Tag Archive: Modern Money Theory

Jan 23 2013

FAIL! There Will Be Austerity Kabuki Every 3 Months

There seems to be a lot of celebrating without actually understanding much of what has happened as of late. One reason is that it looks like House Republicans will agree to raise the debt ceiling but only for 3 months until the budget gimmick of all Congressmen supposedly either passing a budget or denying their own pay as if that will ever happen. There will be infighting on whether there should be heavy or light deficit terrorism terrorizing the unemployed as usual, but now we can expect these dysfunctional austerity celebrating battles to go on and on.  And as I pointed out when I predicted all of this 3 years ago, when this is the debate in Washington DC we have already lost.

We’ve Already Lost So Cancel Any Perceivable Celebration

This budget gimmick fight is already on top of what the last debt ceiling fight created with the negotiations coming up over the self induced sequester on the basis that 4 trillion bipartisan austerity is awesome. That is the problem for all debates and all fake “progressive” political rhetoric in DC we heard at the Inauguration even though it was a great speech.

The plans to kick this austerity shit can down the road continually every few months is not a victory; it’s also not even a clean debt ceiling raise because it’s not even going to be for a fiscal year. It also means the White House was really posturing as I said they were when they claimed they wouldn’t negotiate on the debt ceiling; this shows that all this so called new-found post reelection “strength for progress” is a myth. That also means that all the hyp being bandied about, about the low-balled 60 billion to merely 9 billion Sandy relief bill passing weeks late and 51 billion dollars short breaking the Hastert rule did not have the significance of the spin behind it at all. It’s simple: John Boehner was looking out for his own ass as speaker(shocking!). That’s it.

The idiotic bipartisan sequester created by the last grand self induced standoff over the last debt ceiling fight will come to a head on March 1. I don’t expect a lot of defense cuts despite the posturing and fully expect more cuts to SS and Medicare to be floated and bargained with within multiple negotiations that show nothing but contempt for the public. Yves Smith goes into the real reasons why a Republican grand standoff on the debt ceiling looks like it won’t happen despite the coming miniature ones every few months that will happen where plenty of deal making and deficit terrorism will take place.

All Good Democrats Applaud Republicans Rearranging Battle Lines in Austerity Phony War

It’s not quite that simple.

First, if you widen the frame, the budget jockeying is largely kabuki: which team is going to score more points that appeal (or more accurately, can hopefully be spun to appeal) to their base? The reality is that both parties are fully committed to imposing austerity. The only question is whether we get Dem Lite or Republican Hi Test. But rest assured, neither version will be good for ordinary Americans.

Second, the Republicans have not dropped the deficit ceiling cudgel, but they seem to recognize that it is a mutual assured destruction weapon, and therefore not as useful as they once thought. They seem to still be coming to grips with the negotiating implications. As the New York Times reports, the Republicans are willing to extend the deficit ceiling for three months, but that increase was conditioned on having the Democrats approve a budget (during the Obama administration, no budget has been approved; the government has carried on because Congress has passed spending resolutions). Notice that while Obama has said that he would not discuss deficit cuts under a debt ceiling sword of Damocles. But if he accepts this deal (which includes a gimmick, of having Congresscritters go unpaid if they can’t agree on a budget on the normal timetable), he will still be doing that. So why is this a victory of sorts?

The more important part of the New York Times story on the Republican climbdown is that Dave Camp, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, disabused his fellow party members of the idea that the government could limp through hitting the debt ceiling by using tax proceeds to pay only debt obligations, Social Security, the military, and other critical needs. So the Republicans can’t refuse to raise the debt ceiling and not do serious damage, pronto. And everyone would blame them for their intransigence. So unless they want to play Major Kong, they will probably continue to play ball with the Democrats on debt ceiling increases while trying to save face about it.

Jan 16 2013

The White House Rejects Solutions to the Mess it Made. We Will Pay for it With Austerity

That’s right. It’s now undeniably pathetic or immoral assuming this is what they want and it probably is. The Trillion Dollar Coin and a 14th amendment challenge have now been rejected. What do we have instead? Insulting fake pseudo macho posturing from the President about what he will or will not negotiate on as if there has ever been anything this POTUS won’t negotiate on. It’s already happening as we speak.

