Yvette Cooper hasn’t got the economics right

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In the last of the Labour leadership debates, Yvette Cooper repeated her attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s economic strategy.  As a New Keynesian, she believes that since the economy is finally growing, the time for government investment or a fiscal stimulus has passed.  She should tell that to the 2.3m unemployed and the millions more who are underemployed.

In the re-posted article below, Richard Murphy explains why her belief that Peoples’ Quantitative Easing would be inflationary, is simply not true.

Re-posted from Tax Research UK

 Why no inflation?

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The question of inflation is coming up time and again in the Labour leadership election. Yvette Cooper is certain that People’s Quantitative Easing will lead to a mass outbreak of hyperinflation in the UK. It’s time to address the issue.

First, some general background. PQE is simply a way of injecting money into the economy. Such injections have happened before: £375 billion happened from 2009 to 2012. The US has only just stopped its QE programme. Japan is still doing one. The EU is near the start of a €1-trillion programme. Money printing is normal. There has been or will be about ¢5 trillion of it over a relatively short period.

And around the world there is almost no inflation. After QE the UK has got to zero inflation.

Japan would love inflation but can’t manage it.

The whole point of the EU programme is to create inflation, and many doubt it will.

In the US the inflation rate is 0.2%.

What is more, as the FT reports this morning, a Boston Fed official with some influence is today reporting that the Chinese slowdown is already making him doubt that the US can reach its 2% target inflation rate anytime in the foreseeable future. I have some considerable sympathy with that view. In fact, let me summarise what almost all the world’s central bankers are looking for right now: it is a magic bullet that might create the inflation that they want.

So the question has to be asked as to why they can’t get it? The Wall Street Journal raised this question last week. As they noted:

Central bankers aren’t sure they understand how inflation works anymore. Inflation didn’t fall as much as many expected during the financial crisis, when the economy faltered and unemployment soared. It hasn’t bounced back as they predicted when the economy recovered and unemployment fell.

As they then note, this is a massive issue. If you can’t predict inflation then what is the point of central bank independence which is all about controlling inflation as if it is the only task of significance in an economy? What if, in other words, all the priorities are wrong and for reasons central bankers and some well-trained economists (like Yvette Cooper) don’t understand inflation simply is not the threat it was? And in that case what new policies are needed?

Let me explain why I think the inflation conundrum exists i.e. why we can’t deliver the inflation we want.

First, it’s because inflation measures are measuring the wrong things. We have had massive inflation in asset prices, for example, many of which have real impact on well-being, but asset price inflation is not included in our inflation measure.

Second, some inflation measures fail to measure the right things. So, for example, in the UK there is a current belief that we will have inflation soon because we supposedly have wage inflation right now. But firstly, that is wage inflation after eight years of decline and with GDP per head only at pre-crash levels. And second, this measure might be hopelessly inaccurate. That’s because it excludes the earnings of the at least 5 million UK self-employed, who we know have had seriously declining income. That decline may be enough, given their number and the relatively small increases in wage growth to neutralise that wage increase impact entirely: the reality is that this measure of apparent inflation might be completely wrong.

Third, what the decline in self-employed earnings shows is that inflation risk is being outsourced: it is now passed on to some elements within a profoundly deregulated labour force, many of whom are suffering unrecorded real earnings decline of such extent that they are in poverty, but so destabilise the rest of the labour market by accepting any offered pay rate (which rates are beyond the control of minimum wage regulation) that  any amount of upward pressure on prices can simply be externalised into this unmeasured pool of labour meaning that anticipated inflation outcomes simply do not happen.

I stress, I am speculating. But let’s suppose across 25 million workers there is a 2% pay rise and across 5 million self-employed people a 10% wage drop (which is not impossible) then there is no net wage inflation at all: the wage rate data is just wrong as a result because it is missing an important variable that did not matter at one time but is now deeply significant.

