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What Happens Now?

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In the aftermath of the great 2013 government shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, and the kicking of the can down the road while maintaining austerity once more, the subject on many minds is where do negotiations over fiscal policy go from here? Will the new “budget committee” produce more austerity and do a grand bargain including the “chained CPI”? Will Congress finally turn towards economic growth and job creation, or will we continue to have more shutdowns and debt ceiling crises in 2014?

Chained CPI and the “Grand Bargain”

Let’s begin with “chained CPI” and possible “Grand Bargains.” The President seems to still want one, but the question is, does anyone else? And, if they don’t, can he still get it through?

It’s dangerous for anyone running in 2014 to vote for chained CPI. Surveys show that overwhelming majorities of all Americans want no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and also that 40% of tea party respondents are 55 or over, and are not likely to support such cuts, either. Nor do they appear to be anti- “their” Medicare. It’s the corporate Republicans who oppose these things. So, I don’t think the corporate Republicans would get much love from the tea baggers for supporting entitlement cuts, apart from Medicaid, which I think the tea party views as welfare. Certainly any credit the Congressional Republicans would get from their tea party base for voting for “chained CPI” would not outweigh their having given in on the CR and the rise in the debt ceiling just passed.

So what can the corporate Republicans in Congress gain from voting for chained CPI? Very little, I think, unless the Democrats get behind it, and then they can run against the Democrats as having sold out Social Security, as long as not many Republicans vote for it. In that case, however, the Democrats won’t have enough cover to vote for it, so they are unlikely to do so.

So, then we have to ask, what can induce the Democrats to vote for entitlement cuts knowing it will hurt them in the elections? Will the President be a big factor in the Congressional elections? He wasn’t in the elections of 2012, and, he was a negative in the 2010 wave election. Can he deliver votes by campaigning for other Democrats? Does he even want to? Does it matter to Congressional Democrats if he gets annoyed at most of them? I doubt all of these things.

Why will Patty Murray and Harry Reid (both of whom may want to run again in 2016) vote for chained CPI? To end the sequester? As Joan McCarter says, the coming second round of the sequester hurts the Republicans more than the Democrats. So, where’s the incentive for Democrats to go along with the President on chained CPI? I don’t think there is any.

If the President wants chained CPI this Spring, then he needs to assemble a corporate, Wall Street-supporting coalition from both parties, and that has to be large enough for a majority in the House. Since many Republicans would see passing the chained CPI as a victory for the President if he continues to support it, and the Democrats in Congress don’t, then we’re talking about a situation where the Tea Partiers and their allies would be called upon to pull the President’s chestnut out of the fire. How many votes do you suppose he’d get from the Tea Partiers and other Republicans for this? Keeping in mind that they just got 144 votes in the House to continue the ruinous shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, maybe 40, or 50? Or even that many, given that they’ll want to run against the Democrats on Social Security in 2014, if possible, and won’t see any political gain in holding hands with him as everyone jumps off the “I voted against SS” cliff?

And how many House Democrats would he get to play along? 150? 100? More? I think if he can’t get 200, an almost impossible outcome with at least 90 “progressives” very uncomfortable with the proposal, then this dog won’t hunt. The more he’s likely to fall short, the more likely it is that Democrats will see themselves as walking the plank for nothing, and will just run away from the proposal, and vote against it if need be.

Now you may see this scenario as far-fetched, because you may be thinking there would be some big omnibus deal with the Republicans that chained CPI would just get tucked into, and that would be irresistible for “progressive” Democrats. But what do the Republicans have to give? They certainly won’t offer any additional taxes on the wealthy. That’s poison to them. And they certainly won’t offer any increased deficit spending, say on infrastructure, because that would weaken the deficit/debt play they plan to run for all they’re worth in the election, and also because they know that infrastructure spending will reduce unemployment, and perhaps improve prospects for Congressional Democrats in the elections.

So what can they offer? Only concessions on the sequester. But here, if Pelosi, Murray and Reid play tough, as they certainly ought to do, then as Joan McCarter explains, the Republicans either have to shoot themselves in the foot again by keeping in place the sequester, or they would have to come to agreement. Then, if the Democrats know what’s good for them in 2014 (not a sure thing by any means, but still likely, in light of how well refusal to budge has served them over the past two weeks), then they won’t accept anything less than full lifting of the sequester. It’s harmed the economy for long enough, we need them to get rid of it, and they need that too.

The Republicans will then play games proposing lifting the parts of the sequester they don’t like, while giving the Dems nothing or only very little. At this point the Democrats need to take an all or nothing position on the sequester, rejecting the Republican’s salami tactics, and calling on the public for an end to the sequester nonsense, which has hurt the economy so grievously already.

