Mosler bonds get their first plug in the Irish media

JOBS CRISIS: Will NewERA really get Ireland back to work?

By Philip Pilkington

Sept 12 (Independent) — Last week President Obama announced a new $450bn stimulus program to promote US job growth and help kickstart the economy. Stirrings from within financial community and commentary from Nobel Laurete Paul Krugman – the two most reliable sources on such matters– indicate that this measure isn’t nearly big enough, but its certainly a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Minister for State Fergus O’ Dowd announced… well, he announced an announcement. In an interview on Thursday he said that an announcement on the status of the NewERA project – which aims to directly create jobs in Ireland – is ‘imminent’.

So how does the cleverly named NewERA (standing for Economic Recovery Act) add up as a stimulus programme?

The project was originally supposed to be of the order of around €4bn but this figure has recently come under scrutiny from the press who say that senior government ministers indicate that it might be ‘watered down’ due to internal government as well as EU/IMF pressure. Even if the €4bn figure pulls through that’s still only around 2.5% of GDP. That’s less than Obama’s latest offering which, as stated above, is probably insufficient for the US – let alone Ireland, which is in far worse shape.

NewERA is set to be funded through two mechanisms. The first is by raising money by selling off state assets. While all the money from ‘privatisation’ was supposed to go toward paying down government debt, wily negotiators convinced the IMF to slip them a bit on the side to go toward this new investment project.

The second revenue stream is borrowed money from the National Pension Reserve Fund – a fund that has become something of a government piggy-bank since the financial crisis hit in 2008.

The key thing to note is that the NewERA project is that it is not a stimulus package in the typical sense of the term. Stimulus packages are usually implemented by governments using fiscal policy — that is, the government’s ability to create and spend money into the economy. In recessions such stimulus is undertaken by governments running budget deficits.

This means that the government spends money without immediately levying taxes on anyone. This is important as it adds new money into the economy rather than simply taking money out and then recycling it back in. We will return to this very important point in a moment, for now let us take a look at the project itself.

The focus of the project is on infrastructure. To say that such a focus on infrastructure is welcome would be a vast understatement.One of the targets is water infrastructure which, to anyone who has had their water cut off during the cold Irish winter, is of obvious importance.

Another is energy – with a focus on clean, renewable energy – which, given the rising energy prices, will be welcomed by everyone. And finally we have a project to improve broadband access across the country — an extremely important prerequisite to having businesses invest in any given location these days.

Such a focus on infrastructure will also ensure that many of the jobs go to laid-off construction workers. This is the perfect demographic to target as when the housing mania went down the drain so too did many construction jobs, giving rise to high unemployment levels among this group.

Another important aspect to the project is that it will get the debate going on fiscal stimulus. It will also ensure that there is an active government organisation in place to lobby for and help initiate stimulus plans in the future.

This really is one of the most important aspects of the project because, small as it currently is, when the world economy starts getting back on track and international leaders start getting their acts together, we will all (hopefully) have learned our lessons from the last financial crisis and will not rely on asset price bubbles to stimulate — or should I say simulate — economic growth.

This means that governments will have to play an increasingly large role in economies in order to ensure sufficient demand without sending households on any more debt binges. Governments will likely not just have to intervene in terms of regulating banking institutions but also through direct investment to ensure that economic growth continues at a reasonable level without demanding massive private sector indebtedness.

The Japanese, for example, who have been suffering for years after a massive housing and stock bubble burst in 1991, have learned this lesson well. The NewERA project will ensure that there is a precedent for powerful, streamlined government-led investment projects that help-out rather than crowd-out private sector activity. Such projects will be key to stabalising all developed economies in coming decades.

The only issue that can really be taken with the NewERA project is how it’s being funded. Selling off state assets during a slump is never a good idea — “No one would sell assets in this environment,” mumbled one minister in a Dail debate on NewERA this year. And dipping into the National Pension Reserve Fund is a bad habit.

However, the government have little choice and, although this will only provide a very short-term stimulus, it is probably one of the single best economic policies to come out of the current Fine Gael/Labour government so far.

But the obstacles currently faced on spending for the NewERA project will become increasingly apparent as time wears on. When we entered the Euro we gave up our ability to issue currency and with it our ability to spend without revenue constraints – now, as in the case of the NewERA project, we essentially have to make do with what we have.

This will become more and more of a burden in the future as the Irish government gradually learn from the Japanese and come to realise that the only realistic way for households to pay down debt is for the government to increase its spending.

If the Europeans continue to ignore this simple but powerful truth and keep calling for austerity, the Irish will have to do something about this themselves. There are a few options on the table in this regard without dropping out of the eurozone. One is the issuance of ‘Mosler bonds’.

These are government bonds backed with the guarantee that should the government default, the bonds will be accepted to extinguish tax liabilities. There is good reason to believe that these would give the Irish government significant fiscal policy space by driving down yields on bonds as they became a ‘sure thing’ for investors (such a plan would also prevent default).

Other options– such as running a parallel currency – will be discussed by major international figures, including former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Commitee and leading London School of Economics economist Charles Goodhart, at a conference taking place on the 22nd and 23rd of this month at the Mont Clare Hotel in Dublin.

And a good thing too, as even though all the talk is currently focused elsewhere, this will soon become a pressing national policy concern that people will simply not be able to ignore.

More information on the conference can be found at: http://www.feasta.org/debt-conference or contact [email protected]