Tuesday, 23 August 2016

'No harm from Brexit vote' is fantasy island politics

By Tom O'Leary
There is a concerted propaganda effort claiming that there has been no damage to the economy arising from the Brexit vote. This is being mounted not just by newspapers who supported Leave, such as the Daily Telegraph but it also includes sections of the left, the minority who also supported leaving the EU such as Larry Elliott in the Guardian.

The reality is that living standards have already fallen as a result of the Brexit vote, before the negotiations attempting to achieve it have even begun. The international purchasing power of the UK economy fell immediately as the pound depreciated sharply again in the early hours of June 24 although it had already fallen in the run-up to the referendum. The Sterling Trade-Weighted Index, the Bank of England's measure of the value of the currency adjusted for the UK's trade patterns has fallen by over 20% since July 2015. It stood at 78.0248 on August 18, which is also 12.5% below its level on June 23.
This falling in purchasing power is first most obviously reflected in higher prices. This has all happened before. The pound fell by 44% in the year to December 2008 that year. Consumer price inflation rose sharply subsequently, peaking at 5.2% year-on-year price rises in September 2011. Alone of the all the crisis-hit countries in Europe the UK economy experienced inflation even during a slump. This was a key contributor the fall in real wages that the TUC has noted. UK real wages fell by 10.5% from 2007 to 2015, a fall equalled only by Greece. A smaller, less pronounced rise in prices should now be expected in the period ahead, with a similarly more modest fall in real wages.

Fig.1 Change in hourly wages in EU countries
Source: TUC
As previously, the rise in prices will take some time to work through the economy. This is because many goods and services that are imported are subject to fixed price contracts, which take time to be replaced. The rising oil price also feeds into the cost base of virtually all producers of goods, but does so with a time lag. Recently the oil price in sterling terms has risen from about £20bbl to £30bbl, a rise of 50%.

Brexit supporters argue that the lower level of the currency will make UK exports cheaper on international markets, as well as making imports more expensive. This is true. But a sustained increase in UK exports would also require that exporters increase their level of investment. Otherwise the potential boost to exports is squandered. Yet this is the long-run history of the UK economy, repeated currency crises and devaluations, and declining share of world export markets. More recently, the export performance of the UK economy following the 44% devaluation brought about by the crisis led to no significant export recovery. On the contrary, the UK external deficits are at record levels.

The missing factor is business investment. Previously, SEB has argued that it would be investment that would react most rapidly and most negatively to the Brexit vote. This is because the profitability of firms is in part driven by the size of the market in which they operate, and the Brexit vote threatens to cut the UK economy off from the largest market in the world. So far, as with almost all economic data, only survey data for investment has been published for the period immediately after the vote. The actual effects of the vote will be felt over a much longer timescale. The Markit PMI survey shows the fall in demand for investment goods alongside demand for other goods. The Bank of England's regional agents' survey covers firms with 1.2 million workers and shows that half of them plan to cut recruitment following the vote. 60% plan to cut investment, and none plan to increase investment following the vote. 
Fig.2 Bank of England Agents’ survey of investment intentions
Source: BoE
It is investment which is the main determinant of growth, after participation in the division of labour, including the international division of labour. The Brexit vote has immediately damaged both of these, investment and participation in the division of labour, and the full effects will only be felt over the medium-term. 

Of course, for those who insist against all evidence that consumption can lead growth, then the strong rise in retail sales in July are a harbinger of a rosy outlook for the UK economy. Shoppers will lead the way. No matter that real incomes are set to fall once more and that therefore rising consumption could only be sustained by falling household savings and rising household debt. At some point, these come to an abrupt halt.

This is part of the fantasy island economics and politics which led to the Brexit referendum and the vote itself. It will not be borne out by events.

