Yesterday (May 11, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index Summary – April 2022 – which showed the monthly increase in the CPI to be 0.3 per cent, the lowest monthly increase since August 2021 and, as it happens, just about right on the average monthly growth rate from January 1947 and April 2022. The result suggests a tapering of price pressures. The Energy component fell by 2.7 per cent in April after spiking at 11 per cent in March. Further, the growth in food prices fell for the third consecutive month. All of this has nothing to do with the recent interest rises imposed on the economy by the US Federal Reserve. They were already in train and confirm the transitory nature of this period of price instability. The US Treasury Department also published its most recent fiscal statistics yesterday – Monthly Treasury Statement – for April 2022, which reports a staggering $US533,794 fiscal shift between April 2021 and April 2022 – the fiscal drag embodied in that shift is massive and calls into question the conduct of the US Federal Reserve – why did they think they needed to push the economy towards recession? Fiscal policy is already working in that direction!
Apparently, the Left/Right Paradigm is dead. This narrative keeps coming back. In the 1980s, when governments, coopted by corporate lobby groups, went on a privatisation spree, which transferred billions of dollars worth of public assets into the hands of private wealth holders, and enriched lawyers, management consultants etc into the bargain, we were told that we are all capitalists now because our pension funds bought the assets. Joke. Anyway, I keep reading and being told that there is no longer any meaningful distinction between Left and Right, with both falling into the hands of totalitarian discourse. Even so-called progressives advocate that the traditional Left should partner up with the traditional Right (and far Right) to keep ‘centrists’ out of power or to stop governments taking basic actions to protect public health. It is the ultimate victory for the neoliberals to have persuaded the Left that they have more in common with the Right than ever before. This is another example of how duped the Left has become.
The Tweets have started already demanding an interest rate rise in May at the next RBA Board meeting. Bankers, media commentators who just are conduits for the bankers – all with vested interests. Today’s data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Consumer Price Index, Australia (April 27, 2022) – has fuelled their mania. Inflation in the March-quarter 2022 rose to 2.1 per cent (5.1 per cent for the 12 months) on the back of rising automotive fuel costs (uncompetitive cartel and deliberate government petrol tax policies), global supply chain disruptions (pandemic) and material shortages (supply chain and bushfires). As long as these influences are present, inflation will remain at elevated levels. But with wage pressures absent, it is hard to make a case that the rising inflation is now entrenched. Certainly, the long-term expectations measures would not suggest that. I cannot see why the RBA will hike rates in May. More evidence of wage pressures would be needed one suspects.
It’s Wednesday and we have the music feature to enjoy following some other news snippets. Here is an argument: Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tells us that when there are fiscal deficits there is no problem with inflation. At present, inflation has been rising and there are deficits left over from the pandemic. Therefore “Tick off a loss for the modern monetary theorists amid rising inflation” because “Under MMT, the risk of inflation is considered minimal as governments that fully control their fiat currencies are believed to be able to control price levels”. Okay? So I think I better just terminate this blog today, say sorry for being so stupid, and start writing Op Eds demanding interest rates rise and governments cut their fiscal deficits immediately. But I won’t. Why? Because I am not stupid enough to mount that argument in the first place like some, who have the audacity to write financial columns that only demonstrate their ignorance. Good. Let’s have some music.
Inflation data continues to come in from various nations indicating an ongoing escalation in prices dominated by energy and cars (in the US), housing and transport (UK), housing and transport (Australia) and so on. The major question I always ask is this: What would you expect to happen after a major global pandemic that has lasted more than 2 years and is still not resolved and which has closed factories, ports, transport networks, made workers sick so they cannot work, choked shipping, kept people at home while governments have to varying extents maintained their income, shifted spending to home maintenance etc away from haircuts, and the rest of it. And then, add an uncompetitive cartel that manipulates supply to gouge profits (OPEC). And on top of all that have some bushfires and floods around the place. And to even top all of that have a character who thinks he is a Tsar invading a neighbour and creating havoc and destruction. What else would you expect? Oh, its all down to QE and fiscal deficits, I hear them say. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) again – now we know those ideas are defunct. We told you so! And repeat. Interest rates have to rise. Repeat. At least the ECB seems to understand the situation more than most, which is something.
