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The Weekend Quiz – December 14-15, 2019 – answers and discussion

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.

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    The Weekend Quiz – December 14-15, 2019

    Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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      Discredited academic dinosaurs continue to seek relevance

      As many mainstream macroeconomics try to reinvent themselves after their reputations were trashed during and in the aftermath of the GFC, some are still trying to stay relevant by recycling the usual trash about deficits, public debt and bond yields that defines the New Keynesian orthodoxy in macroeconomics. That approach has been emphatically exposed as fake knowledge by the fact that none of the predictions that can be derived from that framework have proven to be accurate. On December 9, 2019, the UK Guardian took a rest from imputing anti-semitist motives to Jeremy Corbyn and published a sort of dinosauric-type article from Kenneth Rogoff – Public borrowing is cheap but ramping up debt is not without risk. Yes, the same character that claimed during the crisis that there was a public debt threshold of 90 per cent of GDP, beyond which, governments would face insolvency. When it was discovered the spreadsheet they had used to come up with that conclusion had been incompetently (or fraudulently) manipulated and that the actual data did not show anything of the sort, Rogoff should have slunked off and shut his mouth forever. But that is not the way these characters operate. Memory is short. Their position as an agent for their elites is well paid. And so they keep recycling the nonsense. Eventually, their influence will decline. But as Max Planck noted in 1948 “Die Wahrheit triumphiert nie, ihre Gegner sterben nur aus”, which has been reduced to ‘science advances one funeral at a time’, which is not a verbatim translation but an accurate depiction of how change is slow to come to the academy.

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        My brief comment on the British election

        It is Wednesday and I am travelling a lot today. So just a collection of short snippets today that I have collected over the last week or so. First, the British election is tomorrow and the Tories have been successful in confining the focus to Brexit. My view on the EU and Britain’s decision to exit is well known. Labour should have been leading that process given the majority of their elected MPS come from Leave majority seats. Instead, they gave out a mixed message, with many senior Labour politicians claiming they would vote remain in another referendum. This is despite both major parties guaranteeing to the people in June 2016 that they would implement the vote to leave. The information we have at present is that that position on Brexit is probably going to cost them office. Which means the Tories survive when they should not but finish the Brexit process which they should. Then Labour will have to reinvent itself to take advantage of the renewed sovereignty that Brexit will bring. To do that it has to expunge its ranks of the neoliberals. One other matters, Leonard Cohen’s last album was released recently. We hear a song from it.

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          Free flows of capital do not increase output but do increase inequality

          There was an IMF paper released in April 2018 – The Aggregate and Distributional Effects of Financial Globalization: Evidence from Macro and Sectoral Data – that had a long title but a fairly succinct message. It indicates that the IMF is still in a sort of schizoid process where the evidential base has built up so against the political voice and practice that the IMF has indulged itself as a front-line neoliberal attack dog that elements in its research division are breaking ranks and revealing interesting information. In part, the Brexit debate in Britain has been characterised by economists supporting the Remain argument claiming that free capital flows within Europe (and Britain) are the vehicle for strong output growth and better living standards. They claim that when Britain leaves the EU global capital flows will be more restricted in and out of Britain and that will be damaging. It is really just a rehearsal of the standard mainstream economic claims found in monetary, trade and macroeconomics textbooks. What the IMF paper does is provide what they call a “fresh look at the at the aggregate and distributional effects of policies to liberalize international capital flows” and the researchers find that, “financial globalization … have led on average to limited output gains while contributing to significant increases in inequality”. That is, the pie hasn’t really grown much as a result of all these free trade moves but a growing share is being taken by an increasingly wealthier few. And workers are the losers.

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            US labour market – quantitative gains but qualitative losses

            On Friday (December 6, 2019), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2019 – which reveals a labour market that that is still adding jobs. The November performance was very strong in quantitative terms. The payroll employment change was well above the year’s average and the official unemployment rate remains at very low (relative) levels. The employment-population ratio is steady indicating that the labour market is producing jobs growth in line with population growth. The Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) remains high (but fell in November by 0.1 points) even though the official unemployment is now hovering around levels not seen since the late 1960s. The worry is that the jobs being added represent a significant hollowing out of jobs in the median wage area (the so-called ‘middle-class’ jobs), which is reinforcing the polarisation in the income distribution and rising inequality. There is no hint, yet in the data, that a recession is coming any time soon.

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              The Weekend Quiz – December 7-8, 2019 – answers and discussion

              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.

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                The Weekend Quiz – December 7-8, 2019

                Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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                  Q&A Japan style – Part 5b

                  This is the final part of a two-part discussion about the consequences of a currency-issuing government exercising different bond-issuing options. The basic Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) position is for the currency-issuing government to abandon the unnecessary practice of issuing debt (which is a hangover from the fixed exchange rate, gold standard days). Currency-issuing governments should use that capacity to advance general well-being and providing corporate welfare to underpin and reduce the risk of speculative behaviour in the financial markets does not serve any valid purpose. However, when we introduce real world layers (politics, etc) we realise that some pure MMT-type options are not possible. This question introduces just such a case in Japan. Given the political constraints, we are asked to choose between two options for central bank conduct, when the government does issue debt: (A) Buy it all up in the secondary bond markets. (B) Leave it in the non-government sector. In this final part, I go through some of the considerations that might influence that choice.

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                    Australian growth outlook remains poor

                    The latest release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – September-quarter 2019 National Accounts data (December 4, 2019) – confirms what we have been tracing for several quarters – the Australian economy is grinding to a halt, households are trying to increase saving, the Government’s tax cuts from July seem to have been largely saved to run down debt rather than spent, business investment is weak, and government spending and the terms of trade boost to exports are the only thing between now and a recession. And, the government is in denial, thinking its fiscal surplus obsession is more important than protecting incomes and growth. The problem is that if you don’t do the latter, you can kiss the former goodbye anyway. The data shows that annual GDP growth of 1.7 per cent is around 1/2 the historical trend rate. This is a very poor on-going result. The weaker performance started in the last 6 months of 2018 and has continued into the first six months of 2019. However, due to a fairly strong terms of trade, Real net national disposable income rose, which signifies rising material living standards. But those terms of trade gains will prove to be ephemeral. Overall, the quarterly growth rate was just 0.4 per cent. Net exports were strong (terms of trade effect) and government consumption expenditure was strong courtesy of some policy measures in disability, health and aged care coming on-line. Their boost will also dissipate fairly quickly. Longer-term worries include the weakening household consumption growth and the on-going negative business investment growth. The data now lets us appraise whether the small tax cut stimulus the government introduced from July have been very effective. In an environment where household debt is at record levels, the risks of unemployment are rising, and wages growth remains stagnant, it is no surprise that the households are using their tax savings to reduce their risk levels. This is borne out by the rising saving ratio. The overall picture is not good and the future is looking rather dim at present. A major shift in fiscal policy towards expansion is now definitely required.

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