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Once again the so-called technocracy that is the Eurozone looks like a farce

So last week, the Bank of Japan remained the last bank standing, the rest in the advanced world have largely lost the plot by thinking that raising interest rates significantly will reduce the global inflationary pressures that are being driven by on-going supply disruptions arising from the pandemic, the noncompetitive behaviour of the OPEC oil cartel and the Russian assault on Ukraine. The most recent central bank to buckle is the ECB, which last week raised interest rates by 50 basis point, apparently to fight inflation. But the ECB did it with a twist. On the one hand, the rate hike was very mainstream and based on the same defective reasoning that engulfs mainstream macroeconomics. But on the other hand, they introduced a new version of their government bond-buying programs, which the mainstream would call ‘money printing’ and inflationary. So, contradiction reigns supreme in the Eurozone and that is because of the dysfunctional monetary architecture that the neoliberals put in place in the 1990s. The only way the common currency can survive is if the ECB continues to fund Member State deficits, even if they play the charade that they are doing something different. Hilarious.

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Eurozone anti-fragmentation confusion – its really simple – the ECB has to continue to fund deficits or kaput!

The French National Assembly results from the weekend are a good outcome. Not the best, but good, although the continued presence of the Right is disturbing. At least Macron’s group of Europhiles has lost its absolute majority with the new Left alliance becoming a viable opposition. The polarisation – with a surge from the Right and the strong performance of the real Left rather than the lite Socialist Party version – is indicative of what Europe has become – a fractured, divided, divergent set of nations and regions. If the Left had have seen the value in this unity ticket during the Presidential election things might have been different. But better late than ever. France will now find it hard pushing further neoliberal policies and there will be pressures on the government to defy the fiscal rules and redress some of the shocking deficiencies that the neoliberal period has created. But, those pressures are coming squarely up against the impending crisis facin gthe monetary union. All the economics talk in Europe at the moment is indicative of the plight that monetary union faces after papering over the cracks during the first two-and-a-half years of the pandemic. After years of holding the bond spreads down, with their asset purchasing programs, things are changing as the ECB is pressured to follow suit and hike interest rates and abandon their bond buying. If they do both things, then there will be a crisis quick smart because nations like Italy will face increasing yields on their borrowing which will run out of control. So, the solution – another ad hoc response – an “anti-fragmentation” tool. If it sounds like a joke that keeps on rolling, you would not be wrong. More paper, same cracks.

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US and UK fiscal stimulus supporting growth while the delays in the Eurozone lead to a double-dip recession

Last week (April 29, 2021), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product, First Quarter 2021 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that the US economy grew by 1. The following day (April 30, 2021), saw Eurostat announce that the Eurozone contracted by 0.6 per cent in the first-quarter 2021, which means it is now enduring a double-dip recession. The European Union, now without Britain as a member, contracted by 0.4 per cent. In contrast, with Britain now out of that mess and determining its own future, we saw the British economy return a positive GDP growth rate in February as exports rose and government stimulus sustained domestic activity. Why should we be surprised about this. In this post, I examine the US situation in more detail and reflect on some interesting trends in the UK. The Eurozone situation is too depressing to write about on a sunny day!

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Either the Eurozone as we know it is dead or Italy goes out – latest research

It’s Wednesday and my snippet day, which just means I don’t write as much so that I can write more elsewhere. But today, I summarise some research that has just been released which seeks to assess the sensitivity of the commitment by the Italian population to the euro to tolerating further austerity. The research finds that if the technocrats start forcing Italy into austerity measures via a return to the Excessive Deficit Mechanism (and enforcement of the Stability and Growth Pact fiscal rules) then the majority will prefer to leave the Economic and Monetary Union. The majority are happy to retain the euro but only if there is no austerity and structural reforms imposed on the nation. This is a big swing in public sentiment and will give the neoliberals in Brussels one huge headache. Either their neoliberal monetary union is done, or they will face instability from one of the largest euro economies.

