Spain and the IMF: Round the Bend or Out of the Woods?

“Spain has turned the corner”. With this stark statement the IMF opened it’s annual Article IV consultation report for 2014. Naturally the statement rankled, with this author among others, because at first sight it seems to be saying something which on closer reading of the report you find it isn’t. At best it’s misleading, possibly from a PR point of view intentionally so, but then Article IV reports are supposed to be more sober, measured assessments. One Spanish journalist summed up the surprise many felt in the following tweet.

Dear IMF,
You can’t say “Spain has turned the corner” and “the unemployment remains unacceptably high” in the same paper
It’s silly
Yours,
C

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You voted for it, in short.

So this is a thing. It must be – it’s in the New York Times Magazine and the Süddeutsche Zeitung on the same weekend.

Dean Baker is rough on It’s Official: the Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave. To be fair, the NYT article actually does make the point that flat-to-falling wages, the invention of student debt, and crazy-high house prices have been pushing back the age of economic independence. It’s not just some sort of moral degeneracy that makes them live at home.

And it makes the important point that this has been going on for some time. We’re not living through the hangover after the party; for the majority, there was no party, as recovering Lib Dem economic advisor Giles Wilkes points out.

Of course, Baker could point at tens to hundreds of articles of pure whining and moralising about why today’s kids just won’t get on their bikes. He would be right, too. Very importantly, he could point to many of them that long predated the crash. I certainly remember this as a subject of intensely tiresome and self satisfied public whining for my parents’ generation, and as a subject of real trouble for my contemporaries. Hey, Euromoney Institutional Investor offered me a job on £14k in central London in 2005. And Baker has the great advantage that he names the guilty men.

But there is no real dispute between Baker and the NYT writer, I think. Contrast this effort from the SZ, in which we are told that this is a phenomenon well known and laughed at in Italy (!), and that it has gone up in Europe since 2007. Well, gee, how could it happen? Perhaps the policies that led to this have something in common with the casual contempt the crack at Italians betrays.

Further, this is special:

Manchen Kindern sind Zusatzkosten, die sie verursachen, nicht bewusst – und das in einer Phase, in der Eltern für ihre Altersvorsorge arbeiten.

Ah, the problem is that if the economic order you voted for means your kids move back in with you, that might cost you money you’re putting into your HSH Nordbank ship-rental fund because of the pension reform you voted for them to have and the tax cut you voted for you to have. Clearly the debate, even at this level, is a notch more honest in the US than in Germany.

Will Japan Re-enter Deflation in April 2015?

Reading the most recent statements from Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda or Finance Minister Taro Aso you would get the impression that the days of deflation are now well and truly numbered in Japan. Martin Schulz, economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo, goes even further. “Deflation is over in Japan,” he told Bloomberg Television First Up’s Angie Lau . Even Japan’s industrial leaders now believe inflation is here to stay: the country’s inflation rate will be 1.5 percent in the spring of 2015, and 1.7 percent in 2017, according to average forecasts in a Bank of Japan survey conducted in March this year. Continue reading

Secular Stagnation Part II – On Bubble Business Bound

“I now suspect that the kind of moderate economic policy regime…… that by and large lets markets work, but in which the government is ready both to rein in excesses and fight slumps – is inherently unstable.”
Paul Krugman – The Instability of Moderation

“Conventional macreconomic theory leaves us in a very serious problem, because we all seem to agree that whereas you can keep the federal funds rate at a low level forever it’s much harder to do extraordinary measures that go beyond that forever. But the underlying problem may be there forever. It’s much more difficult to say, well we only needed deficits during the short period of the crisis if equilibrium interest rates can’t be achieved given the prevailing rate of inflation.”
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The “Hot Labour” Phenomenon

Strong growth. Rising real estate prices. Rapid job creation. Surging immigration. This list sums up the Switzerland of 2014 down to a tee. However, it also sounds like a description of what things were like in Spain in 2007 – shortly before the country’s economy fell off a cliff. What follows is a conversation between financial journalist Detlef Gürtler and economist and crisis expert Edward Hugh about possible parallels and differences between the two booms, and the role of a new phenomenon which Hugh describes as “Hot Labour“.

Hugh argues that this is a new phenomenon, and on the increase as a result of central bank bubble inducing activity. While immigration is a vital tool aiding economies to manage the population ageing process, it is important that economic activities be balanced. Immigration fueling boom/bust cycles is far from innocuous, and harm a country just as much as a sudden stop in capital flows if the immigration is followed by emigration.   
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On The Trail Of Italian Debt

Looking for trends and correlations in that landslide of economic data which arrives, day in and day out, on our desks is normally something akin to trying to find a needle in a very large and raggedy haystack. From time to time, however, some things are just to obvious not to be noticed, like the ever rising levels of debt on the EU periphery and the growing demand from political leaders there for some kind of QE type initiative from the European central bank, for example. Sure, there is no obvious causal connecting here – the missing “middle term” linking the two would probably be all that ongoing deflation risk – but the inability of governments to contain their debt levels is a consequence of having low growth and low inflation, as is the wish being ever more insistently expressed by Southern Europe’s political leaders that the ECB were more like the Bank of Japan. Continue reading

The Growing Mess Which Will Be Left Behind By The Abenomics Experiment

According to wikipedia, “overdetermination is a phenomenon whereby a single observed effect is determined by multiple causes at once, any one of which alone might be enough to account for (“determine”) the effect.That is, there are more causes present than are necessary to generate the effect”.  In this strictly technical sense Japan’s deflation problem is overdetermined – there are multiple causes at work, any one of which could account for the observed phenomenon. Those who have been following the debate can simply choose their favourite – balance sheet recession, liquidity trap, fertility trap – each one, taken alone, could be sufficient as a cause. The problem this situation presents is simply epistemological – in a scientific environment the conundrum could be resolved by devising the requisite, consensually grounded, tests. Continue reading

Can demography explain Portugal’s growth slump before the crash?

The above still comes from a recent Financial Times video entitled “Portugal’s Brain Drain”, which can be found here, and which I encourage everyone to watch. The issue being raised revolves around the current acceleration of emigration from countries on the EU periphery, largely towards the EU core. Typically the emigrants are young educated people who can’t find work. There is nothing especially surprising in this, since the tendency has long existed for people to move from more depressed areas to economically more dynamic ones. The exodus from Detroit in the United States immediately comes to mind. Or Scottish people getting on the bus to make the fateful journey from Edinburgh or Glasgow to London. The Schengen accord simply extends this process which used to take place within nation states to single market zones, or currency unions. But does this extension have consequences for the participating states which were not anticipated at the outset, and are these consequences all benign?

In addition, this time round in an important sense something is different since these movements are occurring in the context of a long and difficult economic adjustment, indeed one could almost argue that the people leaving form part of that adjustment. What’s more it is hard to accept that this is the kind of adjustment that countries like Spain and Portugal really need. Renovation in these countries implies these people and their talent are injected into the local economy to dynamise it, and not shot out the side like water from a high pressure hose with holes in it. So the big question I want to ask here is whether the economic programs which are being implemented in these countries take sufficient account of the demographic impacts they are inducing, and of the fact that the population loss involved – which most likely will become permanent – is going to cast a long shadow over the history of the countries concerned. Continue reading