The origins of macroeconomics trace back to the recognition that the mainstream economics approach to aggregation was rendered bereft by the concept of the Fallacy of Composition which refers to errors in logic that arise “when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part)” (Source). So the fallacy of composition refers to situations where individually logical actions are collectively irrational. These fallacies are rife in the way mainstream macroeconomists reason and serve to undermine their policy responses. The current push for austerity across the globe is another glaring example of this type of flawed reasoning. The very fact that austerity is being widely advocated will generate the conditions that will see it fail as a growth strategy. We never really learn.
I have two days of teaching left in Helsinki and my next stop on Friday is Dublin where I will be discussing unification and exit. Should be a fun topic. Its Wednesday back home already and today I consider a matter that came up in one of my classes that I am taking in macroeconomics at the moment at the University of Helsinki. Students really struggle when first introduced to the idea of a stock and a flow. They can easily be led into defining a flow as a stock. Getting this absolutely right is one of the key building blocks in understanding basic macroeconomics and the links between the expenditure system and financial accumulation. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) builds heavily on the difference between stocks and flows and is also what we call stock-flow consistent. So all flows that inform stocks are accounted for in a consistent way. So, for example, we know that when households save, which is the residual of disposable income that is not consumed and a flow, this accumulates into a stock of financial wealth. Today, I am seeking to clarify the issue in my class that we did not have sufficient time to deal with in detail last week. And after that, some music to restore sanity.
One of my presentations are the January Sustainability Conference in Adelaide focused on the basics of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I was asked by the organisers to provide some clarity on the basics of MMT and to demarcate where MMT starts and finishes. I started the first of two talks I gave at that conference by stating that MMT was macroeconomics. It is within that discipline. It is not within the discipline of law, sociology, psychology, cultural and media studies etc. Macro is macro. I subsequently received a lot of correspondence about this and have had subsequent follow-up conversations with some MMT activists about the meaning of the ‘categories’ I introduced. I thought it would be useful to write an extended account of what I was thinking when I said those things. It will help clarify what I see as the difference between MMT and the MMT Project. You can see exactly what I said if you want to watch the video of the presentation. But, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will ‘know’ what I meant. So this blog post seeks to clarify some of those comments so that everyone explicitly understands what I was talking about. This is Part 1 of a two-part series (split because of length). In Part 1, I discuss the idea that MMT is macro. In Part 2, I discuss what I call the MMT Project and other issues that seem to cause confusion and/or concern.
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.
Pathetic was the first word that came to mind when I read this article – The Italian Budget: A Case of Contractionary Fiscal Expansion? – written by Olivier Blanchard and Jeromin Zettlemeyer, from the Peter Peterson Institute for International Economics. Here is a former IMF chief economist and a former German economic bureaucrat continuing to rehearse the failed ‘fiscal contraction expansion’ lie that rose to prominence during the worst days of the GFC, when the European Commission and the IMF (along with the OECD and other groups) touted the idea of ‘growth friendly’ austerity. Nations were told that if they savagely cut public spending their economies would grow because interest rates would be lower and private investment would more than fill the gap left by the spending cuts. History tells us that the application of this nonsense caused devastation throughout, with Greece being the showcase nation. The damage and carnage left by the application of these mainstream New Keynesian ideas are still reverberating in elevated unemployment rates, high poverty rates, broken communities and increased suicide rates, to name a few of the pathologies it engendered. But the ‘boys are back in town’ (sorry Thin Lizzy) and Blanchard and Zettlemeyer are falling in behind the IMF and the European Commission against the current Italian government by demanding fiscal cutbacks. It will turn out badly for Italy if the government buckles under this sort of pressure. It once again shows that the mainstream economics profession has learned very little from the GFC. For them the story stays the same. It is one that we should reject in every circle it arises. This is Part 1 of a two-part analysis of the latest incarnation of this ruse my profession inflicts on societies.
