Yesterday (February 22, 2017), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2016. For the fourth consecutive quarter, annual growth in wages has recorded its lowest level since the data series began in the December-quarter 1997. Real wages are barely growing and trailing productivity growth by a long way. The flat wages trend is intensifying the pre-crisis dynamics, which saw private sector credit rather than real wages drive growth in consumption spending. The Australian government, which should be showing leadership, is obsessing about who it can rope into a free trade deal now the US have scuttled the TPP. The lessons have clearly not been learned.
On December 27, 2016, the British CFA Society (an organisation representing Chartered Financial Analysts) released an interesting report that they had commissioned from academic researchers at the Lancaster University Management School. The Report – An Analysis of CEO Pay Arrangements and Value Creation for FTSE-350 Companies – explodes another mainstream economics myth that pay is in accordance with contribution to production adjusted for so-called compensating differentials (danger, risk etc). The Report confirms many other research publications over the years that there is little or no relationship between the pay that the top CEOs receive and the performance of the companies they manage. In fact, executive pay seems to grow even when their companies go backwards and their workers are shown the door (lose their jobs). It is just another one of those scams that we have been lulled into accepted in this neo-liberal era. It is one of the scams that a progressive agenda has to attack and develop policies to reverse. There should be legal frameworks in place as part of company law to force boards to scale pay to performance as a first step. The results of the research also allow us to see through some of the central arguments in favour of privatisation – viz, that public enterprises are wasteful because there are no shareholders to discipline the management. Well, the research discussed below shows that shareholders have very little sway on management and the boards that hand out massive and unjustifiable executive salaries.
Last Monday’s blog – I, Daniel Blake – essential viewing – provided a review of the latest Ken Loach movie and put the institutional details with respect to the inhumane way the unemployment and sickness benefit support system had evolved in Britain in the context of earlier developments in Australia which pioneered this nasty ill-treatment of disadvantaged citizens. In today’s blog, I am updating the situation in Australia and discussing some recent (and shocking) data, which has come to light courtesy of the Senate estimates process within the Australian Parliament. There is one institution within Australia’s Parliamentary system that hasn’t fallen foul of the lying theatrics that define the main legislative process. I refer to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee which forces government bureaucrats to provide detailed data on contentious issues, which the ruling party (the government) prefers not to release or draw attention to. A most recent example demonstrates the total failure of a key aspect of the income support system in Australia and the reason is simple – a neo-liberal Groupthink has crippled the capacity of the Australian government to do anything constructive and obvious. Ideology allows policy makers to enact cruel and distasteful policy machinations on those who have all but nothing. Australia – where victims become criminals. It is disgusting really and makes one ashamed to show one’s passport when travelling.
Over the last 12 months, it has been increasingly obvious that the Australia has become a part-time employment nation. While the trend towards increasing part-time employment as a proportion of the total has been with us since the 1970s, the nature of that trend has been changing in recent years and belies the claims by the mainstream that it is a reflection of increased choice by workers for better life-work balance and the rising proportion of women in the workforce combining family responsibilities with income earning opportunities. The reality is different. Overall, there is a lack of working hours being generated in Australia (as elsewhere) because macroeconomic policy is restrictive (fiscal deficit to low as a proportion of GDP). That rationing of job creation is giving way to more part-time work, higher levels of underemployment (part-time workers who desire more hours but cannot find them), higher proportions of casual work, and a bias towards jobs that provide low (below average) pay. And the pressure is on to cut pay and conditions even further as employers make spurious claims about the damage penalty rates (overtime rates at weekends) cause the economy. The problem for them is that a recent (leaked) report by a Citi Research (part of Citigroup), hardly a friend of the unions and workers, has exposed the truth – cuitting penalty rates will just boost profits and will not lead to increased employment.
In the last few weeks, three sets of economic data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal just how bad the Australian economy is performing and exposes the lies that the mainstream media pedals on behalf of the conservative government and the establishment that seeks to defend the disastrous neo-liberal policy regime. Last week (November 17, 2016), I analysed the recent labour market data for October (see Australian labour market – staggering along and in trend deterioration). The ABS said the data represented a Continuing shift to part-time employment . On November 10, 2016, the ABS released its latest – Participation, Job Search and Mobility, Australia, February 2016 – data, which reveals that 1 million Australians were underemployed in February 2016 and on average wanted an additional 13.5 hours of extra work per week. Do the multiplication – an enormous amount of wasted labour. Further, of the 6.4 million Australians not classified as being in the labour force, 954,800 wanted to work and were available to work. Finally, last week (November 16, 2016), the ABS released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter 2016. For the fourth consecutive month, annual growth in wages has recorded its lowest level since the data series began in the December-quarter 1997. Real wages are barely growing and trailing productivity growth. The flat wages trend is intensifying the pre-crisis dynamics, which saw private sector credit rather than real wages drive growth in consumption spending. The lessons have not been learned.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics published the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the June-quarter 2016 today. Annual private sector wages growth remained steady at 2.0 per cent (0.5 per cent for the quarter), which is the third consecutive month that the annual growth in wages has recorded its lowest level since the data series began in the December-quarter 1997. In the 2015-16 fiscal statement (aka ‘The Budget’), the Government assumed wages growth for 2015-16 would be 2.5 per cent rising to 2.75 over 2016-17. On current trends, that is highly unlikely to occur, which means the forward estimates for taxation revenue are already falling short and the fiscal deficit will be larger than assumed. Depending on how we measure inflation, the annual wages growth translates into only a modest real wage rise since January 2016 for Australian workers. More importantly, real wages are growing well below trend productivity growth and Real Unit Labour Costs (RULC) continue to fall. This means that the gap between real wages growth and productivity growth continues to widen as the wage share in national income falls (and the profit share rises). The flat wages trend is intensifying the pre-crisis dynamics, which saw private sector credit rather than real wages drive growth in consumption spending. The lessons have not been learned.