Data shows China's 'socialist development model' outperformed all capitalist development strategies

By John Ross
This article finds that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fastest growing economies during the period since the putting forward of the neo-liberal ‘Washington Consensus’ all follow, or are highly influenced by, China’s development model. These are the socialist states of China and Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Laos People’s Democratic Republic. Alternative development models, including the Washington Consensus, have been a failure in comparison. China's economic model also far outperformed alternatives in poverty reduction.
These facts have international implications. The socialist development model followed by China was the unique creation of China’s economic policy as developed from Deng Xiaoping onwards. The Washington Consensus is the dominant economic strategy put forward by international economic institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.
The overwhelming economic superiority of the performance of countries following or highly influenced by China’s socialist development model shows that China’s economy not only outperformed alternatives but China’s economic strategy ‘out thought’ Western economic models.
A detailed theoretical analysis of the reasons that China’s development model outperformed alternatives is made in Chinese in my book 一盘大棋?中国新命运解析 (The Great Chess Game? A New Perspective on China’s Destiny). Shorter summaries may be found in English in my articles Deng Xiaoping and John Maynard KeynesWhy Adam Smith’s ‘classical theory’ correctly explained Asia’s growth and Deng Xiaoping - the world's greatest economist. This theoretical analysis is therefore not dealt with here. The focus here is simply on establishing the facts – facts which clearly establish the outperformance by China’s socialist development model of any alternative.
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This article compares factually the international results of two different economic development approaches – one which will be termed China’s ‘socialist development strategy’ versus the ‘neo-liberal’ Washington Consensus. The latter is the dominant economic development strategy advocated by the IMF and World Bank.
The reasons to make such a factual comparison should be clear. The wise Chinese phrase says ‘seek truth from facts’. Put in international language this dictum asserts the only basis of scientific analysis: that if facts and theory do not coincide it is the theory that has to be abandoned not the facts suppressed. ‘Dogmatism’, a fundamentally anti-scientific approach, consists of clinging to a theory even when the facts entirely contradict it.
Despite this requirement for factual study supporters of the Washington Consensus appear to strongly dislike systematic factual comparisons of the two development approaches. The reasons for this will become evident from the data below. This shows that China’s ‘socialist development strategy’ far outperforms the neo-liberal ‘Washington Consensus’.
The term ‘Washington Consensus’ was first coined in 1989 by US based economist John Williamson - although the actual practical policies were commenced in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The Washington Consensus is a classic form of ‘neo-liberalism’. It advocates in terms of economic policy privatisation and minimisation of the state’s economic role. Its social policy may be described as ‘trickle down’ – a belief that if there is economic growth all layers of society will automatically benefit as the benefits ‘trickle down’ from richest to poorest. Legally the Washington Consensus states the overriding goal is the strongest guarantees of private property. Politically, although claiming to be neutral, this combination of policies evidently favours capitalist and conservative political parties
China’s ‘socialist development strategy,’ which commenced with its 1978 economic reforms, is radically different in its entire framework and directly counterposed on key policy issues. China used, in Xi Jinping’s phraseology on economic policy, both the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible hand’ – not simply the private sector but also the state. Indeed, in China itself, as the 3rd Plenum of the Central Committee of the 18th Congress of the CPC insisted: ‘We must unswervingly consolidate and develop the public economy, persist in the dominant position of public ownership, give full play to the leading role of the state-owned sector.’
In social policy, accompanying the economic dominance of the state sector, China did not rely on ‘trickle down’ but, in line with its socialist approach, China:
  • undertook massive and conscious programmes deliberately aimed at eradicating poverty – these are to be completed in the 13th Five Year Plan by 2020 by lifting the remaining 70 million people out of poverty;
  • China deliberately promotes development through urbanisation as a way of moving the population into higher productivity economic sectors;
  • China deliberately sought to narrow the income gap between rural and urban areas;
  • China does not rely exclusively on ‘the market’ but deliberately uses state infrastructure spending to raise the economic level of its less developed inland provinces;
  • legally China guaranteed private property but a key economic role was assigned to the state sector,
  • politically China was socialist.
What, therefore, were the factual outcomes of these two radically different approaches to economic development? To assess this, for reasons which will become evident from the statistics, not only will China itself be analysed but three other countries will be considered. These are Vietnam, which defines itself as socialist and which in reality drew heavily from China’s ‘socialist market economy’ approach, Cambodia, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic – the latter two also being highly influenced by China’s development model.
The facts are summarised in Table 1 which shows the annual average rate of per capita GDP growth up to 2015 from 1978, when China began its economic reforms, from 1989, when the Washington Consensus was put forward, and from 1993 when data for Cambodia becomes available.
The data is of course extremely striking – indeed conclusive. From 1993-2015, when all four countries can be analysed China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos ranked respectively 1st, 2nd 3rd, and 4th in world per capita GDP growth – peripheral cases of countries with populations of less than 5 million or dominated by oil production are not included. From 1989, the date of the putting forward of the Washington Consensus, to 2015 China, Vietnam and Laos ranked respectively 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the world for countries in per capita GDP growth. From 1978 onwards China ranked 1st among all economies in terms of economic growth.
This ranking of growth necessarily shows that China's economic model not only produced more rapid growth than developed economies but also capitalist economies at the same stage of economic development (level of per capita GDP).
Table 1
16 08 23 Chart 1

