Recession

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Trudeau government should spend more on affordable housing and homelessness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 7:15am in

On July 21, the Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan was released. The document aims to provide public policy direction to Canada’s federal government, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I was author of the Recovery Plan’s chapter on affordable housing and homelessness, which can be accessed here.

We need a government that dares to think big and be more ambitious in its strategy to set our economy on a more sustainable and equitable pathway.

Man begging with sign that says "homeless and broke, please help if you can"Photo by Vincent Albanese

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping the old ones.”
― 
John Maynard Keynes

When the world is facing one of the worst public health and economic crises since the Great Depression in the 1920s, Rishi Sunak excelled himself this week with his summer statement. Not in a good way one has to say. To put it bluntly, we have gone from Boris Johnson’s ‘New Deal’ pretensions to Rishi Sunak’s ‘meal deal’ as so neatly coined this week by the Labour party. At a time when unemployment has soared globally with projections that it will rise still higher, Sunak’s intervention could be said to be less than even a damp squib which fails to deal with the very real threats that the UK faces right now as domestic and worldwide demand plummets and people hunker down in uncertainty both for their jobs and their financial security.

That the Chancellor thought a ‘eat out to help’ scheme would help those 3.7 million key workers struggling to survive on less than £10 an hour shows where his head is firmly planted – in the sand. As Garry Lemon from the Trussell Trust noted ‘encouraging people to eat out is one thing but ensuring people can afford to eat at all must come first’. Ten years of austerity has left essential public services on the edge of collapse and people in insecure work on low incomes both in the private and public sector. Whilst giving a dining out discount to the already well-off it is quite simply a slap in the face for working people who have already borne the brunt of years of government cuts to public spending and yet who have proven their value to society in these last few months as key workers keeping the important services going as the nation locked down. The clear downside of his meal deal voucher is that you’ve still got to have the means to pay the other half of the bill when many are simply struggling to put food on the table!

And the bad news did not stop there, as government showed yet again who is to benefit from increased government spending. The proposed Job Retention scheme, which will replace the Furlough scheme ending in October, is just another mechanism for supporting businesses instead of working people and as the TUC commented it will do little to reduce unemployment. It will quite simply represent just more of the same corporate ‘welfare’ which has underpinned government policies for decades, whether bailouts for banks and businesses or employment legislation honed to serve private sector needs.

And then, to cap it all, a £1bn giveaway to second home-owners and landlords in the form of a reduction in stamp duty which once again favours the wealthier amongst us and does nothing for renters or indeed anyone purchasing a house in areas where prices are lower out of London.

Just how Sunak viewed these proposals as a mechanism to kickstart the economy is anyone’s guess, when there are already vast numbers of people struggling as a result of the combined consequences of government austerity and the economic consequences of Covid-19 with more hardship to come as the OECD projections make clear. The words of Marie Antoinette who was reputed to have said when there was no bread ‘Let them eat cake’ sums up the government’s response very simply as a complete denial of the extent of the poverty and inequality that exists which has been caused by a pernicious economic theory which has been used to justify greed and selfishness and put private over collective good.

Bread or cake, either way it’s just crumbs, when the strategy should be far bigger in terms of spending to alleviate the human cost to society and the economy and indeed dealing with the next big challenge bearing down over humanity – climate change. His plans do nothing to address the structural poverty which exists in the UK where food banks, homelessness and families living in temporary accommodation have become the norm and an accepted part of the way things are, as has blaming and shaming.

His plans do nothing either to reverse the cuts to public spending which have done so much damage to our essential public and social infrastructure, the consequences of which have been so much in evidence these last few months. After weeks of people clapping key workers on the doorsteps of their homes and politicians jumping on the goodwill bandwagon to give the false impression that we are all in it together, little has been said about the who is to blame for the worsening condition of our public services and what comes next. Johnson passing the buck for the care home crisis onto staff, along with his criticism of NHS England, Public Health England and SAGE’s responses to the pandemic should be a clue to where the government intend to shift the blame. Just more smoke and mirrors to distract from the consequences of government policies.

The fine words and expressions of solidarity with the working people of this country by Rishi Sunak are no replacement for real action to deal with the threats that face us. In the event that a second wave of Covid-19 can be avoided, unemployment is likely to rise to 11.7% by the end of the year but should we experience a second wave that could, according to the OECD, rocket up to almost 15% of the working population. The scourge of unemployment threatens young people in particular who stand to lose out as the labour market contracts.