The Rs will respond either by agreeing to lift it, or they will refuse. If they refuse, then the Democrats get to blame them for the down economy, we will surely see in the run up to the election, and the Democrats can run against that down economy which they would then claim was caused by the Republican shutdown, multiple debt ceiling crises, sequester, and blocking of any efforts to lower unemployment with jobs programs. (“They promised us “jobs,” “jobs,” “jobs,” and what did we get? Debt ceiling crises, sequesters, a government shutdown, more unemployment, and an economy in the ditch.)

Given that CBO projections will probably show the deficit going down to $400 Billion or less in FY 2014, which is about 2.5% of GDP, the Republican emphasis on “teh debt” and the deficit will not trump a Democratic campaign blaming Republicans for the lack of recovery and calling for jobs programs. Add to the above themes the Republican War on women, and suppression of voting rights of seniors, blacks, hispanics, and urbanites, and we have a Democratic victory in 2014 large enough to get back the House and keep the Senate.

Given all this, I don’t think there will be any Grand Bargain or chained CPI “compromise” in the near future and in the run-up to the election. It just makes no political sense for most Democrats and many Republicans. It may come up again in the lame duck and possibly in the next Congress, Republican or Democrat, if the President continues to push it. But I don’t think we’ll see it again this fiscal year.

Continued Austerity?

What we will see however, is continuing austerity from CRs or budget agreements, whether or not the sequester is lifted. Where a trade deficit exists, Government austerity is either running a surplus, or a deficit so low that it doesn’t make up for the leakage in demand due to the trade deficit. Let’s say one’s trade deficit is 3.5% of GDP, then the Sectoral Financial Balances (SFB) Model (whose terms refer to flows of financial assets among the three sectors of the economy in any defined period of time):

Domestic Private Balance + Domestic Government Balance + Foreign Balance = 0

tells us that the domestic private sector, taken as a whole, can’t increase its net financial assets, unless the Government has a deficit greater than 3.5%. And, if we wanted to provide for the domestic private sector to save 6% while it was running that 3.5% trade deficit, anything less than a Government deficit of 9.5% of GDP would not meet that objective.

Of course, no budget proposed by anyone in Congress or the White House envisions a deficit this large. Patty Murray’s Senate Budget proposed in the Spring of 2013 envisioned a 4.2% of GDP deficit for FY 2014, just a bit more than the austerity boundary of 3.5%. Paul Ryan’s House Budget proposed a 3.2% deficit, which is an austerity budget, in the precise sense that given a 3.5% trade deficit, it would entail the private sector running a deficit and losing 0.3% in net financial assets.

Will either a compromise bill coming out of the budget committee, or a CR, after a failure to agree on a budget, be closer to Ryan’s or Murray’s deficit figure? I think it will be closer to Ryan’s; partly because the Congress just passed a CR for the first approximately three months of the fiscal year that is closer to Ryan’s view than to Murray’s and which maintains the sequester, and partly because I doubt that the Democrats will even propose a more expansive budget involving a deficit, but will just focus on getting the sequester removed in early 2014, and will then turn to other problems and to positioning themselves for the fall elections.

Growth and Jobs or Shutdowns and Debt Ceiling Crises?

I think the answer is neither. We may have shutdown and debt ceiling threats before the 2014 elections; but we will not have either of these types of crises, because the cost in public opinion, if it keeps trending the way it has been, will be too heavy for many Republican candidates, except for those in the reddest gerrymandered districts, to bear in 2014. I believe they know this, and that many of them are increasingly willing to chance getting primaried by tea party candidates in order to avoid probable defeat from Democrats, if they toe the tea party line and then try to run.

So, I think the shutdowns and debt ceiling scares are over until after the elections. That means there will have to be an agreement on a CR for the first part of FY 2015 by next October 1. That will happen because there’s no way the Republicans will chance another hostage-taking taking a month before the next elections.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that there will be very little growth and very few new jobs. If the sequester remains in place for the rest of FY 2014, unemployment is likely to increase, not decrease, because Government will continue to be a fiscal drag on the economy, and the private sector is likely to avoid expansion without increased demand. That demand could be manufactured by a credit bubble; but it doesn’t look like that is in the offing for 2014. So, the shortfall in demand produced by the Government will not be made up from private sector spending.

On the other hand, if the sequester is lifted, then this will make some difference. We will probably see declining unemployment if that happens, but since the deficit was much too small to sustain a vigorous expansion, even before the sequester, the decline in unemployment, increased job creation, and economic growth, will all happen only slowly, and by election time we will still see an unhappy public, but maybe one that is a little more hopeful about the future than we are now seeing.

I don’t know yet whether the falloff in economic activity due to Government austerity or near austerity, will be enough to produce another recession in the middle of this long stagnation period, Richard Eskow has aptly named “the long depression.” But there is some chance that this will happen before the fall elections. If it does, then we will see a messaging war on who bears the blame for the downturn, and the outcome of the elections will hang on the outcome of that war.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

No, Barack, It Just Ain’t Gonna Happen!

1:50 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Who else thinks the President’s speech didn’t include any plans to create the 29 million full-time jobs for the dis-employed? Please raise your hand!