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Eurozone inflation heading negative as the PEPP buys up big – don’t ask the mainstream to explain

Governments save economies. Never let a mainstream economist tell you that government intervention is undesirable and that the ‘market’ will sort things out. Never let them tell you that large-scale government bond purchases by central banks lead to inflation. Never let them tell you that the government, when properly run, can run out of money. There is unlimited amounts of public purchasing capacity. The art is when to apply it and how much to release. That can only be determined by the behaviour of the non-government spending and saving and the state of idle capacity. It can never be determined by some arbitrary public debt threshold or deficit size. And the central bank can always buy however much debt they choose. At present the ECB is buying heaps and keeping the Member States solvent. That is not its state role but given there is no other institution in the Eurozone that can serve the fiscal function effectively and ‘safely’, it has to do that. Otherwise, the monetary union would quickly dissolve. I would take their bond buying programs further and write off all the debt they purchase. Immediately. Go on. Just type some zeros where they have recorded large positive Member State debt holdings. That would be something good to do in a terrible situation.

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Eurozone 2020. Don’t mention the War!

I guess I cannot avoid commenting on the European Commission’s recently released (February 5, 2020) – Economic governance review – which, allegedly, “seeks to assess how effective the economic surveillance framework has been in achieving three key objectives: ensuring sustainable government finances and economic growth, as well as avoiding macroeconomic imbalances; … promoting convergence in Member States’ economic performance.” The short answer is that the framework has failed on all fronts. The Member State fiscal situations are always mostly teetering on the edge of insolvency and only the ECB has been bailing them out; macroeconomic imbalances that really matter, such as the on-going illegal German external surpluses persist, and divergence is the Eurozone norm. Why? Another simple answer: because the architecture of the currency union is deeply flawed and biases the economies to crisis and makes them vulnerable, in an existential sense, to fluctuations in global activity. Why would they have done that? Answer: the triumph of neoliberal ideology over reason.

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China slowdown highlights the madness of the Eurozone austerity

Last Friday (October 18, 2019), the GDP data for China was released and we learned that growth has slowed quite significantly. The ABC news report – China’s economy hits three-decade low, with GDP growth falling to 6pc – suggested that this is the “fifth consecutive quarter of slowing growth” and a fall of 0.2 points from the last release. Its trade accounts reveal slower exports growth, and, importantly, slower import growth as growth in domestic demand declines. That last fact should raise fears of recession for the Eurozone elites, who have been content to export their austerity bias and rely on spending within other nations (outside the Eurozone) to maintain the weak growth that we have witnessed. The chickens are coming home to roost at present and the irony of all this is that ultimately German and Dutch external surpluses will fall below the allowable EU imbalance threshold of 6 per cent of GDP, not because those nations are doing anything sensible to address their damaging stance, but, rather, because their economies have become dependent on export growth and with China slowing that will hurt them badly. In other words, they will only come back within the EU laws through domestic recessions, and then, their fiscal positions will come under scrutiny again. A crazy system.

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Eurozone horror story continues

Eurostat released the latest fiscal data for 2018 on Tuesday (April 23, 2019) which showed that – Euro area government deficit at 0.5% and EU28 at 0.6% of GDP – apparently a cause for celebration if you can believe the news reports that have accompanied the data release. The problem is that these numbers are meaningless without a context. And a relevant context is how well the monetary system is accommodating the advancement of material well-being among the citizens of Europe. On that ‘functional’ criterion, the horror story, more or less continues. Data relating to the real world (as opposed to the world of fiscal numbers on bits of paper) tell us that the damage from the GFC interacting with a dysfunctional monetary system design still lingers and the 19 Member States are still highly vulnerable to the next crisis. The austerity mindset remains and these fiscal outcomes indicate a failure of policy. Nothing to celebrate at all.

