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Twin deficits – another mainstream myth

The headline news for today was that the actor Kevin McCarthy died at the age of 96. He was the star of the legendary 1956 science fiction movie the Invasion of the Body Snatchers which was about a doctor who tried to tell the world that it was being invaded by the emotionless alien Pod People. The movie was in the “so bad that it was good” category. Given the ending was open, perhaps we can persuade some of the Pods to return and subsume a few neo-liberals and also some progressives who have neo-liberal tendencies. There has been a lot of noise lately about why Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is essentially misguided because it ignores the dangers of the external sector. The claim goes that while there is no financial constraint on government spending, expansionary policy leads to an expanding current account deficit and rising foreign debt levels which are unsustainable over any period longer than a few years. Okay, we have heard this all before. Here are some thoughts.

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Where are the gold bugs, Austrians and deficit terrorists?

On July 20, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) published the Minutes of its last board meeting (July 6, 2010). This caused headlines for the day – the journalists must have been bored that day – because it raised the possibility that the RBA would increase interest rates in August – right in the middle of an election campaign (the federal election is late August). The bank economists as usual predicted rising rates and significant spikes in the inflation rate. Well today the the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the June quarter and it showed that inflation is moderate and falling. The market economists were “surprised”. I wonder if their organisations have any money dependent on the judgement of their economists? I wouldn’t bet a cent on the basis of their opinions. They continually make false predictions on the outcomes of all the major data releases – always claiming that the economy is overheating and that fiscal support has to be withdrawn. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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Debt and deficits again!

The euphoria over a 0.4 quarterly growth figure which translate into annualised GDP growth being at least 2.5 per cent less than would be required to keep the unemployment rate from rising should be attenuated by the fact that National Accounts data is very slow to come out. The picture it paints which conditions our current expectations and debates is old – at least 3 months old by definition. And it is sobering when amidst all the self-congratulation and applause for our strong export performance that newer data has come out today which suggests that GDP growth is probably now negative although we won’t find that out for three more months. Meanwhile the debt and deficits argument continues in the public debate. Here is an update.

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MMT is just plain good economics – Part 2

I am surprised at the hostility that Part 1 in this series created. I have received a lot of E-mails about it, many of which contained just a few words, the most recurring being Turkey! One character obviously needed to improve his/her spelling given that they thought it was appropriate to write along the lines that I should just ‘F*ck off to Terkey’. Apparently Turkey has become the new poster child to ‘prove’ Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) wrong. Good try! I also note the Twitterverse has been alight with attention seekers berating me for daring to comment on the sort of advice British Labour is receiving. Well here is Part 2. And because you all liked it so much, the series has been extended into a three-part series because there is a lot of detail to work through. Today, I revisit the fiscal rule issue, which is a necessary step in refuting the claim that MMT policy prescriptions (whatever they might be) will drive the British pound into worthless oblivion. And, you know what? If you don’t like what I write and make available publicly without charge, then you have an easy option – don’t read it. How easy is that? Today, I confirm that despite attempts by some to reconstruct Labour’s Fiscal Rule as being the exemplar of progressive policy making, its roots are core neoclassical economics (which in popular parlance makes it neoliberal) and it creates a dependence on an ever increasing accumulation of private debt to sustain growth. Far from solving a non-existent ‘deficit-bias’ it creates a private debt bias. Not something a Labour government or any progressive government should aspire to.

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Progressive cause in Australia seriously undermined by … progressives

I am travelling most of today with heavy commitments at the other end so only a short blog today with some great music to calm the soul. Yesterday, a group of high-profile, so-called progressives in Australia placed a paid-for advertisement in the leading daily newspapers as part of a new campaign for the government to increase taxes to get back into surplus so that (as their narrative goes) it can afford to maintain services for the needy. Yes, it was not the Right voices in our debate articulating this. The campaign is being led by a group that is often referred to as ‘left-leaning’ and calls itself the “most influential progressive think tank” in Australia. Modesty doesn’t exist it seems. But these sorts of descriptors are when the English language loses all meaning. The advertisement and subsequent follow-up interviews in the media yesterday by signatories and supporters of the “Letter” articulate a pure neoliberal line of deception about fiscal positions, the role of taxes and the virtuousness of fiscal surpluses. From my assessment, this headline-grabbing display of stupidity will set back the progressive debate in Australia even further. A total disgrace.

