My last two posts, Capital Rule: Interest Rates, Inflation and The RBA ,and Inflation is a Conflict looked at how inflation is a conflict over national income (GDP) and the tools used to ameloriate the conflict (monetary policy) between labour and capital benefit capitalist. The labouring class over the neoliberal era are almost powerless to protect their real earnings. I used the excellent article Inflation and Marxist Theory by Pat Devine published by the British Communist Party in Marxism Today, 1974 that analysed this dynamic from an understanding that inflation isn’t a monetary phenomenon but a result of conflict.
I’m not a formally trained economist but with enough ‘self study’ you can easily see the nonsense paraded by our political elite that use language to frame inflation as some external phenomena and how they are working tirelessly to ‘fight’ it.
If our governments were concerned about rising prices, why didn’t our governments keep (or restore) free childcare, that had a negative impact on the consumer price index as it removed that costs from households, why hasn’t the government decided to keep gas for domestic purposes for our short term energy problems on the east coast and claimed ‘sovereign risk’ as a reason why it can’t.
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, those contracts are private, and the mechanism is about uncontracted gas by and large. And you know, you do have to be careful about sovereign risk and you can’t create sovereign risk. That’s a challenge.https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/energy-minister-chris-bowen-speaks-to-7.30/13922844
Sovereign Risk is a term used to describe the risk of governments defaulting on their own debt. A nonsensical proposition when you understand the difference between the currency issuer and currency user. When you can grasp that, you can see the governments decision is about protecting the profits of a corporation over meeting the energy needs of our population.
Lowe’s Woeful Interview
The Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia was interviewed on our public broadcaster recently.
I think the dynamics of the class conflict can be highlighted by the framework and commentary made by the RBA Governor.
“Well I think Australians need to prepare for higher interest rates. We had emergency settings during the pandemic – that was the right thing to do – but the emergency is over and it’s time to remove the emergency settings and move to more normal settings for monetary policy. “
This is a statement of intent. The RBA chooses the cash rate and can set the yields on government bonds. It is literally the decision of the monetary policy committee at the RBA which is chaired by Lowe. So if Lowe thinks rates need to be higher, they will be higher.
The question remains as to whether higher rates will bring down the current rate of inflation (see previous posts). And I remain doubtful that they will. The Governor himself admitted there are households that will struggle.
“We certainly are and we spend a lot of time looking at the disaggregated data because we know that even the increases in interest rates so far are putting pressure on some families’ budgets. They’re coping with higher interest rates, higher fuel prices, higher food prices, so we know already for some households they are finding it difficult.”
As a unionist and someone that feels we need to empower the working class, why would we use a framework that places real pressures on individuals and families to help bring down a general price level. The RBA strategy of hiking rates will cause unemployment in the hope it curtails enough demand off our energy usage it drives prices down!
There are regulatory tools we can be using to control prices. A cut to real wages (via bargaining processes and increasing mortgage rates) causes a multitude of social costs. This method (real wages cuts) was tried over the 1930’s with disastrous results. Have a read of The Struggles of the Unemployed published in the UK’s ‘The Labour Monthly’ in 1932!
Real Wage Cuts For the Working Class
This is the first time since the post war boom Australian workers have experienced real wage cuts.(wages adjusted for movements in the CPI) It will be interesting to see what happens. Over this neoliberal era ad wages failed to rise with productivity (but maintained real growth) Capital maintained sales growth (and profits) by deregulating the financial markets and foisting more debt onto workers. That becomes more difficult in an environment where your real wage is falling.
Sometimes people speak of inflation as an abstract phenomena. It is important to remember the current inflationary pressures are caused by Capitalists able to pass on increasing costs. Inflation is a redistribution of purchasing power. If I am paying more, someone is getting more. It isn’t necessarily because there is ‘too much’ spending. If anything, we need more public expenditure as we are well below full employment.
I am supportive for the responsibility of full employment (more hours of work available than demanded) to be given to Treasury (with a Job Guarantee in place) and removing it from the responsibility of the RBA. I’d then have a zero interest rate policy and for the RBA to monitor inflationary pressures in supply chains, labour underutilisation, and to manage the payments system because our current institutional arrangements are benefiting the wealthy!