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Eurozone fiscal rules bias nations to stagnation – exit is the remedy

It is Wednesday and I am doing the final corrections to our Macroeconomics textbook manuscript before it goes off to the ‘printers’ for publication in March 2019. It has been a long haul and I can say that writing a textbook is much harder than writing a monograph not only because the latter are more exciting in the drafting phase. The attention to detail in a textbook that runs over 600 pages is quite taxing. Anyway, that is taking my attention today. I also plan to write some more about Brexit in the coming weeks and Japan (tomorrow). But today, I have updated some ECB data on household and corporate borrowing and the cost of borrowing to see what sort of recovery is going on. With nations such as Germany now recording negative growth in the third-quarter, it is clear that the Eurozone is stalling again. The explanation doesn’t require any rocket science. It is all there in the behaviour of the non-government sector (saving more overall) and fiscal rules that are too tight to offset that saving desire. The reliance on monetary policy is an ineffective tool to provide the offset in non-government saving overall. Fiscal policy has to be reinstated to the primary position and that means nations such as Italy must consider exiting the dysfunctional monetary union that biases nations to recession and stagnation.

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Italy should lead the Member States out of the neoliberal Eurozone dystopia

The widely read German news site, Spiegel Online, published an amazing article last week (November 1, 2018) – Italy Doubles Down on Threat to Euro Stability – which confirms to me that very little progress has been within the Eurozone by way of cultural understandings since the GFC. That, in turn, tells me that the monetary union will not be able to get out of austerity gear and is now more exposed than ever to breakup when the next crisis comes. The current Italian situation is the European Commission’s worst nightmare. It could combine with the ECB and the IMF to bully Greece partly because of the size of the Greek economy but also because they had the measure of Tsipras and Syriza. They knew the polity would buckle and become agents for their neoliberal plans. But the politicians in Italy may turn out to be a different proposition – one hopes so. And Italy is a large economy and one of the original accessions to the Community. So the stakes are higher. But what the Commission is demanding of Italy in the present situation of zero economic growth and massive primary fiscal surpluses is totally irresponsible. It will not even achieve the stated Commission aims of reducing the public debt ratio. The likelihood is that the Commission’s strategy, if they succeed in bullying the Italian government into submission, will push the ratio up further. And meanwhile, Italy wallows in a sort of neoliberal dystopia. Italy should lead the other Member States out of this neoliberal disaster.

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Italy should prioritise an exit of the Eurozone madness

Last week, the Eurogroup met in Brussels and given all the Macron-Merkel buildup – see my blog post – The Meseberg Declaration – don’t hold your breath waiting (June 26, 2018) – the Europhiles were tweeting their heads off building themselves up into a ‘reform’ frenzy. If we were to believe half of it, then Germany was rolling over and about to agree to reforms that would put the Eurozone on a sound footing. Even progressive Europhile commentators held out hope of some big changes. Well not much happened did it. Like virtually nothing of any substance emerged from the meeting and matters were deferred (again) to December. Ho Hum! This is the European Union after all. At the same time, new voices encouraging an Italian exit appeared in the last week. Regular readers will know that in lieu of some unlikely turn of events in Europe where the elites about face and set in place effective reforms, I maintain that unilateral exit remains the superior option for an individual nation such as Greece or Italy. I am on the public record as arguing that given the size of the Italian economy in relation to the overall Eurozone economy, Italy should demonstrate leadership by finalising a negotiated exit with Brussels that minimises the damage for all parties. That would become the blueprint for other nations to regain their currency sovereignty and escape the Eurozone madness. Another voice joined that line in the last week.

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Eurozone policy failures laid bare

On March 13, 2018, the OECD released its latest Economic Outlook with accompanying “Interim projections” as at March 2018) suggesting that the current growth phase will continue through to next year as consumer and business confidence improves and translates in higher investment rates. The OECD, however, forecasts that growth in the Eurozone will decline over the next two years. The major Eurozone nations (France, Germany and Italy) are not witnessing the growing investment expenditure. The Eurozone might be seeing a little sunshine creeping out from the very dark clouds. But it is far from recovered and the future is ominously black. Key cyclical indicators remain at depressed levels, which means that when the next cycle hits, the Eurozone will be in a much worse position than before. And the reason: the fundamentally flawed design of the monetary system with its accompanying austerity bias. The reform required is root-and-branch rather than a prune here and there.

