It's not the public, but the private finance sector, stupid.

Image: acknowledgements to the BBC.

The Autumn Statement reveals but one thing: the Chancellor and his advisers are both ill-advised and dangerously ill-prepared for the forthcoming prolonged Depression. (And if you think I exaggerate, let me remind you that 20 years after the Japanese debt bubble burst, Tokyo house prices are still falling, and the stock market is worth 60% less than 20 years ago. And the Japanese economy was in a healthier state then, than the UK is today, thanks to an export surplus.)

Today’s penalising of the innocent – public sector workers, pensioners and those hundreds of thousands of young people entering the labour market  - is a result of a deeply flawed economic analysis by the Chancellor of the causes of the global financial crisis.

Continue reading… ›

Eight fallacies in the LSE Keynes/Hayek debate

Tonight, Wednesday 3 August 2011 at 08.00pm BST (GMT +1), BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a debate which took place at the London School of Economics (LSE) on 26 July.  This broadcast will be repeated on Saturday, 6 August, at 10.15 p.m BST (GMT +1).

Along with my colleagues Prof. Victoria Chick and Douglas Coe at PRIME  we have written the following response to the debate:

Debaters considered whether Keynes or Hayek had the solution to the present financial crisis. The economist George Selgin and philosopher Jamie Whyte spoke for Hayek; Keynes’s biographer Robert Skidelsky and the economist Duncan Weldon spoke for Keynes.

On the one hand we are pleased that the BBC and the LSE now acknowledge rival positions to the present austerity policies of Western governments. On the other  we are concerned that the debate might have served mainly to reinforce existing prejudices, rather than to clarify the substance of the matters under discussion, matters which – there can be no doubt – are of the most profound importance.

Lord Skidelsky provocatively but justly reminded the audience that in the early 1930s, the same orthodoxy driving western austerity policies directed the actions of Germany’s 1931 Bruning government and paved the way for the rise of Nazism. These actions – vigorously opposed by Keynes – were the final straw for a Germany crushed by defeat and the disastrous boom-bust cycle that followed their return to the gold standard. Reparations were easily circumvented by wildly excessive borrowing from financial interests around the world, in a manner that even Keynes did not anticipate. It was these financial and fiscal policies that brought Hitler to power.

With financial interests still firmly in the ascendency and reactionary right-wing forces increasing their grip in the United States and much of the Western world, we must not forget these lessons from history, which formed the background to the original debate between Keynes and Hayek themselves. The stakes are high indeed.

Continue reading… ›

Savings and the alchemy of credit - my article for Aviva

Aviva has brought together a collection of prominent thinkers to provoke renewed debate and fresh ideas about future prosperity and creating a culture of sustainable savings. The group, names the ‘Future Prosperity Panel‘, published their report ‘Big picture thinking – Towards sustainable savings’.

My article is called ‘Savings and the alchemy of credit’ and is published alongside valuable work from Alain De BottonSimon TayPaweł Świeboda and Diane Coyle.

Read a summary of my essay on the Aviva site and watch a video interview with me here… >

Capital flows, financial crises & implications for poor countries


Last month I was invited to join the ‘Labour Party Policy Review: Making growth work for the poor and generating resources for development’. The overall group was led by Harriet Harman, and the development section was chaired by Rushnara Ali MP.

Below is my short background note on mobility of capital flows, financial crises & implications for poor countries:

Capital Mobility: what others are saying

“Experience shows that when policies falter in managing capital flows, there is no limit to the damage that international finance can inflict on an economy.”

Yilmaz Akyüz, “Capital Flows to Developing Countries in a Historical Perspective: Will the current Boom End with a Bust?”  South Centre:Research Paper 37, March 2011

“..capital flows, it’s like with fire. Fire can be used to turn raw meat into a wonderful steak. But it can also burn your house down.”

Jagdish Bagwhati, Professor of Economics, Columbia University, on Big Think, 17 November, 2007.


“Looking back on the crisis, the US, like some emerging-market nations during the 1990s, has learned that the interaction of strong capital inflows and weaknesses in the domestic financial system can produce unintended and devastating results. The appropriate response is…to improve private sector financial practices and strengthen financial regulation, including macroprudential oversight.”

Ben Bernanke, governor of the US’s Federal Reserve in speech to Banque de France February, 2011.

