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The Secular Stagnation as an Immanent Feature of Neoliberalism

Image courtesy of Koren Shadmi (What’s Behind a Rise in Ethnic Nationalism? Maybe the Economy - The New York Times, Oct 14, 2016)
News Neoliberalism as a New Form of Corporatism Recommended Links GDP as a false measure of a country economic output Ethno-linguistic and "Cultural" Nationalism as antidote to Neoliberalism Anti-globalization movement Brexit as the start of the reversal of neoliberal globalization
Economics of Peak Energy Energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) Why Peak Oil Threatens the International Monetary System Eroding Western living standards Immigration, wage depression and free movement of workers Greece debt enslavement Ukraine debt enslavement
Plato Oil as Hubert Peak in condition of rising oil prices Paper oil, Minsky financial instability hypothesis and casino capitalism The fiasco of suburbia Quite coup Casino Capitalism Lawrence Summers Oil glut fallacy
Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks: The efficient markets hypothesis Austerity Financial Sector Induced Systemic Instability of Economy Energy Geopolitics Corruption of Regulators MSM propagated myth about Saudis defending market share Great condensate con
Russia oil production Helicopter Ben: Arsonist Turned into Firefighter Financial Quotes Casino Capitalism Dictionary Financial Humor Humor Etc

Introduction

Secular stagnation is a term proposed by Keynesian economist Alvin Hansen back in the 1930s to explain the USA dismal economic performance during this period. The period in which sluggish growth and output, and employment levels well below potential, coincide with a problematically low (even negative) real interest rates even in the face of the extraordinarily easy monetary policy. Later a similar phenomenon occurred in Japan. that's why it is often called called Japanification of the economy.  Secular stagnation returned to the USA in full force after the financial crisis of 2008 (so called The Long Recession), so this is the second time the USA society experience the same socio-economic phenomenon. 

Formally it can be defined as any stagnation that lasts substantially longer then the business cycle (and dominates the business cycle induced variations of economic activities), the suppression of economic performance for a long (aka secular) period. It also can be viewed as the crisis of demand, when demand became systemically weak (which under neoliberalism is ensured by redistribution of wealth up).

The global stagnation we are experiencing is the logical result of the dominance of neoliberalism and a sign of its crisis an a ideology. It is somewhat similar to the crisis of Bolshevik's ideology in the USSR in 60th when everybody realized that the existing society cannot fulfill the key promise of higher living standards. And that over centralization of economic life naturally leads to stagnation.  The analogy does not ends here, but this point is the most important.

Neoliberalism replaced over-centralization (with iron fist one party rule) with over-financialization (with iron fist rule of financial oligarchy), with generally the same result as for the economy ( In other words neoliberalism like bolshevism is equal to economic stagnation; extremes meet).  The end of cheap oil did not help iether. In a sense neoliberalism might be viewed as the elite reaction to the end of cheap oil, when it became clear that there are not enough cookies for everyone.

This growth in the financial sector's profits has not been an accident; it is the result of  engineered shift in the elite thinking, which changed government policies. The central question of politics is, in my view, "Who has a right to live and who does not".  In the answer to this question, neoliberal subscribes to Social Darwinism: ordinary citizens should be given much less rather than more social protection. Such  policies would have been impossible in 50th and 60th (A Short History of Neo-liberalism)

In 1945 or 1950, if you had seriously proposed any of the ideas and policies in today's standard neo-liberal toolkit, you would have been laughed off the stage at or sent off to the insane asylum. At least in the Western countries, at that time, everyone was a Keynesian, a social democrat or a social-Christian democrat or some shade of Marxist.

The idea that the market should be allowed to make major social and political decisions; the idea that the State should voluntarily reduce its role in the economy, or that corporations should be given total freedom, that trade unions should be curbed and citizens given much less rather than more social protection--such ideas were utterly foreign to the spirit of the time. Even if someone actually agreed with these ideas, he or she would have hesitated to take such a position in public and would have had a hard time finding an audience.

And this change in government polices was achieved in classic Bolsheviks coup d'état way, when yoiu first create the Party of "professional neoliberal revolutionaries". Who then push for this change and "occupy" strategic places like economics departments at the universities, privately funded think tanks, MSM, and then subvert one or both major parties.  The crisis of "New Deal Capitalism" helped, but without network of think tanks and rich donors, the triumph of neoliberalism in the USA would have been impossible:

...one explanation for this triumph of neo-liberalism and the economic, political, social and ecological disasters that go with it is that neo-liberals have bought and paid for their own vicious and regressive "Great Transformation". They have understood, as progressives have not, that ideas have consequences. Starting from a tiny embryo at the University of Chicago with the philosopher-economist Friedrich von Hayek and his students like Milton Friedman at its nucleus, the neo-liberals and their funders have created a huge international network of foundations, institutes, research centers, publications, scholars, writers and public relations hacks to develop, package and push their ideas and doctrine relentlessly.

Most economists are acutely aware of the increasing role in economic life of financial markets, institutions and operations and the pursuit of prifits via excotic instruments such as derivatives (all this constituted  financialization). This dominant feature of neoliberalism has huge the re-distributional implications, huge effects on the US economy, international dimensions and monetary system, depth and longevity of financial crises and unapt policy responses to them.

They have built this highly efficient ideological cadre because they understand what the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci was talking about when he developed the concept of cultural hegemony. If you can occupy peoples' heads, their hearts and their hands will follow.

I do not have time to give you details here, but believe me, the ideological and promotional work of the right has been absolutely brilliant. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars, but the result has been worth every penny to them because they have made neo-liberalism seem as if it were the natural and normal condition of humankind. No matter how many disasters of all kinds the neo-liberal system has visibly created, no matter what financial crises it may engender, no matter how many losers and outcasts it may create, it is still made to seem inevitable, like an act of God, the only possible economic and social order available to us.  

Neoliberalism naturally leads to secular stagnation due to redistribution of wealth up. which undermines purchasing power of the 99%, or more correctly 99.9 of the population. In the USA this topic became hotly debated theme in establishment circles after Summers speech in 2013.  Unfortunately it was suppressed in Presidential campaign of 2016. Please note that Sanders speaks about Wall Street shenanigans, but not about ideology of neoliberalism.  No candidates tried to address this problem of "self-colonization" of the USA, which is probably crucial to "making America great again" instead of continued slide into what is called "banana republic" coined by American writer O. Henry (William Sydney Porter 1862–1910). Here is how Wikipedia described the term:

Banana republic or banana state is a pejorative political science term for politically unstable countries in Latin America whose economies are largely dependent on exporting a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas. It typically has stratified social classes, including a large, impoverished working class and a ruling plutocracy of business, political, and military elites.[1] This politico-economic oligarchy controls the primary-sector productions to exploit the country's economy.[2]

... ... ...

In economics, a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by a collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, in which the profit derived from the private exploitation of public lands is private property, while the debts incurred thereby are a public responsibility.

This topic is of great importance to the US elite because the USA is the citadel of  neoliberalism. It also suggest that the natural way neoliberal economic system based on increasing of the level of inequality (redistribution of wealth up) should behave: after the initial economic boom (like in case of steroids use) caused by  financialization of economy (as well as dissolution of the USSR), helped by off-shoring of manufacturing, the destructive effects of this temporary boost come into foreground. Redistribution of wealth up increases inequality which after a certain delay starts to undercuts domestic demand. It also tilts the demand more toward conspicuous consumption (note the boom of luxury cars sales in the USA).  

But after  inequality reaches certain critical threshold  the economy faces extended period of low growth reflecting persistently weak private demand (purchasing power of lower 90% of population).  People who mostly have low level service economy jobs (aka MC-jobs) can't buy that much.  Earlier giants of American capitalism like Ford understood that, but Wall Street sharks do not and does not want.  They operate under principle "Après nous le déluge" ("After us, the deluge").

An economic cycle enters recession when total spending falls below expected by producers and they realize that production level is too high relative to demand. What we have under neoliberalism is Marx's crisis of overproduction on a new level. At this level it is intrinsically connected with the parasitic nature of complete financialization of the economy. The focus on monetary policy and the failure to enact fiscal policy options is the key structural defect of neoliberalism ideology and can't be changed unless neoliberal ideology is abandoned. Which probably will not happen unless another huge crisis hits the USA. That might not happen soon.  Bolshevism lasted more then 70 years. If we assume that the "age of neoliberalism" started at 1973 with Pinochet coup d'état in Chile, neoliberalism as a social system is just 43 years old (as of 2016). It still has some "time to live"(TTL) in zombies state due to the principle first formulated by Margaret Thatcher as TINA ("There Is No Alternative") -- the main competitor, bolshevism, was discredited by the collapse of the USSR and China leadership adoption of neoliberalism. While Soviet leadership simply abandoned the sinking ship and became Nouveau riche in a neoliberal society that followed, Chinese elite managed to preserved at least outer framework of the Marxist state and the political control of the Communist party (not clear for how long). But there was a neoliberal transformation of Chinese economy, initiated, paradoxically, by the Chinese Communist Party.

Currently, no other ideology, including old "New Deal" ideology can  compete with neoliberal ideology, although things started to change with Sanders campaign in the USA on  the left and Trump campaign on the right. Most of what we see as a negative reaction to neoliberalism in Europe generally falls into the domain of cultural nationalism.    

The 2008 financial crisis, while discrediting neoliberalism as an ideology (in the same way as WWII discredited Bolshevism), was clearly not enough for the abandonment of this ideology. Actually neoliberalism proved to be remarkably resilient after this crisis. Some researchers claim that it entered "zombie state" and became more bloodthirsty and ruthless.

There is also religious overtones of neoliberalism which increase its longevity (similar to Trotskyism, and neoliberalism can be called "Trotskyism for rich"). So, from a small, unpopular sect with virtually no influence, neo-liberalism has become the major world religion with its dogmatic doctrine, its priesthood, its law-giving institutions and perhaps most important of all, its hell for heathen and sinners who dare to contest the revealed truth.  Like in most cults adherents became more fanatical believers after the prophecy did not materialized. The USA elite tried partially alleviate this problem by resorting to military Keynesianism as a supplementary strategy. But while military budget was raised to unprecedented levels, it can't reverse the tendency. Persistent high output gap is now a feature of the US economy, not a transitory state.

But there is another factor in play here: combination of peak (aka "plato" ;-) oil and established correlation of  the speed of economic growth and prices on fossil fuels and first of all on oil. Oil provides more than a third of the energy we use on the planet every day, more than any other energy source (How High Oil Prices Will Permanently Cap Economic Growth - Bloomberg). It is dominant fuel for transport and in this role it is very difficult to replace. 

That means that a substantial increase of price of oil acts as a fundamental limiting factor for economic growth. And "end of cheap oil" simply means that any increase of supply of oil to support growing population on the planet and economic growth now requires higher prices. Which naturally undermine economic growth, unless massive injection of currency are instituted. that probably was the factor that prevented slide of the US economy into the recession in 2009-2012.  Such a Catch-22.

Growth dampening potential of over $100-a-barrel oil is now a well established factor. Unfortunately, the reverse is not true. Drop of oil price to below $50 as happened in late 2014 and first half of 2015 did not increase growth rate of the USA economy. It might simply prevented it from sliding it into another phase of Great Recession. Moreover when  economies activity drops, less oil is needed.  Enter permanent stagnation.

Also there is not much oil left that can be profitably extracted at prices below $80. So the current oil price slump is a temporary phenomenon, whether it was engineered, or is a mixture of factors including temporary overcapacity . Sooner or later oil prices should return to level "above $80", as only at this level of oil price capital expenditures in new production make sense. That des not mean that oil prices can't be suppressed for another year or even two, but as Herbert Stein aptly noted   "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,"

 The alien spaceship landing

Imagine the alien spaceship landed somewhere in the world. There would be denial, disbelief, fear, and great uncertainty for the future. World leaders would struggle to make sense of the events. The landing would change everything.

The secular stagnation (aka "end of permanent growth") is a very similar event.  This also is the event that has potential to change everything, but it is much more prolonged in time and due to this less visible ("boiling frog effect").  Also this is not a single event, but a long sequence of related events that probably might last several decades (as Japan had shown) or even centuries. The current "Great Recession" might be just a prolog to those events. It is clearly incompatible with capitalism as a mode of production, although capitalism as a social system demonstrated over the years tremendous adaptability and it is too early to write it down completely.  Also no clear alternatives exists. 

A very slow recovery and the secular stagnation is characteristic of economies suffering from a balance-sheet recession (aka crisis of overproduction), as forcefully argued by Nomura’s Richard Koo and other economists. The key point is that private investment is down, not because of “policy uncertainty” or “increased regulation”, but because business-sector expectations about future profitability have become dramatically depressed — and rationally so — in a context characterized by heavy indebtedness (of both households and corporations). As businesses see the demand falls they scale down production which creates negative feedback look and depresses demand further. 

The key point is that private investment is down, not because of “policy uncertainty” or “increased regulation”, but because business-sector expectations about future profitability have become dramatically depressed — and rationally so — in a context characterized by heavy indebtedness (of both households and corporations). As businesses see the demand falls they scale down production which creates negative feedback look and depresses demand further.   

Five  hypothesis about the roots of secular stagnation

There are at least five different hypothesis about the roots of secular stagnation:

Summers’s remarks and articles were followed by an explosion of debate concerning “secular stagnation”—a term commonly associated with Alvin Hansen’s work from the 1930s to ’50s, and frequently employed in Monthly Review to explain developments in the advanced economies from the 1970s to the early 2000s.2 Secular stagnation can be defined as the tendency to long-term (or secular) stagnation in the private accumulation process of the capitalist economy, manifested in rising unemployment and excess capacity and a slowdown in overall economic growth. It is often referred to simply as “stagnation.” There are numerous theories of secular stagnation but most mainstream theories hearken back to Hansen, who was Keynes’s leading early follower in the United States, and who derived the idea from various suggestions in Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).

Responses to Summers have been all over the map, reflecting both the fact that the capitalist economy has been slowing down, and the role in denying it by many of those seeking to legitimate the system. Stanford economist John B. Taylor contributed a stalwart denial of secular stagnation in the Wall Street Journal. In contrast, Paul Krugman, who is closely aligned with Summers, endorsed secular stagnation on several occasions in the New York Times. Other notable economists such as Brad DeLong and Michael Spence soon weighed in with their own views.3

Three prominent economists have new books directly addressing the phenomena of secular stagnation.4 It has now been formally modelled by Brown University economists Gauti Eggertsson and Neil Mehrotra, while Thomas Piketty’s high-profile book bases its theoretical argument and policy recommendations on stagnation tendencies of capitalism. This explosion of interest in the Summers/Krugman version of stagnation has also resulted in a collection of articles and debate, edited by Coen Teulings and Richard Baldwin, entitled Secular Stagnation: Facts, Causes and Cures.5

Seven years after “The Great Financial Crisis” of 2007–2008, the recovery remains sluggish. It can be argued that the length and depth of the Great Financial Crisis is a rather ordinary cyclical crisis. However, the monetary and fiscal measures to combat it were extraordinary. This has resulted in a widespread sense that there will not be a return to “normal.” Summers/Krugman’s resurrection within the mainstream of Hansen’s concept of secular stagnation is an attempt to explain how extraordinary policy measures following the 2007–2008 crisis merely led to the stabilization of a lethargic, if not comatose, economy.

But what do these economists mean by secular stagnation? If stagnation is a reality, does their conception of it make current policy tools obsolete? And what is the relationship between the Summers/Krugman notion of secular stagnation and the monopoly-finance capital theory?

... ... ...

In “secular stagnation,” the term “secular” is intended to differentiate between the normal business cycle and long-term, chronic stagnation. A long-term slowdown in the economy over decades can be seen as superimposed on the regular business cycle, reflecting the trend rather than the cycle.

In the general language of economics, secular stagnation, or simply stagnation, thus implies that the long-run potential economic growth has fallen, constituting the first pillar of MISS. This has been most forcefully argued for by Robert Gordon, as well as Garry Kasparov and Peter Thiel.6 Their argument is that the cumulative growth effect of current (and future) technological changes will be far weaker than in the past. Moreover, demographic changes place limits on the development of “human capital.” The focus is on technology, which orthodox economics generally sees as a factor external to the economy and on the supply-side (i.e., in relation to cost). Gordon’s position is thus different than that of moderate Keynesians like Summers and Krugman, who focus on demand-side contradictions of the system.

In Gordon’s supply-side, technocratic view, there are forces at work that will limit the growth in productive input and the efficiency of these inputs. This pillar of MISS emphasizes that it is constraints on the aggregate supply-side of the economy that have diminished absolutely the long-run potential growth.

The second pillar of MISS, also a supply-side view, goes back at least to Joseph Schumpeter. To explain the massive slump of 1937, Schumpeter maintained there had emerged a growing anti-business climate. Moreover, he contended that the rise of the modern corporation had displaced the role of the entrepreneur; the anti-business spirit had a repressive effect on entrepreneurs’ confidence and optimism.7 Today, this second pillar of MISS has been resurrected suggestively by John B. Taylor, who argues the poor recovery is best “explained by policy uncertainty” and “increased regulation” that is unfavorable to business. Likewise, Baker, Bloom, and Davis have forcefully argued that political uncertainty can hold back private investment and economic growth.8

Summers and Krugman, as Keynesians, emphasize a third MISS pillar, derived from Keynes’s famous liquidity trap theory, which contends that the “full-employment real interest rate” has declined in recent years. Indeed, both Summers and Krugman demonstrate that real interest rates have declined over recent decades, therefore moving from an exogenous explanation (as in pillars one and two) to a more endogenous explanation of secular stagnation.9 The ultimate problem here is lack of investment demand, such that, in order for net investment to occur at all, interest rates have to be driven to near zero or below. Their strong argument is that there are now times when negative real interest rates are needed to equate saving and investment with full employment.

However, “interest rates are not fully flexible in modern economies”—in other words, market-determined interest rate adjustments chronically fail to achieve full employment. Summers contends there are financial forces that prohibit the real interest rate from becoming negative; hence, full employment cannot be realized.10

Some theorists contend that there has been demographic structural shifts increasing the supply of saving, thus decreasing interest rates. These shifts include an increase in life expectancy, a decrease in retirement age, and a decline in the growth rate of population.

Others, including Summers, point out that stagnation in capital formation (or accumulation) can be attributed to a decrease in the demand for loanable funds for investment. One mainstream explanation offered for this is that today’s new technologies and companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, require far less capital investment. Another hypothesis is that there has been an important decrease in the demand for loanable funds, although they argue this is due to a preference for safe assets. These factors can function together to keep the real interest rate very low. The policy implication of secular low interest rates is that monetary policy is more difficult to implement effectually; during a recession, it is weakened and can even become ineffectual.

Edward Glaeser, focusing on “secular joblessness,” places severe doubt on the first pillar of MISS, but then makes a very important additional argument. Glaeser rejects the notion that there has been a slowdown in technological innovation; innovation is simply “unrelenting.” Likewise, he is far less concerned with secular low real interest rates, which may be far more cyclical. “Therefore,” contends Glaeser, “stagnation is likely to be temporary.”

Nonetheless, Glaeser underscores secular joblessness, and thus the dysfunction of U.S. labor markets constitutes a fourth pillar of MISS: “The dysfunction in the labour market is real and serious, and seems unlikely to be solved by any obvious economic trend.” Somehow, then, the problem is due to a misfit of skills or “human capital” on the side of workers, who thus need retraining. “The massive secular trend in joblessness is a terrible social problem for the US, and one that the country must try to address” with targeted policy.11 Glaeser’s argument for the dysfunction of U.S. labor markets is based on recession-generated shocks to employment, specifically of less-skilled U.S. workers. After 1970, when workers lost their job, the damage to human capital became permanent. In short, when human capital depreciates due to unemployment, overall abilities and “talent” are “lost” permanently. This may be because the skills required in today’s economy need to be constantly practiced to be retained. Thus, there is a ratchet-like effect in joblessness caused by recessions, whereby recession-linked joblessness is not fully reversed during recoveries—and all this is related to skills (the human capital of the workers), and not to capital itself. According to Glaeser, the ratchet-like effect of recession-linked joblessness is further exacerbated by the U.S. social-safety net, which has “made joblessness less painful and increased the incentives to stay out of work.”12

Glaeser contends that, if his secular joblessness argument is correct, the macroeconomic fiscal interventions argued for by Summers and Krugman are off-base.13 Instead, the safety net should be redesigned in order to encourage rather than discourage people from working. Additionally, incentives to work need to be radically improved through targeted investments in education and workforce training.14 Such views within the mainstream debate, emphasizing exogenous factors, are generally promoted by freshwater (conservative) rather than saltwater (liberal) economists. Thus, they tend to emphasize supply-side or cost factors.

The fifth pillar of MISS contends that output and productivity growth are stagnant due to a failure to invest in infrastructure, education, and training. Nearly all versions of MISS subscribe to some version of this, although there are both conservative and liberal variations. Barry Eichengreen underscores this pillar and condemns recent U.S. fiscal developments that have “cut to the bone” federal government spending devoted to infrastructure, education, and training.

The fifth pillar of MISS necessarily reflects an imbalance between public and private investment spending. Many theorists maintain that the imbalance between public and private investment spending, hence secular stagnation, “is not inevitable.” For example, Eichengreen contends if “the US experiences secular stagnation, the condition will be self-inflicted. It will reflect the country’s failure to address its infrastructure, education and training needs. It will reflect its failure to…support aggregate demand in an effort to bring the long-term unemployed back into the labour market.”15

The sixth pillar of MISS argues that the “debt overhang” from the overleveraging of financial firms and households, as well as private and public indebtedness, are a serious drag on the economy. This position has been argued for most forcefully by several colleagues of Summers at Harvard, most notably Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.16 Atif Mian and Amir Sufi also argue that household indebtedness was the primary culprit causing the economic collapse of 2007–2008. Their policy recommendation is that the risk to mortgage borrowers must be reduced to avoid future calamities.17

As noted, the defenders of MISS do not necessarily support a compatibility between the above six pillars: those favored by conservatives are supply-side and exogenous in emphasis, while liberals tend towards demand-side and endogenous ones. Instead, most often these pillars are developed as competing theories to explain the warrant of some aspect of secular stagnation, and/or to defend particular policy positions while criticizing alternative policy positions. However, the concern here is not whether there is the possibility for a synthesis of mainstream views. Rather, the emphasis is on how partial and separate such explanations are, both individually and in combination.

Neoliberal economy actually needs bubbles to function

As Krugman said "We now know that the economic expansion of 2003-2007 was driven by a bubble. You can say the same about the latter part of the 90s expansion; and you can in fact say the same about the later years of the Reagan expansion, which was driven at that point by runaway thrift institutions and a large bubble in commercial real estate." In other words blowing bubbles is the fundamental way neoliberal economy functions, not an anomaly.

As much as the USA population is accustomed to hypocrisy of the ruling elite and is brainwashed by MSM, this news, delivered to them personally by the crisis of 2008 was too much for them not question the fundamentals (A Primer on Neoliberalism):

Of course, the irony that those same institutions would now themselves agree that those “anti-capitalist” regulations are required is of course barely noted. Such options now being considered are not anti-capitalist. However, they could be described as more regulatory or managed rather than completely free or laissez faire capitalism, which critics of regulation have often preferred.

But a regulatory capitalist economy is very different to a state-based command economy, the style of which the Soviet Union was known for. The points is that there are various forms of capitalism, not just the black-and-white capitalism and communism. And at the same time, the most extreme forms of capitalism can also lead to the bigger bubbles and the bigger busts.

In that context, the financial crisis, as severe as it was, led to key architects of the system admitting to flaws in key aspects of the ideology.

At the end of 2008, Alan Greenspan was summoned to the U.S. Congress to testify about the financial crisis. His tenure at the Federal Reserve had been long and lauded, and Congress wanted to know what had gone wrong. Henry Waxman questioned him:

[Greenspan’s flaw] warped his view about how the world was organized, about the sociology of the market. And Greenspan is not alone. Larry Summers, the president’s senior economic advisor, has had to come to terms with a similar error—his view that the market was inherently self-stabilizing has been “dealt a fatal blow.” Hank Paulson, Bush’s treasury secretary, has shrugged his shoulders with similar resignation. Even Jim Cramer from CNBC’s Mad Money admitted defeat: “The only guy who really called this right was Karl Marx.” One after the other, the celebrants of the free market are finding themselves, to use the language of the market, corrected.

Raj Patel, Flaw PDF formatted document, The Value of Nothing, (Picador, 2010), pp.4, 6-7

Now for the second time in history, the challenge is to save capitalism from itself

Now for the second time in history, the challenge is to save capitalism from itself: to recognize the great strengths of open, competitive markets while rejecting the extreme capitalism and unrestrained greed that have perverted so much of the global financial system in recent times. It took such a statesman as Franklin Delano Roosevelt to rebuild American capitalism after the Great Depression. New Deal policies allowed to rebuild postwar domestic demand, to engineer the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and to set in place the Bretton Woods system to govern international economic engagement.

With the abolishment of those policies blowing of one bubble after another, each followed by a financial crisis  became standard chain of the events. Since 1973 we already have a half-dozen bubbles following by economic crisis. It started with  Savings and loan crisis which partially was caused by the deregulation of S&Ls in 1980, by the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act signed by President Jimmy Carter on March 31, 1980, an important step is a series that eliminated regulations initially designed to prevent lending excesses and minimize failures.

To hide this unpleasant fact neoliberals resort to so called the Great Neoliberal Lie:

What is neoliberalism

The fallacious and utterly misleading argument that the global economic crisis (credit crunch) was caused by excessive state spending, rather than by the reckless gambling of the deregulated, neoliberalized financial sector.

Just as with other pseudo-scientific theories and fundamentalist ideologies, the excuse that "we just weren't fundamentalist enough last time" is always there. The neoliberal pushers of the establishment know that pure free-market economies are as much of an absurd fairytale as 100% pure communist economies, however they keep pushing for further privatizations, tax cuts for the rich, wage repression for the ordinary, and reckless financial sector deregulations precisely because they are the direct beneficiaries of these policies. Take the constantly widening wealth gap in the UK throughout three decades of neoliberal policy. The minority of beneficiaries from this ever widening wealth gap are the business classes, financial sector workers, the mainstream media elite and the political classes. It is no wonder at all that these people think neoliberalism is a successful ideology. Within their bubbles of wealth and privilege it has been. To everyone else it has been an absolute disaster.

Returning to a point I raised earlier in the article; one of the main problems with the concept of "neoliberalism" is the nebulousness of the definition. It is like a form of libertarianism, however it completely neglects the fundamental libertarian idea of non-aggression. In fact, it is so closely related to that other (highly aggressive) US born political ideology of Neo-Conservatism that many people get the two concepts muddled up. A true libertarian would never approve of vast taxpayer funded military budgets, the waging of imperialist wars of aggression nor the wanton destruction of the environment in pursuit of profit.

Another concept that is closely related to neoliberalism is the ideology of minarchism (small stateism), however the neoliberal brigade seem perfectly happy to ignore the small-state ideology when it suits their personal interests. Take the vast banker bailouts (the biggest state subsidies in human history) that were needed to save the neoliberalised global financial sector from the consequences of their own reckless gambling, the exponential growth of the parasitic corporate outsourcing sector (corporations that make virtually 100% of their turnover from the state) and the ludicrous housing subsidies (such as "Help to Buy and Housing Benefits) that have fueled the reinflation of yet another property Ponzi bubble.

The Godfather of neoliberalism was Milton Friedman. He made the case that illegal drugs should be legalised in order to create a free-market drug trade, which is one of the very few things I agreed with him about. However this is politically inconvenient (because the illegal drug market is a vital source of financial sector liquidity) so unlike so many of his neoliberal ideas that have consistently failed, yet remain incredibly popular with the wealthy elite, Friedman's libertarian drug legalisation proposals have never even been tried out.

The fact that neoliberals are so often prepared to ignore the fundamental principles of libertarianism (the non-aggression principle, drug legalisation, individual freedoms, the right to peaceful protest ...) and abuse the fundamental principles of small state minarchism (vast taxpayer funded bailouts for their financial sector friends, £billions in taxpayer funded outsourcing contracts, alcohol price fixing schemes) demonstrate that neoliberalism is actually more like Ayn Rand's barmy (greed is the only virtue, all other "virtues" are aberrations) pseudo-philosophical ideology of objectivism  than a set of formal economic theories.

The result of neoliberal economic theories has been proven time and again. Countries that embrace the neoliberal pseudo-economic ideology end up with "crony capitalism", where the poor and ordinary suffer "austerity", wage repression, revocation of labor rights and the right to protest, whilst a tiny cabal of corporate interests and establishment insiders enrich themselves via anti-competitive practices, outright criminality and corruption and vast socialism-for-the-rich schemes.

Neoliberal fanatics in powerful positions have demonstrated time and again that they will willingly ditch their right-wing libertarian and minarchist "principles" if those principles happen to conflict with their own personal self-interest. Neoliberalism is less of a formal set of economic theories than an error strewn obfuscation narrative to promote the economic interests, and  justify the personal greed of the wealthy, self-serving establishment elite.
 

Bubbles as the neoliberal tool for wealth redistribution

The 1930s, a well researched period of balance-sheet recession, provides some interesting perspective despite large historical distance.  Roosevelt was no socialist, but his New Deal did frighten many businesses, especially large business which BTW attempted a coupe to remove him from is position. Fortunately for Roosevelt CIA did not exist yet.  And New Deal  government projects has been much bigger and bolder, then anything Obama ever tried, because Obama administration was constrained in its action by dominant neoliberal thinking. Like regulatory capture, which is an immanent feature of neoliberalism,  there is also less known and less visible ideological capture of the government. Which also makes neoliberalism more similar to bolshevism as this ideological capture and related inability of the USSR elite to modernize the economy on some "mixed" principles, when over-centralization stopped working. It, along with the collapse of the ideology,  probably was one of the main reasons of the collapse of the USSR.  Chinese leadership managed to do this and introduced "new economic policies"(NEP). 

Uner New deal regime when public investment and hence aggregate demand expanded, the economy started to grow anyway. Roosevelt did have a vision and he did convince the electorate about the way to go. Cheap optimism of Reagan, or even audacity of hope "Obama style" were not enough. After all, as Francis Bacon may remind us: “Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper” (Apophthegms, 1624).

Obama/Bernanke-style attempts to stimulate growth by pure injection of cheap money in this environment not only inflate new bubbles instead of old one, with which the fighting starts. They also lead to massive redistribution of wealth that makes the problem even worse:

Paul Krugman tells us that Larry Summers joined the camp concerned about secular stagnation in his I.M.F. talk last week, something that I had not picked up from prior coverage of the session. This is good news, but I would qualify a few of the points that Krugman makes in his elaboration of Summers' remarks.

First, while the economy may presently need asset bubbles to maintain full employment (a point I made in Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy), it doesn't follow that we should not be concerned about asset bubbles. The problem with bubbles is that their inflation and inevitable deflation lead to massive redistribution of wealth.

Larry Summers was the first establishment economist who conceded that this is the fact (Wikipedia)

... Larry Summers presented his view during November 2013 that secular (long-term) stagnation may be a reason that U.S. growth is insufficient to reach full employment: "Suppose then that the short term real interest rate that was consistent with full employment [i.e., the "natural rate"] had fallen to negative two or negative three percent. Even with artificial stimulus to demand you wouldn't see any excess demand. Even with a resumption in normal credit conditions you would have a lot of difficulty getting back to full employment."[13][14]

Robert J. Gordon wrote in August 2012:

"Even if innovation were to continue into the future at the rate of the two decades before 2007, the U.S. faces six headwinds that are in the process of dragging long-term growth to half or less of the 1.9 percent annual rate experienced between 1860 and 2007. These include demography, education, inequality, globalization, energy/environment, and the overhang of consumer and government debt. A provocative 'exercise in subtraction' suggests that future growth in consumption per capita for the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution could fall below 0.5 percent per year for an extended period of decades".[15]

One hypothesis is that high levels of productivity greater than the economic growth rate are creating economic slack, in which fewer workers are required to meet the demand for goods and services. Firms have less incentive to invest and instead prefer to hold cash. Journalist Marco Nappolini wrote in November 2013:

 "If the expected return on investment over the short term is presumed to be lower than the cost of holding cash then even pushing interest rates to zero will have little effect. That is, if you cannot push real interest rates below the so-called short run natural rate [i.e., the rate of interest required to achieve the growth rate necessary to achieve full employment] you will struggle to bring forward future consumption, blunting the short run effectiveness of monetary policy...Moreover, if you fail to bring it below the long run natural rate there is a strong disincentive to increase fixed capital investment and a consequent preference to hold cash or cash-like instruments in an attempt to mitigate risk. This could cause longer-term hysteresis effects and reduce an economy's potential output."[13] 

Cost of energy as a defining new factor

The cost of energy is probably another reason of secular stagnation along with excessive public and private debt. Rising cost of energy is deadly for capitalism.  Here are some comments that might clarify the situation:

raskolnikov:

This is the biggest crybaby column Krugman's ever written. He should be ashamed of himself and return his Nobel prize immediately. Has he ever put down Keynes long enough to read a little Marx?  Here's Robert Brenner summing it up in 2009:

 What mainly accounts for the long-term weakening of the real economy is a deep, and lasting, decline of the rate of return on capital investment since the end of the 1960s.

The failure of the rate of profit to recover is all the more remarkable, in view of the huge drop-off in the growth of real wages over the period.

The main cause, though not the only cause, of the decline in the rate of profit has been a persistent tendency to overcapacity in global manufacturing industries."

 There's more, too. Instead of siding with crackpot Summers, Krugman should expand his research and be of some use to us all.

Kievite

I am not sure that it is correct to think about public debt as internal debt. It's all about energy.

That means that public debt is to a large extent foreign due to unalterable oil consumption (and related trade deficits). And that completely changes the situation unless you are the owner of the world reserve currency.

But even in the latter case (exorbitant privilege as Valéry Giscard d'Estaing called it ) you can expect attacks on the status of the currency as world reserve currency. The growth is still supported via militarization, forced opening of foreign markets (with military force, if necessary) and conversion of the state into national security state. But as Napoleon admitted "You can do anything with bayonets except sit on them"

One positive thing about high public (and to a large extent foreign owned) debt in the USA is that it undermines what Bacevich called "new American militarism" (http://www.amazon.com/The-New-American-Militarism-Americans/dp/0195173384). Bacevich argues that this is distinct political course adopted by the "defense intellectuals," the evangelicals, and the neocons. And they will never regret their failed efforts such as Iraq invasion.

From Amazon review:

=== Quote ===

Bacevich clearly links our present predicaments both at home and abroad to the ever greater need for natural resources, especially oil from the Persian Gulf. He demolishes all of the reasons for our bellicosity based on ideals and links it directly to our insatiable appetite for oil and economic expansion. Naturally, like thousands of writers before him, he points out the need for a national energy policy based on more effective use of resources and alternative means of production.

=== End of Quote ==

Heinberg's Five Axioms of Sustainability

As Heinberg explained fossil fuels, primarily oil, permeate every aspect of our modern culture - from agriculture to cities and a long-term perspective. In the age of almost 7 billion people demanding more and more of limited resources, the media, politicians and governments tend to only report short-term perspectives and ignore Heinberg's Five Axioms of Sustainability to the extent that these concepts are taboo to be spoken, discussed or thought (Heinberg, Richard (2007) Five Axioms of Sustainability):

1. (Tainter’s Axiom): Any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse.

Exception: A society can avoid collapse by finding replacement resources.

Limit to the exception: In a finite world, the number of possible replacements is also finite.

...

2. (Bartlett’s Axiom): Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.

...

3. To be sustainable, the use of renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is less than or equal to the rate of natural replenishment.

...

4. To be sustainable, the use of non-renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is declining, and the rate of decline must be greater than or equal to the rate of depletion.

The rate of depletion is defined as the amount being extracted and used during a specified time interval (usually a year) as a percentage of the amount left to extract.

...

5. Sustainability requires that substances introduced into the environment from human activities be minimized and rendered harmless to biosphere functions.

In cases where pollution from the extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources that has proceeded at expanding rates for some time threatens the viability of ecosystems, reduction in the rates of extraction and consumption of those resources may need to occur at a rate greater than the rate of depletion. 

Archaeologist Joseph Tainter, in his classic study The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988), demonstrated that collapse is a frequent if not universal fate of complex societies and argued that collapse results from declining returns on efforts to support growing levels of societal complexity using energy harvested from the environment.  Jared Diamond’s popular book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005) similarly  makes the argument that collapse is the common destiny of societies that ignore resourse constraints. This axiom defines sustainability by the consequences of its absence—that is, collapse.

Historical periods of stagnation in the United States

Adapted from Wikipedia

Excluding the current, there were two period of stagnation in the USA history:

Construction of structures, residential, commercial and industrial, fell off dramatically during the depression, but housing was well on its way to recovering by the late 1930s.[17]

The depression years were the period of the highest total factor productivity growth in the United States, primarily to the building of roads and bridges, abandonment of unneeded railroad track and reduction in railroad employment, expansion of electric utilities and improvements wholesale and retail distribution.[17]

The war created pent up demand for many items as factories that once produced automobiles and other machinery converted to production of tanks, guns, military vehicles and supplies. Tires had been rationed due to shortages of natural rubber; however, the U.S. government built synthetic rubber plants. The U.S. government also built synthetic ammonia plants, aluminum smelters, aviation fuel refineries and aircraft engine factories during the war.[17] After the war commercial aviation, plastics and synthetic rubber would become major industries and synthetic ammonia was used for fertilizer. The end of armaments production free up hundreds of thousands of machine tools, which were made available for other industries. They were needed in the rapidly growing aircraft manufacturing industry.[18]

The memory of war created a need for preparedness in the United States. This resulted in constant spending for defense programs, creating what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex.

U.S. birth rates began to recover by the time of World War II, and turned into the baby boom of the postwar decades. A building boom commenced in the years following the war. Suburbs began a rapid expansion and automobile ownership increased.[17]

High-yielding crops and chemical fertilizers dramatically increased crop yields and greatly lowered the cost of food, giving consumers more discretionary income. Railroad locomotives switched from steam to diesel power, with a large increase in fuel efficiency. Most importantly, cheap food essentially eliminated malnutrition in countries like the United States and much of Europe.

Many trends that began before the war continued:

Researchers who contributed to understating secular stagnation

One of the first researchers who clearly attributed secular stagnation problem to neoliberalism was Alan Nasser, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College. In his September 22, 2005 paper  ECONOMIC LAWS, STRUCTURAL TENDENCIES, SECULAR STAGNATION THEORY, AND THE FATE OF NEOLIBERALISM  he pointed out the key features of secular stagnation long before Summers started to understand the problem  and even befor the economic crash of 2008 ;-)

September 22, 2005 | alannasser.org

Alan Nasser Invited presentation, University of Lille,

"We have now grown used to the idea that most ordinary or natural growth processes (the growth of organisms, or popu- lations of organisms or, for example, of cities) is not merely limited, but self-limited, i.e. is slowed down or eventually brought to a standstill as a consequence of the act of growth itself. For one reason or another, but always for some reason, organisms cannot grow indefinitely, just as beyond a certain level of size or density a population defeats its own capacity for further growth."

Sir Peter Medawar, The Revolution of Hope

"A business firm grows and attains great strength, and afterwards perhaps stagnates and decays; and at the turning point there is a balancing or equilibrium of the forces of life and decay. And as we reach to the higher stages of our work, we shall need ever more and more to think of economic forces as those which make a young man grow in strength until he reaches his prime; after which he gradually becomes stiff and inactive, till at last he sinks to make room for other and more vigorous life."

Alfred Marshall, Principals of Economics (1890)

"Though Keynes's 'breakdown theory is quite different from Marx's, it has an important feature in common with the latter: in both theories, the breakdown is motivated by causes inherent to the working of the economic engine, not by the action of factors external to it."

Joseph Schumpeter, Ten Great Economists

In this paper I shall address two major issues. Firstly, I shall discuss the implications for economic theory of a conception of economic laws widely at variance with the empiricist and/or positivist account of what laws are, how they are discovered, and how they are related to theory. At the same time, I will reject one cornerstone of anti-positivist thought, namely the idea that one cannot provide an account of laws that is fundamentally the same for the natural and the social sciences. Thus, I shall argue that an anti-positivist account of laws is entirely compatible with a conception of scientific laws that applies to both the "hard" (natural) and the "soft" (social) sciences. I shall defend this position by showing its application to economics and economic laws. In doing so, I will compare and contrast both natural-scientific (primarily physical) laws and social-scientific (primarily economic) laws. Secondly, I will argue that perhaps the most significant economic law descriptive of mature capitalism is the law of secular stagnation. The latter states that it is the natural tendency of a developed, industrialized capitalist economy to default to a state of chronic excess capacity and underconsumption. And this is itself a result of the tendency in advanced capitalism for the economic surplus (roughly, the difference between the Gross Domectic Product and the cost of producing the GDP) to grow at a rate more rapid than the growth of profitable industrial investment opportunities. In the course of my discussion I will use the United States as a paradigm case, Much as Marx attempted to identify the underlying features of the accumulation process by reference to England during the Industrial Revulution.

This has in fact been the state of global capital since the end of the "Golden Age" and the commencement of the age of globalized Reaganism/Thatcherism, i.e. the Age of Neoliberalism. I date the transition as commencing in 1973, the last year of post-War Keynesian growth rates in the USA. In fact, I will argue, neoliberal economic policy exacerbates capitalism'a tendency to stagnation. Let me begin with an account of economic laws.

LAWS, GENERATIVE MECHANISMS AND TENDENCIES

On the Humean or radical empiricist (positivist) account of laws, the latter are descriptions of observed regularities. Presumably, the scientist observes a "constant conjunction" of different kinds of happening, and infers from the regularity of the conjunction that the latter could not be merely accidental, and so concludes that the observed pattern of regularities must be nomological or law-like. 'Sodium chloride dissolves in water' and 'Metal expands when heated' would be simple examples of the results of this account of how laws of nature are discovered.

That this empiricist account is flawed becomes evident when we consider full-fledged laws of a genuine natural science, e.g. physics. I emphasize that laws are components of theories, which themselves are constitutive of established scientific disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, and biology. In fact, the two "laws" mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph are not laws of physics at all. Among the genuine laws of physics is, e.g., 'Falling bodies near the surface of the earth accelerate at a constant rate.' This law is certainly not established by the observation of repeated conjunctions of events. On the contrary, actually observed falling bodies in "open systems", that is, in the circumstances of everyday life, conspicuously fail to conform to this law. Yet this is not taken to refute the law. For the law describes the behavior of bodies in a vacuum, that is to say, in a "closed system", one created by the scientist, typically in a laboratory situation. Philosophers of science have tended to ignore the distinction between regularities observed only in closed systems, and conjunctions observed in everyday life, which, as such, have no value as contributions to scientific knowledge. These philosophers have, accordingly, written as if the regularities in question were features of open systems, of nature. This confusion impedes our understanding of all types of laws, from physical to economic.

This failure –until relatively recently- of philosophers of science to properly attend to the importance of laboratory work in the acquisition of scientific knowledge is due to the fact that these philosophers have focused almost exclusively on science as established theory, i.e. as a way of representing the world. They had ignored how these theories were actually established. That is, they paid little attention to experiment, which is a way of intervening in the world. This inattention to what happens in closed systems created in the laboratory led thinkers to miss the importance of the concept of tendencies or dispositions in grasping the concept of a law of science. Let us dwell on this point and its relation to economic laws.

It is not that our knowledge of natural laws is not based on observed regularities. The point, rather, is that these regularities are not found in nature. They are found in closed systems, elaborately designed experimental circumstances found in laboratories. Yet, we correctly believe that what we learn in experimental situations gives us knowledge that is not confined to these situations. We believe that what we learn from observations of repeated patterns in experiments gives us not only knowledge of the behavior of objects in laboratory circumstances, but also knowledge of these same (kinds of) objects as they behave in nature, in the open systems of everyday life. But scientifically significant repeated patterns are not found in the world of daily life. This raises profound epistemological and ontological questions.

The most significant epistemological question arises from the following consideration: Were it not for the intervention of the experimenter, closed-system regularities would not obtain. Hence, the experimenter is a causal agent of the pattern of regularities observed in the laboratory. It is these contrived conjunctions which we invoke to justify our belief in (usually causal) laws. And while these regularities are the (partial) result of the intervention of the experimenter, we do not believe that the experimenter in any way originates the laws whose existence is attested to by the contrived regularities. The question therefore arises: What justifies our (correct) belief that knowledge obtained in closed laboratory systems designed by an agent applies also in open systems, i.e. in nature, which of course is not designed by scientists and does not evidence the regularities found under designed experimental circumstances?

I want to suggest that this question comes to the same as the following question: What must nature be like, and what must experiment reveal, in order for experimental knowledge to be able to be legitimately extended to the world outside of the laboratory, i.e. to nature? Note that this is a Realist question: it asks what we must presuppose about the constitution of the world in order that our experimentally-based scientific beliefs be justified. This is the precise Realist counterpart to Kant's Idealist question: What must we presoppose our minds –as opposed to nature or the world- to be like in order for scientific knowledge to be possible? I will argue that the answer to our Realist question provides the conceptual resources to elucidate the general nature of economic laws and economic theory, and the nature of the subject matter investigated by economists.

I will argue that since we believe that what we learn by experimental observation justifies our claim to knowledge of the experimental objects as they behave in nature, we must assume that these objects possess natural structures, similar to what Aristotle and the scholastics called "natures" or "essences." A natural structure must be conceived as what Critical Realists call a generative mechanism (hereafter, GM). The latter is a specific mode of material organization. What GMs generate are tendencies or dispositions to behave in characteristic ways. The statement that a physical thing or a social institution or structure tends to generate characteristic regularities is a statement of a law. The natural structure of salt, expressed in chemistry as HCl, is such that when it is mixed with water, whose natural structure or organization is expressed as H2O, it tends to dissolve. Gases tend to expand when heated and falling bodies near the surface of the earth tend to accelerate at a constant rate. These are statements of chemical and physical laws. We shall see that precisely the same kind of analysis can be made of laws in economics.

Tendencies are not the same as trends. The latter are merely observed regularities; there need be no implication that an underlying structural feature of the thing in question generates the regularity. This feature of laws is reflected in ordinary language in non-scientific contexts: we might say "He has a tendency to exaggerate." We mean that a disposition to exaggerate is a natural expression of his underlying character. We do not usually mean that he exaggerates whenever it is possible for him to exaggerate. This is part of the meaning of 'tendency.' Thus, tendencies can exist without being exercised. This happens when, e.g. salt is not mixed with water. Salt's nomological tendency to dissolve in water remains its categorical property even in the absence of circumstances in which its tendency to dissolve can be exercised. In addition, tendencies can be exercised without being realized. This is the case in the natural sciences when we observe, in non-laboratory situations, falling bodies accelerating at different rates. Indeed, no falling body in open systems is observed to accelerate at a constant or the same rate. But of course this is not taken to falsify the law of falling bodies. In nature, GMs continue to act in their characteristic ways without producing the patterned outcomes observable in closed experimental systems. This is so because in nature a multiplicity of GMs combine, interact and collide such as to result in the (scientifically irrelevant) flux of phenomena of the everyday world. The realization of a natural tendency can, in other words, be offset by counteracting forces. Thus, empiricism's mistake is to fail to recognize that GMs operate independent of the effects they generate. That is, GMs endure and go on acting (in the way that experimental closure enables us to identify) in nature, i.e. in open systems, where patterned regularities do not prevail. Statements about tendencies are not equivalent, salva veritate, to statements about their effects. Laws may exist and exercise their tendencies or powers even though no Humean "constant conjunctions" are observed. (This would be the case if it happened that the practice of creating closed experimental conditions had never been engaged in, i.e. in a world without science.)

LAWS, GENERATIVE MECHANISMS AND TENDENCIES IN ECONOMICS

GMs are not confined to the natural world. Natural structures are not the only structures there are. Plainly, there are humanely constructed structures. Capitalism is one such structure. Structures of this kind, GMs, that are dynamic by nature, i.e. which are characteristically diachronic, be they natural or socially constituted, share the same ontology. This should not be confused with the radical empiricist (positivist) claim that the natural and the social sciences share the same method. Clearly they do not: closed experimental situations exist but are not typical i istic outcomes ceteris paribus, ie. other things being equal, i.e. ceteris absentibus, other things being absent. When we identify the tendency of a thing, we specify what will happen, as a matter of course, if interfering conditions are absent. That is the point of vacuums in the closed systems created in laboratory experiments: they permit exercised tendencies, i.e. tendencies in operation, to be realized. If we want to know what gases tend to do when acted upon by heat, we eliminate all potential counteracting forces by creating a vacuum in the chamber, so that both gas and heat can express their natures unimpeded.

Thus, implicit in both physical- and social-scientific practice is the crucial distinction between the exercise and the realization (or manifestation) of a tendency. This distinction is essential to structural analysis in economics because of the impossibility of creating the social equivalent of a vacuum in the social sciences, which deal with the open systems of everyday life, where a great many forces and tendencies collide. Accordingly, just as the law of the tendency of falling bodies to accelerate at a constant rate is not falsified by the failure of falling bodies to behave accordingly in open systems, so too, e.g., the law of the tendency of the growth of productive capacity to outpace the growth of profitable investment opportunities -the thesis of secular stagnation theory- is not undermined by the remarkable growth rates of the Golden Age. In both cases, the presence of offsetting factors prevents the structurally generated tendency from being realized or manifested. I argue that the same can be said for any putative economic law.

In social science –and this is most conspicuous in economics, the most theoretically developed of the human sciences- we compensate for the absence of experimentally closed systems by constructing their functional equivalent, which we might call, in terms redolent of Weber, an ideal-typical theoretical model. It is an unfortunate habit (perhaps a tendency in the above-elaborated sense…) of mainstream economists to employ these models as if they described the open-system observable facts of economic life. This is, I suspect, a consequence of the economic empiricist's mistake referred to above, namely to think that GMs, if they must be spoken of at all, are to be conceived as reducible to their effects. (Recall Hume's claim, inspired by his reading of Newton, to expunge all notions of "power", "generation" and "production" from his analyses.) But, as noted above, GMs in both the social and the natural sciences employ unrealistic models, i.e. models which do not pretend to offer the equivalent of a photographic representation of the world. In both natural-scientific experiments and social-scientific ideal-type models, an attempt is made to abstract from the nonessential. We seek to place the spotlight of theory on what is necessary to the situation, system or institution under investigation, and to prescind from the arbitrary and accidental. In economics we seek to identify those features of capitalism that make it what it is. This enables us to identify capitalism's distinct and characteristic tendencies, and to describe what will happen as a result of the exercise of these tendencies, ceteris absentibus.

That there are such tendencies seems to me to be uncontroversial. We all know, for example, that cyclical downturns are not mere empirical contingencies of capitalist development, but structurally generated tendencies which follow inexorably from the specific mode of organization (structure) of capitalism. And like all tendencies, their realization can be offset, as we have seen above, by counteracting factors, such as fiscal and monetary policy. Other examples would be what Marx called the tendencies of capital to concentrate and centralize. The tendency, and corresponding law, with which I will be primarily concerned in this paper is constitutive of the theory of secular stagnation, and is far more likely than the immediately foregoing examples to generate controversy. I refer to the tendency of mature capitalism to suffer from a chronic paucity of profitable industrial investment opportunities, relative to the great magnitude of its investable surplus. Let us look more closely at this tendency.

THE THEORY OF SECULAR STAGNATION

It is worth mentioning that the view that the continuous accumulation of capital is both essential to the normal development of capitalist societies and essentially self-limiting was held by virtually all of the major modern political economists, in the form of one version or another of the doctrine of the falling rate of profit. Adam Smith explained the secular decline of the profit rate by the increasing abundance of capital in a developing capitalist society. Ricardo and Mill believed that the rate of profit would be depressed by the diminishing productivity of the land which would drive up the price of wage goods and therefore of the wages of labor, and so drive down the profits of capital. Marx pointed to the increasing capital-intensity of industry and the paucity of working-class purchasing power relative to the productive capacity of the economy, as the principal threat to the profit rate. And Keynes held that in mature capitalist economies the "marginal efficiency of capital", i.e. the expected rate of return (over cost) on an additional unit of a given capital asset, would tend to decline. All these thinkers had an at least intuitive appreciation of the fact that the growth of capital tends to be terminally self-limiting. (It is worth citing a remark of Joseph Shumpeter at this point:

"Though Keynes's 'breakdown theory is quite different from Marx's, it has an important feature in common with the latter: in both theories, the breakdown is motivated by causes inherent to the working of the economic engine, not by the action of factors external to it.")

In my estimation, no one understood the underlying dynamics of the tendency to stagnation better than the Polish economist Michal Kalecki, who is known to have developed the essentials of Keynes's General Theory before Keynes himself (and to have produced far more elegant mathematical formulations thereof). Perhaps the best way to understand Kalecki's thought is to see him as having argued that certain features of a not-yet-mature industrializing economy persist after the process of industrialization has been accomplished, with the effect that the developed capitalist economy is saddled with a problem of chronic excess capacity. Let me sketch this train of thought.