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There is no European citizen – cultures and narratives diverge in the Eurozone

I have noted before that when someone asks me where I come from I immediately (and innately) respond Australia. If questioned further I might tell them I grew up in Melbourne, Victoria. Sure enough, I am a Victorian (with some of the cultural attachments that that denotes) but that affiliation is weak compared to my nationality. That doesn’t make me a xenophobe or a nationalist. It just says I am culturally from that geographic area. If I ask my friends from Italy, Spain, France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Finland, Norway, etc the same question, they will answer they are from those nations. They never immediately respond by saying they are European. I can get them to say they are European but that is not their innate cultural association. The point is that there is really no such thing as a European citizen. They are all citizens of their individual Member States with little shared culture and quite diverse histories (not to mention languages etc). An interesting study came out from European economics think tank Bruegel last week (February 15, 2018) – Tales from a crisis: diverging narratives of the euro area – highlights the consequences of these differences and concludes that it makes “for an extremely challenging context within which to conduct a uniform monetary policy across different countries”. I would add economic policy in general to that assessment.

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IMF finds the Eurozone has failed at the most elemental level

The IMF put out a new working Paper last week (January 23, 2018)) – Economic Convergence in the Euro Area: Coming Together or Drifting Apart? – which while they don’t admit it demonstrates that the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has failed to achieve its most basic aims – economic convergence. The stated aim of European integration has always been to achieve a convergence in the living standards of those within the European Union. That goes back to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which established the EEC (Common Market). It has been reiterated many times in official documents since. It was a centrepiece of the 1989 Delors Report, which was the final design document for the Treaty of Maastricht and the creation of the EMU. The success or otherwise of the system must therefore be judged in terms of its basic goals and one of them was to create this convergence. The IMF finds that the EMU has, in fact, created increased divergence across a number of indicators – GDP per capita, productivity growth, etc. It also finds that the basic architecture of the EMU, which has allowed nominal convergence to occur has been a destabilising force. It finds that the Stability and Growth Pact criteria has created an environment where fiscal policy has become pro-cyclical, which is the exemplar of irresponsible and damaging policy implementation. Overall, the conclusion has to be drawn that the EMU, at its most elemental level, has failed and defies effective reforms that would make it workable. It should be scrapped or nations should exercise their own volition and exit before it causes them further damage.

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Massive Eurozone infrastructure deficit requires urgent redress

The latest – EIB Investment Report 2017/2018 – published last week by the European Investment Bank tells anyone who cares to take those Europhile Rose Coloured Glasses off for just a second how deep the failure of the European policy making structures are and how long the negative impacts of those failures will resonate. This is the true ‘burden for our (their) grand kids’ sort of stuff. In claiming they had to run tight fiscal policy biased towards surpluses to avoid forcing the future generations to carry an unfair burden, these European policy makers and leaders have done exactly the opposite, as predicted – they have created an appalling future for their youth and their children to follow. The whole European monetary experiment is a failure and is beyond reform. It needs to be scrapped, national sovereignty restored and people within their own countries left, through democratic institutions to determine how the public sector operates in their best interests. The Troika technocrats should be led out to pasture. And, to the Europhile Left: take of your rose coloured glasses.

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Hungary and Poland would be insane joining the Eurozone

There was an interesting article (July 18, 2017) – The Political Fiction of Economic Control – that has, seemingly, been the motivation for people sending me heaps of E-mails, some, demanding that I admit that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is bereft in this specific area of discussion. The article was allegedly written by a Polish journalist with a past that included working at the “Adam Smith Research Centre”, a ‘free market (not!)’ think tank in Warsaw, and a Hungarian economist Lajos Bokros who was formally a Socialist Minister of Finance from 1995 to 1996. But there is a lot of first person in the article (I’m, My, I etc) and only Bokros’ picture and bio is featured. Bokros is best-known for implementing the controversial Bokros Package, which was a “a series of austerity measures” described as “neoliberal shock therapy” based on the erroneous assumption that the Hungarian government would run out of money and have to declare bankruptcy. So it is no surprise that these characters (or Bokros, if he really wrote the article) would support the Eurozone and claim that surrendering a national currency in the case of Hungary and Poland was inevitable if these nations were to progress. The arguments used to make their case, reappear over and over again. They are always incorrect no matter what form they appear.

