At present, Europe is sweltering in both relative and absolute terms as the harsh summer ensues. In Australia, we are in drought after an unseasonably warm and dry Autumn. Drought is no stranger to Australia but the frequency and circumstances of the current period coupled with what is going on around Europe (including the cold spell I was caught up in Finland in February while the North Pole struggled with heat) tells us that weather patterns are changing. There is now credible research pointing in that direction. But the drought in Australia is demonstrating another thing – the hypocrisy of the way we deal with unemployment and the unemployed vis-a-vis other groups in society that we endow with higher privilege, especially in this neoliberal era. Australia is experiencing a serious drought and Federal and State governments are tripping over each other to offer very large support packages to farmers and their communities to tide them over while their income dries up (excuse the pun). There appears to be no limit to the support these governments are announcing. The Prime Minister is wandering around rural Australia promising this and that to help farmers make ends meet. Whenever I see these special assistance packages being handed out to the rural sector, which is politically well-organised, I reflect on the plight of the unemployed. With unemployment at elevated levels in Australia, the decision to hand out economic largesse to the farmers reeks of inconsistency. The unemployed have diminishing chances of getting a job at present and the income support provided by government is well below the poverty line. That poverty gap is increasing and the Government refuses to increase the benefit claiming fiscal incapacity. The comparison of the vastly different way the government treats farmers relative to unemployed highlights, once again, that the way we construct a problem significantly affects the way we seek to solve it. The neo-liberal era has intensified these inconsistencies which have undermined the capacity of public policy to achieve its purpose – to improve the welfare of all citizens. The research question is: Why do we tolerate such inconsistent ways of thinking about policy problems and their solutions?
There was an article in the International Politics and Society journal (August 27, 2017) – Robin Hood had the right idea – which continues to demonstrate, how in my view, the Left has gone down a deadend path with respect to financial market reform and re-establishing a credible progressive agenda. The sub-title of the article ‘Why the left needs to deliver on the financial transaction tax’ indicates that the author, Stephany Griffith-Jones, who has long advocated positions I am sympathetic to (particularly with respect to development economics), thinks a financial tax is a viable strategy for the Left to push. The problem is that none of these ‘Robin Hood solutions’ are viable and are based on faulty understandings of the way monetary systems operate.
In the September-quarter 2016, Australia recorded negative GDP growth (-0.5 per cent). Over the last two years, employment growth has been flat and over the last 12 months, full-time employment has dived. Underemployment has risen sharply while unemployment remains at elevated levels and participation at depressed levels (meaning hidden unemployment has risen). And over the last four quarters, wages growth in Australia has been at record lows. Sounds bad. Well for some – make that most of us. But yesterday, the ABS shone a light on one cohort of income recipients – capital – profits rose in the December-quarter by 20.1 per cent. What? And wages fell by 0.5 per cent. Phew, I thought there might be some sharing of the spoils going on – you know, the top-end-of-town letting the workers in on the action a bit. This data comes as Australian workers are being shafted by rises in energy prices as a consequence of large companies, many foreign-owned, being given carte blanche to our national energy resources. A major union’s response today has been to call for a gas reservation policy to guarantee domestic supply (which is waning as we export our heads off). Unfortunately, while the call appears to be based on reason – lower prices, guarantees to local industry etc – any move to a domestic reservation policy would slow down the shift to renewables and just shift profits from export to import operations. It is not the sort of regulation that a progressive should support.
Australia is suffering the conjunction of a number of events in recent weeks which demonstrate the poverty of the neo-liberal approach that governments on both sides of the political fence have followed over the last three decades. Electricity prices are rising and the governments have bowed to pressure from the power companies to end the favourable feed-in tariffs that promoted the widespread adoption of solar power by households. Further, our climate change denying federal government has seized on recent power outages in South Australia to attack that state’s accelerated move to renewable energy. The federal government claims it validates its decision to back coal (and they are planning to provide $A1 billion to the Adani group to build transport infrastructure for a new coal development that will never be economic. The problem with the federal narrative is that in the extreme weather Australia is now enduring (very prolonged hot spells with major bush fires) the state with about the lowest renewable mix in its electricity also had to cut power late last week. Further investigation shows that the privatised electricity generating sector has been deliberately manipulating the supply of power (maintaining spare capacity) to exploit price spikes while the captive regulator turns off power to thousands of homes and businesses. Profits before public service – that is what privatisation has delivered. And then, we have to put up with a rising ‘star’ treasurer who thinks government infrastructure spending is unfair to future generations and more privatisation is required. It is best not to put all this together – it is not good for one’s equanimity.
