outlived their usefulness, given changes in economic conditions and a need to abandon the neo-liberal Groupthink that has infested both structures. In the final two parts (today and tomorrow) I will discuss the necessary issues that have to be addressed in reforming these institutions (or replacing them) and what a new international architecture that serves a truly progressive interest rather than the interests of financial capital in the US might look like.
This blog is the second part (now of three) where I discuss how the international institutional framework has to be reformed to serve a progressive agenda where rich countries (and the elites within them) do not plunder then pillory poor countries. In this blog I detail why we should dissolve the World Bank, the OECD, and the BIS, all of which have become so sullied by neo-liberal Groupthink that they are not only dysfunctional in terms of their original charter but downright dangerous to the prosperity and freedoms of people. The third part will consider what a new international institution might look like and the role it can play in aiding poor nations, particularly those who are reliant on imported food and energy. We will also discuss reforming the foreign aid system.
This blog continues the unedited excerpts that will appear in my new book (with Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which is nearing completion. This material will be in Part 3 where we present what we are calling a ‘Progressive Manifesto’, which we hope to provide a coherent Left philosophy to guide policy design and policy choices for governments that are struggling to see a way beyond the neo-liberal macroeconomics. In this blog I examine how the international institutional framework has to be reformed to serve a progressive agenda where rich countries (and the elites within them) do not plunder then pillary poor countries. Central to this new framework is the abolition of the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD, all of which have become so sullied by neo-liberal Groupthink that they are not only dysfunctional in terms of their original charter but downright dangerous to the prosperity and freedoms of people. Former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz told journalist Greg Palast in an interview in 2001 that the IMF “has condemned people to death” (Source). I will propose a new international institution designed to protect vulnerable nations from damaging exchange rate fluctuations and to provide investment funds for education, health and public infrastructure. We will explore how new institutions protect themselves from developing the sort of dysfunctional Groupthink that has crippled the existing institutions. We will disabuse ourselves of notions that are popular among some progressive voices that a fixed exchange rate, international currency system is required. This will be a two part blog and will also have context for other blogs where I discuss reforms to the global financial system.