So far, we have seen the government relying on the private sector to dig us out of this mess, whether it’s a Job Retention Bonus or the proposed apprenticeship scheme. It fails to acknowledge that continuing economic uncertainty will not bring about confidence, either for businesses to invest or consumers to spend. Furthermore, a £10 meal voucher or a reduction in VAT will do nothing to restore confidence when people are fearful for their jobs and their future income. It’s all sticking plasters and simply perpetuates the lie that it is only the private sector that can create the wealth in the end.

As Josh Ryan Collins wrote in a UCL IIPP blog on Medium ‘The pandemic has raised the level of uncertainty in the economy to an all-time high. As John Maynard Keynes emphasised, at such times it is natural for firms and households to retrench. Under such conditions – and with foreign demand also crippled – the domestic government is the only actor able to stimulate the economy and prevent unemployment and recession’.  

The action needed to avert an economic crisis and address climate change is on a scale far greater than the one on offer by the Conservatives, who are picking and choosing the recipients of their spending based on a flawed economic model which puts the private sector as the wealth creator and denies the power of the state and its money issuing powers to address the serious challenges to come.

Government needs to restore its role as employer of last resort and focus its efforts on full employment through job creation – not as a temporary measure but as a permanent feature of public policy. At the end of the day, whether you are on the right or the left of the political spectrum, a mechanism for providing paid work at a living wage which supports the health and well-being of local communities in difficult economic conditions and at the same time keeps money in people’s pockets which then, in turn, flows through the economy and keeps prices stable surely should be the goal of any government?

But how could this be achieved? In two ways:

Firstly, with the introduction of a public sector Job Guarantee to provide employment for those who have been made involuntarily unemployed either as a consequence of Covid-19 or as part of a Just Transition towards a green economy as old carbon-based jobs become redundant and new green ones take their place. With a living wage and training, it would offer a stepping-stone into private sector work as economic conditions improved, would set a wage floor below which private employers could not offer employment and would serve local communities by providing worthwhile and useful public service work.

And secondly, with an expansion of the public sector, which hitherto has been shrunk to a shadow of its former self and is also short of hundreds and thousands of staff particularly in social care and health. As GIMMS has said many times before, the public sector provides the foundations for a healthy economy and any government of any political shade would do well to recognise that public service which serves the economy should not be in the hands of profit-hungry companies which are more interested in cutting costs than improving lives.

Not only do we need to rebuild the public infrastructure that has been shattered by the austerity policies and neoliberal narratives of small government, but we also need to recognise the real and tangible value of public sector work to the economic and social infrastructure.

Of course, without doubt, the next question will be ‘how will it be paid for’? Over recent weeks the debt scaremongers have been much in evidence from various media outlets to public institutions and public finance experts who show scepticism that even the current round of additional spending can be funded without taxing or borrowing more. They put the fear of God into the public consciousness that at some unspecified time in the future someone will have to pay and that someone will be the taxpayer.

Even the Daily Mirror this week helped to spin the lie to its readers that the government has to borrow to fund its deficit, that it will take decades to pay off the debt that has been accumulated as a result of the additional spending, and that the Chancellor will have to impose higher taxes eventually to pay it back. None of this is true and it is shameful that such lies continue to create such fear and uncertainty in the minds of the public.

By all means carry on with this nonsense but such beliefs will, by their nature, constrain any government’s capacity to serve the best interests of its citizens and the economy as a whole if people lose confidence and fear the consequences of such spending on their own future income. Instead of listening to the likes of the Daily Mirror, Rishi Sunak, successive shadow chancellors and other economic pundits not to mention the IFS which regularly trots out analyses of the public accounts as if it were a household budget, we should be challenging these false notions wherever they come from.

And then, when the National Audit Office adds its concerns about the increasing cost of rolling out universal credit and the rising impact of Covid-19 on job losses and Rishi Sunak announces that the number of work coaches in jobcentres would double next year to cope with rising numbers of unemployed people signing on, if you have even the most limited knowledge of how governments spend then you have to scratch your head in puzzlement.

The first thing to note is that the monetary cost of any programme is an irrelevancy for a government like the UK’s that issues its own currency. Secondly, it is not the monetary cost of unemployment or underemployment that is important, it is the social and economic cost to individuals and the economy as a whole that matters. And thirdly it won’t matter how many job coaches you put in Jobcentres – as Warren Mosler so aptly pointed out using the analogy of dogs and bones – if you’ve only got 95 bones and 100 dogs it won’t solve the problem of unemployment. Suggesting that the onus lies with the individual to shape up and be responsible for his or her own fate is a neoliberal narrative to blame and shame.

