Its my Friday lay day and I end this week feeling infinitely better (how would I measure that?) than this time last week. The human capacity is pretty phenomenal. This week the Productivity Commission of Australia released its draft report on how to reform the Australian industrial relations system – Workplace Relations Framework (11.7 mbs). The Productivity Commission grew out of the old Tariff Board (then Industries Assistance Commission) and so administered the trade protection policy of the Federal government in the C20th. As ideological preferences changed, it morphed into its current guise, which is to give advice to government on how to deregulate, privatise, outsource and other trash the conditions of workers. As we awaited this current report, the only interesting question was not what they would recommend but what spurious route and flaky evidence they would call upon to attempt to justify their inevitable embrace of more deregulation and wage cutting in the labour market. As it turned out, the Commission disappointed. They couldn’t even find enough flaky evidence to support their conclusions so in the best traditions of the right wing they just offered up the tripe without any coherent argument and then managed to fit all that into a 1001-page tome. I imagine there is low job satisfaction in that part of government having to come up with this sort of nonsense and pretend you do serious work.
Its my Friday lay day blog but no rest for the wicked today. The Fair Work Commission, the Federal body entrusted with the task of determining Australia’s minimum wage handed down its – 2014-15 decision – on June 2, 2014. Here is my annual review of that decision plus some. The decision meant that more than 1.86 million of our lowest paid workers (out of some 11.6 million) received an extra $16.00 per week from July 1. This amounted to an increase of 2.5 per cent (down from last year’s rise of 3 per cent). The Federal Minimum Wage (FMW) is now $656.90 per week or $17.29 per hour. For the low-paid workers in the retail sector, personal care services, hospitality, cleaning services and unskilled labouring sectors there was no cause for celebration. They already earn a pittance and endure poor working conditions. The pay rise will at best maintain the current real minimum wage but denies this cohort access to the fairly robust national productivity growth that has occurred over the last two years. The decision also maintains the gap between the low paid workers and other wage and salary recipients, who themselves are suffering a major wages squeeze as corporate profits rise. The real story though is that today’s minimum wage outcome is another casualty of the fiscal austerity that the Federal Government has imposed on the nation which is destroying jobs and impacting disproportionately on low-paid workers.
One of the on-going themes that emerges from the neo-liberal commentariat is that fiscal deficits undermine the future of our children and their children because of the alleged higher implied tax burdens. The theme is without foundation given that each generation can choose its own tax structure, deficits are never paid back, and public spending can build essential long-lived infrastructure, which provides benefits that span many generations. The provision of a first-class public education system feeding into stable, skilled job structures is the best thing that a government can do for the future generations. Sadly, government policy is undermining the future generations but not in the way the neo-liberals would have us believe. One of my on-going themes is the the impact of entrenched youth unemployment, precarious work and degraded public infrastructure on the well-being and future prospects of society as neo-liberal austerity becomes the norm. This theme was reflected (if unintentionally) in a new report, release last week by the OECD – In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All. The Report brings together a number of research findings and empirical facts that we all knew about but are stark when presented in one document.
The day after the Australian government published their fiscal strategy for 2015-16, which assumes (unrealistically) a significant upstep in economic growth and hence taxation receipts, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter today and we learn that the annual growth in wages is now at the lowest level since the data series began in the December-quarter 1997. Last quarter, we learned the same thing. In other words, consecutive quarterly lows have now been set in the Wage Price time series measure. The annual hourly wage inflation is now down to 2.3 per cent overall down from 2.5 per cent in the December-quarter. Private sector wages growth was a miserable 2.2 per cent. In the 2015-16 fiscal statement, the Government had assumed wages growth for 2014-15 would be 2.5 per cent rising to 2.75 by 2017. On current trends, that is highly unlikely to occur, which means the arithmetic surrounding its fiscal outcomes is awry already and the fiscal deficit will be larger than assumed. Overall productivity growth is running around 1.8 to 2.1 per cent (depending how one measures it) and despite the decline in the annual inflation rate in recent quarters as the overall economy slows down (and oil prices fall), Real Unit Labour Costs (RULC) continue to fall. This means that the gap between real wages growth and productivity growth continues to widen as more the wage share in national income falls (and the profit share rises). The flat wages trend will not only blast the forward estimates in the fiscal statement out of the water but the on-going redistribution of national income to profits is intensifying the pre-crisis dynamics, which saw private sector credit rather than real wages drive growth. The lessons have not been learned.
There was an interesting article in the UK Guardian last weekend (March 29, 2015) – Why falling inflation is a false pretext for keeping wages low – which examined wage trends in the UK and the validity of the argument that “Falling inflation now provides employers with a pretext for keeping wage settlements low”. Employer groups never support wage increases and are continually trying to suppress real wages growth below productivity growth so that they can enjoy a greater share of national income. As part of my research to discover the nature of the ideological shift accompanying the emergence of Monetarism as the dominant policy paradigm I have been examining wage distributions. This is part of a book I will complete next year (fingers crossed) on the demise of the political left. In this blog we examine the shifting relationship between labour productivity growth and real wages growth since 1960. The results are illuminating and open up a broad research front about which I will write more as time passes.