This is Part 3 (and final) of my series responding to an iNET claim that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and mainstream macroeconomics were essentially at one in the way they understand the economy but differ on matters of which policy instrument (fiscal or monetary) to assign to counter stabilisation duties. In Part 1, I demonstrated how the core mainstream macroeconomic concepts bear no correspondence with the core MMT concepts, so it was surprising that someone would try to run an argument that the practical differences were really about policy assignment. In Part 2, we saw how the iNET authors created a stylised version of mainstream macroeconomics that ignored the fundamental building blocks (how they reach their conclusions about the real world), which means that they ignore important differences in the way MMT economists and mainstream macroeconomists interpret a given economic state. I will elaborate on that in this final part. Further, by reducing the body of work now known as MMT to be just ‘functional finance’, the iNET authors also, effectively, abandon any valid comparison between MMT and the mainstream, although they do not acknowledge that sleight of hand.
In between reading economics articles, I read a lot of fiction novels especially when sitting around airports and flying places. I get through a lot of novels. I am currently tracking some Icelandic noir writers (for example, Arnaldur Indriðason and Ragnar Jónasson) and have been sort of ‘living in the fjords’ lately such is the imagery these great writers present of life in Iceland. I am right up north in a place called Siglufjörður at the moment surrounded by towering mountains and snow storms and enjoying it a lot. It was also where the excellent TV series ‘Trapped’ was filmed. Anyway, Iceland has been firmly in my focus. And the politics of the place is interesting at the moment because with the economy well down the recovery path, the neo-liberals which nearly ruined the place are trying to reassert their mindless policies – to wit, in this case, the Finance Minister claiming that Iceland is thinking about pegging the króna to the euro or perhaps a basket to maintain ‘stability’ (now you can laugh). Current Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson has rejected the plan it seems setting up an internal power struggle within the government. One of the reasons Iceland has recovered so well and left the Eurozone nations in its wake is because its currency was floating. Pegging it to the euro would be a very silly thing for that nation to do. Only a little less stupid that trying to revive their old neo-liberal plans to join the Eurozone as a Member State. If they did that then it would be a case of Dark Iceland (the theme of Ragnar Jónasson’s novels) – the economic lights would well and truly go out.
This blog will be a bit different from my normal fare. It provides insights into how entrenched a destructive and mindless neo-liberal Groupthink pervades the economics profession. For the last several years I have been on the ‘expert’ panel for the Fairfax press Annual Economic Survey. Essentially, this assembles a group of well-known economists in Australia from the market, academic and institutional (for example, union) sectors and we wax lyrical about what we expect will happen in the year ahead. To be fair, there is a large element of chance in the exercise as there is in all forecasting. So I am never one to criticise when an organisation such as the IMF or the OECD or some bank economist gets a forecast wrong. The future is uncertain and we have no formal grounds for even forming probabilistic estimates, given we cannot even assemble a probability density function (an distributional ordering of all possible events ) to extract these probabilities. So guess work is guess work and you have to be guided by experience and an understanding of how the system operates and the elements within the relevant system interact. What I do rail against is the phenomenon of systematic bias in forecast errors. For example, the IMF always predicts stronger growth than occurs when it is advocating imposing austerity (thereby underestimating the costs of the policy). The systematic bias in their errors is traceable to the flawed models they use to generate the predictions, which, in turn, reflect their ideological slant against government deficits and in favour of fiscal surpluses (as a benchmark). As luck would have it, in the 2016 round of the Fairfax Scope survey, I was fortunate enough to achieve the status of Forecaster of the Year (shared with 2 other members of the panel) – see Scope 2017 economic survey: Stephen Anthony, Bill Mitchell; and Renee Fry-McKibbin tie for forecaster of the year – for detail. I tweeted over the weekend that as a result “MMT predicts well”. There was a lot underlying that three-word Tweet and it intersected with recent events that demonstrate how far gone mainstream macroeconomics is – it is in an advanced state of denial and has lost almost all traction on the real world.
This is Part 5 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. It finishes this part of our discussion. Today, I consider how society establishes a fair transition environment to cope with climate change and the impacts of computerisation etc. I outline a coherent adjustment framework to allow these transitions to occur equitably and where they are not possible (due to limits on worker capacity) alternative visions of productive work are developed? I argue that while work, in general, is coercive under capitalism, the provision of employment guarantees is a more equitable approach than relying as the basic income advocates envision on the exploitation of some to provide the freedom for others. Further, I argue that the Job Guarantee is a better vehicle for creating new forms of productive work. Adopting a basic income guarantee in this context just amounts to surrender. Our manuscript is nearly finished and we hope to complete the hard edits in the next month or so and have the book available for sale by the end of this year. More information on that later.