We need the state to recognise its responsibility as the employer of last resort during the economic cycle and we need a Job Guarantee, not a system of individual censure and humiliation.

The government needs to think big and be more ambitious in its strategy to help reset our economy on a more sustainable and equitable pathway. Whether it will, is an entirely different matter.

 

 

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The post We need a government that dares to think big and be more ambitious in its strategy to set our economy on a more sustainable and equitable pathway. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Britain was not "nearly bust" in March

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/06/2020 - 2:49am in

"Britain nearly went bust in March, says Bank of England", reads a headline in the Guardian. In similar vein, the Telegraph's Business section reports "UK finances were close to collapse, says Governor":Eh, what? The Governor of the Bank of England says the UK nearly turned into Venezuela? Well, that's what the Telegraph seems to think: 

The Bank of England was forced to save the Government from potential financial collapse as markets seized up at the height of the coronavirus crisis, Governor Andrew Bailey has said. In his most explicit comments yet on the country's precarious position in mid-March, Mr Bailey said 'serious disorder' broke out after panicking investors sold UK government bonds in a desperate hunt for cash. It left Britain at risk of failing to auction off the gilts needed to fund crucial spending - and Threadneedle Street had to pump £200bn into markets to restore a semblance of order.

Reading this, you would think that the UK government's emergency gilt issues had triggered a sterling market meltdown, wouldn't you? If this is indeed what happened, then the Bank of England has strayed far beyond its mandate and compromised its independence. Why on earth the Governor would voluntarily admit this surely requires some explanation. After all, if it is true, it could cost him his job. The source for the Telegraph's extraordinary claim is this 51-minute podcast from Sky News, in which Sky's economics editor Ed Conway and former Chancellor Sajid Javid grill the Governor on his handling of monetary policy during the coronavirus crisis. The particular part of the interview that has raised eyebrows is in this clip, which I have transcribed here:

Bailey: We basically had a pretty near meltdown of some of the core financial markets….I got to Wednesday afternoon, and the markets team came down here, and you know it’s not good when they turn up en masse, and you know it’s not good when they say “we’ve got to talk”, and it wasn’t good. We were in a state of borderline disorderly, I mean it was disorderly in the sense that when you looked at the volatility in what was core markets, I mean core exchange rates, core government bond markets, we were seeing things that were pretty unprecedented certainly in recent times, and we were facing serious disorder.

Conway: How scary was that? What would have happened if the Bank hadn’t stepped in?

Bailey: “Oh I think the prospects would have been very bad. We would have had a situation in which in the worst element the Government would have struggled to fund itself in the short run”. 

So no, the market meltdown was not triggered by high government spending. The market meltdown was because of investors panicking about Covid. It did, however, threaten to cause a government debt crisis.

Or - did it? Government struggling to fund itself "in the short run" simply means that it might have needed to pay out money before it could raise it. Normally it would cover short-term cash needs by issuing Treasury bills, which are short-dated, highly liquid bonds with very low interest rates. But when markets are malfunctioning, it can't do this. And high-interest gilts or pandemic bonds would take time to issue. So it could potentially find itself short of ready cash for urgent spending. However, as I have explained before, not being able to raise immediate funds for an urgent purchase is not insolvency, it is illiquidity. Relieving temporary illiquidity is what central banks do, and have done since the time of Bagehot. Historically they have done so not only for banks, but also for governments. And in the UK, the Bank of England still bears this responsibliity. The Ways and Means overdraft (which was extended in April) is the living evidence of the Bank of England's role as liquidity provider of last resort for the UK Government. But it is simply a working capital overdraft, such as any solvent business would have. Using this overdraft in no way implies that the Government is "insolvent", "bust", "bankrupt" or any of the other inflammatory headlines that journalists like to use. And nor does it mean the Bank of England is financing government deficit spending on anything other than a very short-term basis. It simply smooths out cash flow. Conway's assertion that the Government was "within a whisker of insolvency" is total nonsense, as is the Guardian's claim that "Britain nearly went bust in March". The Government was not shut out of markets long-term, as an insolvent sovereign would be. It had short-term cash flow problems solely because markets were malfunctioning.  Indeed, in another part of the interview Bailey said exactly this (my emphasis):

Conway: At the time you were nervous about government not being able to finance itself. 

