In Part I, I considered an Australian-based attack on MMT from a Labour Party stooge. In this Part, I shift to Britain to address the recent article by a Northern Labour MP – Jonathan Reynolds – who is apparently, if his arrogance is to be believed, making himself the Labour Party spokesperson on matters economic. For the title of his recent article (June 4, 2019) was, afterall – Why Labour doesn’t support Modern Monetary Theory – which begs the question as to who actually doesn’t support MMT – all of Labour? Party? Politicians? Members? Who? I know of hundreds if not thousands of Labour Party members that are fully supportive of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). So who is he talking about? The overriding issue that I introduced in Part 1 was that it is crazy for progressive politicians to use neoliberal frames, language and concepts when discussing their economic policy ambitions. Not only has the track record of the mainstream approach has been so poor but wallowing in these frames etc leads the so-called progressive side of politics to become trapped in the neoliberal tradition. The Reynolds article is no exception and if his view is widespread within British Labour then it will have a problematic future.
There is now a procession of wannabee Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) critiques coming out of the woodwork all around the place seeking cover from the criticisms coming from the likes of Larry Summers, Paul Krugman, and Kenneth Rogoff, who are regularly referred to as “the world’s leading economic thinkers” or “Nobel Prize-winning economists” as if any of that established authority. These ‘Nobel Prize’ winners are not Nobel Prize winners at all – the economics prize is not part of the original Nobel gift and was instead invented by a bank because economists were feeling left out (inferior). But in recent days, across two jurisdictions, where the so-called party of the workers – the Labour Party in the UK and the Labor Party in Australia – are struggling to gain electoral traction, and in the Australian case, just lost an election against one of the worst governments we have ever had, we have seen two erroneous attacks on MMT that really sums up the existential crisis facing social democratic parties – the loss of identity and revolutionary zeal. This is Part 1 of a two-part series examining how ‘walk the plank that you erect yourself’ strategies play out within our so-called progressive social democratic parties and deliver abysmal results.
It is Wednesday, so only a snippet of a blog about a few things that caught my interest recently. Words have meaning and concepts have meaning. That is, until you are a social democratic politician in Europe. Then meaning goes out the window as does mission – unless the mission is power at all costs. Social democratic values and views do not resemble neoliberal economic or right-wing social agendas at all. Yet in the hurly burly of European and British politics that is what has been happening. Across three nations (Sweden, Germany and Britain) we have seen this trend in the last few days. The claim is that it is clever politics to shift into the ‘centre’ and take back voters from the conservatives. The problem is that the centre moved significantly to the right over this neoliberal era. Now we have so-called progressive politicians who three decades ago would have looked like conservative right-wingers. It is not clever politics at all. They just lock themselves into positions that make it very hard to pursue true progressive policies. Meanwhile, the people they claim to care about are forced to endure damaging economic policies. Stupid all round.
There was an article in this morning’s Melbourne Age (September 26, 2012) by former Australian Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, which talked about the structural decline of social democratic parties around the world. Recently I was in the Netherlands for the Dutch national election and the Labor Party could not gain office and is likely to go into coalition with the Conservatives (what?) – the common bond – their support for the Euro and fiscal austerity. What set of circumstances would see what should be polar opposite political forces in coalition? And then there are the LDP and the Tories in the UK. And the debate in the US is not about a deficit versus a surplus but how quickly to get into surplus. The same goes in Australia. The policy debate is marked by claims from both major parties that they will generate bigger budget surpluses quicker than their opponents. The social democratic political tradition is fading because the parties have become indistinguishable from the conservatives in economic policy. They are all neo-liberals now and that is an ugly option for those with a progressive bent who have traditionally supported the social democratic parties.
