Posts

Some governments really are like households

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In my last post, I said that the fact that a government can buy anything that is for sale in its own currency is not sufficient to confer monetary sovereignty. A country which is dependent on essential imports, such as foodstuffs and oil, for which it must pay in dollars is not monetarily sovereign. Some people disputed this on the grounds that such a country could earn the dollars it needs through exports. So I thought I would write a post discussing how realistic this is in practice.

Strictly speaking, the only country in the world that can always pay for everything it needs in its own currency is the United States. However, most developed  countries that issue their own currencies have deep and liquid FX markets that enable them to exchange their currencies freely for other currencies; many also have swap lines with the Federal Reserve. Eurozone countries don't issue their own currencies, but the bloc as a whole issues the world's second reserve currency. It is not going t…

Now state pension ages are equalised, let's fix the real problems

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Today is a day for celebration. After nearly 60 years of inequality and discrimination - originally against women, and more recently against men - the state pension age is at last the same for men and women. For one day only, both men and women will retire at 65. Tomorrow, the state pension age for both men and women will start rising again in lockstep, reaching 66 by 2020 and then to 67 and 68.

I make no apology for celebrating the equalisation of pension ages. In my view this is long overdue. I have expected it all of my working life, having first discussed it when I was still at school. I never thought it was fair that my brother 14 months younger than me should receive his state pension 6 years and 4 months later than me. We both work for our livings and we have both brought up children. Life has dealt us different cards - I am significantly poorer than him - but that is not a reason for me to have a much earlier state pension purely by virtue of being female.

That said, the rise…

The myth of monetary sovereignty

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How many countries can really claim to have full monetary sovereignty?
The simplistic answer is "any country which issues its own currency, has free movement of capital and a floating exchange rate." I have seen this trotted out MANY times, particularly by non-economists of the MMT persuasion. It is, unfortunately, wrong
This is a more complex definition from a prominent MMT economist:
1. Issues its own currency exclusively
2. Requires all taxes and related obligations to be extinguished in that currency
3. Can purchase anything that is for sale in that currency at any time it chooses, without financial constraints. That includes all idle labour
4. Its central bank sets the interest rate
5. The currency floats
6. The Government does not borrow in any currency other than its own.

This appears solid. But in fact, it too is wrong.  

The big hole in this is the external borrowing constraint - item 6 in the list. If a government genuinely could purchase everything the co…

A Budget Polemic

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As Budget Day approaches, Economists for Free Trade have taken it upon themselves to give the Chancellor some advice. They have produced a "Budget for Brexit", subtitled "An Economic Report". One might expect from this that the report would contain a comprehensive set of Budget proposals with Britain's forthcoming exit from the EU in mind, backed up by rigorous economic analysis.

With this in mind, I started reading the report. There was the inevitable introduction from Patrick Minford, as usual criticising the U.K. government for disagreeing with his forecasts. Fortunately, his comments were only a little over a page in length. And remarkably, he concluded with an appeal for the Chancellor to raise public spending:
It is an extraordinary thing that economists like us feel the need to encourage politicians to spend more money and cut taxes. Usually it is our role to discourage profligacy in the name of ‘economy’. However, the mantra of austerity has truly take…

Vítor unbound

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I always find the views of former policymakers fascinating, not least because of their tendency to become much more outspoken once they are out of office. Some express much more radical views than they did while in office: Larry Summers springs to mind, and Adair Turner. Others become critical of the institutions that they ran: Mervyn King, for example.

The latest former policymaker to reveal what he really thinks is Vítor Constâncio, Vice President of the ECB from 2010 to 2018. In a fascinating lecture at the London School of Economics, he discussed the causes of the Euro crisis, the policy responses to it, and what should be done to prevent such a disaster happening again. The entire lecture is on an LSE podcast (audio only, sadly), but Vítor released four of the slides from his presentation on Twitter, with brief comments.

The slide that has attracted the most attention is this one:





Many people seem to have interpreted this as some kind of mea culpa. And the slide does appear to …

Checkmate

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With only six months left to the moment when the UK leaves the EU, the Brexit end game is upon us. If there is to be a Withdrawal Agreement at all, the Northern Ireland border problem must be solved within the next couple of weeks. But at present, both sides are well dug in and showing no inclination to budge. No-deal Brexit is looking increasingly likely.

Nonetheless, the game is still afoot. In Salzburg, the EU appeared to strike a mortal blow to Theresa May's Chequers proposal. After this, surely she had to compromise on her red lines?

Not a bit of it. Mrs. May is sticking to her Chequers proposal, apparently hoping that eventually the EU will blink. She remains, as ever, oblivious to the mortal damage that this would do to the EU as a political project.

But agreeing a deal with the EU is not Mrs. May's top priority anyway. With the Tory party conference approaching, continual rumours of a leadership challenge, and Boris trying to make himself look like Churchill-in-waitin…

Cake and cherries

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Sometimes I despair at the naivety of politicians.

Theresa May's humiliation in Salzburg was an inevitable consequence of her belief that the EU would be willing to compromise its "four freedoms" to keep her in power. To be fair, press reports since the Chequers plan have suggested that the last thing the EU wants is a change of leadership in the UK. But it was a mistake to interpret this as meaning the EU was willing to become Theresa's poodle. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The EU has said many times that the four freedoms are not up for negotiation, and proposals that tried to keep some of them while rejecting others have all been flatly rejected. Theresa's prized Chequers deal was weighed in the balance and found wanting the moment it hit Michel Barnier's desk. All the European Council did was confirm what everyone already knew.

Except our Theresa, that is, who apparently thought that "this is not going to work" meant that the EU wou…