Bailey: Yes, because of market instability.

Bailey went on to explain that the reason why the Bank intervened was not because the Government was having funding difficulties, but because market instability was driving up interest rates across the entire economy, and indeed across the whole world:

How would this have played out if we hadn’t taken the action that we and other central banks took? I think you would have seen a risk premium enter into interest rates, I think markets would have priced in a risk premium, and it could have been quite substantial given the degree of instability we were seeing. That would have raised the effective borrowing cost throughout the economy. In terms of the Bank of England's objectives, that would have made it harder for us to achieve our objectives, both in terms of inflation and in terms of economic stability.

The market meltdown was weakening central banks' hold on interest rates. They had to act, not to protect government finances but to prevent monetary conditions from tightening sharply, potentially triggering a dangerous debt deflationary spiral. The first responsibility of central banks in this crisis has been to prevent an exogenous shock to the real economy from triggering a financial crisis that would amplify the shock and significantly deepen the inevitable recession. That's what the exceptional interventions by central banks, including the Bank of England, since March have been all about. 
Bailey observed that although the UK Government was the largest borrower in the sterling market, it was far from the only one. Big corporations were borrowing enormous amounts, both in the market and from banks. Interest rates were rising on their bonds as well as government bonds. So the fact that the Government was the largest borrower was "actually largely irrelevant to that argument about a risk premium and an increase in the effective rate of interest."Bailey said that the £200bn of QE announced by the Bank of England the day after his crisis meeting with the markets team was to provide emergency liquidity to the whole market.  By injecting very large amounts of liquidity into the market, the Bank of England aimed to slake investors' thirst for cash and stop the fire sales that were driving up interest rates. And it succeeded. As a by-product of this action, the UK Government regained access to short-term market funding. But Bailey insists that ensuring the Government could fund itself was not the primary target. Regaining control of interest rates was. 
The market meltdown in March also affected banks. It's a measure of how far we have come since 2008 that Conway & Co made nothing of the fact that the Bank of England had to provide emergency liquidity support to banks. Keeping banks afloat when markets are melting down is all in a day's work for a central bank, these days. Nothing to look at at all. But if a central bank provides emergency liquidity support to a government struggling to raise short-term cash when markets are melting down, that means the government is bust, the central bank is captive and the country is Venezuela? How utterly absurd. 
I found the interviewers' constant focus on government financing a serious distraction from what was an important story about the Bank's vital responsibility for ensuring the smooth operation of financial markets. When financial markets melt down as they did in 2008, the whole world suffers. Central banks saw the same thing happening again in March 2020, and acted to stop it. And their action was extremely effective. It seemed to me that this was the story Bailey really wanted to tell, but the interviewers were intent on pushing him towards the issue of monetary financing and the Bank's independence. Sajid Javid, in particular, seemed to want Bailey to paint the Chancellor's handling of the crisis as irresponsible and profligate. Which genius at Sky News thought it was a good idea for the Chancellor who was forced out of his job without ever producing a Budget to discuss the performance of his successor with the Governor of the Bank of England?
Finally, it is extremely unfortunate that none of the media reports highlighted Bailey's strong endorsement of the Government's exceptional measures to support people through this crisis:

It's entirely necessary that the state has to step in at this point. In a shock of this nature, you can't leave it to individual citizens to find their way through it, "well, good luck" sort of thing. The state has to assert its role at this point, which it did. It wasn't easy, but it did it. 

Fiscal policy is pre-eminent. The Bank of England's job is to ensure the smooth functioning of markets and keep the economy as stable as possible so that the Government can support people through this crisis. And that is what it is doing - successfully. This, not "Britain nearly went bust", is what should be on the front page of every newspaper. 
Related reading:
Pandemic economics and the role of central banksThe End of Britain?

Dating the Recession

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 4:58am in

Tags 

Recession

Alarmed by the coronavirus-induced economic collapse, the NBER declares the economy in a recession in record time.

By John Miller

My wife Ellen and I got married in 2013 after living together for 15 years. The Justice of the Peace who married us told our twelve-year old son Sam that are we had already been married, and all she was doing was helping us fill out the paper work to make our marriage official.

On June 8 of this year, the National Bureau of Economics Research (NBER), the nation’s official arbiter of the business cycle, finished its paper work, and made what we already knew official:  The COVID-19 economic collapse is a recession, and a damn bad one.   After reviewing data on the calamitous drop in employment and consumer spending and the deterioration of other economic variables, the NBER declared that the recession began in February (2020).

