Over the next few days I will be involved in transferring some of the major IT infrastructure for my research centre from our Newcastle office to our Melbourne office. This is the first stage of our plan to virtualise our server capacity – reducing costs, making it easier to manage, and giving us more independence in our new multi-campus structure. Sounds like fun doesn’t it. Not! It also wasn’t much fun reading the documents published by the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the US Department of Justice last week concerning their investigations into the UBS LIBOR manipulation scandal. We read of widespread criminality and a total disregard for ethics and values. The authorities have, however, seen fit to go soft on the bank and will prosecute only a few it seems when many were involved. The point is that this is not the isolated act of a rogue trader or two. Criminality and greed is embedded in the culture of the financial sector and only major reform will get rid of it. That reform should start with the withdrawal of the license of USB to operate and then progressively the outlawing of the derivatives market and the scaling back of what banks can legally be involved in. Such major reform will not happen but until we get close to it the bad boys will continue to run loose.
The half-way mark came last week for the suffering, seemingly, ever stoical British. Why they are ever stoical in the face of an exploitative, class society where the rich always find ways to push the losses of their caprice and incompetence onto the poor is a cultural story I have never understood (despite living in Britain for a time in the 1980s). But the Autumn Statement (December 5, 2012) from the failed Chancellor marks the half-way point in the British government’s tenure on office. At this stage, the assessment is that it has unambiguously failed in its mandate and its now transparent attack on the poor is the only thing that is obvious. All that can be said is that the half-way mark is gone and the national election draws nearer every day. The pity is that the display by British Labour, in their response to the Autumn Statement, was worse than pathetic. They better hurry up with alternative policy development, which doesn’t include proposing deficit cuts that are more “humane” than the current Government’s approach.
The British Office of National Statistics published the latest National Accounts data for the third-quarter 2012 yesterday, which showed a modest burst of growth, consumer driven via the Olympic Games. It is a temporary spike in a downward trend. I will consider the growth data another day. It follows the release last week (November 21, 2012) of the latest – Public Sector Finances – for October 2012, which demonstrates why fiscal austerity is self-defeating. By failing to acknowledge that when non-government sector spending is insufficient to drive economic growth at levels sufficient to reduce unemployment there is a need for increased discretionary government net spending to support growth, the British government not only is creating an increasing economic malaise but failing to achieve its own (mindless) targets – a reduction in the deficit and outstanding public debt. The lesson is that fiscal austerity is self-defeating on all counts – the things that matter (the real economy including unemployment) and the things that don’t matter (financial ratios).
The British economy has entered a double-dip recession as a result of aggregate spending slowdowns driven by a pessimistic private domestic sector, a poor net exports outlook and the increasing impacts of the fiscal austerity. The result has been that unemployment is stuck at its elevated levels and will likely rise in the coming year if the government doesn’t change its tack. However, the official data released last week by the UK Office of National Statistics (see link below) shows us that if you are employed in Britain at present the chances of losing one’s job are slim. It is rising but still very small. What the gross flows data allows us to appreciate is that the much-focused on unemployment rate does not tell us about the chances that are worker will remain in that state, become employed or leave the labour force. Even those the risk of an employed person becoming unemployed is low, it still remains that the chances of an unemployed person remaining so is higher and significantly higher than before the recession. This is because the net flows into employment are too low relative to the labour force growth. This blog is the first of a few which attempts to encourage people to look deeper into the statistics and gain a wider appreciation of what is happening in the labour market. I will write more on it in further blogs when I have more time.
I am in working in Seoul all day today and then rushing to the airport to get back to Sydney – so this blog has to be quick. When I saw the headline in the UK Telegraph (October 20, 2012) – A rude awakening for those who refuse to play by the rules – I thought it could have referred to the British government who are intent on defying the rules of responsible fiscal policy by pursuing pro-cyclical austerity and who are seeing the unfolding problems that their policies were generating. I didn’t really think that but it should have been referring to the abandonment of proper fiscal practice in the UK. Upon reading the article I learned it was about the British government – in that it was written by the Minister for Employment. The article was like deja vu for me and the message was one that Australians will be familiar with. It said that the unemployed are in that state because they game the “most generous” system of support and benefits that the UK provides to its citizens. Forget about the lack of jobs. The smokescreen descends – the victims become the perpetrators.