In that case the amount of inflationary pressure in the UK economy might well come back to being effectively nothing at all, whilst we have at the same time unemployment, under-employment and a stark need for real investment which is the only way to boost earnings growth for those most in need of it, which is the only true economic goal a Treasury and a central bank should have. But because of poor inflation measures, poor theory and poor appraisal of why we do not have inflation at present, when if theory was right we should, we are denied that possibility of investment for the common good. I find it deeply frustrating that adherence to economic thinking that is obviously past its sell-by date should be used to oppose necessary ideas for reform that could massively benefit the people of this country.

Yvette Cooper is an able person. She seems to have read Keynes. She would be wise to recall his maxim that:

Practical people who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

I fear that may be the case.

It is time to move on. There is no inflation risk right now. PQE probably will not change that: if it did then without major labour market reforms the impact would be modest, at best. But many wish for even that modest inflation impact, and most of them are central bankers. Yvette Copper should take note.

 

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Tax Research UK Blog by Richard Murphy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. – See more at: http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2015/09/02/why-no-inflation/#sthash.Mp9XSmlK.dpuf

Corbynomics is the antidote to Speculation and Bubbles

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Corbynomics and Crashes: Investment versus Speculation By Michael Burke

First posted 2nd September 2015

Words matter. But in economic discussion as elsewhere they are frequently abused. In economic commentary one of the most frequent falsehoods is to describe speculative activity as investment. Stock market ‘investors’ are in fact engaged in speculative activity. There is no value created by this speculation. The claim made by its apologists that it provides for the efficient allocation of capital to productive enterprises is laughably untrue in light of both recent events and long-run history. In fact, a vast number of studies show that that there is an inverse correlation between the growth rate of an economy and the returns to shareholders in stock market-listed companies.

The chart below is just one example of these studies, Fig. 1. The research from the London Business School and Credit Suisse shows the long-run relationship between real stock market returns and per capital GDP growth. The better the stock market performance, the worse the growth in real GDP per capita. The two variables are inversely correlated.

The Economist found this result ‘puzzling’. But it corresponds to economic theory. The greater the proportion of capital that is diverted towards speculation and away from productive investment, the slower the growth rate will be, and the slower the growth in prosperity (per capita GDP).

Fig.1 Stock market returns and per capita GDP growth

 

This is exactly what has been happening in all the Western economies over a prolonged period. SEB has previously identified a declining proportion of Western firms’ profits devoted to investment. The uninvested portion of this capital does not disappear. Instead, it is held as cash in banks and the banks themselves use this to fund speculation and share buybacks by companies (which simply omits the banks as intermediaries in the speculation). The effects of this are so marked that some analysts believe ‘financialisation’ is the cause of the current crisis, when instead it is an extreme symptom of the decline in investment and the consequent growth of speculative activity.

Stock market crashes

It is now customary in the Western financial press to routinely ascribe all aspects of the Great Stagnation to some failing in China. So, China’s fractional currency devaluation has been identified as the culprit of the recent stock market plunges, even though the 3% devaluation of the Chinese RMB followed a 55% of the Japanese yen and a 27% decline in the Euro.

The claim that the crashes were caused by China’s currency move has no factual basis. Fig.2 below shows the closing level of the main US stock market index in August. The S&P 500 rose from 2,083 to 2,102 in the 4 days after the RMB’s 3.2% devaluation which finished on August 13 (first arrow).

On August 19, the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) of the US central bank released the minutes of its most recent meeting (second arrow), which was widely interpreted as indicating a strong likelihood that interest rates would be increased in September. The prior closing level for the S&P500 was 2,097 and it fell sharply thereafter. Following speeches by a number of governors of the US Federal reserve (who vote on the FOMC) questioned the need for an increase in rates, and the market has recovered in response. Yet other speeches pointing once more to a rate rise led to stock market falls once more, and so on.