The depth and diffusion across the economy of the downturn convinced the NBER to announce the onset of the recession far more quickly than it usually does.   The Business Cycle Dating Committee waited a full year into the recession to declare that the Great Recession had begun in December 2007. This time, the NBER declared the onset of the recession just four months after it had begun.  The downturn was so pronounced that the dating committee didn’t bother waiting for data to confirm that the economic contraction would meet the economist’s shorthand definition of a recession, two consecutive quarters of negative real (corrected for inflation) GDP growth.

Identifying Business Cycles

To understand what economists call a “recession,” we need to look more closely at the method used by the NBER dating committee to date a business cycle, and its two phases–economic expansions and economic contractions (also called “recessions”).

The NBER tracks the waves of economic activity that economists call “business cycles.” A business cycle runs its course from trough of a recession to the peak of an expansion and back down into a trough. In the first phase of the cycle–the expansion–the economy grows as companies produce more goods and services and hire workers. When the economy begins contracting, its second phase, companies produce fewer goods and workers lose their jobs. The NBER has identified ten complete business cycles in the U.S. economy since World War II. The current task of the NBER was to decide when the expansion of the business cycle that began in June 2009 ended and entered its recession phase.

The NBER’s Dating Committee, a group of eight economists, has no rigid rules for determining the start or finish of a business cycle. For instance, the committee looks for “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and lasts more than a few months” to identify a recession. The committee considers a broad array of macroeconomic indicators put pays particular attention to two broad monthly measures personal income less transfer payments, in real terms, and payroll employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey, just as they did in dating the onset of the current recession.

In short, the committee eyeballs the data and is guided by their malleable definition of an economic contraction to identify a recession. Dating a recession using the economists’ shorthand definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative real growth measured by GDP would assign similar starting and ending points to a recession, but not always – particularly when a downturn is interrupted by a quarter of slow but positive economic growth. In addition, GDP data are available only after a considerable lag and are often subject to revision.

End of the Expansion

The NBER announcement also closed the books on the economic expansion that began in June 2009 lasted 128 months, making it the longest expansion on record.  The expansion, which spanned the Obama and Trump presidencies, might have been historically long it was also slow, and did little to improve the lot of most people by historical standards.  “Long but limp growth” was The Financial Times’ far from flattering description of U.S. economic performance during the decade long expansion. Its 2.3% economic growth rate was the slowest of any U.S. economic expansions since 1949.  It also failed to even match the 2.9% average posted by the sluggish economic expansion during the last decade that led up the Great Recession, and it was nowhere close to the 4.3% average growth of the ten previous expansions since 1949.

The employment record of the expansion was also a mixed bag. The expansion created fewer jobs per month than any economic expansions in the last five decades with the exception of the jobless expansion from 2002 through 2007.  But 113 straight months of positive job growth was enough to push the unemployment rate down to 3.5%, the lowest rates since 1969.  Still falling unemployment rates did little to improve workers’ wages.   Average hourly earning of production and non-supervisory workers corrected for inflation rose just 0.7%, per year, slower than the 1.1% per year rate during the 120 month long expansion in the 1990s, less than half of the 1.7% per year rate during the 106 month long economic expansion of the 1960s. Only the dismal wage growth during the expansion of the previous decade did worse.

All told, working people were tightening their economic belts even when the economy was expanding.  Now that the COVID-19 economy is contracting at an alarming rate, we are in real trouble.  But you probably didn’t need the NBER to tell you that.

John Miller is a professor of economics at Wheaton College, a member of the Dollars & Sense collective, and author of the “Up Against the Wall Street Journal” column in D&S. 

Sources:   “NBER Determination of the February 2020 Peak in Economic Activity,”  National Bureau of Economic Research, June 8, 2020; “The record-breaking US economic recovery in charts,” by Robin Wigglesworth and Keith Fray, The Financial Times, July 4, 2019;  Bureau of Labor Statistics, Total private: Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees, 1982-84 Dollars, Seasonally Adjusted.  Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), Real Gross Domestic Product, Billions of Chained 2012 Dollars, Quarterly, Seasonally Adjusted Quarterly; and, All Employees: Total Nonfarm Payrolls, Thousands of Persons, Monthly Seasonally Adjusted Monthly; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED).

 

Nothing is written in stone. There is an alternative. Let’s make this the era of people power; we can do this!