“So we have to make some choices. Let me be clear about mine: democracy and national determination should trump hyper-globalization. Democracies have the right to protect their social arrangements, and when this right clashes with the requirements of the global economy, it is the latter that should give way.” (Author’s emphasis)

Continue reading… ›

Knowles needs to listen more carefully to ‘hero’ Clinton on deficit reduction

The austerity brigade is rattled. Young Daniel Knowles over at the Daily Telegraph is so worried, he has had to rise to the defence of the Treasury and Office for Budget Responsibility – and then resorts to proposing Greece’s economic strategy for the UK. Why? Because orthodox economic ideology has been challenged by none other than Daniel’s ‘hero’ that notorious womaniser, President Bill Clinton.

Bill gets it. On the deficit that is.  Thanks to Left Foot Forward and Mehdi Hasan we have all read Clinton’s  speech:

“(the) UK’s finding this out now. They adopted this big austerity budget. And there’s a good chance that economic activity will go down so much that tax revenues will be reduced even more than spending is cut and their deficit will increase.”

Daniel Knowles challenges his hero, on these grounds:

  1. “The government cannot spend so much that net revenues actually increase. By Clinton’s logic we should increase spending until our deficit goes away. ”
  2. “The Office of Budget Responsibility..using a Keynesian model, estimates that the fiscal multiplier is about .35”……that means that…overall the deficit is will be smaller than it would have been without cuts….. (Note: Knowles Update:  I actually made a mistake with that statistic – 0.35 is the estimate for the multiplier for VAT. Estimates of the fiscal multiplier overall, including those of the OBR, IMF and others, are closer to 0.)
  3. Greece: spending cuts have reduced the deficit from 15.4% of GDP in 2009 to 9.5% now.

The first two points are rightly, morphed together in Knowles’s argument. The first is to do with the impact of government spending. In a slump – which we are living through now – it is vital for the government to spend to fill the investment vacuum created by an over-indebted and extremely nervous private sector, desperately trying to de-leverage its debt. Right now the UK private sector is busily hoarding cash, because they are – rightly – worried about their levels of debt; and because they fear – rightly – that if they do invest, customers (both private and corporate) will not walk through the door – because customers too, are heavily indebted and worried about the threat of unemployment and falling house prices.

So given these circumstances of widespread fear and paralysis in the economy – what the ONS calls ‘flat-lining’ –  say the government invests £1 billion in libraries. What would happen next?

Continue reading… ›

Why Krugman’s ‘Keynesianism’ is controversial

Some of our friends were irked by my observation this week that Paul Krugman is:

“an extremely controversial figure for Keynes scholars. He champions a mainstream interpretation of Keynes’s work known as the neo-classical synthesis”

Many rightly applaud him for using his platform at the New York Times to defend further fiscal stimulus in the US – against a hostile political crowd, not to mention the downright opposition of neo-liberal economists – and we commend him for that.

However, because he has such an important platform, it matters more that he lacks a proper understanding of the nature of credit. Our beef with him – and the vast array of neo-liberal economists -  is well expressed, and evidenced by Steve Keen in his latest blog: “Dude! Where’s my recovery?” Namely that:

“Neoclassical economists ignore the level of private debt, on the basis of the a priori argument that “one man’s liability is another man’s asset”, so that the aggregate level of debt has no macroeconomic impact. They reason that the increase in the debtor’s spending power is offset by the fall in the lender’s spending power, and there is therefore no change to aggregate demand.

Continue reading… ›

Austerity: OECD economists show clear signs of ‘cold feet’ for austerity

(Photo: REUTERS / Yiorgos Karahalis )
A Greek riot policeman stands in front of graffiti written on the wall of a bank during violent demonstrations over austerity measures in Athens, May 5, 2010. Greece faced a day of violent protests and a nationwide strike by civil servants outraged by the announcement of draconian austeristy measures.

Dear readers….Recovering from ‘flu and a trip down to Hay on Wye…Thought you might be interested in this piece I have written for Prime.

“We should note recent developments in political economy, that – while understated – are, we hope, of significance. Last week, the OECD published their latest World Economic Outlook, which features chapters on each developed economy as well as an assessment of the world economy as a whole.

The report is schizophrenic. It clumsily offers an outlook of excessive optimism; makes a selective assessment of ‘risks’; but continues adherence to an economic policy doctrine that is clearly making OECD economists very uncomfortable.

While the OECD report contains the expected justifications and support for the ‘austerity’ approach, nevertheless the organisation’s ‘cold feet’ are becoming apparent, even before the full extent of austerity programmes has begun to impact. There is no better example of this unease than their approach to the UK.

