Words of wisdom from Riotstan

The Guardian today reports that the aristocrat George Osborne, currently Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, feels optimistic about the future and Britain:

The chancellor used his emergency statement to parliament to say that recent events in the global economy had “vindicated” the government’s deficit reduction programme, putting in a bullish performance after the Bank of England downgraded its UK growth forecasts for the fifth time this year.

George Osborne made the second of two emergency government statements, speaking after nine days of economic upheaval and one day after Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King warned of more economic “turbulence” ahead, saying “headwinds were becoming stronger by the day”.

In his statement, Osborne acknowledged this squall of bad economic news, saying the FTSE had fared badly in the past month. “The huge overhang of debt means the recovery will be longer and harder than we had hoped,” he said.

“This is the most dangerous time for the global economy since 2008, and we should be clear about that.”

But he sought to turn events to his advantage, telling parliament the UK had become a “safe haven” for stock markets in recent days, with the unpredictability of stocks making an investment in UK bonds more attractive. Referring to recent market turbulence, he said: “The market for our government bonds has benefited.”

Tory Realism

The high job-seekers to jobs-available ratio

The ratio remains above 4:1, as the Economic Policy Institute reports. So, job seekers need to gird themselves to wait the long wait.

JOLTS for August, 2011

What does this fact mean? First, it means that Congress must extend unemployment compensation eligibility beyond the 99 week term currently in place. Second, it means that Congress and the Executive must quickly produce a jobs program that reduces this ratio. Third, it means securing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid against the work of the political and economic reactionaries. Fourth, it means the United States would be better served if it returned to something better than “welfare as we knew it.” Fifth, it means a return to stimulus politics. And sixth, it means making a national commitment to a green-friendly reindustrialization program.

Finding good sense in the Wall Street Journal

Economist Ha-Joon Chang rightly informs his readers that the first phase of the post-2008 recovery had a distinct Keynesian flavor, and included activist government and stimulus spending. Most governments eventually abandoned the Keynesian approach, replacing it with one that reflected neoliberal verities. Ha-Joon Chang believes the neoliberal approach will end in failure. His reasons focus on the false premises embedded in that approach. These premises are:

  1. Governments must reduce their deficits before a recovery can begin.
  2. Governments must reduce welfare spending
  3. Governments must reduce welfare spending in order to secure long-term growth
  4. It is a mistake for governments to tax the rich
  5. Governments must reduce or eliminate regulation in order to secure long-term growth

Succinctly put, Chang’s analysis reflects an approach to modern economies which treats them as demand-constrained, not supply-constrained. I can’t argue with that.

Budget cuts and pain sharing

Catherine Rampell of The New York Times delivers a gloomy prediction:

If the economy falls back into recession, as many economists are now warning, the bloodletting could be a lot more painful than the last time around.

Given the tumult of the Great Recession, this may be hard to believe. But the economy is much weaker than it was at the outset of the last recession in December 2007, with most major measures of economic health — including jobs, incomes, output and industrial production — worse today than they were back then. And growth has been so weak that almost no ground has been recouped, even though a recovery technically started in June 2009.

After reciting the kinds of pain a demand constrained economy can impose on a people, Rampell goes on to note:

There is at least one factor, though, that could make a second downturn feel milder than the first: corporate profits. Corporate profits are at record highs and, adjusted for inflation, were 22 percent greater in the first quarter of this year than they were in the last quarter of 2007.

Nervous about the future of the economy, corporations are reluctant to make big investments like hiring. As a result, they are sitting on a lot of cash.

While this may not be much comfort to the nation’s 13.9 million unemployed workers, it may be to their employed counterparts.

Do you find it hopeful knowing that America’s corporations are sitting on a lot of cash, money they might use to retain part of their labor force? I do not. Eventually, the American economy will need to grow if it is to master the unemployment and private debt problems. Growth, however welcomed it would be, should not be expected from a stagnating demand constrained economy during a time of politically imposed austerity.

The Confidence Fairy casts a black spell

The New York Times reports that:

Stocks around the world fell sharply Thursday on intensifying investor fears about a slowdown in global economic growth and worries about Europe’s ongoing debt crisis, which is centered now on Italy and Spain.

Stock market indexes in the United States and Europe dropped more than 4 percent as Japan intervened to weaken its currency and the European Central Bank began buying bonds to try to calm markets.

At the close, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 60.27 points, or 4.78 percent, to 1,200.07. The Dow Jones industrial average was off 512.76 points, or 4.31 percent, to 11,383.68, and the Nasdaq was down 136.68, or 5.08 percent, to 2,556.39.

It was the biggest percentage drop since February 2009.

Why would anyone blame the Confidence Fairy?

A fear haunting markets is that the United States economy may be heading for a double-dip recession. And even after a second major rescue package for Greece and the agreement to raise the debt ceiling in the United States, investors are concerned that world leaders have not done enough to address fragile underlying economic growth, while Europe’s debt problems have moved on to the much bigger economies of Italy and Spain.

I cannot imagine why anyone would fear another recession when the United States avoided disaster by opting for a long-term austerity program. Did not America’s President assure his subjects and the world that the austerity measures were needed so that he could then take to the stump for his job creation initiative? Why does the world not find this reassuring?