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Of the two meanings of “Neoliberalism”

Of the two meanings of “Neoliberalism”

The use of the term “neoliberal” has recently been criticized as a meaningless epithet, a tabula rasa used to disparage anyone deemed unsatisfactorily conservative.

To the contrary, I think the term “neoliberal” is fairly precise, but much like the term “liberal” itself, it has two quite different meanings depending on whether the definition descends from its original European or American incarnation.  The first variety is very right-wing. The second is centrist.

A good description of right-wing neoliberalism can be found in this article in Al Jazeera this past weekend on a right-wing awakening in Latin America:

[N]eoliberalism is … a means to an end. The state is purposefully reduced in its scope of action to a minimum – by way of policies associated with fiscal austerity, financial deregulation, free trade and the privatisation of public assets, among others – so nothing can prevent the market and its profit-oriented agents from reaching a fair point of equilibrium between demand and supply. According to those who advocate such perspective, the state is nothing but a “necessary evil”.

Similarly, Brad DeLong has said:

[R]ight-neoliberalism is the claim that social democracy was one huge mistake–that it created a North Atlantic of takers who mooched off the makers. It holds that if we got rid of social democracy, we would have a utopia because the makers wouldn’t have to carry the takers on their backs and the takers would shape up ….

This right-wing meaning, of “neoliberalism” is a reincarnation of European-style 19th Century laissez-faire liberalism, a belief that the ideal state should operate and be limited by the rule of law, and administered by neutral officials selected on merit, with the economic markets left to themselves without interference by government. Nineteenth century liberals had no problem with, for example, government  promotion of infrastructure, including things like sanitation and education. Right-wing neoliberals, by contrast, see all government bureaucracy as inherently evil — even, as we saw in the case of Flint, Michigan, in the case of basic sanitation.

Note that right-wing neoliberalism is similar to, but not quite the same as, “libertarianism.” Libertarians believe the state also has no business in the private sphere of people’s lives. Thus it should stay out of the bedroom as well as the boardroom.  Not necessarily for right-wing neoliberalism. Right wing liberalism is agnostic as to whether foreign policy is passive or imperialistic, and whether or not government intervenes in the social sphere, so long as it stays out of the economic sphere.

The second type of “neoliberalsim,” centrist neoliberalism, originates from the US meaning of liberalism, and is once again defined pretty  well by Brad DeLong:

1. Most of the time the best way to accomplish social-democratic ends will be to get the money to the people who maximally want those ends accomplished, and then let them spend it.

2. Most of the time the best way to correctly manage the market system so that it doesn’t rain destruction upon the land is to impose the appropriate anti-destruction-raining Pigovian taxes (and subsidies).

3. Most of the time command-and-control is strictly dominated by other modes of government intervention that are less vulnerable to naked rent-seeking by the politically influential.

Elsewhere he quotes John Quiggin:

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Could The US Default Due To A Complexity Catastrophe?

Could The US Default Due To A Complexity Catastrophe?


Front  page story in today’s Washington Post by Damien Paletta reports that “Treasury chief hurtles toward fiasco,” the fiasco being a failure to raise the US debt ceiling in time to avoid a default.  Trump has declared that Sec Mnuchin is responsible for this matter, which he should be, but somehow has not made a sufficiently definitive statement to keep his former Freedom Caucus big cheese OMB director, Mulvaney, from opining that Mnuchin is an out of it New York finance guy (Goldman Sachs even) who is not well connected in Washington, and he, Mulvaney, thinks that the dumb games he played as a Congressman threatening to default are appropriate for  somebody in charge of all this.

The deadline is approaching, although it might be somewhere between early September and mid-October, but at some point if the debt ceiling is not raised, the US will seriously default, something we have not seen, and I doubt that any deal Mulvaney might propose would get through this dysfunctional Congress.  And the article reports that while Mnuchin wants a “clean raise” before  the Congress really shuts down in August, well, according to WaPo, he does not have the “stature in Washington to press through a vote on a measure” supported by all previous Treasury Secretaries.  Indeed, the article is right that he may not be able to do so, and the US may well seriously default on its debt for the first time, something the gang that Mulvaney has belonged to has declared is no big deal. We may be about to find out if that is correct or not.

In thinking about this I have come to realize that part of the problem is that this is a very complicated issue, one that few people understand, and that this lack of understanding is self-propagating: that few understand it means that there are few who can teach those who do not understand it what it is about. The upshot is that an incredibly miniscule proportion of the US population has any remote idea what all this  is about, so are not  putting any pressure on these loud mouthed Congresspeople to behave resonably. If in fact there is a default and it leads to a global financial crisis that puts the world economy back into a serious recession, well, who could have known that, and who will be to blame?

