It is Wednesday so a blog lite day for me. The next part of this week is a bit up in the air for me after the Covid outbreak that resulted from a breach of quarantine in Adelaide has spread to Melbourne and looks a bit ugly. Fingers crossed that I can get back home to Melbourne tomorrow. Today I briefly review the latest payroll data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which shows that despite all the bluster from the Federal government to the contrary, their fiscal retreat in March is now costing jobs, as predicted. I also examine the latest production data from the UK, which should provide good news for British manufacturing workers. And finally, we have a little birthday celebration with some singing.
On Wednesday last week (May 19, 2021), the ABS released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2021. The WPI data shows that nominal wages growth remains suppressed and workers were able to glean only the most marginal real improvement in purchasing power. Public sector workers endured real wage cuts. The public sector is clearly not demonstrating leadership with their ridiculous wage freezes and wage caps stifling wages growth not only in the public sector but also via the spillover effects to the private sector. Most sectors went backwards in real terms and it was only the annual minimum wage adjustment that saw gains in some sectors – militating against any narrative that suggests that the market is driving inflationary pressures. Not even close.
It is clear that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) management is at odds with the elected Federal Government over the current state of the economy and what needs to be done to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal government is about to significantly wind back its fiscal stimulus, which although was insufficient at the outset, did help reduce the damage that the health responses to the pandemic caused (lockdowns, etc). The Government has the view that the private sector will now rebound quickly especially as the vaccination process has begun. The RBA though is clearly not convinced and its senior officials are wont to point out (regularly) that growth will struggle for years unless the stimulus is maintained and the government promotes an environment where wages can grow more quickly. The RBA clearly blames the Government for the record low growth in wages given the penchant of the latter to impose wage freezes and wage caps on public sector workers, which spill over into poor private sector outcomes. And that is quite apart from the damage that Government industrial relations legislation has done to the capacity of unions to gain wages growth for workers. The chances that we will break out of this malaise are close to zero. The Government is anti-union and anti-wages growth. It thinks that suppressing wages growth to historically record lows and further attacking the unions, will drive the wage share down even further (as the profit share rises). And, of course, the funding of the conservative political forces largely comes from the beneficiaries of these trends. For the vast majority of Australians the situation gets worse. Our real incomes stagnate and to maintain consumption levels we have to borrow more, even though household debt is at record levels in relation to disposable income. It is not a sustainable future but the damage will get worse until there is a pushback from the population. And one of the things holding that back is the deplorable state of the Australian Labor Party in electoral terms. We can generalise all this to most nations. The neoliberal score card: Biggest F you can find.
Last week, two major wage data releases came out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. On Wednesday (February, 24, 2021), the – Wage Price Index, Australia – which was followed on Thursday (February 25, 2021) by the latest – Average Weekly Earnings, Australia. The two series are quite different as I note below. Both demonstrate poor wages outcomes in Australia. The ABS reported that Australia “maintained the historically low annual growth rate of 1.4 per cent for a second quarter” and that the data “showed a large proportion of the private sector wage growth came from the continued restoration of hourly wages back to pre-pandemic levels”. In other words, the cuts firms got away with last year were restored, which is a different thing to on-going growth. Private sector grow was just 0.7 per cent and public sector growth was just 0.3 per cent. The overall WPI growth was just 0.6 per cent. The public sector is clearly not demonstrating leadership with their ridiculous wage freezes and wage caps stifling wages growth not only in the public sector but also via the spillover effects to the private sector. With the quarterly inflation in the December-quarter was recorded at 0.22 per cent, real wages thus rose for Australian workers. But if we consider the annual movements private sector wages grew by 1.4 per cent while annual inflation (excluding volatile items) was 1.5 per cent, so real wages fell over the year to December 2020. Further, over the longer period, real wages growth is still running well behind the growth in GDP per hour (productivity), which has allowed profits to secure a substantially increased share of national income.
Last week (February 1, 2021), the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents the business lobby, demanded the Australian government cut the unemployment benefit back to less than $A40 per day but at the same time it also demanded the Government extend wage subsidies to businesses. It is repugnant that the business culture in Australia is so impoverished, that the key business lobby group wants unemployed workers who cannot get a job because there are not enough jobs on offer to be forced to live at income support levels that are well below conventional poverty lines. But, at the same time, it supports businesses putting their own hands out to government for more. It is also stupid. They don’t seem to realise that providing an environment for strong wages growth produces the best conditions for profits. Yet these characters just want to accelerate the ‘race to the bottom’ which is a self-defeating strategy.
