Tag Archives: thomas palley

Noam Chomsky On Neoliberalism: It’s Market For You But State Power For Me

Radio Open Source has a nice intervew of Noam Chomsky by Christopher Lydon where they discuss neoliberalism among other things.  Audio, transcript.

What is neoliberalism?

This question is asked frequently, especially by those who deny that such a thing exists (not the interviewer of course!). In my experience, those who deny it the most are the most neoliberal. At any rate—although I’ll try to describe what it is—it’s not important to get the definition right. Isn’t the creation of the Euro Area without a central government neoliberalism?

In the above interview, Chomksy is faced with this question:

CL: You famously said about neoliberalism that it’s not new, and it’s not liberal. Do you want to define it for people who just landed from Mars?

NC: Well, it’s a kind of a mixture. The rhetoric is free market, individual choice and so on. That’s the rhetoric. The reality is rather different. It’s individualism and market for you but state power for me. So take a look, say, at the actual institutions like the World Trade Organization or NAFTA, what are called the “free trade agreements.” The media calls them “free trade agreements.” They’re not free trade agreements. They’re investor rights agreements. They’re highly protectionist. They provide unprecedented protection backed by state power for major conglomerates like the pharmaceutical industry, media conglomerates, others.

That’s quite accurate, although Chomsky didn’t take the effort to define it but just described it as it is.

A lot of people try to distinguish neoliberalism and the New Consensus of economics. It’s certainly true that you can find examples of economists who believe in neoclassical economics or the new consensus or whatever you call it but don’t exactly advocate policies of neoliberalism. But, I’ll just categorize them as being deceived by economists. Orthodox economics is neoliberalism, except for minor differences. The former is an academic subject built to defend the latter, which is a political ideology. New Consesus Economics exists in academia because neoliberals and conservatives in political positions award them. Neoliberals then quote their research to defend policies.

Neoliberalism is based on three extremely damaging ideas of neoclassical economics: free trade, tight fiscal policy and the production function.

After the economic and financial crisis, it’s true that economists have conceded that fiscal policy has strong positive effects. Yet, it’s situational in most occasions. When a neoliberal party is in power, they might advocate fiscal expansion, at least make it look like they’re doing it. Also, although they sound as if they are unorthodox about it, they’ll rarely concede that they had a different position before the crisis. They’ll make it look like they have always believed their current positions since their undergraduate days. They’ll also pander to people who might want to hear otherwise. So they have different public and private positions. In other words, doublespeak about fiscal policy is the hallmark of a neoliberal.

But although economists have shifted their positions on fiscal policy—at least when it suits them—their voice about free trade has grown stronger. It is here that Chomsky’s point about “market for you but state power for me” appears the most illuminating. Rich nations are rich due to their success in international trade and they try to impose it on poor nations by hook or crook. This requires the cooperation of governments because agreements are negotiated by governments. Poor nations generally are sceptical about economists’ narratives but are arm-twisted by governments of rich nations and there is an establishment around the government which pushes such things both directly and indirectly by controlling the narrative (or control of opinion and manufacturing consent, as Chomsky might say).

Another aspect about neoliberalism is the politics around wages. As Thomas Palley says,

With regard to income distribution, neoliberalism asserts that factors of production—labor and capital—get paid what they are worth. This is accomplished through the supply and demand process, whereby payment depends on a factor’s relative scarcity (supply) and its productivity (which affects demand).

The theoretical basis for this is the narrative build in neoclassical economics using the notion of a production function and marginalism. Reality check: In the late 70s and early 80s, orthodox economists promoted government policies of high interest rates and this created unemployment and led to drastic weakening of labour unions. They were also weakened by laws. Again, markets for you but state power for me.

To quote Chomsky again from the interview,

[neoliberalism’s] crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.


Thomas Palley — Monetary Policy And The Punch Bowl: The Case For Quantitative Policy And Wage Growth Targeting

Thomas Palley in his new paper:

In a famous 1955 speech, William McChesney Martin, the legendary Chairman of the Federal Reserve, declared that the Federal Reserve “is in the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.” Martin’s characterization of the Fed and monetary policy is brilliant and enduring. It explains why the stock market celebrates when the Fed stays on “hold”, and why the market is prone to a tantrum when the Fed raises interest rates. Staying on “hold” means more punch, while raising rates may mean sobering up.