It is hard work being an economist. Especially when about 90 per cent of what one reads each day is fiction masquerading as truth. That wouldn’t be so bad because fiction is good when it is in the right place. But in this context, the fiction that comes out from economists and their lackeys in the financial media causes massive damage to innocent citizens who lose their jobs, have their pay aspirations stifled, enter poverty, lose their homes and commit suicide out of sheer hopelessness with the situations that are forced upon them. When you dig into some of the media coverage you realise that it is really just a self-serving promotion for speculators in financial and share markets and has very little foundation in a deeper understanding of economics. This so-called Op Ed piece in The Age (March 14, 2022) – No-win situation: The Fed is paying the price for dragging its feet – is representative of the nonsense that parades as economic commentary. It reflects a sad state of affairs.
There has been some very interesting data and other research published recently that allow us to more fully understand what is driving the current inflationary pressures. There is a massive lobby now pushing the idea that the central bank bond-buying programs and the rising fiscal support during the pandemic are responsible. This sort of narrative is coming from the mainstream economists who are suffering attention-deficit disorders (even though they get the top platforms all the time to preach their views), and, who in the last few weeks have become increasingly vehement and personal in their attacks on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Their actions are a sign that the cognitive dissonance is getting to them and they realise they have been left behind. But the evidence that is continually coming out across a number of indicators continues to reaffirm my view that the current inflationary spikes are being driven by the total abnormal circumstances the world has found itself in as a result of the pandemic. The usual institutional and structural drivers of an inflation – which were certainly prominent in the 1970s – seem to be absent at present. I will present further research next week on this topic as I build further evidence.
There is an increasing frequency of articles appearing in the financial press in Australia about how inflation is back and that the RBA had better start hiking rates and stop buying government debt. Warnings to home buyers that mortgage rates are about to go through the roof. And all that sort of stuff. Moronic. If you examine today’s data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Consumer Price Index, Australia (January 25, 2022) – which relates to to the December-quarter 2021, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. Inflation rose slightly in the December-quarter 2021 and was driven by rising automative fuel costs (uncompetitive cartel and deliberate government petrol tax policies), global supply chain disruptions (pandemic) and material shortages (supply chain and bushfires). Not much more to see than that really. I note the same journalists are out there beating the inflation mania drum. Don’t they get sick of being wrong all the time. Their wages should be linked to their predictive capacity – they would starve!
Last week (January 20, 2022), Eurostat released the latest inflation data – Annual inflation up to 5.0% in the euro area – which followed the release from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data (January 12, 2022) – Consumer Price Index Summary , the latter, which shocked people, given that it recorded an annual inflation rate of 7 per cent before seasonal adjustment. The Euro area inflation rate over the same period was published as 5 per cent. It is obviously hard to see clearly through the data trends given the amount of pandemic noise that is dominating. But I stand by my 2020 assessment (updated several times since) that we are still seeing ephemeral price pressures as a result of the massive disruption the pandemic has caused to production, distribution and transport systems. In a sense, I am surprised the inflationary pressures have not be greater.
When I am asked whether I still consider the recent bout of inflation to be transitory, I say that transitory means as long as the pandemic disrupts the balance between supply and demand. Note: demand. I have been getting lots of E-mails telling me that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a fraud because of the inflation spike and our denial of the demand (spending) involvement. Apparently, the data shows that large fiscal deficits and central bank bond-buying programs are always inflationary. Good try. I last provided data and analysis of this issue in this blog post – Central banks are resisting the inflation panic hype from the financial markets – and we are better off as a result (December 13, 2021) – where I made it clear that the spikes are a unique coincidence between abnormal, pandemic-related demand and supply patterns. That couldn’t be clearer. And when that sort of imbalance occurs, with the addition of cartel-type price gouging (which has nothing to do with fiscal or monetary policy settings) then MMT predicts a nation will encounter inflationary pressures. The idea that the economy is defined by periods below full capacity when there will be no inflation and beyond full capacity when there will be inflation is not part of the MMT body of knowledge. It is more complicated than that dichotomy which we address in our textbook – Macroeconomics. Supporting this view, is a recent ECB research paper, which uses fairly advanced econometric techniques to decompose one measure of inflationary expectations in a component that reflects short-term risk and another that reflects longer term inflationary expectations. They find the former is driving the current inflation trajectory while the latter is largely stable. That means, in English, that the current inflation is likely to be of an ephemeral nature driven by how long the pandemic interrupts supply chains.