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Foxconn aims to break the bank

Foxconn aims to break the bank

While the head of the illegitimate Trump regime makes multiple headlines telling the New York Times that he is above the law, we have to remember that there are plenty of other issues of concern to the middle class. One of the most striking is the latest huge bidding war for a gigantic Foxconn manufacturing plant (h/t David Haynes), slated to employ a massive 10,000 workers.

The linked article interviews an American consultant based in Beijing, Einar Tangen, who says that Foxconn’s standard procedure is to get as much incentives out of state and local governments as possible; indeed, he says, “You can expect Foxconn to get as close to zero cost as they can. They can do it because they bring so many jobs.” Yes — and no.

Yes, 10,000 jobs is a lot of jobs for a single U.S. investment project. But Foxconn has strong motivations to invest in the United States, most importantly the fear of protectionist trade policies that will keep their iPhones and other electronics out of the country. This mirrors the mid-1980s, when exactly the same fear spurred most Japanese automakers to build at least one assembly plant in the United States. If the company has to have a presence in the U.S. market, especially as competitors were doing during the 1980s, the firm does not actually have that strong a bargaining position vis-à-vis the United States.

The problem, just as in the 1980s, is that as long as individual states do not coordinate their bidding (as happens in the European Union), the dynamic of bidding wars will induce them to offer outrageously high location subsidies, sometimes even in excess of 100% of the cost of the investment. Individual states do not take into effect what happens in other states when they do their cost-benefit analyses of economic development projects. The fact that the new investment will directly or indirectly destroy jobs at competing facilities is of no concern to policymakers in, say, Wisconsin, who will not adjust their cost-per-job estimates to reflect this dynamic.

While the United States has a strong bargaining position, individual states bidding against each other do not have a strong bargaining position. Foxconn believes it *has* to come to the United States, but it does not have to locate its new manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. Nor does it have to put it in Michigan, another state apparently in the hunt for this factory. But we can see that there will be a bidding war with at least two states pursuing the facility, and it will drive up the cost of location subsidies spectacularly. Perhaps we’ll see a new all-time record.

Oddly enough, even the states have a factor increasing their bargaining power, a low unemployment rate. In May 2017, Wisconsin’s unemployment was down to 3.1%, while Michigan’s was 4.2%. For Michigan, this represents a decline of 10.7 percentage points(14.9% to 4.2%) since the peak in July 2009. All other things equal, both states should be less desperate to get these jobs than they would have been in 2009.

Call me cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it for the states to refrain from a bidding war.

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Another Personal Observation On Privatized Highways

Another Personal Observation On Privatized Highways

Last month I posted a personal observation on Trump’s plan to privatize infrastructure, noting especially how in the long run privately owned turnpikes in Virginia ended up in government ownership.  In the comments on that post there was discussion of the Indiana Toll Road, privatized a few years ago.  I have just ridden on it (yesterday), and I shall recount as an anecdote datum my less than pleasant experience, bad enough to make me want to avoid it entirely in the future.

I was driving west on it from Ohio.  I stopped in one of the new service areas to get some pizza.  Fancy roof, but only two eating places, Lagrange in the east.  OK, but nothing great.  I would say road condition about same as Ohio’s, but tolls higher, although not as high as in Illinois or Pennsylvania.  Anyway, I saw that I had enough gas to make it to the LaPorte service area in the western part of the state, so did not refill there or at the Elkhart one.  Nowhere did I see any signs or information about any problems with any of the upcoming service areas.

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Trump’s presidency is 1/8 done. The economy is still on Obama’s autopilot. Where’s the DOOOM?!?

Trump’s presidency is 1/8 done. The economy is still on Obama’s autopilot. Where’s the DOOOM?!?

Today marks half a year since Donald Trump took the Oath of Office as President.  I just wanted to note that, so far, absolutely nothing of significance has been enacted to affect the economy.  It’s still basically Barack Obama’s expansion.

Of note, where have all the Doomers gone?  Zero Hedge has turned into a Trump + Putin fanboi club. The left-wing purists who were sure that everything stunk and the next crash is right around the corner have moved on to other things.  The writers who had been bleating about imminent recessions – almost every year since 2009 – are now just talking about very slow GDP growth.  I’m almost tempted to become a contrarian!

