Publications on Debt cancellation
Working Paper No. 705 | February 2012
Lessons from Argentina
The literature on public employment policies such as the job guarantee (JG) and the employer of last resort (ELR) often emphasizes their macroeconomic stabilization effects. But carefully designed and implemented policies like these can also have profound social transformative effects. In particular, they can help address enduring economic problems such as poverty and gender disparity. To examine how, this paper will look at the reform of Argentina’s Plan Jefes into Plan Familias. Plan Jefes was the hallmark stabilization policy of the Argentine government after the 2001 crisis. It guaranteed a public sector job in a community project to unemployed male and female heads of households. The vast majority of beneficiaries, however, turned out to be poor women. For a number of reasons that are explored below, the program was later reformed into a cash transfer policy, known as Plan Familias, that still exists today. The paper examines this reform in order to evaluate the relative impact of such policies on some of the most vulnerable members of society; namely, poor women. An examination of the Argentine experience based on survey evidence and fieldwork reveals that poor women overwhelmingly want paid work opportunities, and that a policy such as the JG or the ELR cannot only guarantees full employment and macroeconomic stabilization, but it can also serve as an institutional vehicle that begins to transform some of the structures and norms that produce and reproduce gender disparities. These transformative features of public employment policies are elucidated by turning to the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen and elaborated by Martha Nussbaum—an approach commonly invoked in the feminist literature. This paper examines how the access to paid employment can enhance what Sen defines as an individual’s “substantive freedom.” Any policy that fosters genuine freedom begins with an understanding of what the targeted population (in this case, poor women) wants. It then devises a strategy that guarantees that such opportunities exist and removes the obstacles to accessing these opportunities.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 704 | January 2012
A Dissenting View
It is commonplace to link neoclassical economics to 18th- or 19th-century physics and its notion of equilibrium, of a pendulum once disturbed eventually coming to rest. Likewise, an economy subjected to an exogenous shock seeks equilibrium through the stabilizing market forces unleashed by the invisible hand. The metaphor can be applied to virtually every sphere of economics: from micro markets for fish that are traded spot, to macro markets for something called labor, and on to complex financial markets in synthetic collateralized debt obligations—CDOs. Guided by invisible hands, supplies balance demands and markets clear. Armed with metaphors from physics, the economist has no problem at all extending the analysis across international borders to traded commodities, to what are euphemistically called capital flows, and on to currencies themselves. Certainly there is a price, somewhere, somehow, that will balance supply and demand. The orthodox economist is sure that if we just get the government out of the way, the market will do the dirty work. The heterodox economist? Well, she is less sure. The market might not work. It needs a bit of coaxing. Imbalances can persist. Market forces can be rather impotent. The visible hand of government can hasten the move toward balance.
Orthodox economists as well as most heterodox economists see the Global Financial Crisis as a consequence of domestic and global imbalances. The most common story blames the US Federal Reserve for excessive monetary ease that spurred borrowing, and the US fiscal and trade imbalances for a surplus of liquidity sloshing around global financial markets. Looking to the specific problems in Euroland, the imbalances are attributed to profligate Mediterraneans. The solution is to restore global balance, which requires some combination of higher exchange rates for the Chinese, reduction of US trade deficits, and Teutonic fiscal discipline in the United States, the UK, and Japan, as well as on the periphery of Europe.
This paper takes an alternative view, following the sectoral balances approach of Wynne Godley, combined with the modern money theory (MMT) approach derived from the work of Innes, Knapp, Keynes, Lerner, and Minsky. The problem is not one of financial imbalance, but rather one of an imbalance of power. There is too much power in the hands of the financial sector, money managers, the predator state, and Europe’s center. There is too much privatization and pursuit of the private purpose, and too little use of government to serve the public interest. In short, there is too much neoliberalism and too little democracy, transparency, and accountability of government.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):