In the course of their natural growth capitalist economies reach a level of industrial development characterizable as maturity, a point beyond which growth must either cease, or be sustained by exogenous (in a sense to be elucidated below) means. Straight away we are confronted with a rejection of an assumption that is implicit in mainstream neoclassical theory, viz. that both the supply and the demand curves shift, virtually automatically, to the right. On the stagnationist conceptualization of growth or development, the process of development is not everlasting, but rather is at some point accomplished. There is the period, industrialization, during which the economy is developing, and which culminates in a (finally) industrialized or developed infrastructure. At this stage there will have been built up, or "accumulated", a complement of plant and equipment in steel production, machine tools, power stations, transport systems, etc., that is capable of satisfying a level of consumption demand consistent with the moral limits of a reasonably civilized style of life, the constraints imposed by a finite fund of natural resources, and, most importantly for stagnation theory, the limited possibilities of what Marx called "expanded reproduction" imposed by the accumulation process itself.

This account point can be expanded as follows. During any period of industrialization, the growth of the capital goods industry (hereafter, following Marx, Department I, or DI) must outpace the growth of the consumption goods industries (hereafter, again following Marx, Department II, or DII). Indeed, it belongs to the nature of the process of industrialization that the demand for the output of DI cannot be a function of the behavior of consumption demand; during industrialization, investment demand is both rapid and relatively autonomous. For if the principal project is to develop the means of production, then a disproportionate share of national wealth must be devoted to investment/accumulation at the expense of consumption. Strategic capital goods such as transport and communications networks and steel mills cannot be built bit by bit. This is clear with respect to railroads (Recall Keynes's remark that "Two pyramids are better than one, and two masses for the dead better than one; but two railroads from London to York are not necessarily better than one."), but perhaps not as clear with respect to steel facilities.

Suppose 1) that the efficient production of steel requires equipment with the capacity to produce 200,000 tons of steel, and 2) that demand turns out to be for 300,000 tons. The investor has two alternatives, either to forgo an extra market or to take a chance and add another 200.000 tons. On the second alternative, the one virtually assured in a period of (rapid) industrialization, the manufacturer is left with a surplus capacity of 100,000 tons. Here we see, writ small, a crucial source of two basic tendencies of capitalist development, the unrelenting pressure to expand markets, and the tendency to overproduction of a specific kind, namely the overproduction of capital goods, the tendency to overaccumulation. Each of these tendencies is the basis of a corresponding law of economics: Wherever we find a competitive, profit-driven market economy, we must also find a system-driven tendency to expand markets, and: Wherever we find a competitive, profit-driven market economy, we must also find a system-driven tendency for the growth of productive capacity to outpace the growth of effective demand.

As we have seen, all the major classical political economists anticipated the stationary state; they all assumed that the period of development or industrialization would come to an end. Basic industries would be in place, and DI would be capable of meeting all the replacement and expansion demands of DII. Prescinding for the moment from the emergence of new industries, DI would no longer be a source of substantial expansion demand for its own output; most of DI's internal expansion demand would be extinct.

But this is not th hread of classical (and perhaps neoclassical) theory contains the assurance that the capitalist economy provides a mechanism that in the long run counteracts the tendency of the demand for the products of DI to peter out. As one might expect, this is the price mechanism, which brings about, in the circumstances described above, a falling rate of profit (or interest) and thereby a simultaneous check on accumulation and spur to consumption. The causal chain is simple: the fall of the profit rate would lower capital's share of national income, i.e. it would transfer income from capital to labor. Thus, the demand gap created by the sharp waning of DI's expansion demand would be made up by the increase in consumption demand, which would of course mean an expansion in the demand for the output of DII. Moreover, an immediate expansion of DII at the expense of DI in order to assure a rapid transition out of the stationary state would be entirely feasible given the adaptability of certain key industries in DI to new market conditions resulting from the newly-expanded purchasing power of the working class. The construction of new factories could, for example, yield to the construction of new homes.

The theoretical elegance of this scenario is impressive -almost inspirational- but, alas for illusions, the price mechanism does not work this way. For the above-mentioned transfer in national income from capital to labor is supposed to happen when industrialization comes to an end by virtue of its having been accomplished. But from the capitalists' perspective, it is as if nothing counts as industrialization coming to an end. New industries, for example, can create a situation functionally equivalent to industrialization. "Accumulate, accumulate, that is Moses and the prophets."

We have at this point arrived at a picture of a developed capitalist economy which is in a state of permanent industrialization. Excess capacity prevails and working-class income is stagnant or declining. Interestingly, this has in fact been the state of both the U.S. and the global economy since 1973. According to the foregoing analysis, this reflects the fact that the U.S. and global economies are now instances not merely of the exercise of the law of the tendency of mature capitalism to stagnate, but of its realization. To put it differently: these economies are now in their natural state.

But important questions immediately arise. Why are these economies in their natural state now? And if there is a structurally generated tendency for capitalist economies to stagnate, how shall we account for the historically unprecedented growth rates of the Golden Age? I have barely sketched an outline of a response to these challenges above: if there is indeed a tendency for capitalism to stagnate, then there must have been in operation during the Golden Age what I called "counteracting forces and tendencies" which had spent themselves by the mid-1970s. In the absence of new offsetting forces, the tendency to stagnate has, as we should expect, re-asserted itself. These claims require further elaboration, and it is to this task that I now turn.

SECULAR STAGNATION AND TRANSFORMATIONAL GROWTH

In order to account for the actual pattern of capitalist growth in the context of stagnation theory, we must reflect on the kind of growth required by capitalist economic arrangements. Mainstream theory does not distinguish between kinds of growth if and when it addresses the specific requirements of capitalist growth at all. This is, I believe, a serious error. I will begin by introducing the notion of transformational growth, which transforms the entire way of life of society and absorbs exceptionally large amounts of the investible surplus. My point shall be that a capitalist economy cannot sustain growth merely by producing more and more different types of widgets, in the absence of pervasive structural change. Growth sustained in the latter manner is transformational growth.

We are forced to introduce the concept of transformational growth for reasons related to my earlier discussion of the structural features of mature capitalism which generates a chronic tendency to stagnation. I will now embellish this analysis. It should be clear that capitalism cannot grow in the way in which a balloon grows: its growth cannot leave its proportions intact, i.e. such that there are no new products and no new processes of production. This is to say that a capitalist economy either undergoes transformational growth or it stagnates. The argument is as follows.

Investment expands productive capacity, which in turn requires that demand increase at the same rate as potential production. Without the required rate of demand growth, underutilization/excess capacity will discourage further investment or capital accumulation and the result will of course be stagnation. Let us not address this issue in the manner of the neoclassical economist, who seems to assume that both supply and demand curves can be counted on to perennially shift to the right (absent, of course, undue government interference). But this quaint assumption is belied by the enormous literature on the development and indispensability to capitalism of the marketing and advertising industries, which we might view as massive efforts to counteract Keynes's declining marginal propensity to consume by deliberately creating among the consuming masses a full panoply of "manufactured" consumption desires. These considerations point to the need constantly to exogenously stimulate consumption demand in order to narrow the demand gap generated by the tendency to overaccumulation. But they do not yet establish the need to generate a broad, nation-wide pattern of demand required by structural change and transformational growth.

What is needed at this point are concrete examples of the generators of transformational growth, and of exactly how these generators accomplish one of the fundamental features of transformational growth, the mobilization and coordination of the economic resources of the entire country into a grand national project which stimulates demand not merely for this and that consumption good, but for crucial commodities and institutions such as oil, steel rubber, and other primary products, and communication and transportation facilities. What this requires are what Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy termed, in their influential Monopoly Capital (Monthly Review Press, 1966), "epoch-making innovations". Edward Nell and Robert Heilbroner have characterized these same innovations as "transformative innovations". Let me approach transformative innovations by looking at the tendency to stagnation from yet another perspective, one which focuses on the role of competition as a major force behind the growth of both investment and consumption.

Competition reduces the need for investment by tending to increase both productivity and savings. Let us see how this happens. As a result of competition business is under continuous pressure to cut costs and produce more efficiently. To the extent that business succeeds in these respects, productive potential is increased. At the same time, competition also requires business to hold down wages and salaries and to pay out dividend and profit income relatively sparingly. Together, these pressures hold back both worker and capitalist consumption. The result is a tendency for productive capacity to expand faster than consumption. This means that there is no reason for investment to grow, for capital to achieve the required rate of accumulation, unless there are major pressures transforming the way people live. In the absence of such pressures, we may expect stagnation.

There are two dimensions of transformative innovations which are in fact two aspects of the same phenomenon. One dimension is solely technological, and the other points to changes in a population's entire way of life. Neither of these is part of a process of steady, balloon-like growth, nor is either automatically, or normally, generated by the fundamental capitalist dynamics identified by the mainstream textbooks. For this reason I have called the stimulus imparted by these innovations 'exogenous'. Let us look first at the technological dimension of transformative innovation.

This can be identified, after the owl of Minerva has spread its wings, by reflecting on some of the requirements of ideal-typical capitalism. Neoliberals correctly remind us that the bottom line is of course "freedom", primarily the freedom of capital to roam the world seeking markets, sources of cheap labor and investment opportunities. Microecenomic textbooks in fact tend to assume the perfect mobility of both capital and labor.

Let us focus on sources of power, which became especially important after the industrial revolution. Technological development resulted in the virtually total replacement of human and animal muscle power by inanimate sources of power, mainly water and steam. But reliance on water as a source of power places extreme limits on the mobility of capital, and hence on the possibilities of capitalist growth. Water power is site-specific, and the number of rivers and streams is limited. Moreover, the water had to be fast-running and productive facilities had to be located as far downstream as possible. And of course water power is only seasonally available. These restraints alone place an intolerable obstacle to the free and ongoing accumulation of capital. Here we find an overwhelming incentive to switch from water to steam power. This constitutes a huge stimulus to the accumulation of capital on a national scale.

Capitalism requires sources of power that are independent of nature and can be applied constantly wherever they are needed. And these are precisely what steam power made possible. It was now possible to set up productive facilities virtually anywhere; a major fetter to the accumulation of capital was removed. The universal mobility required by capital was now much more fully realized. At this point I want to emphasize that this technological /economic transformation was necessarily accompanied by profound social and cultural changes. For the steam engine's reduction of the seasonality of water power made possible a feature of work that is increasingly common on a global scale: the emergence of modern year-round work habits. With this change comes a dramatic transformation of our notions (and practices) of work and leisure, with all the consequences these have for the felt experience of everyday life. That is an instance of the second dimension of transformative innovation, i.e. its introduction of dramatic cultural changes, changes in the way populations live.

Much the same can be said for the subsequent shift to electrical power, which makes possible trolley cars, refrigerators (as opposed to what used to be called, in the U.S., "ice boxes"), ranges, toasters, radios, washing machines, fans, et al.

The railroad too is a transformative innovation par excellence. Consider the spectacular effects of railroad expansion: internal transport costs are sharply reduced; both new products and new geographical areas are brought into commercial markets; it is now possible to deliver exports to port with unprecedented efficiency, thereby encouraging the extensive development of the export sector; and impetus is provided to the development of the coal, iron and engineering industries. As with the steam engine, these technological and economic benefits wee necessarily accompanied by profound social and cultural changes. The railroads changed the way of life of the people by binding them as never before. The possibility now existed for mass production, mass consumption and indeed mass culture.

And of course the establishment of a national rail network absorbed massive amounts of investible capital, thereby spurring sustainable growth and offsetting the realization of the economic law that capitalist economies tend to stagnate. Apropos: in the latter third of the nineteenth century, railroad investment in the U.S. amounted to more than all investment in manufacturing industries.

And who can doubt that the transformative effects of the introduction of the automobile were epoch-making? The expansion of the automobile industry was the single most important force in the economic expansion of the 1920s. Car production increased threefold during this decade. (The automobile industry produced 12.7% of all manufactured output, employed 7.1% of all manufacturing workers, and paid 8.7% of all industrial wages.) Immediately after World War II the auto industry continued what was to be its breakneck expansion, and the possibilities created thereby constituted what was perhaps the most extensive transformation of the country's way of life in its history.

Consider the stimulus to capital accumulation and employment constituted by the following, each and all a consequence of the increasing automobilization of American society and culture: the migration of the population from the central city to the suburbs and exurbs (first made possible by the streetcar, before the major streetcar operations were bough and then quickly dismantled by the auto companies); the need for surfaced roads, road construction and maintenance, highway construction and maintenance (which had already accounted for 2% of GDP in 1929); the suburbanization of America, with the attendant construction of housing, schools, hospitals, workplaces, and more; the growth of shopping malls; the expansion of the credit industry; the spread of hotels and motels; and of course the growth of the tourism/travel industry. Never before had any population's way of living been transformed so profoundly in so short a period of time. And of course no one has failed to recognize that Americans' main symbol of their most precious possession, their personal freedom/liberty, is their ability to drive, solo, cars that have increasingly come to resemble tanks. Americans' liberty, embodied in the automobile, has become, literally, a commodity.

The long-term growth of the U.S. economy cannot be adequately explained or described without reference to these transformative innovations. None of these are required by the models of capital accumulation found in neoclassical, Keynesian or Marxian growth theory. After the civil war, growth in the last third of the nineteenth century was spurred primarily by the railroads. This stimulus fizzled, as railroad expansion began to slow down, around 1907, when, in spite of extensive electrification of urban (and even some rural) areas, the U.S. economy began a stretch of slow growth, which lasted until the outbreak of World War I. After the end of the War, the economy experienced a brief slump, which was followed by a period of fairly sustained expansion in the 1920s. The latter, as we have seen, was spurred mainly by the growth of the automobile industry. But the rate of growth of the automobile industry slowed down after 1926, and with it the rate of growth of almost all other manufacturing industries. And wages and employment had not risen as rapidly as production, productivity or profits.

In fact, the economic situation in the U.S. at the end of the 1920s bore a remarkable resemblance to the current economic situation in America. After 1926 overcapacity emerged in many key industries, the most significant of these being automobiles, textiles, and residential construction. Contractionary forces are cumulative: excess capacity caused business confidence to decline, with resulting cutbacks in spending on productive capacity in the consumer durables and capital goods industries. The economy was intensely unsound at the end of the 1920s, and the indications at the time were clear. Consumer demand was held down by a steadily growing inequality of income. Thus, an increasing percentage of total purchases were financed by credit in order to foster purchases of consumer durables. About seventy-five percent of all cars were sold on credit. Accordingly, both home mortgages and installment debt grew rapidly. This was the extension of a trend that had begun as early as 1922, when total personal debt began rising faster than disposable income. Thus, underconsumption and traces of excess capacity, key indicators of stagnationist forces, were in effect from the very beginning of the "roaring '20s". These tendencies became increasingly foregrounded over the course of the decade.

Excess capacity in key manufacturing industries was displacing workers from capital-intensive, technologically advanced sectors to industries relatively devoid of technological advance, i.e. service industries such as trade, finance and government. With capital unable to find sufficiently profitable investment opportunities in high-productivity industries, rampant speculative activity ensued, fostered by the growing concentration of income and therefore savings during the decade. More than two thirds of all personal savings was held by slightly over two percent of all families. The wanton optimism of the 1920s led those with substantial savings to want to get richer quickly, and with little effort. The stock market bubble that materialized at the end of the decade seemed to justify the expectations that fortunes could be made overnight in real estate and the stock market. When investors acted on these expectations, the existing bubble became bigger and hence more fragile. To those familiar with the current state of the U.S. economy, the present situation presents itself as history repeating itself -contra Marx- yet again as farce.

FROM GREAT DEPRESSION TO GOLDEN AGE TO NEOLIBERALISM

The mounting instabilities of the economy of the 1920s led to a Depression that was unresponsive to the Roosevelt administration's elevenfold increase in government spending. When U.S. entry into World War II finally brought about a resumption of growth, there was nonetheless an abiding fear among economists that once War spending ceased, the forces and tendencies that had generated the Depression might reassert themselves and exceptionally slow growth could resume. Instead, much to the surprise of many economists, American capitalism began the most sustained period of expansion in its entire history. The period from 1947 to 1973 has come to be called "The Golden Age", and appears, on the face of it, to be a fatal anomaly with respect to secular stagnation theory. After all, if the causes of the Great Depression were structural, and the exogenous stimulus provided by the War was what produced a resumption of growth, how was it possible that the economy, in the absence of powerful exogenous stimulus, exhibited an historically unprecedented period of long-term growth?

I have suggested that sustained national (as opposed to intra-national regional) growth has been engendered by the emergence of transformative innovations, and it is this kind of consideration that I believe offers the most plausible explanation both of Golden-Age expansion and of the petering out of this growth period and the resumption of (global) stagnation. Five stimuli to long-term growth were set in motion after the War, and these were for the most part exogenous in the sense indicated, and essentially limited. I will construe these stimuli as forces counteracting the tendency to stagnation. Once most of these stimuli had spent their potential, stagnationist tendencies re-asserted themselves, and overinvestment became evident once again. With profitable industrial investment opportunities in short supply, the economic surplus was invested instead in what became a vast proliferation of financial instruments. When the bubble created by this process finally burst, it was replaced with a housing bubble. Indeed a variety of bubbles, in financial assets, in housing, in credit, and a substantially overvalued dollar now threaten an historically unparalleled reassertion of the tendency to stagnation. But let us look first at the counteracting forces.

After the War, and as a result of wartime rationing, Americans had accumulated a very large fund of savings, and the time had come when these could finally be spent. This accounted for an immediate surge of consumption spending which temporarily averted the onset of recession. But the effectiveness of this source of spending was soon spent. What truly impelled the sustained growth of the Golden Age was 1) the resumption of a vast expansion of the automobile industry, and with it the stimulation of the broad range of investment and employment opportunities discussed above in connection with automobilization; 2) large-scale economic aid to Europe, which stimulated export demand; 3) a nationwide process of suburbanization, which, in tandem with the expansion of auto production, expanded significantly the demand for the output of every other major industry; 4) the emergence of what president Eisenhower christened the "military-industrial" complex, which provided additional stimulus to the industries most vulnerable to economic instability, the industries of DI, the capital goods sector; and finally 5) the steady and growing expansion of business and especially consumer credit, which in recent years has assumed elephantine proportions.

Three of these factors bear the two most important features of epoch-making innovations. The expansion of the auto industry, suburbanization, and the ever-increasing expansion and extension of credit all absorb massive amounts of investible surplus, and transform the mode of life of the entire population. In so doing they impart a massive push to the macro-growth process. The first two of these have their initial direct effect on investment. The third factor, the growing importance of credit, affects both investment and consumption, but the long-term trend of the credit industry in the U.S., evident now in hindsight, is much more significant in relation to consumption. There is now in the States a credit bubble of menacing proportions, with consumers now in debt to the tune of about107% of disposable income. The Marshall Plan (number 2 above) affected mainly and directly investment and employment, with boosts to consumption following thereupon. By the mid- to late-1970s, the employment-generating capacity of the military had declined. Washington determined, in the light of the defeat in Vietnam, that hi-tech warfare, which is of course technology- rather than labor-intensive, must replace traditional forms of subversion and aggression, in order to render less likely a repeat of the "Vietnam Syndrome."

It is worth mentioning that the military-industrial complex and the vast extension of consumer credit were what constituted what Joan Robinson called "bastard Keynesianism" in the United States. Recall that Keynes had insisted that fiscal and monetary policy were necessary but not sufficient conditions for avoiding stagnation. The tendency to stagnation could be offset for the long run only if some key industries were nationalized, and income redistributed. Nationalization would allow the State to offset lagging demand by providing cheap inputs to the private sector, thereby enabling lower prices. And redistributing income would transfer liquidity from those who had more than they could either consume or invest to those whose consumption demand was severely constrained.

American policymakers saw it as their challenge to reap the effects of nationalization and redistribution without actually nationalizing industries or redistributing income. The solution was ingenious: the military-industrial complex would be the functional equivalent of state-owned industries, and would, as noted above, stimulate the demand for the output of those very firms that produced capital goods. And the extension of consumer credit would allow working people to mortgage future years' incomes and spend more without a corresponding increase in either their private or their social wage.

As mentioned earlier, these forces counteracting the tendency to stagnation were all inherently limited and temporary. By the late 1960s, the automobile industry had achieved maturity, suburbanization had been accomplished, and aid to Europe had not only long ended, but had apparently created for America the economic equivalent of Frankenstein's monster. Europe and Japan were now formidable threats to U.S. economic hegemony. (Germany, for example, has overtaken the U.S. as an exporter of capital goods.) These three colossal absorbers of surplus were now no longer in operation. In the mid-1960s social spending had overtaken military spending as the larger share of government spending. And credit had begun to function as a supplement to declining real income, rather than a further addition to growing income.

These combined developments rendered the post-War counters to the realization of the tendency to stagnation obsolete. The result was the onset of stagnation not only in the U.S. but also worldwide. In America there has been overcapacity in autos, steel, shipbuilding and petrochemicals since the mid- to late-1970s.

This general picture is widely reflected in the business press. Business Week noted that "..supply outpaces demand everywhere, sending prices lower, eroding corporate profits and increasing layoffs" (Jan. 25, 1999, p. 118). The former chairman of General Electric claimed that "..there is excess capacity in almost every industry" (The New York Times, Nov. 16, 1997, p. 3). The Wall Street Journal noted that "..from cashmere to blue jeans, silver jewelry to aluminum cans, the world is in oversupply" (Nov. 30, 1998, p. A17). And The Economist fretted that " the gap between sales and capacity is "at its widest since the 1930s" (Feb. 20, 1999, p. 15). At this time excess capacity in steel is exceeding twenty percent, in autos it has fluctuated around 30%. And these figures look good in comparison to unused capacity numbers in the "industries of the future" of the "New Economy", semiconductors and telecommunications. Not long ago, ninety-seven percent of fibre optic capacity was idle.

MAINSTREAM ECONOMICS AND STAGNATION THEORY

Let us begin with the indisputable fact that the regime of neoliberalism has brought with it a substantial decline in economic growth. The most widely cited study on this issue, produced for the IECD by Angus Maddison, shows that the annual rate of growth of real global GDP fell from 4.9% in 1950-1973 to 3 % in 1973-1998, a drop of 39 %. Theoretical commitments can guide perception: neoliberal economists either denied or ignored the decline in global growth because of their reliance on Say's Law, that it is not possible for total demand to fall below full-capacity supply over the long run. In my earlier remarks I offered an explanation of sluggish growth rates since 1973. Many orthodox economics have done something similar: they have offered explanations of the initial rise in excess capacity. But what has not been explained is why global supply did not eventually adjust itself to the slower rate of demand growth, with the result that in the mid-1970s the global economy would enter a period of sluggish expansion. And it is worth mentioning that even Keynesian macro-theory is inadequate in this regard. It assumes that slow growth in aggregate demand will result in a proportionate decline in the growth of aggregate supply through its effect upon investment and therefore productivity.

An adequate explanation of the sustained character of excess capacity can be constructed from insights from Schumpeter, Marx and the contemporary economist James Crotty. The analysis that follows should be understood within the framework of the version of secular stagnation theory sketched above.

Before the shift to neoliberal policies by Jimmy Carter, Reagan and Thatcher, the global economy was already subject to downward pressures on demand growth resulting from two oil price shocks and the restrictive macro policy imposed in response to oil-price induced inflation. These impediments to demand growth were exacerbated by neoliberal policies. In combination, these forces led to a sharp rise in excess capacity in globally competing industries. At the same time competitive pressures were further intensified by the reduction of the market power of national oligopolies caused by the removal of protectionist barriers to the free movement of goods and money across national boundaries. Accordingly, competitive pressures between nations rose dramatically. In this context, normal stagnationist tendencies operated to further constrain global demand growth and further reproduce industrial capacity faster than either neoclassical or Keynesian theory could comprehend.

The Achilles Heel of neoclassical theory with respect to its inability to account for the persistence of overcapacity during the neoliberal period is its account of competition. So-called "perfect competition" is alleged to lead to maximum efficiency and the elimination of excess capacity. This claim appears inconsistent with the history of real-world, pre- and post-oligopolistic competition. Textbook-like competition has led to periodic market gluts or overproduction crises, price wars, plummeting profits, unbearable debt burdens and violent labor relations. Neoclassical theory banishes these demons with the aid of two assumptions which appear designed explicitly to make them impossible. The first assumption claims that production cost per unit rises rapidly as output increases, and the second that exit from low-profit industries is free or costless. If these assumptions were indeed true, then pure competition could not be shown to have stagnation- or depression-inducing effects. But these assumptions are, I shall suggest, false.

I will begin with the least plausible of these two assumptions. It states that there is free or costless exit from low-profit industries. But productive assets are typically immobile or irreversible, i.e., they are not liquid, and this forces a sizeable loss in the value of a firm's capital should it choose to leave an unprofitable industry. Whether they are sold on a second-hand market or reallocated to a different industry, productive assets will lose substantial value. Capital flowing out of the aerospace industry has been found to sell for one third of its replacement cost. Insolvent telecom firms in the U.S. have sold their assets for 20 cents on the dollar. And isn't this what one would expect? For it is usually poor profit prospects and/or great excess capacity that heighten a firm's incentive to leave an industry. But it is precisely those circumstances which deeply depress the price of industry-specific assets on the second-hand market, since the supply of these assets grows even as the demand for them has collapsed.

Before I turn to the slightly more plausible (yet still false) assumption -that unit production cost rises dramatically as output increases- I will outline the corollary of neoclassical theory itself which neoclassical economists seek to evade by introducing this assumption. The theory tells us that pure competition will force price down until it covers marginal cost. Now if unit production cost remained constant irrespective of the output level, then marginal production cost and average production cost per unit would be equal. When perfect competition forces price to equal marginal cost, total revenue will be equal to total production cost. But in this case there will be no revenue left over either to pay the "fixed" cost of maintaining capital stock in the face of depreciation or obsolescence, or to pay interest and/or dividends to investors. Thus, perfect competition is seen to cause the representative firm to suffer, in each production period, a loss that is equal to fixed costs. Keeping in mind that most important global industries have huge fixed costs, no industry could long survive the consequences of intense competition.

We seem to have found a tendency to stagnation or complete system breakdown where we would least expect to find it - in neoclassical theory itself. But the theory claims to have a response to this embarrassment. It simply denies the claim that appears to entail the undesired consequence, namely the claim that unit production cost remains constant no matter what the output level. Armed now with the (false) assumption that unit production cost rises rapidly as production increases, the conclusion is drawn that marginal cost and price are greater than average unit production cost. Thus, in equilibrium, the gap between price and average production cost is sufficiently large to cover all fixed costs. Let competition be as fierce as you wish, the typical firm will not lose money. Voila!

I have claimed that each of the rescuing assumptions discussed above is false. What would realistic assumptions about marginal cost and the reversibility of invested capital look like? To answer this question we must recognize the distinctive character of the dominant industries of global trade and investment. These industries include steel, autos, aircraft, shipbuilding, petrochemicals, consumer durables, electronics, semiconductors and banking. Studies of this type of industry suggest that marginal cost does not typically rise with output, with the rare exception of cases when the industry is producing near full capacity output. Marginal cost behaves as we would expect in cases of economies of scale: it remains constant or declines as capacity utilization rises. It follows that if free competition forces price to equal marginal cost in these industries, we should count on an ensuing wave of bankruptcies. Here again we see that neoclassical theory, corrected for unrealistic assumptions, seems to commit us to conceptualize mature capitalism as subject to the law of an inherent tendency to stagnation or worse.

The issue I am focusing on here turns on the dynamics of unrestricted competition among oligopolies in the context of economies of scale. The importance of economies of scale underscores the crucial similarity of all the dominant industries, including the new information-technology and telecommunications (ITC) industries. I stress this point because influential neoclassical economists have wanted to claim a significant difference, with respect to overcapacity problems, between the ITC industries and the other dominant industries. For purposes of explaining the persistence of excess capacity under neoliberalism, we want to remember that as scale economies grow, marginal costs fall as fixed costs per unit rise. Thus, the greater the economies of scale, the more destructive becomes the marginal cost pricing required by intense competition. With this in mind, we can more easily see that 1) these dynamics in especially conspicuous operation in the ITC industries, and 2) that such differences as there are between ITC and the other dominant oligopolies are insignificant for the analysis of secular stagnation theory, and of capitalist growth in general.

The key issue right now, recall, is the highly destructive consequences of the tendency of free competition among dominant industries to force price to equal marginal cost. That this is the case is easier to see in the ITC sector than in the other dominant industries. This is because in ITC marginal cost is often close to zero. Producing another copy of software or adding another customer to eBay is virtually costless. This has led many mainstream economists to argue that ITC industries are exempt from the laws of the neoclassical theory of perfect competition. Since ITC firms have marginal costs much lower than their large fixed costs, the argument goes, the possession of at least temporary monopoly power is the only guarantee of an incentive to produce anything at all. Without monopoly pricing power prices will be competed down to marginal cost and fixed costs will be unable to be covered. Thus, the motor of the "new economy" is said to be the constant pursuit of monopoly power. But, contrary to the neoclassical claim, none of this distinguishes significantly between ITC and other key industries. The drive to monopoly power is characteristic of all large corporations in the present age.

As Paul Sweezy argued in his Marshall Lectures, the typical firm in an oligopolized industry strives to be a monopolist. Each firm does this individually, and they all do it collectively. Individual firms seek monopoly status through the sales effort, where the firm's product is put forth as the best in the industry and as different from all the others. Firms within the same industry seek to approach monopoly status by collusion with respect to pricing policy, especially by agreeing to refrain from cutthroat price competition. For reasons developed at length above, therefore, all dominant firms, whether old- or new-economy operations, will tend to achieve monopoly status and to be chronically saddled with excess capacity.

A SCANDALOUSLY BRIEF LOOK AT SLOW-GROWTH CAPITALISM

We are in the midst of another unparalleled period of historical capitalism. Since the onset of stagnation, the median wage in the States has not changed at all for the vast majority of wage workers. Over the past six quarters the gowth of wage income has been negative. A brief sketch of the state of the U.S. economy toward the end of last year highlights features whose most plausible explanation may lie in the fact of secular stagnation. If stagnation theory is accurate, what follows is precisely what we would expect to find. The current state of the U.S. and the global economy is best understood, I believe, against the background too briefly elaborated above. Here is a picture of the U.S. economy today. The key to a healthy economy is job- and income-creating investment in capital goods, which in turn generates a virtuous cycle of further growth in investment, jobs and income. Ominously, the investment, growth, employment and income pictures are unprecedentedly dismal.

Compared to cyclical recoveries between 1949 and 1973, recoveries during the neoliberal period have been weak. Indeed, one or two of the post-1973 upturns has been weaker than some downturns during the Golden Age. Since the stock market collapse of four years ago, the situation has worsened. Growth rates since 2000 have been half their previous average. Even this weak performance required historically unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus: 13 rate cuts, three tax cuts, massive government deficits and record growth in money and credit.

Official figures mask the economy's most serious problems. Growth figures are annualized by U.S. statisticians. Thus, the much-touted 7.1% growth rate in the third quarter of 2003 was the one that would emerge after twelve months if the current trend were to continue. The same growth rate would have been reported in the eurozone as 1.8%. This is an uncommonly weak performance.

Investment data are equally misleading. Since the mid-1990s the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has adjusted upward actual business dollar outlays on computers and related equipment to take into account quality improvements (faster processors, bigger hard drives, more memory). BEA calls this "hedonic adjustment." Accordingly, the BEA estimates that business high-tech investment quadrupled between 1996 and 2002, from $70.9 to $283.7. But in actual dollars spent, the increase was only from $70.9 billion to $74.2 billion, very low by historic standards. The high-tech boom was both greatly exaggerated and misleading. After all, neither profits nor wages are taken in "hedonically adjusted" dollars.

The difference between real and hedonic outlays explains what would otherwise be a paradoxical feature of the years 2000-2003: government was reporting big increases in high-tech investment, while manufacturers were bemoaning declining sales.

Hedonic pricing has accounted for a steadily rising percentage of all reported capital investment. But if we look at actual dollars spent, we find that since 1998 the growth rate of business fixed investment has actually been declining. Real capital investment has in fact not been this weak since the Great Depression.

The fudging of investment figures also obscures the sorry state of the jobs market. The Commerce Department's figures on nonresidential investment for the third and fourth quarters of 2003 reported increases of, respectively, 12.8 and 9.6%. A closer look reveals that the "adjusted" hi-tech sector is the only bright spot, with production and capacity rising, respectively, 24.6% and 11.1% over the past year. But hi-tech is not where significant jobs increases are found. Employment in hi-tech has declined steadily through the so-called "recovery" since its 2001 peak.

In non-hi-tech manufacturing, where investment figures are not adjusted, production from January 2003 to January 2004 rose only 0.9%, while capacity actually declined -0.2%. This represents a record nineteen-straight-month decline in mainline manufacturing capacity. Since it is mainline manufacturing which employs almost 95% of all manufacturing workers, it comes as no surprise that for the first time since the Great Depression the economy has gone more than three years without creating any jobs.

The jobs crisis is even worse than it appears. Here again statistical sleight-of-hand, this time by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), obscures economic reality. Based on data gathered employing the "net birth/death adjustment," BLS announced in April, 2004, that the long-awaited jobs recovery had finally arrived. Nonfarm payrolls had allegedly surged by a whopping 308,000 in March, 2004. The birth/death model uses business deaths to "impute" employment from business births. Thus, as more businesses fail, more new jobs are imputed to have materialized through business births. This improbable statistical artefact accounts for about half of the reported 308,000 March, 2004 payroll increase.

The birth/death model is based on statistics covering 1998-2002. This was a period of explosive telecom and dot.com startups, quite unlike today's flat economic landscape. Thus, two thirds of the 947,000 new jobs BLS "imputed" for March-May, 2004, were never actually counted by BLS and never reported by any firm.

BlS's household and establishment surveys tell a more sobering story. March employment by private industry actually fell by 175,000, and the number of self-employed workers declined by 288,000. Without the simultaneous increase of 439,000 government jobs, the March job announcement would have been a calamity. And both average weekly hours and total hours worked declined markedly, even as (according to the dubious birth/death findings) the work force increased. This is the first time in U.S. history that net job growth has been negative 26 months into a recovery.

The wage and salary picture has also set grim records. During the current recovery, wage and salary growth has actually been negative, at -0.6%, in contrast to the average increase of 7.2% characteristic of this point into each of the other eight post-War recoveries. In fact, median family income in the post-War period exhibits an ominous trend. From 1947 to 1967, real median family income rose by 75%. But since 1967, it has grown by only 30%.

Labor's losses have been capital's gain: since the peak of the last recovery, in the first quarter of 2001, corporate profits have risen 62.2%, compared to the average of 13.9% at the same point in the last eight recoveries. Never in American history has any recorded recovery had such a lopsided balance in the distribution of income gains between labor and capital.

Given the dismal investment, wage/salary and employment pictures, how has it been possible for consumption to have risen to 71% of GDP in the early nineties, from its prior post-War average of 66%? The answer is a growth rate of consumer debt never seen before in America. For the first time ever, in March 2001, overall debt levels (mortgage debt plus consumer debt, mainly credit card debt and car loans) rose above annual disposable income. And from 2001 to 2004 consumer debt rose from 101% to 116% of disposable income. In the first half of 2004, consumer borrowing has been at its highest ever. It has declined slightly in the meantime. So has consumer spending. Should Americans decide to significantly increase their saving and service debts, while lowering correspondingly their consumption expenditures, the global economy could experience a major disruption.

Up until very recently, consumers had stepped up their borrowing to compensate for slowing income growth. Thus, such growth as the U.S. has experienced in recent years has been almost entirely consumption- and debt-driven. More fundamentally, it has been bubble-driven, fueled principally by bubbles in home values and credit.

Since the collapse of stock market/hi-tech bubbles in 2001, the illusory "wealth effect" has been sustained, and consumer spending thereby encouraged, by another bubble, the enormous inflation of house prices. The biggest increase in household debt came from home mortgage debt, especially home mortgage refinancing. With mortgage rates low and home prices rising, households' home equity ballooned. Bloated home equity then provided rising collateral to underwrite still more borrowing.

What makes this especially problematic is that over the last ten years, the average family has suffered under large increases in health premiums, housing costs, tuition fees and child care costs. As a result, households' and individuals' margin of protection against insolvency has dramatically declined. Filings for personal bankruptcy are approaching a record high.

There are indications that these weaknesses and imbalances in the economy are reaching a critical mass. The mortgage refi boom has fizzled, and consumer spending is beginning to decline. Two years ago the Fed's quarterly Beige Book reported a disturbing shift in the composition of credit spending: more and more families are using their credit cards to finance spending on essentials, such as food and energy.

It is no exaggeration to say that both the U.S. economy and the global economy are hugely dependent on the American consumer's increasing willingness to spend more than (s)he makes. (Imported goods have been a rising proportion of all goods purchased here.) Thus, a decline in U.S. consumer spending portends further declines in investment, jobs and income. From January to July of 2004, consumer spending rose at an annual rate of 2.8%, down from 3.3% in 2003 and 3.1 % in 2002. For perspective, during the boom years 1999-2000, growth rates were 5.1% and 4.7%.

Spending on consumer durables is the most significant indicator of healthy growth, and the drastically lower spending in this area is cause for alarm: spending for consumer durables was down to $23.5 billion in the first seven months of this year, in contrast to $71 billion on 2003 and $58 billion in 2002.

Should consumer spending continue to decline, the economy faces the genuine likelihood of a severe recession. Of course not a single American politician addresses this issue.

What is required is a shift from bubble-, debt-, and consumption-driven growth to investment- and income-driven growth. This in turn necessitates a decline in Americas principal export, jobs. Domestic job growth, a higher minimum wage, tax cuts aimed predominantly at low- and middle-income families, a sharp reduction in defense spending and a redirection of these funds to long-neglected and pressing social needs such as health care reform, the provision of universal pre-school, and across-the-board repair and upgrading of America's deteriorated infrastructure of roads, highways,tunnels and bridges, all these should be at the forefront of a Democratic administration's agenda. The restoration of infrastructure is especially labor intensive, and would generate an enormous number of productive jobs. And as a national project spearheaded by government initiative, government would emerge as a major employer.

All this si entirely incompatible with the overwhelming neoliberal bent of even the most "liberal" political leaders. It was after all Bill Clinton who urinated on the grave of Franklin Roosevelt when he proclaimed "the end of welfare as we know it".

As unfashionable as it is to suggest such a thing at a conference of economists, the only hope for the world's majority seems to be the revival of the kinds of mass movements witnessed here in May of 1968, and throughout the world during the 1960s. And time may be short.

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Alan Nasser is Professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College. His book, The “New Normal”: Persistent Austerity, Declining Democracy and the Globalization of Resistance will be published by Pluto Press in 2013. If you would like to be notified when the book is released, please send a request to nassera@evergreen.edu

Thomas Palley » Blog Archive » Explaining Stagnation Why it Matters

John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff clearly identify stagnation in their 2009 book The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (HERE). They conclude with a section titled “Back to the real economy: the stagnation problem” and they write:

“It was the reality of economic stagnation beginning in the 1970s, as heterodox economists Ricardo Belliofiore and Joseph Halevi have recently emphasized, that led to the emergence of “the new financialized capitalist regime,” a kind of “paradoxical financial Keynesianiasm” whereby demand in the economy was stimulated primarily “thanks to asset-bubbles” (Foster and Magdoff, p.129).”

My own 2009 New America Foundation report, “America’s Exhausted Paradigm: Macroeconomic Causes of the Financial Crisis and Great Recession”, concluded (HERE):

“The bottom line is macroeconomic failure rooted in America’s flawed economic paradigm is the ultimate cause of the financial crisis and Great Recession…. Now, there is a grave danger that policymakers only focus on financial market reform and ignore reform of America’s flawed economic paradigm. In that event, though the economy may stabilize, it will likely be unable to escape the pull of economic stagnation. That is because stagnation is the logical next stage of the existing paradigm.”

That report became a core chapter in my 2012 book, From Financial Crisis to Stagnation, the blurb for which reads (HERE):

“The U.S. economy today is confronted with the prospect of extended stagnation. This book explores why…. Financial deregulation and the house price bubble kept the economy going by making ever more credit available. As the economy cannibalized itself by undercutting income distribution and accumulating debt, it needed larger speculative bubbles to grow. That process ended when the housing bubble burst. The earlier post–World War II economic model based on rising middle-class incomes has been dismantled, while the new neoliberal model has imploded. Absent a change of policy paradigm, the logical next step is stagnation. The political challenge we face now is how to achieve paradigm change.”

The big analytical difference between Foster and Magdoff and myself is that they see stagnation as inherent to capitalism whereas I see it as the product of neoliberal economic policy. Foster and Magdoff partake of the Baran-Sweezy tradition that recommends deeper socialist transformation. I use a structural Keynesian framework that recommends reconstructing the income and demand generation mechanism via policies that include rebuilding worker bargaining power, reforming globalization, and reining in corporations and financial markets.

Larry Summers’ story of serial bubbles delaying stagnation has substantial similarities with both accounts but he avoids blaming either capitalism or neoliberalism. That is hardly surprising as Summers has been a chief architect of the neoliberal system and remains committed to it, though he now wants to soften its impact. Instead, he appeals to the black box of “secular stagnation” as ultimate cause and suggests fiscal policies that would ameliorate the demand shortage problem. However, those policies would not remedy the root cause of stagnation as they leave the economic architecture unchanged.

Though Summers and Krugman are relative late-comers to the stagnation hypothesis, they have still done a great public service by drawing attention to it. Now that stagnation has been identified, the real debate can begin.

The questions are what caused stagnation and what must be done to restore shared prosperity? There is no guarantee we will answer those questions correctly (my prior is mainstream economists will continue their track record of getting it wrong). But it is absolutely certain we will not get the right answer if we do not ask the right question. So thank you Larry Summers and Paul Krugman for putting stagnation on the table. Let the debate begin.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 24th, 2014 at 12:53 pm and is filed under Economics, U.S. Policy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Summers makes the idea of secular stagnation mainstream

Larry Summers (“Why Stagnation May Prove To Be The New Normal,” The Financial Times, December 15, 2013)  suggested the current "lack of demand" is not anomaly but a feature of the current sociao-economic system.  He suggested that we have been in the throes of stagnation for a long while, but that has been obscured by years of serial asset price bubbles. His article produced great public debate and marked the point when the idea became mainstream. The debate began with Summers’ speech to the IMF’s Fourteenth Annual Research Conference in Honor of Stanley Fisher. Summers noted that the panic of 2008 was “an event that in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 … appeared, by most of the statistics—GDP, industrial production, employment, world trade, the stock market—worse than the fall of 1929 and the winter of 1930. …”

Tha means the major defeat for “stabilization policies” that were supposed to smooth the capitalist industrial cycle and abolish panics. And the problem preceeds the 2008 panic itself.

The highly misleading unemployment rate calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor notwithstanding, there has been a massive growth in long-term unemployment in the U.S. in the wake of the crisis, as shown by the declining percentage of the U.S. population actually working.

The current situation also refute the key tenet of neoclassical economy (which is pseudo-religious doctrine, so that only increase fanatic devotion of its well-paid adherents). Neoclassical economists insisted that since a “free market economy” naturally tends toward an equilibrium with full employment of both workers and machines, the economy should should quickly return to “full employment” after a recession. This is not the case. See also Secular Stagnation Lawrence H. Summers

There were several uncessful attempts to explaint his situation from neoclassical positions. In Secular Stagnation, Coalmines, Bubbles, and Larry Summers - NYTimes.com Paul Krugman  emphasized the liquidity trap – zero lower bound to interest rates which supposedly prevents spending from reaching a level sufficient for full employment.

Larry’s formulation of our current economic situation is the same as my own. Although he doesn’t use the words “liquidity trap”, he works from the understanding that we are an economy in which monetary policy is de facto constrained by the zero lower bound (even if you think central banks could be doing more), and that this corresponds to a situation in which the “natural” rate of interest – the rate at which desired savings and desired investment would be equal at full employment – is negative.

And as he also notes, in this situation the normal rules of economic policy don’t apply. As I like to put it, virtue becomes vice and prudence becomes folly. Saving hurts the economy – it even hurts investment, thanks to the paradox of thrift. Fixating on debt and deficits deepens the depression. And so on down the line.

This is the kind of environment in which Keynes’s hypothetical policy of burying currency in coalmines and letting the private sector dig it up – or my version, which involves faking a threat from nonexistent space aliens – becomes a good thing; spending is good, and while productive spending is best, unproductive spending is still better than nothing.

Larry also indirectly states an important corollary: this isn’t just true of public spending. Private spending that is wholly or partially wasteful is also a good thing, unless it somehow stores up trouble for the future. That last bit is an important qualification. But suppose that U.S. corporations, which are currently sitting on a huge hoard of cash, were somehow to become convinced that it would be a great idea to fit out all their employees as cyborgs, with Google Glass and smart wristwatches everywhere. And suppose that three years later they realized that there wasn’t really much payoff to all that spending. Nonetheless, the resulting investment boom would have given us several years of much higher employment, with no real waste, since the resources employed would otherwise have been idle.

OK, this is still mostly standard, although a lot of people hate, just hate, this kind of logic – they want economics to be a morality play, and they don’t care how many people have to suffer in the process.

But now comes the radical part of Larry’s presentation: his suggestion that this may not be a temporary state of affairs.

2. An economy that needs bubbles?

We now know that the economic expansion of 2003-2007 was driven by a bubble. You can say the same about the latter part of the 90s expansion; and you can in fact say the same about the later years of the Reagan expansion, which was driven at that point by runaway thrift institutions and a large bubble in commercial real estate.

So you might be tempted to say that monetary policy has consistently been too loose. After all, haven’t low interest rates been encouraging repeated bubbles?

But as Larry emphasizes, there’s a big problem with the claim that monetary policy has been too loose: where’s the inflation? Where has the overheated economy been visible?

So how can you reconcile repeated bubbles with an economy showing no sign of inflationary pressures? Summers’s answer is that we may be an economy that needs bubbles just to achieve something near full employment – that in the absence of bubbles the economy has a negative natural rate of interest. And this hasn’t just been true since the 2008 financial crisis; it has arguably been true, although perhaps with increasing severity, since the 1980s.

One way to quantify this is, I think, to look at household debt. Here’s the ratio of household debt to GDP since the 50s:

There was a sharp increase in the ratio after World War II, but from a low base, as families moved to the suburbs and all that. Then there were about 25 years of rough stability, from 1960 to around 1985. After that, however, household debt rose rapidly and inexorably, until the crisis struck.

So with all that household borrowing, you might have expected the period 1985-2007 to be one of strong inflationary pressure, high interest rates, or both. In fact, you see neither – this was the era of the Great Moderation, a time of low inflation and generally low interest rates. Without all that increase in household debt, interest rates would presumably have to have been considerably lower – maybe negative. In other words, you can argue that our economy has been trying to get into the liquidity trap for a number of years, and that it only avoided the trap for a while thanks to successive bubbles.

And if that’s how you see things, when looking forward you have to regard the liquidity trap not as an exceptional state of affairs but as the new normal.

3. Secular stagnation?

How did this happen? Larry explicitly invokes the notion of secular stagnation, associated in particular with Alvin Hansen (pdf).  He doesn’t say why this might be happening to us now, but it’s not hard to think of possible reasons.

Back in the day, Hansen stressed demographic factors: he thought slowing population growth would mean low investment demand. Then came the baby boom. But this time around the slowdown is here, and looks real.

Think of it this way: during the period 1960-85, when the U.S. economy seemed able to achieve full employment without bubbles, our labor force grew an average 2.1 percent annually. In part this reflected the maturing of the baby boomers, in part the move of women into the labor force.

This growth made sustaining investment fairly easy: the business of providing Americans with new houses, new offices, and so on easily absorbed a fairly high fraction of GDP.

Now look forward. The Census projects that the population aged 18 to 64 will grow at an annual rate of only 0.2 percent between 2015 and 2025. Unless labor force participation not only stops declining but starts rising rapidly again, this means a slower-growth economy, and thanks to the accelerator effect, lower investment demand.

By the way, in a Samuelson consumption-loan model, the natural rate of interest equals the rate of population growth. Reality is a lot more complicated than that, but I don’t think it’s foolish to guess that the decline in population growth has reduced the natural real rate of interest by something like an equal amount (and to note that Japan’s shrinking working-age population is probably a major factor in its secular stagnation.)

There may be other factors – a Bob Gordonesque decline in innovation, etc.. The point is that it’s not hard to think of reasons why the liquidity trap could be a lot more persistent than anyone currently wants to admit.

4. Destructive virtue

If you take a secular stagnation view seriously, it has some radical implications – and Larry goes there.

Currently, even policymakers who are willing to concede that the liquidity trap makes nonsense of conventional notions of policy prudence are busy preparing for the time when normality returns. This means that they are preoccupied with the idea that they must act now to head off future crises. Yet this crisis isn’t over – and as Larry says, “Most of what would be done under the aegis of preventing a future crisis would be counterproductive.”

He goes on to say that the officially respectable policy agenda involves “doing less with monetary policy than was done before and doing less with fiscal policy than was done before,” even though the economy remains deeply depressed. And he says, a bit fuzzily but bravely all the same, that even improved financial regulation is not necessarily a good thing – that it may discourage irresponsible lending and borrowing at a time when more spending of any kind is good for the economy.

Amazing stuff – and if we really are looking at secular stagnation, he’s right.

Of course, the underlying problem in all of this is simply that real interest rates are too high. But, you say, they’re negative – zero nominal rates minus at least some expected inflation. To which the answer is, so? If the market wants a strongly negative real interest rate, we’ll have persistent problems until we find a way to deliver such a rate.

One way to get there would be to reconstruct our whole monetary system – say, eliminate paper money and pay negative interest rates on deposits. Another way would be to take advantage of the next boom – whether it’s a bubble or driven by expansionary fiscal policy – to push inflation substantially higher, and keep it there. Or maybe, possibly, we could go the Krugman 1998/Abe 2013 route of pushing up inflation through the sheer power of self-fulfilling expectations.

Any such suggestions are, of course, met with outrage. How dare anyone suggest that virtuous individuals, people who are prudent and save for the future, face expropriation? How can you suggest steadily eroding their savings either through inflation or through negative interest rates? It’s tyranny!

But in a liquidity trap saving may be a personal virtue, but it’s a social vice. And in an economy facing secular stagnation, this isn’t just a temporary state of affairs, it’s the norm. Assuring people that they can get a positive rate of return on safe assets means promising them something the market doesn’t want to deliver – it’s like farm price supports, except for rentiers.

Oh, and one last point. If we’re going to have persistently negative real interest rates along with at least somewhat positive overall economic growth, the panic over public debt looks even more foolish than people like me have been saying: servicing the debt in the sense of stabilizing the ratio of debt to GDP has no cost, in fact negative cost.

I could go on, but by now I hope you’ve gotten the point. What Larry did at the IMF wasn’t just give an interesting speech. He laid down what amounts to a very radical manifesto. And I very much fear that he may be right.

Supplement 1: Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit (reprint)

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit - The Baffler

David Graeber

A secret question hovers over us, a sense of disappointment, a broken promise we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like. I am referring not to the standard false promises that children are always given (about how the world is fair, or how those who work hard shall be rewarded), but to a particular generational promise—given to those who were children in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties—one that was never quite articulated as a promise but rather as a set of assumptions about what our adult world would be like. And since it was never quite promised, now that it has failed to come true, we’re left confused: indignant, but at the same time, embarrassed at our own indignation, ashamed we were ever so silly to believe our elders to begin with.

Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?

We are well informed of the wonders of computers, as if this is some sort of unanticipated compensation, but, in fact, we haven’t moved even computing to the point of progress that people in the fifties expected we’d have reached by now. We don’t have computers we can have an interesting conversation with, or robots that can walk our dogs or take our clothes to the Laundromat.

As someone who was eight years old at the time of the Apollo moon landing, I remember calculating that I would be thirty-nine in the magic year 2000 and wondering what the world would be like. Did I expect I would be living in such a world of wonders? Of course. Everyone did. Do I feel cheated now? It seemed unlikely that I’d live to see all the things I was reading about in science fiction, but it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t see any of them.

At the turn of the millennium, I was expecting an outpouring of reflections on why we had gotten the future of technology so wrong. Instead, just about all the authoritative voices—both Left and Right—began their reflections from the assumption that we do live in an unprecedented new technological utopia of one sort or another.

The common way of dealing with the uneasy sense that this might not be so is to brush it aside, to insist all the progress that could have happened has happened and to treat anything more as silly. “Oh, you mean all that Jetsons stuff?” I’m asked—as if to say, but that was just for children! Surely, as grown-ups, we understand The Jetsons offered as accurate a view of the future as The Flintstones offered of the Stone Age.

Surely, as grown-ups, we understand The Jetsons offered as accurate a view of the future as The Flintstones did of the Stone Age.