The degree to which economies influenced by the ‘China development model’ outgrew the world average was huge. From 1978 onwards China’s rate of growth was almost six times the world average Since 1989 China again grew almost six times as fast as the world average while Vietnam and Laos grew over three times as fast as the world average.
The contrasts not only of average per capital GDP growth but in eradication of poverty were overwhelming. From 1981 China lifted 728 million people out of World Bank defined poverty. Another socialist country, Vietnam, lifted over 30 million from poverty by the same criteria. The whole of the rest of the world, in which the dominant model advocated by the IMF was the Washington Consensus, lifted only slightly 120 million people out of poverty. In summary 83% of the reduction of the number of those living in poverty was in China, 85% was in socialist countries, and only 15% of the reduction in the number of those living in poverty was in capitalist countries.
This data, of course, also destroys the claim that is ‘capitalism’ which has produced rapid economic growth and poverty reduction. If capitalism were the motor of rapid economic growth and poverty reduction then this growth would be most rapid, and poverty reduction greatest, in capitalist countries. Instead it is in socialist China and socialist Vietnam that the greatest poverty reduction has taken place Socialist China and socialist Vietnam, together with the countries they influence Cambodia and Laos, have seen the fastest economic growth.
China’s ‘socialist development model’ therefore was a huge success while the Washington Consensus was a failure. Economic development remains the most fundamental issues for the overwhelming majority of the world’s population- on the latest World Bank data, 84% of the world’s population lives in developing countries. Any objective analysis based on aiming to maximise a countries development potential would therefore start with China’s ‘socialist development model.’ The facts of world economic development show that China’s development policies of a huge role for the state sector, large scale conscious policies to eradicate poverty, and a socialist political orientation were the most successful in producing both economic growth and poverty reduction.
The simple but decisive fact that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th most rapidly growing economies during the period of the Washington Consensus all use the ‘China socialist development model’ is the factual demonstration of the superiority of China’s socialist development path to any capitalist alternative.
20 Fastest Per Capita GDP growth rates
16 08 23 Chart 2
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This is an edited version of an article which originally appeared in Chinese at Guancha.cn.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

China's economy growing 5 times as fast as US'

By John Ross

During the last year some international financial media, with Bloomberg playing a particularly active role, attempted to present a picture of the world economy that the U.S. is growing strongly while the rest of the world, including China, is relatively weak. Publication of new U.S. GDP data confirms the truth is the exact opposite: The U.S. economy has slowed drastically with China growing far more rapidly than the U.S. Indeed, the U.S. in the last year has grown more slowly even than the EU.

