Brighton Fringe – #MMT with the one and only Prof. Bill Mitchell #Lab17

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Many of us now realise that the scares about deficits and debt are nothing more than useful devices to justify cuts and sell-offs of our public services.  Austerity is a political choice.  There was/is nothing necessary about the last 7y of Tory asset-stripping.  If you’re in Brighton for LP conference (or any other reason) come and hear Professor Bill Mitchell explain how the economy really operates.  You don’t need to be a LP member and it doesn’t cost you anything to be informed by a world class economist.

Monday 25th September, 2pm until 5pm at the Brighthelm Centre (just a few steps down from Brighton station).

Why the ‘Magic Money Tree’ Matters

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 On BBC Question Time, the Prime Minsiter, Theresa May told a young nurse who hasn’t had a pay rise in eight years and is trying to earn a living that there was no more money, and that there isn’t a magic money tree. (See link)

The Tories know full well, that funds are available for the UK government to use as they think fit,  as we are a sovereign state, and have our own currency which the government releases for investment. But while in 2010 they made a public  fuss about a piece of paper which was saying ‘no money left’, they knew, all along’ what they wanted to do. They used this (ill-advised) joke to add credence to their Austerity agenda which has resulted in cuts so severe it has left people disabled suicidal, people homeless, and people who are working very hard, in poverty. Yet they  wanted those funds for the few, not for the many.

Since Margaret Thatcher’s cruel government snatched our children’s milk, and did not replenish our social housing, and decimated our industry,  and yet helped itself to public assets, the media has reinforced myths about mainstream economics. It continues in 21st Century, while  today’s Tories want to finish the job by, for example, cutting Police and Army personnel, and now they want to privatise our National  Health Service.

We cannot progress in redressing this imbalance  between rich and poor until these myths are exposed for what they are – just lies!

These are myths the Tories want us to believe ( see article) They are untrue, all of them

  • The state money system operates like our own household budget
  • Government spending relies on taxation and borrowing
  • The government needs to reduce the deficit, balance the books and save for the future
  • The government must learn to live within its means
  • The government has to cut public services like the NHS, education or welfare because we can no longer afford to pay for them   

The government is forever saying it’s the ‘taxpayers’ money which funds public services, and this just is not true. The government is the source of the money, and tax a tool for resdistributing  the wealth produced by our working people.   Once we accept this concept, then  we can see that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party Manifesto is not a “Chritsmas Card List”, but a costed plan to invest in our society to rebuild Britain for the many, not the few. This is something which the vast majority want to see, but are still believing the Tory myths.

The Modern Money Matters website is a good source of information 

The Magic Money Tree Exists, Modern Money Matters

“Like the elephant in the room The Tree cannot be mentioned, because then the electorate might start asking awkward questions about public services — perhaps we should have some? — and taxation — are we overtaxed for the size of government we have, given that we still have people without work?

Once you know about The Tree you might have your politicians delay a casino build and build a hospital instead. You might let the rich people keep their coins, but stop them using those coins to reserve scarce doctors and teachers for their own purposes ahead of the general population.

The Tories want to privatise everything, and Labour want to hit rich people hard with taxation sticks. There are no doubt reasons for these fetishes that psychologists would find fascinating. But they are damaging to our nation. They get in the way of doing the job.”

In 1945, a Labour Government, after the ravages of war managed to invest in our society, and the will was there to do so. I believe the will is there now, but generations who have grown up believing what the Tory press have said,  do not realise this is all possible. Here is the Magic Money Tree idea of Labour’s Manifesto. Further economic explanations can be found as Modern Monetary Theory. (These are both known as MMT).

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Let’s dispel the Tory myth, and get the MMT idea of Economics out there. Then we start the rebuild. Our society has become so divided, we need to join together in creating a society for the Many not the Few.

 

 

 

Deficit Fetish: Just say “No!”

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Balancing Budgets: The Austerity Dogma

By John Weeks, previously published here on Piera

Twitter: @johnweeks41

Austerity NO

The Austerity dogma of George Osborne asserts that a negative balance between public revenue and overall public spending (deficit) is a problem requiring immediate policy measures to eliminate it.  He has gone further, asserting that the fiscal balance should be positive (surplus) when the economy is at or near its capacity.  His invariant form of “correction” is expenditure reduction (aka “austerity”).

He and his supporters give three justifications for this dogma.  There is the reductionist argument that compares public sector budgeting to households, so obvious to the austerity-advocates that it requires no explanation  Households must balance their books (“cannot spend more than their incomes”), and the same applies (or should apply) to governments.