Even in the seventies and eighties, in fact, sober sources such as National Geographic and the Smithsonian were informing children of imminent space stations and expeditions to Mars. Creators of science fiction movies used to come up with concrete dates, often no more than a generation in the future, in which to place their futuristic fantasies. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick felt that a moviegoing audience would find it perfectly natural to assume that only thirty-three years later, in 2001, we would have commercial moon flights, city-like space stations, and computers with human personalities maintaining astronauts in suspended animation while traveling to Jupiter. Video telephony is just about the only new technology from that particular movie that has appeared—and it was technically possible when the movie was showing. 2001 can be seen as a curio, but what about Star Trek? The Star Trek mythos was set in the sixties, too, but the show kept getting revived, leaving audiences for Star Trek Voyager in, say, 2005, to try to figure out what to make of the fact that according to the logic of the program, the world was supposed to be recovering from fighting off the rule of genetically engineered supermen in the Eugenics Wars of the nineties.

By 1989, when the creators of Back to the Future II were dutifully placing flying cars and anti-gravity hoverboards in the hands of ordinary teenagers in the year 2015, it wasn’t clear if this was meant as a prediction or a joke.

The usual move in science fiction is to remain vague about the dates, so as to render “the future” a zone of pure fantasy, no different than Middle Earth or Narnia, or like Star Wars, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” As a result, our science fiction future is, most often, not a future at all, but more like an alternative dimension, a dream-time, a technological Elsewhere, existing in days to come in the same sense that elves and dragon-slayers existed in the past—another screen for the displacement of moral dramas and mythic fantasies into the dead ends of consumer pleasure.

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Might the cultural sensibility that came to be referred to as postmodernism best be seen as a prolonged meditation on all the technological changes that never happened? The question struck me as I watched one of the recent Star Wars movies. The movie was terrible, but I couldn’t help but feel impressed by the quality of the special effects. Recalling the clumsy special effects typical of fifties sci-fi films, I kept thinking how impressed a fifties audience would have been if they’d known what we could do by now—only to realize, “Actually, no. They wouldn’t be impressed at all, would they? They thought we’d be doing this kind of thing by now. Not just figuring out more sophisticated ways to simulate it.”

That last word—simulate—is key. The technologies that have advanced since the seventies are mainly either medical technologies or information technologies—largely, technologies of simulation. They are technologies of what Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco called the “hyper-real,” the ability to make imitations that are more realistic than originals. The postmodern sensibility, the feeling that we had somehow broken into an unprecedented new historical period in which we understood that there is nothing new; that grand historical narratives of progress and liberation were meaningless; that everything now was simulation, ironic repetition, fragmentation, and pastiche—all this makes sense in a technological environment in which the only breakthroughs were those that made it easier to create, transfer, and rearrange virtual projections of things that either already existed, or, we came to realize, never would. Surely, if we were vacationing in geodesic domes on Mars or toting about pocket-size nuclear fusion plants or telekinetic mind-reading devices no one would ever have been talking like this. The postmodern moment was a desperate way to take what could otherwise only be felt as a bitter disappointment and to dress it up as something epochal, exciting, and new.

In the earliest formulations, which largely came out of the Marxist tradition, a lot of this technological background was acknowledged. Fredric Jameson’s “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” proposed the term “postmodernism” to refer to the cultural logic appropriate to a new, technological phase of capitalism, one that had been heralded by Marxist economist Ernest Mandel as early as 1972. Mandel had argued that humanity stood at the verge of a “third technological revolution,” as profound as the Agricultural or Industrial Revolution, in which computers, robots, new energy sources, and new information technologies would replace industrial labor—the “end of work” as it soon came to be called—reducing us all to designers and computer technicians coming up with crazy visions that cybernetic factories would produce.

End of work arguments were popular in the late seventies and early eighties as social thinkers pondered what would happen to the traditional working-class-led popular struggle once the working class no longer existed. (The answer: it would turn into identity politics.) Jameson thought of himself as exploring the forms of consciousness and historical sensibilities likely to emerge from this new age.

What happened, instead, is that the spread of information technologies and new ways of organizing transport—the containerization of shipping, for example—allowed those same industrial jobs to be outsourced to East Asia, Latin America, and other countries where the availability of cheap labor allowed manufacturers to employ much less technologically sophisticated production-line techniques than they would have been obliged to employ at home.

From the perspective of those living in Europe, North America, and Japan, the results did seem to be much as predicted. Smokestack industries did disappear; jobs came to be divided between a lower stratum of service workers and an upper stratum sitting in antiseptic bubbles playing with computers. But below it all lay an uneasy awareness that the postwork civilization was a giant fraud. Our carefully engineered high-tech sneakers were not being produced by intelligent cyborgs or self-replicating molecular nanotechnology; they were being made on the equivalent of old-fashioned Singer sewing machines, by the daughters of Mexican and Indonesian farmers who, as the result of WTO or NAFTA–sponsored trade deals, had been ousted from their ancestral lands. It was a guilty awareness that lay beneath the postmodern sensibility and its celebration of the endless play of images and surfaces.

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Why did the projected explosion of technological growth everyone was expecting—the moon bases, the robot factories—fail to happen? There are two possibilities. Either our expectations about the pace of technological change were unrealistic (in which case, we need to know why so many intelligent people believed they were not) or our expectations were not unrealistic (in which case, we need to know what happened to derail so many credible ideas and prospects).

Most social analysts choose the first explanation and trace the problem to the Cold War space race. Why, these analysts wonder, did both the United States and the Soviet Union become so obsessed with the idea of manned space travel? It was never an efficient way to engage in scientific research. And it encouraged unrealistic ideas of what the human future would be like.

Could the answer be that both the United States and the Soviet Union had been, in the century before, societies of pioneers, one expanding across the Western frontier, the other across Siberia? Didn’t they share a commitment to the myth of a limitless, expansive future, of human colonization of vast empty spaces, that helped convince the leaders of both superpowers they had entered into a “space age” in which they were battling over control of the future itself? All sorts of myths were at play here, no doubt, but that proves nothing about the feasibility of the project.

Some of those science fiction fantasies (at this point we can’t know which ones) could have been brought into being. For earlier generations, many science fiction fantasies had been brought into being. Those who grew up at the turn of the century reading Jules Verne or H.G. Wells imagined the world of, say, 1960 with flying machines, rocket ships, submarines, radio, and television—and that was pretty much what they got. If it wasn’t unrealistic in 1900 to dream of men traveling to the moon, then why was it unrealistic in the sixties to dream of jet-packs and robot laundry-maids?

In fact, even as those dreams were being outlined, the material base for their achievement was beginning to be whittled away. There is reason to believe that even by the fifties and sixties, the pace of technological innovation was slowing down from the heady pace of the first half of the century. There was a last spate in the fifties when microwave ovens (1954), the Pill (1957), and lasers (1958) all appeared in rapid succession. But since then, technological advances have taken the form of clever new ways of combining existing technologies (as in the space race) and new ways of putting existing technologies to consumer use (the most famous example is television, invented in 1926, but mass produced only after the war.) Yet, in part because the space race gave everyone the impression that remarkable advances were happening, the popular impression during the sixties was that the pace of technological change was speeding up in terrifying, uncontrollable ways.

Alvin Toffler’s 1970 best seller Future Shock argued that almost all the social problems of the sixties could be traced back to the increasing pace of technological change. The endless outpouring of scientific breakthroughs transformed the grounds of daily existence, and left Americans without any clear idea of what normal life was. Just consider the family, where not just the Pill, but also the prospect of in vitro fertilization, test tube babies, and sperm and egg donation were about to make the idea of motherhood obsolete.

Humans were not psychologically prepared for the pace of change, Toffler wrote. He coined a term for the phenomenon: “accelerative thrust.” It had begun with the Industrial Revolution, but by roughly 1850, the effect had become unmistakable. Not only was everything around us changing, but most of it—human knowledge, the size of the population, industrial growth, energy use—was changing exponentially. The only solution, Toffler argued, was to begin some kind of control over the process, to create institutions that would assess emerging technologies and their likely effects, to ban technologies likely to be too socially disruptive, and to guide development in the direction of social harmony.

While many of the historical trends Toffler describes are accurate, the book appeared when most of these exponential trends halted. It was right around 1970 when the increase in the number of scientific papers published in the world—a figure that had doubled every fifteen years since, roughly, 1685—began leveling off. The same was true of books and patents.

Toffler’s use of acceleration was particularly unfortunate. For most of human history, the top speed at which human beings could travel had been around 25 miles per hour. By 1900 it had increased to 100 miles per hour, and for the next seventy years it did seem to be increasing exponentially. By the time Toffler was writing, in 1970, the record for the fastest speed at which any human had traveled stood at roughly 25,000 mph, achieved by the crew of Apollo 10 in 1969, just one year before. At such an exponential rate, it must have seemed reasonable to assume that within a matter of decades, humanity would be exploring other solar systems.

Since 1970, no further increase has occurred. The record for the fastest a human has ever traveled remains with the crew of Apollo 10. True, the commercial airliner Concorde, which first flew in 1969, reached a maximum speed of 1,400 mph. And the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, which flew first, reached an even faster speed of 1,553 mph. But those speeds not only have failed to increase; they have decreased since the Tupolev Tu-144 was cancelled and the Concorde was abandoned.

None of this stopped Toffler’s own career. He kept retooling his analysis to come up with new spectacular pronouncements. In 1980, he produced The Third Wave, its argument lifted from Ernest Mandel’s “third technological revolution”—except that while Mandel thought these changes would spell the end of capitalism, Toffler assumed capitalism was eternal. By 1990, Toffler was the personal intellectual guru to Republican congressman Newt Gingrich, who claimed that his 1994 “Contract With America” was inspired, in part, by the understanding that the United States needed to move from an antiquated, materialist, industrial mind-set to a new, free-market, information age, Third Wave civilization.

There are all sorts of ironies in this connection. One of Toffler’s greatest achievements was inspiring the government to create an Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). One of Gingrich’s first acts on winning control of the House of Representatives in 1995 was defunding the OTA as an example of useless government extravagance. Still, there’s no contradiction here. By this time, Toffler had long since given up on influencing policy by appealing to the general public; he was making a living largely by giving seminars to CEOs and corporate think tanks. His insights had been privatized.

Gingrich liked to call himself a “conservative futurologist.” This, too, might seem oxymoronic; but, in fact, Toffler’s own conception of futurology was never progressive. Progress was always presented as a problem that needed to be solved.

Toffler might best be seen as a lightweight version of the nineteenth-century social theorist Auguste Comte, who believed that he was standing on the brink of a new age—in his case, the Industrial Age—driven by the inexorable progress of technology, and that the social cataclysms of his times were caused by the social system not adjusting. The older feudal order had developed Catholic theology, a way of thinking about man’s place in the cosmos perfectly suited to the social system of the time, as well as an institutional structure, the Church, that conveyed and enforced such ideas in a way that could give everyone a sense of meaning and belonging. The Industrial Age had developed its own system of ideas—science—but scientists had not succeeded in creating anything like the Catholic Church. Comte concluded that we needed to develop a new science, which he dubbed “sociology,” and said that sociologists should play the role of priests in a new Religion of Society that would inspire everyone with a love of order, community, work discipline, and family values. Toffler was less ambitious; his futurologists were not supposed to play the role of priests.

Gingrich had a second guru, a libertarian theologian named George Gilder, and Gilder, like Toffler, was obsessed with technology and social change. In an odd way, Gilder was more optimistic. Embracing a radical version of Mandel’s Third Wave argument, he insisted that what we were seeing with the rise of computers was an “overthrow of matter.” The old, materialist Industrial Society, where value came from physical labor, was giving way to an Information Age where value emerges directly from the minds of entrepreneurs, just as the world had originally appeared ex nihilo from the mind of God, just as money, in a proper supply-side economy, emerged ex nihilo from the Federal Reserve and into the hands of value-creating capitalists. Supply-side economic policies, Gilder concluded, would ensure that investment would continue to steer away from old government boondoggles like the space program and toward more productive information and medical technologies.

But if there was a conscious, or semi-conscious, move away from investment in research that might lead to better rockets and robots, and toward research that would lead to such things as laser printers and CAT scans, it had begun well before Toffler’s Future Shock (1970) and Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty (1981). What their success shows is that the issues they raised—that existing patterns of technological development would lead to social upheaval, and that we needed to guide technological development in directions that did not challenge existing structures of authority—echoed in the corridors of power. Statesmen and captains of industry had been thinking about such questions for some time.

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Industrial capitalism has fostered an extremely rapid rate of scientific advance and technological innovation—one with no parallel in previous human history. Even capitalism’s greatest detractors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, celebrated its unleashing of the “productive forces.” Marx and Engels also believed that capitalism’s continual need to revolutionize the means of industrial production would be its undoing. Marx argued that, for certain technical reasons, value—and therefore profits—can be extracted only from human labor. Competition forces factory owners to mechanize production, to reduce labor costs, but while this is to the short-term advantage of the firm, mechanization’s effect is to drive down the general rate of profit.

For 150 years, economists have debated whether all this is true. But if it is true, then the decision by industrialists not to pour research funds into the invention of the robot factories that everyone was anticipating in the sixties, and instead to relocate their factories to labor-intensive, low-tech facilities in China or the Global South makes a great deal of sense.

As I’ve noted, there’s reason to believe the pace of technological innovation in productive processes—the factories themselves—began to slow in the fifties and sixties, but the side effects of America’s rivalry with the Soviet Union made innovation appear to accelerate. There was the awesome space race, alongside frenetic efforts by U.S. industrial planners to apply existing technologies to consumer purposes, to create an optimistic sense of burgeoning prosperity and guaranteed progress that would undercut the appeal of working-class politics.

These moves were reactions to initiatives from the Soviet Union. But this part of the history is difficult for Americans to remember, because at the end of the Cold War, the popular image of the Soviet Union switched from terrifyingly bold rival to pathetic basket case—the exemplar of a society that could not work. Back in the fifties, in fact, many United States planners suspected the Soviet system worked better. Certainly, they recalled the fact that in the thirties, while the United States had been mired in depression, the Soviet Union had maintained almost unprecedented economic growth rates of 10 percent to 12 percent a year—an achievement quickly followed by the production of tank armies that defeated Nazi Germany, then by the launching of Sputnik in 1957, then by the first manned spacecraft, the Vostok, in 1961.

It’s often said the Apollo moon landing was the greatest historical achievement of Soviet communism. Surely, the United States would never have contemplated such a feat had it not been for the cosmic ambitions of the Soviet Politburo. We are used to thinking of the Politburo as a group of unimaginative gray bureaucrats, but they were bureaucrats who dared to dream astounding dreams. The dream of world revolution was only the first. It’s also true that most of them—changing the course of mighty rivers, this sort of thing—either turned out to be ecologically and socially disastrous, or, like Joseph Stalin’s one-hundred-story Palace of the Soviets or a twenty-story statue of Vladimir Lenin, never got off the ground.

After the initial successes of the Soviet space program, few of these schemes were realized, but the leadership never ceased coming up with new ones. Even in the eighties, when the United States was attempting its own last, grandiose scheme, Star Wars, the Soviets were planning to transform the world through creative uses of technology. Few outside of Russia remember most of these projects, but great resources were devoted to them. It’s also worth noting that unlike the Star Wars project, which was designed to sink the Soviet Union, most were not military in nature: as, for instance, the attempt to solve the world hunger problem by harvesting lakes and oceans with an edible bacteria called spirulina, or to solve the world energy problem by launching hundreds of gigantic solar-power platforms into orbit and beaming the electricity back to earth.

The American victory in the space race meant that, after 1968, U.S. planners no longer took the competition seriously. As a result, the mythology of the final frontier was maintained, even as the direction of research and development shifted away from anything that might lead to the creation of Mars bases and robot factories.

The standard line is that all this was a result of the triumph of the market. The Apollo program was a Big Government project, Soviet-inspired in the sense that it required a national effort coordinated by government bureaucracies. As soon as the Soviet threat drew safely out of the picture, though, capitalism was free to revert to lines of technological development more in accord with its normal, decentralized, free-market imperatives—such as privately funded research into marketable products like personal computers. This is the line that men like Toffler and Gilder took in the late seventies and early eighties.

In fact, the United States never did abandon gigantic, government-controlled schemes of technological development. Mainly, they just shifted to military research—and not just to Soviet-scale schemes like Star Wars, but to weapons projects, research in communications and surveillance technologies, and similar security-related concerns. To some degree this had always been true: the billions poured into missile research had always dwarfed the sums allocated to the space program. Yet by the seventies, even basic research came to be conducted following military priorities. One reason we don’t have robot factories is because roughly 95 percent of robotics research funding has been channeled through the Pentagon, which is more interested in developing unmanned drones than in automating paper mills.

A case could be made that even the shift to research and development on information technologies and medicine was not so much a reorientation toward market-driven consumer imperatives, but part of an all-out effort to follow the technological humbling of the Soviet Union with total victory in the global class war—seen simultaneously as the imposition of absolute U.S. military dominance overseas, and, at home, the utter rout of social movements.

For the technologies that did emerge proved most conducive to surveillance, work discipline, and social control. Computers have opened up certain spaces of freedom, as we’re constantly reminded, but instead of leading to the workless utopia Abbie Hoffman imagined, they have been employed in such a way as to produce the opposite effect. They have enabled a financialization of capital that has driven workers desperately into debt, and, at the same time, provided the means by which employers have created “flexible” work regimes that have both destroyed traditional job security and increased working hours for almost everyone. Along with the export of factory jobs, the new work regime has routed the union movement and destroyed any possibility of effective working-class politics.

Meanwhile, despite unprecedented investment in research on medicine and life sciences, we await cures for cancer and the common cold, and the most dramatic medical breakthroughs we have seen have taken the form of drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Ritalin—tailor-made to ensure that the new work demands don’t drive us completely, dysfunctionally crazy.

With results like these, what will the epitaph for neoliberalism look like? I think historians will conclude it was a form of capitalism that systematically prioritized political imperatives over economic ones. Given a choice between a course of action that would make capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and one that would transform capitalism into a viable, long-term economic system, neoliberalism chooses the former every time. There is every reason to believe that destroying job security while increasing working hours does not create a more productive (let alone more innovative or loyal) workforce. Probably, in economic terms, the result is negative—an impression confirmed by lower growth rates in just about all parts of the world in the eighties and nineties.

But the neoliberal choice has been effective in depoliticizing labor and overdetermining the future. Economically, the growth of armies, police, and private security services amounts to dead weight. It’s possible, in fact, that the very dead weight of the apparatus created to ensure the ideological victory of capitalism will sink it. But it’s also easy to see how choking off any sense of an inevitable, redemptive future that could be different from our world is a crucial part of the neoliberal project.

At this point all the pieces would seem to be falling neatly into place. By the sixties, conservative political forces were growing skittish about the socially disruptive effects of technological progress, and employers were beginning to worry about the economic impact of mechanization. The fading Soviet threat allowed for a reallocation of resources in directions seen as less challenging to social and economic arrangements, or indeed directions that could support a campaign of reversing the gains of progressive social movements and achieving a decisive victory in what U.S. elites saw as a global class war. The change of priorities was introduced as a withdrawal of big-government projects and a return to the market, but in fact the change shifted government-directed research away from programs like NASA or alternative energy sources and toward military, information, and medical technologies.

Of course this doesn’t explain everything. Above all, it does not explain why, even in those areas that have become the focus of well-funded research projects, we have not seen anything like the kind of advances anticipated fifty years ago. If 95 percent of robotics research has been funded by the military, then where are the Klaatu-style killer robots shooting death rays from their eyes?

Obviously, there have been advances in military technology in recent decades. One of the reasons we all survived the Cold War is that while nuclear bombs might have worked as advertised, their delivery systems did not; intercontinental ballistic missiles weren’t capable of striking cities, let alone specific targets inside cities, and this fact meant there was little point in launching a nuclear first strike unless you intended to destroy the world.

Contemporary cruise missiles are accurate by comparison. Still, precision weapons never do seem capable of assassinating specific individuals (Saddam, Osama, Qaddafi), even when hundreds are dropped. And ray guns have not materialized—surely not for lack of trying. We can assume the Pentagon has spent billions on death ray research, but the closest they’ve come so far are lasers that might, if aimed correctly, blind an enemy gunner looking directly at the beam. Aside from being unsporting, this is pathetic: lasers are a fifties technology. Phasers that can be set to stun do not appear to be on the drawing boards; and when it comes to infantry combat, the preferred weapon almost everywhere remains the AK-47, a Soviet design named for the year it was introduced: 1947.

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The Internet is a remarkable innovation, but all we are talking about is a super-fast and globally accessible combination of library, post office, and mail-order catalogue. Had the Internet been described to a science fiction aficionado in the fifties and sixties and touted as the most dramatic technological achievement since his time, his reaction would have been disappointment. Fifty years and this is the best our scientists managed to come up with? We expected computers that would think!

Overall, levels of research funding have increased dramatically since the seventies. Admittedly, the proportion of that funding that comes from the corporate sector has increased most dramatically, to the point that private enterprise is now funding twice as much research as the government, but the increase is so large that the total amount of government research funding, in real-dollar terms, is much higher than it was in the sixties. “Basic,” “curiosity-driven,” or “blue skies” research—the kind that is not driven by the prospect of any immediate practical application, and that is most likely to lead to unexpected breakthroughs—occupies an ever smaller proportion of the total, though so much money is being thrown around nowadays that overall levels of basic research funding have increased.

Yet most observers agree that the results have been paltry. Certainly we no longer see anything like the continual stream of conceptual revolutions—genetic inheritance, relativity, psychoanalysis, quantum mechanics—that people had grown used to, and even expected, a hundred years before. Why?

Part of the answer has to do with the concentration of resources on a handful of gigantic projects: “big science,” as it has come to be called. The Human Genome Project is often held out as an example. After spending almost three billion dollars and employing thousands of scientists and staff in five different countries, it has mainly served to establish that there isn’t very much to be learned from sequencing genes that’s of much use to anyone else. Even more, the hype and political investment surrounding such projects demonstrate the degree to which even basic research now seems to be driven by political, administrative, and marketing imperatives that make it unlikely anything revolutionary will happen.

Here, our fascination with the mythic origins of Silicon Valley and the Internet has blinded us to what’s really going on. It has allowed us to imagine that research and development is now driven, primarily, by small teams of plucky entrepreneurs, or the sort of decentralized cooperation that creates open-source software. This is not so, even though such research teams are most likely to produce results. Research and development is still driven by giant bureaucratic projects.

What has changed is the bureaucratic culture. The increasing interpenetration of government, university, and private firms has led everyone to adopt the language, sensibilities, and organizational forms that originated in the corporate world. Although this might have helped in creating marketable products, since that is what corporate bureaucracies are designed to do, in terms of fostering original research, the results have been catastrophic.

My own knowledge comes from universities, both in the United States and Britain. In both countries, the last thirty years have seen a veritable explosion of the proportion of working hours spent on administrative tasks at the expense of pretty much everything else. In my own university, for instance, we have more administrators than faculty members, and the faculty members, too, are expected to spend at least as much time on administration as on teaching and research combined. The same is true, more or less, at universities worldwide.

The growth of administrative work has directly resulted from introducing corporate management techniques. Invariably, these are justified as ways of increasing efficiency and introducing competition at every level. What they end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell things: grant proposals; book proposals; assessments of students’ jobs and grant applications; assessments of our colleagues; prospectuses for new interdisciplinary majors; institutes; conference workshops; universities themselves (which have now become brands to be marketed to prospective students or contributors); and so on.

As marketing overwhelms university life, it generates documents about fostering imagination and creativity that might just as well have been designed to strangle imagination and creativity in the cradle. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have been reduced to the equivalent of medieval scholastics, writing endless annotations of French theory from the seventies, despite the guilty awareness that if new incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the academy today, we would deny them tenure.

There was a time when academia was society’s refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers. As a result, in one of the most bizarre fits of social self-destructiveness in history, we seem to have decided we have no place for our eccentric, brilliant, and impractical citizens. Most languish in their mothers’ basements, at best making the occasional, acute intervention on the Internet.

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If all this is true in the social sciences, where research is still carried out with minimal overhead largely by individuals, one can imagine how much worse it is for astrophysicists. And, indeed, one astrophysicist, Jonathan Katz, has recently warned students pondering a career in the sciences. Even if you do emerge from the usual decade-long period languishing as someone else’s flunky, he says, you can expect your best ideas to be stymied at every point:

You will spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems. . . . It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal, because they have not yet been proved to work.

That pretty much answers the question of why we don’t have teleportation devices or antigravity shoes. Common sense suggests that if you want to maximize scientific creativity, you find some bright people, give them the resources they need to pursue whatever idea comes into their heads, and then leave them alone. Most will turn up nothing, but one or two may well discover something. But if you want to minimize the possibility of unexpected breakthroughs, tell those same people they will receive no resources at all unless they spend the bulk of their time competing against each other to convince you they know in advance what they are going to discover.

In the natural sciences, to the tyranny of managerialism we can add the privatization of research results. As the British economist David Harvie has reminded us, “open source” research is not new. Scholarly research has always been open source, in the sense that scholars share materials and results. There is competition, certainly, but it is “convivial.” This is no longer true of scientists working in the corporate sector, where findings are jealously guarded, but the spread of the corporate ethos within the academy and research institutes themselves has caused even publicly funded scholars to treat their findings as personal property. Academic publishers ensure that findings that are published are increasingly difficult to access, further enclosing the intellectual commons. As a result, convivial, open-source competition turns into something much more like classic market competition.

There are many forms of privatization, up to and including the simple buying up and suppression of inconvenient discoveries by large corporations fearful of their economic effects. (We cannot know how many synthetic fuel formulae have been bought up and placed in the vaults of oil companies, but it’s hard to imagine nothing like this happens.) More subtle is the way the managerial ethos discourages everything adventurous or quirky, especially if there is no prospect of immediate results. Oddly, the Internet can be part of the problem here. As Neal Stephenson put it:

Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this “new” idea is, in fact, an old one; it—or at least something vaguely similar—has already been tried. Either it failed, or it succeeded. If it failed, then no manager who wants to keep his or her job will approve spending money trying to revive it. If it succeeded, then it’s patented and entry to the market is presumed to be unattainable, since the first people who thought of it will have “first-mover advantage” and will have created “barriers to entry.” The number of seemingly promising ideas that have been crushed in this way must number in the millions.

And so a timid, bureaucratic spirit suffuses every aspect of cultural life. It comes festooned in a language of creativity, initiative, and entrepreneurialism. But the language is meaningless. Those thinkers most likely to make a conceptual breakthrough are the least likely to receive funding, and, if breakthroughs occur, they are not likely to find anyone willing to follow up on their most daring implications.

Giovanni Arrighi has noted that after the South Sea Bubble, British capitalism largely abandoned the corporate form. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, Britain had instead come to rely on a combination of high finance and small family firms—a pattern that held throughout the next century, the period of maximum scientific and technological innovation. (Britain at that time was also notorious for being just as generous to its oddballs and eccentrics as contemporary America is intolerant. A common expedient was to allow them to become rural vicars, who, predictably, became one of the main sources for amateur scientific discoveries.)

Contemporary, bureaucratic corporate capitalism was a creation not of Britain, but of the United States and Germany, the two rival powers that spent the first half of the twentieth century fighting two bloody wars over who would replace Britain as a dominant world power—wars that culminated, appropriately enough, in government-sponsored scientific programs to see who would be the first to discover the atom bomb. It is significant, then, that our current technological stagnation seems to have begun after 1945, when the United States replaced Britain as organizer of the world economy.

Americans do not like to think of themselves as a nation of bureaucrats—quite the opposite—but the moment we stop imagining bureaucracy as a phenomenon limited to government offices, it becomes obvious that this is precisely what we have become. The final victory over the Soviet Union did not lead to the domination of the market, but, in fact, cemented the dominance of conservative managerial elites, corporate bureaucrats who use the pretext of short-term, competitive, bottom-line thinking to squelch anything likely to have revolutionary implications of any kind.

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If we do not notice that we live in a bureaucratic society, that is because bureaucratic norms and practices have become so all-pervasive that we cannot see them, or, worse, cannot imagine doing things any other way.

Computers have played a crucial role in this narrowing of our social imaginations. Just as the invention of new forms of industrial automation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had the paradoxical effect of turning more and more of the world’s population into full-time industrial workers, so has all the software designed to save us from administrative responsibilities turned us into part- or full-time administrators. In the same way that university professors seem to feel it is inevitable they will spend more of their time managing grants, so affluent housewives simply accept that they will spend weeks every year filling out forty-page online forms to get their children into grade schools. We all spend increasing amounts of time punching passwords into our phones to manage bank and credit accounts and learning how to perform jobs once performed by travel agents, brokers, and accountants.

Someone once figured out that the average American will spend a cumulative six months of life waiting for traffic lights to change. I don’t know if similar figures are available for how long it takes to fill out forms, but it must be at least as long. No population in the history of the world has spent nearly so much time engaged in paperwork.

In this final, stultifying stage of capitalism, we are moving from poetic technologies to bureaucratic technologies. By poetic technologies I refer to the use of rational and technical means to bring wild fantasies to reality. Poetic technologies, so understood, are as old as civilization. Lewis Mumford noted that the first complex machines were made of people. Egyptian pharaohs were able to build the pyramids only because of their mastery of administrative procedures, which allowed them to develop production-line techniques, dividing up complex tasks into dozens of simple operations and assigning each to one team of workmen—even though they lacked mechanical technology more complex than the inclined plane and lever. Administrative oversight turned armies of peasant farmers into the cogs of a vast machine. Much later, after cogs had been invented, the design of complex machinery elaborated principles originally developed to organize people.

Yet we have seen those machines—whether their moving parts are arms and torsos or pistons, wheels, and springs—being put to work to realize impossible fantasies: cathedrals, moon shots, transcontinental railways. Certainly, poetic technologies had something terrible about them; the poetry is likely to be as much of dark satanic mills as of grace or liberation. But the rational, administrative techniques were always in service to some fantastic end.

From this perspective, all those mad Soviet plans—even if never realized—marked the climax of poetic technologies. What we have now is the reverse. It’s not that vision, creativity, and mad fantasies are no longer encouraged, but that most remain free-floating; there’s no longer even the pretense that they could ever take form or flesh. The greatest and most powerful nation that has ever existed has spent the last decades telling its citizens they can no longer contemplate fantastic collective enterprises, even if—as the environmental crisis demands— the fate of the earth depends on it.

What are the political implications of all this? First of all, we need to rethink some of our most basic assumptions about the nature of capitalism. One is that capitalism is identical with the market, and that both therefore are inimical to bureaucracy, which is supposed to be a creature of the state.

The second assumption is that capitalism is in its nature technologically progressive. It would seem that Marx and Engels, in their giddy enthusiasm for the industrial revolutions of their day, were wrong about this. Or, to be more precise: they were right to insist that the mechanization of industrial production would destroy capitalism; they were wrong to predict that market competition would compel factory owners to mechanize anyway. If it didn’t happen, that is because market competition is not, in fact, as essential to the nature of capitalism as they had assumed. If nothing else, the current form of capitalism, where much of the competition seems to take the form of internal marketing within the bureaucratic structures of large semi-monopolistic enterprises, would come as a complete surprise to them.

Defenders of capitalism make three broad historical claims: first, that it has fostered rapid scientific and technological growth; second, that however much it may throw enormous wealth to a small minority, it does so in such a way as to increase overall prosperity; third, that in doing so, it creates a more secure and democratic world for everyone. It is clear that capitalism is not doing any of these things any longer. In fact, many of its defenders are retreating from claiming that it is a good system and instead falling back on the claim that it is the only possible system—or, at least, the only possible system for a complex, technologically sophisticated society such as our own.

But how could anyone argue that current economic arrangements are also the only ones that will ever be viable under any possible future technological society? The argument is absurd. How could anyone know?

Granted, there are people who take that position—on both ends of the political spectrum. As an anthropologist and anarchist, I encounter anticivilizational types who insist not only that current industrial technology leads only to capitalist-style oppression, but that this must necessarily be true of any future technology as well, and therefore that human liberation can be achieved only by returning to the Stone Age. Most of us are not technological determinists.

But claims for the inevitability of capitalism have to be based on a kind of technological determinism. And for that very reason, if the aim of neoliberal capitalism is to create a world in which no one believes any other economic system could work, then it needs to suppress not just any idea of an inevitable redemptive future, but any radically different technological future. Yet there’s a contradiction. Defenders of capitalism cannot mean to convince us that technological change has ended—since that would mean capitalism is not progressive. No, they mean to convince us that technological progress is indeed continuing, that we do live in a world of wonders, but that those wonders take the form of modest improvements (the latest iPhone!), rumors of inventions about to happen (“I hear they are going to have flying cars pretty soon”), complex ways of juggling information and imagery, and still more complex platforms for filling out of forms.

I do not mean to suggest that neoliberal capitalism—or any other system—can be successful in this regard. First, there’s the problem of trying to convince the world you are leading the way in technological progress when you are holding it back. The United States, with its decaying infrastructure, paralysis in the face of global warming, and symbolically devastating abandonment of its manned space program just as China accelerates its own, is doing a particularly bad public relations job. Second, the pace of change can’t be held back forever. Breakthroughs will happen; inconvenient discoveries cannot be permanently suppressed. Other, less bureaucratized parts of the world—or at least, parts of the world with bureaucracies that are not so hostile to creative thinking—will slowly but inevitably attain the resources required to pick up where the United States and its allies have left off. The Internet does provide opportunities for collaboration and dissemination that may help break us through the wall as well. Where will the breakthrough come? We can’t know. Maybe 3D printing will do what the robot factories were supposed to. Or maybe it will be something else. But it will happen.

About one conclusion we can feel especially confident: it will not happen within the framework of contemporary corporate capitalism—or any form of capitalism. To begin setting up domes on Mars, let alone to develop the means to figure out if there are alien civilizations to contact, we’re going to have to figure out a different economic system. Must the new system take the form of some massive new bureaucracy? Why do we assume it must? Only by breaking up existing bureaucratic structures can we begin. And if we’re going to invent robots that will do our laundry and tidy up the kitchen, then we’re going to have to make sure that whatever replaces capitalism is based on a far more egalitarian distribution of wealth and power—one that no longer contains either the super-rich or the desperately poor willing to do their housework. Only then will technology begin to be marshaled toward human needs. And this is the best reason to break free of the dead hand of the hedge fund managers and the CEOs—to free our fantasies from the screens in which such men have imprisoned them, to let our imaginations once again become a material force in human history.


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[Oct 15, 2017] The global oil supply report from HSBC

Oct 15, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

FreddyW

says: 10/14/2017 at 10:01 am
A bit old so you may have seen it already. But if you haven´t then I highly recommend you to read the global oil supply report from HSBC:

YouTube clip:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KfVJBNX2U4

The report:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9wSgViWVAfzUEgzMlBfR3UxNDg/view

It contains a lot of interesting information. For example on page 15 we can see that oil field discovery rate has dropped from around 20% to only 5% in 2015. Saying that it has fallen of a cliff is not an exaggeration.

[Oct 15, 2017] Timing of peak global oil production

Notable quotes:
"... I already picked the peak, 2015. So I was slightly off, but not by all that much as you can clearly see by the chart. I think we are on the peak plateau right now. ..."
Oct 15, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Ron Patterson says: 10/14/2017 at 7:31 am

I already picked the peak, 2015. So I was slightly off, but not by all that much as you can clearly see by the chart. I think we are on the peak plateau right now.

The actual 12-month peak could be anywhere from 2017 to 2019 but no later than that. Well, in my humble opinion anyway.

Dennis Coyne says: 10/14/2017 at 11:39 am
Hi Ron,

The question was about US LTO, you have picked the World C+C peak, but as far as I remember you have not said anything recently about US LTO except that it will be before 2025.

So far the 12 month centered average for US LTO peaked in June 2015.

If US LTO output continues at the August output level (4750 kb/d) for 5 months, then a new 12 month centered average peak will be reached by Aug 2017 (average output from Feb 2017 to Jan 2018). US LTO output has risen about 600 kb/d over the past 12 months so an assumption of no further US LTO output increases over the next 5 months is a conservative estimate in my view.

[Oct 15, 2017] US Baker Hughes Rig Count

Oct 15, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Energy News: 10/13/2017 at 1:13 pm

US Baker Hughes Rig Count (Oct 13)

http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=79687&p=irol-reportsother

[Oct 15, 2017] Oil production in Iraq has increased by more then one million barrels a day since July 2014 when oil prices last averaged 100 dollars. More than any other country

Notable quotes:
"... A bit old so you may have seen it already. But if you haven´t then I highly recommend you to read the global oil supply report from HSBC: YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KfVJBNX2U4 The report: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9wSgViWVAfzUEgzMlBfR3UxNDg/view contains a lot of interesting information. For example on page 15 we can see that oil field discovery rate has dropped from around 20% to only 5% in 2015. Saying that it has fallen of a cliff is not an exaggeration. ..."
Oct 15, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Energy News: 10/14/2017 at 1:02 pm

I was just having a quick look at countries that have come back from outages, sanctions, conflict, wildfires. Not sure if this list is complete?

Energy News says: 10/14/2017 at 1:55 pm
Iraq's oil production has increased by 1.4 million b/day since oil prices last averaged $100 in July 2014. More than any other country
Chart on Twitter: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DMHrqLZXkAAFiro.jpg
FreddyW says: 10/14/2017 at 10:01 am
A bit old so you may have seen it already. But if you haven´t then I highly recommend you to read the global oil supply report from HSBC:

YouTube clip:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KfVJBNX2U4

The report: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9wSgViWVAfzUEgzMlBfR3UxNDg/view contains a lot of interesting information. For example on page 15 we can see that oil field discovery rate has dropped from around 20% to only 5% in 2015. Saying that it has fallen of a cliff is not an exaggeration.

[Oct 14, 2017] Over half a million barrels per day are now shut down at Gulf due to hugrage season. Lost oil production due to Nate was around 8 million barrels

Oct 14, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Energy News says: 10/11/2017 at 4:22 pm

2017-10-11 BSEEgov: From operator reports, it is estimated that approximately 32.68 percent of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico remains shut-in, which equates to 571,854 barrels of oil per day. It is also estimated that approximately 20.51 percent of the natural gas production, or 660.55 million cubic feet per day in the Gulf of Mexico is shut-in.
https://www.bsee.gov/newsroom/latest-news/statements-and-releases/press-releases/bsee-tropical-storm-nate-activity-4
Estimate of "Lost" Gulf of Mexico crude production due to Hurricane Nate is 7.82 million barrels of oil.

Also, Genscape GoM production chart: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DL4r7v6UEAA75uK.jpg

[Oct 11, 2017] OPEC, IEA and drillers/service companies are raising the problem of the lack of investment, but they all stay away from discussing the fall in discoveries and lack of attractive prospective projects

Oct 11, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

George Kaplan says: 10/10/2017 at 7:28 am

OPEC SECRETARY GENERAL: 'WORLD CAN'T AFFORD SUPPLY CRUNCH'

https://www.energyvoice.com/video-2/152718/watch-opec-secretary-general-world-cant-afford-supply-crunch/

(Possible paywall, I can't quite figure out how it works on Energy Voice)

"This is particularly evident when we look at investment. While investments are expected to pick up slightly this year and in 2018, it is clear that this is not anywhere close to past levels and it is more evident in short-cycle, rather than long-cycle projects, which are the industry's baseload.

"The issue of a potential investment shortfall was a recurring theme at last week's Russia Energy Week conference, with President Vladimir Putin, as well as many oil and energy ministers making reference to the critical investment challenge.

"As we have all learned from previous price cycles, such pronounced and long-term declines in investments are a serious threat to future supply. But given our projected future demand for oil, with our upcoming World Oil Outlook 2017 expecting demand to reach over 111 million barrels a day by 2040, an increase of almost 16 million barrels a day, the world simply cannot afford a supply crunch."

It's noticeable that OPEC, IEA and drillers/service companies, even the Aramco CEO are raising the lack of investment more and more, but they all stay away from discussing the fall in discoveries and lack of attractive prospective projects. Part of it is real concern, though it's noticeable they don't offer much in the way of solutions, and definitely none that might impact their bottom lines in the short term, but part is pre-emptive arse-coverage.

A lot of factors seem to be lining up for an economic bust next year, but then they have looked like that for a few years (maybe the low oil price has contributed to staving off the problem), if it happens a supply crunch might go unnoticed for some time, and only come appear as the real problem it will be when there is some sort of recovery expected.

[Oct 10, 2017] The US Economy: Explaining Stagnation and Why It Will Persist by Thomas I. Palley

Highly recommended!
The paper is two years old. Looks how his prediction fared. Stagnation is still with us althouth low oil prices lifted all the boats. But this period is coming to the end.
Notable quotes:
"... The financial crisis that erupted in 2008 challenged the foundations of orthodox economic theory and policy. At its outset, orthodox economists were stunned into silence as evidenced by their inability to answer the Queen of England's simple question (November 5th, 2008) to the faculty of the London School of Economics as to why no one foresaw the crisis. ..."
"... Six years later, orthodoxy has fought back and largely succeeded in blocking change of thought and policy. The result has been economic stagnation ..."
"... Perspective # 3 is the progressive position which is rooted in Keynesian economics and can be labeled the "destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis" ..."
"... It is identified with the New Deal wing of the Democratic Party and the labor movement, but it has no standing within major economics departments owing to their suppression of alternatives to economic orthodoxy. ..."
"... However, financial excess is just an element of the crisis and the full explanation is far deeper than just financial market regulatory failure According to the Keynesian destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis, the deep cause is generalized economic policy failure rooted in the flawed neoliberal economic paradigm that was adopted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. ..."
"... globalization reconfigured global production by transferring manufacturing from the U.S. and Europe to emerging market economies. This new global division of labor was then supported by having U.S. consumers serve as the global economy's buyer of first and last resort, which explains the U.S. trade deficit and the global imbalances problem. ..."
"... This new global division of labor inevitably created large trade deficits that also contributed to weakening the aggregate demand (AD)generation process by causing a hemorrhage of spending on imports (Palley, 2015) ..."
"... Finance does this through three channels. First, financial markets have captured control of corporations via enforcement of the shareholder value maximization paradigm of corporate governance. Consequently, corporations now serve financial market interests along with the interests of top management. Second, financial markets in combination with corporations lobby politically for the neoliberal policy mix. ..."
"... Third, financial innovation has facilitated and promoted financial market control of corporations via hostile take-overs, leveraged buyouts and reverse capital distributions. Financial innovation has therefore been key for enforcing Wall Street's construction of the shareholder value maximization paradigm. ..."
"... The second vital role of finance is the support of AD. The neoliberal model gradually undermined the income and demand generation process, creating a growing structural demand gap. The role of finance was to fill that gap. Thus, within the U.S., deregulation, financial innovation, speculation, and mortgage lending fraud enabled finance to fill the demand gap by lending to consumers and by spurring asset price inflation ..."
"... this AD generation role of finance was an unintended consequence and not part of a grand plan. Neoliberal economists and policymakers did not realize they were creating a demand gap, but their laissez-faire economic ideology triggered financial market developments that coincidentally filled the demand gap. ..."
"... the financial process they unleashed was inevitably unstable and was always destined to hit the wall. There are limits to borrowing and limits to asset price inflation and all Ponzi schemes eventually fall apart. ..."
"... the long duration of financial excess made the collapse far deeper when it eventually happened. It has also made escaping the after-effects of the financial crisis far more difficult as the economy is now burdened by debts and destroyed credit worthiness. That has deepened the proclivity to economic stagnation. ..."
"... The neoliberal labor market flexibility agenda explicitly attacks unions and works to shift income to wealthier households. ..."
"... That model inevitably produces stagnation because it produces a structural demand shortage via (i) its impact on income distribution, and (ii) via its design of globalization which generates massive trade deficits, wage competition and off-shoring of jobs and investment. In terms of the three-way contest between the government failure hypothesis, the market failure hypothesis and the destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis, the economic policy debate during the Great Recession was cast as exclusively between government failure and market failure. ..."
"... This attitude to fiscal policy reflects the dominance within the Democratic Party of "Rubinomics", the Wall Street view associated with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, that government spending and budget deficits raise real interest rates and thereby lower growth. According to that view, the US needs long-term fiscal austerity to offset Social Security and Medicare Side-by-side with the attempt to reflate the economy, the Obama administration also pushed for major overhaul and tightening of financial sector regulation via the Dodd- Frank Act (2010). ..."
"... The Obama administration's softcore neoliberalism would have likely generated stagnation by itself, but the prospect has been further strengthened by Republicans. ..."
"... The Obama administration was to provide fiscal stimulus to jump start the economy; the Fed would use QE to blow air back into the asset price bubble; the Dodd-Frank Act (2010) would stabilize financial markets; and globalization would be deepened by further NAFTA-styled international agreements. This is a near-identical model to that which failed so disastrously. Consequently, stagnation is the logical prognosis. ..."
"... Consequently, the economy is destined to repeat the patterns of the 1990s and 2000s. However, the US economy has also experienced almost twenty more years of neoliberalism which has left its economic body in worse health than the 1990s. That means the likelihood of delivering another bubble-based boom is low and stagnation tendencies will likely reassert themselves after a shorter and weaker period of expansion ..."
Apr 10, 2015 | www.thomaspalley.com

Abstract

This paper examines the major competing interpretations of the economic crisis in the US and explains the rebound of neoliberal orthodoxy. It shows how US policymakers acted to stabilize and save the economy, but failed to change the underlying neoliberal economic policy model. That failure explains the emergence of stagnation, which is likely to endure

Current economic conditions in the US smack of the mid-1990s. The 1990s expansion proved unsustainable and so will the current modest expansion. However, this time it is unlikely to be followed by financial crisis because of the balance sheet cleaning that took place during the last crisis

Revised 1: This paper has been prepared for inclusion in Gallas, Herr, Hoffer and Scherrer (eds.), Combatting Inequality: The Global North and South , Rouledge, forthcoming in 2015.

The crisis and the resilience of neoliberal economic orthodoxy

The financial crisis that erupted in 2008 challenged the foundations of orthodox economic theory and policy. At its outset, orthodox economists were stunned into silence as evidenced by their inability to answer the Queen of England's simple question (November 5th, 2008) to the faculty of the London School of Economics as to why no one foresaw the crisis.

Six years later, orthodoxy has fought back and largely succeeded in blocking change of thought and policy. The result has been economic stagnation

This paper examines the major competing interpretations of the economic crisis in the US and explains the rebound of neoliberal orthodoxy. It shows how US policymakers acted to stabilize and save the economy, but failed to change the underlying neoliberal economic policy model.

That failure explains the emergence of stagnation in the US economy and stagnation is likely to endure.

Current economic conditions in the US smack of the mid-1990s. The 1990s expansion proved unsustainable and so will the current modest expansion. However, this time it is unlikely to be followed by financial crisis because of the balance sheet cleaning that took place during the last crisis.

Competing explanations of the crisis

The Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and includes the financial crisis of 2008, is the deepest economic downturn in the US since the World War II. The depth of the downturn is captured in Table 1 which shows the decline in GDP and the peak unemployment rate. The recession has the longest duration and the decline in GDP is the largest. The peak unemployment rate was slightly below the peak rate of the recession of 1981-82. However, this ignores the fact that the labor force participation rate fell in the Great Recession (i.e. people left the labor force and were not counted as unemployed) whereas it increased in the recession of 1981-82 (i.e. people entered the labor force and were counted as unemployed).

Table 1. Alternative measures of the depth of US recessions.

... ... ...

Table 2 provides data on the percent change in private sector employment from business cycle peak to trough. The 7.6 percent loss of private sector jobs in the Great Recession dwarfs other recessions, providing another measure of its depth and confirming it extreme nature. 2 Over the course of the 1981-82 labor force participation rose from 63.8 percent to 64.2 percent, thereby likely increasing the unemployment rate. In contrast, over the course of the Great Recession the labor force participation rate fell from 66.0 percent to 65.7 percent, thereby likely decreasing the unemployment. The decrease in the labor force participation rate was even sharper for prime age (25 – 54 years old) workers, indicating that the decrease in the overall participation rate was not due to demographic factors such as an aging population. Instead, it was due to lack of job opportunities, which supports the claim that labor force exit lowered the unemployment rate. Table 2. U.S. private employment cycles, peak to trough. Source: Bureau of labor statistics and author's calculations.

... ... ...

Broadly speaking there exist three competing perspectives on the crisis (Palley, 2012).

For the period 1945 - 1975 the U.S. economy was characterized by a "virtuous circle" Keynesian growth model built on full employment and wage growth tied to productivity growth. This model is illustrated in Figure 1 and its logic was as follows. Productivity growth drove wage growth, which in turn fuelled demand growth and created full employment. That provided an incentive for investment, which drove further productivity growth and supported higher wages. This model held in the U.S. and, subject to local modifications, it also held throughout the global economy - in Western Europe, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

Figure 1. The 1945 – 75 virtuous circle Keynesian growth model. Wage growth Demand growth Full employment Productivity growth Investment

After 1980 the virtuous circle Keynesian growth model was replaced by a neoliberal growth model. The reasons for the change are a complex mix of economic, political and sociological reasons that are beyond the scope of the current paper. The key changes wrought by the new model were:

  1. Abandonment of the commitment to full employment and the adoption of commitment to very low inflation;
  2. Severing of the link between wages and productivity growth.

Together, these changes created a new economic dynamic. Before 1980, wages were the engine of U.S. demand growth. After 1980, debt and asset price inflation became the engine The new economic model was rooted in neoliberal economic thought. Its principal effects were to weaken the position of workers; strengthen the position of corporations; and unleash financial markets to serve the interests of financial and business elites.

As illustrated in figure 2, the new model can be described as a neoliberal policy box that fences workers in and pressures them from all sides. On the left hand side, the corporate model of globalization put workers in international competition via global production networks that are supported by free trade agreements and capital mobility.

On the right hand side, the "small" government agenda attacked the legitimacy of government and pushed persistently for deregulation regardless of dangers. From below, the labor market flexibility agenda attacked unions and labor market supports such as the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, employment protections, and employee rights. From above, policymakers abandoned the commitment of full employment, a development that was reflected in the rise of inflation targeting and the move toward independent central banks influenced by financial interests.

Figure 2. The neoliberal policy box. Globalization WORKERS Abandonment of full employment Small Government Labor Market Flexibility

Corporate globalization is an especially key feature. Not only did it exert downward inward pressures on economies via import competition and the threat of job off-shoring, it also provided the architecture binding economies together. Thus, globalization reconfigured global production by transferring manufacturing from the U.S. and Europe to emerging market economies. This new global division of labor was then supported by having U.S. consumers serve as the global economy's buyer of first and last resort, which explains the U.S. trade deficit and the global imbalances problem.

This new global division of labor inevitably created large trade deficits that also contributed to weakening the aggregate demand (AD)generation process by causing a hemorrhage of spending on imports (Palley, 2015)

An important feature of the Keynesian hypothesis is that the neoliberal policy box was implemented on a global basis, in both the North and the South. As in the U.S., there was also a structural break in policy regime in both Europe and Latin America. In Latin America , the International Monetary Fund and World Bank played an important role as they used the economic distress created by the 1980s debt crisis to push neoliberal policy

They did so by making financial assistance conditional on adopting such policies. This global diffusion multiplied the impact of the turn to neoliberal economic policy and it explains why the Washington Consensus enforced by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank has been so significant. It also explains why stagnation has taken on a global dimension.

III The role of finance in the neoliberal model

Owing to the extraordinarily deep and damaging nature of the financial crisis of 2008, financial market excess has been a dominant focus of explanations of the Great Recession. Within the neoliberal government failure hypothesis the excess is attributed to ill-advised government intervention and Federal Reserve interest rate policy. Within the neoliberal market failure hypothesis it is attributed to ill-advised deregulation and failure to modernize regulation.

According to the Keynesian destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis neither of those interpretations grasps the true significance of finance. The government failure hypothesis is empirically unsupportable (Palley, 2012a, chapter 6), while the market failure hypothesis has some truth but also misses the true role of finance That role is illustrated in Figure 3 which shows that finance performed two roles in the neoliberal model. The first was to structurally support the neoliberal policy box. The second was to support the AD generation process. These dual roles are central to the process of increasing financial domination of the economy which has been termed financialization (Epstein, 2004, p.3; Krippner, 2004, 2005; Palley, 2013). Figure 3. The role of finance in the neoliberal model. The role of finance: "financialization" Supporting the neoliberal policy box Aggregate demand generation Corporate behavior Economic policy Financial innovation The policy box shown in Figure 2 has four sides.

A true box has six sides and a four sided structure would be prone to structural weakness.

Metaphorically speaking, one role of finance is to provide support on two sides of the neoliberal policy box, as illustrated in Figure 4.

Finance does this through three channels. First, financial markets have captured control of corporations via enforcement of the shareholder value maximization paradigm of corporate governance. Consequently, corporations now serve financial market interests along with the interests of top management. Second, financial markets in combination with corporations lobby politically for the neoliberal policy mix.

The combination of changed corporate behavior and economic policy produces an economic matrix that puts wages under continuous pressure and raises income inequality.