This paper uses the punch bowl metaphor to explore and illustrate monetary policy, to show what the Fed has been doing with the punch bowl, and to suggest how it might do things better in the future. The essence of the argument is that, for thirty years prior to the financial crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve ran the economy with too much unemployment and slack, contributing to wage stagnation and income inequality. That undermined the aggregate demand generation process, necessitating monetary policy fueled debt and asset price bubbles to fill the demand shortage. The combination of inequality and debt bubbles has proven disastrous, creating mountainous debt burdens. We need a new model for monetary policy (i.e. a different way of managing the punch bowl) that delivers full employment with wage growth, while restraining excessive debt accumulation.

[The title is the link]


Thomas Palley — Fixing The Euro’s Original Sins: The Monetary – Fiscal Architecture And Monetary Policy Conduct

Thomas Palley’s new paper:

The euro zone (EZ) was created in January 1999. Its weak economic performance is significantly due to the euro’s neoliberal monetary architecture and the design of monetary policy. Those features undermine national political sovereignty and consign the EZ to severe economic under-performance, which in turn fosters political demands for exit from the euro. Escaping this dynamic requires restoring fiscal space to EZ countries, and also changing the design of EZ monetary policy. The paper shows how this can be done. It decomposes the challenge of reform into generic problems related to the neoliberal construction of monetary policy, and specific problems concerning the euro as a currency union. The currency union problems are further decomposed into “money – fiscal policy” architecture problems and specific monetary policy conduct problems.

[The title is the link]

Thomas Palley — The Federal Reserve Raising Interest Rates Is Unwelcome And Unnecessary

FOMC Projections

Thomas Palley writes:

Wednesday’s decision by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates is unwelcome and unnecessary. As admitted in its statement, investment remains soft, growth is only moderate, and inflation expectations are little changed. Moreover, the economy confronts financial headwinds from the recent jump in long term interest rates and an even stronger dollar.

The Federal Reserve seems to be relying on old economic thinking that should have been discarded after the financial crisis. That poses a danger the economy will be slowed before full employment is reached, putting a stop to workers reclaiming their fair share.

If the Federal Reserve is worried about financial market exuberance, it should use its regulatory tools and not the blunderbuss of higher interest rates. Financial markets must not be allowed to stampede the Fed into raising rates.

Also see his article The Federal Reserve Must Rethink How it Tightens Monetary Policy, written in September.

Not only that, Janet Yellen said this in the press conference following the interest rate hike decision:

I would say at this point that fiscal policy is not obviously needed to provide stimulus to get back to full employment.

That’s unconscionable.

To President Obama And Secretary Clinton: In The Name Of God, Go

by Thomas Palley

Dear Secretary Clinton and President Obama:

On April 20, 1653, Oliver Cromwell spoke these words to the Long Parliament:

“You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing… Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of god, go.”

Secretary Clinton, you are rightly being blamed for the electoral tragedy that has befallen our country. The country wanted change and you offered continuity. You prided yourself on the neoliberal economic policies of your husband, President Bill Clinton, which have driven our country into stagnation and despair. Your rejection in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania speaks to a greater rejection of the economic policies you, your husband, and your Third Way associates imposed on the party of Franklin Roosevelt.

President Obama, you too deserve enormous blame. You wasted the historic opportunity at the beginning of your presidency to break with neoliberal economics. Instead, you pushed Obamacare with its expensive sub-standard insurance that is punitively imposed on the self-employed. Donald Trump benefitted enormously from the premium increase notices that were received up and down the country in the week before the election. And at the end, you pushed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another neoliberal globalization agreement, which ceded the economic argument to Mr. Trump. Your charm and intelligence are no substitute for the economic change we need, you promised, and then reneged on.

Cromwell’s words apply to both of you. Heed them and be gone.