Fig.2 S&P500 Index

But this uncertainty over US rate increases is only the proximate cause of the crashes. This sharp fall is a stock market verdict that it cannot easily absorb higher US interest rates. The current valuations for the stock market are based on official short-term interest rates of 0.25% and a dividend yield on S&P500 stocks of 2.24%. Even if rates were only doubled to 0.5% the level of the stock market becomes much less attractive. If rates were to rise towards 2%, the risky stock market’s dividend yield looks extremely unattractive compared to risk-free short-term interest rates.

There is a separate matter that the US economy does not look robust enough to absorb any significantly higher interest rates, but this hardly concerns stock market speculators. Fig. 3 below shows the pace of growth in US industrial production versus the same month a year ago. Production has slowed for a year and is down to a snail’s pace in the last 3 months, averaging less than 1.4% from the same period a year ago. The latest data show that the US economy is experiencing only modest growth, with GDP in the 2nd quarter just 2.6% higher than a year ago.

Fig.3 Growth In US Industrial Production

 

Despite the widespread hype about the British economy, the equivalent data on industrial production is growth of 1.5% for the latest 3 months compared to a year ago. For the Eurozone it is 1.2%. In China, industrial production has grown by 6.3% in the latest 3 months compared to the same period a year ago.

Corbynomics and crashes

Since 2010, the major central banks of the US, Japan, and the Eurozone have created US$4.5 trillion, Yen 200 trillion and €1.1 trillion in their respective Quantitative Easing programmes. The Bank of England has added £375bn of its own. Over the same period short-term official interest rates have been at or close to zero. Long-term interest rates have also plummeted. This has not led to a revival of investment in the advanced industrialised economies. After the short-lived stimulus in some Western economies to end the 2008-2009 slump, total fixed investment (Gross Fixed Capital Formation) has slowed to a crawl in the OECD as a whole, as shown in Fig.4 below.

Fig. 4 OECD GFCF, % change 1996 to 2013

Yet over the same period, the main stock market indices in the OECD economies have soared. The stock markets and real GDP are inversely correlated. The S&P500 index has effectively doubled since 2011. The Eurofirst 300 has risen by 55%, the Nikkei 225 in Japan has risen by 125% (boosted by currency devaluation) and the FTSE100 has risen by 25% (a poorer performance held back by the predominance of weak international oil and mining stocks). Data for 2014 is not yet available but the total cumulative increased on OECD GFCF from 2011 may not have reached 10%.

Corbynomics is the policy of attempting to address an investment crisis with an increase in investment. Its critics repeatedly claim that this policy will cause financial turmoil. In light of recent events this assertion ought to cause a wry smile. At the very least, the most powerful central banks in the world have to reassess their intentions on policy simply because of the wild gyrations in the stock markets. These have been accompanied by further large movements in global currency exchange rates.

The reason stock markets are so febrile, and policy so easily blown off course is that a bubble is being created in financial assets because of the combination of monetary creation, ultra-low interest rates and weak investment. Capital that could be directed towards increasing the productive capacity of the economy is instead being used to finance speculation; the worst of both worlds. This policy has caused inflation in financial assets such stock markets, in house prices and (previously) in commodities prices. But continued economic stagnation means that deflation is now the greater risk in the OECD economies at the level of consumer prices.

Corbynomics addresses those risks because its aim is to raise the level of investment in the economy. By increasing the productive capacity of the economy through investment-led growth it overcomes the weakness of the economy. By redirecting the flow of capital from speculation towards investment, it deflates the speculative bubble. So, to take an obvious example, by building new homes it provides housing and employment while deflating the house price bubble.

The root of the objection to Corbynomics is the insistence that the private sector, private capital must be allowed to dominate the economy in its own interests. But the current Western economic model is a combination of shopping and speculation, leading to stagnation. Corbynomics is the antidote to these; prosperity through investment-led growth.

Neoliberal TINA Economics is Flat Earth thinking

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By Prue Plumridge

Belief in a flat Earth is found in the oldest writings and early Mesopotamian maps showed the world as a flat disk floating in the ocean.  Thankfully things have moved on since that time and we now accept the proof that it is indeed a sphere spinning in space.