Third, financial innovation has facilitated and promoted financial market control of corporations via hostile take-overs, leveraged buyouts and reverse capital distributions. Financial innovation has therefore been key for enforcing Wall Street's construction of the shareholder value maximization paradigm.

Figure 4. Lifting the lid on the neoliberal policy box. The neoliberal box Corporations Financial markets

The second vital role of finance is the support of AD. The neoliberal model gradually undermined the income and demand generation process, creating a growing structural demand gap. The role of finance was to fill that gap. Thus, within the U.S., deregulation, financial innovation, speculation, and mortgage lending fraud enabled finance to fill the demand gap by lending to consumers and by spurring asset price inflation

Financialization assisted with this process by changing credit market practices and introducing new credit instruments that made credit more easily and widely available to corporations and households. U.S. consumers in turn filled the global demand gap, along with help from U.S. and European corporations who were shifting manufacturing facilities and investment to the emerging market economies.

Three things should be emphasized.

  1. First, this AD generation role of finance was an unintended consequence and not part of a grand plan. Neoliberal economists and policymakers did not realize they were creating a demand gap, but their laissez-faire economic ideology triggered financial market developments that coincidentally filled the demand gap.
  2. Second, the financial process they unleashed was inevitably unstable and was always destined to hit the wall. There are limits to borrowing and limits to asset price inflation and all Ponzi schemes eventually fall apart. The problem is it is impossible to predict when they will fail. All that can be known with confidence is that it will eventually fail.
  3. Third, the process went on far longer than anyone expected, which explains why critics of neoliberalism sounded like Cassandras (Palley, 1998, Chapter 12). However, the long duration of financial excess made the collapse far deeper when it eventually happened. It has also made escaping the after-effects of the financial crisis far more difficult as the economy is now burdened by debts and destroyed credit worthiness. That has deepened the proclivity to economic stagnation.
IV Evidence

Evidence regarding the economic effects of the neoliberal model is plentiful and clear Figure 5 shows productivity and average hourly compensation of non-supervisory workers (that is non-managerial employees who are about 80 percent of the workforce). The link with productivity growth was severed almost 40 years ago and hourly compensation has been essentially stagnant since then.

Figure 5.

... ... ...

Table 3 shows data on the distribution of income growth by business cycle expansion across the wealthiest top 10 percent and bottom 90 percent of households. Over the past sixty years there has been a persistent decline in the share of income gains going to the bottom 90 percent of households ranked by wealth. However, in the period 1948 – 1979 the decline was gradual. After 1980 there is a massive structural break and the share of income gains going to the bottom 90 percent collapses. Before 1980, on average the bottom 90 percent received 66 percent of business cycle expansion income gains. After 1980, on average they receive just 8 percent.

Table 3. Distribution of income growth by business cycle expansion across the wealthiest top 10 percent and bottom 90 percent of households. Source: Tcherneva (2014), published in The New York Times , September 26, 2014. '49- '53 '54- '57 '59- '60 '61- '69 '70- '73 '75- '79 '82- '90 '91- '00 '01- '07 '09- '12 Average Pre-1908 Average Post-1980 Top 10% 20% 28 32 33 43 45 80 73 98 116 34% 92% Bottom 90% 80% 72 68 67 57 55 20 27 2 -16 66% 8%

Figure 6 shows the share of total pre-tax income of the top one percent of households ranked by wealth. From the mid-1930s, with the implementation of the New Deal social contract, that share fell from a high of 23.94 percent in 1928 to a low of 8.95 percent in 1978. Thereafter it has steadily risen, reaching 23.5 percent in 2007 which marked the beginning of the Great Recession. It then fell during the Great Recession owing to a recession-induced fall in profits, but has since recovered most of that decline as income distribution has worsened again during the economic recovery. In effect, during the neoliberal era the US economy has retraced its steps, reversing the improvements achieved by the New Deal and post-World War II prosperity, so that the top one percent's share of pre-tax income has returned to pre-Great Depression levels.

Figure 6. US pre-tax income share of top 1 percent. Source: http://inequality.org/income-inequality/. Original source: Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saez (2003), updated at http://emlab.edu/users/saez.

As argued in Palley (2012a, p. 150-151) there is close relationship between union membership density (i.e. percent of employed workers that are unionized) and income distribution. This is clearly shown in Figure 7 which shows union density and the share of pre-tax income going to the top ten percent of wealthiest households. The neoliberal labor market flexibility agenda explicitly attacks unions and works to shift income to wealthier households.

Share of income going to the top 10 percent 2013: 47.0% Union membership density 11.2% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 1917 1923 1929 1935 1941 1947 1953 1959 1965 1971 1977 1983 1989 1995 2001 2007 2013 Source: Data on union density follows the composite series found in Historical Statistics of the United States; updated to 2013 from unionstats.com. Income inequality (share of income to top 10%) from Piketty and Saez,

"Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998, Quarterly Journal of Economics , 118(1), 2003, 1-39. Updated Figure 7. Union membership and the share of income going to the top ten percent of wealthiest households, 1917 – 2013. Source: Mishel, Gould and Bivens (2015). Table 4 provides data on the evolution of the U.S. goods and services trade balance as a share of GDP by business cycle peak. Comparison across peaks controls for the effect of the business cycle. The data show through to the late 1970s U.S. trade was roughly in balance, but after 1980 it swung to massive deficit and the deficits increased each business cycle. These deficits were the inevitable product of the neoliberal model of globalization (Palley, 2015) and they undermined the AD generation process in accordance with the Keynesian hypothesis.

Table 4. The U.S. goods & services trade deficit/surplus by business cycle peaks, 1960 – 2007. Sources: Economic Report of the President, 2009 and author's calculations. Business cycle peak year Trade balance ($ millions) GDP ($ billions) Trade balance/ GDP (%) 1960 3,508 526.4 0.7 1969 91 984.6 0.0 1973 1,900 1,382.7 0.1 1980 -25,500 2,789.5 -0.9 1981 -28,023 3,128.4 -0.9 1990 -111,037 5,803.1 -1.9 2001 -429,519 10,128.0 -4.2 2007 -819,373 13,807.5 -5.9

Finally, Figure 8 shows total domestic debt relative to GDP and growth. This Figure is highly supportive of the Keynesian interpretation of the role of finance. During the neoliberal era real GDP growth has actually slowed but debt growth has exploded. The reason is the neoliberal model did nothing to increase growth, but it needed faster debt growth to fill the demand gap created by the model's worsening of income distribution and creation of large trade deficits. Debt growth supported debt-financed consumer spending and it supported asset price inflation that enabled borrowing which filled the demand gap caused by the neoliberal model. Figure 8. Total domestic debt and growth (1952-2007). Source: Grantham, 2010.

V The debate about the causes of the crisis: why it matters

The importance of the debate about the causes of the crisis is that each perspective recommends its own different policy response. For hardcore neoliberal government failure proponents the recommended policy response is to double-down on the policies described by the neoliberal policy box and further deregulate markets; to deepen central bank independence and the commitment to low inflation via strict rules based monetary policy; and to further shrink government and impose fiscal austerity to deal with increased government debt produced by the crisis For softcore neoliberal market failure proponents the recommended policy response is to tighten financial regulation but continue with all other aspects of the existing neoliberal policy paradigm. That means continued support for corporate globalization, socalled labor market flexibility, low inflation targeting, and fiscal austerity in the long term. Additionally, there is need for temporary large-scale fiscal and monetary stimulus to combat the deep recession caused by the financial crisis.

However, once the economy has recovered, policy should continue with the neoliberal model For proponents of the destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis the policy response is fundamentally different. The fundamental need is to overthrow the neoliberal paradigm and replace it with a "structural Keynesian" paradigm. That involves repacking the policy box as illustrated in Figure 9.

The critical step is to take workers out of the box and put corporations and financial markets in so that they are made to serve a broader public interest. The key elements are to replace corporate globalization with managed globalization that blocks race to the bottom trade dynamics and stabilizes global financial markets; restore a commitment to full employment; replace the neoliberal anti-government agenda with a social democratic government agenda; and replace the neoliberal labor market flexibility with a solidarity based labor market agenda.

The goals are restoration of full employment and restoration of a solid link between wage and productivity growth.

Figure 9. The structural Keynesian box Corporations & Managed Financial Markets Globalization Full Employment Social Democratic Government Solidarity Labor Markets

Lastly, since the neoliberal model was adopted as part of a new global economic order, there is also need to recalibrate the global economy. This is where the issue of "global rebalancing" enters and emerging market economies need to shift away from export-led growth strategies to domestic demand-led strategies. That poses huge challenges for many emerging market economies because they have configured their growth strategies around export-led growth whereby they sell to U.S. consumers.

VI From crisis to stagnation: the failure to change

Massive policy interventions, unequalled in the post-war era, stopped the Great Recession from spiraling into a second Great Depression. The domestic economic interventions included the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that bailed out the financial sector via government purchases of assets and equity from financial institutions; the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that provided approximately $800 billion of fiscal stimulus, consisting of approximately $550 billion of government spending and $250 billion of tax cuts; the Federal Reserve lowering its interest target to near-zero (0 - 0.25 percent); and the Federal Reserve engaging in quantitative easing (QE) transactions that involve it purchasing government and private sector securities. At the international level, in 2008 the Federal Reserve established a temporary $620 billion foreign exchange (FX) swap facility with foreign central banks.

That facility provided the global economy with dollar balances, thereby preventing a dollar liquidity shortage from triggering a wave of global default on short-term dollar loans that the financial system was unwilling to roll-over because of panic.3

Additionally, there was unprecedented globally coordinated fiscal stimulus arranged via the G-20 mechanism. 3

The FX swaps with foreign central banks have been criticized as being a bail-out for foreign economies. In fact, they saved the US financial system which would have been pulled down by financial collapse outside

Despite their scale, these interventions did not stop the recession from being the deepest since 1945, and nor did they stop the onset of stagnation. Table 5 shows how GDP growth has failed to recover since the end of the Great Recession, averaging just 2.1 percent for the five year period from 2010 – 2014. Furthermore, that period includes the rebound year of 2010 when the economy rebounded from its massive slump owing to the extraordinary fiscal and monetary stimulus measures that were put in place

Table 5. U.S. GDP growth. Source: Statistical Annex of the European Union, Autumn 2014 and author's calculations.

The growth rate for 2014 is that estimated in October 2014.

1961 - 1970 1971 - 1980 1981 - 1990 1991 - 2000 2001 - 2007 2008 - 2009 2010 - 2014

4.2% 3.2% 3.3% 3.5% 2.5% -1.6% 2.1%

Table 6 shows employment creation in the five years after the end of recessions, which provides another window on stagnation. The job creation numbers show that the neoliberal model was already slowing in the 1990s with the first episode of "jobless the US.

Many foreign banks operating in the US had acquired US assets financed with short-term dollar borrowings. When the US money market froze in 2008 they could not roll-over these loans in accordance with normal practice. That threatened massive default by these banks within the US financial system, which would have pulled down the entire global financial system.

The Federal Reserve could not lend directly to these foreign banks and their governing central banks lacked adequate dollar liquidity to fill the financing gap. The solution was to lend dollars to foreign central banks, which then made dollar loans to foreign banks in need of dollar roll-over short-term financing. recovery".

It actually ground to stagnation in the 2001 – 2007 period, but this was masked by the house price bubble and the false prosperity it created. Stagnation has persisted after the Great Recession, but the economic distress caused by the recession has finally triggered awareness of stagnation among elites economists. In a sense, the Great Recession called out the obvious, just as did the little boy in the Hans Anderson story about the emperor's new suit

Table 6. U.S. private sector employment creation in the five year period after the end of recessions for six business cycles with extended expansions. Source: Bureau of labor statistics and author's calculations. * = January 1980 the beginning of the next recession Recession end date Employment at recession end date (millions) Employment five years later (millions) Percent growth in employment Feb 1961 45.0 52.2 16.0% Mar 1975 61.9 74.6* 20.5% Nov 1982 72.8 86.1 18.3% March 1991 90.1 99.5 10.4% Nov 2001 109.8 115.0 4.7% June 2009 108.4 117.1 8.0% The persistence of stagnation after the Great Recession raises the question "why"? The answer is policy has done nothing to change the structure of the underlying neoliberal economic model.

That model inevitably produces stagnation because it produces a structural demand shortage via (i) its impact on income distribution, and (ii) via its design of globalization which generates massive trade deficits, wage competition and off-shoring of jobs and investment. In terms of the three-way contest between the government failure hypothesis, the market failure hypothesis and the destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis, the economic policy debate during the Great Recession was cast as exclusively between government failure and market failure.

With the Democrats controlling the Congress and Presidency after the 2008 election, the market failure hypothesis won out and has framed policy since then. According to the hypothesis, the financial crisis caused an exceptionally deep recession that required exceptionally large monetary and fiscal stimulus to counter it and restore normalcy. Additionally, the market failure hypothesis recommends restoring and renovating financial regulation, but other than that the neoliberal paradigm is appropriate and should be deepened In accordance with this thinking, the in-coming Obama administration affirmed existing efforts to save the system and prevent a downward spiral by supporting the Bush administration's TARP, the Federal Reserve's first round of QE (November/December 2008) that provided market liquidity, and the Federal Reserve's FX swap agreement with foreign central banks

Thereafter, the Obama administration worked to reflate the economy via passage of the ARRA (2009) which provided significant fiscal stimulus. With the failure to deliver a V-shaped recovery, candidate Obama became even more vocal about fiscal stimulus However, reflecting its softcore neoliberal inclinations, the Obama administration then became much less so when it took office. Thus, the winners of the internal debate about fiscal policy in the first days of the Obama administration were those wanting more modest fiscal stimulus.4 Furthermore, its analytical frame was one of temporary stimulus with the 4 Since 2009 there has been some evolution of policy positions characterized by a shift to stronger support for fiscal stimulus. This has been especially marked in Larry Summers, who was the Obama administration's goal of long-term fiscal consolidation, which is softcore neoliberal speak for fiscal austerity Seen in the above light, after the passage of ARRA (2009), the fiscal policy divide between the Obama administration and hardcore neoliberal Republicans was about the speed and conditions under which fiscal austerity should be restored.

This attitude to fiscal policy reflects the dominance within the Democratic Party of "Rubinomics", the Wall Street view associated with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, that government spending and budget deficits raise real interest rates and thereby lower growth. According to that view, the US needs long-term fiscal austerity to offset Social Security and Medicare Side-by-side with the attempt to reflate the economy, the Obama administration also pushed for major overhaul and tightening of financial sector regulation via the Dodd- Frank Act (2010).

That accorded with the market failure hypothesis's claim about the economic crisis and Great Recession being caused by financial excess permitted by the combination of excessive deregulation, lax regulation and failure to modernize regulation Finally, and again in accordance with the logic of the market failure hypothesis, the Obama administration has pushed ahead with doubling-down and further entrenching the neoliberal policy box. This is most visible in its approach to globalization. In 2010, free trade agreements modelled after NAFTA were signed with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two mega-agreements negotiated in secrecy and apparently bearing chief economic adviser when it took office. This shift has become a way of rewriting history by erasing the memory of initial positions. That is also true of the IMF which in 2010-2011 was a robust supporter of fiscal consolidation in Europe. similar hallmarks to prior trade agreements, are also being pushed by the Obama administration

The Obama administration's softcore neoliberalism would have likely generated stagnation by itself, but the prospect has been further strengthened by Republicans.

Thus, in accordance with their point of view, Republicans have persistently pushed the government failure hypothesis by directing the policy conversation to excessive regulation and easy monetary policy as the causes of the crisis. Consequently, they have consistently opposed strengthened financial regulation and demands for fiscal stimulus.

At the same time, they have joined with softcore neoliberal Democrats regarding doubling-down on neoliberal box policies, particularly as regards trade and globalization Paradoxically, the failure to change the overall economic model becomes most visible by analyzing the policies of the Federal Reserve, which have changed the most dramatically via the introduction of QE. The initial round of QE (QE1) was followed by QE2 in November 2010 and QE3 in September 2012, with the Fed shifting from providing short-term emergency liquidity to buying private sector financial assets.

The goal was to bid up prices of longer term bonds and other securities, thereby lowering interest rates on longer-term financing and encouraging investors to buy equities and other riskier financial assets. The Fed's reasoning was lower long-term rates would stimulate the economy, and higher financial asset prices would trigger a positive wealth effect on consumption spending. This makes clear the architecture of policy.

The Obama administration was to provide fiscal stimulus to jump start the economy; the Fed would use QE to blow air back into the asset price bubble; the Dodd-Frank Act (2010) would stabilize financial markets; and globalization would be deepened by further NAFTA-styled international agreements. This is a near-identical model to that which failed so disastrously. Consequently, stagnation is the logical prognosis.

VII Déjà vu all over again: back to the 1990s but with a weaker economy

The exclusion of the destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis, combined with the joint triumph of the market failure and government failure hypotheses, means the underlying economic model that produced the Great Recession remains essentially unchanged. That failure to change explains stagnation. It also explains why current conditions smack of "déjà vu all over again" with the US economy in 2014-15 appearing to have returned to conditions reminiscent of the mid-1990s.

Just as the 1990s failed to deliver durable prosperity, so too current optimistic conditions will prove unsustainable absent deeper change The déjà vu similarities are evident

All of these features mean both policy context and policy design look a lot like the mid-1990s. The Obama administration saved the system but did not change it

Consequently, the economy is destined to repeat the patterns of the 1990s and 2000s. However, the US economy has also experienced almost twenty more years of neoliberalism which has left its economic body in worse health than the 1990s. That means the likelihood of delivering another bubble-based boom is low and stagnation tendencies will likely reassert themselves after a shorter and weaker period of expansion

This structurally weakened state of the US economy is evident in the further worsening of income inequality that has occurred during the Great Recession and subsequent slow recovery.

... ... ...

Thomas I. Palley, Senior Economic Policy Advisor, AFL-CIO Washington, D.C. mail@thomaspalley.com

[Oct 07, 2017] The EIA is making these projections because knuckleheads in the C suite at US shale companies went hog wild at the first sign of oil price improvement and made thesegrowth projections for their individual companies, and the EIA just totaled them up

Notable quotes:
"... This year's rise is likely to be closer to about 500,000 barrels, far off an initial forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, according to Hamm, the chairman of Continental Resources Inc. and a pioneer in the shale industry. ..."
"... The EIA projection is "just flat wrong," failing to take into account a new discipline among U.S. drillers, Hamm said in an interview Thursday on Bloomberg TV. "We have capability of producing a whole lot, but you have to get a return on investment," he said, adding, "that's where people have been this last quarter and this year." ..."
"... . "When we're lagging the Brent world price by $6 a barrel, that's not putting America first, that's putting America last. And that's the result of this exaggerated amount that EIA has out there." ..."
"... Once it's clear the EIA is off base, prices could rise to $60 a barrel from around $50 now, Hamm said. ..."
Oct 07, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Bob Frisky

says: 09/22/2017 at 6:06 pm
Shale oil entrepreneur Harold Hamm is back doing interviews on the business networks again. Now he is speaking out against how the oil prices are low due to the EIA.

Shale Billionaire Hamm Slams 'Exaggerated' U.S. Oil Projections

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-21/shale-billionaire-hamm-slams-exaggerated-u-s-oil-projections

Billionaire oilman Harold Hamm says the government was way too optimistic with its prediction of more than 1 million new barrels a day in U.S. production, and the snafu is "distorting" global crude prices.

This year's rise is likely to be closer to about 500,000 barrels, far off an initial forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, according to Hamm, the chairman of Continental Resources Inc. and a pioneer in the shale industry.

The EIA projection is "just flat wrong," failing to take into account a new discipline among U.S. drillers, Hamm said in an interview Thursday on Bloomberg TV. "We have capability of producing a whole lot, but you have to get a return on investment," he said, adding, "that's where people have been this last quarter and this year."

The government scenario has contributed to worries about an oversupply that puts U.S. oil at a steep discount to international crude, according to Hamm. "It's distorting," he said . "When we're lagging the Brent world price by $6 a barrel, that's not putting America first, that's putting America last. And that's the result of this exaggerated amount that EIA has out there."

Once it's clear the EIA is off base, prices could rise to $60 a barrel from around $50 now, Hamm said.

shallow sand says: 09/22/2017 at 11:38 pm
The EIA is making these projections because knuckleheads in the C suite at US shale companies went hog wild at the first sign of oil price improvement and made these growth projections for their individual companies, and the EIA just totaled them up.

Every Shale CEO bashes OPEC. OPEC tried to give shale a break by cutting production, and shale absolutely blew it, just like shale absolutely blew it in late 2014 by not pretty much shutting down. Instead, shale has lied about profitability for 3 years, and the world E & P industry has paid the price.

Too bad Oilpro shut down. Lots of non-US E & P Industry folks posted there. They absolutely could not stand US shale and the US shale CEO smack talk. Hundreds of thousands out of work, because of shale smack talk and Wall Street encouragement of same, which crashed oil prices below $30.

Shale better come through. No one seems to be taking serious the possibility of a supply shock if it cannot.

When shale clearly peaks, what is to keep OPEC and Russia from suddenly making a big cut, driving prices past $200 and crashing Western economies? Why wouldn't they afterthe hubris of US shale CEO's, the Wall Street guys who pull their strings, and the US business media who report everything they say as gospel?

George Kaplan says: 09/23/2017 at 2:08 am
I'd guess a lot of the non-US E&P people complaining about LTO would by from offshore, and I think that side has been just as much to blame for boom and bust mentality with rose tinted specs. (see below the UK investment which went nuts when oil went above $100 and now they have nothing much left). I'd question with the jobs are going to come back offshore even with a big price rise. As I keep pointing out, there have to be discoveries before development, and there have to be lease sales before that. We're not seeing either, and though exploration is down compared with 2011 to 2014, there's still a significant amount going on, but wildcat, frontier success rates are what have fallen the most (even with the best seismic methods and computer models we have ever had).

[Oct 07, 2017] The American public, and the politicians that govern it, have been lied to and completely deceived about shale oil and shale gas abundance.

Oct 07, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Mike says: 09/23/2017 at 7:07 am

Shallow, I too miss the hell out of Oilpro. That community could debate the unconventional shale phenomena without bias and with a clear understanding of how it has completely changed the world oil order.

American's, on the other hand, simply enjoy cheap gasoline; they don't care how they get it, what it costs, who ultimately pays for it or that it will not last forever. The American public, and the politicians that govern it, have been lied to and completely deceived about shale oil and shale gas abundance. It is a matter of American nationalistic pride to believe what one reads on the internet and to otherwise be stupid about our hydrocarbon future.

I suggested to you several years ago that OPEC and the rest of the world's producing oil countries were not dumb; they read shale oil K's and Q's and have the same access to SEC filings we do. They know the shale oil phenomena is failing financially and that in the process America is drilling the snot out of its last remaining, bottom of the barrel oil resources. OPEC's production cuts in late 2016, in my opinion, were an effort to give the US shale oil industry just enough rope to eventually hang itself. It has done just that; in the past 24 months it has bankrupted out on another $50B, borrowed yet another $50B and is now back over $300B of upstream long term debt with no current ability to pay that back. Hope (for higher oil prices) is not a plan. The Bakken and the Eagle Ford have peaked and now well productivity in the Permian is starting to fade. In a few more years the rest of the world will have the US right back it its teet and will dictate what the price of oil well be. I think in the next 12-18 months we are going to see big reserve impairments in the US, again, and a pretty big shale oil company will end up the toilet, bankrupt. They'll be a bunch of fist pumping going around the world when that happens.

Harold Hamm is whiner; he has always blamed OPEC for lower oil prices, demanded that OPEC cut more production, he needs more pipelines, fewer regulations (where are those, by the way?), needs to be able to export his oil, warned OTHER shale oil companies in the Permian not to overproduce and drive the price of HIS oil down, the sun is always in his eyes now its the EIA's fault. He, like the rest of America's shale oil industry, is desperate for attention and desperate for help. Once again, Shallow, you are spot on.

shallow sand says: 09/23/2017 at 8:31 am
Mike. It might be worth mentioning here the recent judgment a small OK producer won against Devon Energy.

Apparently one of Devon's high volume fracs destroyed one of the the conventional producers' wells.

When I read about these frac hits, I really worry that US is not properly managing these shale oil resources.

From some reading it appears frac hits are a big deal in PB, and that just a few years in, PB shale could wind up unperformimg due to reservoir damage from these massive fracs.

What do you (or others) think?

[Oct 07, 2017] If you're not bringing new production and the global decline rate is 5 percent then annual loss is about four and a half million barrels per day

So if we assume that since 2014 at least 8 million barrels per day were lost due to aging fields. Who provided additional supply to keep it steady. Something is fishy here.
Notable quotes:
"... If you're not bringing new production online and the global decline rate is call it 5% then each year from now until 2020 we should see a loss of about four and a half million barrels per day off of supply ..."
"... And in 3 years that's 13 million barrels per day supply reduction and there is no way countries can feed themselves with that quick level of scarcity. ..."
"... Venezuela dropping to 0 while the Lybian civil war flames up again – and there isn't 3 MB/D spare capacity left. Nobody besides SA perhaps does frenetic infill drilling for capacity he don't need and use. Or develops fields and put them on idle. ..."
"... Venezuela is the best example of low oil prices making high one – the production will halt sooner or later. ..."
Oct 07, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Watcher

says: 09/28/2017 at 1:46 am
Way too glib a presumption of supply shortage in the 2020 time frame.

If you're not bringing new production online and the global decline rate is call it 5% then each year from now until 2020 we should see a loss of about four and a half million barrels per day off of supply

And in 3 years that's 13 million barrels per day supply reduction and there is no way countries can feed themselves with that quick level of scarcity.

When one says "supply shortage" the consequence of significance is not higher prices; the consequence is unfilled orders.

Energy News says: 09/27/2017 at 12:48 pm
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 27 (Reuters) – Only one block in Brazil's prized offshore Santos basin received a bid in the country's 14th oil round on Wednesday, a sign low global oil prices may have reduced the allure of potential new crude and gas investments in Latin America's largest economy.

Karoon Gas Australia Ltd won the block with a signing bonus worth 20 million reais ($6.3 million), but the remaining 75 blocks in the basin received no bids, oil industry watchdog ANP said. Officials expected to sell up to 40 percent of the blocks, raising 500 million reais ($157 million).
http://www.reuters.com/article/brazil-oil-auction/update-2-brazils-prized-santos-basin-receives-single-bid-in-oil-auction-idUSL2N1M80O5

George Kaplan says: 09/28/2017 at 12:47 am
A lot more interest in the other basins though, especially Campos. It can't be just oil price that is against Santos, maybe it's similar to the mirror province in Angola, Kwamza, and it's turning out to be a bust.
Lightsout says: 09/30/2017 at 4:13 am
Hi George

Two more dry holes in the Barents sea.

http://www.worldoil.com/news/2017/9/28/lundin-petroleum-completes-drilling-of-boerselv-exploration-well

http://www.worldoil.com/news/2017/9/27/eni-norge-drills-dry-hole-near-goliat-field-in-the-barents-sea

George Kaplan says: 09/30/2017 at 5:04 am
I think this year has killed off a few of the promising frontier basins now – Kwanza in Angola – bust, deep water offshore Canada – mostly bust, Barents – mostly bust, Santos – looks bust, ultra deep US GoM – mostly played out or uncommercial, offshore Colombia – looks bust for oil, couple of West Africa areas – dry holes, offshore Ireland – half way to bust, UK North Sea – very poor lease sale, also one other lease sale (maybe Oman?) I think didn't do very well from memory.
George Kaplan says: 09/27/2017 at 6:34 am
MARKET SHOULD PREPARE MORE FOR OIL SQUEEZE THAN OPEC SUPPLY GAIN, CITIGROUP SAYS

Those in the oil market fearing a flood of OPEC supply next year will probably be better off preparing for a shortage, according to Citigroup Inc.

Five countries in the group -- Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela, Iran and Iraq -- may already be pumping at their maximum capacity this year, Ed Morse, the bank's global head of commodities research, said in an interview. Rather than a surge in output, there's a risk of a market squeeze emerging as early as 2018, driven by those nations because of weaker investment in exploration and development, he said.

"Fear in the market has been that OPEC production will rise dramatically," said Morse. However, "there could be a supply gap emerging, which could point to a tighter market," he said in Singapore on the sidelines of the S&P Global Platts APPEC Conference.

http://www.worldoil.com/news/2017/9/26/market-should-prepare-more-for-oil-squeeze-than-opec-supply-gain-citigroup-says

Eulenspiegel says: 09/26/2017 at 10:16 am
Geology has to do a lot with oil prices – the run up in price the last 40 years is mostly due to geology.

Why? The original oil was the kind of very conventional land based oil. Once discovered, the most costly thing was the infrastructure to transport it away.

This came to a limit in the 70s. After this, more and more expensive projects where necessary.

Off shore oil, deep sea oil, small spots on land, arctic oil and last fracking oil. And old fields with injections, infill, pressure control.

All things with big investments – much more than "we build an oil terminal for supertankers and drill a few holes".

And so the market gets more and more unstable – these big investments have to pay out, even when done by a state. And you have bigger and bigger planning time lags, so the classical pork cycle can get investors in the false moment.

US fracking oil adds to the chaos – it's expensive, but fast rampup – but not able to replace deep sea oil due to it's pure size.

Old cheap fields are in decline, or not longer cheap as the chinese giants on secondary or tertiary recovery enhancements. So more and more expensive technology with long planing horizonts comes to a short paced market, together with the political chaos describes by you.

And geology gets more complicated, so the long project times you describe will get longer.

I, without a mathematically model, expect a chaotic market in the future until oil gets (hopeful) phased out and put in the steam engine age.

Low oil prices make high oil prices, and high ones low. The demand is very inelastic on the short term, trucks have to drive and people have to drive to work (and the aunt wants the chrismas visit). Only mid way demand gets flexible, a japanese car instead a SUV next or a house nearer at the job. Or a company reduces work travelling.

Many 3rd world countries have regulated gas prices – so a price spike don't reduce demand here on the short term. That makes things even more scary when something happens on the political scale.

Venezuela dropping to 0 while the Lybian civil war flames up again – and there isn't 3 MB/D spare capacity left. Nobody besides SA perhaps does frenetic infill drilling for capacity he don't need and use. Or develops fields and put them on idle.

Venezuela is the best example of low oil prices making high one – the production will halt sooner or later.

[Oct 04, 2017] China's Oil Demand Is Far Ahead Of Last Year's Pace by Robert Rapier

How comes? Annual world demand raises around 1.5 million BPD per year. So since 2014 it rose probably 4 million BPD. And there is no sizable new discoveries. Iran and Libya cards were already played and total from them is less then 4 million barrel per day. US output is stagnant. Canadian is down. Where all this additional oil is coming from ?
Iran is currently exporting about 3 million BPD of crude and condensate vs. less than 1 million BPD when the sanctions were in place.
Libya and Nigeria have increased production by about 0.5 BPD undercutting the 1.2 million BPD OPEC production cut.
Turkey already threatened to close their border with Iraqi Kurdistan, halting the 0.6 BPD of oil that the Kurds are exporting through Turkey.
Venezuela problems might take another million BPD off the global market.
KSA has recently been forced to borrow $12.5 billion after borrowing $17.5 billion last year.
Notable quotes:
"... The cartel revised global oil demand growth for 2017 upward by 50,000 barrels per day (BPD) to 1.42 million BPD. ..."
"... China's oil demand rose by 690,000 BPD in July, marking a 6 percent year-over-year (YOY) increase. China's total oil demand reached 11.67 million BPD in July. Year-to-date data indicates an average growth of 550,000 BPD, more than double the 210,000 BPD growth recorded during the same period in 2016. ..."
Oct 04, 2017 | oilprice.com
Monthly Oil Market Report which covers the global oil supply and demand picture through July.

OPEC crude oil production decreased by 79,000 BPD in August to average 32.8 million BPD. This marks the first OPEC production decline since April and was primarily driven by sizable outages in Libya.

The cartel revised global oil demand growth for 2017 upward by 50,000 barrels per day (BPD) to 1.42 million BPD. The group reports strong growth from the OECD Americas, Europe, and China. Global oil demand for 2018 is expected to grow by 1.35 million BPD, an upward revision of 70,000 BPD from the previous report. Growth next year is expected to be driven by OECD Europe and China.

China's oil demand rose by 690,000 BPD in July, marking a 6 percent year-over-year (YOY) increase. China's total oil demand reached 11.67 million BPD in July. Year-to-date data indicates an average growth of 550,000 BPD, more than double the 210,000 BPD growth recorded during the same period in 2016.

China's gasoline demand was higher by around 0.10 million BPD YOY, driven by robust sports utility vehicle (SUV) sales, which were around 17 percent higher than one year ago. China's overall vehicle sales in July rose by 4 percent YOY, with total sales reaching 1.7 million units.

The numbers from China are interesting given the constant refrain of weakening Chinese demand. This seems to be wishful thinking based on China's investments in clean technology.

[Sep 27, 2017] Interviewed this morning, Harold Hamm calls EIA STEO projections flat out wrong. US will be lucky to achieve 9.35 million b/day by December

Sep 21, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

Energy News, 09/21/2017 at 3:43 pm

Interviewed this morning, Harold Hamm calls EIA STEO projections flat out wrong.

US will be lucky to achieve 9.35 million b/day by December.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-21/shale-billionaire-hamm-slams-exaggerated-u-s-oil-projections

[Jul 23, 2017] Most of us have underestimated how successful light-tight frac oil has now become but what is more important we underestimated how successful MRC and associated technology has been for many gulf nations. They postponed the day of reckoning for at least a decade.

Notable quotes:
"... Not only will enhanced recovery affect the economics of present unconventional operations, it has the potential to greatly expand the application to numerous, older conventional sources as well as undeveloped – yet recognized – formations with hydrocarbons within them ..."
"... But the problem isn't so much whether oil is still in the ground, but how much it costs to get it out. ..."
"... New technologies that don't reduce costs to make oil profitable to drill aren't all that helpful in keeping the oil flowing. Right now we have LTO because the system accepts financial loss. That could change if alternatives promise a better financial return. ..."
"... The way I understand the term Maximum Reservoir Contact (MRC) is that it refers to multiple laterals being drilled from a single vertical wellbore. ..."
"... From what I have read MRC technology is a great fit for a number of fields in the gulf countries and may be practical in other places including USA. Of course one of the problems applying it here is that I think you need a unitized field, or at least a very large area to be implemented. ..."
"... At that time, I was amazed to learn of the multi lateral, extended reach drilling using ultra sophisticated whipstocks in the mid east, offshore, and – if memory serves – Sakhalin. Probably do need large reservoir to be viable. ..."
"... The article says this: "On the supply side, global oil production advanced by 0.5 percent to reach 92.2 million BPD." You know, factoring in both population growth and world economic growth, this isn't much. There might be a crunch coming. ..."
Jul 23, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

New technologies did postoned the day f reconing, but they can't increase the total amount of oil availble so the effects are temporary. Adn they are costly. right now low oil price is financial scam.

dclonghorn

says: 07/20/2017 at 1:05 pm

I agree with George that getting stuff wrong is no reason to quit trying. To do so would be stupid. To look back at why projections were wrong is a much more interesting thing. To that end, I have been looking back at predictions from the 2005 to 2010 period, starting with Simmons and progressing to the oil drum and some others. I do not have the technical expertise that many of these people had, but looking back is a lot easier than looking forward.

In my opinion, there are two big reasons the projected decline hasn't come about yet. First, most of the work done was based upon inferred data. Because, the GCC countries don't release much, most of the folks making these projections took whatever info was available and ran with it. I don't blame them for this, as I believe they did what they could with what was out there, but I think they went too far in some instances, and confirmation bias is evident.

A part of Mr Simmon's efforts to deal with the lack of hard data was his review of many SPE papers dealing with various issues. I believe one of these papers is a key to understanding how KSA and others have exceeded projected production. Paper (SPE 88986) deals with well "Shaybah-220 A Maximum Reservoir Contact (MRC) Well and its implications for developing tight-facies reservoirs." https://www.onepetro.org/download/journal-paper/SPE-88986-PA?id=journal-paper%2FSPE-88986-PA

This paper by N.G. Saleri describes the efforts to develop the Shaybah Field. After some initial efforts to produce there were unsatisfactory, Aramco kept on trying and came up with the Shaybah 220, a well with eight laterals of around 40,000 feet of reservoir contact, and producing around 12,000 bbls per day for its first year. Saleri describes this as a "disruptive technology".

Simmons devoted a lot of attention to Shaybah, calling it "The difficult last Giant". He included a discussion of horizontal and MRC wells including the aforementioned paper, but I don't think he fully appreciated these MRC wells. They have allowed KSA to produce lots of oil in many fields that were in decline. Another example is shown by the 2008 paper by Mr Asaad Al-Towalib on "Advanced completion technologies in successful extraction of attic oil reserves in a mature giant carbonate field." In this paper they describe how this technology was adapted to produce the attic oil of Abqaiq, KSA's oldest giant. To summarize, Abqaiq had been produced since the 40's, and had produced about 57% of the original oil, but had around 25 feet of attic oil in poorer reservoir that they had not been able to produce. They tried to produce this attic oil via vertical and conventional horizontal wells with little success. They improved their technology and eventually completed many successful MRC wells with geosteering which allowed them to follow structure, and intelligent completions which delay the effects of coning.

So, much as most of us would have underestimated how successful our light-tight frac oil has now become, many underestimated how successful MRC, and associated technology has been for many gulf nations.

I think the next question is what happens next, so using Abqaiq as an example, after successfully producing that attic oil is there another encore or does it become just a depleted field? They have also used this technology to get more out of Ghawar and many other fields, do they have room to run, or are they done?

coffeeguyzz says: 07/20/2017 at 1:52 pm
dclonghorn

That is simply an outstanding display of, and description of, a serious effort in understanding what is unfolding in the world of hydrocarbon production.

I would suggest that the entire concept of MRC is being currently applied in this 'shale revolution' primarily in the area of maximizing recovery rates, aka better fracturing/completion processes.

Not only will enhanced recovery affect the economics of present unconventional operations, it has the potential to greatly expand the application to numerous, older conventional sources as well as undeveloped – yet recognized – formations with hydrocarbons within them

Boomer II says: 07/20/2017 at 2:05 pm
But the problem isn't so much whether oil is still in the ground, but how much it costs to get it out.

New technologies that don't reduce costs to make oil profitable to drill aren't all that helpful in keeping the oil flowing. Right now we have LTO because the system accepts financial loss. That could change if alternatives promise a better financial return.

Glenn E Stehle says: 07/20/2017 at 2:24 pm
coffeeguyzz,

The way I understand the term Maximum Reservoir Contact (MRC) is that it refers to multiple laterals being drilled from a single vertical wellbore.

I've seen this done in the Devonian in west Texas, but that is a conventional reservoir. Has it ever been tried in US shale?

The only thing I've heard of that sounds like MRC is this project (see attached graphic), but it is still in the pilot stage.

Oxy believes it can lower cost per lateral by between $0.5 and $1.0 million, and reduce operating cost by over 50% with this technology.

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4069021-occidental-petroleum-corporation-2017-q1-results-earnings-call-slides

coffeeguyzz says: 07/20/2017 at 3:01 pm
Glenn

I kind of 'flipped' the MRC concept in dc's post of 'more iron meeting' oil to 'more oil meeting iron' via the greatly enhanced fracturing/conductivity recently taking place in the shales.

Regarding multilaterals, the early (2007-2009) Bakken wells regularly contained 2 or 3 lateral from one vertical.
They used the term "turkey legs' and can still be easily seen on the ND DMR Gis map.

Virtually no one except Slawson still does this and even then, only rarely.

(Correction, might still be done in Madison formation, especially Bottineau county. Would have to check. Gis map is easiest way to literally see this).

BHP said a year ago that they would attempt to try this in the future, but I've not kept close track of their efforts.

dclonghorn says: 07/20/2017 at 3:47 pm
Thank you very much coffee, I appreciate your kind words. From what I have read MRC technology is a great fit for a number of fields in the gulf countries and may be practical in other places including USA. Of course one of the problems applying it here is that I think you need a unitized field, or at least a very large area to be implemented.

Do you know if other areas have adopted this?

coffeeguyzz says: 07/20/2017 at 6:54 pm
dc

I'm pretty sure you know a whole lot more about this stuff than I do.

I started digging into it a few years back when the series of stunningly high IPs started to emerge from the Deep Utica.
Big buzz developed about feasibility of sharing hardware/facilities to develop Marcellus and Utica together.

At that time, I was amazed to learn of the multi lateral, extended reach drilling using ultra sophisticated whipstocks in the mid east, offshore, and – if memory serves – Sakhalin. Probably do need large reservoir to be viable.

Time will tell if this approach makes sense in the shales. Like everything else, economics will be the ultimate determinator.

Boomer II says: 07/20/2017 at 10:03 am
The article says this: "On the supply side, global oil production advanced by 0.5 percent to reach 92.2 million BPD." You know, factoring in both population growth and world economic growth, this isn't much. There might be a crunch coming.
MASTERMIND says: 07/20/2017 at 12:53 pm
The 1973 so-called "oil embargo" which reduced oil supply to the USA by somewhere around 3% or 4%. It slammed the US economy, caused the largest stock market crash since the great depression, doubled gasoline prices, severely damaged US industry and caused a 55 MPH national speed limit which remained in effect for ten years.

Just wait until we experience a 10% or 20% drop in oil supplies. In a few years or sooner we certainly will. When it hits the economic and social damage will be catastrophic.

The end of Western Civilization, from China to Europe, to the US, will not occur when oil runs out. The economic and social chaos will occur when supplies are merely reduced sufficiently. As former Saudi Oil Minister Sheikh Yamani once said "The Oil Age may come to an end for a shortage of oil".

Watcher says: 07/21/2017 at 11:16 am
Bakken NGLs.
http://badlandsngls.com/uploads/1/BadlandsPresentationforBakkenConfMay16.pdf

They are talking about 25-30% and the verbage talks about it being in railcars . . . the suggestion is it's part of the total Bakken flow of 1 million bpd. 25-30% of that is ethane? What a scam this would be.

[Jun 27, 2017] Inflation and money velocity

Notable quotes:
"... It implies that it is money supply that contributes to inflation. However it is not money supply that contributes to inflation it is income. That is money times the velocity of money ..."
Jun 27, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com

djb , June 27, 2017 at 02:56 AM

Now I just read an article by some guy with the typical quantitative easing is bad because it just dilutes everyones wealth , debases the currency value and and all that

This is nonsense

It implies that it is money supply that contributes to inflation. However it is not money supply that contributes to inflation it is income. That is money times the velocity of money

and in fact it is not income that contributes to inflation it is income times the propensity to consume of that income

money in bonds is not really actively involved in income except for the interest it's earning

so when the central bank "prints money" and then uses that money to buy bonds all the central bank is doing is exchanging one form of inactive wealth with another form of inactive wealth

that is neither the value of the bond nor the value of the money that the fed printed by the bond were actively involved in income anyway, except for the interest earned

therefore they do not affect inflation

in fact the value that bond at this point wasn't about to be used for consumption anyway, it was just being held

after the fed purchases the bond, that the former bondholder now has cash that is no longer getting a return, (as now the fed is getting the return)

which will prompt the former bondholder to look for a place to put that money

the idea is that the former bondholder will invest the money, that that money will find its way into funding ventures that cause increased employment, income and production

and it is that investment that will stimulate the economy

like maybe buy other bonds and the issuer of the bond gets that money and can invest in their business, creating jobs and income and production for their employees.

Which then will have the usual multiplier effect if we are at less than full employment

and at any point the fed can sell back the bond reducing the money supply

in the meantime we might have been able to keep the economy functioning at a high level, keep more people from being excluded from the benefits, and not lose all that production that is so essential to increasing our quality of life

djb -> djb... , June 27, 2017 at 02:58 AM
another way to look at inactive money is to say that part of the money supply has no velocity, ie it is not contributing to income.

[Jun 26, 2017] How Can A Human Justify Asking To Be Paid $15 To Work Zero Hedge

Jun 26, 2017 | www.zerohedge.com
Authored by Mike Shedlock via MishTalk.com,

McDonald's announced it will replace cashiers in 2,500 stores with self-service kiosks.

The story buzzed across the internet but Business Insider reported McDonald's shoots down fears it is planning to replace cashiers with kiosks .

"McDonald's has repeatedly said that adding kiosks won't result in mass layoffs, but will instead move some cashiers to other parts of the restaurant where it's adding new jobs, such as table service. The burger chain reiterated that position again on Friday."

Is McDonald's denial believable? What would you expect the company to say?

McDonald's has to deny the story or it might have a hiring problem, a morale problem, and other problems.

"Our CEO, Steve Easterbrook, has said on many occasions that self-order kiosks in McDonald's restaurants are not a labor replacement," a spokeswoman told Business Insider. "They provide an opportunity to transition back-of-the-house positions to more customer service roles such as concierges and table service where they are able to truly engage with guests and enhance the dining experience."

Move cashiers to table service? Really?

Yeah, right.

An interesting political rule from the British sitcom "Yes, Minister" is to "never believe anything until it's officially denied".

Will Humans Be Necessary?

When someone can be replaced by a robot, how can the push for $15 be justified?

Psychology Today asks Will Humans Be Necessary?

Will automation kill as many jobs as is feared? A widely cited Oxford University study predicts that 47% of jobs could be automated in the next decade of two. Price Waterhouse pegs the U.S. risk at 38%. McKinsey estimates that 45% of what people are paid for could be automated using existing technology!

No less than Tesla's Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking fear the loss of jobs will cause world cataclysm.

Lower-level jobs at risk

Let's start with jobs likely to be eliminated, starting with the present and with those lower-level jobs.

Already, don't you prefer a ATM to a teller, self-checkout to the supermarket checker, drive-through tolls rather than stop for the toll-taker, automated airline check-in rather than waiting for a clerk, shopping on Amazon rather than fighting traffic, parking, and the check-out experience with a live clerk, assuming the store has what you want in your size? Indeed, malls are closing while online retailers led by Amazon are growing.

As minimum wage and mandated benefits rise, fast-food restaurants especially are accelerating use of, for example, order-taking kiosks, which McDonald's is rolling out in 2,500 stores, robotic burger flippers and fry cooks, even pizza, ramen and sushi makers . Even that fail-safe job, barista, is at-risk, Bosch now makes an automated barista . Mid-range restaurants such as Olive Garden, Outback, and Applebee are replacing waiters with tabletop tablets . Will you really miss having your conversation interrupted by a waiter hawking hors de oeuvres and expecting a 15+% tip? If you owned a fast-food franchise, mighn't you be looking to replace people with automated solutions? Can it really be long until there are completely automated fast-food and even mid-range restaurants?

Robots are already being used as security guards. There are humanoid robots that can move heavy boxes, walk in uneven snow, and get up, not annoyed when thrown to the ground. (And won't sue for failure to supervise or an OSHA violation.)

Instead of hiring architects for tens of thousands of dollars, many people are opting to spend just a few hundred bucks to instantly get any of thousands of often award-winning house plans which, if needed, can be inexpensively customized to suit. Far fewer architects needed.

BlackRock, the world's largest fund company has replaced seven of its 53 analysts with AI-driven stock-picking.

The remaining jobs

In such a world, how can a human justify asking to be paid to work?

Four scenarios

The range of scenarios would seem circumscribed by these. How likely do you think each of these are?

  • Continue on the current path: The world continues to slowly make progress, e.g., birth rates declining in developing nations, slowed global warming, more education and health care. Those positives would be mitigated by declining jobs, more concentration of wealth.
  • World socialism.
  • Mass population reduction, for example, by nuclear war, pandemic, or, per Clive Cussler, highly communicable biovirus simultaneously put into the water supply of a half-dozen cruise ships?
  • A world run by machines and the few people they deem worthy.
  • Here is a debate between an optimistic and a pessimist on the future of the world.

    The truth may well be something we can't even envision. After all, he who lives by the crystal ball usually eats broken glass.

    Note that Psychology Today author Marty Nemko did not ask about $15. He wonders if pay for some jobs is worth anything at all.

    saudade -> 2banana , Jun 26, 2017 5:15 AM

    How about just reinstitute slavery and be done with it.

    Erek -> AVmaster , Jun 26, 2017 6:21 AM

    When all the jobs are taken over by machines there won't be anybody with money left to buy or pay for anything at all. WTF then? A world of no work is a world of little or no income. The ones who survive are the ones who know how to provide for themselves without the use of currency (barter, trade, farming, etc ).

    crazzziecanuck -> Erek , Jun 26, 2017 6:59 AM

    Before that happens, these machines will be heavily vandalized. It's all part of the inevitable ISEP problem (It's Someone Else's Problem).

    For one firm to do this, it's understandable, but for an entire sector, they're ripping their face off and everyone else's. But those making the decisions are unwilling or unable to care about even their long-term positions. To start, they largely exist to kick the can down the road until ... you guess it! ... it's ISEP. It's a problem for the next round of overcompensated intellectual-light and morally-bankrupt executives.

    But don't think "the market" is going to fix that. Markets never do. Markets have failures all the time yet people still pretend like they have this inherent magical property. Markets would be fine ... in a human-free world ... because anything a sociopath touches will be turned to sh*t. And power, be it government or "market" will attract these people. Any ideology can work, but only until the sociopaths game the sh*t out of the system and destroy it from the inside.

    Now, the less stupid people in these positions will realize the ISEP problem but know full well the government of the future can be extorted into, effectively, bailing them out somehow. Think of the "mandate" of ObamaCare and realize "thinkers" at the Heritage Institute saw this down the road back in the early 1980s. Right now, I'm starting to wonder if this whole "livable wage" is just a proxy bailout on behalf of large actors like McDonald's (who can no longer expect growth as the incomes and costs at the bottom shrink in the former and explode in the latter). That leadership knows full well that even if they took a leadership position on living wages, they'll be expected to be the only ones. The sociopaths at the other firms will think ... you got it! ... ISEP. Those firms can continue on f**king their employees while a large firm like McDonald's is expected to shoulder the entire burden or drive them into bankruptcy. In either of those cases, the status quo remains across the industry.

    FIRE-HC-E (Financial, Insurance, Real Estate, Healthcare, Education; the major rackets of ourlives) is destroying the markets for not just McDonald's employees, but also markets for other brick-and-mortar companies like Apple or Home Depot. This is why I focus heavily on our poor leadership because the leadership of the industrial sectors as a whole just sat back and watched as the likes of Wall Street slowly eroded the bedrock of the economy.

    Everything is a racket.

    Took Red Pill -> blown income , Jun 26, 2017 7:40 AM

    The author, Mike Shedlock, links to a POS article in Psychology Today, authored by Marty Nemko Ph.D. Did anyone else read that? It says under An optimistic vision "Longer term, it's even possible that we'll be able to accomplish more of what we want by using gene therapy or a chip embedded in our brain -Research to make that happen is already being funded by the federal government." Ah, no thank you!

    Mike also asks " how can the push for $15 be justified? And links to the Psycholgy Today article which say "we may also need a guaranteed basic income paid heavily by successful corporations and wealthy individuals". Which view do you support Mike?

    Psychology Today article also states "What about journalism? Even in major media outlets, many journalism jobs have already been lost to the armies of people willing to write for free. In addition, software such as Quill can replace some human journalists" Maybe in this case, that's not a bad thing.

    NidStyles -> Took Red Pill , Jun 26, 2017 8:05 AM

    More like Shylock....

    If it's being printed commercially, it's probably bullshit.

    [Jun 26, 2017] In Towns Already Hit by Steel Mill Closings, a New Casualty: Retail Jobs

    Jun 26, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com

    Fred C. Dobbs , June 25, 2017 at 09:03 PM

    In Towns Already Hit by Steel Mill Closings, a New Casualty: Retail Jobs

    https://nyti.ms/2u369Ph
    NYT - RACHEL ABRAMS and ROBERT GEBELOFF - JUNE 25, 2017

    Thousands of workers face unemployment as retailers
    struggle to adapt to online shopping. But even as
    e-commerce grows, it isn't absorbing these workers.

    JOHNSTOWN, Pa. - Dawn Nasewicz comes from a family of steelworkers, with jobs that once dominated the local economy. She found her niche in retail.

    She manages a store, Ooh La La, that sells prom dresses and embroidered jeans at a local mall. But just as the jobs making automobile springs and rail anchors disappeared, local retail jobs are now vanishing.

    "I need my income," said Ms. Nasewicz, who was told that her store will close as early as August. "I'm 53. I have no idea what I'm going to do."

    Ms. Nasewicz is another retail casualty, one of tens of thousands of workers facing unemployment nationwide as the industry struggles to adapt to online shopping.
    Continue reading the main story
    Photo
    A sporting goods store in a Johnstown, Pa., mall is having a going-out-of-business sale. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times

    Small cities in the Midwest and Northeast are particularly vulnerable. When major industries left town, retail accounted for a growing share of the job market in places like Johnstown, Decatur, Ill., and Saginaw, Mich. Now, the work force is getting hit a second time, and there is little to fall back on.

