Heiner Flassbeck and Patrick Kaczmarczyk write that amidst global political and economic fragility, the downturn in the Germany economy adds to the uncertainty in a world that, as Paul Krugman put it, has a “Germany problem”. It not only raises questions and doubts over the future of the largest European economy but, …More …
Many of us in the UK are sick of Brexit, and it hasn’t even happened yet. We have been living through the Brexit referendum and its aftermath, Brexit as process, for more than three years. Keen political observers and pundits may be among those who are fed up, though they keep a closer eye on matters, and some of them have reporter’s duties to uphold.
One of the aspects of this whole business which is not often examined, with regards to Brexit and politics more generally, is the use and abuse of political rhetoric. I have chosen a few terms that are over-used by our politicians and try to unpick them below. Since they generally pass without question, and are key to how we are persuaded, or otherwise, I thought it would be a helpful exercise. This is part politics and economics, part semantics.
When others are trying to persuade us using rhetoric, one must keep in mind that words are not the same thing as that to which they refer. Words are not reality. Words are symbols used in communication to convey meaning. While it is both inconvenient and practically impossible to contest every word as it is uttered, it should be remembered that ideas and concepts, however we name or describe them, miss out much of the related information that we can potentially perceive with our senses, as well as much that we cannot.
Our sensory experiences are mediated by our nervous system and the ways in which it is structured and has learned to process information. We tend to believe that what we perceive is equal to reality, whereas whatever reality might be, it has been filtered by our often biased and very human brain. Snakes can perceive heat waves, allowing them to “see” in the dark. Humans perceive things differently. This does not make either perception the “correct” reality, rather each one is partial.
Following this digression, I discuss some of the language games of Brexit below. Calling them games may rather trivialise the serious issues involved, so please forgive me for that. Continue reading
In the video below from the Real News Network, former economist at UNCTAD, Heiner Flassbeck, discusses some of the problems besetting today’s global economy and claims that they have deep historical roots. Germany may be heading for a recession due to shrinking exports linked to the ongoing US-China trade war and weak demand in Europe.
Flassbeck argues that the cause of sluggish global demand lies in the weakness of corporate investment compared to corporate saving alongside stagnant wages and the insufficient response of governments in Europe to counter this with more expansionary fiscal policy.
This has been brewing since the 1970s. The US under Reagan, Bush junior and most recently Trump has on a number of occasions responded to sluggish growth with higher fiscal deficits. The exception came under Clinton, when a booming economy and fiscal tightening produced several years of budget surpluses, which ultimately proved unsustainable.
In contrast, many European economies have remained wedded to tighter fiscal policies and austerity in the run-up to the creation of the euro. Since 2000 Germany has relied on foreign demand to drive growth, and now runs, in absolute terms, the largest current account surplus in the world.
Corporate surpluses are also excessively large in Japan, but the government continues to run a moderately large budget deficit which absorbs some of these savings and sustains aggregate demand to a degree. The German government is now running a budget surplus, which withdraws demand from the economy, leaving net exports as the driver of growth.
Ideally, corporations would use more of their retained earnings for investment, rather than running up surpluses as they are doing at the moment, particularly in Germany. This would increase spending on the demand side, and the capital stock on the supply side, boosting growth in output and some combination of employment and productivity.
In the absence of strong corporate investment growth, sufficient demand to support economic growth has to come from household consumption, net exports, or from the government. With insufficient household income growth, Germany has relied excessively on growth in exports enabled by sluggish wage increases for twenty years. In a weakening global economy, it is now suffering again and could be on the brink of recession.
A more sustainable return to healthy economic growth and fuller employment with rising living standards would see household incomes rising for the majority through significant wage increases, stimulating consumption and providing greater incentives for companies to increase investment in new capacity and employment. Also needed is some degree of fiscal expansion which includes public investment in necessary infrastructure and support for those on the lowest incomes.
The corporate sector surplus (the excess of savings over investment) in a number of large economies needs to shrink as wages and household incomes rise alongside corporate investment. This would lessen the need to rely on large and persistent fiscal deficits, which have supported demand in Japan on and off for well over two decades but have not by themselves created the conditions for a return to more balanced economic growth over the longer term. It would also lessen the need for consumption to be excessively dependent on rising debt, as in the UK and US.
More balanced global growth and reduced inequality within countries which have seen the latter soar since the end of the 1970s can be achieved together.
Flassbeck does not really discuss the reasons behind excessive corporate savings relative to investment, aside from a brief reference to neoliberalism, and he ignores the problem of private debt in China, but the interview is interesting and worth a watch.
Costas Lapavitsas is a Professor of Economics at SOAS in London and a long-standing critic of the EU. His recent book, The Left Case Against the EU, is an interesting and provocative read, whatever your political orientation.
In this short interview, he argues for a No Deal Brexit from a left perspective, as well as political and economic transformation in countries across Europe that benefits ordinary working people via public ownership of the banks and utilities, industrial policy and redistribution, alongside increased popular and national sovereignty and democratic accountability. Continue reading
Poland’s success in becoming a high-income country with dramatically improved living standards since its transition from communism in 1989 may be one of the lesser-known stories in recent world economic history.
This transition is in stark contrast to Poland’s historical record over several hundred years in which its economic fortunes fluctuated relative to Western Europe, but never got as close in terms of income per head and overall prosperity as it is today.
Marcin Piatkowski has written an interesting book on this subject, Europe’s Growth Champion, which draws on and extends some of the insights of the New Institutional Economics (NIE), particularly the work of Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James Robinson (AJR). Continue reading
A nice paper from the Levy Institute on the beginnings of recovery in Greece following the painful combination of austerity and ‘reforms’ imposed by the so-called Troika of the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College is ostensibly non-partisan but much of its published output is in the post-Keynesian tradition, and inspired by the work of Hyman Minsky and Wynne Godley, who both worked at the Institute in their later years. Continue reading
The BBC reported on Tuesday that government borrowing for the 2017-18 financial year fell to its lowest level in eleven years, at £42.6bn. This was lower than forecast and represents 2.1% of GDP. However much of this reduction is accounted for by reduced spending rather than increased tax revenue. This is because economic growth remains sluggish, at 0.1% in the first quarter of 2018 according to the latest figures, and is failing to generate buoyant tax receipts.
So austerity continues, while growth is faltering. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, claimed today that “our economy is strong and we have made significant progress.” This is surely breathtaking arrogance. The deficit may be down, but the economy is struggling.
According to economist and entrepreneur John Mills, the UK economy could be doing much better and significant imbalances remain, which are constraining growth and improvements in productivity and wages. Continue reading