About jobs he said:

”We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years.”

”If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.”

And, except to say he wants time to finish the job, that’s it! Over the next 4 years the economy will probably need another 4 million jobs just to employ new entrants into the job market, and not even to reduce that 29 million dis-employment figure. So he needs 33 million new full-time jobs to get to full employment, and he’s talking about 1.6 million in his acceptance speech. What planet is he living on?

Maybe, like Herbert Hoover, if he keeps saying prosperity is just around the corner, and does almost nothing to make it happen, then he thinks his beloved private sector will quit generating profits from financial manipulation and start creating jobs at a living wage. I think we’ve seen this movie; and it doesn’t end happily for working Americans.

The President had a lot more to say about deficits, then about jobs; showing that he lives in a fantasy world of faux problems:

”You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without sticking it to the middle class. Independent experts say that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion. And last summer, I worked with Republicans in Congress to cut billions in spending because those of us who believe government can be a force for good should work harder than anyone to reform it, so that it’s leaner, and more efficient, and more responsive to the American people.”

But why reduce our deficit at all? Have we got an inflation problem? Does either the level of our debt at $16 T, or our debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 100 percent either impair our ability to deficit spend in the future, or to pay off the debt without either taxing or borrowing? The answers to these questions are: There’s no reason to do it; No, and No! Here’s more from O:

“I want to reform the tax code so that it’s simple, fair, and asks the wealthiest households to pay higher taxes on incomes over $250,000, the same rate we had when Bill Clinton was president; the same rate we had when our economy created nearly 23 million new jobs, the biggest surplus in history, and a whole lot of millionaires to boot.

I love higher taxes on the wealthy, as much as the next person. I wouldn’t mind going back to the marginal tax rates of World War II and the inheritance tax rates of Harry Truman’s times. But does anyone really think that the same tax rates we had under Bill Clinton really caused the 23 million new jobs during his Administration; so that if we want to have that kind of job growth again, we really must have Clinton’s tax rates? Give me a break!

We know that the prosperity of the 1990s was primarily fueled by debt bubbles, and had little to do with Clinton’s higher tax rates. In fact, his surpluses, coupled with the Internet bust, produced the recession he bequeathed to Bush 43, a recession that was ameliorated, but never really ended for most working people by Bush’s deficit spending.

“Now, I’m still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission. No party has a monopoly on wisdom. No democracy works without compromise. I want to get this done, and we can get it done. But when Governor Romney and his friends in Congress tell us we can somehow lower our deficits by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy, well, what’d Bill Clinton call it? You do the arithmetic, you do the math.”

The problem, Mr. President, is that there’s more than arithmetic involved here, which is why the Bill Clinton/Jack Lew surpluses produced that recession at the end of their term, the one that played a part in Al Gore’s defeat. The economy is dynamic. If you try to cut deficit spending or run surpluses by raising taxes and cutting Government spending, then you had better estimate what impact that’s going to have on non-Government, including private, savings and investment, and the trade balance; because cutting deficit spending can lead to a net reduction or elimination in net savings and investment, as well as a reduction in the trade deficit.

Then the President told us what he wouldn’t do to cut the deficit:

“I refuse to go along with that. And as long as I’m President, I never will.

“I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut.

“I refuse to ask students to pay more for college; or kick children out of Head Start programs, to eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, and elderly, or disabled, all so those with the most can pay less.

“I’m not going along with that.

“And I will — I will never turn Medicare into a voucher.

“No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and the dignity they have earned. Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we’ll do it by reducing the cost of health care, not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more. And we will keep the promise of Social Security by taking the responsible steps to strengthen it, not by turning it over to Wall Street.”

I’m glad for all these refusals and lines in the sand. He’s told us what he won’t do to make things even easier for the wealthy; but as Digby says, that doesn’t mean he won’t trade some or all of these things, for tax hikes on the wealthy. Tax hikes on the rich will please people wanting greater fairness; but that will be cold comfort for people whose safety net benefits are traded away for a smidgeon of greater fairness.

There’s also another thing he hasn’t told us. Maybe someone will make him do it in the debates. And that is what he plans to do to solve that 29 million jobs problem. That question is a really interesting one considering that he plans for the US Government to average $400 Billion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. That is really, really a bad idea, because in doing that he’s pretty much condemning the US to a stagnant economy with perpetually high unemployment for the next 10 years, giving us a 14 year period of high unemployment, Obama’s “new normal” legacy to future generations.

Why do I say that? Well let’s look at some basic macroeconomics from Bill Mitchell:

”The basic income-expenditure model in macroeconomics can be viewed in (at least) two ways: (a) from the perspective of the sources of spending; and (b) from the perspective of the uses of the income produced. Bringing these two perspectives (of the same thing) together generates the sectoral balances.

“From the sources perspective we write:

GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

which says that total national income (GDP) is the sum of total final consumption spending (C), total private investment (I), total government spending (G) and net exports (X – M).”