Tom Palley

This post first appeared at Thomas Palley’s website


Thomas Palley — James Tobin

Thomas Palley on Robert Dimand’s book on James Tobin, as part of the Great Thinkers in Economics series edited by Tony Thirlwall:

James Tobin was a leading – perhaps the leading – American neo-Keynesian macroeconomist in the era of Keynesian dominance after World War II that extended through to the early 1970s. Along with growth theorist Robert Solow and micro and trade theorist Paul Samuelson, the three substantially shaped what became known as the neoclassical synthesis which fused neoclassical microeconomic theory, Keynesian macro theory, and neoclassical growth theory. The macroeconomic component of the neoclassical synthesis is termed neo-Keynesianism. All three received the Royal Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Science in Memory of Alfred Nobel, with Tobin winning his prize in 1981. Tobin died in 2002, aged 84.

The good news is that Tobin’s macroeconomics remains profoundly relevant and can be revived theoretically, as suggested by the work of Godley and Lavoie (2007). Robert Dimand’s book further motivates the case for that revival.

The title of this page is the link to the review.



An Undergraduate’s Question About Economic Policy: Thomas Palley Replies

Thomas Palley replying to a student:

Economics, like all social thought, is a contested space. Neoliberals have an interest in controlling economics since control helps them advance their political and economic project by helping them sell their policy ideas.

… I am a great fan of the student movement for change in economics.

Full email and reply in the link. The title of this page is the link.

Paul Krugman Is More Orthodox Than Joseph Stiglitz

… There is also the problem of the relative levels of different types of earned income. Here we have the famous marginal productivity theory. In perfect competition an employer is supposed to take on such a number of men that the money value of the marginal product to him, taking account of the price of his output and the cost of his plant, is equal to the money wage he has to pay. Then the real wage of each type of labor is believed to measure its marginal product to society. The salary of a professor of economics measures his contribution to society and the wage of a garbage collector measures his contribution. Of course, this is a very comforting doctrine for professors of economics, but I fear that once more the argument is circular. There is not any measure of marginal products except the wages themselves. In short, we have not got a theory of distribution.

We have nothing to say on the subject which above all others occupies the minds of the people whom economics is supposed to enlighten.

– Joan Robinson, The Second Crisis Of Economic Theory, 1972. Link

There’s an article at Evonomics by Joseph Stiglitz, which is an excerpt from a chapter from a book. Stiglitz has denounced the marginal productivity theory. He says:

The trickle-down notion— along with its theoretical justification, marginal productivity theory— needs urgent rethinking. That theory attempts both to explain inequality— why it occurs— and to justify it— why it would be beneficial for the economy as a whole. This essay looks critically at both claims. It argues in favour of alternative explanations of inequality, with particular reference to the theory of rent-seeking and to the influence of institutional and political factors, which have shaped labour markets and patterns of remuneration. And it shows that, far from being either necessary or good for economic growth, excessive inequality tends to lead to weaker economic performance. In light of this, it argues for a range of policies that would increase both equity and economic well-being.

… Neoclassical economists developed the marginal productivity theory, which argued that compensation more broadly reflected different individuals’ contributions to society.

It reminds me of the debate between Paul Krugman and Thomas Palley some time ago. Paul Krugman completely denied all this. In his blog post at his blog for The New York Times, Krugman said in April 2014:

But doesn’t that show that conventional economics is indeed capable of accommodating big concerns about inequality? You fairly often find heterodox economists insisting that to accept the idea that capital and labor are paid their marginal products, even as a working hypothesis to be modified when you address things like executive pay, is to accept that high inequality is morally justified. But that’s obviously not the case: there are plenty of economists who are willing to use marginal-product models (as gadgets, not as fundamental truth) who don’t at all accept the sanctity of the market distribution of income.

So you have two mainstream economists: Paul Krugman defending orthodoxy and Joseph Stiglitz denouncing the marginal productivity theory.


The Federal Reserve Must Rethink How It Tightens Monetary Policy

Thomas Palley:

After more than 7 years of economic recovery, the Federal Reserve is positioning itself to tighten monetary policy by raising interest rates. In light of the wobbly reaction in financial markets, an important question that must be asked is whether raising interest rates is the right tool.

It could well be that the world’s leading central bank is going about the process of tightening in the wrong way. Owing to the dollar’s preeminent standing, that could have severe global repercussions.

Just as the Fed has had to rethink how it combats recessions, so too it must rethink how it transitions from an easy monetary policy stance to a tighter stance.

Click the title of the page to read more.