It is Wednesday and I have had lots of unscheduled commitments (that just come out of the blue) to attend to today. So not much writing. I did have time to read the latest IMF – Fiscal Monitor, April 2021 : A Fair Shot – which was published on April 7, 2021. The schizoid nature of this institution continues to evolve and it will be hard for the austerity mavens to unambiguously use it as a cover for their arguments when they resume their call for public sector spending cuts etc. Music follows.
I was in a meeting the other day and one of the attendees announced that they were sick of government and were looking at other solutions such as social capital and community empowerment to solve the deep problems of welfare dependency that they were concerned about. The person said that all the bureaucrats had done was to force citizens onto welfare with no way out. It had just made them passive and undermined their free will. It was a meeting of progressive people. I shuddered. This is one of those narratives that signal surrender. That put up the white flag in the face of the advancing neoliberal army intent on destroying everything in its way. The ultimate surrender – individualise and privatise national problems of poverty, inequality, exclusion, unemployment – and propose solutions that empower the individuals trapped in ‘le marasme économique’ created by states imbued with neoliberal ideology. The point is that the Asset-Based-Community-Development (ABCD) mob, the social capital gang, the new regionalists, the social entrepreneurs are just reinforcing the approach that creates the problems they claim they are concerned about. The point is that it is not the ‘state’ that is at fault but the ideologues that have taken command of the state machinery and reconfigured it to serve their own agenda, which just happen to run counter to what produces general well-being. That is why I shuddered and took a deep breath.
Transparency International EU, is part of TIs “anti-corruption movement” focused on happenings in the European Union. It gets around 40 per cent of its funding from the European Commission, itself, although they claim this does not compromise their “institutional integrity and independence”. Let’s hope not! They have just released a report – Vanishing Act: The Eurogroup’s Accountability (February 5, 2019) – which confirms, in case one wasn’t already aware (looking at the Europhile Left here) that the core decision-making body in the European Union – the so-called Eurogroup – (the Finance Ministers of the Eurozone), which “exercises political control over the currency and … the Stability and Growth Pact” – is inherently shady and anti-democratic. The Report finds that the EU’s democratic deficit is intrinsic to its design and resistance to any effective reform. While the Report proposes some changes to the structure and operations of the Eurogroup it maintains the line that the growing lack of democratic oversight in key EU decision-making can be improved. I disagree. The problems are endemic. The DNA of the Eurozone architecture is neoliberal to the core. That ideology has permeated all the major EU institutions and has left the EU citizens without an effective voice in the decision-making process. To resolve that alienation, people are donning yellow vests and taking to the streets. Progressives should encourage these anti-EU protests and support those who desire to abandon these neoliberal institutions. The reformers cannot seem to grasp that the basic structure is the problem. Any steps in the right direction require that basic structure (the Single Market, SGP, etc) to be abandoned. And doing that means the whole house of cards falls down. And it cannot come quickly enough.
This is the third addition in the ‘Exploring the effectiveness of social media’ series, which is reporting current research I am doing with Dr Louisa Connors, which seeks to understand how best to use social media to advance an awareness and understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). We will be discussing some of this work at the The Second International Conference of Modern Monetary Theory (New York, September 28-30), that is, later this week. There is no doubt that social media (among other things) has played a major role in building a non-academic audience for Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). But it is not yet clear to me that social media users who seek to advocate for MMT have fully understood the media they are using. I see counterproductive exercises regularly on Twitter, for example. There is a clear literature on effective use of social media and there is also a long literature on how to frame arguments to be persuasive. Calling someone on Twitter who disagrees with you a ‘fxxkwit’ or telling them they haven’t read the literature is probably not the best way to exploit what is a power tool for advancing our cause. This blog post extends the discussion about the strategic use of social media.