One of the salient features of the neo-liberal era has been the on-going redistribution of national income to profits away from wages. This feature is present in many nations. As I noted in yesterday’s blog – Employer group demands free labour from Government – employer groups in Australia are upping the ante and demanding that the Government provide them with free labour. It goes like this – the government runs a fiscal austerity campaign, which creates rising unemployment. They then harass the unemployed for daring to apply for the below poverty line income support. If that is not enough, then the private sector demands the Government hand these unemployed workers over to them for free to “make coffee” and other tasks. Its a lovely world that we are living in. Meanwhile there is growing pressure on Australia’s wage setting tribunals to scrap penalty and overtime rates, allegedly because they damage employment and firms are just busting to put more workers on as long as wages drop. The Australian Bureau of Statistics published the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter today and we learn that the annual growth in wages is now at the lowest level since the data series began in the June-quarter 1997. The annual hourly wage inflation is now down to 2.5 per cent overall and 2.4 per cent in the private sector. With productivity growth running slightly slower and the annual inflation rate dropping sharply in recent quarters as the overall economy slows down (and oil prices fall), the shift to profits slowed marginally in the December-quarter. But Real Unit Labour Costs (RULC) continued to fall. Further, the long-term trends are still alarming with employment growth flat or negative and unemployment rising.
The ABC – Four Corners – program tonight will highlight the corruption and inefficiency within Australia’s privatised labour market services sector. The program – The Jobs Game – will screen at 20:30 Eastern Standard Time. I participate in the program although the extent of that participation is at the time of writing not known. I did about 2 hours of filming for it in December. Unfortunately, the ABC geo-blocks its iView service which allows Australians to watch past programs via the Internet. If the program is available via YouTube I will post a link. The flavour of the program is summarised in this promotion piece published by the ABC News service today (February 23, 2015) – Government recovers over $41 million worth of false claims after ‘rorting’ of Job Services Australia scheme. The Guardian newspaper will also publish an article based on this blog for tomorrow’s edition (sometime during the day). So the issue is getting out there finally after successive Governments have been trying to hide the issues. After all, its ideological baby is terminally ill and they don’t want to admit that.
Another day of light blogging. It used to be the case that if you secured a University degree then you were nearly immune from unemployment and enjoyed a fairly quickly growing wage gap on those of the same age who were not so fortunate to attend university. It was always the case that the unskilled are at the back of the jobless queue. This cohort is traditionally forced to endure low wages when they are lucky enough to find work and when they are not so lucky, they have to tolerate the opprobrium that neo-liberal attack dogs impose on them for daring to try to live on the pittances handed out as unemployment benefits. Any time the economy takes a nosedive this group finds itself out of work. But, even in recessions, the possession of a University degree was a fairly good insurance policy against such misfortune. The GFC changed that and in some nations the austerity that has been enforced by mindless and unaccountable bureaucrats has not only had devastating effects on the unskilled but has also undermined the prospects of the higher skilled workers. There is no cost-benefit analysis available that could justify such an arrant waste of productive resources, quite independent of the massive personal cost that the unemployed face upon their exclusion from mainstream society. Those pushing for austerity have a lot to answer for. But most of them will be long retired on their fat superannuation pensions before the full scale of the disaster they have created is revealed.
The current evolution of Capitalism is taking the world back to where it was in the early C20th, before trade unions were strong enough to protect workers’ rights, before central governments were willing to mediate the class struggle and step in to make sure workers had the means to enjoy the material prosperity that the system generated, before wages growth allowed workers to share in productivity growth and build a modicum of material wealth. There is no class struggle, Bill! How many times do I hear that now. It is just a convenient sop by those with a vested interest in promoting that view or who has been conned to believe that to be the case. Of course there is a class struggle. Industrial capital might be sharing the hegemony with totally unproductive financial capital and the robber barons of the C19th and early C20th are less prominent and the banksters and the politicians in their pay have replaced them, but don’t ever think that there is a massive conspiracy to undermine the welfare state and put workers back into an even more subservient position than before. Unemployment, part-time precarious work, tax evasion and all the rest of the scams are working a treat.
Last week, Reuters put out a story (October 30, 2014) – Special Report: Tsunami evacuees caught in $30 billion Japan money trap (thanks Scott Mc for the link) – which provides an excellent demonstration of the true limits of government spending in a currency-issuing nation. The underlying principles should be understood by all as part of their personal mission to expel all neo-liberal myths from their thinking and to help them see the nature of issues more clearly. Unfortunately, the application we will talk about is sad and has tragic human and environmental consequences, but that doesn’t reduce the relevance of the example for conceptual thinking. In a nutshell, the central Japanese government has transferred some $US50 billion worth of yen to the local government to combat the destruction caused by the tsunami in March 2011. Thirty billion is unspent despite people still living in temporary housing and suffering dramatic psychological trauma as a result. Why is this happening? Doesn’t Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tell us that a currency-issuing government can spend what it likes? Well, not exactly. What MMT tells us is that a currency-issuing government can purchase whatever is for sale in its own currency and that propensity is limited by the availability of real resources. Here is a classic demonstration of the limits of government nominal spending.