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Inflation abating in the Eurozone signals failure of ECB ideology

The latest inflation data from the Eurozone tells us once again how wrong mainstream monetary theory is. Eurostat released its latest estimates (June 30, 2017) – Euro area annual inflation down to 1.3% – which has according to the press confounded the ECB, who has been trying to push the inflation rate up to around 2 per cent (a soft target). Like many economic things that confound the pundits, if you are familiar with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) you won’t be surprised at all. All the baying at the moon that the ECB has been doing (courtesy of mainstream monetary textbook) won’t shift the inflation rate. Expanding bank reserves won’t shift the inflation rate. The real cause of the declining inflation rate is a lack of spending relative to productive capacity. And it is clear that the ECB has limited capacity to influence that gap. That is a matter for fiscal policy, which remains in austerity mode in the Eurozone as the leaders continue to talk about nothing.

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Eurozone remains in much worse shape than some official statistics might suggest

On May 11, 2017, the European Central Bank (ECB) released its third Economic Bulletin for the year, the release date comes two weeks after each of their monetary policy meetings. In Issue 3, there is some interesting analysis on both the state of youth unemployment and the degree of labour market slack in the Eurozone. It doesn’t paint a very rosy picture despite the constant claims that the Eurozone is recovering well. The reality is that while the official unemployment rate is bad enough (still above the pre-crisis level and stuck at around 9.5 per cent), the broader measures of labour slack indicate that around 18.5 per cent (at least) of the productive labour resources in the Eurozone are lying idle in one form or another. The broad slack has also risen during the crisis in most nations – particularly underemployment. In other words, the Eurozone remains in much worse shape than some official statistics might suggest. And we are nearly a decade into the crisis (and so-called ‘recovery’).

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Eurozone recovery is much weaker than the headline figures might suggest

It is fiscal statement (aka ‘budget’) frenzy in Australia at present, with the Treasurer about to bring down the annual policy strategy tonight. There is so much claptrap in the press and electronic media that I have tried to avoid saying anything about it. I may stick to that. I have been trying to understand the French election results though. That has occupied my attention a bit given the success of Macron (where a record number of voters stayed away and he barely scraped through the first round). He will be proven to be duplicitious I think. He is a Eurocentric neo-liberal who is anti-union, largely, anti-regulation and state intervention and believes the ‘market’ and an incentivised middle-class will do the trick for France. He is caught up in the Europe thing and so cannot see that the Eurozone straitjacket will ensure a growing underclass is retained. There was some interesting research published by a private investment bank (BOAML) – Job Quality and Escape Velocity – which provides a rather sombre view of the much-touted Eurozone ‘recovery’ over the last three years.

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German trade surpluses demonstrate the failure of the Eurozone

The election of Donald Trump has stirred up the IMF and Germany, in particular. Trump’s trade advisor has claimed that Germany is manipulating the currency to maintain its competitiveness. A more general view is that the massive German external surplus is a reflection of a dysfunctional Eurozone, particularly the failed monetary policy stance of the ECB and the lack of a European-level (federal) fiscal policy capacity and willingness to expand domestic demand in the Member States. In fact, both views have credibility as I will explain. Last week (April 19, 2017), Eurostat released the latest trade data for the Eurozone – Euro area international trade in goods surplus €17.8 bn. It showed that Germany’s trade surplus continues to grow (it was 35.4 billion euros in January-February 2017, up 1.4 billion over the 12 months) in total. In 2016, Germany’s current account surplus was 8.6 per cent of GDP, which is obviously an outlier. What is required to redress this on-going dysfunction within the Eurozone would appear to be beyond the political mentality of the establishment polity in the Eurozone. And with Macron’s elevation to an almost certain Presidential victory in France, it is hard to see any dynamic for now emerging that will create change for the better. So as usual, the Eurozone muddles on – with a dysfunctional design architecture and an even more dysfunctional attitude to policy flexibility held by the powers to be. Germany is seriously responsible for a lot of this dysfunction.

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