Children wearing school uniform holding a chalkboard with the slogan "We are the future"Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

‘Our economic and social prospects in the coming decade depend on today’s policies. The recovery will not gain steam without more confidence which will not recover without global cooperation.  Governments must seize this opportunity to engender a fairer and more sustainable economy. Prospects come from dialogue and cooperation at national and global levels.’

Laurence Boone – OECD Chief Economist

In the week that it was reported that in April the UK economy suffered a record slump with GDP plunging by 20.4%, the OECD suggested that it would likely suffer the worst damage from the Covid-19 crisis of any country in the developed world. It also noted in its most recent report that the global economy was now experiencing the deepest recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s, with GDP declines of more than 20% and a surge in unemployment in many countries.

It is clear that whilst many countries are now coming out of lockdown, the fear of a second wave and ongoing public and business uncertainty will continue to impact on future economic activity. Just this week there has been a slew of redundancy announcements.  BP is planning to cut its workforce by around 10,000 worldwide and in the UK British Gas by 5000 and the Chemicals firm Johnson Matthey by 2500. Heathrow is also launching a redundancy programme as the number of flights and passenger traffic has plummeted, with no sign of any recovery as travel restrictions continue.

This, unfortunately, represents just the tip of an iceberg threatening to sink economies around the world without continuing and adequate state intervention through increased spending. The ManpowerGroup, in its employment survey published this week, found that companies in all the major sectors of the economy are more likely to cut jobs than to hire over the next 3 months and revealed that it was the weakest forecast since records began in 1992. It has been estimated that the unemployment rate in the UK could reach 10% during the second quarter of 2020.

A report by Pro-Bono Economics also published this week reveals that despite the government bailout in April, one in 10 UK charities are facing bankruptcy by the end of the year as a result of financial shortfalls triggered by mounting demand for their services and lost fundraising income due to shop closures. The study said that two-thirds of smaller, local charities had made significant cuts to their services and one in eight were expecting to have to terminate their operations. According to the report it had also forced some big-name charities to use public donations to support those services provided under contract to local authorities and central government (we will return to this later on).

Alongside the economic consequences of the pandemic, Sara Caul, Head of Mortality at the ONS (Office for National Statistics) noted in the statistical report of deaths occurring between1st March and 30th May, that people living in more deprived areas had experienced Covid-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas.

Not only are we faced with the very real tragedy of Covid-19 and its effects on the lives of those who have lost loved ones and those that have witnessed the ravages of the disease in our hospitals and care homes, the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies) in its Deaton Review observed this week how existing deep-rooted inequalities lay at the heart of the current disparities identified between UK regions.

The IFS then suggests that inequality can only worsen if ministers fail to act, and risks entrenching already deep divides. But confusingly and at the same time as recognising this, then goes on to suggest that the crisis is likely to leave challenging legacies for inequality given that the government’s capacity will be constrained by record peacetime levels of debt.

LET’S STOP RIGHT THERE.

Whilst the IFS deplores the existence of inequality and identifies some of its causes, it fails to grapple with the primary reason why inequality has risen and indulges in a false story which suggests that addressing it will be hindered by the already high levels of government debt.

What the report fails to mention, is that those disparities exposed via the pandemic are linked to the systemic frailty of a decaying economic paradigm. The decades of low wage growth which have left households unprepared financially to face involuntarily imposed unemployment as a result of Covid-19, the stark inequalities that have arisen as a result of an economic system which has penalised working people and impacted on access to good healthcare, education, housing and essential public services. It reveals how government, via its policy decisions and through a decade of austerity and cuts to public spending, has left a landscape ravaged by rising poverty and inequality. It has impacted communities across the country, particularly in the South West and the North, where cuts to local government spending, combined with increasing job insecurity and low wages have affected both poor white and ethnic populations to also create fear and societal division.

David Cameron’s big society, namely the charitable/voluntary sector, has also been affected by fallout from austerity, combined with the economic effects of Covid-19 on its finances.  Years of cuts to local government grants have, in their turn, affected many local charities who were already financially stretched. Closure of fund-raising avenues has left many faced with difficult decisions. This highlights what happens when government shifts responsibility for the provision of essential services to the charitable, voluntary sector whilst at the same time cutting public expenditure.

We are facing a disaster of monumental proportions. The economic fallout from Covid-19 is bad enough, but when combined with the threat posed to human existence by climate change, it is ethically and morally indefensible to hide behind false narratives which are designed to limit the actions a government can take to address these issues.  The crisis is systemic and it is incomprehensible that our leaders, along with think tanks such as the IFS and media hacks, are still working hard to keep the hierarchies of power in place with false narratives about how money really works whilst a credulous and uninformed public accepts the dominant paradigms as being unquestionable and unassailable.