The Eurozone continues to stumble on, held together by the vast bond-buying program of the ECB, which has saved several Member States from insolvency over the last several years. While all the talk at present has been about what to do about the punitive and unworkable fiscal rules in a post-pandemic (when will that be?) period, when the emergency waivers of the Excessive Deficit Mechanism procedures are withdrawn, the reality is that under the current architecture, the only thing that keeps the currency union intact is the ECB acting outside of the legal structures set down by the treaties. Yes, I know full well that the elites have massaged the public into believing that there is no breach of the no bailout clauses, but the reality is different. The ECB is (indirectly) funding Member State fiscal deficits through its massive asset purchasing programs, the two relevant ones being the PSPP and the PEPP. And ever since they introduced the Securities Market Program (SMP) in May 2010 they have been providing funding to Member States to allow them to run fiscal deficits while maintaining low bond yields. With the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) scheduled to end in March 2022, the fears are growing that Italy will be the first Member State to succumb to the bond markets – the yields on debt will rise because the investors appreciate the credit risk and will know they cannot offload as much debt onto the ECB in the secondary markets. The fact that these fears are becoming more widespread should tell you that the role of the ECB is exactly what I say it is rather than the ‘maintaining order in investment markets’ spin that the ECB runs as the smokescreen.
Regular readers will know that I think the current inflationary phenomenon is transitory. They will also know that I see the continual claims by financial market economists that central banks have to increase interest rates now to avoid an accelerating inflationary episode as having little economic content and lots of self interest content. If rates go up, they win their bets and the more they can bully authorities to do their bidding the more certain their bets become profitable. I am glad that central banks around the world are resisting that game of bluff. In previous periods, they have not resisted and have handed the financial speculators (the top-end-of-town) massive and unjustified profits and forced millions of workers to endure joblessness. It is also interesting that the mainstream press is starting to work that out too. Some progress.
On November 11, 2021, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) related their BIS Bulletin No. 48 – Bottlenecks: causes and macroeconomic implications – which presents evidence that should help people who are becoming het up about the inflation numbers lately to calm down a bit. On June 8, 2021, the UK Guardian published an Op Ed I had written – Price rises should be short-lived – so let’s not resurrect inflation as a bogeyman – which I stand by. I have been criticised for dismissing the inflation threat and I regularly get E-mails announcing the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is ‘over’ and has been proven wrong by the rising inflation rates around the world. Those interventions actually break up my day with ‘humour’ – I am continually amazed how little people know who have such strong opinions. I always adopted the view that you work something out before forming an opinion. In this ‘social media’ era, the working out bit seems to have lapsed and people just jump in. That used to be called blind prejudice. Anyway, the BIS research is interesting and supports my on-going view that the current inflation trajectory still looks to be transitory and the forces that led to the supply bottlenecks will also likely unwind in the other direction to depress price rises.
There was a conference in Berlin recently (25th FMM Conference: Macroeconomics of Socio-Ecological Transition run by the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung), which sponsored a session on “The Relevance of Hajo Riese’s Monetary Keynesianism to Current Issues”. One of the papers at that session provided what the authors believed is a damning critique of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Unfortunately, the critique falls short like most of them. I normally don’t respond to these increasing attacks on our work, but given this was a more academic critique and I was in an earlier period of my career interested in the work of Hajo Riese, I think the critique highlights some general issues that many readers still struggle to work through.
Apparently, inflation in Australia has come ‘roaring’ back, if you believe one financial commentator today. There has been a lot of talk about how inflation is spiralling upwards and it demonstrates the MMT ‘quackery’. If you examine today’s data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Consumer Price Index, Australia (October 27, 2021) – which relates to to the September-quarter 2021, then it becomes clear that the slightly elevated CPI result is largely due to uncompetitive cartel behaviour and deliberate government petrol pricing policies that ensure that the cartel behaviour is ratified in the form of higher local petrol prices. Not much more to see than that really. Nothing much to do with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) at all. Sorry about that. The CPI rose by 0.8 per cent in the September-quarter 2021 and 3 per cent over the 12 months. The two main drivers were the rise in prices for New dwelling purchases by owner-occupiers (3.3 per cent) and Automotive fuel (7.7 per cent). Last quarter, the annual rate of CPI increase was 3.8 per cent, which makes statements like ‘roaring back’ seem ridiculous and designed to attract headlines.