    Moreover, while stores in these places are shedding jobs because of e-commerce, e-commerce isn't absorbing these workers. Growth in e-commerce jobs like marketing and engineering, while strong, is clustered around larger cities far away. Rural counties and small metropolitan areas account for about 23 percent of traditional American retail employment, but they are home to just 13 percent of e-commerce positions.

    E-commerce has also fostered a boom in other industries, including warehouses. But most of those jobs are being created in larger metropolitan areas, an analysis of Census Bureau business data shows.

    Almost all customer fulfillment centers run by the online shopping behemoth Amazon are in metropolitan areas with more than 250,000 people - close to the bulk of its customers - according to a list of locations compiled by MWPVL International, a logistics consulting firm. An Amazon spokeswoman noted, however, that the company had recently opened warehouses in two distressed cities in larger metropolitan areas, Fall River, Mass., and Joliet, Ill.

    The Johnstown metropolitan area, in western Pennsylvania, has lost 19 percent of its retail jobs since 2001, and the future is uncertain. At least a dozen of Ooh La La's neighbors at the mall have closed, and a "Going out of business" banner hangs across the front of the sporting goods store Gander Mountain.

    "Every time you lose a corner store, every time you lose a restaurant, every time you lose a small clothing store, it detracts from the quality of life, as well as the job loss," said John McGrath, a professor of management at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.

    This city is perhaps still best known for a flood that ravaged it nearly 130 years ago. After rebuilding, Johnstown eventually became prosperous from its steel and offered a clear path to the middle class. For generations, people could walk out of high school and into a steady factory job.

    But today, the area bears the marks of a struggling town. Its population has dwindled, and addiction treatment centers and Dollar Generals stand in place of corner grocers and department stores like Glosser Brothers, once owned by the family of Stephen Miller, President Trump's speechwriter and a policy adviser.

    When Mr. Trump spoke about "rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation" in his Inaugural Address, people like Donald Bonk, a local economic development consultant, assumed that Mr. Miller - who grew up in California but spent summers in Johnstown - was writing about the old Bethlehem Steel buildings that still hug long stretches of the Little Conemaugh River.

    The county voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump, eight years after it helped to elect Barack Obama. (It also voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but not by as wide a margin.)

    Here and in similar towns, when the factory jobs left, a greater share of the work force ended up in retail.

    Sometimes that meant big-box retailers like Walmart, which were often blamed for destroying mom-and-pop stores but at least created other jobs for residents. The damage from e-commerce plays out differently. Digital firms may attract customers from small towns, but they are unlikely to employ them.

    Some remaining retailers are straining for solutions. ...

    [Jun 25, 2017] The idea of basic income is incompatible with the neoliberalism

    Notable quotes:
    "... What's needed is not the arbitrary adoption of UBI, but a conversation about what a welfare state is for. In their incendiary book Inventing the Future, the authors Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek argue for UBI but link it to three other demands: collectively controlled automation, a reduction in the working week, and a diminution of the work ethic. Williams and Srnicek believe that without these other provisions, UBI could essentially act as an excuse to get rid of the welfare state. ..."
    "... What's needed is not the arbitrary adoption of UBI, but an entirely different conversation about what a welfare state is for. As David Lammy MP said, after the Grenfell Tower disaster: "This is about whether the welfare state is just about schools and hospitals or whether it is about a safety net." The conversation, in light of UBI, could go even further: it's possible for the welfare state not just to act as a safety net, but as a tool for all of us to do less work and spend more time with our loved ones, pursuing personal interests or engaging in our communities. ..."
    Jun 25, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com

    Christopher H. June 25, 2017 at 07:01 AM

    https://lanekenworthy.net/2017/06/23/in-work-poverty-in-the-us/

    Lane Kenworthy's article shows how America is already great, with many more people working in poverty than in the UK, Ireland or Australia. Maybe the robots stole better paying jobs? Maybe they need more education and to skill up?

    Christopher H. , June 25, 2017 at 07:02 AM

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/23/universal-basic-income-ubi-welfare-state?CMP=share_btn_tw

    Love the idea of a universal basic income? Be careful what you wish for

    Ellie Mae O'Hagan

    Friday 23 June 2017 10.36 EDT

    Yes, UBI could be an important part of a radical agenda. But beware: its proponents include neoliberals hostile to the very idea of the welfare state

    For some time now, the radical left has been dipping its toes in the waters of universal basic income (or unconditional basic income, depending on who you talk to). The idea is exactly as it sounds: the government would give every citizen – working or not – a fixed sum of money every week or month, with no strings attached. As time goes on, universal basic income (UBI) has gradually been transitioning from the radical left into the mainstream: it's Green party policy, is picking up steam among SNP and Labour MPs and has been advocated by commentators including this newspaper's very own John Harris.

    Supporters of the idea got a boost this week with the news that the Finnish government has piloted the idea with 2,000 of its citizens with very positive results. Under the scheme, the first of its kind in Europe, participants receive €560 (£473) every month for two years without any requirements to fill in forms or actively seek work. If anyone who receives the payment finds work, their UBI continues. Many participants have reported "decreased stress, greater incentives to find work and more time to pursue business ideas." In March, Ontario in Canada started trialling a similar scheme.

    Given that UBI necessarily promotes universalism and is being pursued by liberal governments rather than overtly rightwing ones, it's tempting to view it as an inherently leftwing conceit. In January, MEPs voted to consider UBI as a solution to the mass unemployment that might result from robots taking over manual jobs.

    From this perspective, UBI could be rolled out as a distinctly rightwing initiative. In fact it does bear some similarity to the government's shambolic universal credit scheme, which replaces a number of benefits with a one-off, lower, monthly payment (though it goes only to people already on certain benefits, of course). In the hands of the right, UBI could easily be seen as a kind of universal credit for all, undermining the entire benefits system and providing justification for paying the poorest a poverty income.

    In fact, can you imagine what UBI would be like if it were rolled out by this government, which only yesterday promised to fight a ruling describing the benefits cap as inflicting "real misery to no good purpose"?

    Despite the fact that the families who brought a case against the government had children too young to qualify for free childcare, the Department for Work and Pensions still perversely insisted that "the benefit cap incentivises work". It's not hard to imagine UBI being administered by the likes of A4e (now sold and renamed PeoplePlus), which carried out back-to-work training for the government, and saw six of its employees receive jail sentences for defrauding the government of £300,000. UBI cannot be a progressive initiative as long as the people with the power to implement it are hostile to the welfare state as a whole.

    What's needed is not the arbitrary adoption of UBI, but a conversation about what a welfare state is for. In their incendiary book Inventing the Future, the authors Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek argue for UBI but link it to three other demands: collectively controlled automation, a reduction in the working week, and a diminution of the work ethic. Williams and Srnicek believe that without these other provisions, UBI could essentially act as an excuse to get rid of the welfare state.

    What's needed is not the arbitrary adoption of UBI, but an entirely different conversation about what a welfare state is for. As David Lammy MP said, after the Grenfell Tower disaster: "This is about whether the welfare state is just about schools and hospitals or whether it is about a safety net." The conversation, in light of UBI, could go even further: it's possible for the welfare state not just to act as a safety net, but as a tool for all of us to do less work and spend more time with our loved ones, pursuing personal interests or engaging in our communities.

    UBI has this revolutionary potential – but not if it is simply parachuted into a political economy that has been pursuing punitive welfare policies for the last 30 years.

    On everything from climate change and overpopulation to yawning inequality and mass automation, modern western economies face unprecedented challenges. These conditions are frightening but they also open up the possibility of the kind of radical policies we haven't seen since the postwar period. UBI could be the start of this debate, but it must not be the end.

    Christopher H. -> Christopher H.... , June 25, 2017 at 07:06 AM
    "In January, MEPs voted to consider UBI as a solution to the mass unemployment that might result from robots taking over manual jobs."

    MEPs stands for Members of the European Parliament.

    Julio -> Christopher H.... , June 25, 2017 at 08:41 AM
    One of the reasons I support UBI is that it refocuses political discussions to some of the fundamental issues, as this article points out.
    libezkova -> Julio ... , June 25, 2017 at 11:21 AM
    > "One of the reasons I support UBI is that it refocuses political discussions to some of the fundamental issues, as this article points out."

    I agree. UBI might probably be the most viable first step of Trump's MAGA. But he betrayed his electorate. Similarly it would be a good step in Obama's "change we can believe in" which never materialized. The level of automation that currently exists makes UBI quite a possibility.

    But...

    The problem is the key idea of neoliberalism is "socialism for rich and feudalism and/or plantation slavery for poor." So neither Republicans, nor Clinton Democrats are interested in UBI. It is anathema for neoliberals.

    [Jun 15, 2017] Just 35 percent of the fleet – mostly large bulkers, tankers and container ships – is responsible for 80 percent of shipping's fuel consumption

    Jun 14, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com

    im1dc, June 14, 2017 at 03:54 PM

    The Reducing Ocean Shipping CO2 Paradox

    Hey, maybe they should go back to sails...

    http://maritime-executive.com/article/big-ships-account-for-most-of-shippings-co2

    "Big Ships Account for 80 Percent of Shipping's CO2"

    By Paul Benecki...2017-06-13...20:16:44

    "At Nor-Shipping 2017, researchers with DNV GL released a study that points to the difficulty of reducing the industry's CO2 output below current levels. The problem is structural: big cargo vessels emit 80 percent of shipping's greenhouse gases, but they're also the industry's most efficient ships, and squeezing out additional improvements may be a challenge.

    Just 35 percent of the fleet – mostly large bulkers, tankers and container ships – is responsible for 80 percent of shipping's fuel consumption, according to Christos Chryssakis, DNV GL's group leader for greener shipping. Unfortunately, these are already the fleet's most efficient vessels per ton-mile. "This is a paradox, but if we want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we actually have to improve the best performers," Chryssakis says."...

    libezkova - , June 14, 2017 at 05:58 PM
    That's a valid observation.

    Similar situation with trucking, but in the USA around one half of gas consumption goes into private cars. So by improving efficiency of private fleet by 100% you can cut total consumption only by 25%. All this talk about electrical cars like Tesla Model 3 right now is mostly cheap talk. They by-and-large belong to the luxury segment.

    [Jun 11, 2017] Estimates vary, but some believe 90% of all gold mined in 5000 years is still held by humans as property.

    Jun 11, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com

    djb , June 09, 2017 at 02:09 PM

    "Bitcoin and the conditions for a takeover of fiat money - longandvariable"

    conditions are:

    "hell freezing over"

    DrDick - , June 09, 2017 at 04:27 PM
    Pretty much. Bitcoin really is the quintessential "fiat money" (a redundancy, since all money is fiat currency, even gold and silver).
    cm - , June 09, 2017 at 10:07 PM
    I would say precious metals are subject to tighter physical constraints (first of all, availability) than most of what have been considered "fiat" currencies.

    E.g. emergency "fiat" coin has been produced from cheaper metals, e.g. iron, aluminum, or brass. Forgery-resistant paper currency is not cheap, but probably still cheaper than precious metals.

    All that is beside the point - today's currencies are only virtual accounting entries (though with a not so cheap supervision and auditing infrastructure attached to enforce scarcity, or rather limit issuance to approved parties).

    mulp - , June 10, 2017 at 03:00 PM
    Money is proxy for labor.

    Gold and silver prices are determined by labor costs of production.

    Cartels act to limit global supply to push prices above labor costs, but even the Cartels have trouble resisting selling into the market when the price far exceeds labor cost of the marginal unit of production.

    In today's political economy, the barrier to entry is rule of law which requires paying workers to produce without causing harm to others. The lowest cost new gold production is all criminal, involving theft of gold from land the miners have no property rights, done by causing harm and death to bystanders, with protection of the criminal operations coming from criminals who capture most of the profit from the workers.

    Estimates vary, but some believe 90% of all gold mined in 5000 years is still held by humans as property. If a method of extracting gold from sea water at a labor cost of $300 an ounce, the "destruction of wealth" would be many trillions of dollars.

    All that's needed is a method of processing sea water that could be built for $300 per ounce of lifetime asset life. A $300 million in labor cost processing ship that kept working for 30 years producing over that 30 years a million ounces of gold would quickly drive the price of gold to $350-400. If it doesn't, a thousand ships would be quickly built that would add a billion ounces to the global supply in 30 years representing 1/6th global supply after 5000 years.

    Unless gold suddenly gained new uses, say dresses that every upper middle class women had to have, and that cost more than $300 an ounce to return to industrial gold, such production would force the price of gold to or below labor cost.

    However, a dollar coin plated one atom thick in 3 cents of gold will always have a value of a dollar's worth of labor. The number of minutes of labor or the skills required for each second of labor can change, but as long as the dollar buys labor, it will have a dollar of value.

    If robots do all the work, then a dollar becomes meaningless. A theoretical economy of robots doing all the work means a car can be priced at a dollar or a gigadollars, but the customers must be given that dollar or that gigadollars, or the robots will produce absolutely nothing. Robots producing a million cars a month which no one has the money to buy means the cars cost zero. To simply produce cars that are never sold means the marginal cost is zero.

    cm - , June 11, 2017 at 10:26 AM
    Money is a rationing mechanism to control the use and distribution of scarce economic resources. Labor (of various specializations) is a scarce resource, or the scarcest resource commanding the highest price, only if other resources are more plentiful.

    There are many cases where labor, even specialized labor, is not the critical bottleneck, and is not the majority part of the price. E.g. in the case of patents where the owner can charge what the market will bear due to intellectual property enforcement. Or any other part of actual or figurative "toll collection" with ownership or control of critical economic means or infrastructure. That's pure rent extraction.

    Some things cost a lot *not* because of the labor involved - a lot of labor (not spent on producing the actual good) can be involved because the obtainable price can pay for it.

    DrDick - , June 11, 2017 at 11:57 AM
    The value of precious metals or gems is also entirely arbitrary. They only have value because someone says they do, as they have little utilitarian value.
    cm - , June 09, 2017 at 10:14 PM
    The initial allure of bitcoin has been "anonymity", until people figured out that all transactions are publicly recorded with a certain amount of metadata. This can be partially defeated by "mixing services", i.e. systematic laundering. There have also been alleged frauds (complete with arrests) that got a lot of press in the scene, where bitcoin "safekeeping services" (I don't quite want to say "banks") "lost" currency or in any case couldn't return deposits to depositors. No deposit insurance, not much in the way of contract enforcement, etc.

    Then there were stories about computer viruses and malware targeted at stealing account credentials or "wallet files".

    DrDick - , June 11, 2017 at 12:00 PM
    FWIW, I regard bitcoin as a colossal folly intended to appeal to crazed libertarian idiots, goldbug nutters, and criminals and has little utility or real value. Investing in bubble gum cards makes more sense.
    DrDick - , June 11, 2017 at 12:01 PM
    It is also the ultimate pyramid scheme.

    [Jun 03, 2017] Energy production and GDP

    www.counterpunch.org

    pgl , June 03, 2017 at 11:03 AM

    Jun 03, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    Menzie Chinn:

    http://econbrowser.com/archives/2017/06/why-did-the-president-rely-upon-a-consultants-report-for-his-decision-on-the-paris-accord

    "the President cited this NERA study, commissioned by the American Council for Capital Formation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Why didn't the President rely upon his own experts within the White House?"

    Because his CEA is not yet staffed. The NERA "study":

    http://assets.accf.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/170316-NERA-ACCF-Full-Report.pdf

    NERA uses its "model" to forecast that the cost to real GDP by2040 will be a 9% shortfall and the cost to employment will by 31.6 million jobs. Now that sounds BAD, BAD. But it sort of reminds me of the kind of "quality analysis" we might expect from the Heritage Foundation. Of course that is what the American Council for Capital Formation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce paid NERA to do.

    libezkova - , June 03, 2017 at 01:29 PM
    Any 2040 forecast of GDP needs to be based on the forecast of the price of fossil fuels.

    http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/energy/energy-outlook

    libezkova - , June 03, 2017 at 01:44 PM
    They predict:

    "World GDP doubles from 2015 to 2040, with non-OECD GDP increasing 175 percent and OECD GDP growing 60 percent"

    im1dc - , June 03, 2017 at 02:16 PM
    I learned much reading this about Russia's taxing of its crude oil...you may find it interesting as well...

    Careful though, Irina Slav neglected to mention that Russia never stopped producing as much oil as it could during OPEC's deal to cut production so this is hardly a balanced article

    Putin and the Russian Oligarchs are not going to cut production, Mother Russia (Putin) needs the cash flow (as do the other OPEC cheaters)

    http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/OPEC-Cuts-Send-Russias-Oil-Heartland-Into-Decline.html

    "OPEC Cuts Send Russia's Oil Heartland Into Decline"

    By Irina Slav...Jun 03, 2017,...2:00 PM CDT

    "Western Siberia is to Russia what the Permian is to the U.S. Well, kind of. Kind of in a sense that it's one of the longest-producing oil regions and there's still a lot of oil in it. Yet, thanks to the production cut deal with OPEC, Russian companies have had additional motivation to move to new territories in the east and the north, where taxes are lower.

    In Russia, the older the fields, the higher the taxes operators have to pay. Now that the country has pledged to continue cutting 300,000 bpd for another nine months, the most obvious choices for the cut are the mature Western Siberian fields. In the first quarter of 2017, for example, output at Rosneft's Yugansk field fell by 4.2 percent, Bloomberg reported.

    Production at other Western Siberian fields is set for a decline as well, with the daily output rate from lower-tax deposits in the Caspian Sea, Eastern Siberia, and the North seen to rise to 866,000 bpd by the end of the year, or 74 percent on the year. The shift away from mature fields to new ones will continue over the medium term, according to BofA analyst Karen Kostanian, as overall Russian output grows. No wonder, as tax relief on new projects sometimes reaches 90 percent.

    Lukoil's output from the Filanovsky field in the Caspian, for instance, is taxed at 15 percent at a price per barrel of US$50. The average for mature fields is 58.1 percent, in a combination of mineral resource tax and export duty.

    And this is not the end of it: in 2018, the Kremlin will test a new tax regime for the oil industry as it seeks to maintain production growth and the respective revenues, contributing a solid chunk of federal budget revenues. The new regime, Deputy Energy Minister Alexei Texler told Reuters, will first be introduced for a selection of 21 fields with a combined output of 300,000 bpd for a period of five years.

    In case the government is happy with the results from the test, the new regime would be expanded to the whole industry. Hopes are for a substantial increase in output thanks to the new tax regime: up to 20 percent over the five-year period. These hopes seem to be limited to the Energy Ministry, however, the Finance Ministry worries that the new regime will make it harder to control the flow of tax money. The treasury is also against combining the new regime with already existing tax incentives for the industry.

    So, the move away from what Bloomberg calls the oil heartland of the world's top producer is all but inevitable. It will come at a cost for the state coffers of some US$25 a barrel of Western Siberian oil, or US$2.7 billion annually, according to a Renaissance Capital analyst, but the cost will be worth it. The cost would increase, too, if the current output cut arrangement with OPEC fails to push up prices, which for now is exactly what we are seeing, while the ramp-up in the U.S. oil heartland continues."

    libezkova - , June 03, 2017 at 04:18 PM
    "With enough thrusts pigs can fly. It is just dangerous to stand were they are going to land." This quote is perfectly applicable to OPEC and Russia oil production now.

    Neglecting maintenances and using "in fill" drilling just shorten the life of the traditional oil fields. And new large oil fields are difficult to come by.

    My impression is that most of "cuts" in production by Russia and OPEC are "forced moves". Production was declining from mid 2016 when old investment were already all put into production and few new investments were made since late 2014.

    If we assume the lag period of two years, than in mid 2018 we will feel the results of decisions to cut investments made in 2016.

    In this situation announcing cuts allow to save face.

    The net result is the same -- the oil price should rise to the level when it is economical to develop "more expensive oil" (deep see drilling, Arctic oil and such) as replacement rate in traditional fields is insufficient to maintain the production.

    As long as The US government allow shale companies to generate junk bonds (which will never be repaid representing kind of hidden subsidy) along with "subprime oil", shale can slightly compensate the decline in production, but my impression is that this card was already played. Despite all hoopla from WSJ and other major MSM.

    The fact that oil production for some time was artificially kept flat or slightly rising is strange and might be politically motivated (Saudi) which put other producers in situation when they were force to follow Saudi lead or lose customers. China played Russians against Saudi pretty well and got what they want at lower prices.

    Those "intensification of production" were short term measures which in a long run are detrimental to old oil fields output.

    They might even lessen the total amount of oil that can be extracted from a given field.

    The key question here is: Does Russian oil firms has the amount of money needed to maintain production on the current level (at the current oil price levels ) or not.

    Obama has a chance to move the US personal fleet to hybrid and more economical cars. He lost this chance. SUV is now dominant type of personal cars int he USA, the trend opposite to what it should be. Even hybrid SUVs like RAV4 hybrid get only around 33 miles highway, less in city traffic.

    Transition to Prius type cars (with their around 50 miles per gallon) would allow US consumers to save almost half of oil spend on personal transportation (which probably represent around 60% of total US consumption http://needtoknow.nas.edu/energy/energy-use/transportation/ )

    [May 30, 2017] Looks like the Chinese have been filling their SPR over the last two years

    May 30, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com
    George Kaplan says: 05/24/2017 at 9:57 am
    There's a plausible sounding theory, even though posted on Zero Hedge, that the Chinese have been filling their SPR over the last two years, and that is about to stop. This would mostly account for why OECD storage levels only took about 35% of the supply-demand imbalance. If they do stop then about 1 mmbpd of demand would suddenly be lost, but it might also imply that the real economy demand growth in the period since January 2015 has only been half what it looks to have been. Taking account of the sudden drop and a slower growth in demand would mean a longer time would be needed to draw down OECD stocks. However if the China SPR scenario is correct then almost all the drawdown would come from OECD. By my reckoning this would push a balancing out to late 2018 (although by then we may be seeing some bigger supply drops as the pipeline for new project start-ups will be drying up). But if the balancing is pushed out then the chances of many FIDs this year or next will decline and the possibility of a sudden supply crunch in 2019 through 2022 would be greater. The green curve below gives possible drawdown under this scenario. The red one was a previous assumption that the OECD stocks would be drawn down at only about 35% of the imbalance (as happened when they were rising). I seemed a bit iffy when I fitted it that way, and I think the China SPR filling is a better explanation.

    Watcher says: 05/24/2017 at 6:00 pm
    SPRs in general try to have 90 days of domestic consumption in them. This was a standard put into place mostly in Europe. China has embraced it.

    The US at 750ish million barrels and having a consumption (net of production) of about 11 million bpd (remember, this is real stuff . . . consumption, no refinery gain BS allowed) and so not quite 70 days domestic consumption.

    China, at net consumption of about 7 million bpd X 90 needs an SPR of 630 million barrels. That's about what they have, but of course with 5% consumption growth they'll have to adjust up, but for now . . . all is well.

    There probably is no flow in or out of China for SPR reasons. Already full. Have been for a while.

    Dennis Coyne says: 05/25/2017 at 12:30 pm
    Hi Watcher,

    Crude inputs to refineries and blenders was 16.2 Mb/d for the 2016 average.

    https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pnp_inpt_dc_nus_mbblpd_a.htm

    So 700/16.2 is 43 days for SPR alone. For commercial crude stocks plus SPR it is 1200 Mb so 1200/16.2=74 days.

    https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_stoc_wstk_dcu_nus_m.htm

    George Kaplan says: 05/25/2017 at 2:29 pm
    This is the chart Zero Hedge had, or linked to – the key is Xinhua CFC, who have Chinese data not otherwise available and charge a lot of money for it. I don't know how you'd go about checking if it's correct.

    Energy News says: 05/26/2017 at 4:26 am
    Hello, don't forget that Xinhua doesn't publish China's SPR figures. The SPR figure in the chart is an estimate based on (Production + Imports – Refinery Inputs). I'm not sure if all the teapots are included in the official refinery data.

    I think Zero Hedge borrowed the chart from here:
    Scotiabank pdf file: http://www.gbm.scotiabank.com/scpt/gbm/scotiaeconomics63/SCPI_2017-04-12.pdf

    Latest figures from Xinhua news agency
    2017-05-26 Chinese oil inventories month/month April changes: crude +1.64%, oil products -7.87% (gasoline -0.27%, diesel -14.4%) – OGP/BBG

    Chart showing March

    Energy News says: 05/26/2017 at 8:49 am
    China's April diesel stocks fall for second straight month -Xinhua
    http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL4N1IS2EJ
    George Kaplan says: 05/26/2017 at 1:54 pm
    So are the numbers you are posting supporting or not the Zero Hedge theory and/or my projection based on it? And if not why?
    Energy News says: 05/27/2017 at 1:34 pm
    I guess that Chinese demand must be higher than estimated. Like this article was suggesting

    Bloomberg – October 11th 2016
    China's appetite for oil.
    Fuel use grew by about 5 percent in the first half of 2016, according to China's biggest oil refiner, faster than the 0.4 percent derived from government data. That "official" number is clouded by rising gasoline exports - blends that don't show up in official figures, according to the International Energy Agency, Sinopec Group and Energy Aspects Ltd.
    Chinese authorities are also having trouble tracking refinery activity because of the surge of processing by independent refiners, known as teapots, according to Energy Aspects' Meidan.
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-10/gasoline-cocktails-mix-with-gaps-in-data-to-cloud-china-oil-view ?

    [May 30, 2017] Soon, GOM will start declining. Onshore conventional is like the sun setting. Just 60 or so straight hole rigs active, half of the 1998-99 trough. Alaska doesnt appear to add anything. Unless demand tank maybe its time to be bullish?

    Notable quotes:
    "... Unless demand tanks, per Tony Seba's theories, maybe its time to be bullish? When it is clear US shale has hit the wall, price could sky? ..."
    May 30, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com
    shallow sand says: 05/26/2017 at 10:07 pm
    Enno's shaleprofile.com is full of facts. I went back and looked at his 1/17 summary of all US oil producing shale fields. Interesting that despite adding over 13,000 new wells since the peak in 3/15, US as of 1/17 was still 600K bopd below the 3/15 peak.

    I do realize data is somewhat incomplete due to TX. I also realize not all wells are included. Still, going to take a lot of CAPEX to climb the ladder back to 5, 6 and maybe 7 million bopd from the shale fields.

    Soon, GOM will start declining. Onshore conventional is like the sun setting. Just 60 or so straight hole rigs active, half of the 1998-99 trough. Alaska doesn't appear to add anything.

    Unless demand tanks, per Tony Seba's theories, maybe its time to be bullish? When it is clear US shale has hit the wall, price could sky?

    [May 30, 2017] XOM – Potential 2nd Downgrade

    Notable quotes:
    "... unlike its peers such as Chevron and BP, Exxon Mobil is not targeting meaningful growth in production. ..."
    "... Shell, Chevron, and BP carry debt loads of $91.6 billion, $45.3 billion and $61.8 billion, respectively. " ..."
    May 30, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com

    Longtimber says: 05/30/2017 at 4:18 pm

    XOM – Potential 2nd Downgrade – unless APPL or Bazos jumps to the rescue. / sarc

    "However, unlike its peers such as Chevron and BP, Exxon Mobil is not targeting meaningful growth in production.

    Although Exxon Mobil is working on a number of shale oil, conventional oil and LNG projects which will come online in the near term, they will largely help the company in offsetting the negative impact of field declines and asset sales - Shell, Chevron, and BP carry debt loads of $91.6 billion, $45.3 billion and $61.8 billion, respectively. "

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4077223-exxon-mobil-make-s-and-ps-warning

    [May 18, 2017] Toward a Jobs Guarantee at the Center for American Progress by Lambert Strether

    Notable quotes:
    "... By Lambert Strether of Corrente ..."
    "... The Financial Times ..."
    "... customer ..."
    May 17, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
    Posted on May 17, 2017 By Lambert Strether of Corrente

    I had another topic lined up today, but this ( hat tip alert reader ChrisAtRU ) is so remarkable - and so necessary to frame contextualize immediately - I thought I should bring it your attention, dear readers. The headline is "Toward a Marshall Plan for America ," the authors are a gaggle of CAP luminaries with Neera Tanden leading and Rey Teixeira trailing, and the "Marshall Plan" indeed includes something called a "Jobs Guarantee." Of course, I trust Clinton operatives like Tanden, and Third Way types like Teixeira, about as far as I can throw a concert grand piano. Nevertheless, one sign of an idea whose time has come is that sleazy opportunists and has-beens try to get out in front of it to seize credit[1] and stay relevant. So, modified rapture.

    In this brief post, I'm going to look at the political context that drove CAP - taking Tanden, Teixeira, and the gaggle as a proxy for CAP - to consider a Jobs Guarantee (JG), briefly describe the nature and purpose of a JG, and conclude with some thoughts on how Tanden, Teixeira would screw the JG up, like the good liberals they are.

    Political Context for CAP's JG

    Let's begin with the photo of Prairie du Chien, WI at the top of CAP's JG article. Here it is:

    I went to Google Maps Street View, found Stark's Sports Shop (and Liquor Store), and took a quick look round town. Things don't look too bad, which is to say things look pretty much like they do in my own home town, in the fly-over state of Maine; many local businesses. The street lamps make my back teeth itch a little, because along with bike paths to attract professionals, they're one of those panaceas to "bring back downtown," but as it turns out Prairie du Chien has marketed itself to summer tourists quite successfully as " the oldest Euro-American settlement established on the Upper Mississippi River," so those lamps are legit! (Of course, Prairie du Chien, like so much of flyover country, is fighting an opioid problem , but that doesn't show up in Street View, or affect the tourists in any way.)

    More to the point, Crawford County WI, in which Prairie du Chien is located, was one of the counties that went for Obama, twice, and then flipped to Trump ( 50.1% Trump, 44.6% Clinton ), handing Trump the election, although the CAP authors don't mention this. AP has a good round-up of interviews with Prairie du Chien residents , from which I'll extract the salient points. On "flipping," both from Obama (since he didn't deliver) and away from Trump (if he doesn't deliver):

    In 2012, [Lydia Holt] voted for Barack Obama because he promised her change, but she feels that change hasn't reached her here. So last year she chose a presidential candidate unlike any she'd ever seen, the billionaire businessman who promised to help America, and people like her, win again. Many of her neighbors did, too .

    In this corner of middle America, in this one, small slice of the nation that sent Trump to Washington, they are watching and they are waiting, their hopes pinned on his promised economic renaissance. And if four years from now the change he pledged hasn't found them here, the people of Crawford County said they might change again to someone else.

    "[T]hings aren't going the way we want them here," she said, "so we needed to go in another direction."

    And the issues:

    [Holt] tugged 13 envelopes from a cabinet above the stove, each one labeled with a different debt: the house payment, the student loans, the vacuum cleaner she bought on credit.

    Lydia Holt and her husband tuck money into these envelopes with each paycheck to whittle away at what they owe. They both earn about $10 an hour and, with two kids, there are usually some they can't fill. She did the math; at this rate, they'll be paying these same bills for 87 years.

    Kramer said she's glad the Affordable Care Act has helped millions get insurance, but it hasn't helped her he and her husband were stunned to find premiums over $1,000 a month. Her daughter recently moved into their house with her five children, so there's no money to spare. They opted to pay the penalty of $2,000, and pray they don't get sick until Trump, she hopes, keeps his promise to replace the law with something better.

    Among them is a woman who works for $10.50 an hour in a sewing factory, who still admires Obama, bristles at Trump's bluster, but can't afford health insurance. And the dairy farmer who thinks Trump is a jerk - "somebody needs to get some Gorilla Glue and glue his lips shut" - but has watched his profits plummet and was willing to take the risk.

    And of course jobs (as seen in this video, "Inside the Minds and Homes of Voters in Prairie du Chien, WI," made by students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

    So that's Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. CAP frames the electoral context this way:

    While the election was decided by a small number of votes overall, there was a significant shift of votes in counties in critical Electoral College states, including Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

    (I could have told them that. In fact, I did! ) And the reasons for the shift:

    What was going on in these heavily white working-class counties that might explain support for Trump? Without diminishing the importance of cultural and racial influences, it is clear to us that lingering [sic] economic pressures among important voting blocs helped to create a larger opening for Trump's victory.

    We do not yet know the exact reasons for the drop in turnout among young people and black voters. But with President Obama not on the ticket to drive voter enthusiasm, it is quite possible that lingering job and wage pressures in more urban areas with lots of young people, and in areas with large populations of African-Americans, yielded similar, if distinct, economic anxiety in ways that may have depressed voter turnout among base progressives. The combined effect of economic anxiety may have been to drive white noncollege voters toward Trump and to drive down voter engagement and participation among base progressives.

    Either way, issues related to lost jobs, low wages, high costs, and diminished mobility played a critical role in setting the stage for a narrow populist victory for Trump.

    (I could have told them that, too. In fact, I did! ) Note the lingering "Obama Coalition" / identity politics brain damage that casually assumes "base progressives" equate to African-Americans and youth. Nevertheless, mild kudos to CAP for fighting through to the concept that "economic pressures among important voting blocs helped to create a larger opening for Trump's victory." The CAP paper then goes on to recommend a JG as an answer to such "economic pressures."[2]

    Nature and Purpose of a JG

    Here's the how and why of a JG (though I wrote it up, I had the help of practioners):

    How would the JG work from the perspective of a working person (not an owner?) Or from the perspective of the millions of permanently disemployed? The MMT Primer :

    If you are involuntarily unemployed today (or are stuck with a part-time job when you really want to work full time) you only have three choices:

    Employ yourself (create your own business-something that usually goes up in recessions although most of these businesses fail) Convince an employer to hire you, adding to the firm's workforce Convince an employer to replace an existing worker, hiring you

    The second option requires that the firm's employment is below optimum-it must not currently have the number of workers desired to produce the amount of output the firm thinks it can sell. …

    If the firm is in equilibrium, then, producing what it believes it can sell, it will hire you only on the conditions stated in the third case-to replace an existing worker. Perhaps you promise to work harder, or better, or at a lower wage. But, obviously, that just shifts the unemployment to someone else.

    It is the "dogs and bones" problem: if you bury 9 bones and send 10 dogs out to go bone-hunting you know at least one dog will come back "empty mouthed". You can take that dog and teach her lots of new tricks in bone-finding, but if you bury only 9 bones, again, some unlucky dog comes back without a bone.

    The only solution is to provide a 10 th bone. That is what the JG does: it ensures a bone for every dog that wants to hunt.

    It expands the options to include:

      There is a "residual" employer who will always provide a job to anyone who shows up ready and willing to work.

    It expands choice. If you want to work and exhaust the first 3 alternatives listed above, there is a 4 th : the JG.

    It expands choice without reducing other choices. You can still try the first 3 alternatives. You can take advantage of all the safety net alternatives provided. Or you can choose to do nothing. It is up to you.

    If I were one of the millions of people permanently disemployed, I would welcome that additional choice. It's certainly far more humane than any policy on offer by either party. And the JG is in the great tradition of programs the New Deal sponsored, like the CCC, the WPA, Federal Writers' Project , and the Federal Art Project . So what's not to like? ( Here's a list of other JGs). Like the New Deal, but not temporary!

    Intuitively: What the JG does is set a baseline[3] for the entire package offered to workers, and employers have to offer a better package, or not get the workers they need. When I came up here to Maine I'd quit my job voluntarily and so wasn't eligible for unemployment. Then the economy crashed, and I had no work (except for blogging) for two years. There were no jobs to be had. I would have screamed with joy for a program even remotely like this, and I don't even have dependents to take care of. It may be objected that the political process won't deliver an offer as good as the Primer suggests. Well, don't mourn. Organize. It may be objected that a reform like the JG merely reinforces the power of the 0.01%. If so, I'm not sure I'm willing to throw the currently disemployed under the bus because "worse is better," regardless. Anyhow, does "democratic control over the living wage" really sound all that squillionaire-friendly to you? Aren't they doing everything in their power to fight anything that sounds like that? The JG sounds like the slogan Lincoln ran on, to me: "Vote yourself a farm!" [3]

    So, what does the JG for the economy? MMT was put together by economists; from an economists perspective, what is it good for? Why did they do that? The Primer once more:

    some supporters emphasize that a program with a uniform basic wage[4] also helps to promote economic and price stability.

    The JG/ELR program will act as an automatic stabilizer as employment in the program grows in recession and shrinks in economic expansion, counteracting private sector employment fluctuations. The federal government budget will become more counter-cyclical because its spending on the ELR program will likewise grow in recession and fall in expansion.

    Furthermore, the uniform basic wage will reduce both inflationary pressure in a boom and deflationary pressure in a bust. In a boom, private employers can recruit from the program's pool of workers, paying a mark-up over the program wage. The pool acts like a "reserve army" of the employed, dampening wage pressures as private employment grows. In recession, workers down-sized by private employers can work at the JG/ELR wage, which puts a floor to how low wages and income can fall.

    Finally, research indicates that those without work would prefer to have it :

    Research by Pavlina Tcherneva and Rania Antonopoulos indicates that when asked, most people want to work. Studying how job guarantees affect women in poor countries, they find the programs are popular largely because they recognize-and more fairly distribute and ­compensate-all the child- and elder care that is now often performed by women for free (out of love or duty), off the books, or not at all.

    Enough of this crap jobs at crap wages malarky!

    And here's the how and why of a JG, as described by CAP :

    We propose today a new jobs guarantee, and we further expect a robust[3] agenda to be developed by the commission.

    The low wages and low employment rates for those without college degrees only exist because of a failure of imagination. There is no shortage of important work that needs to be done in our country. There are not nearly enough home care workers to aid the aged and disabled. Many working families with children under the age of 5 need access to affordable child care. Schools need teachers' aides, and cities need EMTs. And there is no shortage of people who could do this work. What has been missing is policy that can mobilize people.

    To solve this problem, we propose a large-scale, permanent program of public employment and infrastructure investment-similar to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression but modernized for the 21st century. It will increase employment and wages for those without a college degree while providing needed services that are currently out of reach for lower-income households and cash-strapped state and local governments. Furthermore, some individuals may be hired into paying public jobs in which their primary duty will be to complete intensive, full-time training for high-growth, in-demand occupations. These "public apprenticeships" could include rotations with public and private entities to gain on-the-ground experience and lead to guaranteed private-sector employment upon successful completion of training.

    Such an expanded public employment program could, for example, have a target of maintaining the employment rate for prime-age workers without a bachelor's degree at the 2000 level of 79 percent. Currently, this would require the creation of 4.4 million jobs. At a living wage-which we can approximate as $15 per hour plus the cost of contributions to Social Security and Medicare via payroll taxes-the direct cost of each job would be approximately $36,000 annually. Thus, a rough estimate of the costs of this employment program would be about $158 billion in the current year. This is approximately one-quarter of Trump's proposed tax cut for the wealthy on an annual basis.

    With tis background, let's look at how liberals would screw the JG up.

    How a CAP JG Would Go Wrong

    Before getting into a little policy detail, I'll examine a few cultural/framing issues. After all, CAP does want the program's intended recipients to accept it with good grace, no? Let me introduce the over-riding concern, from Joan C. Williams in The Financial Times : "They don't want compassion. They want respect" :

    Williams warns that Republican errors alone won't give Democrats back the WWC.

    Or any part of the WC; as even CAP recognizes, although WWC disproportionately voted Trump, and non-WWC disproportionately stayed home.

    While [Williams] agrees that the Democrats have mobilised their base since Trump's election, she has "one simple message" for the party: it needs to show the WWC respect, "in a tone suitable for grown-ups". Democrats must say: "We regret that we have disrespected you, we now hear you." She asks: "Is this so hard? Although the risk is that the response will be, 'Oh, those poor little white people with their opioid epidemics, let's open our hearts in compassion to them.' That's going to infuriate them. They don't want compassion, they want respect."

    To show respect, it would really behoove liberals to deep-six the phrase "economic anxiety," along with "economic frustrations," "economic concerns," "economic grievances," and "lingering economic pressures."[4] All these phrases make successful class warfare a psychological condition, no doubt to be treated by a professional (who by definition is not anxious, not frustrated, has no grievances, and certainly no economic pressures, because of their hourly rate (or possibly their government contract).

    To show respect, it would also behoove liberals to deep-six the concept that markets come first; people who sell their labor power by the hour tend to be sensitive about such things. Take, for a tiny example, the caption beneath the image of Prairie du Chein. Let me quote it:

    A customer crosses the street while leaving a shop along the main business district in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, January 2017.

    Really? A customer ? Does the human figure have to be a customer ? Why?

    Along the same lines, drop the "affordable" crap; ObamaCare should have ruined that branding already; what seems like it's affordable to CAP writers in the Beltway probably isn't affordable at all to somebody making $10 an hour. Anyhow, if something like childcare or for that matter #MedicareForAll ought to be a universal direct material benefit, then deliver it!

    To show respect, abandon the "Marshall Plan" framing immediately. Because it means the "winners" are going to graciously help the "losers," right? And prudentially, liberals don't really want to get the working class asking themselves who conducted a war against them, and why, right?

    To show respect, make the JG a truly universal benefit, a real guarantee, and don't turn it into an ObamaCare-like Rube Goldberg device of means-testing, worthiness detection, gatekeeping, and various complex forms of insult and degradation, like narrow networks. This passage from CAP has me concerned:

    Such an expanded public employment program could, for example, have a target of maintaining the employment rate for prime-age workers without a bachelor's degree at the 2000 level of 79 percent.

    That 'target" language sounds to me very much like the "dogs and bones" problem. Suppose currently we have 6 bones and 10 dogs. The "target" is 7 bones. Suppose we meet it? There are still 3 dogs without bones! Some guarantee! The JG should be simple: A job for everyone who wants one. None of this targeting or slicing and dicing demographics. The JG isn't supposed to be an employment guarantee for macro-economists (who basically have one anyone).

    To show respect, make the JG set the baseline for wages (and working conditions). This passage from CAP has me concerned:

    Second, because it would employ people to provide services that are currently needed but unaffordable, it would not compete with existing private-sector employment.

    This language seems a bit slippery to me. If Walmart is paying $10.00 an hour, is the JG really going to pay $9.50?

    Finally, you will notice that the CAP JG is shorn of any macro-economic implications. Note, for example, that replacing our current cruel system of regulating the economy by throwing people out of work isn't mentioned. Note also that CAP also accepts the false notion that Federal taxes pay for Federal spending. That puts CAP in the austerity box, meaning that the JG might be cut back just when it is most needed, not least by working people.

    Conclusion

    I do want to congratulate CAP, and without irony, for this passage:

    [The JG] would provide the dignity of work, the value of which is significant. When useful work is not available, there are large negative consequences, ranging from depression, to a decline in family stability, to "deaths of [sic] despair."

    It's good to see the Case-Deaton study penetrating the liberal hive mind. Took long enough. Oh, and this makes the JG a moral issue, too. The pallid language of "economic anxiety" should be reformulated to reflect this, as should the program itself.

    NOTES

    [1] The JG originally comes from the MMT community; here is a high-level summary . Oddly, or not, there's no footnote crediting MMTers. Interestingly, Stephanie Kelton, who hails from the University of Missouri at Kansas City's MMT-friendly economics department, before Sanders brought her onto the staff at the Senate Budget committee, was not able to persuade Sanders of the correctness and/or political utility of MMT generally or the JG in particular.

    [2] I guess those famous Democrat 2016 post mortems will never be published, eh? This will have to do for a poor substitute. Or maybe the Democrats just want us to read Shattered .

    [3] In my view, "robust" is a bullshit tell. Back when I was a hotshot consultant, the operational definition of "robust" was "contained in a very large three-ring binder."

    [4] Dear God. Are these people demented? Nobody who is actually under "economic pressure" would use these words. And so far as I can tell, "lingering" means permanent.

    About Lambert Strether

    Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism ("Because markets"). I don't much care about the "ism" that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don't much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue - and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me - is the tens of thousands of excess "deaths from despair," as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics - even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton's wars created - bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow - currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press - a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let's call such voices "the left." Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn't allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I've been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

    ChrisAtRU , May 17, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Clive , May 17, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    No, thank you!

    Dead Dog , May 17, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Yes, a great essay. And thank you commentariat.
    Of course, there is a potential conflict from those who want a basic income, but don't want to work. Such a position frames such people badly, but a basic income remains an essential part of a JG world IMO.
    The JG would provide incentive if you didn't lose the safety net and could add to it by working in a JG program.
    Most here in this place accept that a sovereign government can pay for programs which are not funded by taxes (or debt) and the JG and basic income concepts could be a way to test this in a controlled way.
    The main reason I think that politicians continue to have blinkers (LA LA, CAN'T HEAR YOU) with respect to MMT is that they are scared witless of a government with unlimited spending powers. That's why we can't have nice things.

    jrs , May 17, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    don't want to work, hmm I don't even know if I could work in a job without a decent amount of slack (A.D.D. mind may not be capable of it or something and often not for lack of trying, though I do a decent amount of unpaid work in my precious leisure time). Or at least not the full 40 hours, so if the job guarantee bosses are slave drivers, I don't know, I'd probably be fired from my job guaranteed job period.

    But what if a job was aligned with one's interest? Don't know, never experienced that.

    But all that aside and never even mind unemployment, given how horrible the job circumstances are that I see many people caught in (and I definitely don't mean having slack – that's a good thing, I mean verbal ABUSE, I mean working endless hours of unpaid overtime etc.), any alternative would seem good.

    nycTerrierist , May 17, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    +1!

    PKMKII , May 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    The "target" language also makes me worry that they're defining optimal employment by the inflation-obsessed standards of Chicago-school economists, thus coming up short in the name of protecting the investor class.

    Minor quibble: Does Maine constitute flyover country? Usually that term means the parts of the country that the well-to-do "fly over" from east coast cities to west coast ones, with perhaps an exception for Chicago. You wouldn't fly over Maine for any of those routes. Not to mention, Maine is a popular vacationing/summer home state for rich New Englanders, so it doesn't exactly have an "other" status for them the way rural Wisconsin would.

    Huey Long , May 17, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I think Maine is legit flyover country as flying over Maine was once mandatory on the transatlantic route in order to Gander Airport in Newfoundland. I know, I know, it's a bit of a stretch but I'm trying here!

    As for Maine's other status, you're spot on about "down east" (coastal) Maine and some of the lakes being popular with the landed gentry, but the interior of the state is sparsely populated, poor, white, and marginalized. Many of the paper mills have gone belly-up and the economy in many places consists of picking potatoes or cutting down trees.

    Knifecatcher , May 17, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    I used to do a lot of business travel to Nova Scotia. Hard to get there from the US without flying over Maine. But I think Lambert meant flyover in the pejorative "why would you live here when you could be an artisanal pickle maker in Brooklyn" sense.

    Peham , May 17, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Thanks much! A JG as you describe plus nationalizing all our current rentier industries ought to just about do the trick.

    Sutter Cane , May 17, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Are you still guaranteed a job if you happen to make any negative comments about Neera Tanden? (Asking for Matt Bruenig)

    nihil obstet , May 17, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Matt Bruenig had other issues with the article: More Job Guarantee Muddle . While he points out that the jobs suggested in the article should be permanent rather than temporary jobs, I go on with my own little sense of discomfort that they all involve putting the otherwise jobless in charge of caring for the helpless. I don't find that a good idea. I've spent enough time both working with and volunteering in human service organizations to have observed that it's not really appropriate work for a lot of people, even for many good-hearted volunteers. It really dampens my enthusiasm for a JG that I have yet to see an argument for it that doesn't invoke child and elderly care as just great jobs that the jobless can be put to doing.

    Just another quibble with this post. I first heard of a job guarantee and heard arguments for it in the U.S. civilian society from Michael Harrington in the early 1980s (guaranteed jobs have been a feature of the state capitalist societies that call themselves socialist throughout the 20th c.), so I don't find it particularly odd when the MMT community isn't mentioned as originating the idea. In fact, I tend to respond with "Hey, MMTers, learn some history."

    jrs , May 17, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    good points.

    Susan the other , May 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for this article Lambert. Why should we trust CAP to handle this when they have done nothing toward this end in their entire history. In fact, in undeniable fact, if we don't do something about demand in this country we will have no economy left at all. For these guys to even approach a JG you know they are panicked. Nobody goes over this fact because it turns them all into instant hypocrites. I spent yesterday listening to some MMTers on U-Tube, Wray and some others. They all clearly and succinctly explain the systemic reasons for JG. Not nonsense. In fact, MMT approaches a JG as the opposite of nonsense on so many levels. As you have pointed out – these CAP people are a little late to reality. And their dear leader Obama is first in line for the blame, followed closely by Bill Clinton and his balance-the-budget cabal of bankster idiots. And etc. And these JG jobs could be just the jobs we need to turn global warming around. It could be the best spent money ever. It is a very straight-forward calculation.

    Sue , May 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Dispel ambiguity. Call it LWUJG, Living Wage Universal Job Guarantee

    Sandler , May 17, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    I don't know how you even bother. America is so far away from this intellectually and culturally, there is no chance. Right now the "jobs guarantee" is get arrested for something bogus and be sentenced to prison to do forced labor for outsourcing corporations (yes this is real). Look where the GOP stands on basic issues which were settled long ago in Europe, they are in the Stone age. The Dems are right wing everywhere else.

    With US institutions usually run horribly how do you expect this to be well run? Is the VA a shining example? I certainly would not have hope for this at the federal level.

    Murph , May 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    I feel the same way often but I've got to allow myself some hope once in a while. This development is at least turn in the right direction for the moment, nothing else. There's nothing wrong with being (aprehensively) pleased about that.

    Sandler , May 17, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    I'd like to get a basic unemployment welfare scheme going first. We don't even have that! We have an "insurance" program which requires you to first have held a job which paid enough for long enough, and then get fired, not quit. And it only pays for six months. Again, this was settled in other rich countries a long time ago.

    Darius , May 17, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Swing for the fences, ladies or gentlemen. Throw incremental change overboard, along with Hillary, Tim Kaine and Neera.

    Disturbed Voter , May 17, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    There is a job guarantee in Castro's Cuba. So wonderful, people are swimming from Miami to Havana ever day.

    Though you have it exactly right in the US the job guarantee is to be a felon on a privatized prison farm usually called a "plantation". I am looking forward to my neighbors finally being put to work. At least it is only building a Presidential Library for Obama, not a pyramid for Pharaoh.

    witters , May 17, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    "There is a job guarantee in Castro's Cuba. So wonderful, people are swimming from Miami to Havana ever day."

    That is why Cuba will never last! It will die in minutes, without any outside help!

    Mind you, here's a thought. Maybe the one's who didn't want to work, left for Florida!

    diptherio , May 17, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    My prediction: by the time this makes it through Congress, it will be a guarantee for no more than 15 hours per week at slightly below the minimum wage and you'll only be able to be in the program for nine months, total during your lifetime. Or am I being overly cynical?

    Maybe we need to update that old saw: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they co-opt your idea and strip the soul out of it, then you kinda win but not really, but hey that's progress, right?"

    Even though I'm cynical, I'm with Lambert in being for just about anything that makes us bottom-20%ers lives better, even if it is highly flawed. Heck, I'd even be for a BIG on that basis, even if Yves is right about the negative side-effects of that policy.

    Huey Long , May 17, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    they co-opt your idea and strip the soul out of it, then you kinda win but not really, but hey that's progress, right?"

    SPOT ON!!!

    This is EXACTLY what Bismark did in 1883 with his Staatssozialismus (state socialism) reforms.

    Disturbed Voter , May 17, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    In 1883, Germany still had hope it was only 12 years old!

    Jeff , May 17, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    If I understood correctly, Norway is running such a program since many years.
    Basically, when you are out of a job, you get unemployment benefits (a low but decent salary, health care and other modern facilities unheard of is the US) – which last forever .
    On the other hand, any public institution can call you in to help a hand: washing dishes at the school kitchen one day, waiting on the elderly the other day, helping out in the local library wherever hands are needed but not available.
    So it is not really a JG, but you are guaranteed to help out your local community, and you are guaranteed a minimal income. That seems close enough to me.

    Fred1 , May 17, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    This is just positioning to defend against a challenger from the left who is promoting a genuine JG.

    See we agree about a JG, I'm for it too and here is my 9 point proposal on my website.

    robnume , May 17, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Thanks, Lambert, for a very interesting post. I combed through CAP's panel of "experts." I was not impressed.
    I'm going to start my own think tank. Gonna call it CRAP: Center for Real American Progress.

    lyle , May 17, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Of course in the north in the winter you could go back to shoveling snow with snow shovels (no machines allowed) and ban use by public employees of riding lawnmowers in the summer in favor of powered walk behind mowers. From what I have read this is what china did on the 3 gorges dam, partly making the project a jobs project by doing things in a human intensive way. (of course you could go back to the hand push non powered reel mower but then you have to worry about folks and heart attacks. (Or use those in their 20s for this. Growing up in MI and In this is how we mowed the yard. (in the 1950s and 1960) and for snow shoveling, my dad got a snow blower when I went off to college.
    Now if you really want a low productivity way of cutting grass get one of the hand grass trimmers and set to work cutting it by that, it would employ a lot of folks and not have the exertion problem of a push mower (Again I used these in the 1960s in MI before we had the string trimmers and edgers etc. (also recall the old hand powered lawn edgers.)

    craazyboy , May 17, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    I'm partial to John Cleese Silly Walks. It would be creative and artistic. We need more art.