For the moment the public purse has been opened to avert economic disaster but as GIMMS has discussed before how long will it be before the old narratives about unaffordability and paying the debt back creep back into the political and public discourse?

As Professor Prem Sikka wrote in a recent article ‘the right will try and push for a new round of cuts after this crisis. It would be economically illiterate to do so…It’s time to bust some neoliberal myths about debt’

If we continue to allow such myths to dominate, the consequences will be dire for the current and future generations.

As Covid-19 has dominated the news for weeks, it has already been made clear that health and wealth inequalities have played a tragic role in deaths, which combined with the future challenges posed by climate change will be a make or break moment for real and sustainable change.

In an open letter this week the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, formed in 2016, urged the government to follow its six principles for a healthy recovery from Covid-19. It made clear its position that the health of the planet and the health of people are intimately connected and as such future government action must prioritise the health of both.

Whilst those principles are vitally important and essential to any future governmental policies it will be, as Prem Sikka has already observed, only be a matter of time before the issue of affordability and increasing government debt to pay for it will be raised.

However, without a sea change in the political market-led ideology which currently guides government policy, along with the acceptance of the very real resource constraints which all governments face when making their spending decisions, then those six principles will see little chance of being enacted to deliver those public purpose goals to secure the future.

Furthermore, whilst we remain mired in the household budget version of how government spending happens, we will equally accept its spending limitations and thus our own demise as a species.

This is our wake-up call to protect future generations, not from tax burdens as the orthodoxy prescribes, but from the burden of environmental decay and increasing climate uncertainty.

An economic recovery will depend on a new economic paradigm which puts people and the planet first – not more of the same with an environmental extra tagged on.  A Green New Deal combined with a Job Guarantee to allow a smooth and just transition is the way forward. That can only be underpinned by an understanding that government is not limited by money, but by the resources it has at its disposal to deliver its objectives. We can’t allow past narratives to dictate the future.

As a nation, it will be up to us to decide whether we go forward or stay stuck in the exploitative and destructive paradigm which is currently dictating the economic recovery in terms of more unsustainable growth, more futile consumption to feather the bank accounts of global corporations and more eco destruction.

Our future depends on understanding what is possible and what is not. And getting informed is the first step towards a better understanding of the choices we have.

As such, GIMMS can’t end this blog without a mention of two important books which were published this week, and which complement many others before them.  Firstly, The Deficit Mythby Stephanie Kelton shatters the myths that prevent us from taking action because we can’t get beyond the question of how we can pay for it. Whilst written for an American audience, it is equally applicable for the UK.

And secondly, ‘The Case for a Job Guarantee’ written by Pavlina R Tcherneva, which challenges the idea that unemployment is unavoidable and necessary for an efficient economy and invites us to imagine quite a different world where unemployment is eliminated and which has implications for the wider context of a Green New Deal.

And if you missed this first time around, readers interested in historical background and learning more about how money really works in the post-gold-standard era couldn’t do better than ordering Bill Mitchell and Thomas Fazi’s jointly co-authored book Reclaiming the State’.

And finally, don’t forget GIMMS website, which is a fount of information for anyone – from beginners through to those wanting more detailed information. Starting with our information sheet An introduction to Modern Monetary Theory’.

 

 

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The post Nothing is written in stone. There is an alternative. Let’s make this the era of people power; we can do this! appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

So when did this recession start, exactly?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/06/2020 - 1:37am in

Is the U.S. in recession? If so, when did the recession start, and what caused it? 
The usual economic definition of "recession" is two successive quarters of negative GDP growth. But in Q1 2020, growth was positive, though it was apparently slowing sharply (more on this shortly):

So using the standard economic definition, the U.S. is not yet in recession.
But according to the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), the U.S. entered recession in February: 

The committee has determined that a peak in monthly economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in February 2020. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession. 

February? The New York Fed's nowcasting report for February showed no sign of recession. The most recent nowcast shows the economy dropping off a cliff at the beginning of April: 

Of course, even nowcasts have lagging data. The date of the collapse according to this chart is when the NY Fed reported it, not when it actually happened. But a collapse in February? Really?
No, there was no GDP collapse in February. Quite the reverse, in fact. NBER defines the start of the recession as the point where the growth rate of the economy starts to slow:

A recession begins when the economy reaches a peak of economic activity and ends when the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion.