Anyone who believes that households must spend no more than current income has never bought a house, sent an offspring to university or found her/himself between jobs (due to redundancy, firing or voluntary employment shift).

Statistics refute the like-households argument. Households across the income distribution spend more than their incomes, early and often.  That is why PwC projects average UK household debt to reach £10,000 at the end of 2016 excluding mortgages.  The very limited truth in the false comparison comes at the bottom of the income distribution, where households have no choice but to engage in desperation borrowing (see study by Johanna Montgomerie).

The more fundamental falsifier of the household-equals-government argument is that the UK government can borrow from itself and a household cannot. The government of a country that has a national currency is not constrained in its spending by revenue flow alone.  However, macroeconomic conditions can impose binding constraints to public spending, which I discuss at a later point.

Superficially more serious is the argument that public sector deficits put upward pressure on market interest rates.  Government bond sales compete with private borrowing, interest rates rise and private debt become more expensive and investment declines (“crowded out”).  Whether this represents an important macroeconomic interaction in general remains subject of empirical debate.

At the moment it is obviously irrelevant because the Bank of England rate is below one percent and money market rates hardly higher.  Indeed, a rise in interest rates could bring benefits, such as higher returns to pension funds.  Were the UK government concerned about “crowding out” it has an obvious way to avoid it, borrowing directly from the Bank of England (“monetizing” the deficit).

Another frequently encountered assertion is that the Chancellor should avoid public sector deficits because they generate inflationary pressures.  There exist concrete circumstances when this would happen, but at the moment the overall rate of inflation in the UK is slightly negative, and the “core inflation rate” is barely over one percent.

Finally, the deficit has been falling (albeit slowly), and for fiscal year 2014/15 was less than £60 billion (below 5% of GDP compared to over 10% in mid-2012).  With inflation at zero, government borrowing falling, and no empirical or theoretical basis for the dangers of deficits, further budget cuts would qualify as gratuitous and ideological.

Balancing Budgets: Anti-Austerity Variations

Among critics of Chancellor Osborne’s policies appear two counter proposals for fiscal policy guidelines, 1) borrow only for investment, and 2) balance the budget “over the economic cycle”.  Close inspection of these suggests that they are variations on the austerity argument rather than refutations.

The first would maintain balance or a surplus for current expenditure, and fund public investment through borrowing by sale of government bonds in the financial market or borrowing from the Bank of England.  In mainstream economics the former has no impact on the supply of money, while the latter increases it by the amount of the borrowing.  The qualifier “in mainstream economics” is necessary because a considerable portion of the economics profession rejects the implicit assumption that the supply of money is independent of the level of output.

We need not wade into the money supply argument to see that the “borrow only to invest” position accepts that deficits are a problem, though limiting the problematic role to the current budget, total revenue flows less non-investment expenditure.  In practice the distinction between current and capital (investment) expenditure is far from black and white.

By usual definition investment includes all expenditures that increase the capacity of the economy, now or in the future.  There should be no argument that much of education and health spending does exactly this, which explains the origin of the term “human capital”.  However, all but the building and equipment component of health and education fall into current expenditure.  This arbitrary definition treats activities of doctors, nurses and teachers analogously to those who repair and maintain capital equipment rather than improve human health and skills.

Finally the borrow-only-to-invest policy encounters a serious problem.  When economic contraction causes public revenue to fall below current expenditure, should a government cuts in public services and social support?  If so, this policy becomes a variant on the Chancellor’s austerity dogma.  And not making cuts implies that the policy cannot be implemented.

The second approach also considers deficits as problems needing correction, over the economic cycle rather than continuously.  The concrete guideline is that the fiscal balance can be negative when the economy falls into recession, then moves into surplus as it recovers.

In practice this policy framework flounders on several empirical and analytical flaws.  First, defining the length of the period over which the sum of deficits and surpluses sum to zero defies consensus.  Without clear definitions of the beginning and end of a cycle this framework cannot be implemented without arbitrary guidelines.

Both approaches offered as a counter to austerity suffer from the same fallacy as the dogma itself.  Any rule requiring a fiscal balance must apply arbitrary assumptions and definitions in order to define when the outcome conforms to the rule.  Supporters of budget cuts have attacked critics of austerity as “deficit deniers”.

The meaning of this accusatory term remains elusive, but it carries the implication that opponents of expenditure cuts “do not care” about the deficit and/or do not consider it a problem.

The counter proposals might be seen as being “semi-denials”.  Those advocating balancing the current budget deny the need for revenue to cover public investment.  The cyclical balancers deny any necessary to correct deficits in the short run.  Arriving at sensible and rational fiscal rules requires abandoning budget balancing as a goal and converting it into an outcome derivative from effectively achieving macroeconomic stability and high levels of employment.