The answer to the question posed in the title is No! Lawrence Summers’ macroeconomic assessment does not stack up. In – Is the $US900 billion stimulus in the US likely to overheat the economy – Part 1? (December 30, 2020) – I developed the framework for considering whether it was sensible for the US government to provide a $US2,000 once-off, means-tested payment as part of its latest fiscal stimulus. Summers was opposed to it claiming that it would push the economy into an inflationary spiral because it would more than close the current output gap. Today, I do the numbers. The conclusion is that there is more than enough scope for the Government to make the transfers without running out of fiscal space.
It’s Wednesday and I usually don’t write much on my blog. But today, history was made and so I thought I should at least cover it. Today (November 18, 2020), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest- Wage Price Index, Australia – (September-quarter 2020). The ABS reported that while “the September quarter is generally a quarter of solid wage growth … the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a subdued rate of wage growth in the September quarter 2020”. However, they might also have said that today’s result was “the lowest quarterly growth in the 22-year history of the WPI”. Private sector grow was just 0.1 per cent and public sector growth was just 0.2 per cent. The overall WPI growth was just 0.1 per cent. With the quarterly inflation in the September-quarter was recorded at 0.693 per cent, real wages thus fell for Australian workers. Further, over the longer period, real wages growth is still running well behind the growth in GDP per hour (productivity), which has allowed profits to secure a substantially increased share of national income.
Victoria went the so-called ‘double doughnut’ again today with zero new infections and zero deaths – the fourth consecutive day. It now has the lowest number of people sick with the virus (known) since the start of the pandemic in Australia in February. Only 38 active cases remain in Victoria after its 12 week lockdown. There is no community transmission reported now in Victoria and the other day Australia recorded zero (community transmitted) cases overall. So things are less tense than they were. I still haven’t been able to travel to my office in Melbourne which I have been away from since the lockdowns started in June. But hope springs eternal that the NSW government will open the border and let us move freely between the States. At the same time, the NSW government is demonstrating its economic incompetence. The State Treasurer announced that in the midst of the worst crisis in 100 years, it is cutting the pay of its public servants when it brings down its fiscal statement. Clue: when in a deep recession with records levels of household debt dramatically constraining growth in household consumption expenditure, which in turn, is killing growth, then the sure fire way to make matters worse by cutting the very source of consumption expenditure – yes, you get it – workers’ wages.
A few weeks ago, I updated my research on the way employment growth accesses the different unemployment duration pools using Australian data. In that blog post (October 19, 2020) – The long-term unemployed are not an inflation constraint in a recovery – I showed that the claim that the long-term unemployed constitute an inflation constraint because employers will not choose to offer them jobs due to perceived scarring is a popular neoliberal assertion but has no basis in the actual data. The orthodox economists use that assertion to justify microeconomic (supply-side) policies (training, activation, etc) rather than direct job creation. The reality is that when employment growth is strong enough, both short-run and long-run pools of the unemployed are accessed by employers. In the latter case, employers alter hiring standards and offer on-the-job training to ensure they do not lose market share. I have received several E-mails stating that the US is different and the long-term unemployed are shunned by employers, which means that trying to stimulate the economy will hit the inflation constraint sooner than if there was a Job Guarantee in place. Logically, there is no reason the US labour market operates differently in any fundamental way to the Australian labour market so I decided to examine the validity of the ‘irreversibility hypothesis’ using US data. Guess what? The hypothesis doesn’t hold up in the US either.
On Tuesday (October 20, 2020), the ABS released the latest data for – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 3 October 2020 – which gives us the most up-to-date picture of how the labour market is coping with the on-going restrictions. Last week, the ABS released the monthly labour force survey data which covered the period up until September 14. Today’s data gives us an extra two weeks of information to gauge what is happening. It also provides us more accurate estimates of the impact of the harsh Stage 4 restrictions that have been imposed in Victoria to address the Second Wave of the coronavirus. Those restrictions were eased last weekend after the government has brought the outbreak under control. So hopefully, today’s data will signal just about the trough before the slow recovery begins as more activities open up. Overall, payroll employment has fallen by 0.7 points since July 25, 2020, when the lockdowns began in earnest. Unsurprisingly, payroll employment fell in the six-week period ending October 3, 2020 in Victoria by 2.3 points. Employment has also fallen in NSW by 0.7 points over the same period. The Victorian case is about lockdown. NSW is in decline because of failed macroeconomic policy, which goes to the performance of the federal government. The fact that the first recovery period failed to regain the jobs lost was an indicator that the policy intervention was insufficient. The second-wave job losses tell us clearly that more needs to be done by the Federal government. The problem is the federal government is now engaging itself in trivial political point scoring instead of showing economic leadership.