Total GDP growth

The wise Chinese dictum says "seek truth from facts." To establish the facts regarding the global economy, Figure 1 therefore shows the last year's growth, up to the latest available data, in the three largest centers of the world economy - the U.S., China and the EU. The pattern is unequivocal. In the year to the 2nd quarter of 2016 China's economy grew by 6.7 percent, the EU by 1.8 percent and the U.S. by 1.2 percent. The U.S. is therefore the most slowly growing major part of the world economy. Making a bilateral comparison, China's economy grew more than five times as fast as the U.S.' during the last year.

These three major economic centers together account for 61 percent of the world's GDP at market exchange rates. No other economies have remotely the same impact on the global economy. Therefore, there is no doubt that in the last year it is the U.S. which has been the biggest drag on the world economy.

Figure 1

Per capita GDP growth

The situation in terms of per capita GDP growth shows an even more dramatic advantage for China. Population growth in China and the U.S. is rather stable - at 0.5 percent a year in China and 0.8 percent in the U.S. China's and America's per capita GDP growth in the year to the 2nd quarter of 2016 is therefore easily calculated - 6.2 percent in China and 0.4 percent in the U.S.

An element of uncertainty, however, exists regarding the EU's population due to the refugee influx. Two estimates for the EU population are therefore used for calculation. One ("EU low population") assumes there has been an influx of 1 million refugees over and above the EU's 2015 0.3 percent population growth. The second ("EU high population") assumes a refugee influx of 2 million.

These assumptions regarding the EU population naturally affect its own per capita GDP growth rate - producing rates of increase of per capita GDP of 1.4 percent or 1.2 percent depending on which population assumption is made. But either assumption confirms the EU's superior per capita growth rate compared with the U.S. - in either case the EU's per capita GDP growth rate is much higher than the 0.4 percent in the U.S.

It is also clear that U.S. per capita GDP growth, at only 0.4 percent, was extremely stagnant. During the last year, EU per capita growth was approximately three times as fast as the U.S. But China's per capita GDP growth entirely outperformed both. China's per capita GDP growth was more than 14 times as fast as the U.S.!

Figure 2

U.S. economic deceleration

It may be argued against these factual trends that future revisions to the U.S. may raise its estimated growth rate. This is a factual question which requires watching future data releases - it is also possible future data will revise U.S. growth downwards. U.S. GDP growth is sufficiently close to the EU's, with a 0.6 percent gap, that is not impossible that U.S. GDP growth will be seen to be faster than the EU - although of course U.S. GDP growth will remain far slower than China. However, it may easily be demonstrated that huge revisions of the U.S. data would be required to alter the pattern that it is the U.S. economic slowing which has been the main cause of the downward trend in world economic growth.

To demonstrate this, Figure 3 shows year on year growth in China, the EU and U.S. for successive quarters since the beginning of 2015. The changes over that period are clear. The EU has maintained relatively consistent GDP growth of 1.8 percent. China's GDP has slowed slightly from 7.0 percent to 6.7 percent. U.S. GDP growth however fell sharply from 3.3 percent to 1.2 percent.

Compared to the beginning of 2015, EU GDP growth has not fallen at all, China's declined by a mild 0.3 percent but the U.S. decelerated by 2.1 percent. By far the most severe slowdown in the world economy has therefore been in the U.S. Only huge, and therefore highly implausible, revisions in U.S. data would be required to alter this pattern.

Figure 3


What therefore is the conclusion of the examination of the actual factual trends in the world economy?

· China continues to be by far the most rapidly growing of the major international economic centers. China's total GDP in the last year grew over five times as fast as the U.S., and China's per capita GDP growth was over 14 times as fast as the U.S.

· The chief cause of the slowing of the world economy in the last year is the slowdown in the U.S.

· The EU and above all China have outgrown the U.S. in terms of total GDP increase.

· U.S. per capita GDP growth, 0.4 percent on the latest data, is extremely slow.

· During the last year China and the EU have undergone either no or only mild economic slowdown while the U.S. has suffered a severe economic deceleration.