The New York Times article (October 1, 2021, updated October 15, 2021) – Nobody Really Knows How the Economy Works. A Fed Paper Is the Latest Sign – reported on a paper by one Jeremy B. Rudd, who is a senior advisor in the Research and Statistics division at the Federal Reserve Bank in the US. The paper – Why Do We Think That Inflation Expectations Matter for Inflation? (And Should We?) – published as Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2021-062, by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, argues that a core aspect of New Keynesian macroeconomic orthodoxy “rests on extremely shaky foundations … and adhering to it uncritically could easily lead to serious policy errors.” The paper rejects the central notion in mainstream macro that the trajectory of inflation is driven by expectations. The idea that expectations are the key force has led central banks deliberately using the unemployed to fight an (imaginary) inflation threat. It has led fiscal authorities to pursue contractionary policies that have forced millions into unemployment. The Rudd paper is important because it shows the mainstream edifice is collapsing – it jettisons an other core concept. There is not much left in mainstream economics that hasn’t been rejected by evidence or exposed as being theoretically inconsistent.
One could make a pastime observing the way that so-called ‘expert’ commentators change their commentary as the data unfolds. As one rather lurid prediction fails, their narrative shifts to the next. We have seen this tendency for decades when we consider the way mainstream economists have dealt with Japan. The words shift from those implying immediacy (for example, of insolvency), to those such as ‘could’, ‘might’, ‘perhaps’, ‘under certain conditions’ and more. The topics shift. The commentariat were obsessed with ‘this time is different’ during the GFC and the ‘debt insolvency threshold’ rubbish that the likes of Reinhardt and Rogoff propagated. That is, until they were sprung for spreadsheet incompetence. More recently, we have apparently forgotten how many governments were about to go broke and the mania has shifted to inflation. The data shows some price spikes earlier in the year which set of the dogs. Now, things might be shifting again. It is a pastime following all this. Short memories, no shame is the only requirement that is required to be a mainstream economics commentator. Prescient knowledge is not included in that skill set.
Today, my on-going inflation watch turns to Australia, given the release today (July 28, 2021) of the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the June-quarter 2021. The data is consistent with what we are seeing across many nations as supply chains are disrupted by the pandemic. Energy prices are adjusting back upwards and because the base from which we are judging these quarterly rises was lower as a result of price suppression during the downturn, the recovery in the pre-pandemic price levels deliver larger than usual price increases (when the base is higher). In Australia’s case, a major recent flood and a long drought before that have also complicated matters by driving up food prices. All these impacts are transitory. The CPI rose by 0.8 per cent in the June-quarter 2021 and over the 12-months to June 2021 it rose 3.8 per cent. But the key to understanding the trends in the data is to appreciate that the less volatile series were still rising at rates below the RBAs inflation targetting range – the Trimmed Mean rose just 0.5 per cent and the Weighted Median rose 0.5 per cent. So nothing to see here. The most reliable measure of inflationary expectations are flat and below the RBA’s target policy range.
It’s Wednesday and I have been tied up most of the day with commitments. So we will have to be content today with a couple of snippets. The first about the on-going inflation mania and the way in which the ECB seems oblivious to it. The second about the gross incompetence of the Australia government, who has put the health of the nation at risk and forced state governments to invoke rolling lockdowns as only a small number of us are vaccinated and cases keep seeping out of a flawed quarantine system (the latter being the federal responsibility). And once the anger subsides from that little discussion, we have the usual Wednesday music offering to restore peace.
On November 11, 2020, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published a very interesting new experimental dataset – Non-Discretionary and Discretionary Inflation – which was derived from the standard Consumer Price Index data. It provided us with new insights and a richer knowledge of the impacts of inflation, particularly in distributional terms. Last month (May 25, 2021), the ABS published a followup article – Measuring Non-discretionary and Discretionary Inflation – which summarised some of the key findings. After receiving feedback, the ABS has refined the data series and will publish them on an on-going basis from the September-quarter 2021 as part of the “regular quarterly CPI release”. This new approach to measuring inflation will help us considerably assess the implication of wage movements on the real living standards of Australian workers.