That is, X is exports and M is imports. So, if X is greater than M, we have what is colloquially called a “trade surplus”; but if M is greater than X then we have a “trade deficit,” which is what the United States has enjoyed for many years. I say enjoyed, because people in other nations send us goods, real wealth, and we send them electronic bits of information called US Dollar electronic credits. Seems like we’d have the better of that kind of deal, if we had sense enough to employ the people put out of work by our persistent trade deficit on things that are valuable for people living here in the United States.

However, that aside, we should note that the US seems to be running a trade deficit of 4% of GDP right now. We’ll see shortly the importance of this number. Bill continues:

“From the uses perspective, national income (GDP) can be used for:

GDP = C + S + T

which says that GDP (income) ultimately comes back to households who consume (C), save (S) or pay taxes (T) with it once all the distributions are made.

Equating these two perspectives we get:

C + S + T = GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

So after simplification (but obeying the equation) we get the sectoral balances view of the national accounts.

(I – S) + (G – T) + (X – M) = 0

That is, the three balances have to sum to zero.”

So, we have an investment/savings balance, a Government spending/tax balance, and a foreign trade (exports/imports) balance. The sum of these balances must equal zero, and this is true by definition alone. It is what economists call “an accounting identity.” Are accounting identities always “true”?

They are always “true” in the sense that they are logically valid. But reasoning from them can result in false conclusions, because 1) the wrong data is correlated to the one or more of the terms of the identity, or 2) further reasoning about the causal relations among the terms in an identity may give false conclusions, and/or 3) reasoning about the dynamics relating the terms in an identity over time may be in error.

If we want the private sector to collectively save, then S must be greater than I, and we must have an investment/savings balance deficit, or, in other words the private sector as a whole must be accumulating nominal financial wealth within some time period.

If we want to import more than we export, then M must be greater than X, and we must have a “trade deficit”, which means that US entities as a whole must be accumulating more goods and services from abroad and must be sending more dollars into accounts at the Federal Reserve owned by foreign entities than they are receiving from them in return for our own exports.

Notice here, that the USD provided to foreign nations when we run a trade deficit, go into their accounts at the Federal Reserve. They never do leave this country. So, don’t listen to people who constantly tell you that our trading dollars are going overseas. They’re not. They’re in our own central bank.

Lastly, according to the model, if we want the private sector to collectively save, and if we want it to collectively spend more on foreign goods and services than it receives in nominal financial wealth for our goods and services, then the Government sector will have to spend more than it taxes. That is, it will have to run a deficit in the Government balance to accommodate the savings and import desires of the private sector by replacing the leakage in aggregate demand that savings and more imports than export represent. But just how much of a deficit will the Government sector need to make sure that the balance called for in the model happens without decreasing savings or reducing the size of our trade deficit?

Well, I said earlier that we’re running roughly a 4% of GDP trade deficit in the US. We also know that the private sector needs to save to repair household balance sheets after the disaster of the financial crisis of 2008, coupled with the housing crash. Let’s say that US private savings desires are currently 6% of GDP, a reasonable estimate given behavior over the past few years.

Then, we’re saying that we want (I – S) to be – 6% of GDP and (X-M ) to be – 4% of GDP, which implies that we also want (G – T), the Government balance to be positive and equal to 10% of GDP. In other words, we’re saying that the Government ought to be running a budget deficit of $1.6 Trillion this fiscal year, which judging from how things are going is approximately $400 Billion more than we will actually be spending.

So, it should be clear that the Federal Government, far from running too large a deficit, is now running a deficit that is $400 Billion smaller than it should be to accommodate the desires of the private sector to import and save, and to replace the aggregate demand lost to savings and more imports than exports. Do you suppose this shortfall in the Government deficit spending we need could have anything to do with our stubbornly high unemployment rates?

Now, let’s say the Obama Administration compromises on a deficit reduction bill specifying $4 Trillion in Government deficit spending reductions over 10 years phased something like this: 8%; 8%, 6%, 6%, 6%, 4%, 4%, 3%, 3% and 2%, where the percents refer to the deficit spending levels as a percent of GDP. Then, there will be increasingly less space for private savings and imports.

No doubt the President would like to see a shrinking percentage of GDP spent on imports over the next decade because that means that the budget deficit can be smaller if private savings stay the same. But, it’s pretty clear that in the next two years, we won’t be able to shrink the trade deficit by even 1% of GDP or roughly $160 – $170 B annually.

So, that means that if we follow the plan for deficits I just stated, then the savings desires of the private sector can’t be accommodated at 6%, and household balance sheets won’t continue to build. As, deficits move down to 6% in 2015 – 17, imports will be squeezed further, as will savings. By the second half of the decade, both imports and savings will be subjected to very high downward pressure.

