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Our pathological meanness to the unemployed is just bad economics

A lot of attention is being focused on the Eurozone at the moment given the scale of the economic and social crisis that is unfolding there. It is clear that the unemployed and other pension recipients are being made to pay very significant costs for the policy folly imposed upon them by the Euro political leadership. However, the mean-spirited treatment of the disadvantaged is not confined to Europe. In the US, for example, the Congress is soon to debate and vote on a serious reduction in income support for the already beleaguered unemployed. There is a tendency to think about this from the perspective of a commitment to social democracy as being immoral, iniquitous, and a violation of the human rights of the disadvantaged. While I have great sympathy with all of those emphases, there is an easier attack that can be mounted on cutting unemployment benefits in the US or elsewhere. Such a strategy only serves to further undermine the spending capacity of the private sector at a time when the principal problem is a deficiency of aggregate spending. A simple understanding of macroeconomics leads to the conclusion that our pathological meanness to the unemployed is just bad economics.

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Employment fell in December, no it didn’t employment rose – and other apparent inconsistencies

In the last few weeks I have done several radio interviews about the veracity of the labour force data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The pretext has been an increasing awareness among commentators and journalists of an alternative series published by pollster – Roy Morgan. The juxtaposition of an ABS unemployment rate estimate for December 2011 of 5.2 per cent against Roy Morgan’s estimate of 8.6 per cent worries people and curious minds have been seeking to find out what is going on. The curiosity also extends to matters like seasonal adjustment. Last week, I consistently said that in seasonally adjusted terms people were dropping out of the labour force (as evidenced by the falling participation rate), which had lessened the impact of the negative employment growth on the unemployment. But in one interview I complicated matters by saying that in fact more people were in the labour force in December and employment rose. The two statements were not inconsistent. The former was about the seasonally-adjusted data and the latter was about the original time series produced by the ABS. I often get E-mails about this question. Which estimates should we use to tell us what is going on? So I thought I should write a blog about that – to catalogue these issues.

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Australian labour force data – things are getting worse

The January release of the Labour Force data is always a week later than the releases in other months as we enjoy the summer holidays. But the wait hasn’t improved the news. In December 2011, my headline was “everything is bad” meaning that the evil three – falling employment, rising unemployment and falling participation – had appeared. Today’s release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of the Labour Force data for December 2011 shows that the deterioration in the Australian economy towards the end of the year gathered pace. The data shows that employment has fallen and the participation rate has fallen sharply. This is the worst combination that can occur indicating that job creation is declining, workers are leaving the workforce because of the lack of job opportunities and labour underutilisation is rising. So while the Government continues to pursue its obsession to get the budget back into surplus in the next year, it is actually only succeeding in undermining employment growth and prolonging unemployment. The most striking expression of how poor the Australian labour market is performing is the continued deterioration of the youth labour market. That should be a policy priority but unfortunately the government is largely silent on that issue. My assessment of today’s results are that – everything is bad and getting worse.

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The costs of unemployment – again

One of the extraordinary things that arose in a recent discussion about whether employment guarantees are better than leaving workers unemployed was the assumption that the costs of unemployment are relatively low compared to having workers engaged in activities of varying degrees of productivity. Some of the discussion suggested that there were “microeconomic” costs involved in having to manage employment guarantee programs (bureaucracy, supervision, etc) which would negate the value of any such program. The implicit assumption was that the unemployed will generate zero productivity if they are engaged in employment programs. There has been a long debate in the economics about the relative costs of microeconomic inefficiency compared to macroeconomic inefficiency. The simple fact is that the losses arising from unemployment dwarfed by a considerable margin any microeconomic losses that might arise from inefficient use of resources. in this blog, I discuss some of those issues.

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UK labour market – when “stabilising” means outright deterioration

The British Office of National Statistics released their Labour Market Statistics for December 2011 yesterday and it showed that employment continues to collapse in the UK and unemployment rises. I was at the airport this morning and heard a commentator invoke the words of Albert Einstein. They are very apt in this current economic climate – “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. The British Employment Minister gets empirical evidence that the Government’s economic strategy is causing massive damage to the economy (who would have thought) and told us that the collapse in employment and vacancies, the rise in unemployment and the record levels of youth unemployment are signs that the “labour market is stabilising”. The UK nor Europe nor anywhere will get out of this mess using the sort of thinking that created the crisis in the first place. Until we work that out and attack this political evil millions are heading for poverty.

