So the UK grew by 0.6 per cent in the June-quarter 2013 on a seasonally-adjusted basis. The conservatives are crowing as hard as they can that fiscal austerity has cleared the decks for a private sector recovery. We believe them of-course because the economy grew by 0.6 per cent. Right? Wrong. We don’t believe them. The fact is that the budget deficit rose in the last year and the annualised growth of the government and other services sector to growth has been positive in the last two quarters after a sharp contraction in the fourth quarter of 2012. On July 25, 2013, the British Office of National Statistics released its latest National Accounts data in the form of – Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Q2 2013. The data release comes on the back of another ONS release – Public Sector Finances, June 2013 – which showed that budget deficit and public borrowing rose over the 12 months to June 2013. So the direction in public net spending is up and that is the opposite direction to the intended fiscal austerity.
In Australia, 84 per cent of jobs created in the last 6 months have been part-time and underemployment has risen since February 2008 (the low-point in the last cycle) from 666.3 thousand (5.9 per cent) to 908.6 thousand (7.4 per cent). And this is a period that the spin doctors in government and the media told us was our once-in-a-hundred year mining boom bringing rich bountiful futures to all. The only problem is that the future workers (our 15-19 year olds) have endured an absolute contraction in employment in the 5 years since early 2008. The Government hasn’t embraced the full-on austerity that is failing Britain but has still overseen a contraction in fiscal policy which is now damaging growth and creating an increasing pool of low-paid, insecure jobs as full-time employment vanishes. In Britain, the situation is even more dire with a Government hell-bent undermining the prosperity of it citizens. The British Trades Union Congress (TUC) released an interesting report last week (July 12, 2013) – The UK’s Low Pay Recovery – which shows that “eighty per cent of net job creation since June 2010 has taken place in industries where the average wage is less than £7.95 an hour”. The British Chancellor is looking increasingly cocky lately declaring that Britain is “out of intensive care”. From the data I examine most days, nothing could be further from the truth.
The problem of living in Darwin some of the time is that the normal day to day travel that one engages in while pursuing professional life becomes very onerous. It is a four hour flight to any of the capital cities (whereas most were around 1 hour or so from Newcastle). Further, the flight schedules are crazy because Darwin Airport has no curfew (because there is no residential areas nearby) and so you catch planes to and from, say Melbourne at 1.45 in the morning, fly all night, then have to hit the ground running to meet work commitments. This part of Darwin life is very austere. Talking about austerity – in a much more significant way, however – I read that Mr Ed Miliband, thinks he is the 2013 version of Clement Atlee and he can do great and radical “Labour” things in Britain while pursuing a neo-liberal economic austerity program. My immediate reaction was who does he think he is kidding. Sadly, the British Opposition leader seems to think his party can defy basic accounting – that is, reinvent the rules of addition and subtraction – as he tries to present himself as a small target but one imbued with traditional British Labour Party values. The point of this blog is to explain why this neo-liberal bluster is so anti-1945 Labour, without dwelling too much on history. My personal austerity (flying overnight last night) has impinged on my time to wax lyrical today!
Last week, the UK Department of Work and Pensions released a swathe of new – statistics – on poverty rates in Britain. While the Department tried as hard as it could to present the data in a misleading way and lied the facts, once analysed properly, are chilling indeed for a nation that pretends to be advanced and lectures Europe on its own misanthropic policy positions. I am sometimes asked when making public presentations how I judge the success or otherwise of public policy. I respond with a simple rule of thumb. The benchmark is not how rich the policy framework makes society in general but how rich it makes the poor! The conduct of governments in many nations over the last 20 years has not typified what a sophisticated and rich society should be doing to enhance the prospects of the weakest among us. The policies of the British government in recent years are the antithesis of sound public policy. In that sense, I judge Britain to be a failed state.
In last week’s blog – Massive real wage cuts will not improve growth prospects – I considered the mounting evidence that austerity is leading to massive cuts in real wages for workers in Britain without commensurate gains in employment being evident. I have been doing some detailed work on the movements in employment and real wages in Britain over the last decade or so and today some of the more accessible work is presented. You will soon see that the mainstream view that cutting real wages is good for the economy is as absurd as the argument that a fiscal contraction expansion is the path to prosperity. Both policy options are the path to entrenched unemployment and increased poverty rates – exactly the outcome that has befallen the British population as a result of their moronic government policy stance.