The result will be that our trading partners will resist efforts to re-balance trade. They will lower prices of their goods and services in an effort to maintain the balance. We, in turn, will also have to lower costs, and that probably means lower wages – a race to the bottom to continue to increase our levels of exports. That will feed back to domestic private savings, and also to aggregate demand here, which will both decrease; though maybe not by as much as demand will increase from the decrease in imports. Causality moves in conflicting directions and without rigorous modeling we can say what the overall increase in demand outcome will be.

In addition, the decreased space for savings will result in people seeking to save more and in increased economic conflict in the private sector with people and classes fighting over a shrinking pie. In the US currently, political power is arranged in such a way that an increasingly small group is able to direct nominal financial income its way by using the political system to its advantage.

So, austerity will mean that a very few wealthy people will grab the shrinking pie of savings, and more people will be faced with the choice of maintaining their consumption levels by going into debt, or maintaining their rate of savings by cutting back on consumption. This developing situation will be unsustainable; and the second half of the decade, after a period of a stagnating economy, will surely see a deepening depression, and a strengthened economic and political oligarchy.

That’s the scenario if things go smoothly with austerity policies being planned by the elite led by Peter G. Peterson and the President of the United States. However, it is likely that things will not go according to plan and that the politicians will not be able to maintain the deficit targets in any long-term deficit reduction plan. The reason is that if demand flags because people try to buck the program by imposing strict spending discipline on themselves, or if foreign demand for our exports flags so that export industries must cut employees, causing a weakening of demand here; then rising unemployment here will impact the automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance food stamp benefits, and Medicaid, driving up deficits beyond the levels in the deficit reduction plan.

The experience of Europe tells us that ideological neo-liberal austerians will not then admit that they were wrong about austerity and the possibility of implementing a deficit reduction plan successfully. But that, instead, they will double-down on it, shrinking aggregate demand even more, and driving the economy down even further, as they have in every European nation where austerity is being tried.

What if the President, or Mr. Romney succeeds in making the “grand bargain” to raise a few taxes, and cut 3 times as much spending, including entitlements in the process of passing a long-term deficit reduction plan, and what happens if in the first three years the plan fails to meet its targets and also creates a new recession in our fragile economy?

Will the austerians then admit they were wrong and start paying attention to the sectoral balances and people’s needs? Or will political necessity prevent them from admitting error and force them to double- down on austerity because that is the only viable political choice? We know what they will do, because no politician ever admits they were wrong, until perhaps they’re thrown out of office, and not very frequently even then.

Look at Obama himself, it was apparent by the Fall of 2009, that his ARRA was too small to do the job of creating a full recovery. Did he and the Democrats admit it? Did they pull out all the stops to pass a jobs bills in the rest of 2009 and take care of their unfinished business? Or did they double-down on insisting that the stimulus worked, and move on increasingly to a health care bill that bailed out the insurance companies, and burned all their political capital, that coupled with the tepid recovery, lost them the election of 2010?

I think we know what will happen if President O wins on his “austerity grand bargain.” First, it will never succeed because it is inconsistent with what the sectoral balances tell us. And, second, when it doesn’t he will double-down and then plunge us into a worse recession than ever, and in 2016 an impoverished population will face at least four more years of looting by the 1%, and increasing poverty from the other corporatist party of the emerging plutocracy.

So, Mr. President, and Paul Krugman, don’t tell me we’re going to have both an economic recovery and a forced move towards a lower deficit over the next four years, because the sectoral financial balances model says, that without a new credit bubble, that will lead to an expansion of aggregate demand coming from rapidly increasing private debt, that will eventually burst and give us a new great financial crisis:

It just ain’t gonna happen.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Things Will Get Worse Before They’ll Get Better

8:29 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

House leaders have agreed on a compromise continuing spending resolution at the same level as before from October 2012 through March 2013. It’s likely now that the President(s?) will probably try to make the money available for deficit spending, as of today, last through the time period of the continuing resolution so that one deal including both the budget and raising the debt limit can be made by March of 2013. According to the August 2, Daily Treasury Statement, there’s $528,508,000,000 of deficit spending left until the debt ceiling is reached. In addition, there’s an additional 58,993,000,000 available in reserves, for a grand total of $584,501,000,000 available until the debt ceiling is reached. That’s an average of $73,062,625,000 deficit spending per month for the next 8 months, ending March 31, 2013.

For the past 10 months, average deficit spending was at $114,802,300,000 Billion per month, and that amount was not enough stimulus for a full recovery. So, the likely 36% reduction in average deficit spending over the next 8 months is unlikely to be any more effective in pulling us out of the extended employment recession we are experiencing, than the deficits in the preceding 10 months were. On the contrary, deficit spending over the next 8 months is unlikely even to allow us to maintain the unemployment levels we have now, provided private sector net spending doesn’t increase to compensate for less Government spending. What would have to happen for private sector spending to increase?