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Australian labour force data – everything is bad

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the Labour Force data for November 2011 today. The data shows that employment has fallen, the participation rate has fallen and unemployment (and the unemployment rate) have risen. Monthly working hours have also fallen. This is the worst combination that can occur indicating that job creation is declining, workers are leaving the workforce because of the lack of job opportunities and labour underutilisation is rising. So while the Government and the uninformed were celebrating yesterday’s National Accounts data which showed that three months ago Australia was growing (below trend), today’s results are more immediate – they are a depiction of where things are now. The Government is undermining employment growth by insisting on its obsessive pursuit of a budget surplus. The most striking expression of how poor the Australian labour market is performing is the continued deterioration of the youth labour market. That should be a policy priority but unfortunately the government is largely silent on that issue. My assessment of today’s results are that – everything is bad.

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Australian labour market – staggering along

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the Labour Force data for October 2011 today. The data shows that employment barely grew and thanks to an artificially low labour force growth rate was just sufficient to allow unemployment to fall slightly. However, most of the drop in unemployment was due to a slight decline in the participation rate. The data is not bad but it is certainly not good and points to a weak economy overall. How long that remains is anyone’s guess in these uncertain times where governments have largely abandoned any plans to provide fiscal support to help the economies grow. The recent acceleration of the crisis in Europe should not impact negatively on our labour market if the Government is flexible enough to abandon its obsessive pursuit of a budget surplus. The black spot in the data today is the continued deterioration of the youth labour market. That should be a policy priority but unfortunately the government is largely silent on that issue. Overall, the Australian labour market is just staggering along.

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Australia – a very tepid labour market

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the Labour Force data for September 2011. It shows that a labour market that has arrested the decline evident in the previous two months but is barely keeping pace with underlying population growth and shedding working hours. The data is not bad but it is certainly not good and points to a weak economy overall. The best I can say about today’s data release is that the labour market is now not accelerating in reverse gear. How long that remains is anyone’s guess in these uncertain times where governments have largely abandoned any plans to provide fiscal support to help the economies grow. Overall, the Australian labour market is very tepid at present with a downward bias.

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A tale of two labour markets

The laboratories are multiplying. We are in an interesting period – I say that in an intellectual sense only – where stark policy decisions have been taken based on certain theoretical economic claims and regular data is arriving which allows us to assess the viability of those claims. So as a researcher it is interesting. As a person I don’t find it interesting that governments are prepared to gamble with peoples’ lives in a self-serving way to appease the elites that fund them. For many years we have had Japan as an Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) laboratory. I gave a talk here in Maastricht yesterday and asked how any mainstream economic theory could explain Japan over the last two decades or so. By any standards if the mainstream macroeconomic theories were of any value then Japan should have very high interest rates and accelerating inflation and the government should have gone broke. It hasn’t and that tells you the value of mainstream theory. Now we have various fiscal austerity experiments being undertaken and the data is coming in daily to tell us that the claims made about the certainty of a “fiscal contraction expansion” are spurious. The most recent British labour force data released this week provides a very interesting laboratory terrain. Two geographic regions within the same nation, two governments (of different status) and two very different economic policy approaches. Result: one side of the border the labour market deteriorates, the other side it improves. So this blog is a tale of those two labour markets – one south of a border the other north. The data provides further evidence that fiscal austerity damages economic prosperity.

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Australian labour market – in reverse gear and accelerating

Yesterday, the June quarter National Accounts came out showing a real GDP growth spurt. As I noted yesterday, the results should be treated with caution because they apply to the period April to June, the strong growth was largely driven by inventory accumulation, and the household consumption behaviour runs counter to more recent retail sales data. Moreover, national accounting data is typically revised when the next quarter results are known. The other cause for caution in thinking that the Australian economy is really growing above trend is that more recent data is not good at all and it is difficult rationalising the poor data results with the vision of a booming Australian economy. Today, there was more bad news when the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the Labour Force data for August 2011. It shows that the labour market has gone backwards for the second consecutive month with total employment declining and full-time employment falling again. It shows unemployment rising further and the unemployment rate at 5.3 per cent. More worrying is that the BS broad labour underutilisation rate (underemployment plus unemployment) rose to 12.3 per cent over the last quarter. This is not an economy that is “bursting at the seams”. The labour market is in reverse gear and accelerating.

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