It is not difficult to imagine the reaction to those who challenged this view, such as Christopher Columbus, and the scepticism with which such ideas would have initially been received.  After all, if you’ve been told that you’ll fall off the edge of the world if you go too far, questioning that notion would have led to shaking of heads.  Those disputing the prevailing set of ideas or beliefs on the basis of “what if” would have been ridiculed, insulted or even physically attacked as fear of the new set in.

We have reached such a time in history now.  The destructive neoliberal status quo of the last few decades is being shaken to its core and there is an opportunity at last for a conversation about where we go from here and how we can bring about change.  It won’t be easy but Jeremy Corbyn has started the ball rolling by offering a radical vision which not only restores the core values of the Labour party and responds to a changing world but also opens up an opportunity for dialogue on such issues as climate change, finite resources and sustainable living.  It is a positive start.

Of course, those who have the most to lose will not let their power go easily and we are seeing that already with attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by the Establishment and business leaders and worse still, from his own party.  Only this week, an article in the Telegraph was predicting that Jeremy Corbyn’s economic plans will turn us into Zimbabwe and lead us to calamity.   We must, however, stand strong against such attacks which stem from fear and forge our future together.

People are starting to see through the decades long political neoliberal consensus which favours the magic of free markets.  But there is still a way to go and it won’t be easy.  It is vital that we ask questions and, even when, like the flat earthers, we find the potential solutions out of our comfort zone because it questions the long-accepted paradigm, we must not turn away.

Most people (including me) shy away from discussion of economics.  Mathematical equations and economic models dance before the eyes and shut down the brain like no other subject.  And yet the decisions made by our elected politicians are based on economic ideas which can wreak havoc on our lives and the lives of our families and friends or can, alternatively, be used for a public purpose to benefit those same lives.  Indeed, we are seeing the damaging consequences of those decisions today.  Dismantling our social security system, selling our publically funded public services to the private sector, deregulation, the watering down of employment and trade union rights and driving down of wages in the name of competition.  TTIP, TISA and CETA added into this mix will prove to be the final nail in the coffin of democracy.  It is, therefore, time to engage in a conversation and challenge those who have deceived us for so long.  We must ask ourselves what if the world isn’t flat at all?

Maggie Thatcher’s line “There is no alternative” is the usual excuse for continuing with the free-market ideology and the claim that continued austerity, balanced budgets and surpluses are vital to a successful economy.  We will all remember Liam Byrne’s infamous note, when Labour left power, saying ‘There is no money’.  That one stupid remark has allowed the deficit/debt reduction argument to dominate the economic and political landscape of the last five years and been used by David Cameron and George Osborne in a deliberate distortion of reality to justify cuts, the creation of a small state and private sector domination.

It is unfortunate that even some of the Labour elites are using the same loaded language which says that we must continue with such policies. Yvette Cooper, who has a PPE from Baliol College at Oxford, said recently “I don’t think the answer is what Jeremy has proposed, which is basically printing money that we haven’t got to build things”.  Her comment is symptomatic of her lack of grasp of wider economic ideas and yet, she, like many, has been a victim of the way it has been taught for decades in educational institutions. One might think that the doctrine of balanced budgets was the only game in town.

Regretfully, these ideas have been cleverly used to also deceive ordinary people that there is no alternative.  That we must accept the pain and balance our budgets in true Micawber style. The idea that the state should deal with the deficit and reduce the national debt has become a part of the narrative which is firmly fixed in the collective psyche. The problem has been reinforced by our experience of our own household budget which has to be managed to ensure we don’t go into the red or get into debt.

The first step is to ask questions. Don’t rule anything in or out – the world is a complex place much more so than even this simple presentation.

Most of us will remember from our history lessons, the 1929 crash.  The UK government’s response at the time was to balance the budget and re-establish confidence in the pound.  Public sector wages and unemployment benefits were cut and by 1931 unemployment had risen to almost three million. The march to London by the men of Jarrow is a symbol of that economic disaster which left thousands of people destitute and hungry.