As a researcher one learns to be circumspect in what one says until the results are firm and have been subjected to some serious stress testing (whatever shape that takes). This is especially the case in econometric analysis where the results can be sensitive to the variables used (data etc), the form of the estimating equation(s) deployed (called the functional form), the estimation technique used and more. If one sees the results varying significantly when variations in the research design then it is best to conduct further analysis before making any definitive statements. The IMF clearly don’t follow this rule of good professional practice. They inflict their will on nations – via bullying and cash blackmail – waving long-winded “Outlooks” or “Memorandums” with all sorts of modelling and graphs to give their ideological demands a sense of (unchallengeable) authority before they are even sure of the validity of the underlying results they use to justify their conclusions. And when they are wrong – which in this case means that millions more might be unemployed or impoverished – or more children might have died – they produce further analysis to say they were wrong but we just need to do more work. So who is going to answer for their culpability?
I am “on the road” again today so short of time (as usual). But yesterday, Eurostat released the latest labour force data from the EU and the Eurozone for the month of August 2012. It showed that the labour market continues to deteriorate and youth unemployment in some countries is heading into unprecedented territory. I have examined various speeches that representatives of the Troika have made when discussing fiscal austerity over the last few years and I have failed to find any specific reference to the the labour market collapse. There is lots of talk about fiscal consolidation and the need to maintain confidence with the “investors” (the bond market recipients of corporate welfare). But very little focus on the real human tragedy – which is epitomised by the rising joblessness. There is a huge disconnect operating between the policy makers and the people. I saw something of the way the European policy makers live and interact during my recent trip to Brussels. They should get out more and travel to Greece and see what is happening on the street where there are now more than 55 per cent of the 15-24 year olds unemployed – and without very many future prospects.
It is a public holiday in NSW today – Labour Day – to celebrate the 8-hour day although for many workers that victory is now a thing of the past as labour market deregulation bites harder on the hard-won conditions that workers enjoyed during the full employment period. I am also ailing (with “the bug” that is “going around”) and I have two major pieces of work to finish (one completed this morning). There is also a birthday in my immediate family and so I am partying tonight (in relative terms). So all that means a shortish blog. I was giving a talk in Perth last week about the absurdity of state (non-currency issuing) governments running down public infrastructure because they refuse to borrow all in the name of preserving their AAA credit rating from the corrupt ratings agencies. The obvious question seems to evade people – why have AAA credit rating if you refuse to borrow. The ridiculousness of the ratings game raised its head again last week when one of the ratings agencies threatened to downgrade the British Government’s rating. It is clear that the agency is probably needing a revenue boost so tried to attract some publicity. If I was the Chancellor I would have told them to buzz off and to stress how irrelevant they really are. But the reaction was typical – angst and worry. For what? Nothing. The only thing it demonstrated was how mislead the public are and how mindless this “dark age” that we are living through at present really is.
I am in Perth today speaking at a public service employees union congress. The talk is based on a major report we have just finished tracking the implications of public spending cutbacks in Australia on the volume and quality of public service delivery. We did several case studies – one of which was child protection – and the cutbacks will lead to increased child abuse in Australia without doubt. The story is pretty grim and I will write about it once the Report is made public by the commissioning party. But with travel (Perth is a long flight from anywhere and I have to get back to Newcastle tonight – 6 hours) and commitments I haven’t much time to wax lyrical on my blog. But I have been meaning to write about the upcoming Scottish referendum on independence from Britain and it fits a nice theme with yesterday’s blog – The demise of social democratic parties – they are all neo-liberals now – where I argued that good intentions come to naught if the economic policy paradigm used is erroneous. I would recommend the Scots vote yes at the 2014 referendum. But only if they introduce their own unpegged, floating currency and avoid any talk of joining the Eurozone. Further, the yes vote should be conditional on the government committing itself to achieving full employment on the back of their newly created currency sovereignty. Then the yes vote will improve welfare for the Scottish people. If they continue to use the British pound – then nothing will be gained.
It will be a relatively short blog today as I am off travelling again. Yes, I was home one day! Real GDP gaps, which measure the extent to which economies are producing below their potential (indicated by full employment of labour and existing capital resources), remain large across many of the large advanced economies. That means one thing – current output growth is not strong enough given the real resources available to these nations. It means another thing – that potential growth will start to fall as investments in productive capital and human capital falters as a result of the lack of demand for current output. Given current capacity (labour and capital), the utilisation of it depends on spending and spending alone. That means another thing. Policies that deliberately undermine the current demand for output will not help economies to exit this crisis. So the only debate worth having is how to stimulate spending and that leaves all the discussions about the need for fiscal austerity on the sidelines of irrelevance. At what point will the economists supporting austerity realise that?