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The New Keynesian fiscal rules that mislead British Labour – Part 3

This is Part 3 (and final) in the series which examines the robustness of claims made by two British academics about the desirability of the British government (particularly Labour) adopting further fiscal constraints on their flexibility to advance well-being in that nation. Part 3 further develops the critique and focuses on the validity of tightening voluntary constraints on government and outsourcing key parts of the fiscal policy development process to so-called ‘independent’ fiscal councils or boards. We conclude that these suggestions would further entrench the neoliberal dominance of government policy and reduce its capacity to serve the wider interest. In effect, taking this sort of advice would be counterproductive for British Labour, which really needs to to further break out of its recent Blairite neoliberal past and present a truly progressive manifesto to the British people that will force the Tories to move closer to the centre and squeeze the extreme right-wing elements. This will require more than articulating progressive-sounding social and environmental policies. It will require more than proposals to renationalise the railways. Effectively, British Labour has to reframe the macroeconomic debate and eschew the sort of reasoning that the mainstream of my profession offers. It must, in my view, embrace Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles to free itself from the shackles of all the neoliberal mumbo jumbo that the New Keynesians continually offer as economic verities. The reality is the the New Keynesian approach has one output – an elaborate litany of lies.

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The New Keynesian fiscal rules that mislead British Labour – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my Three Part exposition of how the standard New Keynesian approach to the specification of fiscal rules will generate poor advice for politicians desiring to achieve progressive socio-economic goals. The paper I am using to represent the New Keynesian approach has, by all indications, been somewhat influential in the formation of the macroeconomic approach currently being espoused by the British Labour Party. In that sense, the critique aims to disabuse the Labour politicians and their apparatchiks of building policy options based on fake economic knowledge, and, instead, embrace the principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which provides an accurate depiction of how the monetary system actually operates and the policy options for a currency-issuing government such as in Britain, and the likely consequences of deploying these options. The one major lesson that comes out is that the New Keynesian approach is an elaborate fraud. It plays around with so-called ‘optimising’ models asserting human behaviour that no other social scientist believes remotely captures the essence of human decision-making, and then derives conclusions from these models that are claimed to apply to the world we live in. Prior to the GFC, these ‘models’ didn’t even consider the financial sector. The fact is that nothing of value in terms of specifying what a government should do can be gleaned from a New Keynesian approach. It is barren.

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An MMT response to Jared Bernstein – Part 3

This is the third and final part of my response to an article posted by American political analyst Jared Berstein (January 7, 2018) – Questions for the MMTers. In this blog I deal with the last question that he poses to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists, which relates to whether currency issuing governments have to raise revenue in order to “pay for public goods” and whether prudent policy requires the cyclically-adjusted fiscal balance to be zero at full employment to ensure “social insurance programs” are protected. The answer to both queries is a firm No! But there are nuances that need to be explained in some detail. While Jared Bernstein represents a typical ‘progressive’ view of macroeconomics and is sympathetic to some of the core propositions of MMT, this three-part series has shown that the gap between that (neoliberal oriented) view and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is wide. I hope this three-part series might help the (neoliberal) progressives to abandon some of these erroneous macroeconomic notions and move towards the MMT position, which will give them much more latitude to actually implement their progressive policy agenda. For space reasons, I have decided to make this a three-part response. I also hope the three-part series have helped those who already embrace the core body of MMT to deepen their knowledge and render them more powerful advocates in the struggle against the destructive dominant macroeconomics of neoliberalism.

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Hyman Minsky was not a guiding light for MMT

I am currently working on a book commissioned by Edward Elgar which will form an anthology of influential Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) literature – how it evolved – with a long introduction by me tying all this literature together. It has been a simmering project for the last 18 months and I haven’t mentioned it here until now. The first task was to assemble the literature and then the next task was that the publisher (EE) has to get copyright clearance from the original holders. The second process has taken some time and I have had to alter the proposed table of contents because we cannot get copyright clearance. The reason I mention this is that the work of Hyman Minsky is not among the literature I have selected as being influential in the intellectual development of MMT. That is not to say that some of his earlier work was of no interest. Quite the contrary. But when he makes statements that appear to be consistent with MMT propositions, he is, in my view, just channelling the likes of Abba Lerner and his functional finance. But later in his career, Minsky started to articulate ideas that were consistent with ‘sound finance’, which Lerner had opposed, and, which is anathema to MMT.