Basically, everything of note is positive, although much has been or is decelerating.  Over the next 6-12 months, if Washington leaves the economy alone, I expect job growth to continue, the unemployment rate to decline a little, prime age labor force participation to increase, and nominal wage growth to remain steady if participation increases a lot, and maybe increase more if participation only increases a little, although the positivity of most of these things will probably decelerate.

One eighth of the way through Trump’s presidency, Obama’s autopilot is still engaged.

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How Keynesian Policy Led Economic Growth In the New Deal Era: Three Simple Graphs

(Dan here…lifted and reposted)

by Mike Kimel

How Keynesian Policy Led Economic Growth In the New Deal Era: Three Simple Graphs

November 22, 2011

In this post, I will show that during the New Deal era, changes in the real economic growth rate can be explained almost entirely by the earlier changes in federal government’s non-defense spending. There are going to be a lot of words at first – but if you’re the impatient type, feel free to jump ahead to the graphs. There are three of them.

The story I’m going to tell is a very Keynesian story. In broad strokes, when the Great Depression began in 1929, aggregate demand dropped a lot. People stopped buying things leading companies to reduce production and stop hiring, which in turn reduced how much people could buy and so on and so forth in a vicious cycle. Keynes’ approach, and one that FDR bought into, was that somebody had to step in and start buying stuff, and if nobody else would do it, the government would.

So an increase in this federal government spending would lead to an increase in economic growth. Even a relatively small boost in government spending, in theory, could have a big consequences through the multiplier effect – the government hires some construction companies to build a road, those companies in turn purchase material from third parties and hire people, and in the end, if the government spent X, that could lead to an effect on the economy exceeding X.

This increased spending by the Federal government typically came in the form of roads and dams, the CCC and the WPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority, in the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) tables it falls under the category of nondefense federal spending.

Now, in a time and place like the US in the early 1930s, it could take a while for such nondefense spending by the federal government to work its way through the economy. Commerce moved more slowly back in the day. It was more difficult to spend money at the time than it is now, particularly if you were employed on building a road or a dam out in the boondocks. You might be able to spend some of your earnings at a company store, but presumably the bulk of what you made wouldn’t get spent until you get somewhere close to civilization again.

So let’s make a simple assumption – let’s say that according to this Keynesian theory we’re looking at, growth in any given year a function of nondefense spending in that year and the year before. Let’s keep it very simple and say the effect of nondefense spending in the current year is exactly twice the effect of nondefense spending in the previous year. Thus, restated,

(1) change in economic growth, t =
f[(2/3)*change in nondefense spending t,
(1/3)*change in nondefense spending t-1]

For the change in economic growth, we can simply use Growth Rate of Real GDP at time t less Growth Rate of Real GDP at time t-1. The growth rate of real GDP is provided by the BEA in an easy to use spreadsheet here.

Now, it would seem to make sense that nondefense spending could simply be adjusted for inflation as well. But it isn’t that simple. Our little Keynesian story assumes a multiplier, but we’re not going to estimate that multiplier or this is going to get too complicated very quickly, particularly given the large swing from deflation to inflation that occurred in the period. What we can say is that from the point of view of companies that have gotten a federal contract, or the point of view of people hired to work on that contract who saved what they didn’t spend in their workboots, or storekeepers serving those people, they would have spent more of their discretionary income if they felt richer and would have spent less if they felt poorer.

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Your solution is…

Lifted from comments at Naked Capitalism

So your solution includes taking money from those who saved and invested, and re-distribute it to those who spent everything they earned? As someone in the “saved and invested” category, I find that plan to be a non-starter.
When I was setting aside 15% of my income for savings and investments, paying extra on my mortgage, and driving older cars, I have friends who (at the same income level as my wife and I) literally spent everything they earned. They had lots of fun, and lots of new stuff that I didn’t.
Fast forward 30+ years, and now – in my late 50’s – I’m planning my retirement (before my 60th birthday). My friends? None of them are even thinking of retiring, and one couple has said they will need to work into their 70’s.
We made different choices, and ended up in different places – but that doesn’t obligate me to hand them what I have.