Tomorrow, I will consider the furore that has arisen in the last few days after the US Congressional Budget Office released its latest forecasts, which showed the US deficit will rise, and, because they still insist in matching the deficit with bond-issuance to feed the corporate welfare machine, public debt will also expand. With an on-going jobs gap and depressed labour force participation rate, the rising deficit if properly targetted would be desirable. The rising public debt is a negative but only as a result of its unnecessary corporate welfare dimension rather than any concerns about capacity to pay etc. But today, given it is Wednesday and a ‘blog light’ day for me now I have only one related observation to make, which will contextualise tomorrow’s more detailed discussion. For today though I am mostly engaged in revising the final manuscript of our new, upcoming Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) textbook after receiving edits from the publishers, Macmillan.
So-called US ‘progressive’ economists arena flap at the moment after Gerald Friedman, an academic economist at UMass released a report on January 28, 2016 – What would Sanders do? Estimating the economic impact of Sanders programs – which suggested that the US economy could perform significantly better and deliver substantially improved outcomes for those disadvantaged citizens with Bernie Sanders in the White House. When I say progressive, I mean those who would consider themselves Democrat Party insiders (former Chairs of the US Council of Economic Advisers under previous Democratic administrations). Last week (February 17, 2016), they created a special Internet site to publish – An Open Letter from Past CEA Chairs to Senator Sanders and Professor Gerald Friedman – which claimed that “no credible economic research supports economic impacts” proposed by Friedman and that “Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic”. As if the policy-making and arithmetic of these attention-seeking (neo-liberal) Democrat insiders is anything to be guided by.
Today, I am writing material for our textbook, given that we are pushing to get it finished before the end of the year and there is one macroeconomics class already using the trial draft version. In that context, we are having to keep feeding material to the lecturers and students to keep up with their schedule. So that is why I am departing from my usual practice of Friday textbook writing. I have also had a disrupted day, having earlier presented a workshop on professional ethics and responsibilities to a group of postgraduate students. And besides, today is September 11 and so it is our duty to honour the victims of the Pinochet coup in Chile, which occurred on that Tuesday morning in 1973. At least 60,000 people perished under the oppression of the right-wing junta that illegally seized control of that democratic nation with US support.
The G-20 held its annual Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in South Korea over the weekend. It was amazing to see just how comprehensive the impact of the deficit terrorists has been on the way in which the G-20 has shifted its views on the way to deal with the on-going economic crisis. The G20 communique released today clearly illustrates that the G-20 group have been won over by the terrorists and are now supporting austerity measures. This is another one of the amazing reversals in the public debate that are now becoming regular events. All of the reversals are making it harder for governments to do what we elect them to do – use their policy tools to advance public purpose. The increasing constraints that governments are voluntarily accepting to satisfy the demands of amorphous groups such as the “bond markets” impinge on the democratic rights of every citizen. We expect our governments will act in the best interests of the nation. Sadly they are no longer doing that because they have fallen prey of the deficit terrorists. We have a new term for this – democratic repression.
The Australian Government has now released its so-called Social inclusion principles which are apparently intended “to guide individuals, business and community organisations, and government on how to take a socially inclusive approach to their activities”. I couldn’t find a commitment to full employment among the principles. Pity about that. Another strategy that is rich in rhetoric but squibs the essential nature of the problem. My advice: scrap the plan and start again.
Emmanuel Macron won the second-round of the Presidential election in France at the weekend (April 24, 2022), as expected. He easily beat the right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen – scoring 58.54 per cent of the vote compared to 41.46 per cent for Le Pen. Some might say that Le Pen was closer this time, having improved on the 66.1 versus 33.9 per cent from the 2017 run-off. That is true and the spatial concentration of the 2022 vote intensified with Le Pen improving her vote in the East, North, and South as well as the overseas territories. One of the notable features this year was the 28.01 per cent absentee vote (some 13.6 million registered voters), which represented more voters than actually cast their support for Le Pen (13.3 million). There is a lot of speculation about what the vote means in European terms and in Left-Right terms. I noted some commentators from the Left urging the voters with progressive inclinations to vote for Le Pen because she represented the best deal for workers. My view is that would have been a disastrous strategy for the Left to follow. That is what this blog post is about.