Besides, he just got done with negotiating away his “iron clad” promise to raise income taxes on the rich above $250,000. But this time we are supposed to believe the same fairy tale? Or maybe when I say negotiate when I really mean “negotiate.” Yeah, this is actually what he and John Boehner wanted as in to show us “extremists” who care about people instead of idiotic deficit terrorism on the backs of the poor a thing or two.

Conspiracy of Two

“I’m the President of the United States,” Obama told Boehner [in 2011]. “You’re the Speaker of the House. We’re the two most responsible leaders right now.” And so they began to talk about the truly epic possibility of using the threat, the genuine danger of default, to freeze out their respective extremists and make the kind of historic deal that no one really thought possible anymore – bigger than when Reagan and Tip O’Neill overhauled the tax code in 1986 or when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich passed welfare reform a decade later. It would include deeper cuts in spending, the elimination of all kinds of tax loopholes and lower income tax rates for all. “Come on, you and I,” Boehner admitted telling Obama. “Let’s lock arms, and we’ll jump out of the boat together.”

It’s too late to spin tales of the intrepid politician that stands up to Congress. You know, as Stephen Colbert says regarding journalists, fiction. Debt ceilings were never negotiated until this POTUS put his full faith in crediting John Boehner for NOT using the debt ceiling as a hostage as part of the Obama/Bush tax cut deal in 2010. Oops. I predicted this. Others deluded themselves thinking this mess happening right now extended from back then was somehow an abstract form of 11th dimensional chess again and again. When will they learn?  

Aug 24 2012

Tribal Allegiance in Economics

I found this informative discussion at naked capitalism. It’s in two parts with links that are educational, especially for those of us who have a minimal understanding of economics. The first article by Michael Hoexter of New Economic Perspectives is prefaced by Yves Smith:

The discussion of tribal allegiances in economics in this post helps illustrate why it is so difficult to push back against failed ideas when they are dear to the mainstream. It is also a useful ethnographic guide.

Is an Anti-Austerity Alliance of Left Neo-Classicals and Post-Keynesians Possible? Is it Desirable? (Part 1)

I drafted the “Mixed Economy Manifesto” as one attempt to create a common basis for anti-austerity economists and non-economists to argue against, in the clearest terms possible, the waves of government spending cutbacks that are advocated by misguided elites, by the right-wing and by right-leaning neoclassical economists. The 87 “theses” listed at the end of the Manifesto enumerated empirically and logically sound propositions about the economy as it now exists with its mixture of government and private institutions that can under many circumstances productively interact with each other. (I may attempt or others may attempt to expand the arbitrarily numbered 87 to 95 theses which would then be suitable for nailing on doors.) The Mixed Economy Manifesto also contained many statements that would appeal to Left Neo-classicals or New Keynesian economists, while maintaining a basis in what I perceive to be the more realistic ideas about the economy that have been put forward by post-Keynesians, MMTers, and the institutionalist tradition, including Thorsten Veblen and John Kenneth Galbraith.

As it stands, the world appears to be heading into a policy-induced exacerbation of the ongoing Second Great Depression that may pale in comparison to the policy mistakes of 1937 in the US, when President Roosevelt listened too much to the hard-money ideologues of his day and cut spending only to weaken the ongoing recovery from the Depression of the 1930’s. It would seem to make sense to create an alliance of as many intellectual and political tendencies as possible against a repeat of these mistakes. One major problem is that the public is largely unaware that there is a choice, so has not yet joined the struggle, except in countries like Greece and Spain where austerity is now in full force.

Another major problem in creating such an alliance is that there are significant intellectual and institutional divisions among those economists who endorse counter-cyclical spending by government and/or mobilizing the resources of government to help the unemployed and the marginally employed. These economists disagree with each other about fundamental issues and, if listened to by the public closely and in sequence, can produce either confusing or not particularly decisive advice for anti-austerity activists. This in turn makes it difficult to create a mass political movement that opposes austerity measures before they take full effect or, furthermore, after some future political victory for anti-austerity forces, for policymakers to institute policies based on a consistent new economic thinking. The most consistent critics of austerity and the economic foundations of austerity thinking have been Post-Keynesians, a diverse grouping of schools that claim to be both heirs and critics of Keynes, including the growing Modern Monetary Theory school (MMT). Post-Keynesians are generally excluded from the centers of power within the economics profession, though are not as marginalized as biophysical, steady-state/ecological, and Marxist economists. “New Keynesianism” is a much more mainstream school that integrates certain aspects of Keynes into the dominant neoclassical economics taught in college Econ 101 courses. Often the publicly-identifiable Left of mainstream economics, for instance Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz, can be identified as New Keynesian and therefore fundamentally neoclassical.

