Thursday, 6 June 2019

Stalwart leftie manages to make George Osborne look progressive by comparison.


A significant proportion of lefties spend so much time admiring what they believe to be their moral superiority to the political right that they forget to actually think. The result is that they advocate nonsense policies.

A classic example is the recent article in Tribune (a long established UK left wing periodical) by James Meadway criticising MMT. His third last paragraph claims, “If Labour wishes to make permanent changes — including permanent increases in public funding for public services — we must establish clear lines of tax funding for day-to-day spending, and set out a path for future deficits to follow.”

Well if you remember, that “path for future deficits to follow” was very much the policy adopted by George Osborne, the UK Tory Party finance minister. To be exact, the farcical Osborne “we’re going to cut the deficit” story was briefly as follows.

George Osborne 2010:
“We will eliminate the deficit by 2015.
Tory Manifesto, 2015, p.9:
“We will eliminate the deficit by b2017.”
Osborne Budget speech, 8th July 2014:
“We will eliminate the deficit by 2020.”
Tory manifesto, 2017, p.64:
“We will eliminate the deficit by 2025.”

If James Meadway’s “path” is anything like Osborne’s, then Meadway’s “path” is a joke.

What’s wrong with the latter “path” is that it’s plain impossible to predict what future deficits (or surpluses) need to be. A recession could hit in two years’ time, in which case a larger than normal deficit will be needed. Alternatively, an outbreak of irrational exuberance in two years’ time is possible, in which case it could be desirable for government to rein in excess demand by running a surplus.

As Keynes argued in the 1930s and as MMT has argued more recently, the deficit simply needs to be whatever minimises unemployment without exacerbating inflation too much. Whether that’s a large and all-time record size deficit, or no deficit at all is totally immaterial.

Alternatively, if Meadway’s “path” consists of some ideas or principles which can be used to determine the size of the deficit rather than trying to predict the actual size of the deficit in pounds or dollars, he doesn’t explain what those principles are. But never mind: all is not lost! The Labour Party did actually publish a set of principles for determining the deficit quite recently: that’s the Labour Party’s new so called “fiscal rule” (1). But Meadway seems to be unaware of that document.

The basic principle behind Labour’s fiscal rule is that interest rate cuts should be used to impart stimulus when interest rates are significantly above zero, while fiscal stimulus should be used when interest rates are at or near zero.

And what do you know? That’s not a hundred miles or anywhere near a hundred miles from MMT! To be exact, the founder of MMT, Warren Mosler, advocated a permanent zero interest rate policy (2). In other words under Labour’s new fiscal rule, interest rates bump along just above zero, while according to Mosler, interest rates should be kept permanently at zero.


Having said that, the first two sentences of Labour’s fiscal rule do rather contradict the small print: that is the first two sentences claim there should be a target for debt and deficit reduction. However it’s pretty obvious that those two sentences were inserted to placate the economically illiterate electorate and economically illiterate newspaper economics commentators who are under the illusion that national debts are like household debts in that they need to be repaid at some point.

Certainly Simon Wren-Lewis, who authored Labour’s fiscal rule, said he had nothing to do with those first two sentences. 

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References.
1. “Labour’s fiscal rule is progressive” by Simon Wren-Lewis.
2. “The Natural Rate of Interest is Zero”, Journal of Economic Issues.



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