    Samuel Conner , May 17, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    It sounds like the CAP JG proposal is "top down" in that the "palette" of jobs to be funded is decided by the same agency (or an agency at the same level of government) as the fund disbursement authority, or is specified in the law itself.

    IIRC, the JG concept proposed in the MMT primer would devolve the decision of "how to usefully employ willing underutilized workers" to local level. Funding would still be Federal. There would be some kind of "request for proposals/peer review" process to decide which locally-wanted projects would receive JG dollars (presumably in order to be a guarantee, enough projects would be approved for every locality to employ the available under-utilized willing workforce. If a locality only proposed one project, that would be funded)

    It that right, Lambert? Is "top down" another way that centrists could screw up a JG? And might the "local devolution" aspect of the NEP/MMT Primer concept appeal to folks on the right?

    washunate , May 18, 2017 at 12:13 am

    Great write up. I obviously have a long-running disagreement on the policy prescription of JG, but I do find it interesting talking about how groups like CAP present it outside the specific confines of MMT (and, apparently, without even tipping the hat to them ?).

    One concrete bit of info I would love to know is how they estimate 4.4 million workers for take-up. First, it's a hilarious instance of false precision. Second, it's remarkably low. $15/hr is approximately the median wage. Tens of millions of workers would sign up, both from the ranks of the crap jobs and from the ranks of those out of the labor force.

    [May 07, 2017] Prime-Age Employment Rate Hits New High for Recovery

    May 07, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    point , May 07, 2017 at 05:34 AM
    Perhaps this report raises the possibility that this low pressure low growth economy may actually lead to a new high in the prime working age cohort, still with little wage growth.
    libezkova -> point... , May 07, 2017 at 01:33 PM
    Boomers are retiring and that increases employment in prime age (25-54) cohort. So to take only prime age is a little bit disingenuous. This effect needs to be taken into consideration.

    Those who were born before 1950 were probably the most numerous. They all will be over 67 at the end of the year.

    [Apr 25, 2017] The Operation and Demise of the Bretton Woods System: 1958 to 1971

    Notable quotes:
    "... By Michael Bordo, Professor of Economics, Rutgers University. Originally published at VoxEU ..."
    "... See original post for references ..."
    "... Greatest scam in history. ..."
    "... So, it's not 'out of thin air. It's back by the might of the Pentagon mightier than gold. ..."
    "... It is hard to believe in can continue much longer despite of Bordo's view that it will. ..."
    Apr 25, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
    Posted on April 25, 2017 by Yves Smith Yves here. The article makes a comment in passing that bears teasing out. The inflation that started in the later 1960s was substantially if not entirely the result of Lyndon Johnson refusing to raise taxes because it would be perceived to be to pay for the unpopular Vietnam War. Richard Nixon followed that approach.

    By Michael Bordo, Professor of Economics, Rutgers University. Originally published at VoxEU

    Scholars and policymakers interested in the reform of the international financial system have always looked back to the Bretton Woods system as an example of a man-made system that brought both exemplary and stable economic performance to the world in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet Bretton Woods was short-lived, undone by both flaws in its basic structure and the unwillingness of key sovereign members to follow its rules. Many commentators hark back to the lessons of Bretton Woods as an example to possibly restore greater order and stability to the present international monetary system. In a recent paper, I revisit these issues from over a half century ago (Bordo 2017).

    The Bretton Woods system was created by the 1944 Articles of Agreement at a global conference organised by the US Treasury at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, at the height of WWII. It was established to design a new international monetary order for the post war, and to avoid the perceived problems of the interwar period: protectionism, beggar-thy-neighbour devaluations, hot money flows, and unstable exchange rates. It also sought to provide a framework of monetary and financial stability to foster global economic growth and the growth of international trade.

    The system was a compromise between the fixed exchange rates of the gold standard, seen as conducive to rebuilding the network of global trade and finance, and the greater flexibility to which countries had resorted in the 1930s to restore and maintain domestic economic and financial stability. The Articles represented a compromise between the American plan of Harry Dexter White and the British plan of John Maynard Keynes. The compromise created an adjustable peg system based on the US dollar convertible into gold at $35 per ounce along with capital controls. The compromise gave members both exchange rate stability and the independence for their monetary authorities to maintain full employment. The IMF, based on the principle of a credit union, whereby members could withdraw more than their original gold quotas, was established to provide relief for temporary current account shortfalls.

    It took close to 15 years to get the Bretton Woods system fully operating. As it evolved into a gold dollar standard, the three big problems of the interwar gold exchange standard re-emerged: adjustment, confidence, and liquidity problems.

    The adjustment problem in Bretton Woods reflected downward rigidity in wages and prices which prevented the normal price adjustment of the gold standard price specie flow mechanism to operate. Consequently, payment deficits would be associated with rising unemployment and recessions. This was the problem faced by the UK, which alternated between expansionary monetary and fiscal policy, and then in the face of a currency crisis, austerity – a policy referred to as 'stop-go'. For countries in surplus, inflationary pressure would ensure, which they would try to block by sterilisation and capital controls.

    A second aspect of the adjustment problem was asymmetric adjustment between the US and the rest of the world. In the pegged exchange rate system, the US served as central reserve country and did not have to adjust to its balance of payments deficit. It was the n-1th currency in the system of n currencies (Mundell 1969). This asymmetry of adjustment was resented by the Europeans.

    The US monetary authorities began to worry about the balance of payments deficit because of its effect on confidence . As official dollar liabilities held abroad mounted with successive deficits, the likelihood increased that these dollars would be converted into gold and that the US monetary gold stock would eventually reach a point low enough to trigger a run. Indeed by 1959, the US monetary gold stock equalled total external dollar liabilities, and the rest of the world's monetary gold stock exceeded that of the US. By 1964, official dollar liabilities held by foreign monetary authorities exceeded that of the US monetary gold stock (Figure 1).

    Figure 1. US gold stock and external liabilities, 1951-1975

    Source : Banking and Monetary Statistics 1941‐1970, Washington DC Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, September 1976, Table 14.1, 15.1.

    A second source of concern was the dollar's role in providing liquidity to the rest of the world. Elimination of the US balance of payments deficits (as the French and Germans were urging) could create a global liquidity shortage. There was much concern through the 1960s as to how to provide this liquidity.

    Robert Triffin (1960) captured the problems in his famous dilemma. Because the Bretton Woods parities, which were declared in the 1940s, had undervalued the price of gold, gold production would be insufficient to provide the resources to finance the growth of global trade. The shortfall would be met by capital outflows from the US, manifest in its balance of payments deficit. Triffin posited that as outstanding US dollar liabilities mounted, they would increase the likelihood of a classic bank run when the rest of the world's monetary authorities would convert their dollar holdings into gold (Garber 1993). According to Triffin when the tipping point occurred, the US monetary authorities would tighten monetary policy and this would lead to global deflationary pressure. Triffin's solution was to create a form of global liquidity like Keynes' (1943) bancor to act as a substitute for US dollars in international reserves.

    Policies to Shore Up the System

    The problems of the Bretton Woods system were dealt with by the IMF, the G10 plus Switzerland, and by US monetary authorities. The remedies that followed often worked in the short run but not in the long run. The main threat to the system as a whole was the Triffin problem, which was exacerbated after 1965 by expansionary US monetary and fiscal policy which led to rising inflation.

    After a spike in the London price of gold to $40.50 in October 1960 – based on fears that John F Kennedy, if elected, would pursue inflationary policies – led the Treasury to develop policies to discourage Europeans from conversing dollars into gold. These included:

    The US Treasury, aided by the Federal Reserve, also engaged in sterilised exchange market intervention.

    The main instrument used by the Fed to protect the gold stock was the swap network. It was designed to protect the US gold stock by temporarily providing an alternative to foreign central bank conversion of their dollar holdings into gold. In a typical swap transaction, the Federal Reserve and a foreign central bank would undertake simultaneous and offsetting spot and forward exchange transactions, typically at the same exchange rate and equal interest rate. The Federal Reserve swap line increased from $900 million to $11.2 billion between March 1962 and the closing of the gold window in August 1971 (see Figure 2 and Bordo et al. 2015)

    Figure 2. Federal Reserve swap lines, 1962 –1973

    Source : Federal Reserve System.

    The swaps and ancillary Treasury policies protected the US gold reserves until the mid-1960s, and were viewed at the time as a successful policy.

    The Breakdown of Bretton Woods, 1968 to 1971

    A key force that led to the breakdown of Bretton Woods was the rise in inflation in the US that began in 1965. Until that year, the Federal Reserve Chairman, William McChesney Martin, had maintained low inflation. The Fed also attached high importance to the balance of payments deficit and the US monetary gold stock in its deliberations (Bordo and Eichengreen 2013). Beginning in 1965 the Martin Fed shifted to an inflationary policy which continued until the early 1980s, and in the 1970s became known as the Great Inflation (see figure 3).

    Figure 3 . Inflation rates

    Source : US Bureau of Labor Statistics, IMF (various issues).

    The shift in policy mirrored the accommodation of fiscal deficits reflecting the increasing expense of the Vietnam War and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

    The Federal Reserve shifted its stance in the mid-1960s away from monetary orthodoxy in response to the growing influence of Keynesian economics in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with its emphasis on the primary objective of full employment and the belief that the Fed could manage the Phillips Curve trade-off between inflation and unemployment (Meltzer 2010).

    Increasing US monetary growth led to rising inflation, which spread to the rest of the world through growing US balance of payments deficits. This led to growing balance of payments surpluses in Germany and other countries. The German monetary authorities (and other surplus countries) attempted to sterilise the inflows but were eventually unsuccessful, leading to growing inflationary pressure (Darby et al. 1983).

    After the devaluation of sterling in November 1967, pressure mounted against the dollar via the London gold market. In the face of this pressure, the Gold Pool was disbanded on 17 March 1968 and a two-tier arrangement put in its place. In the following three years, the US put considerable pressure on other monetary authorities to refrain from converting their dollars into gold.

    The decision to suspend gold convertibility by President Richard Nixon on 15 August 1971 was triggered by French and British intentions to convert dollars into gold in early August. The US decision to suspend gold convertibility ended a key aspect of the Bretton Woods system. The remaining part of the System, the adjustable peg disappeared by March 1973.

    A key reason for Bretton Woods' collapse was the inflationary monetary policy that was inappropriate for the key currency country of the system. The Bretton Woods system was based on rules, the most important of which was to follow monetary and fiscal policies consistent with the official peg. The US violated this rule after 1965 (Bordo 1993).

    Conclusion

    The collapse of the Bretton Woods system between 1971 and 1973 led to the general adoption by advanced countries of a managed floating exchange rate system, which is still with us. Yet this outcome (at least at the time) was not inevitable. As was argued by Despres et al. (1966) in contradistinction to Triffin, the ongoing US balance of payments deficit was not really a problem. The rest of the world voluntarily held dollar balances because of their valuable service flow – the deficit was demand-determined. In their view, the Bretton Woods system could have continued indefinitely. This of course was not the case, but although the par value system ended in 1973 the dollar standard without gold is still with us, as McKinnon (1969, 1988, 2014) has long argued.

    The dollar standard was resented by the French in the 1960s and referred to as conferring "the exorbitant privilege" on the US, and the same argument was made in 2010 by the Governor of the Central Bank of China. However, the likelihood that the dollar will be replaced as the dominant international currency in the foreseeable future remains remote. The dollar standard and the legacy of the Bretton Woods system will be with us for a long time.

    See original post for references

    0 0 5 0 0 This entry was posted in Currencies , Economic fundamentals , Globalization , Guest Post , Macroeconomic policy , The dismal science on April 25, 2017 by Yves Smith . Subscribe to Post Comments 59 comments Jim Haygood , April 25, 2017 at 11:00 am

    'Because the Bretton Woods parities, which were declared in the 1940s, had undervalued the price of gold, gold production would be insufficient to provide the resources to finance the growth of global trade.'

    Twenty years on from Britain's "lost decade" of the 1920s - caused by repegging sterling to gold at the pre-World War I parity - the same mistake was repeated at Bretton Woods. (The US had made the identical error in 1871, which required 25 years of relentless deflation to sweat out Civil War greenback inflation.)

    Even as the Bretton Woods conference was underway in 1944, it went unnoticed that the US Federal Reserve had embarked on a vast buying spree of US Treasuries. This was done to peg their yield at 2.5% or below, in order to finance WW II at negative real yields. By 1945, US Treasuries (shown in blue and orange on this chart) loomed larger in the Fed's balance sheet than gold (shown in chartreuse):

    http://greshams-law.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Screen-shot-2012-02-12-at-21.23.00.png

    Obviously a fixed gold price is utterly incompatible with a central bank expanding its balance sheet with government debt, reducing its gold holdings to the tiny residual that they constitute today.

    Bretton Woods might have worked by limiting central banks' ability to monetize gov't securities. Or it might have worked with the gold price allowed to float with expanding central bank assets, according to a formula.

    What was lost with Bretton Woods was fixed exchange rates, which are conducive to trade. Armies of traders seeking to extract rents from fluctuations between fiat currencies are a pure deadweight loss to the global economy.

    In North America, sharp depreciations of the Mexican and Canadian currencies against the USD are fanning US protectionism, in forms ranging from a proposed border wall to countervailing duties on Canadian lumber and dairy products. What a mess.

    Irredeemable fiat currencies are a tribulation visited on humanity. When the central bank blown Bubble III explodes in our fool faces, this insight will be more widely appreciated.

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Fiat currency is a tribulation visited on capitalist trade advocates and their financial backers.

    International trade, which is hobbled by fiat currencies as you say, was a rounding error in most peoples lives until the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal innovations.

    Since then that rounding error has rounded away most of the distributive properties of the economic systems so distorted to facilitate capital profits through long distance trade that they are impoverishing enough people that Brits vote Brexit, Yanks vote Trump and French vote Le Pen.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Bretton Woods would have worked a lot better if Keynes had won the argument in favor of "bancor", but he was arguing from a position of weakness and lost out.

    And yes, when this blows, as it will, it will all become more widely appreciated.

    Gman , April 25, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    +1.

    gepay , April 25, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    missing from the article is the decision to raise the price of oil in order to put most of the 3rd world into debt slavery. This exasperated the inflation mentioned, caused by US deficits. Because the US was still a manufacturing leader and the Unions were strong – we had the wage price stagflation of the 70's,. The elites solution – Nixon went to China – not to open up a market of a billion people but to make use of a disciplined labor force that would work for cheap – breaking the power of the unions with globalisation aided by computers. The Republicans in the US and Thatcher in England broke the unions in the 80s.Clinton went along in the 90s. Was that plan a factor in the decision to leave the gold standard?

    Susan the other , April 25, 2017 at 11:09 am

    This was most interesting for its lack of regret for losing a dollar pegged to $35 oz. gold. It is almost a rationale for letting inflation and deficit spending occur because in the end the system using a reserve currency works as good as anything. I do think the expense of the Vietnam war and the obvious policy that it was necessary to allow inflation (from the 70s onward) was incomplete, looking at everything today, because it was based on an assumption that we humans could just aggressively keep growing our way into the future like we had always done. Already in 1970 there were environmental concerns, well-reasoned ones, and global warming was being anticipated. If it had been possible to use a hard gold standard we might not be in this ecological disaster today, but there would have been some serious poverty, etc. The obvious policy today is to put our money into the environment and fix it and by doing that put people to work for a good and urgent cause. As opposed to bombing North Korea; building a Wall to nowhere; giving money to corporations which do not contribute to repairing the planet; and impoverishing people unnecessarily, etc. Money, in the end, is only as valuable as the things it accomplishes.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Wrong on your poverty concept. It is the inflation associated with a reckless fiat monetary system that causes much of the poverty. Prior the fiat era there was minimal inflation. As Keynes explained in his prophetic criticism of the Treaty of Versailles, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, when he called attention to Lenin, of all people:

    "By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method, they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls . . . become 'profiteers', who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished not less than the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds . . . all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless.

    Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, nor surer means of overturning the existing basis of society that to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose."

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    The core problem with hard currency is the power asymmetry of the fixed interest contract in whatever form.

    Because costs are constant and growing under such contracts, income requirements become "sticky": in a market reverse, wage earners, renters, mortgage holders etc are obligated by these contracts and cannot accept a cut in their wage unless they have adequate financial reserves. Recessions soak these reserves from debtors to creditors despite the loose underwriting of creditors in the speculative and ponzi phases of the Minsky cycle being the root cause of the business cycle, not profligacy or irresponsibility by wage earners and small business people. In a depression, this liquidationist dynamic starts working its way up the the industrial supply chain, dismantling the actual means of production.

    The main potential public benefit of fiat currency is that in such conditions it costs the state nothing to preserve the wealth of those not implicated in causing the collapse and to preserve those means of production. Unfortunately, what we saw in 2008 was Bush/Obama using the innocent victims of the business cycle to "foam the runway" for the institutions that caused it.

    Poverty is a simple result of being cut off from possible income sources. To the extent that inflation is managed with what Keynes called "a reserve army of the unemployed", high levels of poverty are assured. In the high wage, high cost era of the New Deal, the intent was take what burden of financial risk could be taken off of workers and small producers and to provide good paying opportunities for one cycle's economic losers to get back on their feet in the next cycle. But this only works with full employment where labor has the power to bid for a share of the overall returns on investments.

    OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL , April 25, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    I found this fascinating and quite persuasive.
    But unless you can posit the existence of a state that will reliably act to "preserve the wealth of those not implicated in causing the collapse and to preserve those means of production" it is just a useless academic exercise. I do not see any such state anywhere in view, with the possible exception of the Chinese, who seem to understand "preserving the means of production" as a state priority. For the West however that idea is a real howler.

    Moneta , April 25, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    No inflation can also lead to a form of confiscation where you are not letting new entrants (the young) into the game.

    No inflation could reflect a form of protectionism.

    MyLessThanPrimeBeef , April 25, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    If it had been possible to use a hard gold standard we might not be in this ecological disaster today, but there would have been some serious poverty, etc.

    Some serious poverty only if because the elites would have been even more neoliberal.

    The last gold-standard-free 50 years of innovation and growth have made extinct

    1. Shoes that last more than a few months
    2. Clothes that you can pass on to future generations
    3. Likewise, furniture
    4. Milk or Coke in glass bottles
    etc.

    RBHoughton , April 25, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Isn't that because we have evicted competition from our global commercial model and replaced it with planned production so every factory knows the size of its likely market?

    Enquiring Mind , April 25, 2017 at 11:18 am

    At what point would China, for example, be able to assert more of a reserve currency, or at least alternative, role based on its economic and trade power and build-up of hard and financial assets? Or is their near-term internal surplus recycling through uneconomic lending enough to keep them off-balance for quite a while on the world financial stage? Many in the West are watching the development of the One Belt/One Road infrastructure and shifting country linkages and alliances with grave concern.

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    The key to reserve status is large external holdings of your monetary instruments: for foreigners to transact in your currency they must have it. China, thus far, fails profoundly on this count, no one has its currency.

    The inverse of this is that the best way for the US to end the dollars reserve status is to eliminate the "National Debt", which is in fact nothing other than the inventory if dollar instruments the rest of the world holds in order to be able to spend dollars into our system: eliminate that inventory and the dollar will no longer be a reserve currency.

    Oregoncharles , April 25, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    This raises the large question of whether "reserve status" is actually beneficial. Apparently it consists largely of being enormously in debt – and in fact, it's been a way for Japanese and Chinese to buy up large chunks of our "means of production." The prosperity of my original home town, Columbus, IN, rests on Japanese "investment." It does mean some good Japanese restaurants in town.

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    To me the question is, who benefits from it? It has been of great benefit to a very particular set of people here in the US and quite destructive since the 70s to most everyone else.

    It is a power relationship that has been used for imperial aims rather than for the good of citizens. It needn't be that way, but as US power has become increasingly unaccountable its abuse of this particular tool has grown.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    @jsn, you get it!

    Yves Smith Post author , April 25, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    No, no, no, no, this is 100% wrong.

    First, the US could just as easily deficit spend. We are not "in debt" because the US can always create more dollars to retire Treasury bonds.

    The requirement for being a reserve currency is running trade deficits. That does require that furriners take and hold your paper. They prefer bonds or other investments to cash to get some yield.

    Running ongoing trade deficits also means that you are using your domestic demand to support jobs overseas. That is the problematic feature, not all of this other noise.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    The concept of a reserve currency came about from resolution 9 of the Genoa Monetary Conference of 1922. The idea was that any currency that was convertible to gold was de facto equivalent to gold and therefore an acceptable central bank reserve asset. In other words there is really no such thing as an international reserve currency without gold in the system according to the very reasoning that established the idea. The U.S. pulled off the greatest bait and switch in history when it "suspended" the gold window in 1971. The whole system because an enormous debt based Ponzi scheme after that and we are now dealing with the consequences.

    And yes the key to reserve status: is large external holdings of your monetary instruments for foreigners to transact in". But what incentive do they have to hold such a currency and transact in it? Remember they don't need it since they generally run trade surpluses. The answer was, because that currency was convertible to gold. What about now when it is not tied to gold? Why hold the currency of profligate debtor nation? Answer provided in post below.

    And anyone who thinks that running large trade and budget deficits is the secret to reserve currency status is a moron. Argentina or Paraguay could just as easily produce the necessary surplus liquidity under that logic.

    craazyboy , April 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    " But what incentive do they have to hold such a currency and transact in it? Remember they don't need it since they generally run trade surpluses. "

    Restart back at the very beginning, forget everything you know, and try again.

    "They" got foreign reserve currency by selling to the US and getting paid in dollars. Their banks then traded the dollars to the PBoC central bank for freshly printed renimbi.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    yes, but why would the central bank endlessly collect another country's debt?

    And you inadvertently point out one of the key frauds in the system. The dollar supports a double pyramid of credit, one domestic and the other foreign. There is also a third pyramid of credit, the euro dollar market, which is built on top of the U.S. domestic pyramid of credit, but lets ignore that for now.

    So "they" give us real stuff made of raw material and labor inputs and we give them wampum!!! Greatest scam in history.

    Mark P. , April 25, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Greatest scam in history.

    It absolutely is. It's as much an advance on the British Empire as that was on the Roman system.

    craazyboy , April 25, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    "The dollar supports a double pyramid of credit, one domestic and the other foreign. "

    Except the PBoC prints the Many Yuan to buy dollars from the Chinese banking system. The value of the Many Yuan is backed by sales of exports, in that case. A tiny little subset where MMT (The imaginary version) is actually in force. Then the PBoC buys our debt with these foreign reserves, which we wisely spend on our country and citizens.

    Next, the Chinese banking system, thru the power of The Money Multiplier, uses that base money to make loans and expand credit to Chinese.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    " The value of the Many Yuan is backed by sales of exports, in that case."

    WTF? The value the "Many Yuan" is backed by the sale of exports which yields wampum, uh I mean dollars, and they purchase the dollars with the many yuan they created. The PBoC expands its balance sheet to buy those dollars with yuan created from nothing, hence the double pyramid of credit. The dollars get lent back to us in the form of U.S. government securities because we issue the word's "boomerang" currency.

    And yes you can run a system like this; for how long? That is the big question.

    Yves Smith Post author , April 25, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    No, you have this wrong.

    They want the jobs!

    And you have misunderstood what those reserves are for. The Fed also can't spend all of those US assets it holds on its balance sheet either, now can it?

    The use of foreign currency reserves is to defend the currency and keep the IMF away. Having a currency depreciate rapidly leads to a big inflation spike (unless you are close to being an autarky) due to the prices of foreign goods, in particular commodities, going up in your currency.

    China is not self sufficient in a whole bunch of things, including in particular energy.

    It had a spell last year when it was running through its FX reserves at such a rate that it would have breached the IMF trouble level for an economy of its size if it had persisted for 4-6 months more.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    You sound like you must be an economist.

    A chemist, a physicist and economist are ship wrecked on a deserted island with only some canned goods for food. They sit down to figure out how they are going to open the cans. To which the economist says: "assume we have a can opener"

    craazyboy , April 25, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Three MMT Economists are stranded on a desert island.

    They say, "WTF's a can opener? That sounds like work!" and live 3 months and are then rescued by Skipper, Gillian, Mary Ann and the Perfesser too, on an Easter Break Tour. Ginger and Mr. Howe are downstairs busy downstairs knocking up.

    They are living happily ever after in Kansas City, Mo.

    a different chris , April 25, 2017 at 11:41 am

    >The dollar standard will be with us for a long time.

    Why?

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    That struck me as "famous last words" material.

    Seems to me the dollar system will work until it doesn't. And those who run it have been doing all within their power for about 15 years to encourage anyone who can to come up with an alternative.

    None look viable, and they won't until suddenly one is.

    Yves Smith Post author , April 25, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    There isn't a viable alternative.

    The euro isn't one due to the mess its banking system is in. Japan doesn't want the job and in any event is a military protectorate of the US.

    China is a minimum of 20 years away. Even though it would like the status of being the reserve currency, it most decidedly does not want the attendant obligations, which are running ongoing trade deficits, which is tantamount to exporting jobs. Maintaining high levels of employment and wage growth are the paramount goals for China's leaders. There are underreported riots pretty much all the time in China due to dissatisfaction over labor conditions now. The officialdom is not going to commit political suicide. Domestic needs always trump foreign goals.

    lyman alpha blob , April 25, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Just getting around to reading Piketty's doorstopper and was struck by his argument that prior to WWI there had been very little inflation worldwide for centuries. It was the need to pay off all the war debt that shook things up.

    Graeber's book on debt also makes the argument that money as physical circulating metal currency came about because of the need to pay for wars.

    Something similar seems to have been going on with the Bretton Woods agreement.

    I know it's crazy but I'm just going to throw it out there – maybe if we'd like a more stable economy we could try starting fewer very destabilizing, extremely expensive wars???

    wandering mind , April 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    That is exactly my thought. There is a disturbing cycle of war, monetary expansion to pay for the war, post-war deflation leading to political instability, leading to a repeat of the cycle, at least in Europe and the U.S.

    One can see this even in the period between the creation of the Bank of England through the end of the Napoleonic wars.

    It is evident as well in the United States pre- and post-Civil war.

    Deficit hawks never seem to have a problem with war-time deficit spending, only general welfare deficit spending.

    We could have a system where the fiscal power of the state is fully harnessed for the general welfare, but that would threaten the current system which allows a small minority to overwhelmingly reap the benefits of the money creation power of the state and private banks.

    This renders the issue a political one more than a purely economic one. If history is any guide, we will continue to have the kind of political uncertainty we've experienced until there has been enough war spending to start the cycle over again. :(

    RBHoughton , April 25, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Wander no more Mind, you have struck on the bedrock of reality

    Henry , April 25, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    " The inflation that started in the later 1960s was substantially if not entirely the result of Lyndon Johnson refusing to raise taxes "

    I'm almost afraid to ask, but how does this make sense? Any increase in taxes will be passed on to the consumer to increase prices even more. If you doubt this, watch what Trump's import taxes do to prices.

    Yves Smith Post author , April 25, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    No, you have been propagandized by the right wing anti tax people.

    Taxes drains demand from the economy. Lower demand means more slack, more merchants having to compete with each other, some headcount cuts, etc.

    By deficit spending in an economy that was already at full employment, Johnson basically guaranteed inflation. Both his own former economist, Walter Heller, and Milton Friedman warned against it. But because Heller was a Dem and an outlier (most Dems weren't gonna challenge their own party's policies), it was Friedman's warnings that were publicized.

    Kalen , April 25, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Another subject that is relevant to the current post 2008 collapse and FED shenanigans to save the day. i.e. save their cronies. And what it is completely missing in this piece written by the insiders is exactly that Bretton Woods; Cui Bono:namely US ruling elite and new world order after WWII.

    Bretton Woods was a monetary session of the overall conference 1944-1945 of new world order namely a formal switch from British empire global dominance system into American global dominance system and trade/monetary policies were just an important but small part of overall new global political and military arrangement.

    Global pound was killed, global dollar has been created and blessed by western sphere of influence and defended by supposedly the most powerful US militarily in the world, [as was British navy before] US military of global reach via US navy and air force.

    The political symbolism of Bretton Woods conference correlated with invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the last step in defeating Nazism in Europe cannot be understated.

    Also the dominance of two figures of White and Keynes in this conference is an exemplification of closing era of British empire as a world [decaying at that time] leader which was accelerated by the role of Japanese and German/Italian aggression in colonial Asia, Africa [also helped by French surrender to Nazis that spurred western support for independent French colony of Algeria] and ME boosted up the anti-colonial movements and political parties, which like in Vietnam even US supported during WWII.

    Little known fact is that Nazis championed themselves as anti-colonial force in ME while they attempted to colonize eastern Europe.The many Arabs fell for this propaganda siding with Nazis against British colonialism in Palestine setting themselves against Jews vehemently anti Nazi at that time.

    In other words Bretton Woods was a consequence of the fact that British empire was collapsing fast ironically with the help of its allies and that Included Soviets. Also helped that British were broke and all the British Gold was already in the US as a payment for bankrolling British defenses in Europe since 1940 and elsewhere, so were Soviet gold payments for military technology and materiel they received from US and allies.

    The political void had to be filled or it would have been filled by Soviets, and hence the Bretton Woods system was not based on unfettered exploitation of slaves of newly expanded US empire what US Oligarchy would have liked and was freely practicing before 1929, but for ideological reason was aimed for economic improvements in order to stem massive anti-capitalist, communist and anti-colonist movements that threatened western hegemony over the world and hence the dreaded anti-capitalist words used by in Bretton Woods system like fixed exchange rate or blasphemous capital controls, things the would crucify you if you utter them today during a seminar in any Ivy league economy department.

    Bretton Woods was primarily a tool into an ideological war west and Soviets knew they would have to fight, cold or hot.

    This [economic dominance] war ended in mid nineteen sixties when seeds of collapse of Soviet Union and betrayal of leftist ideals and socialist/communists movements all over the world were sawed and hence Bretton Woods was no longer needed and brutality of unfettered capitalist could begin to return starting with Kennedy tax cut freeing capital in private hands and then FED going full fiat in later 1960-ties, capital flow deregulation, free floating currencies, all that for benefit of oligarchic class and of colossal detriment to American workers, devastating result of which we are experiencing now.

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    One of the great ironies of Bretton Woods is that Harry Dexter White, the US rep at the talks was in fact a Soviet agent. I wonder if he understood monetary economics enough to hope that the Bretton Woods gold standard system, as opposed to Keynes bancor proposal, would self immolate with a run on US gold stocks and take the West down with it.

    OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL , April 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Let's think of "root causes", both Keynes and White were big fans of Soviet-style command and control top-down planned economies ("I have seen the future and it works!"). So that's what they divined and devised for money: a top-down price-fixing regime.

    So while people would laugh themselves silly if you told them we were going to price things the way the Soviets did ("we'll raise X number of cows because we'll need Y quantity of shoe leather"), we somehow accept central planning for the price of the most important item of all: money itself. The supreme geniuses at the Fed et al, with their supreme formulae, can divine at any moment precisely what the price of money should be. This, of course, is folly.

    And people should understand that the gold standard (not the gold-exchange standard it is often confused with) was not designed, was not somehow imposed, and was not agreed upon by some collective body. It simply arose organically because time and again through painful experience throughout history it was shown that any system where people can simply vote themselves more money ends in tears. Not usually, but always. You'd think that a 100% historical failure rate would clue people in to rethink the head-hammer-hitting approach.

    And as Dr. Haygood points out above, "everything floating against everything else" is nothing but a colossal waste of time and money. You wouldn't attempt to build or make something without an agreed and immutable unit of measure.

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Completely untrue of Keynes. He ran the UK Treasury twice very pointedly in the interests of industrial capitalists. He was however very opposed to financial rents, a real classicist in that regard.

    jsn , April 25, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Keynes ran the UK treasury twice more or less along classical lines: in favor of industrial capitalism and against financial rents. Not top down, not Soviet. Its not clear where you get your facts, fiat systems have lasted hundreds of years many times. They tend to arise in empires with secure borders. They depend on the productive relations of their societies for the value of their money rather than a commodity hedge.

    Warfare favors the commodity hedge because the productive relations in a society are frequently destroyed by war. Because of the stickyness of wages, hard currency tends to choke economic growth because a fixed money supply has to be spread increasingly thin as more real wealth is created to be denominated with a fixed quantity of specie, requiring wages to drop because there is more stuff to purchase.

    Each has benefits and costs, both are tools and while the one favors growth and the other war, neither must be used for either. A representative system will use either as its constituencies direct, an authoritarian one according to the intent of the authority. It isn't tools that make the problems, though some are better for some purposes than others. It is the intent of the powerful that is expressed and from which others suffer.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    @jsn " fiat systems have lasted hundreds of years many times."

    what? can you please back that statement up. Only major fiat system in history that I have ever seen written about is the one that existed in China several hundred years ago. If there were others you need to give some examples.

    Todde , April 25, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    Split Tally sticks.

    OpenthepodbaydoorsHAL , April 25, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    I think you objected to my comments without actually refuting them:
    1. We have a top-down price fixing money system;
    2. Keynes and White were a big fans of Soviet central planning (see The Battle for Bretton Woods for chapter and verse);
    3. And I've never understood the "fixed quantity of specie" argument. Surely it's about price, not physical quantity. You could easily run the world economy on 100 tons of gold if it was priced accordingly.

    Vikas Saini , April 25, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Michael Hudson's book Superimperialism, published astonishingly in 1972, nailed it. Details some great history of FDR's economic diplomacy during the late Depression and WW2 period that preceded the Bretton Woods settlement. Worth a read.

    Mark P. , April 25, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    More than worth a read. Essential.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    yes Michael Hudson is great, but that is why he must be marginalized/ignored. Can't maintain control of the official narrative if people like Hudson were to ever be taken seriously..

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    "However, the likelihood that the dollar will be replaced as the dominant international currency in the foreseeable future remains remote. The dollar standard and the legacy of the Bretton Woods system will be with us for a long time."

    That is the BIG question and the answer remains to be seen. I for one don't believe it will continue much longer, but then again nobody knows. Bordo also leaves out a critical part of the narrative, i.e., the U.S. secret deal with Saudi Arabia in 1974 to officially tie the dollar to oil. See link below for details. Without this secret arrangement the dollar would have never survived as the international reserve currency. The Saudis reportedly pushed for greater use of the SDR, but the U.S. made them a deal they couldn't refuse and the Saudi royal family realized that if they didn't go along with U.S. demands the CIA would find some other branch of the family that would.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-05-30/the-untold-story-behind-saudi-arabia-s-41-year-u-s-debt-secret

    The system is a mess and it is retarded to allow one country's currency to serve as the main reserve asset for the system. That is the ultimate free lunch and the equivalent to believing in a perpetual motion machine. It is hard to believe in can continue much longer despite of Bordo's view that it will. It has reached a point where it has created massive problems that can not continue.

    MyLessThanPrimeBeef , April 25, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    So, it's not 'out of thin air.

    It's back by the might of the Pentagon mightier than gold.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Exactly! But nobody at the Fed is going to explain this to anyone, anytime soon.

    Mark P. , April 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    MyLessThanPrimeBeef wrote: So, it's not 'out of thin air. It's back by the might of the Pentagon mightier than gold.

    And in turn the seignorage on that ability to create as much of the global reserve currency as the U.S. likes pays for the Pentagon.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seigniorage

    So in a sense when China and Russia are forced to hold dollars for global trade, they're essentially paying for the Pentagon to do what it's doing. You can see why they'd be mad.

    steven , April 25, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    It is almost a gift from heaven when fixing a single problem offers the chance to fix a whole bunch of them. This IMHO is very possibly one of those gifts. Without this "ultimate free lunch" the globalization scam of allowing this country's and the world's 1% to keep adding zeros to their bank accounts ("to keep score" as Pres. Trump puts it) would not have been possible. Without countries like Saudi Arabia willing to keep accepting more "debt that can't be repaid (and) won't be", the US military industrial complex would not be able to keep increasing its threat to world peace and threatening the survival of humanity. Without the Saudi stranglehold over politics and US Middle Eastern policy the US could stop killing Muslims in its bogus 'war on terror'. It could get busy replacing its fossil fuel energy sources with renewable ones and its oil-powered transportation system with an electrified one (yes, maybe even a few EVs)

    @Robert NYC – Thanks for the link.

    Mark P. , April 25, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    It is hard to believe in can continue much longer despite of Bordo's view that it will.

    And yet where is the dollar's replacement?

    If you'd told me ten years that the petrodollar as an institution enforcing compliance w. the dollar as global reserve currency could end and yet the dollar would continue with that status, I'd have laughed at you. However, that increasingly looks like it might happen.

    Yes, yes, I know - we await the basket of currencies solution pushed by China and Russia, and others sick of the situation. We've been waiting for a while now.

    Steven , April 25, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    I'm thinking globalization has something to do with the dollar's longevity. Strip a country of the ability to support itself by exporting its jobs and it's people become dependent on a strong military to insure it's money continues to be "accepted" even when it's people no longer have anything to trade for what they really need.

    Moneta , April 25, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    I think there is indeed a link between the usd as reserve currency and the military budget.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    @Moneta, these numbers are roughly correct. The U.S. defense budget is about $600 billion, the trade deficit is about $600 billion and last year we issued $1.4 trillion in incremental debt. Foreigners own about 40% of U.S. debt. 40% of of $1.4 trillion is $560 billion so yes there is a pretty strong correlation. Massive defense budget wouldn't be possible without reserve currency scam.

    Robert NYC , April 25, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    @Mark P.

    yes that is the conundrum. It doesn't make a lot of sense but it goes on and on. Another 50 years? Unlikely.

    Adamski , April 25, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    I'm completely confused. Anything available in plain English for laypeople?

    "The adjustment problem in Bretton Woods reflected downward rigidity in wages and prices which prevented the normal price adjustment of the gold standard price specie flow mechanism to operate"

    George Job , April 25, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    That fiat currencies have lasted hundreds of years jsn is simply not true. I was thinking forty but here we see 27!
    http://georgewashington2.blogspot.com/2011/08/average-life-expectancy-for-fiat.html

    And it's the US and Canada being the only countries globally not marking their gold holdings to market. (or audit) Reserve currency indeed!
    http://marketupdate.nl/en/analysis-china-marks-gold-reserve-at-market-value/

    Tim , April 25, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    Canada which was one of the founding members of Bretton Woods pulled out as early as 1949 in order to move to a floating exchange rate and full capital mobility. Bretton Woods was dead before it ever began.

    [Apr 14, 2017] If the Federal Reserve can create trillions of dollars with a single keystroke, and the Fed is the governments bank, then why does President Obama claim weve run out of money?

    Apr 14, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    RGC , April 14, 2017 at 05:48 AM
    So ask yourself this question:

    If the Federal Reserve can create trillions of dollars with a single keystroke, and the Fed is the government's bank, then why does President Obama claim we've "run out" of money?

    Why have Democrats and so-called progressives supported job-killing budget cuts in the name of "shared sacrifice"? Why are we throwing away the equivalent of $9.8 billion in lost output every single day? Why don't we do something about our $2.2 trillion infrastructure deficit, 25 million underemployed and unemployed Americans, 100 million Americans in or very near poverty, and so on?

    The answer is simple. Most of us don't understand the monetary system. Instead of deciding how the government should wield its power over the dollar, we live in fear of the ratings agencies, the Chinese, the bond market vigilantes and other imaginary evils. And this holds all of us back. Unused resources abound, human needs go unmet, and the vast majority of Americans believe that 'There Is No Alternative' (TINA). Or, as Warren Mosler says, "Because we fear becoming the next Greece, we're turning ourselves into the next Japan."

    There is an alternative. And it begins with an understanding of the monetary system. The cat is already out of the bag. Chairman Bernanke confirms it. Money is no object.

    http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2012/03/where-did-the-federal-reserve-get-all-that-money.html

    RGC -> RGC... , April 14, 2017 at 05:51 AM
    Prominent C20th Economist Explains How the Lie is for Our Own Good

    Posted on 2 January 2014

    Infamous footage of Paul Samuelson, posted by Mike Norman, explaining why we can't be trusted with the truth.

    Just believe the scary bedtime story about the big bad Budget Deficit and stay asleep now. There's a good child.

    http://heteconomist.com/prominent-c20th-economist-explains-how-the-lie-is-for-our-own-good/

    BenIsNotYoda -> RGC... , April 14, 2017 at 06:59 AM
    RGC,
    the people here have been brainwashed and can not think for themselves. If it has not been approved by their favorite academic, it is a crank theory. they'd rather believe in fairy tales like NGDP level targeting - the fed will wish it into reality. Rather than pay attention to the MMT that you and I subscribe to.
    BenIsNotYoda -> BenIsNotYoda... , April 14, 2017 at 07:04 AM
    Moreover it is logical for them to stick to the "the Fed is omnipotent" as it bids up asset prices and maintains the status quo. It vests more power in the institutions that benefit the people you see here.

    Blame the right, blame the deregulators, blame the tax cutters, blame the liberatarians, etc. that is the how they maintain the status quo. And Mosler is right on - Bernanke turned us into Japan trying to save us from that fate. And he is sliding down the rabbit hole - "I should have doubled down on my failed strategy"
    why? because he was able to bid up the stock market? I bet you everyone of the Fed worshippers here benefit personally from the asset price binges that the stupid Fed has gotten us addicted to.

    RGC -> BenIsNotYoda... , April 14, 2017 at 07:40 AM
    There has been a major propaganda element in economics for a long time.

    People have to dig deep to discover the truth and many don't have the time.

    There is a lot of money behind the propaganda on the neoclassical/neoliberal side so it gets a lot more publicity.

    As that side sinks the society deeper and deeper into malfunction, hopefully more people will take the time to understand.

    JohnH -> RGC... , April 14, 2017 at 09:13 AM
    Yep! "There has been a major propaganda element in economics for a long time."

    Robert Rubin had an opinion piece at the Council on Foreign Relations, another propaganda rag: "Don't Politicize the Federal Reserve"
    http://www.cfr.org/monetary-policy/dont-politicize-federal-reserve/p39037

    Per Rubin and his cronies in the Wall Street banking cartel, the Fed is fine as it is...serving the interests of the Wall Street banking cartel. The cartel has a good think going...why disrupt it by taking into account the public good?

    Has Rubin ever done anything in the interest of the public?

    [Apr 13, 2017] I hate the word manipulation in this context. China isn't doing anything in the dark of the night that we are trying to catch them at.

    Apr 13, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    anne , April 13, 2017 at 07:44 AM
    http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/china-and-currency-values-fast-growing-countries-run-trade-deficits

    April 13, 2017

    China and Currency Values: Fast Growing Countries Run Trade Deficits

    I don't generally comment on pieces that reference me, but Jordan Weissman has given me such a beautiful teachable moment that I can't resist. Weissman wrote * about Donald Trump's reversal on his campaign pledge to declare China a currency manipulator. Weissman assures us that Trump was completely wrong in his campaign rhetoric and that China does not in fact try to depress the value of its currency.

    "It's pretty hard to argue with that. Far from devaluing its currency, China has actually spent more than $1 trillion of its vaunted foreign reserves over the past couple of years trying to prop up the value of the yuan as investors have funneled money overseas. There are some on the left, like economist Dean Baker, who will argue that Beijing is still effectively suppressing the redback's value by refusing to unwind its dollar reserves more quickly. But if China were really keeping its currency severely underpriced, you'd expect it to still have a big current account surplus, reminiscent of 10 years ago, which it doesn't anymore."

    Okay, to start with, I hate the word "manipulation" in this context. China isn't doing anything in the dark of the night that we are trying to catch them at. The country pretty explicitly manages the value of its currency against the dollar, that is why it holds more than $3 trillion in reserves. So let's just use the word "manage," in reference to its currency. It is more neutral and more accurate.

    It also allows us to get away from the idea that China is somehow a villain and that we here in the good old US of A are the victims. There are plenty of large U.S. corporations that hugely benefit from having an under-valued Chinese currency. For example Walmart has developed a low cost supply chain that depends largely on goods manufactured in China. It is not anxious for the price of the items it imports rise by 15-30 percent because of a rise in the value of the yuan against the dollar.

    The same applies to big manufacturers like GE that have moved much of their production to China and other developing countries. These companies do not "lose" because China is running a large trade surplus with the United States, they were in fact big winners.

    Okay, but getting back to the issue at hand, I'm going to throw the textbook at Weissman. It is not true that we should expect China "to still have big current account surplus" if it were deliberately keeping its currency below market levels.

    China is a developing country with an annual growth rate of close to 7.0 percent. The U.S. is a rich country with growth averaging less than 2.0 percent in last five years. Europe is growing at just a 1.0 percent rate, and Japan even more slowly. Contrary to what Weissman tells us, we should expect that capital would flow from slow growing rich countries to fast growing developing countries. This is because capital will generally get a better return in an economy growing at a 7.0 percent rate than the 1-2 percent rate in the rich countries.

    If capital flows from rich countries to poor countries, this means they are running current account surpluses. The capital flows are financing imports in developing countries. These imports allow developing countries to sustain the living standards of their populations even as they build up their infrastructure and capital stock. In other words, if China was not depressing the value of its currency we should it expect it to be running a large trade deficit.

    This is actually the way the world worked way back in the 1990s, a period apparently beyond the memory of most economics reporters. The countries of East Asia enjoyed extremely rapid growth, ** while running large trade deficits. This all changed following the East Asian financial crisis and the disastrous bailout arranged by Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin and friends. *** Developing countries became huge exporters of capital as they held down the value of their currencies in order to run large trade surpluses and build up massive amounts of reserves.

    But Weissman is right that China is no longer buying up reserves, but the issue is its huge stock of reserves. As I explained in a blogpost **** a couple of days ago:

    "Porter is right that China is no longer buying reserves, but it still holds over $3 trillion in reserves. This figure goes to well over $4 trillion if we include its sovereign wealth fund. Is there a planet where we don't think this affects the value of the dollar relative to the yuan?

    "To help people's thought process, the Federal Reserve Board holds over $3 trillion in assets as a result of its quantitative easing program. I don't know an economist anywhere who doesn't think the Fed's holding of assets is still keeping interest rates down, as compared to a scenario in which it had a more typical $500 billion to $1 trillion in assets.

    "Currencies work the same way. If China offloaded $3 trillion in reserves and sovereign wealth holdings, it would increase the supply of dollars in the world. And, as Karl Marx says, when the supply of something increases, its price falls. In other words, if China had a more normal amount of reserve holdings, the value of the dollar would fall, increasing the competitiveness of U.S. goods and services, thereby reducing the trade deficit."

    So, there really are no mysteries here. China is holding down the value of its currency, which is making the U.S. trade deficit worse. It is often claimed that they want their currency to rise. That may well be true, which suggests an obvious opportunity for cooperation. If the U.S. and China announce a joint commitment to raise the value of the yuan over the next 2-3 years then we can be fairly certain of accomplishing this goal.

    This should be a very simple win-win for both countries. Walmart and GE might be unhappy, but almost everyone else would be big winners, especially if we told them not to worry about Pfizer's drug patent and Microsoft's copyright on Windows.

    * http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2017/04/12/trump_changes_his_mind_decides_china_isn_t_a_currency_manipulator_after.html

    ** http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2016/02/weodata/weorept.aspx?pr.x=45&pr.y=7&sy=1990&ey=2000&scsm=1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&c=522%2C924%2C536%2C578%2C548%2C582&s=NGDP_RPCH%2CBCA_NGDPD&grp=0&a=

    *** http://img.timeinc.net/time/magazine/archive/covers/1999/1101990215_400.jpg

    **** http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/trump-china-and-trade

    -- Dean Baker

    [Apr 13, 2017] Another face of secular stagnation and outsourcing of manufacturing

    Apr 13, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com

    libezkova said... April 13, 2017 at 08:51 AM Another face of secular stagnation and outsourcing of manufacturing:

    The De-Electrification of the U.S. Economy - Bloomberg View
    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-04-12/the-de-electrification-of-the-u-s-economy

    == quote ==
    In much of the world, of course, electricity demand is still growing. In China, per-capita electricity use has more than quadrupled since 1999. Still, most other developed countries have experienced a plateauing or decline in electricity use similar to that in the U.S. over the past decade. And while the phenomenon has been most pronounced in countries such as the U.K. where the economy has been especially weak, it's also apparent in Australia, which hasn't experienced a recession since 1991.
    == end of quote ==

    From comments:

    One interesting data point that should be within that "industrial" number: "U.S. aluminum production has gone from 2.5 million tons in 2005 to 1.6 million in 2015." http://www.seattletimes.com...

    Aluminum smelting uses a lot of electricity, and that's a 36% decline. I'm not sure of the total electricity use of the aluminum industry in the U.S. but it's conceivably big enough to make a difference in that last graph.

    [Apr 13, 2017] Currency manipulation vs currency management

    Apr 13, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    anne , April 12, 2017 at 08:23 AM
    http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/trump-china-and-trade

    April 11, 2017

    Trump, China, and Trade

    It is unfortunate that Donald Trump seems closer to the mark on China and trade than many economists and people who write on economic issues for major news outlets. Today, Eduardo Porter gets things partly right in his column * telling readers "Trump isn't wrong on China currency manipulation just late." The thrust of the piece is that China did in fact deliberately prop up the dollar against its currency, thereby causing the U.S. trade deficit to explode. However, he argues this is all history now and that China's currency is properly valued.

    Let's start with the first part of the story. It's hardly a secret that China bought trillions of dollars of foreign exchange in the last decade. The predicted and actual effect of this action was to raise the value of the dollar against the yuan. The result is that the price of U.S. exports were inflated for people living in China and the price of imports from China were held down.

    Porter then asks why the Bush administration didn't do anything when this trade deficit was exploding in the years 2002–2007. We get the answer from Eswar Prasad, a former I.M.F. official who headed their oversight of China:

    "'There were other dimensions of China's economic policies that were seen as more important to U.S. economic and business interests,' Eswar Prasad, who headed the China desk at the International Monetary Fund and is now a professor at Cornell, told me. These included 'greater market access, better intellectual property rights protection, easier access to investment opportunities, etc.'"

    Okay, step back and absorb this one. Mr. Prasad is saying that millions of manufacturing workers in the Midwest lost their jobs and saw their communities decimated because the Bush administration wanted to press China to enforce Pfizer's patents on drugs, Microsoft's copyrights on Windows, and to secure better access to China's financial markets for Goldman Sachs.

    This is not a new story, in fact I say it all the time. But it's nice to have the story confirmed by the person who occupied the International Monetary Fund's China desk at the time.

    Porter then jumps in and gets his story completely 100 percent wrong:

    "At the end of the day, economists argued at the time, Chinese exchange rate policies didn't cost the United States much. After all, in 2007 the United States was operating at full employment. The trade deficit was because of Americans' dismal savings rate and supercharged consumption, not a cheap renminbi. After all, if Americans wanted to consume more than they created, they had to get it somewhere."

    Sorry, this was the time when even very calm sensible people like Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke were talking about a "savings glut." The U.S. and the world had too much savings, which lead to a serious problem of unemployment. Oh, we did eventually find a way to deal with excess savings.

    Anyone remember the housing bubble? The demand generated by the bubble eventually pushed the labor market close to full employment. (The employment rate of prime age workers was still down by 2.0 percentage points in 2007 compared to 2000 - and the drop was for both men and women, so skip the problem with men story.)

    Yeah, that bubble didn't end too well. So much for Porter's no big deal story.

    But what about the present, are we all good now?

    Porter is right that China is no longer buying reserves, but it still holds over $3 trillion in reserves. This figure goes to well over $4 trillion if we include its sovereign wealth fund. Is there a planet where we don't think this affects the value of the dollar relative to the yuan?

    To help people's thought process, the Federal Reserve Board holds over $3 trillion in assets as a result of its quantitative easing program. I don't know an economist anywhere who doesn't think the Fed's holding of assets is still keeping interest rates down, as compared to a scenario in which it had a more typical $500 billion to $1 trillion in assets.

    Currencies work the same way. If China offloaded $3 trillion in reserves and sovereign wealth holdings, it would increase the supply of dollars in the world. And, as Karl Marx says, when the supply of something increases, its price falls. In other words, if China had a more normal amount of reserve holdings, the value of the dollar would fall, increasing the competitiveness of U.S. goods and services, thereby reducing the trade deficit.

    At the beginning of the piece, Porter discusses the question of China's currency "manipulation." (I would much prefer the more neutral and accurate term "currency management." There is nothing very secret here.) He tells readers:

    "It would be hard, these days, to find an economist who feels China fits the bill."

    Perhaps. Of course it would have been difficult to find an economist who recognized the $8 trillion housing bubble, the collapse of which wrecked the economy. As the saying goes, "economists are not very good at economics."

