It’s Wednesday and I am catching up on other writing commitments. But I have been examining the latest – Google Mobility Reports – to assess the differences between NSW and Victoria during this latest COVID crisis that has befallen Australia. The results are not particularly robust in terms of statistical benchmarks, rather, being eyeballing exercises, but they do tell and interest story about life in Australia and the cultural differences that lie on either side of the border between our two largest states. And, as usual on a Wednesday, I get out of writing by offering music.
It’s Wednesday and I have been tied up most of the day with commitments. So we will have to be content today with a couple of snippets. The first about the on-going inflation mania and the way in which the ECB seems oblivious to it. The second about the gross incompetence of the Australia government, who has put the health of the nation at risk and forced state governments to invoke rolling lockdowns as only a small number of us are vaccinated and cases keep seeping out of a flawed quarantine system (the latter being the federal responsibility). And once the anger subsides from that little discussion, we have the usual Wednesday music offering to restore peace.
Today is just a number-crunching exercise, which I conducted to allow me to understand where the employment losses and gains in the Australian labour market since the onset of the pandemic. The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force data, which I analysed in this blog post – Australian labour market – stronger as working age population flattens out (June 17, 2021) – revealed that total employment in Australia is now above the February 2020 level by 130.2 thousand (1.0 per cent). I noted that some sectors are still languishing while others are rebounding strongly. I had to wait a week before the detailed industrial level employment data was released and today’s blog post is a brief view of that data to ascertain which sectors (and sub-sectors) are in the ‘languishing’ category and which have rebounded. This is also important for assessing any impending inflation risk from the employment growth. There is always a motivation for doing this boring type of number analysis.
In the aftermath of the 1991 recession, which was the worst economic downturn in Australia since the Great Depression of the 1930s, I wrote a series of articles that we published in academic journals. In part, they were theoretical pieces that conjectured about the impact of rapid population growth on the labour market, which at the time was characterised by persistently high unemployment and rising underemployment (the recession had replaced full-time with part-time work). My conjecture was that high rates of immigration at a time of slow employment growth would lock unemployed workers into long-term unemployment. Of course, I could not test that proposition because the government maintained the relatively high immigration levels and other factors might have been responsible for the rising long-term unemployment. Last week’s Australian Labour Force data showed that unemployment and the unemployment rate has fallen rather quickly in recent months as the economy recovers slowly from the pandemic recession. Historical comparisons show the unemployment response this time has been much larger than in the previous recessions. The other key point is that the working age population has grown at historically low rates as a result of the border closures. It seems that my conjectures in the early 1990s were correct, despite getting flack at the time from mainstream economists who were pushing the line that immigration is always good for the labour market.
Today, we have a guest blogger in the guise of Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time. Today he is continuing his discussions around the uneven regional impacts of job losses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. So while I am tied up today it is over to Scott …
Don’t say its over until its over. There has been progress in the macroeconomics narrative since the GFC, which accelerated during the pandemic. Governments have certainly expanded fiscal deficits and taken on more debt and the usual hysteria, which many of those same governments helped to ferment in the public debate, has fallen away. Obviously, for political reasons, a government that has previously been terrorising the population about the dangers of deficits and rising debt as a cover for ideologically-driven austerity programs, has no incentive in continuing those narratives while they have been dragged into maintaining capitalism on life support. The question has been whether these narratives will return once the health emergency starts to fade a little. There is clear evidence emerging that the lessons that the pandemic has taught us are not being absorbed by the economics commentariat, who dominate the public space with their opinions. Two clear examples of this came out this week (already) in the Australian press, which replicates the sort of commentary I am increasingly seeing around the globe. Deeply sad.
Last week (April 29, 2021), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product, First Quarter 2021 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that the US economy grew by 1. The following day (April 30, 2021), saw Eurostat announce that the Eurozone contracted by 0.6 per cent in the first-quarter 2021, which means it is now enduring a double-dip recession. The European Union, now without Britain as a member, contracted by 0.4 per cent. In contrast, with Britain now out of that mess and determining its own future, we saw the British economy return a positive GDP growth rate in February as exports rose and government stimulus sustained domestic activity. Why should we be surprised about this. In this post, I examine the US situation in more detail and reflect on some interesting trends in the UK. The Eurozone situation is too depressing to write about on a sunny day!
The IMF recently updated their – World Economic Outlook database – April 2021 – which allows for quick cross country comparisons. Some of the data series are suspect (like structural deficit estimates) for reasons that I have explained before, but many of the national accounts series are useful. I have been doing work on the relative responses to the pandemic and the impact on economic performance as well as researching the next chapter of one of the current book chapters. So today, I just present some interesting graphs and calculations. Nothing deep but the figures then provoke some deep thinking. The lessons are pretty clear: Covid elimination strategies protect health and the economy better; Austerity is highly damaging; and there is a massive shift in the world order going on and we should be learning from that. And all of the trends I examine are ultimately the result of political choices. That is the important point to keep in mind.
Australia was established a federation in 1901 after being a collection of colonies after the British consficated the land space from the indigenous population that had been here for more than 30,000 years. In 1916, the Australian government as one of the important early initiatives in establishing Australia as a nation under white rule created the – Commonwealth Serum Laboratories – as a national manufacturer of vaccines. Its early priorities was to produce antivenom to deal with snake bites, insulin and tetanus vaccines, and, later, vaccines for diptheria, whooping cough, and polio. It became a leader in manufacturing blood products for HIV and more. It was a jewel in Australia’s crown, guaranteeing that we could deal with the dangerous human conditions with our own capacity and without being held ransom by profit-seeking corporations. In 1994, the Labor government privatised the public body, claiming it did not have sufficient funds to update some equipment. The Government has now contracted this private corporation (CSL) to the tune of $A1.7 billion to supply the AstraZeneca vaccine, while at the same time, refusing to provide pandemic support to workers in the arts and university sectors.
One of the problems of neoliberalism is that it is anti-people. This makes it hard for governments to actually impose austerity and so they work out ways to lessen the visibility of their pernicious policy choices, except if you are in Greece that is. The ways they deflect the political fall out are many and include use the depoliticisation strategy – like appealing to TINA demands from external bodies such as the IMF (circa British Labour Party 1976), claiming central banks are independent, and hacking into expenditure items that delay recognition in the public eye that damage is being done. This blog post focuses on the latter. I have been studying the shifts in government spending in the European Union since the GFC and it is apparent that final consumption expenditure and outlays on social benefits have not been the focus of the austerity to the same extent as government spending on capital formation (public infrastructure). It is much harder politically for governments to cut recurrent spending because it usually impacts on people straight away. Cut a pension and the hurt is visible. Cut lots of pensions and there is a political problem. But cutting back on public infrastructure is less visible and the damage takes time to manifest as the depreciation process sets in, maintenance delayed and additional new capacity is lagging. But make no mistake – cutting capital spending undermines the future productivity of the nation and paves the way for a diminished future for our grandkids, the very ones, mainstream economists claim they are protecting by advocating austerity.