The factual situation of the world economy is therefore that not only has China been growing far more rapidly than the U.S. but even the EU has been growing more rapidly than the U.S.

Gross inaccuracy in international financial media regarding China is not unusual - they have, of course, been regularly predicting the "collapse of China" and a "China hard landing" for several decades. But the picture presented that the pattern of growth of the global economy has been strong growth in the U.S. and weak growth in China is therefore entirely false - it was the U.S. which showed to the weakest growth. Titles from Bloomberg this year such as "Fed Leaves China Only Tough Choices," "Why China's Economy Will Be So Hard to Fix," and "Soros Says China's Hard Landing Will Deepen the Rout in Stocks," coupled with claims of the strong performance of the U.S. economy, are shown by the data to be simply inaccurate.

But international and Chinese companies, as well as the Chinese authorities, require strictly objective information - not claims which are the opposite of the facts. Perhaps the wise Chinese dictum should be modified to read "seek truth from facts - not from Bloomberg."

The above article is reprinted from China.org.cn

Thursday, 4 August 2016

A reply to Richard Murphy

By Tom O'Leary
The great potential of argument and dispute is that it leads to clarity of thought. Richard Murphy has done the left great service. In his broadsides against John McDonnell's policy framework he has shown his own utter confusion. In this way, clearing up these confusions and clear misconceptions about economics nd economic policy provides an opportunity to clear out some dead wood from the left's economic thinking. That the Murphy objections are unfortunately shared by a number of people who falsely believe that they are 'keynesians' or even Marxists only makes the task of clearance more important.
The John McDonnell framework is that there should be a balance on the current, or day to day Government spending over the business cycle. Borrowing should be reserved for the Government investment. Murphy acknowledges this in his piece. But he seems to have no understanding of what this means. As a result his critique of the McDonnell framework contains howlers. So, he argues that a commitment to balancing the current budget means McDonnell will 'dampen the economy and at least partially withdraw cash from the economy' at a certain point of the cycle. He also argues that the same commitment to balancing the current budget means being committed to austerity. Both of these points are nonsense.
The McDonnell framework places no upper limit on the level of Government investment at all. In the probable economic crisis McDonnell and Corbyn will inherit, Government will need very large borrowing for investment over the longer term, more than one parliament. Government will be boosting the economy for many years to come. The increase on the productive capacity of the economy via investment also means that capacity constraints are way off into the future.
Austerity and the deficit
This large scale increase on investment is not only the alternative to austerity, it is the opposite of it. Tory austerity is comprised of two elements. These are very deep cuts in public investment but public current spending has actually risen. This is not because, as some wild-eyed Tory MPs like John Redwood claim, because there has been no austerity. The cuts have been severe and deep. Women have borne the burden of them, and we await a study showing how black and Asian communities have suffered disproportionately.
But cuts to Government current spending and investment have not led to the elimination of the deficit. The deficit has not fallen at all because of austerity. George Osborne never understood why and it appears Richard Murphy doesn't either.
The deficit has modestly fallen because of modest growth, caused by monetary easing, a falling pound, lower interest rates and Quantitative Easing. This has led to moderately rising tax revenues, not falling Government spending. It is growth that reduces the deficit. It is only growth which can eliminate it. This is exactly what John McDonnell intends.
How is this to be achieved? By increasing Government investment on a sufficient scale to restore robust growth. In this regard, Richard Murphy seems ignorant of two crucial facts.
  1. Any deficit is comprised of two components, expenditure and receipts. A commitment to eliminating the deficit says nothing at all about the level of expenditure alone. Deficits can be eliminated by increasing revenues, either through rising economic activity or (something Murphy ought to know about) tax reform to ensure lower tax evasion.
  2. The deficit on the Government's current account is caused by economic weakness, primarily the weakness of private sector investment. Cuts to Government investment simply deepen this crisis. Therefore any increase in Government investment is expressed first as an increase in economic activity. This in turn is felt as an improvement in Government revenues, as tax rises and Government outlays on poverty fall. This is because the returns on an increase in Government investment come not to the investment account but to the current, or day to day spending. 
To illustrate this point, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently issued a report showing household poverty creates a cost to public sector current spending, the biggest cost of all falling on the NHS. The estimated cost is £78billion per annum, almost exactly the same as the total level of the public sector deficit. Put another way, eliminating poverty would eliminate the deficit.

