Sunday (July 1, 2018) was a very sad day in Australia because it marked the second phase of the cuts to penalty rates for workers in the lowest paid sectors of the Economy. The Fair Work Commission (FWC), which is the quasi-judicial tribunal that sets wages in Australia including legally binding minimum wages and conditions, bowed to the relentless pressure from employers (and the conservative federal government) and decided to cut penalty rates for some of the lowest-paid workers in Australia. The cuts which will eventually savage take-home pay for these workers were phased in from July 1, 2017 with the final cuts coming in 2020. The phasing in process where saw Sunday wages will fall from 200 per cent to 150 per cent over that period was justified by the FWC because the cuts would be extremely damaging to the prosperity of the low-paid workers impacted. Anyway, we have just passed the first year of the cuts and this week marks the second phase. Given we received the latest employment by industry data in the last fortnight, we can undertake some detailed analysis to see whether there is any evidence to support the employers’ claims that the cuts would benefit jobs and hours of work in the impacted sectors (Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services). You will not be surprised to read that the opposite seems to be the case, although the generally poor results for the industries that are sensitive to the penalty rate cuts cannot be attributed directly to those cuts. But the evidence is very strong – the cuts to penalty rates have hurt low paid workers and driven then towards or over the poverty line with no positive effects being evident in terms of employment or working hour gains.
It is Wednesday, so just a (relatively) short blog post today. I am using the time today to further scope out the material and logic for my next book with Thomas Fazi, which we hope to publish sometime in 2019. I will provide more details on that project soon but it is intended to be the followup to our current book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). So, today, a bit of that sort of flavour. In 1977, the Young European Federalists, which has long campaigned for European integration, released its Manifesto, which coined the term “democratic deficit”. While they intended it to be a concept to advance their pan-European intentions, the idea resonates strongly in the current climate and can be used to support a return to grass roots democracy aimed at reclaiming the nation state from the neoliberals and the progressive pretenders who have become infested with neoliberal ideas. In the last week, we have seen two notable events. First, the entrenchment of the colonial status of Greece under the watchful eye and collaboration of so-called ‘socialists’. Second, the magnificent success in today’s New York Democratic Primary election by a truly progressive candidate. These events are diametrically opposed. The former tells you what is wrong with traditional progressive political parties. The latter tells us that we can do something about it.
The Centre for European Reform, which must have little to do given the snail pace of so-called ‘reform’ that goes on in Europe, released a report over the weekend (June 23, 2018) – What’s the cost of Brexit so far? – which all the Europhile Remainers found filled their Tweet and other social media void for the day. I would have thought that they should have been happy, given England’s demolition of Panama in the soccer and 5-zip thrashing of Australia in the ODI cricket tournament. But no, they wanted to amplify the CER propaganda and makes themselves feel sad. Britain’s economy, apparently, is already 2.1 per cent smaller than it would have been had the vote to exit in June 2016 not won. And apparently, this has been a “hit to the public finances is now £23 billion per annum – or £440 million a week”. If you delve into the way the CER came up with these results you will quickly move on with a ho-hum and get back to the World Cup, which is infinitely more interesting (and that is saying something! read: I don’t enjoy soccer). The saying – Apples and Oranges – is relevant.
On May 4, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – April 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by just 164,000 in April, which was an improvement on the very modest rise in March. The Labour Force Survey data, however, showed that employment only rose by 3 thousand) in April 2018 but was accompanied by a substantial fall in the labour force (236 thousand) which meant that total unemployment fell by 239 thousand. The unemployment rate fell to 3.93 per cent (from 4.07) but this does not signal a stronger labour market. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining. Finally, there is no evidence of a wages breakout going on. Taken together, the US labour market is showing no definite trend up or down at present and it is still some distance from being at full employment.
People are allowed to change their opinions or assessments in the light of new evidence. Diametric changes of position are fine and one should not be pilloried for making such a shift in outlook. Quite the contrary. But when the passage of time reveals that a person just recites the same litany despite being continually at odds with the evidence, then that person’s view should be disregarded, notwithstanding the old saying that a defunct clock is correct twice in each 24 hours. The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its latest – The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2018 to 2028 (April 9, 2018) – and various commentators and media outlets have gone into conniptions over it. The economists that have responded – and they come with affiliations from both sides of US politics (although it is hard to differentiate separate ‘sides’ in the US anymore such is the demise of the Democrat Party) – have significantly embarrassed themselves. Their hysteria is not matched with the facts and they have been guilty of invoking these hysterical responses year-in, year-out for many years. A crack in a record, goes click, click, click, click and repeats ad infinitum. Sort of like the nonsensical arguments about US fiscal deficits that have appeared in the US press this last week.