Post-Keynesians and MMTers often direct their sharpest critiques at New Keynesian or Left Neo-classical economists, though there are also efforts at comity from the side of Post-Keynesians. On the other side, the more orthodox and “establishment” New Keynesians/Left Neoclassicals for the most part do not offer Post-Keynesians the professional respect of acknowledgement and/or serious intellectual critique of Post-Keynesian/MMT ideas. There are signs that this “Chinese wall” is breaking down, as the global Depression drags on, but often in ways that indicate that isolated terms from or fragments of Post-Keynesianism and MMT may be taken and reconfigured to fit the orthodox model and academic “lifestyles” of Left Neo-classical economists. This was the intellectual “move” that Paul Samuelson executed in the late 1940’s, validating those parts of Keynes that would fit with neoclassical orthodoxy, while leaving out the aspects of Keynes’s work that suggested that neoclassical orthodoxy should be fundamentally questioned or overturned.

Is an Anti-Austerity Alliance of Left Neo-classicals and Post-Keynesians Possible? Is it Desirable? (Part 2)

United as they are in their critique of neoclassical economics, it would be a mistake to portray post-Keynesians as united among themselves, a further complication for the emergence of any unified message from anti-austerity economists. Post-Keynesian Thomas Palley has recently likened MMTers proposal that government institute a WPA-style “job guarantee” program to the policies of the Tory Cameron government that unemployment benefit recipients work for free. Palley’s concern is that the MMT job guarantee will undermine public sector unions but MMTers dispute that Cameron’s policy is a job guarantee program. Palley’s objections to the job guarantee and MMT were also the subject of a caustic review by Randy Wray, a prominent MMT economist. Steve Keen, who calls himself as “Monetary Circuit Theorist”, has shown an interest in finding points of commonality with MMTers while maintaining at other times a distance from it. MMT, perhaps because it has a popular following and momentum, seems to be a particular target of criticism and self-differentiation by non-MMT post-Keynesians. Perhaps this criticism is meant to be constructive but at times the disputes are often conducted in relatively heated exchanges in blogs and on Twitter, where ultimately outsiders to these disputes will remain confused and will perhaps throw up their hands.

The question then remains whether these two groups of economists can work together and fight against austerity as a loosely coordinated group, even if they themselves are not even in agreement among themselves. From the perspective of those outside of the economics profession, the prime consumers of the output of economists, a cogent and unified message against austerity would be a great help. Political movements and political actors require a unified message to achieve power. As well, to be ultimately a success if they ever achieve power, they need to have a realistic policy alternative to offer. As it stands, the voices of the Left Neoclassicals are heard much more widely, yet their vision ultimately does not offer political leaders and political activists on the ground a portable vision and argument to reshape overall policy and popular views. Post-Keynesians, in particular MMT, are working on a more realistic vision of how the economy and government work and work together that potentially is comprehensible by a wider group of people. Yet this vision, though now gaining a wider audience, has not yet achieved critical mass in the public discussion. [..]

If some prominent economists from orthodox and heterodox tendencies could agree that it would be possible to come up with a list of three to five anti-austerity principles which do not offend any “side” to this debate, this might be a way forward. These principles could then become “talking points” for economists to campaign in the media and in meetings with the powerful for an anti-austerity solution. Creating an anti-austerity “echo-chamber” would be a step in the right direction. As an independent commentator on economics not currently affiliated with an academic institution, I do not have the status to get the ball rolling on this process.

If economists, like cats, cannot be “herded” into producing a workable statement of anti-austerity principles, then the diffuse strategy of producing articles, blog posts, testimony, and media appearances becomes second best but offers a glimmer of hope that the perversity of austerity will be communicated to the broader public.

This effort, however, should not compromise or derail the long-term epistemological project to build a better social science and a better economics that can help prevent concurrent disasters like the present ones. Temporary political victories can only buy time but ultimately cannot solve the problems of governing and managing mixed economies, the type of economy in which we live and that has sorely challenged conventional wisdom.