But eliminating poverty cannot be achieved by increasing NHS spending (Government Consumption). Poverty could be eliminated by a very substantial increase in investment, led by public investment. This should create high wage, high skill jobs. It reduces the Government's outlays on poverty and increases the Government's tax revenues. This is what McDonnell means by eliminating the deficit on current spending. It is not cuts, but investment.

Economic Howlers

All of this passes Murphy by. Instead, he argues that the Government should be the 'borrower of last resort', but actually means that the Government should always run a current budget deficit. Otherwise, 'cash is withdrawn from the economy', by which he probably means that the private sector as whole will be obliged to reduce its net surplus.

Currently all three components of the private sector are running a surplus, the household sector (which should have net savings but has to deplete these because of the crisis), the company sector (whose large surplus consists of uninvested profits) and the overseas sector (composed of foreign investors who have been lending to the UK at a record rate, but may choose not to at any point).

These are the counterparts of the Government deficit. But no progressive, or Keynesian economist, or any socialist, would regard either an investment strike and profit hoarding by UK companies as a positive, or increasing indebtedness to overseas speculators as a welcome development. Yet these are the counterparts of permanent public sector current deficits, which Richard Murphy advocates.

But he also goes much further in an attempt to theorise his hostility to Corbyn/McDonnell and their economic framework. In a follow-up piece he argues that there is an identity between Government Investment on the one hand and Savings plus Imports on the other, and that Government Investment has no impact on Consumption at all (!):

'In other words what the identity suggests has happened: what has been considered to be desirable investment has not lead to a growth in net consumption, which is what maters to most people. That's not to say that there has been no growth, but most people have not benefited.'
This is an economic howler, which would produce a Fail for an Economics A Level student. Investment, Savings, Taxes and GDP, etc. are not fixed amounts. The factor which increases the aggregate total is Investment. Increased Consumption requires first increased Investment. Under Murphynomics the Industrial Revolution was a waste of time. Government should have increased borrowing to buy more gruel instead.

Consumption versus Investment

Keynes, unlike the self-styled 'keynesians', was very clear that the decisive factor in economic growth is investment. Against his critics, he argued that this was the central theme of his 'General Theory'. This is an important point of agreement with Marxists and indeed most rational economic schools. Marxists are in favour of the development of the productive capacity of the economy (the 'productive forces'). Keynes, in seeking to regulate the level of investment in order to prevent slumps accepted the need for a 'somewhat greater socialisation of the investment function'. By contrast the 'keynesians', like Osborne seek to regulate the consumption function, and let big business and the banks determine the level of investment in the economy. It is their non-investment which is responsible for the current crisis.

Murphy charges McDonnell of seeking no fundamental change in the economy. Like virtually all of his charges this is posted to the wrong address. It should be a self-criticism of the 'keynesians'. British post-WWII relative and spectacular economic decline was accompanied by and in part a product of 'keynesian' demand management and permanent deficits on the Government's current account. This is the status quo.

A key reason why the current leadership of the Labour Party is so vilified is precisely because its domestic agenda breaks with that status quo. A very large increase in Government Investment would entail in Keynes' term, some increase in the socialisation of the investment function. In Marxist terms the state would increase its ownership of the means of production. This is desirable for economic and democratic reasons, and is something which has been fought against by every British Government after Attlee.

Richard Murphy has betrayed his own lack of economic understanding with his misjudged attacks. But if others can learn from his mistakes, clarity can come from confusion.