That’s an easy one to answer. The government deficit for the past 12 months, in rough terms, has been about 8% of GDP. The planned spending would be about 5.5% of expected GDP. If the Government sticks to its deficit spending targets, then the private sector will have to save less and import less, to avoid demand leakage which would place greater fiscal drag on the economy. If imports come in at 3% of GDP, then private sector savings will have to decrease to 2.5% or less of GDP if the economy is to expand faster than it is now, and to create lower unemployment.

This conclusion isn’t set in stone because there are distributional effects to consider, but it’s also true that private sector attempts to continue to save say 6% of GDP and to import 4% of GDP will cause slower GDP growth, higher unemployment, and more rapid government spending than planned in the shorter run, bringing on the debt ceiling problem sooner than expected, and, in the absence of Congressional, or Executive, action allowing more deficit spending, forcing the Government into surplus, and the economy into even more rapid decline prior to March 31, 2013 due to fiscal drag.

In short, the recent jobs report notwithstanding, looking at the economy from the viewpoint of the sectoral financial balances model, and taking into account the likely spending plans for the next 8 months, the economy looks bleak even if we assume that the Eurozone will hang in there, and avoid a financial crash, forcing us to face, once again, the question of whether the big banks should be bailed out again, or whether this time, they should just be taken into resolution and the TBTF ended.

I don’t believe it makes much difference to this prediction of how the economy will go whether President Obama or Romney is elected, as long is there isn’t a big change in the Congress, or a big change in the stated views and behavior of whichever candidate is elected; both of which are very unlikely as far as we can see at this point. It’s as if we have entered the 1930s with only different versions of Herbert Hoover, without half the integrity and good will old Herbert had, to lead us.

We are nearly four years into the crash now, and real unemployment rates are approaching depression levels. Working Americans could well lose a decade, as Paul Krugman has been warning, before this is over. And if Americans don’t rouse themselves to either take over or destroy both these sorry excuses for political parties over the next four years or so, we could be looking at a longer period of blight than that.

(Cross-posted from

WaPo Covers MMT, But Does Its Usual Bad Job: Part Four, The MMT Victory

10:02 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

This post concludes my critical evaluation of Dylan Matthews’s, post published on Ezra Klein’s blog called “You know the deficit hawks. Now meet the deficit owls.”

Dylan’s post is in some ways typical of what one finds in WaPo these days. What was once a proud example of journalism has descended into a “he said/she said” format with only two sides to every question and a kind of parroting back of talking points the journalist or columnist constructs which she/he believes are associated with the two sides. Dylan’s article addresses the question of what we ought to do about the deficit by viewing it from the perspective of the deficit hawks vs. the deficit owls. However, there aren’t just deficit hawks and deficit owls in the economic aviary. There are also deficit doves as well.

Matthews ignores that position as a distinct one, even though he cites a deficit dove like Paul Krugman when it suits his purpose. So what is the deficit dove position? How does it differ from the other two? We don’t know based on his post. But there are MMT posts on this subject that Dylan might have and I think should have, researched.

In addition, the ping-pong talking point format of the post leaves one with a very superficial analysis of what hawks and owls and different people believe. The excuse for this, of course, will be lack of space in a short blog form. But that doesn’t change the fact that even though the journalist or writer involved makes an attempt to be neutral toward the contending parties, no real objectivity involving a deep understanding of the contending positions is presented. Only caricatures on the incomplete fair critical comparison set of positions survive the journalistic malpractice of faux objectivity.

Reading the post, you get the impression that MMT questions the mainstream with very distinct and opposed policy positions, and that the mainstream has counter-arguments to MMT. But you really can’t get any sense of the underlying deficit hawk, deficit dove, deficit owl reasoning behind their policy positions.

You don’t learn that the hawks are viewing the Government from the viewpoint that it is like a giant household, and that some of the doves share that perspective.

You don’t learn that the hawks often claim that the Government can run out of money.

You don’t learn that the hawks accept the Quantity Theory of Money, or that both hawks and doves, but not the owls believe in the existence of an Inter-temporal Governmental Budgetary Constraint (IGBC) on spending.

And most important of all you don’t learn about the Sectoral Financial Balances (SFB) Model, and how it works from the hawk, dove, and owl points of view.

In other words, from reading the Matthews piece you don’t learn anything about the depth of the owl position, relative to the others, and you also don’t get an impression that Dylan really understands the deficit owl position, and that he is capable of assessing with reasonable fairness how well it stands up to the criticism from the hawk or mainstream approaches.

So, in the end, even though people who like MMT were very happy to have the coverage from WaPo, and very happy that the post was relatively friendly as these things go, I think we have to conclude that Dylan’s wasn’t a good post, but another indication of WaPo’s decline as a paper of record. Nor am I alone in having a negative view of this post. Michael Hudson has recorded a strong reaction to it, as well, in a note to Stephanie Kelton which was blogged at Mike Norman Economics by Tom Hickey.