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.
At present, the unemployment rate in Australia is 4.2 per cent and falling. If the rate of new immigrants remains low for a while as our external borders open, then it is likely the unemployment rate will fall into the 3 per cent range soon. What people are learning is that the claims made by mainstream economists that full employment was anything between 5 and 8 per cent (at various times to suit their arguments) was a lie. It just suited their ideological agenda and flawed theoretical framework to maintain that narrative. Of course, underemployment is still very high, which means that even if the unemployment rate falls further, we are still a way from being at full employment. But with prices accelerating at present, we are seeing calls for government to pursue an austerity fiscal approach, which would prevent the unemployment rate falling further. We have been here before. Today, I document a major turning point in Australian politics, when the Labor government became the first to abandon the national government’s commitment to full employment, a policy approach that had defined the post Second World War period of prosperity. So … back to 1974 we go.
It’s Wednesday and I have been digging a bit into what appears to be a growing coalition opposing lockdowns, mask wearing, vaccine rules, and vaccinations in general. The claims are that none of these things work and that the economy is better off without them. I am not writing today about these matters (I have in the past) but rather about the nature of these coalitions. One of the things that has held back progressive causes in the past is the tendency of social democratic type interests to adopt the mainstream macroeconomics, which not only limits what they can do but exposes them to accusations that the government will run out of money and cause inflation if they have ambitious programs. The pattern of progressive interests aligning with non-progressive voices is thus not new. I am seeing it again in the context of the public health debate, which, in part, explains why our world is in such a Covid-mess. It isn’t all bad today – there is some nice music to finish, being Wednesday.
It’s Wednesday, so just a few snippets before some great music from the early 1960s. Over the last few weeks, the commentary in the financial and economic press has been that the ‘market’ has priced in higher inflation and the central banks will have to concede to the market prerogative. Even people I personally like in the media have been running this line and headlines last week included statements like the RBA has run the white flag up. All of this is a self-fulfilling outcome, if every one acts as if there is an imperative to give the ‘markets’ the running, then it will happen. And we should all be clear on what that means. Corporate welfare abounds. And it is not the only example in the last week.
Last Saturday, September 11, we observed the anniversary of a terrible terrorist act, inflicted on a free people with a democratically-elected government by multinational conspiratorial forces. The terrorist attack happened on a Tuesday. It resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people and the offenders have never been brought to justice. We should etch that day – Tuesday, September 11, 1973 – in our consciences, especially if you are an American, British or Australian citizen, given the culpability of our respective governments in that despicable coup d’etat. Today, a bit of a different blog post as I remember this historical event and the way it undermined progressive thought for years. The type of economic policies introduced by Pinochet on advice from the ‘Chicago Boys’ became the standard approach for even the traditional social democratic parties in the 1980s and beyond. We still haven’t abandoned the macroeconomic ideology that accompanies this approach. And Chile, 1973, was the live laboratory. Yes, the Blairites and the Delors-types and the American Democrats, etc don’t chuck inconvenient people out of planes in the ocean to get rid of them like Pinochet did on a daily basis, but the macroeconomics invoked is not that different.
I often read that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is defective because it has no theory of power relations. Some critics link this in their narrative to their claim that MMT also has no theory of inflation. They then proceed to attack concepts such as employment buffers, on the grounds, that MMT cannot propose a solution to inflation if it has no understanding of how power relations cause inflation. These criticisms don’t come from the conservative side of the policy debate but rather from the so-called Left, although I wonder just how ‘left’ some of the commentators who cast these aspersions actually are. The problem with these criticisms is that they have clearly adopted a partial approach to their understanding of what MMT is, presumably through not reading the literature widely enough, but also because of the way, some MMT proponents choose to represent our work. In this two part series, I propose to interrogate this issue and demonstrate that power and class is central to any contribution I have made to the development of the MMT literature. Part 1 sets the context and illustrates why some people might be confused.