    * https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/business/economy/trump-china-currency-manipulation-trade.html

    -- Dean Baker

    [Apr 12, 2017] The Despair of Learning That Experience No Longer Matters

    Apr 12, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    RGC , April 12, 2017 at 06:41 AM
    The Despair of Learning That Experience No Longer Matters

    By Benjamin Wallace-Wells April 10, 2017

    .....................

    The arguments about Case and Deaton's work have been an echo of the one that consumed so much of the primary campaign, and then the general election, and which is still unresolved: whether the fury of Donald Trump's supporters came from cultural and racial grievance or from economic plight. Case and Deaton's scholarship does not settle the question. As they write, more than once, "more work is needed."

    But part of what Case and Deaton offer in their new paper is an emotional logic to an economic argument. If returns to experience are in decline, if wisdom no longer pays off, then that might help suggest why a group of mostly older people who are not, as a group, disadvantaged might become convinced that the country has taken a turn for the worse. It suggests why their grievances should so idealize the past, and why all the talk about coal miners and factories, jobs in which unions have codified returns to experience into the salary structure, might become such a fixation. Whatever comes from the deliberations over Case and Deaton's statistics, there is within their numbers an especially interesting story.

    http://www.newyorker.com/news/benjamin-wallace-wells/the-despair-of-learning-that-experience-no-longer-matters

    [Apr 12, 2017] Should France leave the EU, would euros held by, say, someone in Italy then become worthless?

    Apr 12, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    Anachronism -> anne... , April 12, 2017 at 04:58 AM
    Dr Krugman ignored another wrinkle in France leaving the euro; the euro itself.

    While GB joined the EU, it retained the british pound. So, Brexit won't affect it monetarily. France, on the other hand, did convert to the euro (in hindsight, another enormous mistake). Each euro has an identifier, similar to how we designate the origin by Fed Reserve, which designates it's country of origin.

    So, should France leave the EU, would euros held by, say, someone in Italy then become worthless? This isn't someone most people concern themselves with. When was the last time someone on this blog check to see which dollars in your wallet came from the Denver Fed? But, it may well be that the EU would stop honoring French euros, should they leave.

    What a mess.

    anne -> Anachronism... , April 12, 2017 at 05:18 AM
    Interesting conjecture, but a Euro printed in France belongs to the Euro Area rather than to France in the same way that a dollar printed in Denver belongs to the United States. There is by the way, to my understanding, no treaty provision describing how any country in the Euro Area might leave.
    pgl -> Anachronism... , April 12, 2017 at 05:42 AM
    "Start with the euro. The single currency was and is a flawed project, and countries that never joined – Sweden, the UK, Iceland – have benefited from the flexibility that comes from independent currencies. There is, however, a huge difference between choosing not to join in the first place and leaving once in."

    What did he ignore again?

    pgl -> Anachronism... , April 12, 2017 at 05:43 AM
    "should France leave the EU, would euros held by, say, someone in Italy then become worthless?"

    They could readily convert existing Euros into Francs. This is the reverse of what they did in 1999.

    Peter K. -> pgl... , April 12, 2017 at 08:27 AM
    PGL thinks France can easily convert Euros into Francs or Germany can convert its Euros into DMs?

    That would blow up the monetary union.

    What a nut bar.

    pgl -> Peter K.... , April 12, 2017 at 09:26 AM
    "That would blow up the monetary union."

    Oh gee - the end of the Euro would be the end of the universe. My internet stalker writes another incredibly stupid comment.

    Peter K. -> pgl... , April 12, 2017 at 09:53 AM
    " My internet stalker writes another incredibly stupid comment."

    Shut up, old man. Stick to the subject at hand. Oh right you WANT to change the subject with insults.

    Peter K. -> Anachronism... , April 12, 2017 at 08:29 AM
    "So, should France leave the EU..."

    Even if Greece left it would cause turmoil in the financial markets. That's the known unknown people are focused on to start the next crisis.

    [Apr 12, 2017] What is the conceptual difference between the monetary base and outside money ?

    Apr 12, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    Lee A. Arnold April 12, 2017 at 03:02 AM

    A question, for anyone: What is the conceptual difference between the "monetary base" and "outside money"? pgl -> Lee A. Arnold ... , April 12, 2017 at 05:40 AM
    Outside money is money that is not a liability for anyone "inside" the economy. Think gold and silver.

    The monetary base represents bank reserves and cash which are liabilities of the FED.

    Lee A. Arnold -> pgl... , April 12, 2017 at 06:23 AM
    Okay, but then the bank reserves which are held at the Fed by law could be defined as part of "outside money", because they aren't backed by anything in the private economy. Those reserves are established, or insisted upon, by government fiat, in essence. We know those reserves are not really backed by a precious metal or anything else but faith. So why are bank reserves held at the Fed not included in the definition of "outside money"?
    RGC -> Lee A. Arnold ... , April 12, 2017 at 07:08 AM
    From the standpoint of the private economy, reserves are 'outside money", because they circulate only within the Fed system. Currency is inside money because it circulates within the private economy, although it also circulates between government and private banks.

    The monetary base is both currency and reserves.

    So it takes a clear understanding of the purpose of the discussion and maybe even a Venn diagram.

    Lee A. Arnold -> RGC... , April 12, 2017 at 09:13 AM
    According to the definitions I can find, cash notes and coins (currency) are "outside money", even though they circulate within the private economy.
    pgl -> RGC... , April 12, 2017 at 09:24 AM
    You are using a different definition of "outside" here.
    RGC -> pgl... , April 12, 2017 at 10:03 AM
    How about this:

    Outside money is money that is either of a fiat nature (unbacked) or backed by some asset that is not in zero net supply within the private sector of the economy.

    Thus, outside money is a net asset for the private sector. The qualifier outside is short for (coming from) outside the private sector.

    Inside money is an asset representing, or backed by, any form of private credit that circulates as a medium of exchange.

    Since it is one private agent's liability and at the same time some other agent's asset, inside money is in zero net supply within the private sector.

    The qualifier inside is short for (backed by debt from) inside the private sector.

    https://minneapolisfed.org/research/SR/SR374.pdf

    JF -> Lee A. Arnold ... , April 12, 2017 at 08:57 AM
    Reserves established by govt fiat????

    These are entries in accounts owned by the banks and put there by the banks and are money. These can not be 'taken' by the govt without compensation per law.

    Govt fiat money created these??? No.

    What concerns you?

    pgl -> JF... , April 12, 2017 at 09:25 AM
    Good point and the right question.
    Lee A. Arnold -> JF... , April 12, 2017 at 09:53 AM
    JF, Sorry, I only meant that the minimum reserves are established by the decree of the public-private partnership known as the central bank. So I was using "fiat" in the sense of "law". I should not have written that the bank reserves are established by gov't "fiat" in a discussion about money, because that is confusing.

    And the reason for this law is to make sure that banks can cover their needs for cash, to prevent a run on the banking system.

    But what this means, is that the ultimate foundation of part of the individual's trust in the money that is used, is based upon the existence of the requirement for bank reserves. Otherwise, people wouldn't trust the money supply. The trust is not based on any function more basic than bank reserves.

    What else do people trust? Well of course people already trust paper notes and coins in daily transactions: they automatically suppose that the gov't backs it up. Backs it up, with what?, they do not know; but it works. And for checks and debits, they suppose that the bank is good for the cash -- which ultimately is based on the reserve requirement. So therefore, "trust" of money by the common folk is presently based upon 2 things, the existence of currency and the (vaguely understood yet reassuring) existence of bank reserves.

    Well, the "money base" is defined as reserves + cash & coin. However, this seems to me to be the same definition as "outside money". So I am still wondering if there is another difference between the definitions.

    Certainly people think of gold & silver as money, but if that is the only difference between "monetary base" and "outside money", I think it would be easy to alter the definition of "currency" to include them.

    pgl -> Lee A. Arnold ... , April 12, 2017 at 09:24 AM
    Of course banks reserves are not backed by gold. Gold is outside money - reserves are different.

    But the FED does record them as a liability. Are you saying the FED is made up of Martians or what?

    Not sure why you are confusing what appears to be a very simple distinction.

    Peter K. -> pgl... , April 12, 2017 at 09:52 AM
    "Not sure why you are confusing what appears to be a very simple distinction."

    Not everyone is as smart as the pompous PGL the Facile!

    [Apr 11, 2017] Legacy systems written in COBOL that depends on a shrinking pool of aging programmers to baby

    Notable quotes:
    "... Of course after legacy systems [people] were retrenched or shown the door in making government more efficient MBA style, some did hit the jack pot as consultants and made more that on the public dime . but the Gov balance sheet got a nice one time blip. ..."
    "... In the government, projects "helped" by Siemens, especially at the Home and Passport Offices, cost billions and were abandoned. At my former employer, an eagle's nest, it was Deloittes. At my current employer, which has lost its passion to perform, it's KPMG and EY helping. ..."
    "... My personal favourite is Accenture / British Gas . But then you've also got the masterclass in cockups Raytheon / U.K. Border Agency . Or for sheer breadth of failure, there's the IT Programme That Helped Kill a Whole Bank Stone Dead ( Infosys / Co-op ). ..."
    "... I am an assembler expert. I have never seen a job advertised, but a I did not look very hard. Send me your work!!! IBM mainframe assembler ..."
    "... What about Computer Associates? For quite a while they proudly maintained the worst reputation amongst all of those consultancy/outsourcing firms. ..."
    "... My old boss used to say – a good programmer can learn a new language and be productive in it in in space of weeks (and this was at the time when Object Oriented was the new huge paradigm change). A bad programmer will write bad code in any language. ..."
    "... The huge shortcoming of COBOL is that there are no equivalent of editing programs. ..."
    "... Original programmers rarely wrote handbooks ..."
    "... That is not to say that it is impossible to move off legacy platforms ..."
    "... Wherefore are ye startup godz ..."
    Apr 11, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
    After we've been writing about the problem of the ticking time bomb of bank legacy systems written in COBOL that depends on a shrinking pool of aging programmers to baby them for now nearly two years, Reuters reports on the issue. Chuck L flagged a Reuters story, Banks scramble to fix old systems as IT 'cowboys' ride into sunset, which made some of the points we've been making but frustratingly missed other key elements.

    Here's what Reuters confirmed:

    Banks and the Federal government are running mission-critical core systems on COBOL, and only a small number of older software engineers have the expertise to keep the systems running . From the article:

    In the United States, the financial sector, major corporations and parts of the federal government still largely rely on it because it underpins powerful systems that were built in the 70s or 80s and never fully replaced

    Experienced COBOL programmers can earn more than $100 an hour when they get called in to patch up glitches, rewrite coding manuals or make new systems work with old.

    For their customers such expenses pale in comparison with what it would cost to replace the old systems altogether, not to mention the risks involved.

    Here's what Reuters missed:

    Why young coders are not learning COBOL . Why, in an era when IT grads find it hard to get entry-level jobs in the US, are young programmers not learning COBOL as a guaranteed meal ticket? Basically, it's completely uncool and extremely tedious to work with by modern standards. Given how narrowminded employers are, if you get good at COBOL, I woudl bet it's assumed you are only capable of doing grunt coding and would never get into the circles to work on the fantasy of getting rich by developing a hip app.

    I'm sure expert readers will flag other issues, but the huge shortcoming of COBOL is that there are no equivalent of editing programs. Every line of code in a routine must be inspected and changed line by line.

    How banks got in this mess in the first place. The original sin of software development is failure to document the code. In fairness, the Reuters story does allude to the issue:

    But COBOL veterans say it takes more than just knowing the language itself. COBOL-based systems vary widely and original programmers rarely wrote handbooks, making trouble-shooting difficult for others.

    What this does not make quite clear is that given the lack of documentation, it will always be cheaper and lower risk to have someone who is familiar with the code baby it, best of all the guy who originally wrote it. And that means any time you bring someone in, they are going to have to sort out not just the code that might be causing fits and starts, but the considerable interdependencies that have developed over time. As the article notes:

    "It is immensely complex," said [former chief executive of Barclays PLC Anthony] Jenkins, who now heads startup 10x Future Technologies, which sells new IT infrastructure to banks. "Legacy systems from different generations are layered and often heavily intertwined."

    I had the derivatives trading firm O'Connor & Associates as a client in the early 1990s. It was widely recognized as being one of the two best IT shops in all of Wall Street at the time. O'Connor was running the biggest private sector Unix network in the world back then. And IT was seen as critical to the firm's success; half of O'Connor's expenses went to it.

    Even with it being a huge expense, and the my client, the CIO, repeatedly telling his partners that documenting the code would save 20% over the life of the software, his pleas fell on deaf ears. Even with the big commitment to building software, the trading desk heads felt it was already taking too long to get their apps into production. Speed of deployment was more important to them than cost or long-term considerations. 1 And if you saw this sort of behavior with a firm where software development was a huge expense for partners who were spending their own money, it's not hard to see how managers in a firm where the developers were much less important and management was fixated on short term earnings targets to blow off tradeoff like this entirely.

    Picking up sales patter from vendors, Reuters is over-stating banks' ability to address this issue . Here is what Reuters would have you believe:

    The industry appears to be reaching an inflection point, though. In the United States, banks are slowly shifting toward newer languages taking cue from overseas rivals who have already made the switch-over.

    Commonwealth Bank of Australia, for instance, replaced its core banking platform in 2012 with the help of Accenture and software company SAP SE. The job ultimately took five years and cost more than 1 billion Australian dollars ($749.9 million).

    Accenture is also working with software vendor Temenos Group AG to help Swedish bank Nordea make a similar transition by 2020. IBM is also setting itself up to profit from the changes, despite its defense of COBOL's relevance. It recently acquired EzSource, a company that helps programmers figure out how old COBOL programs work.

    The conundrum is the more new routines banks pile on top of legacy systems, the more difficult a transition becomes. So delay only makes matters worse. Yet the incentives of everyone outside the IT areas is to hope they can ride it out and make the legacy system time bomb their successor's problem.

    If you read carefully, Commonwealth is the only success story so far. And it's vastly less complex than that of many US players. First, it has roughly A$990 billion or $740 billion in assets now. While that makes it #46 in the world (and Nordea is of similar size at #44 as of June 30, 2016), JP Morgan and Bank of America are three times larger. Second, and perhaps more important, they are the product of more bank mergers. Commonwealth has acquired only four banks since the computer era. Third, many of the larger banks are major capital markets players, meaning their transaction volume relative to their asset base and product complexit is also vastly greater than for a Commonwealth. Finally, it is not impossible that as a government owned bank prior to 1990 that not being profit driven, Commonwealth's software jockeys might have documented some of the COBOL, making a transition less fraught.

    Add to that that the Commonwealth project was clearly a "big IT project". Anything over $500 million comfortably falls into that category. The failure rate on big IT projects is over 50%; some experts estimate it at 80% (costly failures are disguised as well as possible; some big IT projects going off the rails are terminated early).

    Mind you, that is not to say that it is impossible to move off legacy platforms. The issue is the time and cost (as well as risk). One reader, I believe Brooklyn Bridge, recounted a prototypical conversation with management in which it became clear that the cost of a migration would be three times a behemoth bank's total profit for three years. That immediately shut down the manager's interest.

    Estimates like that don't factor in the high odds of overruns. And even if it is too high for some banks by a factor of five, that's still too big for most to stomach until they are forced to. So the question then becomes: can they whack off enough increments of the problem to make it digestible from a cost and risk perspective? But the flip side is that the easier parts to isolate and migrate are likely not to be the most urgent to address.

    ____
    1 The CIO had been the head index trader and had also help build O'Connor's FX derivatives trading business, so he was well aware of the tradeoff between trading a new instrument sooner versus software life cycle costs. He was convinced his partners were being short-sighted even over the near term and had some analyses to bolster that view. So this was the not empire-building or special pleading. This was an effort at prudent management.

    Clive , April 11, 2017 at 5:51 am

    I got to the bit which said:

    Accenture is also working with software vendor Temenos Group AG to help

    and promptly splurted my coffee over my desk. "Help" is the last thing either of these two ne'redowells will be doing.

    Apart from the problems ably explained in the above piece, I'm tempted to think industry PR and management gullibility to it are the two biggest risks.

    Marina Bart , April 11, 2017 at 6:06 am

    As someone who used to do PR for that industry (worked with Accenture, among others), I concur that those are real risks.

    skippy , April 11, 2017 at 6:07 am

    Heaps of IT upgrades have gone a bit wonky over here of late, Health care payroll, ATO, Centerlink, Census, all assisted by private software vendors and consultants – after – drum roll .. PR management did a "efficiency" drive [by].

    Of course after legacy systems [people] were retrenched or shown the door in making government more efficient MBA style, some did hit the jack pot as consultants and made more that on the public dime . but the Gov balance sheet got a nice one time blip.

    disheveled . nice self licking icecream cone thingy and its still all gov fault . two'fer

    Colonel Smithers , April 11, 2017 at 7:40 am

    Thank you, Skippy.

    It's the same in the UK as Clive knows and can add.

    In the government, projects "helped" by Siemens, especially at the Home and Passport Offices, cost billions and were abandoned. At my former employer, an eagle's nest, it was Deloittes. At my current employer, which has lost its passion to perform, it's KPMG and EY helping.

    What I have read / heard is that the external consultants often cost more and will take longer to do the work than internal bidders. The banks and government(s) run an internal market and invite bids.

    Clive , April 11, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Oh, where to start!

    My personal favourite is Accenture / British Gas . But then you've also got the masterclass in cockups Raytheon / U.K. Border Agency . Or for sheer breadth of failure, there's the IT Programme That Helped Kill a Whole Bank Stone Dead ( Infosys / Co-op ).

    They keep writing books on how to avoid this sort of thing. Strangely enough, none of them ever tell CEOs or CIOs to pay people decent wages, not treat them like crap and to train up new recruits now and again. And also fail to highlight that though you might like to believe you can go into the streets in Mumbai, Manila or Shenzhen waving a dollar bill and have dozens of experienced, skilled and loyal developers run to you like a cat smelling catnip, that may only be your wishful thinking.

    Just wait 'til we get started trying to implement Brexit

    Raj , April 11, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Oh man, if you only had a look at the kind of graduates Infosys hires en masse and the state of graduate programmers coming out of universities here in India you'd be amazed how we still haven't had massive hacks. And now the government, so confident in the Indian IT industry's ability to make big IT systems is pushing for the universal ID system(aadhar) to be made mandatory for even booking flight tickets!

    So would you recommend graduates do learn COBOL to get good jobs there in the USA?

    Clive , April 11, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    I'd pick something really obscure, like maybe MUMPS - yes, incredibly niche but that's the point, you can corner a market. You might not get oodles of work but what you do get you can charge the earth for. Getting real-world experience is tricky though.

    Another alternative, a little more mainstream is assembler. But that is hideous. You deserve every penny if you can learn that and be productive in it.

    visitor , April 11, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Is anybody still using Pick? Or RPG?

    Regarding assembler: tricky, as the knowledge is tied to specific processors - and Intel, AMD and ARM keep churning new products.

    Synoia , April 11, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    I am an assembler expert. I have never seen a job advertised, but a I did not look very hard. Send me your work!!! IBM mainframe assembler

    visitor , April 11, 2017 at 10:02 am

    What about Computer Associates? For quite a while they proudly maintained the worst reputation amongst all of those consultancy/outsourcing firms.

    How does Temenos compare with Oracle, anyway?

    Clive , April 11, 2017 at 10:05 am

    How does Temenos compare with Oracle, anyway?

    Way worse. Yes, I didn't believe it was possible, either.

    MoiAussie , April 11, 2017 at 6:13 am

    For a bit more on why Cobol is hard to use see Why We Hate Cobol . To summarise, Cobol is barely removed from programming in assembler, i.e. at the lowest level of abstraction, with endless details needing to be taken care of. It dates pack to the punched card era.

    It is particularly hard for IT grads who have learned to code in Java or C# or any modern language to come to grips with, due to the lack of features that are usually taken for granted. Those who try to are probably on their own due to a shortage of teachers/courses. It's a language that's best mastered on the job as a junior in a company that still uses it, so it's hard to get it on your CV before landing such a job.

    There are potentially two types of career opportunities for those who invest the time to get up-to-speed on Cobol. The first is maintenance and minor extension of legacy Cobol applications. The second and potentially more lucrative one is developing an ability to understand exactly what a Cobol program does in order to craft a suitable replacement in a modern enterprise grade language.

    MartyH , April 11, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Well, COBOL's shortcomings are part technical and part "religious". After almost fifty years in software, and with experience in many of the "modern enterprise grade languages", I would argue that the technical and business merits are poorly understood. There is an enormous pressure in the industry to be on the "latest and greatest" language/platform/framework, etc. And under such pressure to sell novelty, the strengths of older technologies are generally overlooked.

    @Yves, I would be glad to share my viewpoint (biases, warts and all) at your convenience. I live nearby.

    vlade , April 11, 2017 at 7:52 am

    "It is particularly hard for IT grads who have learned to code in Java or C# or any modern language to come to grips with"

    which tells you something about the quality of IT education these days, where "mastering" a language is more often more important than actually understanding what goes on and how.

    My old boss used to say – a good programmer can learn a new language and be productive in it in in space of weeks (and this was at the time when Object Oriented was the new huge paradigm change). A bad programmer will write bad code in any language.

    craazyboy , April 11, 2017 at 9:32 am

    IMHO, your old boss is wrong about that. Precisely because OO languages are a huge paradigm change and require a programmer to nearly abandon everything he/she knows about programming. Then get his brain around OOP patterns when designing a complex system. Not so easy.

    As proof, I put forth the 30% success rate for new large projects in the latter 90s done with OOP tech. Like they say, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

    More generally, on the subject of Cobol vs Java or C++/C#, in the heyday of OOPs rollout in the early 90s, corporate IT spent record amounts on developing new systems. As news of the Y2K problem spread, they very badly wanted to replace old Cobol/mainframe legacy systems. As things went along, many of those plans got rolled back due to perceived problems with viability, cost and trained personnel.

    Part of the reason was existing Cobol IT staff took a look at OOP, then at their huge pile of Cobol legacy code and their brains melted down. I was around lots of them and they had all the symptoms of Snow Crash. [Neil Stephenson] I hope they got better.

    Marco , April 11, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    It never occurred to me that the OOP-lite character of the newer "hipster" languages (Golang / Go or even plain old javascript) are a response to OOP run amok.

    Arizona Slim , April 11, 2017 at 9:35 am

    A close friend is a retired programmer. In her mind, knowing how to solve the problem comes​ first.

    MartyH , April 11, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    @Arizona_Slim: I agree with her. And COBOL lets you write business logic with a minimum of distractions.

    Mel , April 11, 2017 at 11:36 am

    In the university course I took, we were taught Algol-60. Then it turned out that the univ. had no budget for Algol compiles for us. So we wrote our programs in Algol-60 for 'publication' and grading, and rewrote them in FORTRAN IV to run in a cheap bulk FORTRAN execution system for results. Splendid way to push home Turing's point that all computing is the same. So when the job needed COBOL, "Sure, bring it on."

    rfdawn , April 11, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    My old boss used to say – a good programmer can learn a new language and be productive in it in in space of weeks (and this was at the time when Object Oriented was the new huge paradigm change). A bad programmer will write bad code in any language.

    Yes. Learning a new programming language is fairly easy but understanding existing patchwork code can be very hard indeed. It just gets harder if you want to make reliable changes.

    HR thinking, however, demands "credentials" and languages get chosen as such based on their simple labels. They are searchable on L**kedIn!

    A related limitation is the corporate aversion to spending any time or money on employee learning of either language or code. There may not be anyone out there with all the skills needed but that will not stop managers from trying to hire them or, better still, just outsourcing the whole mess.

    Either choice invites fraud.

    reslez , April 11, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Your boss was correct in my opinion - but also atypical. Most firms look for multi-years of experience in a language. They'll toss your resume if you don't show you've used it extensively.

    Even if a new coder spent the time to learn COBOL, if he wasn't using it on the job or in pretty significant projects he would not be considered. And there aren't exactly many open source projects out there written in COBOL to prove one's competence. The limiting factor is not whether you "know" COBOL, or whether you know how to learn it. The limiting factor is the actual knowledge of the system, how it was implemented, and all the little details that never get written down no matter how good your documentation. If your system is 30+ years old it has complexity hidden in every nook and cranny.

    As for the language itself, COBOL is an ancient language from a much older paradigm than what students learn in school today. Most students skip right past C, they don't learn structural programming. They expect to have extensive libraries of pre-written routines available for reuse. And they expect to work in a modern IDE (development environment), a software package that makes it much easier to write and debug code. COBOL doesn't have tools of this level.

    When I was in the Air Force I was trained as a programmer. COBOL was one of the languages they "taught". I never used it, ever, and wouldn't dream of trying it today. It's simply too niche. I would never recommend anyone learn COBOL in the hopes of getting a job. Get the job first, and if it happens to include some COBOL get the expertise that way.

    d , April 11, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    having seen the 'high level code' in C++, not sure what makes it 'modern'.its really an out growth of C, which is basically the assembler language of Unix. which it self is no spring chicken. mostly what is called 'modern' is just the latest fad, has the highest push from vendors. and sadly what we see in IT, is that the IT trade magazines are more into what they sell, that what companies need (maybe because of advertising?)

    as to why schools tend to teach these languages than others? mainly cause its hip. its also cheaper for the schools, as they dont have much in the way of infrastructure to teach them ( kids bring their own computers). course teachers are as likely to be influenced by the latest 'shinny;' thing as any one else

    craazyboy , April 11, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    C++ shares most of the core C spec but that's it. [variables and scope, datatypes, functions sorta, math and logic operatives, logic control statements] The reason you can read high level C++ is because it uses objects that hide the internal code and are given names that describe their use which if done right makes the code somewhat readable, along with a short comment header, and self documenting.

    Then at high level most code is procedural and/or event driven, which makes it appear to function like C or any other procedural language. Without the Goto statements and subroutines, because that functionality is now encapsulated within the C++ objects. {which are a datatype that combines data structures and related functions that act on this data)

    ChrisPacific , April 11, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Well put. I was going to make this point. Note that the today's IT grads struggle with Cobol for the same reason that modern airline pilots would struggle to build their own airplane. The industry has evolved and become much more specialized, and standard 'solved' problems have migrated into the core toolsets and become invisible to developers, who now work at a much higher level of abstraction. So for example a programmer who learned using BASIC on a Commodore 64 probably knows all about graphics coding by direct addressing of screen memory, which modern programmers would consider unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst. Not to mention it's exhausting drudgery compared to working with modern toolsets.

    The other reason more grads don't learn COBOL is because it's a sunset technology. This is true even if systems written in COBOL are mission critical and not being replaced. As more and more COBOL programmers retire or die, banks will eventually reach the point where they don't have enough skilled staff available to keep their existing systems running. If they are in a position where they have to fix things anyway, for example due to a critical failure, they will be forced to resort to cross-training other developers, at great expense and pain for all concerned, and with no guarantee of success. One or two of these experiences will be enough to convince them that migration is necessary, whatever the cost (if their business survives them, which isn't a given when it comes to critical failures involving out of date and poorly-understood technology). And while developers with COBOL skills will be able to name their own price during those events, it's not likely to be a sustainable working environment in the longer term.

    It would take a significant critical mass of younger programmers deciding to learn COBOL to change this dynamic. One person on their own isn't going to make any difference, and it's not career advice I would ever give to a young graduate looking to enter IT.

    I am an experienced developer who has worked with a lot of different languages, including some quite low level ones in my early days. I don't know COBOL, but I am confident that I could learn it well enough to perform code archaeology on it given enough time (although probably nowhere near as efficiently as someone who built a career on it). Whether I could be convinced to do so is another question. If you paid me never-need-to-work-again money, then maybe. But nobody is ever going to do that unless it's a crisis, and I'm not likely to sign up for a death march situation with my current family commitments.

    Steve , April 11, 2017 at 6:47 am

    "Experienced COBOL programmers can earn more than $100 an hour"

    Then the people hiring are getting them dirt cheap. This is a lot closer to consulting than contracting–a very specialized skill set and only a small set of people available. The rate should be $200-300/hour.

    reslez , April 11, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    I wonder if it has something to do with the IRS rules that made that guy fly a plane into an IRS office? Because of the rules, programmers aren't allowed to work as independent consultants. Since their employer/middleman takes a huge cut the pay they receive is a lot lower. Coders with a security clearance make quite a bit but that requires an "in", getting the clearance in the first place which most employers won't pay for.

    d , April 11, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    not any place i know of. maybe in an extreme crunch. cause today the most COBOL jobs have been offshored. and maybe thats why kids dont lean COBOL.

    ChrisPacific , April 11, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    I had the same thought. Around here if you want a good one, you would probably need to add another zero to that.

    shinola , April 11, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Cobol? Are they running it on refrigerator sized machines with reel-to-reel tapes?

    ejf , April 11, 2017 at 8:45 am

    you're right. I've seen it on cluckny databases in a clothing firm in NY State, a seed and grain distribution facility in Minnesota and a bank in Minneapolis. They're horrible and Yves is right – documentation is completely ABSENT

    d , April 11, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    in small business, where every penny counts, they dont see the value in documentation. not even when they get big either

    Disturbed Voter , April 11, 2017 at 7:05 am

    No different than the failure of the public sector to maintain dams, bridges and highways. Basic civil engineering but our business model never included maintenance nor replacement costs. That is because our business model is accounting fraud.

    I grew up on Fortran, and Cobol isn't too different, just limited to 2 points past the decimal to the right. I feel so sorry for these code jockies who can't handle a bit of drudgery, who can't do squat without a gigabyte routine library to invoke. Those languages as scripting languages or report writers back in the old days.

    Please hire another million Indian programmers they don't mind being poorly paid or the drudgery. Americans and Europeans are so over-rated. Business always complains they can't hire the right people some job requires 2 PhDs and we can't pay more than $30k, am I right? Business needs slaves, not employees.

    d , April 11, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    COBOL hasnt been restricted to 2 points to the right of decimal place. for decades

    clarky90 , April 11, 2017 at 7:06 am

    The 'Novopay debacle'

    This was a "new payroll" system for school teachers in NZ. It was an ongoing disaster. If something as simple (?) as paying NZ teachers could turn into such a train-wreck, imagine what updating the software of the crooked banks could entail. I bet that there are secret frauds hidden in the ancient software, like the rat mummies and cat skeletons that one finds when lifting the floor of old houses.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novopay

    "Novopay is a web-based payroll system for state and state integrated schools in New Zealand, processing the pay of 110,000 teaching and support staff at 2,457 schools .. From the outset, the system led to widespread problems with over 8,000 teachers receiving the wrong pay and in some cases no pay at all; within a few months, 90% of schools were affected .."

    "Many of the errors were described as 'bizarre'. One teacher was paid for 39 days, instead of 39 hours getting thousands of dollars more than he should have. Another teacher was overpaid by $39,000. She returned the money immediately, but two months later, had not been paid since. A relief teacher was paid for working at two different schools on the same day – one in Upper Hutt and the other in Auckland. Ashburton College principal, Grant McMillan, said the 'most ludicrous' problem was when "Novopay took $40,000 directly out of the school bank account to pay a number of teachers who had never worked at the college".

    Can you imagine this, times 10,000,000????

    d , April 11, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    this wasnt COBOL. or even a technology problem. more like a management one. big failures tend to be that way

    vlade , April 11, 2017 at 7:48 am

    "but the huge shortcoming of COBOL is that there are no equivalent of editing programs. Every line of code in a routine must be inspected and changed line by line"
    I'm not sure what you mean by this.

    If you mean that COBOL doesn't have the new flash IDEs that can do smart things with "syntactic sugar", then it really depends on the demand. Smart IDEs can be written for pretty much any languages (smart IDEs work by operating on ASTs, which are part and parcel of any compiler. The problem is more of what to do if you have an externalised functions etc, which is for example why it took so long for those smart IDEs to work with C++ and its linking model). The question is whether it pays – and a lot of old COBOL hands eschew anything except for vi (or equivalent) because coding should be done by REAL MEN.

    On the general IT problem. There are three problems, which are sort of related but not.

    The first problem is the interconnectedness of the systems. Especially for a large bank, it's not often clear where one system ends and the other begins, what are the side-effects of running something (or not running), who exactly produces what outputs and when etc. The complexity is more often at this level than cobol (or any other) line-by-line code.

    The second problem is the IT personell you get. If you're unlucky, you get coding monkeys, who barely understand _any_ programming language (there was time I didn't think people like that get hired. I now know better), and have no idea what analytical and algorithmic thinking is. If you're lucky, you get a bunch of IT geeks, who can discuss the latest technology till cows come home, know the intricate details of what a sequence point in C++ is and how it affects execution, but don't really care that much about the business. Then you get some possibly even brilliant code, but often also get unnecessary technological artifacts and new technologies just because they are fun – even though a much simpler solution would work just as well if not better. TBH, you can get this from the other side too, someone who understands the business but doesn't know even basic language techniques, which generally means their code works very well for the business, but is a nightmare to maintain (a typical population of this groups are front office quants).

    If you are incredibily lucky, you get someone who understands the business and happens to know how to code well too. Unfortunately, this is almost a mythical beast, especially since neitehr IT nor the business encourage people to understand each other.

    Which is what gets me to the thirds point – politics of it. And that's, TBH, is why most projects fail. Because it's easier to staff a project with 100 developers and then say all that could have been done was done, than get 10 smart people working on it, but risk that if it fails you get told you haven't spent enough resources. "We are not spending enough money" is paradoxically one of the "problems" I often see here, when the problem really is "we're not spending money smartly enough". Because in an organization budget=power. I have yet to see an IT project that would have 100+ developers that would _really_ succeed (as opposed to succeed by redefining what it was to deliver to what was actually delivered).

    Oh, and last point, on the documentation. TBH, documentation of the code is superfluous if a) it's clear what business problem is being solved b) has a good set of test cases c) the code is reasonably cleanly written (which tends to be the real problem). Documenting code by anything else but example is in my experience just a costly exercise. Mind you, this is entirely different from documenting how systems hang together and how their interfaces work.

    Yves Smith Post author , April 11, 2017 at 7:52 am

    On the last point, I have to tell you I in short succession happened to work not just with O'Connor, but about a year later, with Bankers Trust, then regarded as the other top IT shop on Wall Street. Both CIOs would disagree with you vehemently on your claim re documentation.

    vlade , April 11, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Yes, in 90s there was a great deal of emphasis on code documentation. The problem with that is that the requirements in real world change really quick. Development techniques that worked for sending the man to the moon don't really work well on short-cycle user driven developments.

    90s was mostly the good old waterfall method (which was really based on the NASA techniques), but even as early as 2000s it started to change a lot. Part of it come from the realization that the "building" metaphor that was the working approach for a lot of that didn't really work for code.

    When you're building a bridge, it's expensive, so you have to spend a lot of time with blueprints etc. When you're doing code, documenting it in "normal" human world just adds a superfluous step. It's much more efficient to make sure your code is clean and readable than writing extra documents that tell you what the code does _and_ have to be kept in sync all the time.

    Moreover, bits like pretty pictures showing the code interaction, dependencies and sometimes even more can now be generated automatically from the code, so again, it's more efficient to do that than to keep two different versions of what should be the same truth.

    Yves Smith Post author , April 11, 2017 at 8:31 am

    With all due respect, O'Connor and Bankers Trust were recognized at top IT shops then PRECISELY because they were the best, bar none, at "short cycle user driven developments." They were both cutting edge in derivatives because you had to knock out the coding to put new complex derivatives into production.

    Don't insinuate my clients didn't know what they were talking about. They were running more difficult coding environments than you've ever dealt with even now. The pace of derivative innovation was torrid then and there hasn't been anything like it since in finance. Ten O'Connor partners made $1 billion on the sale of their firm, and it was entirely based on the IT capabilities. That was an unheard of number back then, 1993, particularly given the scale of the firm (one office in Chicago, about 250 employees).

    vlade , April 11, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Yves,

    I can't talk about how good/bad your clients were except for generic statements – and the above were generic statements that in 90s MOST companies used waterfall.

    At the same time please do not talk about what programming environments I was in, because you don't know. That's assuming it's even possible to compare coding environments – because quant libraries that first and foremost concentrate on processing data (and I don't even know it's what was the majority of your clients code) is a very very different beast from extremely UI complex but computationally trivial project, or something that has both trivial UI and computation but is very database heavy etc. etc.

    I don't know what specific techniques your clients used. But the fact they WANTED to have more documentation doesn't mean that having more documentation would ACTUALLY be useful.

    With all due respect, I've spent the first half of 00s talking to some of the top IT development methodologists of the time, from the Gang Of Four people to Agile Manifesto chaps, and practicing/leading/implementing SW development methodology across a number of different industries (anything from "pure" waterfall to variants of it to XP).

    The general agreement across the industry was (and I believe still is) that documenting _THE CODE_ (outside of the code) was waste of time (actually it was ranging from any design doc to various levels of design doc, depending on who you were talking to).

    Again, I put emphasis on the code – that is not the same as say having a good whitepaper telling you how the model you're implementing works, or what the hell the users actually want – i.e. capturing the requirements.

    As an aside – implementation of new derivative payoffs can be actually done in a fairly trivial way, depending on how exactly you model them in the code. I've wrote an extensive library that did it, whose whole purpose was to deal with new products and allow them to be incubated quickly and effectively – and that most likely involved doing things that no-one at BT/O'Conner even looked at in early 1990s (because XVA wasn't even gleam in anyone's eye at that time).

    Clive , April 11, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Well at my TBTF, where incomprehensible chaos rules, the only thing - and I do mean the only thing - that keeps major disasters averted (perhaps "ameliorated" is putting it better) is where some of the key systems are documented. Most of the core back end is copiously and reasonably well documented and as such can survive a lot of mistreatment at the hands of the current outsourcer de jour.

    But some "lower priority" applications are either poorly documented or not documented at all. And a "low priority" application is only "low priority" until it happens to sit on the critical path. Even now I have half of Bangalore (it seems so, at any rate) sitting there trying to reverse engineer some sparsely documented application - although I suspect there was documentation, it just got "lost" in a succession of handovers - desperate in their attempts to figure out what the application does and how it does it. You can hear the fear in their voices, it is scary stuff, given how crappy-little-VB6-pile-of-rubbish is now the only way to manage a key business process where there are no useable comments in the code and no other application documentation, you are totally, totally screwed.

    visitor , April 11, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Your TBTF corporation is ISO 9000-3,9001/CMM/TickIt/ITIL certified, of course?

    Skip Intro , April 11, 2017 at 11:48 am

    It seems like you guys are talking past each other to some degree. I get the sense that vlade is talking about commenting code, and dismissing the idea of code comments that don't live with the code. Yves' former colleagues are probably referring to higher level specifications that describe the functionality, requirements, inputs, and outputs of the various software modules in the system.
    If this is the case, then you're both right. Even comments in the code can tend to get out of date due to application of bug fixes, and other reasons for 'drift' in the code, unless the comments are rigorously maintained along wth the code. Were the code-level descriptions maintained somewhere else, that would be much more difficult and less useful. On the other hand the higher-level specifications are pretty essential for using, testing, and maintaining the software, and would sure be useful for someone trying to replace all or parts of the system.

    Clive , April 11, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    In my experience you need a combination of both. There is simply no substitute for a brief line in some ghastly nested if/then procedure that says "this section catches host offline exceptions if the transaction times out and calls the last incremental earmarked funds as a fallback" or what-have-you.

    That sort of thing can save weeks of analysis. It can stop an outage from escalating from a few minutes to hours or even days.

    Mathiasalexander , April 11, 2017 at 8:22 am

    They could try building the new system from scratch as a stand alone and then entering all the data manually.

    Ivy , April 11, 2017 at 10:39 am

    There is some problem-solving/catastrophe-avoiding discussion about setting up a new bank with a clean, updated (i.e., this millennium) IT approach and then merging the old bank into that and decommissioning that old one. Many questions arise about applicable software both in-house and at all those vendor shops that would need some inter-connectivity.

    Legacy systems lurk all over the economy, from banks to utilities to government and education. The O'Connor CIO advice relating to life-cycle costing was probably unheard in many places besides
    The Street.

    d , April 11, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    building them from scratch is usually the most likely to be a failure as to many in both IT and business only know parts of the needs. and if a company cant implement a vendor supplied package to do the work, what makes us think they can do it from scratch

    visitor , April 11, 2017 at 9:44 am

    I did learn COBOL when I was at the University more than three decades ago, and at that time it was already decidedly "uncool". The course, given by an old-timer, was great though. I programmed in COBOL in the beginnings of my professional life (MIS applications, not banking), so I can provide a slightly different take on some of those issues.

    As far as the language itself is concerned, disregard those comments about it being like "assembly". COBOL already showed its age in the 1980s, but though superannuated it is a high-level language geared at dealing with database records, money amounts (calculations with controlled accuracy), and reports. For that kind of job, it was not that bad.

    The huge shortcoming of COBOL is that there are no equivalent of editing programs.

    While in the old times a simple text editor was the main tool for programming in that language, modern integrated, interactive development environments for COBOL have been available for quite a while - just as there are for Java, C++ or C#.

    And that is a bit of an issue. For, already in my times, a lot, possibly most COBOL was not programmed manually, but generated automatically - typically from pseudo-COBOL annotations or functional extensions inside the code. Want to access a database (say Oracle, DB2, Ingres) from COBOL, or generate a user interface (for 3270 or VT220 terminals in those days), or perform some networking? There were extensions and code generators for that. Nowadays you will also find coding utilities to manipulate XML or interface with routines in other programming languages. All introduce deviations and extensions from the COBOL norm.

    If, tomorrow, I wanted to apply for a job at one of those financial institutions battling with legacy software, my rusty COBOL programming skills would not be the main problem, but my lack of knowledge of the entire development environment. That would mean knowing those additional code generators, development environments, extra COBOL-geared database/UI/networking/reporting modules. In an IBM mainframe environment, this would probably mean knowing things like REXX, IMS or DB2, CICS, etc (my background is DEC VMS and related software, not IBM stuff).

    So those firms are not holding dear onto just COBOL programmers - they are desperately hoarding people who know their way around in mainframe programming environments for which training (in Universities) basically stopped in the early 1990s.

    Furthermore, I suspect that some of those code generators/interfaces might themselves be decaying legacy systems whose original developers went out of business or have been slowly withdrawing from their maintenance. Correcting or adjusting manually the COBOL code generated by such tools in the absence of vendor support is lots of fun (I had to do something like that once, but it actually went smoothly).

    Original programmers rarely wrote handbooks

    My experience is that proper documentation has a good chance to be rigorously enforced when the software being developed is itself a commercial product to be delivered to outside parties. Then, handbooks, reference manuals and even code documentation become actual deliverables that are part of the product sold, and whose production is planned and budgeted for in software development programmes.

    I presume it is difficult to ensure that effort and resources be devoted to document internal software because these are purely cost centers - not profit centers (or at least, do not appear as such directly).

    That is not to say that it is impossible to move off legacy platforms

    So, we knew that banks were too big to fail, too big to jail, and are still too big to bail. Are their software problems too big to nail?

    d , April 11, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    actually suspect banks like the rest of business dont really care about their systems, till they are down, as they will find the latest offshore company to do it cheaper.

    Yves Smith Post author , April 11, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Why then have I been told that reviewing code for Y2K had to be done line by line?

    I said documentation, not handbooks. And you are assuming banks hired third parties to do their development. Buying software packages and customizing them, as well as greater use of third party vendors, became a common practice only as of the 1990s.

    JTMcPhee , April 11, 2017 at 10:33 am

    I'm in favor of the "Samson Option" in this area.

    I know it will screw me and people I care about, and "throw the world economy into chaos," but who effing cares (hint: not me) if the code pile reaches past the limits of its angle of repose, and slumps into some chaotic non-form?

    Maybe a sentiment that gets me some abuse, but hey, is it not the gravamen of the story here that dysfunction and then collapse are very possible, maybe even likely?

    And where are the tools to re-build this Tower of Babel, symbol of arrogant pride? Maybe G_D has once again, per the Biblical story, confounded the tongues of men (and women) to collapse their edifices and reduce them to working the dirt (what's left of it after centuries of agricultural looting and the current motions toward temperature-driven uninhabitability.)

    Especially interesting that people here are seemingly proud of having taken part successfully in the construction of the whole derivatives thing. Maybe I'm misreading that. But what echoes in my mind in this context is the pride that the people of Pantex, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantex_Plant , have in their role in keeping the world right on the ragged edge of nuclear "Game Over." On the way to Rapture, because they did G_D's work in preparing Armageddon. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-09-05/features/8603060693_1_pantex-plant-nuclear-weapons-amarillo

    "What a wondrous beast this human is "

    lyman alpha blob , April 11, 2017 at 10:57 am

    So is it time to go long on duct tape and twine?

    ChrisAtRU , April 11, 2017 at 11:19 am

    #Memories

    My first job out of uni, I was trained as a MVS/COBOL programmer. After successfully completing the 11-week pass/fire course, I showed up to my 1st work assignment where my boss said to me, "Here's your UNIX terminal."

    ;-) – COBOL didn't strike me as difficult, just arcane and verbose. Converting to SAP is a costly nightmare. That caused to me to leave a job once had no desire to deal with SAP/ABAP. I'm surprised no one has come up with an acceptable next-gen thing . I remember years ago seeing an ad for Object-Oriented-COBOL in an IT magazine and I almost pissed myself laughing. On the serious side, if it's still that powerful and well represented in Banking, perhaps someone should look into an upgraded version of the language/concepts and build something easy to lift and shift COBOL++?

    Wherefore are ye startup godz

    #OnlyHalfKidding

    #MaybeNot

    Peewee , April 11, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    This sounds like an opportunity for a worker's coop, to train their workers in COBOL and to get back at these banks by REALLY exploiting them good and hard.

    MartyH , April 11, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    @Peewee couldn't agree more! @Diptherio?

    susan the other , April 11, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    so is this why no one is willing to advocate regulating derivatives in an accountable way? i almost can't believe this stuff. i can't believe that we are functioning at all, financially. 80% of IT projects fail? and if legacy platforms are replaced at great time and expense, years and trillions, what guarantee is there that the new platform will not spin out just as incomprehensibly as COBOL based software evolved, with simplistic patches of other software lost in translation? And maybe many times faster. Did Tuttle do this? I think we need new sophisticated hardware, something even Tuttle can't mess with.

    Skip Intro , April 11, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    I think it is only 80% of 'large' IT projects fail. I think it says more about the lack of scalability of large software projects, or our (in-) ability to deal with exponential complexity growth

    JimTan , April 11, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Looks like there are more than a few current NYC jobs at Accenture, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America for programmers who code in COBOL.

    https://www.indeed.com/jobs?q=mainframe+Cobol+&l=New+York%2C+NY

    [Apr 11, 2017] Larry Summers (of all people) misses China's role in "secular stagnation"

    Apr 11, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    RC AKA Darryl, Ron , April 11, 2017 at 03:24 AM
    RE: Larry Summers (of all people) misses China's role in "secular stagnation"

    http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/larry-summers-of-all-people-misses-chinas-role-in-secular-stagnation/

    [The gist of it.]

    ...But Larry is surprisingly blasé about a China problem: excess savings (really, an East Asia problem, as Brad Setser points out). I associate this problem with Summers' own work on "secular stagnation"-persistent demand shortfalls even in recovery. Another way to view sec stag is as a function of excess savings: the globe is awash in more savings that we have good, productive uses for. That, in turn, can lead to depressed interest rates, credit bubbles, large trade surpluses in savings glut countries, which in turn force large trade deficits elsewhere, and high unemployment, depending on what offsets are in play in trade deficit countries. Larry himself has recognized this problem (as has Ben Bernanke since the mid-2000s in his seminal savings glut speech) and wisely called for public infrastructure investment to help offset it.

    Our trade deficit with China is 1.6 percent of GDP; that's a significant drag on demand. In terms of offsets, the Fed is pushing in the other direction (tightening) and the fiscal authorities um Congress can't find the light switch. We're of course doing better than most other advanced economies, but here we are in year eight of an expansion and (slight) output gaps still persist...

    BenIsNotYoda -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 11, 2017 at 05:12 AM
    To Jared Bernstein - Bernanke's savings glut theory is a classic exercise in

    1) theory that is NOT backed up by data. just because there is a persistent deficit vs China in the US does not mean they are consuming less. we could be consuming too much. (was there a savings glut vs. Japan before East Asia and Europe before then?) The US has run deficits since the Vietnam era. Surpluses do not prove anything just like deficits dont prove US is overconsuming.

    2) shifting blame to someone else. which is what Jared is doing here and Bernanke was doing when he came up with this bs.

    3) If you look at China, gross investment rates at 50% of GDP rates have left the country with debt levels that are astronomical. A lot of people say a debt crisis is coming. If you look at the reality on the ground, it is excess investment. what demand shortfall?

    Am I supposed to take the mutterings of these clueless academics like Bernanke who blew 2 bubbles and blew up the economy in 2007-08?

    Give me some evidence, or give me a break from these fanciful notions of a savings glut.

    [Apr 09, 2017] As soon as regulators relax their vigilance banks start feckless expansion

    Notable quotes:
    "... Probably the biggest single factor was public employment was savagely cut during the Obama presidency which would have kept economic activity higher at a fairly cheap cost. ..."
    "... the owning/lending class tends to dislike inflation for some reason... ..."
    "... I think this is highly dependent on one's understanding of "equitable". Monetary policy can be used in a way that ensures safe income streams to those who already own many financial assets. Some people think that is how it should be and therefore "equitable". ..."
    Apr 09, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    RGC -> RGC... April 08, 2017 at 07:17 AM

    As John Kenneth Galbraith remarked:

    "The central bank remains important for useful tasks - the clearing of checks, the replacement of worn and dirty banknotes, as a loan source of last resort. These tasks it performs well.

    With other public agencies in the United States, it also supervises the subordinate commercial banks. This is a job which it can do well and needs to do better. In recent years the regulatory agencies, including the Federal reserve, have relaxed somewhat their vigilance. At the same time numerous of the banks have been involved in another of the age-old spasms of optimism and feckless expansion. The result could be a new round of failures. It is to such matters that the Federal Reserve needs to give its attention.

    These tasks apart, the reputation of central bankers will be the greater, the less responsibility they assume. Perhaps they can lean against the wind - resist a little and increase rates when the demand for loans is persistently great, reverse themselves when the reverse situation holds.

    But, in the main, control must be - as it was in the United States during the war years and the good years following - over the forces which cause firms and persons to seek loans and not over whether they are given or not given the loans."

    -From "Money: Whence it came,Where it went" 1975 - pgs 305,6.

    RGC -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 07:33 AM
    [Mariner Eccles explained it way back in the 1930's:]

    "Pushing on a String: An Origin Story

    There's a long-standing metaphor in monetary policy that the central bank "can't push on a string." It means that while a central bank can certainly slow down an economy or even drive an economy into recession with an ill-timed or too-large increase interest rates, the power of monetary policy is not symmetric.

    When a central bank reduces interest rates in an attempt to stimulate the economy, it may not make much difference if banks don't think it's a good time to lend or firms and consumers don't think it's a good time to borrow. In other words, monetary policy is like a string with which a central bank can "pull" back the economy, but pushing on a string just crumples the string.

    The "can't push on a string" metaphor appears in many intro-level economics texts. It has also gotten a heavy work-out these last few years as people have sought to understand why either economic output or inflation wasn't stimulated more greatly by having the Federal Reserve's target interest rate (the "federal funds" rate) near zero percent for going on seven years now, especially when combined with "forward guidance" promises that this policy would continue into the future and a couple trillion dollars of direct Federal Reserve purchases of Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities.

    The first use of "pushing on a string" in a monetary policy context may have occurred in hearings before House Committee on Banking and Currency on March 18, 1935, concerning the proposed Banking Act of 1935. Marriner Eccles, who was appointed Chairman of the Fed in 1934 and served on the Board of Governors until 1951, was taking questions from Rep. Thomas Alan Goldsborough (D-MD) and Prentiss M. Brown (D-MI). The hearings are here; the relevant exchange is on p. 377, during a discussion of what the Fed might be able to do to end deflation."

    http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2015/07/pushing-on-string-origin-story.html

    Peter K. -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 08:05 AM
    The Fed didn't try very hard with its unconventional monetary policy. It was always worried about inflation. Plus it had to overcome the unprecedented austerity which Congress pushed on the economy.

    If you look at the recovery and say monetary policy didn't work, you are either insane or highly ideological.

    Now, the recovery could have been much quicker and better with the help of fiscal policy and other policies.

    RC AKA Darryl, Ron said in reply to RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 09:14 AM
    Thx.

    OK, this is a joke =

    We are all quantity of money theory people now.

    Must be so, because the following certainly is not true =

    "We are all Keynesians now"

    OK, not all one way or the other but the Keynesians are under siege by monetarists including ones that do not know what a monetarist is or that they are one.