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.
Towards the end of last year, I wrote a blog – Finland should exit the euro. I had been undertaking some detailed research on the plight of this relatively small Eurozone nation for a number of reasons. First, it had recently undergone a major industrial decline as Nokia/Microsoft missed market trends and went from world leader to irrelevance. Second, Finland was a vocal proponent of the view that Greece should be pillaried into oblivion by the Troika – to ‘take their medicine’ (more crippling austerity). Third, the data trends were unambiguously pointing to Finland descending into the Eurozone ‘basket case’ category itself as its own conservative government imposed harsh fiscal austerity on the tiny, beleagured nation. Two things are clearer than ever about the Eurozone. First, it is a dysfunctional mess and efforts to reform it so far have only made matters worse. Second, any single nation (and all together) would be unambigously better off exiting the mess and restoring their own currency sovereignty and letting their exchange rate take up some of the adjustment. The following text covers an article that I have written for a Finnish Report coming out in May 2016 to be published by the Left Forum Finland, which is a coalition formed by the political party Left Alliance, the People’s Educational Association (KSL) and the Yrjö Sirola Foundation.
On December 10, 2015, the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) released the – National Accounts, Quarter 3, 2015 – data, which showed that real GDP had increased by 1.4 per cent over the last quarter while real GNP had declined by 0.8 per cent. On an annual basis, real GDP increased by 6.8 per cent in the September-quarter 2015 and real GN increased by 3.2 per cent over the same period. I’ll discuss the difference between GDP in GNP later but is clear that Ireland is in terms of real economic growth leading the Eurozone at present. In narrow terms, it is also clear that over the last two years the nation has recorded consistent growth. A question that is often asked is whether Ireland defies those who claim that austerity is flawed strategy. I get various E-mails along those lines, some polite, some rude. My answer to the polite ones is that it is difficult to hold out Ireland as an example of austerity-led growth. Ireland is, in fact, a rather strange Eurozone Member State, and is more firmly plugged in to the Anglo world than other Eurozone nations. It just happens, that while the Irish government was suppressing domestic demand through austerity from as early as 2009, significant trading partners (such as, Britain, the US and China) were maintaining expansionary fiscal positions, which allowed Ireland to resume growth. Further, a narrow focus on the growth cycle misses significant aspects of national prosperity. Even with two years of economic growth, real earnings growth is flat to negative, the rate of enforced deprivation remains around 30 per cent, and there is a rising proportion of people at risk of poverty. On top of that, net emigration of skilled workers continues, which means that the official unemployment rate is much lower than it would have been if these workers had not left the country.
In November 2015, the IMF released an IMF Staff Discussion Note (SDN/15/22) – Wage Moderation in Crises: Policy Considerations and Applications to the Euro Area – which purports to measure “the short-run economic impact of wage moderation and the implications for policy in the context of the euro area crisis”. It juxtaposes the impacts of the so-called internal devaluation approach with the impacts of Eurozone monetary policy. It recognises that the euro zone countries cannot use exchange rate depreciation to boost domestic demand but argues that instead, “lower nominal wage growth … and lower inflation or higher productivity growth relative to trading partners is needed”. The paper presents the standard mainstream arguments that: 1) wage cuts improve employment through increased competitiveness; 2) interest rate cuts stimulate overall spending; 3) quantitative easing stimulates overall spending. There is very little empirical evidence to support any of these statements, especially when fiscal austerity is accompanying these policy measures. The discussion does acknowledge wage cuts may be deflationary and “work in the opposite direction of the competitiveness affect”, in other words, domestic demand and overall growth declines. The unstated message is that internal devaluation doesn’t really improve competitiveness when it is imposed across the currency bloc and undermines domestic spending, which further impedes any export growth (because domestic income drives import demand).