Tomorrow, I will consider the furore that has arisen in the last few days after the US Congressional Budget Office released its latest forecasts, which showed the US deficit will rise, and, because they still insist in matching the deficit with bond-issuance to feed the corporate welfare machine, public debt will also expand. With an on-going jobs gap and depressed labour force participation rate, the rising deficit if properly targetted would be desirable. The rising public debt is a negative but only as a result of its unnecessary corporate welfare dimension rather than any concerns about capacity to pay etc. But today, given it is Wednesday and a ‘blog light’ day for me now I have only one related observation to make, which will contextualise tomorrow’s more detailed discussion. For today though I am mostly engaged in revising the final manuscript of our new, upcoming Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) textbook after receiving edits from the publishers, Macmillan.
On April 6, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – March 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by just 103,000 in March – or “edged up” to use the BLS words. The Labour Force Survey data, however, showed that employment fell (37 thousand) in March 2018 but was accompanied by an even larger fall in the labour force (158 thousand) which meant that total unemployment fell by 121 thousand. The weaker labour market means that underutilisation outside of the official labour force will have risen (‘hidden unemployment’). There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and the bias towards low paid work intensified in the first three months of 2018. Finally, there is no evidence of a wages breakout going on. Taken together, the US labour market is showing no definite trend up or down at present and it is still some distance from being at full employment.
I am generally not in favour of trade protection. I grew up in a country that had very extensive protection (tariffs, import quotas) on manufacturing goods, which was justified on a number of grounds – capacity to shift to defense industries; stable employment; and more abstractly, an expression of becoming a ‘modern’ nation, leaving our agrarian roots behind. The initial move to impose high tariffs was that a young industry would take time to develop – the so-called infant industry argument, which goes back to the 1790 Report on Manufactures written by American economist Alexander Hamilton. The problem is that the infant never really grew up and the tariffs just became a cosy rent-sharing margin for unions and multinational corporations. Meanwhile consumers paid excessive prices for deficient-quality motor vehicles (among other products). It is clear that as trade opens up there are workers and regions that lose – and lose badly. The answer is not try to reinvent the past through protection. Rather, it is to use the government’s fiscal capacity to create new opportunities in these regions to ensure that workers disadvantaged by import competition can transit into new jobs with stable incomes. That option is often overlooked because modern governments have become obsessed with austerity. And, as I argue below, that obsession will in the context of Donald Trump’s tariff hikes, work against the European nations that are running ridiculously large current account surpluses.
On March 9, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – February 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 313,000 in February. The Labour Force Survey data also showed a relatively strong net employment gain (785 thousand (net) jobs were created) in February 2018. The labour force was estimated to have risen by 806 thousand with participation rising by 0.3 points. The BLS thus estimated that unemployment rose by 22 thousand and the official unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.14 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis. Finally, there is no evidence of a wages breakout going on. Taken together, while the US labour market has strengthened in the first two months of 2018, it is still some distance from being at full employment.
Last week (February 8, 2018), we witnessed the US Senate spectacle with Rand Paul embarrassing himself with his lack of economic knowledge but also embarrassing both major parties – the Republicans for their gross hypocrisy and the Democrats for their gross idiocy. The – Congressional Record – of Paul’s speech (starting S817) is a classic. Also, last week, the stables were stirring apparently, as the ‘bond vigilantes’ were strapping on their saddles and getting ready to make the US government suffer for its so-called fiscal ‘ill discipline’. These characters apparently emerge out of the darkness of fiscal profligacy to defend our interests and force the government to run surpluses. Fantasy stuff all round. In fact, Rand Paul should resign and get a job he is more suited for (which would be?) and the bond vigilantes should make sure their Shetland ponies are not to wild for them. These bond traders play this elaborate game of bluff and pretend they have the power over the government. In fact, they are mendicants queuing up for their daily dollop of corporate welfare and the government could play them out of the game anytime it chose to. The problem is that the bluff works because governments are captive to the neoliberal nonsense that my professsion preaches.