So, I call for WaPo to try again. People need an MMT post from WaPo written by one of the MMT leaders, alongside parallel posts from leading deficit hawks like David Walker and deficit doves like Paul Krugman, Jared Bernstein, or Dean Baker, with a concluding post recording extensive debates among the representatives of the major approaches. If we had that then all of the readers of The Post would be better able to judge for themselves which approach has the most to offer in the way of policies for setting our economy on a course that doesn’t waste people and that is culturally, socially, politically, economically, and environmentally sustainable in the foreseeable future. I’m sure that’s what we all want, but I’m afraid that this opening bid on MMT by WaPo didn’t get us very far down the road toward that result.

Having said all this about what was wrong with Dylan’s post, however, I will now end on a positive note, which perhaps explains why so many MMT supporters have a positive view of the post. There’s one very important and very beneficial thing that Dylan Matthews did that deserves a real shout-out!

For many years now, MMT economists and others who write in support of them have been trying to make a very important point to the mainstream. And that is that the claim:

The Government is running out of money,

is a myth, a fairy tale, or a deadly innocent fraud.

Dylan doesn’t say that in so many words. But he and the economists he cites, even Greg Mankiw grant this very important MMT/deficit owl point in passing.

If this post is any indication, mainstream economics, and certainly deficit doves, and hawks like Mankiw, now acknowledge that a nation like the US which is sovereign in its own fiat currency can never run out of money, or be prevented by the pure fiscal aspects of any situation from paying its debts or buying whatever goods and/or services it needs that are available for sale in its own sovereign currency.

So, that part of the great debate is now over. It will be very hard from here on, for the deficit hawks to maintain their deficit/insolvency terrorism in the face of the general recognition in economics that the Federal Government is not like a household, because it can never run out of the currency that it has the sole legitimate power to issue.

If they try, they will now be the ones facing ridicule and marginalization. And, increasingly, those politicians who try to claim we are running out of money, will also face ridicule and be viewed as ignoramuses by others.

That may not bother many of the Republicans coming from districts resistant to the realities of modern life. But, increasingly, “serious people” in Washington will stop repeating the myth about coming insolvency and move on.

Dylan’s post already does that by assuming that the real issue about MMT vs. the mainstream isn’t about solvency, but about excessive deficit spending causing either inflation or hyperinflation. Every critic of MMT cited in the post raises the objection either implicitly or explicitly that MMT policy proposals will lead to worrisome inflation, or hyperinflation. Now, that’s progress, because unlike the level of one’s national debt, or the size of one’s deficit in the abstract, or the nonsense debt-to-GDP ratio, which means nothing in itself, inflation is a real issue, not an artifact of some economist’s fevered theories.

More generally, the real issue is the generalized consequences of Federal fiscal policies and the programs associated with them. They have employment consequences, inflation/deflation consequences, environmental consequences, safety net consequences, medical consequences, educational consequences, inequality consequences, climatological consequences and all the rest. The position of MMT is that alternative fiscal policies need to be evaluated in terms of our best estimation of their impacts on our societies, cultures, polities, environments, and futures, and not in terms of their narrow, purely fiscal impacts on present and future Federal budgets.

Changes in unemployment and in inflation are two such real impacts, but we need to go beyond them to other real impacts. We need to evaluate the whole thing. Let the hawks put forward their budgets, and the doves theirs, and we owls will put forward ours, and then let everyone evaluate what consequences are likely for all of the alternatives, and which alternative is best overall in terms of real consequences and in terms of public purpose and not in terms of arbitrary debt, deficit, and debt-to-GDP ratio targets, that, in themselves have no meaning for people.

In other words, let’s get real. Let’s talk about real problems of real people that can be alleviated through fiscal policy and Government programs. Let’s stop taking about fairy tales, myths, and bogeymen. And let’s get on with the job of rebuilding the United States for our children and grandchildren and using every tool we have, including our fiat currency system, to realize the blessings of liberty and equality of opportunity for everyone.

(Cross-posted from

WaPo Covers MMT, But Does Its Usual Bad Job: Part Three, Banking, and Default vs. “Hyperinflation”

3:25 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

This post continues my critical evaluation of Dylan Matthews’s, post published on Ezra Klein’s blog called “You know the deficit hawks. Now meet the deficit owls.”

Other Issues

Here’s the next exchange envisioned by Dylan:

“According to Galbraith and the others, monetary policy as currently conducted by the Fed does not work. The Fed generally uses one of two levers to increase growth and employment. It can lower short-term interest rates by buying up short-term government bonds on the open market. If short-term rates are near-zero, as they are now, the Fed can try “quantitative easing,” or large-scale purchases of assets (such as bonds) from the private sector including longer-term Treasuries using money the Fed creates. This is what the Fed did in 2008 and 2010, in an emergency effort to boost the economy.

“According to Modern Monetary Theory, the Fed buying up Treasuries is just, in Galbraith’s words, a “bookkeeping operation” that does not add income to American households and thus cannot be inflationary.

“It seemed clear to me that . . . flooding the economy with money by buying up government bonds . . . is not going to change anybody’s behavior,” Galbraith says. “They would just end up with cash reserves which would sit idle in the banking system, and that is exactly what in fact happened.

