"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Richard Muphy, Corbynomics and People's QE

I have added Richard (not Robert) Murphy's blog to my list.

Corbynomics 4 weeks on:

So, what of the most contentious one, People’s Quantitative Easing? Let’s break this down. For ease I will use The Economist again, but will refer to the many others who have made similar points.
First, the debate on investment has been welcomed, from the Economist, to the FT, to the Guardian and in the blogosphere: indeed, one of the criticisms is I have not made it strongly enough. As the Economist says:
As a percentage of GDP, Britain’s government investment is the seventh-lowest of 26 countries tracked by Eurostat (though it is higher than in some big economies, like Germany) and lower now than during the financial crisis.
The first success of this policy has been to put this issue back into debate.
Second, the idea of a National Investment Bank has been pretty widely welcomed. The Economist said:
To increase investment he wants to set up a “national investment bank”, which would, under government direction, spend on roads, houses and green energy. Nothing wrong with that.
Many agreed.
Third, the argument on Bank of England independence has been shown to be a red-herring. All QE has been Treasury approved: the idea that the BoE had operational control of this policy cannot be supported by any evidence. 
Fourth, it has been agreed, by Chris Giles in the FT and Larry Elliott in the Guardian for example, that PQE would have made sense in 2012 when stimulus was needed. In other words, PQE could have directed funds to the real economy more effectively then than actually happened at that time. Their argument is that PQE is, however, no longer relevant because we were now growing and they assume that will continue to be the case. Technically, the case was won at that point: the argument that PQE might work was over when it was conceded it was all down to timing.
Fifth, the argument that it is not legal has lost all head wind: it’s been effectively authorised in the UK and my design is Article 123 of the EU compliant. I have made clear I would expect some of the bond sales from the NIB, at least, to be held by the public, especially by pension saving institutions.
Sixth, some technical arguments on cost have been resolved: it is agreed that PQE would create new central bank reserves on which it has been conventional to pay bank rate interest, but as Adair Turner ha argued, that is just convention: there is no need to do so. Funding via PQE will then be cheaper than bond funding of the same investment and this matters when a significant part of UK gilts are owned overseas.
Seventh, the inflation argument got silly. The Telegraph turned up with the Zimbabwe argument, on cue. The fact that PQE is either clearly intended to stop if there is a risk of inflation because full employment is achieved, or would be countered (in that case only) by tax was not noticed by them. That’s just indication of the poverty of their thinking. There is no serious argument on this point: PQE is another tool in the armoury to create inflation when we do not have it, and need it.
Eighth, along came China. A week after I told the FT that another recession was likely and tools to deal with it would be needed China tried to deliver one. Now, of course, we have no clue what will happen as yet on that front, but markets are down and will stay down in my view, whilst people are very worried about what will happen if the Fed and BoE are daft enough to raise rates. Whether or not they do the risk of long term export of both recession and deflation from China itself via the emerging markets looks very real indeed. In other words, the need for a new fiscal tool when all monetary options have now failed became very starkly apparent and the prescient adoption of PQE by Jeremy Corbyn began to look like a good move: even the Telegraph seemed to note that.
Ninth, Mark Carney admitted monetary policy is near enough dead yesterday. He has said real interest rates of more than 1% (that means 1% over inflation) look unlikely for a long time to come. Thirty years ago real rates could be vastly higher: they have fallen 4.5% in real terms over that period, he says. The impact is significant. He is effectively saying that the room to manage the economy using interest rates has largely disappeared. With QE also largely discredited for creating asset price hikes, fiscal policy is now the only game in town. PQE is fiscal policy, but of course not the only fiscal policy. That is why it may well be important. What else is anyone going to use when the next crisis comes when no one else has suggested anything new: they just declare the cupboard bare?
Tenth, discussion of modern monetary theory has increased as a result, and that has clearly upset those dedicated to bond financing and / or central bank control of monetary policy. This is not an academic debate: it is about whether or not unelected people and bond markets control the choices governments make. PQE is not just a technical issue: it is about making clear who is in control, and I am emphatic it must be politicians accountable to parliament who are. PQE is intended to achieve that goal. No wonder that this has become a key point of contention. This is not about economics at all, per se: it is about the politics of power and in whose interests the economy is run. Difference here is not an issue of right or wrong: it is about belief. Many have not spotted this: I make it explicit.
And last, not everyone agrees on this issue. But haven’t you heard the one about asking two economists for an opinion and you will get three answers?
So, to summarise on PQE I suggest we’ve got somewhere near the following position:
1) Austerity can be opposed and PQE has fuelled that debate.
2) Investment is widely acknowledged to be needed. PQE delivers it.
3) A National Investment Bank is needed: PQE can help fund it
4) Private investors should not be excluded from these ideas: my suggestions on linking the NIB to pension saving as well as PQE should ensure that is possible. It also means the legality question goes away.
5) Questions of Bank of England independence have been raised but those doing so are going to have a much tougher time defending their case in future
6) Whether PQE is a policy only for recession is to be resolved: I certainly think it may have more use in that scenario but stress I do not think the state fills in the gaps left by the private sector. Sometimes it has to meet need and the curtail the private sector at the same time if social priorities are to be met. PQE and higher taxes can achieve that goal simultaneously. Those making the timing argument ignore this altogether and that is their mistake in my opinion.
7) The cost issue remains out there, although I am not sure why.
8) The bond preference issue is interesting, but is most often (but not always) used by those who have opposed their use for deficit funding, and so is in too many cases disingenuous. It also ignores the cost issue and the leakage out of the UK economy whilst still supporting the view that we are constrained by bond markets. We are not, and PQE indicates that fact. I fully admit that part of PQE is about changing narratives and power relationships and think that important.
I stress: I hope it is clear that I am listening and I do note the points made. But I also think PQE is still, very firmly, on the agenda after all that. It will change (it has already in some ways) but I can’t see it going away.
No doubt omissions will be pointed out. But please keep to the arguments: I am bored by the rest.
- See more at: http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2015/08/30/corbynomics-four-weeks-on/#sthash.DG3hHVy3.dpuf

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