One of the people who challenged that view was John Maynard Keynes who was fiercely critical of the then Conservative-Liberal coalition government’s austerity budget and wrote:

‘Every person in this country of super-asinine propensities, everyone who hates social progress and loves deflation, feels that his hour has come and triumphantly announces how, by refraining from every sort of economic activity, we can become prosperous again.” 

 

It is ironic, that when the coalition came to power in 2010, they chose to repeat an economic policy that had so singularly failed in the 1920s and 30s, and the Conservatives are promising more of the same over the next five years.

‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results’   Albert Einstein is once said to have observed.  But then one could ask the question is it insanity or a deliberate strategy?

To return to Keynes, his argument was, essentially, that in order to support full employment governments must use their spending power to invest in the economy on the basis that spending equals income to someone which is, after all, what makes the world go round. So when governments reduce public spending the result can only be higher unemployment.  Indeed in the last week we have learned that for the financial year so far the deficit was down £7.3bn (23%) but in the three months to June there was a rise of 25000 in unemployment.  To make the connections if we stifle spending to reduce the deficit then this can only have a detrimental effect on the economy by reducing the amount of money available to the non-government sector.

So where, may you ask, will the money come from to deficit spend?  When Yvette Cooper suggested wrongly as it happens that we can’t print money that we haven’t got to build things she was forgetting that electronic monetary resources were created to rescue the banking system in the form of Quantitative Easing which no-one objected to then, even though, basically, it disappeared into a big banking black hole.

Jeremy Corbyn’s People’s QE is quite another kettle of fish and this time those money resources would be used for public purpose that is for the benefit and well-being of society as a whole and not just a small section of it.  To put that clearly in the words of Professor Bill Mitchell:

“People would soon see the benefits in the form of better schools, hospitals, public transport, green energy innovations, more jobs, more diverse cultural events”

The response to these ideas has been one of panic-stricken hysteria, as emotive language such as ‘debt mountain’ is used by politicians and the media to scare the general public, by reinforcing the household budget model of our state finances and economy.  Let’s not forget the irony here that George Osborne has managed to achieve a debt mountain all of his own!

Professor Bill Mitchell’s conclusion should reassure the public:

PQE is an excellent strategy for the British government to introduce. It exploits the currency-issuing capacity of the government directly and uses it to increase the potential of the economy to improve well-being.

It is astonishing to realise that contrary to common belief sovereign governments start the ball rolling by issuing money, tax revenues are not necessary for a government to spend and that our national debt is not a debt in the usual sense of the word.

So, I can hear you ask:  what then is the purpose of tax?  I’ve heard that ‘printing money’ is inflationary?  And say that again our national debt is not a debt at all?

We must start with the first principle which is that, since the abandonment of the gold standard, sovereign governments like ours can issue as much money as it needs. Remember the money issued comes first, and not taxes.  This is a key point.  Without money in our pockets we can’t pay taxes anyway.

Beardsley Rumi former Chairman of the Federal Reserve wrote as long ago as 1946:

… given control of a central banking system and an inconvertible currency, a sovereign national government is finally free of money worries and need no longer levy taxes for the purpose of providing itself with revenue. All taxation, therefore should be regarded from the point of view of social and economic consequences.

What this actually means is that tax, far from being a revenue raiser, is a mechanism for what we can call public purpose meaning, for example, redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.  It also has the function of managing inflation by raising taxes to dampen demand, or reducing them to increase it.