What a bunch of total nonsense.
If you’ve been able to work on a consistent basis at decent enough paying jobs that you could save, it is substantially due to luck: being born into a stable middle to upper middle class family, being white and male, being born at a time when there was enough growth in the economy that you could land good jobs early in your career, which is critical for your lifetime earnings trajectory. Oh, and not having you or a spouse or a child get a costly medical ailment that drained your savings. And not winding up in a job where you were being ethically compromised and stood up against it, resulting in career and earnings damage.
Did you miss that college grads had a worse time that high school grads and even dropouts in landing jobs in 2008-2010? And getting no or crap jobs then set them back permanently? And this includes graduates in the supposedly more “serious” STEM fields, where contrary to DC urban legend, there aren’t a lot of entry level jobs. You do well if you find employment, but save in a few niches like petroleum engineering, the unemployment rate is actually worse for STEM college grads overall than liberal arts grads.
…inflation is created in the real economy due to any of commodities inflation (cost-push inflation), wage-pull inflation (created by too much demand, or in MMT terms, too much net government spending) and more recently and not sufficiently acknowledged, by monopolies and oligopolies (see pricing of cable services and drugs, which have monopolies via patents) . Interest rates are a different matter and are controlled by the central bank. We’ve had risk-free interest rates below the inflation rate for years now thanks to the ministrations of the Fed.
Central banks have the power to kill the economy (raising interest rates so high that it induces inflation) but not much/any power to stimulate (save goosing asset prices, which only trickles down a bit to the real economy). The cliche is “pushing on a string”.

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What is the secret to joining the rich country club

Steve Roth writes What is the secret to joining the rich country club at Evonomics:

By Steve Roth

There’s a curious fact about the wealth and growth of nations that you rarely see mentioned: No country has ever joined the modern, high-productivity, rich-country club without massive doses of redistribution, and universal government programs for social support and financial security. Not one. Ever.

You can get a rough feel for the scale of those programs here (the OECD countries pretty much constitute the “rich-country club”):


There are a zillion other measures you could plot, but they paint roughly the same picture. In this measure, the richest countries all devote fifteen to thirty percent of GDP to social spending. As Bruce Bartlett pointed out recently, Germany — a darned “conservative” country that is thriving today, and which rode out our recent economic Great Whatever better than almost any other country — started building its welfare state more than 150 years ago.

Now contrast these countries to all the countries that have eschewed those freedom-sapping, serf-ifying government programs, and that have emerged as thriving, prosperous utopias of liberty.

Name one.

Why hasn’t it happened? Not even once.

If countries like that were in fact so economically efficient, shouldn’t we expect to have seen at least one of them emerge, and surge ahead of all the rest — outcompeting all the others, in a very Darwinian sense? Isn’t that the prediction that libertarians and conservatives are making? How can we explain the complete and abject failure of those predictions?

An explanation is perhaps not far to find. Market capitalism — especially modern “holding-company capitalism,” in which corporations own corporations which own corporations, ad infinitum — inevitably concentrates wealth and income into fewer and fewer hands. It’s just the nature of the beast. Along with its immense, world-changing, manifest benefits, market capitalism labors under that inescapable burden.

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by Dale Coberly



LIE on TIME magazine website




Maya MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) which reliably confuses the Federal Budget with the Social Security program.   CRFB claims to want to cut government spending to balance the Budget,  but it spends most of its time arguing for the need to cut Social Security.

Social Security is not funded by the federal budget.  It is paid for entirely by the people who will get the benefits.

In MacGuineas op-ed on TIME magazine’s website

she says a number of things reasonable people could agree with.  This is not surprising,  a  technique of expert liars is often to draw you in with reasonable, and true, statements and then lead you to false, and dangerous conclusions.  MacGuineas does lead you to false conclusions without necessarily “lying,”  and I will get to those.  But I’d like to begin with a statement which she made that is not true which I find particularly egregious.

“My goal would be to both ensure that those who depend on the program are protected, while also balancing the growing cost of Social Security with other pressing priorities — from programs for children, the vulnerable, public investments, and shoring up our education and worker retraining systems”.

While it may be doubted that MacGuineas is sincere in her concern for “programs for children, the vulnerable, public investments, and shoring up our education and worker retraining systems,”  Social Security has nothing to do with funding for any of these programs.  Social Security is paid for entirely by the workers who will get the benefits.  It subtracts not one dime from the federal budget. Except, of course, when the Congress is obligated to REPAY the money it BORROWED FROM Social Security.

MacGuineas could no doubt find funds for her favorite programs by taking a gun and demanding your wallet.  This would be exactly the same as cutting Social Security to find the money to pay for someone else’s favorite program. Taking money from SS and using it to pay for other programs would not cut your “taxes” one dime.  Neither would it cut “the budget.” All it would do would to leave you “busted, dead broke”  when time came for you to retire.   This is a shell game”  “Lookee!  We’re going to cut SS in order to spend on other programs.  This will save you money, see!” The reason the SS tax was created as dedicated funding with a separate trust fund,  was to make sure the money collected for Social Security was not confused…is not fungible…with other government money.

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