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Federal budget 2010-11 – a sad document

Tonight the Federal Treasurer delivered his third budget and it was a disappointing effort. The worst line in his speech was “Best of all, the unemployment rate is expected to fall further from 5.3 per cent today to 4¾ per cent by mid-2012, around the level consistent with full employment”. So their aspirations are that low. There was also nonsensical statements about the government not being able to afford to “invest in skills, infrastructure, renewable energy and hospitals” unless new tax measures were found. There is also some stupid fiscal rules introduced which will not stand scrutiny if Europe melts down and a new crisis emerges. The following is a 550-word Op Ed commentary I wrote for the local Fairfax press. The word limit and the audience constrain what I have to say and how I said it.

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Chill out time: better get used to budget deficits

The latest economic news from the UK and the US is hardly inspiring. Further, detailed examination of the sectoral balances in the OECD nations reveals a massive drop in private demand since 2007. The mirror image of that spending collapse has been the increase in public deficits via the automatic stabilisers (discretionary stimulus packages aside). These swings are just signs that economies are adjusting back to more normal relations (private saving, public deficits). The sharpness of the swings reflects the atypical period that preceded the crisis where growth was fuelled by private debt in the face of fiscal contraction. It will take some years for the adjustment to be completed and the danger is that ideological attacks on the fiscal deficits will derail the process. But when the sectoral balances return to more normal levels in relation to GDP then guess what? We will still have budget deficits and we all better get used to it.

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Bond markets require larger budget deficits

Today I have been reading all the documentation surrounding the proposals issued by the Bank of International Settlements to reform the regulatory system for international banking. These considerations then took me to an interesting paper from Deutsche Bank where they refute (albeit unintentionally) much of the media hysteria about exploding government bond yields and bond markets “closing governments down” because their deficits are “ballooning out of control”. In fact, the DB Report shows categorically that within the new regulatory framework that the BIS (and hence the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority will introduce), there is scope for larger budget deficits. In terms of the state of the Australian labour market and the very slow growth that the world economy will experience in the coming years, a further stimulus package is necessary. The DB Report implies that the bond markets would welcome it. Curious?

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Landlocked … but still swamped by budget hysteria

I am feeling a little uncomfortable at present – landlocked. I am working in Almaty, Kazakstan, which is part of Central Asia and one of only 44 countries that do not have a sea edge. But it would be worse if we were in Uzbekistan which is one of only two countries that is doubly-landlocked. That means it is a landlocked country surrounded by other landlocked countries so I would have to cross two national borders to get to the surf! I will report on what I am up to over here in more detail at a future date. But even though this is a remote region, the Australian national broadcaster the ABC has tracked me down. They rang early this morning and want to talk about the Australian Treasury’s claim that unemployment fears are easing and skills shortages are now the threat to our economy – what? 14 percent of our labour underutilised and we are now back to the skills shortage debate. Anyway, the ABC has been on my mind overnight …

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Signs of recovery prompt cries for surpluses

This week’s Economist Magazine (print edition) is running a story Making fiscal policy credible – Bind games, continues the mounting conservative push for governments to return fiscal conduct back to the days before the crisis. The conservatives (except the really loopy ones) are begrudgingly being forced to recognise that the fiscal stimulus packages have saved the World economy from a total disaster. But after taking a deep breath they get back on track with the “debt is bad” “surplus is good” mantra that got us into this mess in the first place.

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How do budget deficits finance saving?

I am often sent E-mails asking me to explain succinctly (what my other explanations are not!) how public deficits finance saving. What does it mean? How does it work in a macroeconomic system? What is the difference between automatic stabilisers and discretionary budget dynamics? What would have happened if the government had not have increased the growth in spending? All these sorts of questions. So this short blog – to make up for yesterday’s ridiculously long blog – will cover those issues. It should clear up any outstanding issues about why deficits are important to underwriting growth.

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The piper will call if surpluses are pursued …

News Limited is still (mis)leading the way on the deficit-debt attacks. In another appalling piece of misrepresentation and erroneous reasoning, The Australian ran a story from its economics chief, Michael Stutchbury today entitled Now comes time to pay the piper. This newspaper has really excelled in recent months in the lengths it has gone to mislead and lie to its readers on matters relating to the macroeconomy and the conduct of fiscal policy. There will be a piper to pay – that I agree – but it will be because the federal budget deficit is not large enough right now rather than because it is too high.

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The budget deficits will increase taxation!

I am now in New York on business for the next few days then off south to the capital Washington. In this blog I want to outline the horrible scenario that everyone has been predicting would happen – the increasing fiscal deficits will increase taxation. I know that has been on our minds. I have reached the ineluctable conclusion that future taxation will increase as a direct consequence of the current deficits. The tax revenue gained by the government will also reduce future deficits. Wouldn’t it be preferable that we didn’t push future taxation up and instead controlled net government spending? If you believed that you would have rocks in your head. In this blog I will be also be discussing debt, inflation, and other nasties.