“The theorists just “have no idea how quantitative easing works,” says Joe Gagnon, an economist at the Peterson Institute who managed the Fed’s first round of quantitative easing in 2008. Even if the money the Fed uses to buy bonds stays in bank reserves — or money that’s held in reserve — increasing those reserves should still lead to increased borrowing and ripple throughout the system.”

Evidently, Gagnon has no idea that increasing the amount of reserves does not lead to increased borrowing, because banks don’t need more reserves to make loans. All they need are credit worthy borrowers and access to the Fed discount window to make whatever quantity of loans they want to. This is one of the main points about the banking system MMT makes. Put simply: lending is not reserve constrained! It’s constrained by bank willingness to lend to credit worthy borrowers.

Dylan’s next point is:

“Mainstreamers are equally baffled by another claim of the theory: that budget surpluses in and of themselves are bad for the economy. According to Modern Monetary Theory, when the government runs a surplus, it is a net saver, which means that the private sector is a net debtor. The government is, in effect, “taking money from private pockets and forcing them to make that up by going deeper into debt,” Galbraith says, reiterating his White House comments.

“The mainstream crowd finds this argument as funny now as they did when Galbraith presented it to Clinton. “I have two words to answer that: Australia and Canada,” Gagnon says. “If Jamie Galbraith would look them up, he would see immediate proof he’s wrong. Australia has had a long-running budget surplus now, they actually have no national debt whatsoever, they’re the fastest-growing, healthiest economy in the world.” Canada, similarly, has run consistent surpluses while achieving high growth.”

Gagnon must be kidding, or at least totally ignorant about Jamie’s background, and the major contributors to the MMT synthesis, Of course, Jamie is quite familiar with Canada having close ties to the land of his father’s birth, and MMT economists know all they need to know about Australia, since MMT leader Bill Mitchell is constantly writing about the Australian economy and its various tragedies. However, the point here is that Gagnon doesn’t see that these two nations show that MMT’s Sectoral Financial Balances (SFB) model is exactly right in its explanations, since they are able to run surpluses without disaster, only because, unlike the United States, the foreign sectors of their economies run deficits (that is Canada and Australia run trade surpluses) large enough to accommodate the private sector savings desires of Australians and also the Government’s desire to run a budget surplus. The US however, currently has a need to run Government deficits of 10% to support both our private sector savings desires of 6% of GDP, and our foreign sector’s desires to export 4% of US GDP to US consumers so they can accumulate US dollars in the form of electronic credits.

Default vs. Hyperinflation?

“But MMT’s own relationship to real-world cases can be a little hit-or-miss. Mosler, the hedge fund manager, credits his role in the movement to an epiphany in the early 1990s, when markets grew concerned that Italy was about to default. Mosler figured that Italy, which at that time still issued its own currency, the lira, could not default as long as it had the ability to print more liras. He bet accordingly, and when Italy did not default, he made a tidy sum. “There was an enormous amount of money to be made if you could bring yourself around to the idea that they couldn’t default,” he says.

“Later that decade, he learned there was also a lot of money to be lost. When similar fears surfaced about Russia, he again bet against default. Despite having its own currency, Russia defaulted, forcing Mosler to liquidate one of his funds and wiping out much of his $850 million in investments in the country. Mosler credits this to Russia’s fixed exchange rate policy of the time and insists that if it had only acted like a country with its own currency, default could have been avoided.

“But the case could also prove what critics insist: Default, while technically always avoidable, is sometimes the best available option.”

Well, this last is a mouthful. Yes, Warren Mosler made a lot of money on his “bets” on Italy, and lost a lot on Russia. But what this shows is that Governments can voluntarily default if they choose to. MMT economists have always said this and still say it. So why is political stupidity or perfidy counted against the truth of the MMT proposition that Governments sovereign in their currency have no fiscal solvency problems, only voluntary constraints and political problems?

On the contrary, I think the Russian case is one of the primary illustrations of a point that deficit owls have been trying to spread far and wide. Namely, that sometimes default is due to stupidity and perfidy and not to economic forces and that citizens in a democracy need to be aware of that, and of the full capabilities of currency sovereign Governments to always pay debts incurred in their fiat currency and to spend whatever is necessary to enable full employment in their nations. They are never, never, out of money except by choice. So, the real questions are:

– why are they choosing to default?
– Who will benefit from this political choice?
– And who will be asked to pay the price?

And how does the Russian case “prove” that: “Default, while technically always avoidable, is sometimes the best available option”? Is Dylan, through this quote from Gregory Mankiw suggesting that “public purpose” in Russia was better served by its voluntary default than it would have been if the Russians repaid their ruble debts in the rubles they might have created had they wished to? I’m afraid that both Dylan and Mankiw will have to prove that statement to me, since Russian citizens seem to have suffered quite a lot by taking the default choice and accepting austerity when they didn’t have to do so.