Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be

The real problem, and the fear, facing European Union countries is not sovereign debt  or inter-bank liquidity (as the Governor of the Austrian Central Bank pointed out in Vienna, much can be done to improve  liquidity).  It is stagnation that threatens our living standards and our political arrangements.   

Governor Novotny noted too that last year the Bank of England bought 80% of new issues of UK government debt - an action not permitted to the European Central Bank.    If tomorrow the ECB were to be given  latitude  on this scale, if not unlimited powers, to buy government bonds at least in the secondary markets in exchange for tighter discipine on national governments' fiscal policy, then the Euro would be home and dry. Although frankly this can only be regarded as a quasi-fiscal activity bordering on abuse of central bank position as a monopolist of currency issue.

There are three inter-related crises: budget - the re-financing of the public sector;  bank - their not lending to each other ; and  in the real economy.  And the greatest of these is the crisis of the real economy, for it is this crisis that is intractable. 

The United States, Europe and Japan represent over two thirds  of the world economy.    They  are displaying all the signs that they have reached the limits of standard fiscal and monetary instruments used in the past.  In the US despite flat or declining wage levels - something that had not happened in 40 years - unemployment has increased since 2008.   Interest rates have been fixed at 0% for two years in advance.  Japan has been flat as a pancake for 20 years no matter what has been attempted, and the US is heading in the same direction.

Europe, despite the fuss surrounding government debt re-financing, and the currency,  still shows signs of life.  How can it be nurtured?  First of all  Germany  must conform to the Euro requirement for staying under but close to a 2% inflation rate just as certainly as any other member state must not exceed it. 

Paradoxically, higher wage levels are needed.  Technological innovation under-pinned by reseach and development must be  enhanced and facilitated by governmental action. Infrastructural development  (not the greenery-yallery agenda but  real provision of better communications, natural disaster protection, the recuperation of the devastations of 19th and 20th century industrialisation) undertaken.  An end is needed  to cruel programmes of 'austerity' that merely attack the weakest rather than the corrupt, driving down demand while spreading poverty, inertia, ignorance and incapacity.

For our political culture failure to ensure growth in Europe is encouraging incoherent but worrying claims for non-capitalist economic systems.  As Janos Kornai states plainly:

"At a time when socialism is being reconsidered we need to remember its human cost and we need to re-emphasize its failure on technical grounds - macro-data decision-taking failed to match market choice.  There isn't a solution to capitalist difficulties through socialist theorising or practice."


Antisthenes said...

"There isn't a solution to capitalist difficulties through socialist theorising or practice.""

Less socialist theories and practices and there would not be capitalist difficulties and much more that is bad would have been avoided as well.

dearieme said...

"Technological innovation under-pinned by reseach and development must be enhanced and facilitated by governmental action": oh dear, oh dear. How, exactly?

hatfield girl said...

Dearieme, you know better than I do that there are two major places where research and development occur and both are intricately tied to government: firms, whose tax interface with government can be readily modified; and universities (and to some extent education in general) which is preponderantly paid for through tax administered by government.

Government should be concerned to foster both pure research and technological development and application. Unfortunately the universities have been stripped of their proper functions and asked to perform a 'youth club' role (as have other parts of the education system); firms and industries have almost lost their research and development roles under inimical tax regimes.

hatfield girl said...

I'm not sure socialism is responsible for capitalism's difficulties, A, but I'm quite sure that it is a cruel and violent imposition on any society unfortunate enough to have it inflicted.

Elby the Beserk said...

I gather that a mere 3% of the population of Europe now have a Left Wing government. Yet the rest still behave in a Soclialist manner, with public spending forming a huge chunk of GDP, red tape throttling small business, and self-recreating bureaucracies serving only themselves.


dearieme said...

But, hg, governments have - or claim to have - intended such results for decade after decade. How are they suddenly to change course in a way that makes their policies more effective? Fundamental physics has been stuck for more than 30 years - there's no reason on earth to think that what's missing is government money. The pharma companies spend fortunes on drug discovery, but all the big discoveries happened a generation or two ago.

Government money ends up in rubbish like Global Warming, or the associated subsidising of bloody windmills. The British government can't even organise the development of weapons fit for delivery. Every UK government software project produces expensive junk.

"Chuck the taxpayers money at it" is, in the present circs, a deeply unpromising policy.