So in February, the growth rate peaked. The trend was downwards from then onwards - as the NY Fed's chart shows. NBER's announcement that the recession started in February is therefore entirely consistent with Fed nowcasts showing that it started as late as April. Yes, I know this is bizarre. But bizarre things happen when you define the same phenomenon in two different ways. 
Note that in NBER-world, the growth rate is positive at the start of the recession. Those of you who have read my previous writing on rates of change (or are familiar with differential calculus) will recognise this as our old friend the second derivative - the point where the trend reverses. The economic definition, however, uses the first derivative - the point where the growth rate itself becomes negative. Since trend reversal precedes growth turning negative, recessions as defined by NBER start earlier than recessions defined using the economic definition. If this isn't clear, just imagine what happens when you take your foot off the accelerator while driving your car up a hill. The car slows down rapidly, but it continues going forward. It doesn't immediately start sliding down the hill. 
In NBER-world, the economy also emerges from recession sooner than in the economic definition. NBER takes the lower turning point, when growth is at its most negative, as the end of the recession, whereas the economic definition requires the growth rate to be positive. We can say, therefore, that the recession as defined in the standard way lags NBER's definition, possibly by several months. Thus, according to NBER the U.S. is already in recession, whereas according to the economic definition we don't even know yet if there will be a recession at all. I hope this makes sense. 
But the confusion doesn't end there.  The chart above shows the peak was in Q4 2019. Some people have interpreted this to mean that the recession started some time before the pandemic, and must therefore have been due to other causes. A whole cottage industry has sprung up to devise ever more complex reasons for the recession, ranging from the Fed's interventions in repo markets to the U.S. Government's worsening trade relationships with China. Even the U.K.'s exit from the EU on 31st January 2020 has been fingered by some disgruntled Remainers as a possible cause. But I'm afraid all of these brilliant ideas are wrong.  The apparent time discrepancy is illusory. It arises purely from the view of the data. There is no doubt whatsoever that this recession is caused entirely by the pandemic.
Let me explain. So far, we have been using monthly data. But the FRED chart shows quarterly data. Usually, peak monthly activity occurs within the quarter in which the economy peaks. But the NBER says that the collapse in economic activity in March 2020 was so extreme that despite the peak in February, the aggregate figures for Q1 were below those for Q4 2019:

The fact that the monthly peak of February occurred in the middle of 2020Q1 while the quarterly peak occurred in 2019Q4 reflects the unusual nature of this recession. The economy contracted so sharply in March (the final month of the quarter) that in 2020Q1, GDP, GDI, and employment were significantly below their levels of 2019Q4.

So although the quarterly data show the trend reversing in Q4 2019, suggesting that the recession started three months before the pandemic, this is entirely due to the extreme swings in the monthly data for February and March 2020.   
Perhaps the clearest view of the way in which dreadful economic data in March forced forecasters to downgrade their view of the economy comes from the Atlanta Fed. I've charted their real GDP forecasts by nowcast date for Q1 and Q2 2020:

I haven't marked it on the chart, but the forecasts switch from Q1 to Q2 at 28th April. So they are lagged by 1 month plus whatever lag there is in the incoming data. NBER says the economy fell off a cliff in the middle of March, so the lag in the incoming data would seem to be about 2 weeks. The chart shows just how dramatic that economic collapse was. It was sufficient to downgrade the Atlanta Fed's final forecast for the entire quarter from 3.1 percent in March to ninus one percent by the end of April. 
Perhaps more importantly, there is no sign whatosever of any recession prior to the pandemic. The U.S. economy was ticking along nicely at a growth rate of about 2.5%, unemployment was low and investment was strong. All of that came to an abrupt end in the second half of March. 
So the economy did indeed peak in February 2020, not Q4 2019. And the recession, which definitely exists even though we don't yet have complete Q2 data, was caused by the pandemic. 
Related reading:
Calculus for JournalistsArchive of past GDPNow commentaries - Federal Reserve Bank of AtlantaDetermination of the February 2020 Peak in US Economic Activity - NBER

 
 

 

Save the Post Office — Save the Vote

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/06/2020 - 9:02am in

Tags 

mail, Recession

The post office could be key to people voting during the pandemic but perverse financial rules and Trump’s hostility put that at risk. Continue reading

The post Save the Post Office — Save the Vote appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

New Book Contains Shocker

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/05/2014 - 6:00am in

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