The report commends UK policymakers for their “current fiscal consolidation (which) strikes the right balance and should continue.”  At the same time, OECD economists hedge their bets by urging the UK government to embark on “higher infrastructure spending (that) would lower the short-term negative growth effects of consolidation without affecting its pace.”   At a press conference last week, the OECD chief economist warned that the UK should be prepared to cool austerity in the wake of weaker growth.

Continue reading… ›

Coming soon: another global financial crash? Capital mobility and the commodity mania

Tin produced at a Glencore plant in Vinto, Bolivia

“Experience shows that when policies falter in managing capital flows, there is no limit to the damage that international finance can inflict on an economy.”

Yilmaz Akyüz, “Capital Flows to Developing Countries in a Historical Perspective: Will the current Boom End with a Bust?”

Today, as speculation and leverage in global, financialised commodity markets reach manic levels; as we witness an ‘epic rout’ (FT 5 May, 2011) in commodity prices, and as the boom in capital flows peaks, is another crash inevitable? And is it coming soon?

I know from experience that while it may be possible to analyse fundamentals, it is always difficult to predict precisely what dynamic will trigger the next crisis, and when it will happen. Back in 2003, together with colleagues at the new economics foundation in London, and with very little funding, I assembled and edited a series of essays on the ‘outlook’ for the global economy. We titled it: ‘Real world economic outlook’, and added a subtitle, ‘the legacy of globalization: debt and deflation’. We intended the report to be annual, and to act as a counter to the IMF’s annual World Economic Outlook, which in our view was irrationally optimistic about developments in the global economy.

We were pretty pessimistic about global imbalances, and predicted a crash. Sadly, our timing was way out: the crash was four years away. It does not always help to be right on the fundamentals. Given the inevitability of the then forthcoming crash, we argued that there was once more a need for a ‘great transformation’ of the global economy. The starting point we wrote ‘will be to reverse the most pernicious elements of the ‘globalization’ experiment’ by the ‘taming of financial markets through the re-introduction of capital controls; restraints in the growth of credit; the establishment of an International Clearing Agency; and a Tobin Tax’.

Back then it was hard to talk/write about these matters – and be heard. Our cheerfully-titled report and predictions did not hit the best-seller lists. Funding for the project was withdrawn, and the project wound down. It’s major flaw? We had breached areas of economic debate that at the time were carefully circumscribed. It took the financial crisis of 2007-9 to loosen the intellectual chains to which orthodox economics had so heavily tied economic debate.   Today the Tobin Tax, or Robin Hood Tax is a high-profile issue, with some signs that EU governments are considering implementation of such a tax. (See point 8 of Euro leaders’ statement, March 11, 2011). So that taboo has been broken.

Continue reading… ›

'Debtonation' - why it's still relevant

Welcome readers, to my newly refreshed blog, and thanks to Georgia Lee and Maz Kessler for making it look so good, and work so well. I had thought that the title needed refreshing too. After all, I am fond of defining 9th August, 2007 as ‘debtonation day’, and that is now long past.

To refresh your memory: it was on that day that the world’s banks woke up to the scale of their debts, and to the simple truth that they may not all be repaid. On that day, the French investment bank BNP Paribas suspended three investment funds due to a “complete evaporation of liquidity” in the market. BNP’s announcement compelled the intervention of the US’s Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, which both pumped $90billion into the global banking system. As Larry Elliott notes, 9 August, 2007 ” has all the resonance of August 4 1914. It marks the cut-off point between “an Edwardian summer” of prosperity and tranquillity and the trench warfare of the credit crunch – the failed banks, the petrified markets, the property markets blown to pieces by a shortage of credit. ”

So ‘debtonation’ stands as a reminder of that day. However, we also know that the private debts of the individuals, households but also more importantly the corporate sector have not ‘debtonated’. They are still on the books, and in the case of the private sector in the UK, but also wider Europe, look set to rise further. As Douglas Coe and I have pointed out in a paper we have written for PRIME, “Private debt has risen relentlessly since the early 1980s. Most commentators focus on the extent of household debt, which rose from around 40 per cent of GDP before the 1980s to a peak of 110 per cent in 2009. But corporate debt is even more elevated, rising from 50-60 per cent to a peak of 130 per cent in 2009. The latest National Accounts show that both measures fell back in 2010, but only by a very small margin: households to 105 per cent of GDP and corporates to 125 per cent.”

Continue reading… ›

Women talking macro-economics

5th February 2010

My conversation earlier this week with Elena Sisti – of Italy’s Altreconomia on macro-economics, reform of the finance sector, money, and yes, how we women have left the all-important matter of finance to the boys. Big mistake. It’s time to get in there, and exercise influence. Too much is at stake. Continue reading… ›