Secondly, money issue by a sovereign state is not, in itself, inflationary. Politicians parading as prophets of doom are warning us that ‘printing money’ will cause inflation.  In an effort to scare people, we are reminded of Germany’s hyperinflation after the First World War or Zimbabwe’s in the 1990s.  In both cases, the truth of the matter is that these episodes could not be described in any way as normal – they were extreme events and not remotely like the situation in the UK or the US.  Of course in Germany’s case, the imposition of huge reparations in gold under the Versailles Treaty, the loss of 25% of its industrial capacity as a result of the war and then the occupation of the Ruhr when Germany defaulted forced them to increase the money supply which did not match its supply capacity.  So when exports then slowed and Germany could not continue to pay back its debts it led to the hyperinflation which was to have catastrophic consequences for the German nation both in the short and long term.

And herein lies the clue, if you keep on spending and can’t produce the goods to meet that spending, you’ll get inflation  Spending with no regard to whether there are enough resources to match it, is the cause of inflation not the money issue in itself.  So deficit spending is not the problem.  The issue is whether we have the resources to justify the spending and if we have, how we can use them effectively for the benefit of society as a whole.

We have almost two million people without jobs. People whose talents remain unused.  People who want to work despite the inference by government and irresponsible media that the unemployed are lazy and feckless which has become the prevalent myth, now accepted by the public as being true. The solution therefore is to invest in building new schools, hospitals, homes and green infrastructure as well as create real job opportunities so that people can make a positive contribution not only to their own well-being but that of their communities. Remember that spending equals income to someone, and so by using the resources we have, effectively and fairly, we can improve the lives of all. The deficit will only be a problem when all available resources are being used. And we are most certainly not in this position at the moment.

And this brings me, finally, to the notion of the national debt.  If, as is noted above, sovereign governments can issue money then it begs the question why do we have to borrow?  Well the reality is that we don’t.  Sovereign governments don’t need to issue debt. The real game is about corporate welfare as Treasuries and Bonds are sold to big investors who want a nice safe, risk free place to stash their money and get a guaranteed income flow.  Much like us when we transfer money from our current bank account to a savings account.   Where governments are the primary money issuers there is no reason why the national debt could not be scrapped. We wouldn’t have to worry about ‘paying it back’.  And, after all, how could you pay back the money supply?

The important thing for us to understand is that there is an alternative to the inertia of past decades.  We don’t have to accept it we have to challenge it.

The world is a complex place and full of uncertainty but we have been bewitched by a dogma that proposes freedom and everlasting growth on the backs of the people and the planet but which, in fact, is tying us in chains to the benefit of the few.  As Keynes observed in his book written in 1936:

The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.”

The Post War Consensus is long gone and the positive outcomes of that consensus, being dismantled as we speak.  The ascendency of individualism over cooperation and all that entails is almost complete.  As Ha-Joon Chang wrote:

‘Many believers in the individualist view would sacrifice political freedom to defend economic freedom”

It is clear that such unrestrained pursuit of self-interest through the belief in the magic of free markets has proved itself wanting and resulted in huge disparities of wealth, impoverishment, inequality and unequal access to opportunity.

Whilst we need wisdom too, knowledge is power and so the more we are informed, the easier it is to challenge the lies of politicians and their media lackeys. It is not necessary to immerse oneself in economic models and mathematical equations to understand the importance of economic policies and their effects on society but if we are to move forward we must show those who would lie to us that we cannot be fooled any longer.

 

Resources and credits:

Steven Hail

Governments do not need the savings of the rich or their taxes 

Corbyn should stop saying he will eliminate the deficit

Zimbabwe for hyperventilators

PQE is sound economics but is not in the QE family

Correcting political ignorance and misconceptions

Printing Money does not cause inflation

Summer of Unrest: The Debt Delusion Mehdi Hasan

Economics: The User’s Guide  Ha-Joon-Chang

The Angry Birds Approach to understanding deficits in the Modern Economy

http://ineteconomics.org/ideas-papers/interviews-talks/demystifying-modern-monetary-theory

 

The “Angry Birds” Approach to Understanding Deficits in the Modern Economy

 

Additional links:

Austerity is a Political Choice not a Economic Necessity

Like heterodox economists, Semmelweiss was ignored…

The riddle of the deficit or (deficits for Dummies)

The motives behind Corbynomics