    RC AKA Darryl, Ron said in reply to RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 09:28 AM
    It is not that monetary policy is entirely ineffective at stimulating demand, but that its effects are very limited according to the very narrow channels in which its effects are most pronounced, intermediation risks, widening the term spread or yield curve, and making short term business loans and related prime rate small short term loans. It does next to nothing towards reducing credit rationing by financial institutions after a shock, which would be highly stimulative compared to just lowering the FFR. Purchase of the riskiest assets by the Fed was probably most effective at reducing credit rationing since it lowered the risk of bank loan portfolios. Just buying up safe assets had mixed results on lowering long term interest rates, but was more successful on that than reducing credit rationing.
    RC AKA Darryl, Ron said in reply to RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 09:30 AM
    Since the FFR was at the ZLB, further lowering long term interest rates also flattened the yield curve.
    Peter K. -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 10:27 AM
    All your jargon obscures the point that the Fed didn't really try that hard with its unconventional policy b/c of politics.

    It's like arguing that the ARRA didn't work very well. It did work and could have been bigger and better but policymakers are too conservative when it comes to macro policy.

    RGC -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 09:29 AM
    Subtle..... I think.
    Peter K. -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 10:29 AM
    Again you're muddying the issue. It's not really monetarists versus Keynesians.

    It's these know-nothing lefties who think that tight money doesn't matter.

    RC AKA Darryl, Ron said in reply to Peter K.... , April 08, 2017 at 11:35 AM
    Tight money means credit rationing. Cheap money does not necessarily get looser. Yes, widening the term spread helps loosen, but narrowing the term spread does not. Other forms of monetary policy such as government loan guarantees on small business loans loosen money more than QE.
    Peter K. -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 08:01 AM
    "Monetary policy has always been ineffective in stimulating demand"

    Simply not true.

    RGC -> Peter K.... , April 08, 2017 at 08:11 AM
    As I've told you before, I see no point in arguing the issue with you.
    Peter K. -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 08:28 AM
    Because you're wrong and misleading. The Fed does the minimal amount of experimental unconventional policy - always paranoid over inflation - while Congress forces unprecedented fiscal austerity on the economy. I'd say monetary policy works. Doesn't mean fiscal policy doesn't work better.
    Peter K. -> Peter K.... , April 08, 2017 at 08:41 AM
    "Now here we are, in 2017, after the Obama Administration has brought the deficit down from $1.5 trillion in Fiscal Year 2009 to $621 billion in FY2016, "

    Via Max Sawicky, below. $900 billion in austerity that monetary policy had to fight against.

    Pinkybum -> Peter K.... , April 08, 2017 at 09:25 AM
    I don't think it is as simple as you have outlined here. Debt as a percentage of GDP has doubled since 2009 so that has provided some relief. Probably the biggest single factor was public employment was savagely cut during the Obama presidency which would have kept economic activity higher at a fairly cheap cost.
    Peter K. -> Pinkybum... , April 08, 2017 at 10:24 AM
    "Debt as a percentage of GDP has doubled since 2009 so that has provided some relief."

    wut?

    The largest difference was there was little to no Federal aid to the states which had to run balanced budgets.

    We can all agree after the ARRA ran its course, there was massive, unprecedented austerity forced on the economy by Republicans, just as in the UK and we see the results when central banks didn't do enough unconventional policy to fully offset it.

    A crappy recovery and the election of Trump/Brexit.

    RGC -> Peter K.... , April 08, 2017 at 09:18 AM
    Because I know you won't change your mind and you can't resist getting personal.
    Peter K. -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 10:24 AM
    You just repeat the same quotes over and over again as if that will change anyone's minds.
    RGC -> Peter K.... , April 08, 2017 at 10:36 AM
    This is exactly why I don't want to discuss the issue with you. You never address the issue and you make a personal remark.
    Peter K. -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 10:48 AM
    I never address the issue? All you do is repeat quotes form men who have long since died.
    RC AKA Darryl, Ron said in reply to Peter K.... , April 08, 2017 at 11:36 AM
    Men rather than mice though.
    yuan -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 09:58 AM
    monetary policy can redistribute capital in a more equitable manner. are you opposed to this? do you think the rich deserve their gains?
    RGC -> yuan... , April 08, 2017 at 10:41 AM
    I think your statement is erroneous. Show me how "monetary policy can redistribute capital in a more equitable manner." and we could discuss it.
    yuan -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 11:11 AM
    the owning/lending class tends to dislike inflation for some reason...
    Jerry Brown said in reply to RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 11:19 AM
    I think this is highly dependent on one's understanding of "equitable". Monetary policy can be used in a way that ensures safe income streams to those who already own many financial assets. Some people think that is how it should be and therefore "equitable".

    I have no idea how monetary policy with its currently defined policy tools can be used effectively, by itself, to redistribute wealth in the other direction, which is probably most people's understanding of "equitable".

    If it was, by itself, able to cause large jumps in inflation, that might feed back into rapidly rising nominal wages and large losses to the current holders of financial assets like bonds and loan books. That might be considered more "equitable" to some, but current limitations on monetary policy prevent it from creating inflation all by itself.

    RGC -> Jerry Brown... , April 08, 2017 at 11:34 AM
    I like your understanding of "equitable" better.

    [Apr 09, 2017] The economy hasnt changed. Monetary policy has always been ineffective in stimulating demand and is an instrument that neoclassical/neoliberal economists have used to avoid discussion of fiscal policy

    Apr 09, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    RGC April 08, 2017 at 06:53 AM

    Re: The Economy May Be Stuck in a Near-Zero World - Justin Wolfers
    ...................
    "In a nutshell, the American economy appears to have changed in a way that undermines the effectiveness of monetary policy but not fiscal policy, which may need to be wielded more actively."
    ......................
    [The economy hasn't changed. Monetary policy has always been ineffective in stimulating demand and is an instrument that neoclassical/neoliberal economists have used to avoid discussion of fiscal policy. They serve their plutocratic masters in that way and thus reap their rewards of tenured professorships, lucrative consulting positions, government positions and media acclaim.] RGC -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 07:17 AM
    As John Kenneth Galbraith remarked:

    "The central bank remains important for useful tasks - the clearing of checks, the replacement of worn and dirty banknotes, as a loan source of last resort. These tasks it performs well.

    With other public agencies in the United States, it also supervises the subordinate commercial banks. This is a job which it can do well and needs to do better. In recent years the regulatory agencies, including the Federal reserve, have relaxed somewhat their vigilence. At the same time numerous of the banks have been involved in another of the age-old spasms of optimism and feckless expansion. The result could be a new round of failures. It is to such matters that the Federal Reserve needs to give its attention.

    These tasks apart, the reputation of central bankers will be the greater, the less responsibility they assume. Perhaps they can lean against the wind - resist a little and increase rates when the demand for loans is persistently great, reverse themselves when the reverse situation holds.

    But, in the main, control must be - as it was in the United States during the war years and the good years following - over the forces which cause firms and persons to seek loans and not over whether they are given or not given the loans."

    -From "Money: Whence it came,Where it went" 1975 - pgs 305,6.

    RGC -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 07:33 AM
    [Mariner Eccles explained it way back in the 1930's:]


    "Pushing on a String: An Origin Story

    There's a long-standing metaphor in monetary policy that the central bank "can't push on a string." It means that while a central bank can certainly slow down an economy or even drive an economy into recession with an ill-timed or too-large increase interest rates, the power of monetary policy is not symmetric.

    When a central bank reduces interest rates in an attempt to stimulate the economy, it may not make much difference if banks don't think it's a good time to lend or firms and consumers don't think it's a good time to borrow. In other words, monetary policy is like a string with which a central bank can "pull" back the economy, but pushing on a string just crumples the string.

    The "can't push on a string" metaphor appears in many intro-level economics texts. It has also gotten a heavy work-out these last few years as people have sought to understand why either economic output or inflation wasn't stimulated more greatly by having the Federal Reserve's target interest rate (the "federal funds" rate) near zero percent for going on seven years now, especially when combined with "forward guidance" promises that this policy would continue into the future and a couple trillion dollars of direct Federal Reserve purchases of Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities.

    The first use of "pushing on a string" in a monetary policy context may have occurred in hearings before House Committee on Banking and Currency on March 18, 1935, concerning the proposed Banking Act of 1935. Marriner Eccles, who was appointed Chairman of the Fed in 1934 and served on the Board of Governors until 1951, was taking questions from Rep. Thomas Alan Goldsborough (D-MD) and Prentiss M. Brown (D-MI). The hearings are here; the relevant exchange is on p. 377, during a discussion of what the Fed might be able to do to end deflation."

    http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2015/07/pushing-on-string-origin-story.html

    Peter K. -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 08:05 AM
    The Fed didn't try very hard with its unconventional monetary policy. It was always worried about inflation. Plus it had to overcome the unprecedented austerity which Congress pushed on the economy.

    If you look at the recovery and say monetary policy didn't work, you are either insane or highly ideological.

    Now, the recovery could have been much quicker and better with the help of fiscal policy and other policies.

    RC AKA Darryl, Ron -> RGC... , April 08, 2017 at 09:14 AM
    Thx.

    OK, this is a joke =

    We are all quantity of money theory people now.

    Must be so, because the following certainly is not true =

    "We are all Keynesians now"

    OK, not all one way or the other but the Keynesians are under siege by monetarists including ones that do not know what a monetarist is or that they are one.

    RC AKA Darryl, Ron -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 09:28 AM
    It is not that monetary policy is entirely ineffective at stimulating demand, but that its effects are very limited according to the very narrow channels in which its effects are most pronounced, intermediation risks, widening the term spread or yield curve, and making short term business loans and related prime rate small short term loans. It does next to nothing towards reducing credit rationing by financial institutions after a shock, which would be highly stimulative compared to just lowering the FFR. Purchase of the riskiest assets by the Fed was probably most effective at reducing credit rationing since it lowered the risk of bank loan portfolios. Just buying up safe assets had mixed results on lowering long term interest rates, but was more successful on that than reducing credit rationing.
    RC AKA Darryl, Ron -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 09:30 AM
    Since the FFR was at the ZLB, further lowering long term interest rates also flattened the yield curve.
    Peter K. -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 10:27 AM
    All your jargon obscures the point that the Fed didn't really try that hard with its unconventional policy b/c of politics.

    It's like arguing that the ARRA didn't work very well. It did work and could have been bigger and better but policymakers are too conservative when it comes to macro policy.

    RGC -> RC AKA Darryl, Ron... , April 08, 2017 at 09:29 AM
    Subtle..... I think.

    [Apr 09, 2017] Time to do some fact checking on this right wing spin

    Apr 09, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    DeDude , April 08, 2017 at 12:31 PM
    Now isn't that amazing. When you increase the income of the consumer class workers you grow the economy.

    http://ritholtz.com/2017/04/new-seattle-post/

    Nobody could have predicted that - at least not if they were addicted to right wing narratives.

    pgl -> DeDude... , April 08, 2017 at 12:31 PM
    Ritholtz has had a field day debunking the right wing intellectual garbage of Martin Perry but today he turns on right wing toadie Tim Worstall.

    Great link!

    pgl -> pgl... , April 08, 2017 at 12:38 PM
    Worstall:

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2017/04/05/seattles-2-9-unemployment-rate-tells-us-nothing-about-the-effects-of-seattles-minimum-wage-rise/#782d373068b8

    "Sure, it's lovely that unemployment in Seattle dips under 3%. But an attempt to tie that drop in the unemployment rate to the minimum wage isn't going to work. For we can as easily note that the unemployment rate has dropped everywhere in the US over this same time period and the minimum wage hasn't risen everywhere over that time period. We've not even got a consistent correlation between minimum wages and unemployment that is.mWhat we've actually got to do is try to work out some method of what would have happened in Seattle from all of the effects of everything else other than the minimum wage, then compare it to what did happen with the minimum wage. The difference between these two will be the effect of the minimum wage rise. Seattle City Council know this, which is why they asked the University of Washington to run exactly such a study."

    Worstall reaches back to this July 2016 paper:

    https://evans.uw.edu/sites/default/files/MinWageReport-July2016_Final.pdf

    Time to do some fact checking on this right wing spin.

    [Apr 08, 2017] A new study suggests that near-zero interest rates - accompanied by a lackluster recovery - may become a common occurrence.

    Notable quotes:
    "... When the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to close to zero during the financial crisis, it was an extraordinary move. The central bank had hit the limits of conventional monetary policy, leaving the recovery to sputter along with less help than it needed ..."
    "... A new study suggests that near-zero interest rates - accompanied by a lackluster recovery - may become a common occurrence. ..."
    Apr 08, 2017 | www.nytimes.com

    Peter K., Saturday, April 08, 2017 at 08:21 AM

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/upshot/the-economy-may-be-stuck-in-a-near-zero-world.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=1

    " When the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to close to zero during the financial crisis, it was an extraordinary move. The central bank had hit the limits of conventional monetary policy, leaving the recovery to sputter along with less help than it needed ."

    This is a huge lie. The Fed did not do what it could have done. It did the minimal amount possible, always afraid of setting off inflation. The Fed said it delivered the recovery it wanted. It gave the economy exactly the help the Fed thought it needed. Then why the dishonesty from Wulfers. It's the kind we get from PGL the Facile.

    Why did the Fed deliver a lame recovery is the question Wolfers should be asking, but it's the kind of thing mainstream economists like him and PGL avoid. It's class war.

    " A new study suggests that near-zero interest rates - accompanied by a lackluster recovery - may become a common occurrence.

    That's troubling for many reasons. If the Fed can't cut rates as much as required to fight a slowing economy, then recessions will become more common and more painful. It suggests an urgent need to reconsider how we will counter the next bout of bad economic news, preferably before it arrives. If monetary policy won't be enough, perhaps fiscal policy will be. Certainly, this is no time for complacency."

    Yes fiscal policy would help deliver a better recovery as the Fed has repeatedly said, but again Wolfers is misleading his readers. The Fed could do more. It's not out of bullets. It's raising rates. Wolfers is really doing a disservice to his readers in an apparent attempt to talk up fiscal policy in a dishonest way. WTF.

    "But when normal interest rates are closer to 3 percent, the Fed can cut rates only a few times, because rates can only go so low - perhaps as low as zero, maybe a tad lower. This means that in even a typical downturn, the Fed may be unable to cut rates as much as it would like."

    But then it turns to unconventional policy. Seriously. WTF.

    "This dynamic can feed on itself. The less ammunition the Fed has to blast the economy out of its malaise, the weaker and slower will be the recovery, making it more likely that the next bad shock will require the Fed to cut rates more than is feasible."

    It doesn't have less ammunition. Now Wolfers finally admits there's something called unconventional policy.

    "The Fed has already been experimenting with monetary policy, but it hasn't been enough. In the wake of the financial crisis, for example, it bought bonds in a program known as quantitative easing, cutting long-term interest rates once short-term rates were near zero. The resulting stimulus was relatively small, reducing long-term rates by only a fraction of a percentage point, and the program was politically unpopular.

    The authors suggest an alternative approach in which the Fed makes up for "missing stimulus" by promising to keep rates lower, for longer periods. In their view, the Fed needs to make up for the interest rate cuts that it wishes it could have made, but couldn't. Promising this in the depths of a downturn would offer businesses reason to be optimistic, they say, boosting the recovery. The Fed would need to keep rates low, even as inflation overshot its target.

    It's a promising approach, but would people really believe the Fed's promises? I know a lot of central bankers, and I fear they are incapable of sitting still while inflation rises above their stated target."

    Wolfers admits that central bankers haven't pushed very hard on unconventional policy, shattering his thesis. They're paranoid over inflation.

    "Perhaps the answer lies outside the Fed. It may be time to revive a more active role for fiscal policy - government spending and taxation - so that the government fills in for the missing stimulus when the Fed can't cut rates any longer. Given political realities, this may be best achieved by building in stronger automatic stabilizers, mechanisms to increase spending in bad times, without requiring Congressional action."

    That's a good idea no matter whether unconventional monetary policy works or not. But Republicans are blocking it, so monetary policy is all we have. It doesn't help to say it doesn't work and we must suffer long painful recoveries.

    "The general distrust of fiscal policy may well have made sense; many economists are more likely to trust the technocrats at the Fed to manage the business cycle than the election-driven politicians on Capitol Hill. But in a world of low interest rates in which the Fed is frequently hamstrung, we may not have that choice."

    No the sidelining of fiscal policy never made any sense. But that doesn't mean we should sideline monetary policy when fiscal policy isn't forthcoming.

    Alt facts from Wolfers.

    libezkova -> Peter K.... April 08, 2017 at 03:15 PM

    "A new study suggests that near-zero interest rates - accompanied by a lackluster recovery - may become a common occurrence."

    That's another way to spell "end of cheap oil"

    [Apr 08, 2017] Reply

    Apr 08, 2017 | onclick="TPConnect.blogside.reply('6a00d83451b33869e201b8d2758ec5970c'); return false;" href="javascript:void 0">
    Saturday, April 08, 2017 at 09:58 AM RGC said in reply to yuan... I think your statement is erroneous. Show me how "monetary policy can redistribute capital in a more equitable manner." and we could discuss it. Reply Saturday, April 08, 2017 at 10:41 AM yuan said in reply to RGC... the owning/lending class tends to dislike inflation for some reason... Reply Saturday, April 08, 2017 at 11:11 AM Jerry Brown said in reply to RGC... I think this is highly dependent on one's understanding of "equitable". Monetary policy can be used in a way that ensures safe income streams to those who already own many financial assets. Some people think that is how it should be and therefore "equitable".

    I have no idea how monetary policy with its currently defined policy tools can be used effectively, by itself, to redistribute wealth in the other direction, which is probably most people's understanding of "equitable".

    If it was, by itself, able to cause large jumps in inflation, that might feed back into rapidly rising nominal wages and large losses to the current holders of financial assets like bonds and loan books. That might be considered more "equitable" to some, but current limitations on monetary policy prevent it from creating inflation all by itself. Reply Saturday, April 08, 2017 at 11:19 AM RGC said in reply to Jerry Brown... I like your understanding of "equitable" better. Reply Saturday, April 08, 2017 at 11:34 AM

    [Apr 06, 2017] Approximately 10 million males ages 25-54 are unemployed. Fifty-seven percent of these are on disability

    Apr 06, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    New Deal democrat , April 05, 2017 at 05:56 AM
    Via Business Insider
    http://www.businessinsider.com/jamie-dimon-ceo-letter-jpmorgan-on-education-and-labor-force-participation-2017-4

    This is from Jamie Dimon's letter to stockholders:

    "If the work participation rate for this group [men ages 25-54] went back to just 93% – the current average for the other developed nations – approximately 10 million more people would be working in the United States. Some other highly disturbing facts include: Fifty-seven percent of these non-working males are on disability"

    I don't know where he got the statistic from, but if it is true it is potent evidence that the main factor behind the 60 year long decline in prime age labor force participation by men is an increase in those on disability, probably due to both the expansion of the program, and better longevity and diagnostics -- and probably also tied in to opiate addiction as well.

    pgl -> New Deal democrat... , April 05, 2017 at 08:14 AM
    So does Jamie sitting on his mountain of other people's money have some magic solution that will get this EPOP back to 93%? I guess if we all bank at JPMorganChase, all will be fine? C'mon Jamie.
    New Deal democrat -> pgl... , April 05, 2017 at 08:54 AM
    I'm only citing him for the disability stat.

    Do you happen to have any source material that would indicate whether that stat is correct or not?

    pgl -> New Deal democrat... , April 05, 2017 at 09:37 AM
    There has been a bit of a discussion on this - most of which I sort of found unconvincing. Sorry but I am not the expert on this one. And I doubt Jamie Dimon is not either.
    EMichael -> New Deal democrat... , April 05, 2017 at 08:26 AM
    Never, ever listen to Jamie Dimon about anything.

    "This is another common explanation for the drop in male participation. But again it doesn't explain more than a fraction of the phenomenon.

    There's not much doubt that Social Security Disability Insurance takes people out of the workforce, often by inelegant design. In order to qualify for disability payments, people typically have to prove that they cannot work full-time. SSDI critics say this policy sidelines many people who might otherwise be able to contribute to the economy.

    But how many people does SSDI really remove? From 1967 to 2014, the share of prime-age men getting disability insurance rose from 1 percent to 3 percent. There is little chance that this increase is entirely the result of several million fraudulent attempts to get money without working. But even if it were, SSDI would still only explain about one-quarter of the decline in the male participation rate over that time. There are many good reasons to reform disability insurance. But it's not the singular driving force behind the decline of working men."

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/the-missing-men/488858/

    pgl -> EMichael... , April 05, 2017 at 08:28 AM
    When Dimon makes a recommendation re regulating his own sector, the best thing to do is just the opposite.

    [Apr 04, 2017] I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

    Notable quotes:
    "... Casablanca, ..."
    Apr 04, 2017 | www.businessinsider.com

    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

    Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

    – From the classic scene in Casablanca, made in 1942

    Casablanca

    The latest scandal du jour seems to be about what is now called LIBORgate. But is it a scandal or is it really just business as usual?

    And if we don't know which it is, what does that say about how we organize the financial world, in which $300-800 trillion, give or take, is based on LIBOR?

    This is actually just the second verse of the old song about derivatives, which is a much larger market. Which of course is a problem that was not solved by Dodd-Frank and that has the potential to once again create true havoc with the markets, whereas LIBOR can only cost a few billion here and there. (Sarcasm intended.)

    The problem is the lack of transparency. Why would banks want to reveal how much profit they are making? The last thing they want is transparency. This week I offer a different take on LIBOR, one which may annoy a few readers, but which I hope provokes some thinking about how we should organize our financial world.

    There Is Gambling in the House? I Am Shocked...

    Let's quickly look at what LIBOR is. The initials stand for London InterBank Offered Rate. It is the rate that is based on what 16 banks based in London (some are US banks) tell Thomson Reuters they expect to pay for overnight loans (and other longer loans). Thomson Reuters throws out the highest four numbers and the lowest four numbers and then gives us an average of the rest. Then that averaged number becomes about 150 other "rates," from overnight to one year and in different currencies. The key is that the number is not what the banks actually paid for loans, it's what they expect to pay. Also, please note that the British Banking Association, on its official website, calls this a price "fixing."

    Most of the time the number is probably pretty close to real, or close enough for government work. But then, there are other times when it is at best a guess and at worst manipulated.

    Back in the banking and credit crisis panic of 2008 the interbank market dried up. No bank was loaning other banks any money at any price. Thus there was clearly no way for the LIBOR number to be anything but fictitious. Anyone who was not aware of this was simply not paying attention.

    The regulators certainly knew on both sides of the Atlantic. All along there were clear records, we now learn, that bankers were telling the FSA (the Financial Services Authority) that they had problems. Regulators were worried about what was happening but were pointing out that there was a large hole in the ship that was already admitting water, and they didn't want to make it any bigger. Timothy Geithner, then President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (and now Secretary of the Treasury) wrote a rather pointed letter to the FSA, suggesting the need for better practices.

    Some banks reported lower rates, to make it appear they were better off than they were (since no one was actually lending to them), and others might have given higher rates, for other reasons. Remember, this was a British Banking Association number. Whether you personally won or lost money on the probably wrong price information depends on whether you were lending or borrowing and whether you really wanted the entire market to appear worse than it already was.

    This was the equivalent of an open-book test where you got to grade your own paper. And we are supposed to be shocked that there might have been a few bad "expectations" here and there by bankers acting in their own self-interest, with the knowledge of the regulators? The more amazing proposition would be that in a time of crisis the number had any close bearing on reality to begin with. Call me skeptical, but I fail to see how we should be surprised.

    The larger question that really needs to be asked is how in the name of all that is holy did we get to a place where we base hundreds of trillions of dollars of transactions worldwide on a number whose provenance is not clearly transparent. Yes, I get that the methodology of the creation of the number after the banks call in their "expectations" is clear, but the process of getting to that number was evidently not well understood and looks to be even muddier than my rather cynical previous understanding of it.

    It now seems that there will be a feeding frenzy as politicians and regulators hammer the various banks for improper practices. And they are pretty easy targets: there is just no way you can explain this that does not sound bad.

    You're a big banker. The world is falling down before your eyes. No one trusts anyone. If you put out a bad number (whatever "bad" means in a time of sheer utter blind panic) the markets will kill you even more than they already are and you could lose your job. You have got to come up with a number in ten minutes.

    "Hey, Nigel, what do you think we should tell Tommie [Thomson Reuters]?"

    "I don't know, Winthorpe, maybe Mortimer has an idea; let's ask him."

    Simply fining a few bankers is not going to fix the larger problem: the lack of transparency for arguably the most important number in financial markets. A very clear methodology needs to be developed, along with guidelines for what to do in times of crisis when the interbank market is frozen and there really is no number. Having no number might be worse than having a number that is a guess. But having a number that can be fudged by banks for their benefit is also clearly not in the public's interest.

    The point of the rule of law is that it is supposed to level the playing field. But the rule of law means having a very transparent process with very clear rules and guidelines and penalties for breaking the rules.

    I had dinner with Dr. Woody Brock this evening in Rockport. We were discussing this issue and he mentioned that he had done a study based on analysis by an institution that looks at all sorts of "fuzzy" data, like how easy it is to start a business in a country, corporate taxes and business structures, levels of free trade and free markets, and the legal system. It turned out that the trait that was most positively correlated with GDP growth was strength of the rule of law. It is also one of the major factors that Niall Ferguson cites in his book Civilization as a reason for the ascendency of the West in the last 500 years, and a factor that helps explain why China is rising again as it emerges from chaos.

    One of the very real problems we face is the growing feeling that the system is rigged against regular people in favor of "the bankers" or the 1%. And if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit there is reason for that feeling. Things like LIBOR are structured with a very real potential for manipulation. When the facts come out, there is just one more reason not to trust the system. And if there is no trust, there is no system.

    Opacity and Credit Default Swaps

    Which brings me to my next point. We just went through a crisis where derivatives were a major part of the problem, and specifically the counterparty risk of over-the counter (OTC) derivatives.

    Taxpayers had to back-stop derivatives sold by banks (and specifically AIG ) that were clearly undercapitalized. That cost tens of billions. Yet the commissions and bonuses paid for selling those bad derivatives went on being paid. Congress held hearings and expressed outrage, but in the end Dodd-Frank sold out.

    "Efforts to create an exchange-traded futures contract tied to credit-default swaps haven't yet gained traction after 18 months of talks, but banks dealing in the private multitrillion-dollar market for credit derivatives believe such contracts will eventually appear for a simple reason: They should attract new players.

    "Credit-default swaps function like insurance for bonds and loans. Investors use them to hedge or speculate against changes in a borrower's creditworthiness. If a borrower defaults, sellers of the protection compensate buyers.

    "The swaps – traded over the phone or on-screen, with prices known only to trading partners – are the domain of asset managers and hedge funds with the sophistication and financial wherewithal to take on complex risks.

    "Futures, by contrast, are more routine instruments used by institutions and individual or "retail" investors. Futures prices are displayed publicly on exchanges, and customers can trade them directly with other customers – unlike in the swaps market, where a dealer is on one side of every trade.

    "Dealers have long been fiercely protective of keeping the status quo in credit-default swaps or 'CDS' because they have booked fat profits from customers not being able to see where other customers are trading." (Market Watch)

    And that is the issue. Bankers do not want transparency, because it will seriously cut into their profits. And while I like everyone to make a profit, the implicit partner in every trade is the taxpayer and, last time I looked, we do not get a piece of that trade. Derivatives traded on an exchange were not part of the problem during the last credit crisis; OTC derivatives were.

    An exchange makes it very clear where the counterparty risk is and what the price mechanism is. It creates a transparent rule of law and places the risk on the backs of those buying and selling derivatives and not on the taxpayer. Exchange-traded derivatives do not pose a potential threat to the economies of the world, while we don't know the extent of the threat posed by OTC trades. JPMorgan has lost around $6 billion on the trading of their "London Whale." If Jamie Dimon and the JPM board couldn't guarantee reasonable corporate governance, then why should we assume that in another crisis we won't find another AIG?

    Dodd-Frank needs to be repealed and replaced. The last time, the process was too clearly in the hands of those being regulated and has contributed to their profits. Enough already.

    Credit default swaps and any other derivative large enough to put the system at risk must be moved to an exchange, to make clear the counterparty risks.

    [Apr 04, 2017] Americans Want More Than Just Money to Live On

    Apr 04, 2017 | www.bloomberg.com

    APRIL 3, 2017 9:00 AM EDT

    Donald Trump's election as president should have reminded liberals that Americans want more than money from their work. They responded to Trump's promise of jobs more than to Hillary Clinton's promise of government benefits because in addition to money, people also need dignity, a sense of self-reliance and respect within their community. For centuries, jobs have provided all of those.

    To say that work is disappearing would be an exaggeration. But despite the low unemployment rate, fewer Americans have jobs than in years past:

    [chart]

    This new class of non-workers may be able to survive on the government dole, the charity of friends and family or via black-market activities like drug sales. But they've probably lost some of the dignity and respect that used to come with working for a living. Falling employment has been linked to declining marriage rates, reduced happiness and opiate abuse. Some economists even blame disappearing jobs for the recent rise in mortality rates afflicting white Americans.

    What's more, the longer people stay out of the labor force, the more trouble they will have getting back into it. They lose work ethic, skills and connections, and employers become suspicious of the large gaps in the resumes. Economists Brad DeLong and Larry Summers have shown that this so-called labor-market hysteresis can have potentially large, long-lasting negative effects on the economy.

    When the economy is in recession, the best approach is probably a combination of fiscal and monetary stimulus. But when the labor-force dropout problem is chronic, as it is now, a different kind of policy may be needed -- a government-job guarantee.

    The U.S. has used an approach like this before. In 1935, the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration, which employed millions of American men, mostly in public-works projects. WPA employees received hourly wages similar to other unskilled workers in the surrounding area. Most of them built infrastructure and buildings, but a few were paid to make art and write books. The total cost of the program was high -- $1.3 billion a year, or about 1.7 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. An equivalent expenditure now would be a little more than $300 billion, or about half of federal defense spending. But the popularity of the program is hard to deny, given Roosevelt's resounding victory in his reelection bid in 1936.

    The idea of a new work program isn't a new one -- economists on all sides of the political spectrum have been kicking it around for years now. It has received support from Stephanie Kelton, an adviser to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and from Kevin Hassett, who is reportedly Trump's pick to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. Jeff Spross has an excellent article in Democracy exploring the idea in depth.

    William Darity of Duke University has been a particularly avid promoter of a job guarantee. He describes it thus:

    Any American 18 years or older would be able to find work through a federally funded public service employment program -- a "National Investment Employment Corps." Each National Investment Employment Corps job would offer individuals non-poverty wages, a minimum salary of $20,000, plus benefits including federal health insurance. The types of jobs offered could address the maintenance and construction of the nation's physical and human infrastructure, from building roads, bridges, dams and schools, to staffing high quality day care.
    There is no shortage of work to be done. Even beyond the tasks Darity lists, the U.S. is full of jobs that need doing, from elder care to renovation of old decaying buildings, to cleanup of lead and other pollution, to construction and staffing of transit systems.

    Darity estimates the cost of the program at $750 billion a year, Spross at $670 billion. That's about equivalent to all of the U.S.'s current anti-poverty programs, and would be about twice the size of the old WPA. So this would be a very big deal. But the true cost to society would be considerably less, because the jobs would provide value. Better infrastructure, more child care and elder care, and a cleaner, healthier environment would make the nation a richer, better place to live -- in other words, those benefits should defray much of the program's cost. Also, the program would take people off of the welfare rolls and cut government anti-poverty spending. Finally, even when the economy isn't in a recession, more income will probably increase demand in the local economy.

    All told, the program could end up being a bargain. And if the guarantee is limited to distressed, low-employment areas, which could lower the costs down even more, and allow for pilot programs to establish the viability of the concept.

    Many people on the left and elsewhere don't like this idea. They doubt that government make-work will provide dignity. And they believe strongly in the theory that automation will soon put large numbers of people out of a job entirely. The only solution, they say, is to change U.S. culture and values to make work less important, and to rely on programs like universal basic income. On the right, some would inevitably see the plan as a first step on the road to socialism.

    Maybe the critics will prove right in the long run. But for now, forcing a dramatic change on American culture is a lot harder than simply giving people jobs. Robot-driven unemployment and new social values are still mostly in the realm of science fiction, while the American public wants jobs now. A job guarantee looks like a very good thing to try.

    Peter K. said in reply to Peter K.... Do both, the UBI and Job Guarantee.

    Why doesn't Noah Smith discuss Fed Fail in detail and about how conservatives forced unprecedented austerity on the economy.

    This is not just "natural" or the evolution of technology, demographics and innovation.

    He should be supporting an NGDP target, etc.

    At very least run the economy hot.

    Reply Tuesday, April 04, 2017 at 12:08 PM Peter K. said in reply to Peter K.... What Smith does not discuss is how the Fed is currently raising rates to kill jobs. Reply Tuesday, April 04, 2017 at 12:09 PM

    [Apr 04, 2017] The Production of Money

    This FT -- the most deep neoliberal swamp among mainstream newspaper. So they do not like any critique of thier beloved neloneral world order with the dominance of reckless financial oligarchy as one of the key components.
    Notable quotes:
    "... She argues that under our deregulated financial system "commercial bankers can create credit . . . effectively without limit, and with few regulatory constraints." She says that because the government and central banks impose no restrictions on what credit is used for, banks increasingly lend for speculative activities, rather than "sound, productive investment". ..."
    "... The collateral for this borrowing is in the form of "promises to pay", which can "evaporate" and be defaulted upon - which risks dragging down the rest of the system. ..."
    "... many of the remedies Pettifor recommends are, as she acknowledges, fairly mainstream: monitoring the evolution of credit relative to national income, limiting loan-to-value mortgage ratios more strictly, imposing stronger regulation on banks and issuing government debt at low interest rates across the maturity spectrum. ..."
    "... Less mainstream are her calls for controls on international capital flows through a Tobin tax on financial transactions, and for central banks to "manage exchange rates over a specified range by buying and selling currency". ..."
    "... its confrontational style - criticising financial market players, most economists, politicians and ideas from other left-leaning economists ..."
    Apr 04, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    Peter K. , April 03, 2017 at 01:38 PM
    https://www.ft.com/content/40b5b516-152c-11e7-b0c1-37e417ee6c76

    'The Production of Money', by Ann Pettifor - a financial education

    16 HOURS AGO by: Review by Gemma Tetlow

    Ann Pettifor's The Production of Money, is a work in three parts. It provides an explanation of how money and credit are created in modern economies and of some of the problems that helped foment the financial crisis. The author, an economist, then sets out her views on how these problems should be fixed, including introducing controls on international capital flows. Finally, and less obviously from the title, the book strays into a critique of fiscal austerity.

    "Citizens," Pettifor argues, "were unprepared for the [financial] crisis, and remain on the whole ignorant of the workings of the financial system." This is one reason why policymakers have failed to address its failings. One of her objectives is to "simplify key concepts in relation to money, finance and economics, and to make them accessible to a much wider audience".

    Chapter two provides a clear, intuitive explanation of how money is created and how this can facilitate economic growth. Money creation is a complex and intangible concept in a world where it is no longer backed by gold bars held by the central bank, and Pettifor provides the most accessible and thorough explanation I have seen.

    In the rest of the book, the author sets out her diagnosis of the problems afflicting the world's monetary system and her prescription for how they should be fixed. She argues that under our deregulated financial system "commercial bankers can create credit . . . effectively without limit, and with few regulatory constraints." She says that because the government and central banks impose no restrictions on what credit is used for, banks increasingly lend for speculative activities, rather than "sound, productive investment".

    The collateral for this borrowing is in the form of "promises to pay", which can "evaporate" and be defaulted upon - which risks dragging down the rest of the system.

    The description is informative as far as it goes. However, it does not provide the sort of compelling, insightful account of the problems before the crisis that is provided by, for example, Michael Lewis in The Big Short.

    She strikes a revolutionary tone when setting out the problem. But many of the remedies Pettifor recommends are, as she acknowledges, fairly mainstream: monitoring the evolution of credit relative to national income, limiting loan-to-value mortgage ratios more strictly, imposing stronger regulation on banks and issuing government debt at low interest rates across the maturity spectrum.

    Less mainstream are her calls for controls on international capital flows through a Tobin tax on financial transactions, and for central banks to "manage exchange rates over a specified range by buying and selling currency".

    Her support for these measures is consistent with her belief - expressed throughout the book - that everything was well until the global financial system began to liberalise following the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in 1971.

    The evidence she provides to support her belief that policies in place during the Bretton Woods era were superior to those operating now appears rather selective. She cites data presented in Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's book, This Time is Different, as evidence that "financial crises proliferated" after the 1970s. However, Reinhart and Rogoff's thesis was that we have been here before in centuries past - and will be again.

    The Production of Money presents one view of issues afflicting the world's financial systems and how they should be dealt with, and will be useful to readers unfamiliar with these issues. But in other places it provides a partial or rather confusing descriptions of aspects of the monetary system. Saying the global economy "is once again at risk of slipping into recession" and faces "deflation" are statements that have aged badly.

    This book will help the public "develop a much greater understanding" of how banking and financial systems work. However, its confrontational style - criticising financial market players, most economists, politicians and ideas from other left-leaning economists - may put some readers off before they get to the meat of the argument. The characterisations of these groups' views are selective and her criticisms are at times not well supported by the evidence she presents.

    [Apr 02, 2017] Maybe The Recovery Wasn't Real After All Zero Hedge

    Apr 02, 2017 | www.zerohedge.com
    For a while there it looked like the US and its main trading partners had finally achieved escape velocity. Growth was up, inflation was poking through the Fed's 2% target, and most measures of consumer sentiment were bordering on euphoric.

    Then it all started to evaporate. Lackluster manufacturing and consumer spending reports sent the Atlanta Fed's reading of Q1 GDP off a cliff to less than 1%:

    And this morning the Wall Street Journal highlighted some recent changes in the yield curve that point towards further slowing:

    Flatter Yield Curve in 2017 Shows Growth Concern Lingers

    Long-term Treasury yields have declined modestly, while short-term yields have risen.

    A flattening of the Treasury yield curve in 2017 is a worrying sign for investors banking on resurgent U.S. inflation and growth.

    Long-term Treasury yields, which are largely driven by the U.S. economic and inflation outlook, have declined modestly this year, following a sharp rise in the wake of the November election of Donald Trump as president. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has fallen to 2.396% from 2.446% at the end of 2016.

    At the same time, short-term yields, which are more influenced by monetary policy, have risen in 2017 as Federal Reserve officials have made clear that they expect to continue raising the fed-funds rate through the rest of the year.

    As a result, the yield premium on the 10-year note relative to the two-year note-known in the market as the 2-10 spread-slipped Wednesday to 1.107 percentage points, its lowest level since the election.

    FIRST QUARTER REPORT CARD

    While the yield curve, like all market indicators, is subject to the ebb and flow of investor sentiment, economic data and political developments, a flattening yield curve gets special attention from investors world-wide because it can serve as an early signal of both economic slowing and overpricing in riskier asset classes.

    Those concerned that U.S. share prices were getting ahead of themselves took note in the first quarter when they "started to see the flattening of the yield curve," said David Albrycht, president and CIO of Newfleet Asset Management, the fixed-income affiliate of Virtus Investment Partners . The Dow industrials have fallen 2% since hitting a record of 21115 on March 1.

    Though economic data in the first quarter were mixed, many investors believe the flattening of the curve is the result of the unwinding of "Trump trade" bets that inflation and growth would pick up imminently with the adoption of tax cuts and fiscal stimulus President Donald Trump has promised. Hopes of a so-called reflationary agenda have been set back by the defeat in Congress of a White House sponsored health-care bill. That raised questions about whether Mr. Trump can get other legislation through Congress.

    Expectations for higher long-term yields and a steeper curve rested on two pillars: first, that the economy on its own was showing signs of improvement, and second, that it would get an extra lift from promised tax cuts, infrastructure spending and regulatory relief.

    At the outset of the second quarter, both of those pillars are still standing, yet neither is looking as sturdy as before.

    The Journal goes on to note that the spreads between Treasuries and junk bonds are widening, which indicates growing fears of a slowdown-induced credit crunch. And that junk bond issuance is soaring, which implies a desire on the part of sub-investment-grade borrowers to raise cash while they can.

    What's happening? There are several possibilities :

    1) There never really was a recovery. The post-election pop was, as the Journal asserts, just the human nervous system responding to a "new and improved" US government the way grocery store shoppers instinctively reach for boxes that promise a better version of an old stand-by. Now that the novelty has worn off, the markets are experiencing a "same corn flakes, different box" let-down. In which case 1% – 2% growth might be the ceiling, and debt/GDP will continue to soar world-wide. Make no mistake, this is an epic worst-case scenario.

    2) Oil spiked in 2016, which led many to conclude that the global economy was growing because it was demanding more energy. But then crude gave back most of its gains, extinguishing the previous optimism and causing economic indicators like consumer spending to stall (because we're all paying a bit less for gas lately). So risk-off: sell stocks and junk bonds, buy Treasuries. It's no more complicated than that.

    3) No one has the slightest idea what's happening as insane levels of debt distort the models economists use to predict the future. From here on out, it's unpleasant surprises all the way down.

    Time will tell, but door number 3 is an increasingly safe bet.

    hedgeless_horseman -> DownWithYogaPants , Apr 2, 2017 11:20 AM

    Maybe the recovery was only nominal , not real ?

    DaveA -> hedgeless_horseman , Apr 2, 2017 12:24 PM

    "Please, understand that if the amount of money in a closed system doubles, the value of each monetary unit halves, and the price of everything, including stocks, increases 100%."

    If it were that simple, it would be that obvious. Like a microwave oven on HI, newly-created money heats the economy unevenly, bidding up the prices of some assets like stocks and real estate (behold! an economic recovery!) while ignoring other things like oil and food (behold! no inflation!)

    In Weimar Germany, speculators borrowed trillions of marks, bought anything they could move, and sold it in other countries for hard currency. There are no "other countries" this time because the money-printing madness is global. This has never happened before so we don't know how it will end.

    44magnum , Apr 2, 2017 11:41 AM

    On May 23, 1933, Congressman, Louis T. McFadden, brought formal charges against the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank system, The Comptroller of the Currency and the Secretary of United States Treasury for numerous criminal acts, including but not limited to, CONSPIRACY, FRAUD, UNLAWFUL CONVERSION, AND TREASON. The petition for Articles of Impeachment was thereafter referred to the Judiciary Committee and has YET TO BE ACTED ON.

    "Mr. Chairman, we have in this Country one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known. I refer to the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Banks, hereinafter called the Fed. The Fed has cheated the Government of these United States and the people of the United States out of enough money to pay the Nation's debt. The depredations and iniquities of the Fed has cost enough money to pay the National debt several times over.

    "This evil institution has impoverished and ruined the people of these United States, has bankrupted itself, and has practically bankrupted our Government. It has done this through the defects of the law under which it operates, through the maladministration of that law by the Fed and through the corrupt practices of the moneyed vultures who control it.

    "Some people who think that the Federal Reserve Banks United States Government institutions. They are private monopolies which prey upon the people of these United States for the benefit of themselves and their foreign customers; foreign and domestic speculators and swindlers; and rich and predatory money lender. In that dark crew of financial pirates there are those who would cut a man's throat to get a dollar out of his pocket; there are those who send money into states to buy votes to control our legislatures; there are those who maintain International propaganda for the purpose of deceiving us into granting of new concessions which will permit them to cover up their past misdeeds and set again in motion their gigantic train of crime.

    "These twelve private credit monopolies were deceitfully and disloyally foisted upon this Country by the bankers who came here from Europe and repaid us our hospitality by undermining our American institutions. Those bankers took money out of this Country to finance Japan in a war against Russia. They created a reign of terror in Russia with our money in order to help that war along. They instigated the separate peace between Germany and Russia, and thus drove a wedge between the allies in World War. They financed Trotsky's passage from New York to Russia so that he might assist in the destruction of the Russian Empire. They fomented and instigated the Russian Revolution, and placed a large fund of American dollars at Trotsky's disposal in one of their branch banks in Sweden so that through him Russian homes might be thoroughly broken up and Russian children flung far and wide from their natural protectors. They have since begun breaking up of American homes and the dispersal of American children. "Mr. Chairman, there should be no partisanship in matters concerning banking and currency affairs in this Country, and I do not speak with any.

    "In 1912 the National Monetary Association, under the chairmanship of the late Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, made a report and presented a vicious bill called the National Reserve Association bill. This bill is usually spoken of as the Aldrich bill. Senator Aldrich did not write the Aldrich bill. He was the tool, if not the accomplice, of the European bankers who for nearly twenty years had been scheming to set up a central bank in this Country and who in 1912 has spent and were continuing to spend vast sums of money to accomplish their purpose.

    "We were opposed to the Aldrich plan for a central bank. The men who rule the Democratic Party then promised the people that if they were returned to power there would be no central bank established here while they held the reigns of government. Thirteen months later that promise was broken, and the Wilson administration, under the tutelage of those sinister Wall Street figures who stood behind Colonel House, established here in our free Country the worm-eaten monarchical institution of the "King's Bank" to control us from the top downward, and from the cradle to the grave.

    "The Federal Reserve Bank destroyed our old and characteristic way of doing business. It discriminated against our 1-name commercial paper, the finest in the world, and it set up the antiquated 2-name paper, which is the present curse of this Country and which wrecked every country which has ever given it scope; it fastened down upon the Country the very tyranny from which the framers of the Constitution sough to save us.

    PRESIDENT JACKSON'S TIME

    "One of the greatest battles for the preservation of this Republic was fought out here in Jackson's time; when the second Bank of the United States, founded on the same false principles of those which are here exemplified in the Fed was hurled out of existence. After that, in 1837, the Country was warned against the dangers that might ensue if the predatory interests after being cast out should come back in disguise and unite themselves to the Executive and through him acquire control of the Government. That is what the predatory interests did when they came back in the livery of hypocrisy and under false pretenses obtained the passage of the Fed.

    "The danger that the Country was warned against came upon us and is shown in the long train of horrors attendant upon the affairs of the traitorous and dishonest Fed. Look around you when you leave this Chamber and you will see evidences of it in all sides. This is an era of misery and for the conditions that caused that misery, the Fed are fully liable. This is an era of financed crime and in the financing of crime the Fed does not play the part of a disinterested spectator.

    "It has been said that the draughts man who was employed to write the text of the Aldrich bill because that had been drawn up by lawyers, by acceptance bankers of European origin in New York. It was a copy, in general a translation of the statues of the Reichsbank and other European central banks. One-half million dollars was spent on the part of the propaganda organized by these bankers for the purpose of misleading public opinion and giving Congress the impression that there was an overwhelming popular demand for it and the kind of currency that goes with it, namely, an asset currency based on human debts and obligations. Dr. H. Parker Willis had been employed by Wall Street and propagandists, and when the Aldrich measure failed- he obtained employment with Carter Glass, to assist in drawing the banking bill for the Wilson administration. He appropriated the text of the Aldrich bill. There is no secret about it. The test of the Federal Reserve Act was tainted from the first.

    fbazzrea -> 44magnum , Apr 2, 2017 12:26 PM

    thank you for sharing... i have a question though.

    how does one reconcile Carter Glass and his duplicitous role in the above and the creation of the Glass-Steagall Act? i suppose he could correctly assume the banks would not need to manage both sides of a Wall Street trade when granted sole independent authority over our nation's money. but par for the course, subsequent greedy banksters weren't satisfied with keys to the kingdom; they wanted the peasants to feel the pain of oppression and desolation. the world is not enough.

    thanks again

    [Mar 25, 2017] The few larger, new discoveries are also in frontier, and therefore generally more expensive, regions

    Mar 25, 2017 | peakoilbarrel.com
    George Kaplan says: 03/23/2017 at 7:18 am
    It's looking like the shorter cycle times for LTO just means the the volatility acts over higher frequency but doesn't go away. A fundamental problem remains that all the E&Ps use basically the same model, and therefore they all make essentially the same decisions at around the same time, and therefore you get boom and bust. Volatility may be the biggest contribution to delaying or preventing long term investment in bigger (principally deep water and oil sand) projects, but I think the impact of the big drop off in discoveries is significant, and not being fully appreciated.

    The backlog of discoveries are mostly difficult and expensive developments that were not considered as top prospects when oil was over $100.

    The few larger, new discoveries are also in frontier, and therefore generally more expensive, regions. E&Ps are turning to gas, or near field developments, or are giving up on offshore altogether. Much higher, and stable, prices might be needed to get these big projects going. If high prices cause a fast demand collapse, by whatever mix of mechanisms, then they might well not get done.

    [Mar 23, 2017] The Credit Theory of Money

    Mar 23, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    tjfxh :

    Reply Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 04:15 PM , March 21, 2017 at 04:15 PM
    David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years. Melville House; Updated Expanded edition (2014).

    Michael Hudson and Marc Van De Mieroop, Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East. Capital Decisions Ltd (2002).

    Geoffrey Ingham, The Nature of Money. Polity (2004).

    A. Mitchell Innes, "The Credit Theory of Money," The Banking Law Journal, Vol. 31 (1914), Dec./Jan., 151-168.

    _____________, "What is Money?," The Banking Law Journal, Vol. 30 (1913), May. 377-409

    L. Randall Wray, Theories of Money and Banking. Edward Elgar (2012)

    ______________, Understanding Modern Money:The Key to Full Employment and Price Stability. Edward Elgar (1998)

    anne -> tjfxh ... , March 21, 2017 at 04:34 PM
    https://www.community-exchange.org/docs/The%20Credit%20Theoriy%20of%20Money.htm

    1914

    The Credit Theory of Money
    By A. Mitchell Innes

    https://www.community-exchange.org/docs/what%20is%20money.htm

    1913

    What Is Money?
    By A. MITCHELL INNES

    [ I do appreciate these references. ]

    [Mar 23, 2017] Why US Growth of 2 Percent Is Plausible-And Unlikely to Get Much Higher PIIE

    Mar 23, 2017 | piie.com
    Jason Furman (PIIE) March 21, 2017 6:00 PM The US economy will likely grow at a rate of around 2 percent a year over the next decade. While this estimate seems low relative to the average annual growth rate of 3.5 percent from 1950 to 2000, it is not reflective of some newly found pessimism. Instead, it is largely based on two demographic facts: aging baby boomers entering retirement and the end of the influx of women into the workforce. In fact, without the cyclical boost in recent years from the falling unemployment rate, achieving even 2 percent annual growth will require substantially faster productivity growth than the United States has seen in recent years, along with a stabilized labor force participation rate on an age-adjusted basis.

    A piece I wrote on Vox (link is external) explores plausible variations around this central expectation, either due to luck or to policy. A possible range of this uncertainty-that is, how different assumptions about productivity growth and labor force participation would affect this growth forecast-is shown in the table below. The Vox piece also documents how policy can make a small difference but cannot radically change the picture.

    [Mar 22, 2017] Economist's View How Money Made Us Modern

    Mar 22, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
    How Money Made Us Modern Patrick Kiger at National Geographic:
    How Money Made Us Modern : About 9,500 years ago in the Mesopotamian region of Sumer, ancient accountants kept track of farmers' crops and livestock by stacking small pieces of baked clay, almost like the tokens used in board games today. One piece might signify a bushel of grain, while another with a different shape might represent a farm animal or a jar of olive oil.
    Those humble little ceramic shapes might not seem have much in common with today's $100 bill, whose high-tech anti-counterfeiting features include a special security thread designed to turn pink when illuminated by ultraviolet light, let alone with credit-card swipes and online transactions that for many Americans are rapidly taking the place of cash.
    But the roots of those modern modes of payment may lie in the Sumerians' tokens. ...

    Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 10:06 AM in Economics | Permalink Comments (10)

    View blog reactions

    --> -->
    Comments Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post. Shah of Bratpuhr : , March 21, 2017 at 11:08 AM

    Article ended with Bitcoin... otherwise, great story.
    Shah of Bratpuhr -> Shah of Bratpuhr... , March 21, 2017 at 11:09 AM
    Bitcoin is quite volatile vs USD.

    https://btcvol.info/

    tjfxh : , March 21, 2017 at 12:34 PM
    The article is poorly researched. The author needs to read Innes, Graeber, Ingham, Wray and Hudson on the history of money from the perspective of credit instead of relying on Davies, who emphasizes commodity money and doesn't distinguish between bullion and chartal.
    kthomas -> tjfxh ... , March 21, 2017 at 01:03 PM
    ....coffee. Was there nothing you agreed with?
    tjfxh : , March 21, 2017 at 02:09 PM
    I was speaking specifically of the early history in my comment, but the entire article was rather one-sided. The debated on the history and nature of money is nuanced and the author made it seem as through the article presents a definitive version. The audience to which it is addressed would not glean that from the article and would likely come away with a one-sided and simplistic perspective on the history and nature of money.
    anne -> tjfxh ... , March 21, 2017 at 02:32 PM
    Do set down any specific references when possible.
    JohnH : , March 21, 2017 at 02:32 PM
    Michael Hudson offers a wonderful piece on the ancient middle east, how they handled oppressive debt, and how, in the Anglo-Saxon word, the biblical word for debt got translated into 'sin.'

    "From the actual people who study cuneiform records, 90% of which are economic, what we have surviving from Sumer and Babylonia, from about 2500 BC to