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Fact and fiction … NSW Budget

I wrote this for the Fairfax press early this morning before a 10km run around the Vondelpark in the heart of Amsterdam – in cold pouring rain. They call it high summer. Anyway, the opinion piece was confined to 500 words. I could have said a lot more but you can extrapolate each line accordingly. I also did an ABC radio interview hiding under a tree in the park – the juxtaposition of talking to Sydney about the NSW Government’s failure to deliver adequate services and being among the wonderful urban amenities (for example, public transport and bike paths) and public spaces provided by the Dutch was not lost on me. Pity public spending can’t fix the lousy weather over here. Anyway, now I am off to work for the day over here. Part 3 of the fiscal sustainability series coming next – for Wednesday.

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Flat Earth theory returns – budget aftermath

Imagine the time when it was the mainstream view that the Earth was flat, representing an infinite plane. The view largely died at around 3 BC but there are still some characters out there who worry about falling off the South Pole. After all the Nile River runs for thousands of kilometres and drops barely a few feet over that distance which doesn’t fit well with convexity does it?

The current budget period seems to have revitalised the theory – albeit in a different form but just as ingenious. Flat Earth Theory (FET) … say it out aloud! … has morphed into DET. This new branch of FET is now dominating the media. Overnight Generation Y are Generation DET. Young children are now viewing their parents differently – wondering why their greedy, selfish and profligate elders are going to destroy their futures. Experts are coming and going on our national TV and radio warning that we are about to fall over the edge! Well I am staying grounded! Here is the reason why.

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The Budget (what else) and a parrot or two

Tonight is federal budget night – which presents the most comprehensive picture of where the Government is going with fiscal policy and the Treasury’s estimate of how the economy is travelling. So for a macroeconomist like me it is a biggest night in the annual calendar. But I am more interested in parrots and spotted owls at the moment. What? Yes, I guess it is escapism … to avoid the hysterical public debate that has surrounded this budget. The economic falsehoods, the outright lies, the duplicity and the all of that. But I cannot escape it because I have a newspaper opinion piece to write on the Budget by 20:00 tonight. So, given that, here is my take on the budget and then …. I can get back to the birds!

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Retail sales, budgets and other nonsense

Today’s ABS retail turnover data is very interesting considering the meltdown that is occuring elsewhere in the world. The summary result that retail turnover grew by 2.2 per cent in the month of March suggests that the Australian economy is still alive – at least in the consumer markets. This figure was a surprise to all those who were in denial of the usefulness of budget deficits – both the discretionary components (the “stimulus packages”) and the automatic stabiliser components.

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Federal budget 2009 – ignorance will drive bad policy

As the Federal budget week approaches the various commentators and interest groups are whipping themselves into a lather about what choices the Government might have or not have. A recurring theme is whether the Government should honour its election commitment in 2007 to cut income taxes from July 2009. The debate is being constructed along the lines of whether the nation can now “afford these cuts” given the “rising debt” and the “shocking state” of the budget deficit. This debate demonstrates perfectly how bad policy can be made when the Government fails to understand its options as a monopoly issuer of a non-convertible currency.

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National budgets are not constrained!

I received a call from a journalist at the Financial Review today asking how the Federal government could afford to run labour market programs given that it might suffer a substantial revenue loss if it cuts back net migration. I told him that irrespective of what happens to net migration and any losses to tax revenue that that might bring (should they cut it back), the Government will always be able to fund any labour market program if it thought that was the best use of its funds. It brings to mind a new theme in this period of turmoil – how can the government keep its programs going while at the same time bailing out all and sundry? Answer: easy, just keep funding them. The national government is not financially constrained and the size of its budget is nothing that can be determined independent of the shortfall of aggregate demand.

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The Weekend Quiz – August 13-14, 2022 – 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 – July 16-17, 2022 – 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 28-29, 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 – 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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The IMF is all at sea, stuck in its ways, and sending conflicting signals

Last week, I wrote about how the IMF is presenting a somewhat nuanced view these days. See – IMF now claiming continued inequality risks opening a “social and political seismic crack” (April 21, 2021). But, there was a warning for those who might think this suggests the institution is leaving its mainstream macroeconomics past behind them though. Rather, I think what is going on is a series of ad hoc responses to the growing anomalies that the institution faces between the observed reality and the sort of predictions it has been making based on its core paradigmatic approach. We are observing a specific form of dissonance in many of the current contributions coming out of mainstream economics. This takes two forms: (a) an incomplete response to the current situation (pandemic, GFC aftermath, climate change) where there are conflicting signals being sent; and (b) a tortured attempt to absorb pragmatic narratives within a theoretical structure that cannot consistently accept that absorption. The IMF’s latest blog post (April 20, 2021) – A Future with High Public Debt: Low-for-Long Is Not Low Forever – is a good example of both forms of this dissonance.

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Alas, the window seems to be closing

My MOOC is in full-swing (over 3000 participants) and I am quite busy getting Week 2 up and running and then Weeks 3 and 4. So, today, we have our regular guest blogger, Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time. Today he is examining the creeping tendency in the political debate and media to start to focus on questions like when will the debt be paid back. Journalists have been asking me to estimate the quarter when Australia can return to fiscal surplus, as if that is a target to aspire to. Anyway, over to Scott …

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