Archive for November, 2014

Galbraith and Skidelsky: The End of Normal and the Future of Work (Video)

Michael Stephens | November 13, 2014

Here are the keynote addresses delivered by James Galbraith (“The End of Normal”) and Robert Skidelsky (“The Future of Work”) at the 12th International Post Keynesian Conference (more videos from the conference can be found here):



Berlin Wall

Jörg Bibow | November 12, 2014

Germany is celebrating: it is 25 years ago that the Berlin Wall came down, marking the end of Stasi tyranny, and much more than that. No doubt that is reason to celebrate, for Germany, Europe, and the world. As a German and European, I am celebrating too.

Alas, this is also an occasion for hearing that tiresome story again about how costly and burdensome it was for Germany to reunite. For instance, Terence Roth writes a piece in the WSJ titled “After Fall of Berlin Wall, German Unification Came With a Big Price Tag.” Now, this kind of statement really needs to be qualified, especially as the myth about the “burden of unification” paved the way for yet another German myth a few years later that has proven rather catastrophic for Europe: namely, the myth that Germany had to “restore its competitiveness,” which it apparently had lost in the context of reuniting. Undisturbed by any doubt or reason, the German authorities live in their mythical world of economic virtue and vice, famously referred to by finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble as his “parallel universe.” Let’s try to get the matter straight then.

To begin with, it is unquestionably true that German unification came along with a big price tag. But the price Germany ended up paying was only partly due to the wreckage that communism had produced in the east. The macroeconomic policy response, featuring ultra-tight money and mindless fiscal austerity, proved far more costly. In 1991, both Germany’s consumer price inflation and budget deficit as a share of GDP were about 3 percent. Imagine the Federal Reserve responding to the historical challenge and responsibility of national reunification by monetary overkill—which is exactly what the Bundesbank chose to do, hiking rates to 10 percent and pressuring fiscal policy into sharp tightening too. Ironically, this counterproductive macro policy mix pushed headline inflation up, apart from crushing growth. As a consequence, on top of the legacy of wreckage in East Germany, unemployment in former West Germany doubled as 1.5 million jobs (5 percent of the labor force) were destroyed. Unsurprisingly, Germany struggled until 1998 to get the budget deficit back to just below 3 percent. Only the smaller part of the rise in Germany’s debt ratio from 40 to 60 percent of GDP over the 1990s owed to East German legacies (see here and here).

This is not where the story ends though. continue reading…


Why the Eurozone Needs a Treasury

Jörg Bibow | November 11, 2014

Slowly but surely a new consensus is emerging emphasizing the need for Europe’s currency union to organize public investment as a means to overcome its crisis, by now in its seventh year; the outlook being truly grim. Back in July President-elect of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called for a €300bn public-private investment program. ECB president Mario Draghi lent his support to the idea in his Jackson Hole speech, finally acknowledging that the eurozone is suffering from deficient aggregate demand.

Former EU Commission President Mario Monti has also recently thrown in his voice, observing that public investment has been crushed by the Stability and Growth Pact and relentless austerity drive undertaken across the continent in its name. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF highlights that at the current juncture public investment is as close to a free lunch as it ever gets: countries renege on their grandchildren’s possibilities by not going for it. For far too long the debate in Europe was exclusively focused on the liability side of the public ledger: debt. But it is the asset side, the public investment undertaken, or not, which is far more relevant in shaping our future.

Today, embarking on a joint public investment initiative represents a special opportunity for the eurozone, a chance to fix the euro regime’s ultimate defect: the lack of fiscal union. The scheme proposed here is simple and straightforward. The idea is to create a Euro Treasury as a vehicle to pool future eurozone public investment spending and have it funded by proper eurozone treasury securities. The Euro Treasury would allocate investment grants to euro member states based on their GDP shares. And it would collect taxes to service the interest on the common debt, also exactly in line with member states’ GDP shares. The arrangement amounts to a rudimentary fiscal union, not a transfer union though, as benefits and contributions are shared proportionately. Nor would the joint public debt issued for investment purposes mutualize any existing national debts. Instead, the Euro Treasury securities would provide the means to fund the joint infrastructure spending that is the basis for the union’s joint future.

Currently, eurozone public investment spending is at a very depressed level of around 2 percent of GDP. continue reading…