There was a column in today’s Australian Financial Review “When the money-go-round slows, everyone suffers” which bemoaned the fact that all the investment bankers, lawyers and accountants that have been making heaps off the massive growth in the financial services sector are now doing it tough. We read that household budgets are being stretched when some woebegone executive suddenly discovers “multiple sets of $20,000 a year private school fees plus family holidays in Aspen” (from Australia). We feel sorry for them don’t we. The parasites of neo-liberalism who in between crafting handsome consulting contracts for themselves fill their days performing largely unproductive functions to our society. The AFR is, of-course, the neo-liberal propaganda machine that feeds the business sector with arguments about how badly they are doing because workers are overpaid and lazy. Yes, there was also an article in today’s edition about excessive wages and labour market regulation. Meanwhile, the latest evidence from Britain is that workers have taken the equivalent of a 15 per cent real wage cut over the period 2007 and 2012. The cuts have undermined nominal wages of workers in jobs rather than being the result of workers shifting to lower paid jobs. That is unprecedented and confirms the suspicions that the austerity agenda is being driven by a desire to win the class war for capital once and for all.
It seems like everything is getting smaller in Germany. I read today that Germany’s longest word (63 letters) has been abandoned. It also seems that their jobs are getting smaller and more people are being forced into them. The so-called “mini-jobs”. Meanwhile Europe’s crowning glory and austerity’s greatest achievement lies a little south of the mini-job kingdom. Eurostat’s latest – Regional labour force data – tells us that in some regions in Spain and Greece, the unemployment rates of the 15-24 year olds have topped 70 per cent and will continue to rise. There are now an increasing chorus in the media from politicians and financial market types who are trying to dress all this up as good news. Apparently, the Greek share market is booming. The agenda is clear – if they can somehow convince the world that the devastation of Greece is “good news” then it will reduce the growing resistance to austerity that is starting to broaden the debate. The elites don’t want any moderation. So they have to re-construct devastation to appear to be bringing good outcomes. The madness continues. Tell the 15-24 year olds in Dytiki Makedonia that things are going along swimmingly!
I recall a professor in my student days (formal that is, given we are always students if we remain open) telling a postgraduate class that economic development could only occur if the social democratic pretensions of the left, including tolerance of trade unions, were suppressed – “in the interests of progress”. He laughed and said that it was no surprise that the most right-wing nations grew the fastest. His poster child was South Korea. I recalled that experience when I read two articles recently in the UK Guardian. They are reflections on how neo-liberalism is really the antithesis to democratic ideals. The so-called free markets have nothing to do with freedom or political inclusion.
The angst in Britain about the form of the funeral for the Witch goes on. I liked the suggestion of filmmaker Ken Loach who suggested the whole affair be privatised and outsourced with competitive tenders determining the outcome. Hypocrisy rules though and the Conservative government will spend a pretty penny on the effort as a means of presenting her legacy in some good light. They won’t succeed because people know! With the latest British labour force data due out tomorrow, I was interested to read an interesting forensic study of recent labour market trends in Britain. The official line from the Government is that things are improving and “see, our policies are allowing those who want to work hard to achieve their aspirations”. The paper, which I discuss in this blog, tells us that those narratives are not even remotely true. Despite the official summary labour force statistics, once one digs more deeply into the data the trends are bad and getting worse.
Remember that her own party got rid of her in the end because she even became a liability to them. She was always a liability to the prosperity of the British people and despite her obsession with incentives and individual action, she undermined both by wrecking the macroeconomy in Britain. The news today is all about the death of the former British PM. There will be a lot of revisionism going on. I don’t plan on a chapter and verse discussion of the legacy of the shopkeeper’s daughter. Apart from the cruelty that was imposed on individuals, particularly the poor, her policies hollowed out the British economy and opened up the door for the parasitic financial sector to take centre stage, with the disastrous consequences that are now for all to see. I could talk about all of that. But to me the biggest impact of her period in office was that it marked the beginning of the end of the social democratic parties. Labour and the Tories became neo-liberal lookalikes. Sure enough, the Tories spoke better and had better table manners. But when the economic policy positions were distilled to their essence, the Labour Party, like so-called progressive parties everywhere, started to sound more right-winged than the Tories themselves. That is what I think is her grim legacy for the weak and the poor of the world.