The Role of Taxation

The various versions of deficits-are-a-problem might be epitomised in the cliché, “governments must live within their means”, with disagreement arising as to whether “their means” refers to the current or overall budget and/or the relevant time period.

Aversion to deficits comes from an analytical confusion, the commonsense generalization that the purpose of taxation is to fund public expenditure.  For the government of a country that is part of a currency union (e.g., the euro zone) or a regional or local government the generalization is valid.  These governments do not control the monetary system in which they operate their fiscal policy.  The generalization is not true for a government of a country with a national currency over which it has control either directly or via the central bank.  I call the former shared currency countries (SCC) and the latter national currency countries (NCC).

A SCC government has two methods of funding expenditure, taxation and selling bonds to the private sector (typically to banks and other financial institutions).  The SCC government must pay the debt service, interest and principle, to private bond holders from taxation for the life of the bond.  For SCC governments borrowing is similar to what households and businesses do.  The cliché “living within means” could be applied, meaning precisely that the combination of current outlays and debt service must be consistent with revenue flows.

NCC governments operate within quite different fiscal constraints, possessing an additional funding option and a quite different goal for fiscal policy.  The core purpose of fiscal policy for an SCC government is to provide necessary and discretional public goods, and fund these in a sustainable manner.  The core purposes of fiscal policy for the NCC government are to maintain macroeconomic stability and increase productive capacity for the medium and long term.  The NCC government uses current expenditure to achieve stability and capital expenditure to enhance capacity.  Any expenditure by an NCC government, current or capital, obtains its funding from taxation, bonds sales to the private sector, and/or borrowing directly from the country’s central bank (“monetization”).

The defining characteristic of borrowing from the central bank is that in practice the debt need never be repaid;  for example, the Treasury could sell the Bank of England 100 year bonds (though in practice the maturity period is much shorter), or “roll over” the bonds (issue new ones to replace those that reach their redemption date).  The Bank of England holds about 25% of UK public debt.

The short run goal of macroeconomic stability determines the mix of these three funding alternatives.  If the economy falls into recession with deflationary price pressures the NCC government increases expenditure to compensate for the fall in private demand, covering the increased outlays through monetization.  As the economy approaches full capacity with inflationary pressures, monetization ends.  Rising tax revenue from the expanding economy replaces bond sales.

Whether the public budget is in balance should be of no concern for the NCC government.  If economic activity is declining or stagnant, public borrowing should increase.  Whether this results in a deficit on current expenditure is little importance, for the policy purpose is recovery not hitting a fiscal target.  An overheating economy calls for increased taxation, perhaps generating an overall surplus.

Balancing Policy rather than Budgets

For the British government, and all other NCC governments, expenditures and taxation have different policy functions and motivations.  Current expenditure delivers public goods and services to the population, and regulates the short term stability of the aggregate economy.  Simultaneously achieving those two goals represents the main challenge of a rational fiscal policy.

The capital budget, public investment, enhances capacity and only in extreme circumstances such as the threat of high inflation would be adjusted for short term policy goals.  How our government funds any part of public expenditure is derivative from the overall goals of short term stability and long term capacity enhancement.

The rational approach to fiscal decisions is to balance policy not budgets.  The fiscal balance in itself is neither a target nor an indicator of successful policy.  Whether the fiscal balance is positive, zero or negative reflects the outcome of this rational approach.  This is not deficit denial.  It is rejection of deficit fetish.

Nottingham meets the Modern Robin Hood, Jeremy Corbyn

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Jeremy Corbyn has met tremendous support for people all around England, Scotland and Wales. This has not been seen in the Labour movement for generations.

Take a LOOK at the queues waiting to listen to Jeremy Corbyn speak in Nottingham, home to the original Robin Hood.

This has been nothing short of astonishing. LISTEN to the event here, in high quality audio.

Unite the Union hosted the rally  in Nottingham and  present these Speakers:

Jeremy Corbyn MP
Richard Murphy, Tax Research UK and Economics Advisor to Jeremy’s campaign
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary TSSA Union
Annmarie Kilcline, East Midlands Unite
Tony Kearns, CWU
Nadia Whittome and Umaar Kazmi, young Labour members
Chaired by Cheryl Butler, Leader of Ashfield District Council

From this NG Digital site you can listen to the excellent quality audio of this  event, or download the file on ITunes

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership has electrified the contest and brought new ideas to a stale political system. He is Labour’s best chance of defeating the Tories at the next election and bringing back voters lost to the SNP, the Green Party and UKIP.