I recently wrote about minimum wage principles in relation to a progressive manifesto and the desire to reduce income inequality, which has risen sharply in the neo-liberal era where mainstream ‘free market’ economics has been the dominant narrative. Please see – Reducing income inequality – for that discussion. That blog considered some evidence that refutes the mainstream economics mantra that implementing minimum wages undermines the employment opportunities for low-wage workers. The standard lie that is rammed down the throats of economics students is that whenever governments impose minimum wages the market retaliates and minimum wage workers are worse off as a result. There are layers of erroneous concepts embedded in that orthodoxy, which I have dealt with many times before. But a significant point is that the real world is doing a good job to expose the lies of the ‘competitive’ model without recourse to any deep theoretical debates about whether ‘marginal productivity’ can be identified (it cannot), or whether the labour demand curve is downward sloping (it isn’t), which also includes a debate about whether productivity declines with extra employment (it doesn’t!). An interesting research paper released July 2016 by researchers at the The Seattle Minimum Wage Study Team based at the University of Washington in Seattle – Report on the Impact of Seattle’s Minimum Wage Ordinance on Wages, Workers, Jobs, and Establishments Through 2015 – provides further evidence to contest the veracity of the mainstream economics myths.
The headline this morning in the Fairfax press yesterday (June 1, 2016) – Sacked for having a cup of coffee on the job – was about a low-wage cleaner in Australia won a case in the Fair Work Commission (a judicial body that sets wages and conditions) for unfair dismissal because she had a cup of coffee just before her shift began in the kitchen of the offices she was cleaning. The boss called it theft despite a convention allowing the workers to use the kitchen. Then there was the single worker who won a landmark case on Tuesday (May 31, 2015) against Coles (supermarket monolith) and his union who had conspired to finalise an enterprise bargaining agreement that violated our industrial laws and made the workers (not the union bosses) worse off. Then there was the minimum wage case decision handed down Tuesday (May 31, 2015) by the Fair Work Commission which provides a little real wage growth for the lowest paid workers but only a little! Life for low-wage workers in Australia is tough and would be much tougher if there were not enforced regulations to stop the capitalists from taking more and dishing out capricious treatment to the workers.
There was another article in the financial media this weekend running the hypothesis that the stagnant economic conditions that Australia has found itself in is a “new normal”. This is now a repeating theme. I disagree with it. It ignores some basic realities and is ideologically loaded towards an austerity interpretation of the world. The article in the Fairfax press (May 21, 2016) – Low pay growth, price rises and the new normal – claims that the “central question in macro-economics today” is whether we are “waiting … for the economy to get back to normal, or has the economy shifted to a “new normal?”. I would pose the question differently. Waiting implies that we think it is just a matter of time before the ‘market’ does its work and restores normality. Moreover, Australia like most of the rest of the world remains locked in the aftermath of what we call a ‘balance sheet’ recession. As I explained to various audiences in Spain during my recent visit, this type of event is unusual (atypical or abnormal) and requires a quite different policy response to a normal V-shaped recession where private investment spending falls, governments stimulate, confidence returns and growth gets back fairly quickly on its trend path. The losses might be large but the recession and aftermath are short. A balance sheet recession requires elevated levels of fiscal deficits being maintained for many years to support growth as non-government sector spending remains below the norm while it reduces its debt levels (via increased saving). The problem in Australia, like elsewhere, is that governments have been hectored by neo-liberal ideologues to prematurely withdraw or reduce the fiscal support and growth has stalled. A range of problems then follow.
The mainstream economics (by which I mean neo-classical economics and its siblings in a History of Economic Thought context) constructs trade unions as being market imperfections that interfere with the freedom of supply and demand to determine optimal price (wage) and quantity (employment) outcomes. The textbooks teach students that the supply of and demand for labour without the intrusion of trade unions (and other impositions from the state – minimum wages etc) will deliver optimal outcomes for all in accordance with the respective contributions of each ‘factor of production’ (labour, land, capital etc). The real world isn’t like that at all and the determination of shares in national income is the result of a continuous struggle between labour and capital for supremacy. It is very easy to construct the trade unions has job killers in this context and to blame them for inflationary outbreaks. That certainly is how the British trade unions in the early 1970s were constructed by the conservatives and later the Labour Party itself. By the early 1970s, Monetarism was gaining a dominant hold in the academy and strong adherents in policy circles. Trade unions were considered by the Monetarists to be ‘market imperfections’ that should be destroyed by legislative fiat. Governments came under intense pressure to introduce legislation that would constrain unions. However, once we understand history, we can see the early 1970s in Britain leading up to British Labour Prime Minster James Callaghan’s speech to Labour Party Conference held at Blackpool on September 28, 1976 in a different light. It also allows us to see just what surrender monkeys the British Labour Party became after that period. This is a further instalment of my next book on globalisation and the capacities of the nation-state, which I am working on with Italian journalist Thomas Fazi. We expect to finalise the manuscript in May 2016.