Its my Friday lay day. This week I have written a few (very) long blogs on what I consider to be significant topics. I have been writing on topics that have a direct bearing on what is happening within the British Labour Party over the last few weeks as a way of providing an economic knowledge base for activists who wish to defend their position against the attacks from the Tory-lites (New Labour). Anyway, after a few days of heavy writing I am not going to write much today (in blog space) and will fill this blog up with music, advertisements, promotions and a cartoon. But there is an issue that has come up this week in Australia which goes to the heart of the neo-liberal attack on our democratic rights which I can write about succinctly. The decision by a court to overturn an approval for a coalmine development has caused our neo-liberal government to go into ‘conniptions’ and accuse community groups of being “radical green activists” engaging in “vigilante litigation”. Read on to learn how the neo-liberal way is that when the government is caught acting outside the law to help their corporate business mates the solution is simple – change the law to make it easier for business to bypass acceptable approval processes.
Earlier this week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published its – Global Summary Information – June 2015 – which reported that in the period January to June 2015, the globally-averaged land and sea surface temperatures were the highest for those months since the data was first collected in 1880 (135 years). I am not a climate change expert but the array of data that I have looked at from a statistical perspective tells me that what the experts are saying with respect to global warming and climate change is probably correct – it is happening and it is happening relatively quickly. The conservative Australian government remains in denial of the global trends with respect to climate change. It is introduced various policies that have made us a national disgrace – such as, abandoning the mining and cut taxes introduced by the previous government, defunding a research institute set up to provide information about climate change, and instructing a public ‘Green Bank’ to not fund wind or solar projects. This week, the government has been castigated by a British Tory MP, who said that its approach to climate change was not that of a ‘conservative government’ and bordered on delusion. But the most important piece of data this week has been the latest figures from China that show that dramatic restructuring away from coal consumption is rapidly taking place which will undermine the viability of the Australian coal sector in the coming decade. So the ‘market’ is going to force change in Australia when it would be much better for government to plan an orderly transition away from coal.
Regular readers will know that I am pro-growth – economic growth that is. I get criticised for saying that by Greens and such because they only consider GDP growth within their own economic paradigm, which is tainted, if only subconsciously, by neo-liberal conceptions of enterprise and employment. I would say that I am as Green as anyone but also understand that being engaged in employment is a basic human endeavour. I also agree that our usual conceptions of gainful employment – working for a capitalist to make them profits – will typically not place the ‘greenness’ of the jobs as a priority, and will, in many cases involved environmentally destructive resource use. The key to disengaging growing employment and hence, economic growth, from activities that are environmentally destructive is to redefine what we mean by productive and useful employment. But, there is also evidence that within the mainstream world of markets, private firms are starting to disengage the link between energy use and economic growth. But will that be enough? This blog is just sketching my own catchup on the latest energy use data. You might find it interesting.
Last week, the national broadcaster ABC’s Media Watch program – Up in Smoke – took aim at the Murdoch press (in particular, the Australian newspaper) for misleading reporting. The News Limited rag (it is barely that) has been running a campaign via headline claiming that Australia’s world leading laws on plain packaging of tobacco products have failed. Of-course, News Limited is just the conduit. Lying behind the headlines are rather secretive right-wing think tanks who pump out propaganda every day which aims to undermine government intervention and activity in favour of the industrial and other interests that just happen to fund the propaganda. These organisations hold themselves out as being non-partisan and independent – only offering an evidence-based viewpoint. The only problem is they clearly do jobs for bobs and manipulate ‘evidence’ to the point of absurdity.
I have very little time again today so I will have to type quickly. Yesterday, the Australian government announced it has scrapped its proposed $15 per tonne carbon price floor as part of the new Carbon Tax that it brought into law in July 2012. With the introduction of the carbon price in July 2012, the biggest polluters pay $A23 per tonne for the carbon they emit. The Government plans to allow this system (the Carbon Tax) to evolve into an emissions trading scheme (ETS) on July 1, 2015 so that instead of setting the price for carbon the government will set the quotas and let the market set the price. Yesterday, the Government made one significant change to their proposed 2015 move to an ETS. It announced that from July 1, 2015, Australia will partially link its carbon pricing system to the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). This move only entrenches the mistakes that are evident in the first proposal. Quite apart from the problems of a pure ETS, the schemes that are proposed are so politically compromised that their “market credentials” vanish. The problem of carbon emissions should be approached via rules-based regulation rather than a half-cocked neo-liberal market-based solution which will reward big polluters, lawyers and hedge funds.
Just when you thought that the Australian Government’s response to climate change – the proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS) which promises to generously exempt or compensate the heavy polluters – was bad enough, it was announced today that it will also now indefinitely exclude agriculture from the ETS. The decision is purely political as was the earlier decision to exempt agriculture until 2015. All the Government is doing is appeasing the Opposition so that it can get the legislation through the Senate. The Opposition recently revealed that the majority of their parliamentarians deny there is a climate change problem. Why would you want to trade concessions with them? But the fundamental problem lies in the fact that the neo-liberal market-based paradigm is a totally unsuitable framework for dealing with climate change.