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Modern Monetary Theory – what is new about it? – Part 3 (long)

I noted in Monday’s blog – Modern Monetary Theory – what is new about it? – that I am working on a paper (with my colleague Martin Watts) that will form the basis of a a keynote talk I will give at the – International Post Keynesian Conference – which will be held at the University of Missouri – Kansas City between September 15-18, 2016. That talk will now be held at 15:30 on Saturday, September. 17, 2016. I also listed four areas where we would discuss the novel contribution that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has made to macroeconomics, despite the claims of both mainstream economists and some Post Keynesians that there is nothing new in MMT. The first two blogs on this topic covered the juxtaposition of employment versus unemployment buffer stocks and the implications of that for how we view the Phillips curve, a central framework in macroeconomics linking inflation to developments in the real sector (unemployment etc). Today’s blog considers another section of the paper – the dynamics of fiscal deficits and public debt. We consider the difference between deficit doves, who consider fiscal deficits are appropriate under some conditions but should be balanced over some definable economic cycle, which we argue has been the standard Post Keynesian position, and the MMT approach to deficits, which considers the desirable deficit outcome at any point in time to be a function of the state of non-government spending and the utilisation of the productive capacity of the economy. We argue that fiscal rules expressed in terms of some rigid balance to GDP target are not only meaningless but dangerous. Fiscal rules in MMT are only meaningful if related to the state of non-government spending and the utilisation of the productive capacity of the economy. This body of MMT work is clearly novel and improves on the extant Post Keynesian literature in the subject which was either silent or lame on these topics.

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Modern Monetary Theory – what is new about it? – Part 2 (long)

In yesterday’s Part 1 of this two-part blog – Modern Monetary Theory – what is new about it? – I introduced the idea that a major new contribution of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) to economic theory was in its treatment of inflation and the Phillips curve. This is part of a keynote presentation I will be giving at the International Post Keynesian Conference – which will be held at the University of Missouri – Kansas City between September 15-18, 2016. The keynote presentation is scheduled for Friday, September 16 at 17:00. The topic of my keynote presentation will ‘What is new about MMT?’ and will challenge several critics from both the neo-liberal mainstream and from within the Post Keynesian family that, indeed, there is nothing new about MMT – they knew it all along! I contest that when they say this they are lying and doing so to cover up the inadequacies of their own failed analytical frameworks whether they be mainstream or Post Keynesian.

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Modern Monetary Theory – what is new about it?

In a few weeks I am off to the US to present a keynote talk at the – International Post Keynesian Conference – which will be held at the University of Missouri – Kansas City between September 15-18, 2016. I will also be giving some additional talks in Kansas City during that week if you are around and interested. The keynote presentation is scheduled for Friday, September 16 at 17:00. The topic of my keynote presentation will ‘What is new about MMT?’ and will challenge several critics from both the neo-liberal mainstream and from within the Post Keynesian family that, indeed, there is nothing new about MMT – they knew it all along! Well the truth of it is that these characters clearly didn’t previously know or understand a lot of key insights that MMT now offers. No matter how hard they try to reinvent what they knew, the facts are obvious. MMT makes some novel contributions to our knowledge base and shows why a lot of so-called mainstream macroeconomic theory that parades as ‘knowledge’ is, in fact, non-knowledge. This blog and the second-part will provide some notes on the paper I am writing (with my colleague Martin Watts) on this topic.

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Australian inflation trending down – where are all the gold bugs?

There was a time, in better days, that the evening news had news, sport and weather. Then, at some point, around the 1980s the national news started to host a Finance segment. Sometimes these segments are meagre reporting of what happened in the share markets. Even that benign news is symptomatic of the way neo-liberalism has infested our daily thinking and made the common folk feel part of the game that they are really can never be part of – wealth creation. At other times, the finance segments introduce economic theory and analysis as if it is news. Then the insidious nature of the neo-liberal propaganda machine becomes stark. But the starkness is lost on most because they think it is news and we have been led to believe that what gets pumped out at 19:00 on the national broadcaster (and other times by other broadcasters) are facts. Facts don’t lie do they? Well, when it comes to finance segments they are mostly lies.

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Drowning in a morass of mis-education

I was sent a copy of a survey report – Grand Old Party for A Brand New Generation – which was produced by the so-called College Republican National Committee, which is a conservative university-based organisation in the US aiming to recruit people into the GOP. What emerges is that a lot of opinions are expressed but once you consider them in detail the only possible conclusion is that American college students (inasmuch as this is a representative sample) are hopelessly mis-educated on these matters – like the rest of the population. The level of internal inconsistency with respect to positions taken on macroeconomic policies that is demonstrated in the survey results is quite stunning. But don’t blame the students, their teachers and political leaders let them down too. The economic debate around the world is so infested with neo-liberal myths that it is hard for any alternative viewpoints to get oxygen. Yet the data keeps rejecting the mainstream views, which, it seems, only serves to solidify them further. We are all caught in a morass of mis-education – and our societies are drowning as a consequence. Nero fiddled. We do something else. Civilisations do not last forever.