Its my Friday lay day but today is going to be anything but. I am in Helsinki at present and it has been a busy few days so far. The concept of Unit Labour Costs (ULCs) is being used by the right-wing government in Finland to bash the population into submission so they can impose the nonsensical austerity. The Finnish government is trying to get rid of some public holidays and reducing wages for sick leave, overtime and working on Sundays. This is the starting point for a broader austerity attack on the public sector and the prosperity of the people. They are calling for a decline in ULCs of at least 5 per cent. The rationale is that with growth flat to negative for five years or so and the massive export surplus they had disappeared the only way to stop unemployment going through the roof is to cut labour costs relative to productivity – that is, cut ULCs. They have been caught up in the ‘dangerous obsession’ that prosperity can only be gained through ‘export competitiveness’ (whatever that actually is) and the domestic economy has to be sacrificed at the net exports altar. International competitiveness is a slippery concept at best but so-called internal devaluation is rarely a successful strategy.
The Project Syndicate recently (August 6, 2015) published an Op Ed by conservative Edmund Phelps – What Greece Needs to Prosper. The article was widely syndicated by the conservative media and represents part of the conservative narrative to conveniently revise history when the facts violate the conservative ideological agenda. It is an appalling article. We are now in a phase of “Austerity denial”, where conservatives attempt to massage history to avoid the unpalatable conclusion that the massive austerity that has been imposed on certain countries by the IMF and its partners in crime (in Greece’s case the European Commission and the ECB) has caused huge declines in GDP (levels and growth rates) and deliberately led to millions of people becoming jobless with associated rises in poverty rates. That causality is undeniable.
Its my Friday lay day blog and today a brief discussion about property price bubbles and how the Reserve Bank of Australia (our central bank) has fallen out with the Australian government. This week, the simmering tension between the Governor of the RBA and the Conservative Australian government more or less came out into the open when the Governor told the nation that the fiscal strategy of the Government was failing and a higher deficit was required given the circumstances. The RBA Governor has also come clean on the issue of house prices in Australia which he said he was “acutely concerned” about and called them “crazy” again, a direct contradiction of the claims by the Government that there is no problem and people should just “get a better paying job” if they wanted to buy a home. It is rare for a central banker to be so pointed about the failure of Government policy.
The Bank of England released a new working paper on Friday (May 29, 2015) – Banks are not intermediaries of loanable funds – and why this matters – which further brings the Bank’s public research evidence base into line with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and, thus, further distances itself from the myths that are taught by mainstream economists in university courses on money and banking. The paper tells us that the information that students glean from monetary economics courses with respect to the operations of banks and their role in the economy is not knowledge at all but fantasy. They emphatically state that the real world doesn’t operate in the way the textbooks construe it to operate and, that as a consequence, economists have been ill-prepared to make meaningful contributions to the debates about macroeconomic policy.
You may not remember the prediction by the American Arthur Laffer in his Wall Street Journal Op Ed (June 11, 2009) – Get Ready for Inflation and Higher Interest Rates. As the US government deficit rose to meet the challenges of the spending collapse and the US Federal Reserve Bank’s balance sheet shot up as it built up bank reserves, he predicted “dire consequences … rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four years or five years, and a concomitant deleterious impact on output and employment not unlike the late 1970s”. You may have forgotten that prediction because it was in a sea of similar nonsensical claims by mainstream economists locked in a sort of mass hysteria and only their erroneous textbooks to give them guidance. It is 2015, nearly six years after Laffer humiliated himself in that Op Ed. Inflation is low and falling generally. Interest rates remain very, very low (note his use of “much, much” to give his prediction some gravity). Gravity forces things to crash! But the doomsayers have learned very little it seems.
Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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.
Its my Friday lay day blog. I am in Sri Lanka at present and will have some reports about that over the next 14 odd days. I was amazed overnight by the comments from IMF boss Lagarde who made overt political statements in an upcoming election year by claiming that David Cameron had shown “eloquent and convincing” leadership in the global recovery. She said they were a model for the European Union. When asked why the IMF had criticised Britain in 2012 for “playing with fire” by invoking fiscal austerity, she said the IMF had “got it wrong” (Source). Hmm. No recognition that Britain cannot be a model for most of the EU nations, given the latter surrendered their currency sovereignty, imposed fiscal rules that prevent growth, and have a central bank that will not act as a responsible currency issuer. Further, it was a false admission of failure. In fact, the IMF got it right and Britain didn’t implement the austerity that it had initially planned and has kept a relative large fiscal deficit that has helped support growth.