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Our national broadcaster has become part of the problem

There was a time, in better days, that the evening news had news, sport and weather. Then, at some point, around the 1980s the national news started to host a Finance segment. Sometimes these segments are meagre reporting of what happened in the share markets. Even that benign news is symptomatic of the way neo-liberalism has infested our daily thinking and made the common folk feel part of the game that they are really can never be part of – wealth creation. At other times, the finance segments introduce economic theory and analysis as if it is news. Then the insidious nature of the neo-liberal propaganda machine becomes stark. But the starkness is lost on most because they think it is news and we have been led to believe that what gets pumped out at 19:00 on the national broadcaster (and other times by other broadcasters) are facts. Facts don’t lie do they? Well, when it comes to finance segments they are mostly lies.

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Exploring directions in fiscal policy

This blog extends the discussion in yesterday’s blog – Exploring pro-cyclical budget positions – which is why I am running them on consecutive days. Not that I think any of my readers (Austrian schoolers and other conservatives aside) have memory issues! The discussion that follows focuses on ways in which we can interpret the fiscal stance of a government and hopefully clears up some of the confusion that I read in E-mails I receive from readers. I say that not to put anyone down but rather to recognise that the decompositions of budget outcomes and analysing the direction of fiscal policy on a period-to-period basis is not something that the financial press usually focuses on. In avoid detailed analysis, the press leaves lots of misperceptions unchallenged and often the wrong conclusions are drawn. I am not talking about policy preferences here. Just coming to terms with the facts is sometimes difficult for many commentators to achieve. But, of-course, the “facts” are also sometimes difficult to discover given that the methods used to produce them are often ideologically biased (I am talking here about the decomposition of the actual deficit into structural and cyclical components requires a full employment benchmark, which is where the fun starts.

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Exploring pro-cyclical budget positions

Sometimes one agrees with a conclusion but realises the logic that was used to derive the conclusion was false. Which means that the person will get things wrong when applying the logic to other situations. This is almost always the case when we encounter the reasoning offered by so-called deficit doves. These are economists who do not out-rightly reject the use of deficits but typically believe them to be cyclical phenomenon only and should thus be offset at other points in the economic cycle by surpluses – the so-called balanced budget over the cycle rule. While many progressives think that is a sensible strategy – the reality is that it is an unsustainable fiscal rule to try to follow. The same economists talk about the dangers of pro-cyclical fiscal positions but fail to appreciate that such positions are desirable in certain cases and there is a fundamental asymmetry that applies to evaluation the desirability of a “cyclical” position. Fiscal austerity (pursuing surpluses when the economy is contracting) is never appropriate whereas expanding the deficit when the economy is growing might be. It all depends. This blog aims to clear up some of these misconceptions.

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When you’ve got friends like this – Part 10

In wishing us all happy new year, Jared Bernstein also pounded his readers with a confused macroeconomic logic, that if applied, would in all likelihood make their new year (collectively) worse. His article (December 29, 2012) – My Views on Spending Cuts and Entitlements – is another one of those cases when friendly fire shoots the progressive movement in the foot. You can read the previous editions of this theme – When you’ve got friends like this – to see what the problem is. In fact, I think I am being rather reasonable in only having this series extend to Part 10 so far. Given what is out there parading as progressive macroeconomic thinking the series might have been much longer than that by now. The simple point is that a truly progressive social agenda has to be grounded in solid macroeconomic principles. Trying to carve out a progressive agenda within a mainstream macroeconomic framework undermines the credibility of the former and plays straight into the hands of the conservatives.

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Haiti should build houses and schools and forget about the army

Several readers have asked me to comment on the recent New York Times Op Ed by Paul Krugman (October 30, 2011) – Bombs, Bridges and Jobs – which outlined the double standards among many conservatives who argue that “government does not create jobs” unless it engaged in military spending but still argued that such spending would be good for jobs and an increase would be welcome. It comes at a time when the new Haitian president is proposing to spend large sums of aid money on restablishing a military force in the nation despite not being able to offer basic housing, sanitation, education or health care. The appeal by the “military-industrial complex” that military spending is good for the economy is long standing and rarely refuted. After all, spending equals income and output which creates employment. But is expanding the military budget or insulating it from cuts the best way to create employment? Should we welcome, as Paul Krugman does, more military spending? The answer is that military spending has positive employment effects which are dwarfed by those pertaining to public spending on education, personal care services and other forms of public infrastructure. Haiti should build houses and schools and forget about the army.

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It is easy to create jobs

The US President delivered his long-awaited speech outlining the proposed American Jobs Act today to a packed Congress. The room was full of self-serving, anti-intellectuals masquerading as the representatives of the people of America. Eventually, this sham will be clear to all and the “American people” will “demand action”. If they don’t then the neo-liberal domination of policy which has led to the crisis and the extended malaise will continue to impoverish them. Bold action was needed from the President at least to demonstrate leadership so that the democratic forces could start to pressure the T-pots. Unfortunately, the President doesn’t seem to understand that it is easy to create jobs. A government just has have the will to do so.

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