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Australian households running down savings and in a race to go broke

A short blog post today as it is Wednesday. I have also been travelling a lot and have been reading a lot. And have been otherwise distracted. But I thought this information was worth writing a few paragraphs about for the record. Last week, I wrote a blog post – The fundamental realignment of British society via fiscal austerity (July 30, 2018) – about some of the more unsavoury impacts of the British government’s austerity push. I highlighted how the current growth strategy was precarious because it was reliant on the private domestic sector accumulating increasing debt to maintain consumption growth at a time when the external sector was draining growth, private investment was weak and the government was hell bent on cutting services and infrastructure investment. The ONS data shows that “UK households have seen their outgoings surpass their income for the first time in nearly 30 years” and they “are borrowing more and saving less”. A recipe for disaster. A report published in Australia late last week – 14th Household Financial Comfort Report (August 2018) – provides “in-depth and critical insights into the financial situation of Australians based on a survey of 1,500 households”. It is not a pretty story and demonstrates the global uniformity of the neoliberal approach, which is characterised on ever increasing private debt and falling commitments to sustain public services. The GFC only temporarily interrupted this agenda that aims to reverse decades of gains for workers and their families under social democratic governments.

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Framing matters – the unemployed and the farmers

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?

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CEO pay binge in Australia continues while workers’ wages growth remains flat

The headlines in the last week summarised the inherent inadequacy of capitalism for most of us who depend on real wages growth to enhance our material standard of living in economies that are growing. The latest report from the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors released on Thursday (July 17, 2018) – CEO Pay in ASX200 Companies: 2017 – shows how unfair and unsustainable the income distribution is in Australia. Australian CEOs were fully committed to the ‘greed is good’ binge leading up to the GFC along with their peers across the globe. The GFC interrupted that ‘party’, albeit temporarily. As the emergency environment that surrounded the business community during the GFC abated as a result of extensive government support (bailouts, stimulus packages, etc), the managerial class in Australia has returned attention to its on-going ‘national income grab’. The Report shows that in 2017, CEO pay reached its highest level in 17 years and the managerial class enjoyed real growth in pay at a time when the average worker is enduring either flat to negative growth in pay. Further, overall economic growth in Australia is being driven by increased non-government indebtedness as real wages growth (what there is of it) lags well behind productivity growth. And, at the same time, the Federal Government is intent on pursuing an austerity policy stance. All these trends are similar to the dynamics we experienced in the lead-up to the GFC. They are unsustainable. A major shift in income distribution away from capital towards workers has to occur before a sustainable future is achieved.

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The Weekend Quiz – August 4-5, 2018 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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It is (way past) time to dissolve the disastrous EMU experiment

Sometimes there is clarity. Like when the Koch brothers-funded report on US health care came up with the ‘wrong’ conclusion – that is the right conclusion – $US2 trillion dollars worth of right conclusion. And like when a hard-core German economist breaks ranks and lays out the case for scrapping the Eurozone. Clarity. In the past week there have been some notable contributions to the debate about the viability of the Eurozone. Two German academics, coming from opposite directions, basically reach the same conclusion – the EMU is dysfunctional and prone to crisis and poor outcomes. And then in the same week, a third German, an economist basically breaks ranks with the Europhile reform lobby (neoliberal though it is) and sets out in fairly clear terms how the distrust between Member States is so high that reforms will always be cheated on and the intent derailed. He opposes the creation of a federal fiscal capacity because weak nations would overstate the extent of recession to get more money. Further, more money would be forthcoming to these nations as a perverse ‘reward’ for failing to deregulate their labour markets. His arguments demonstrate without doubt why functional reforms will not be possible in the EMU. It is time (way past that) to dissolve the disastrous experiment in an orderly manner.

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The government is not a household and imports are still a benefit

It is Wednesday and so a shorter blog post today while I spend more time writing other things. But there was one issue that was raised in the comments in the last week following my blog post – Build it in Britain is just sensible logic (July 26, 2018) – that I thought warranted attention. The government is not a household is a core Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proposition because it separates the currency issuer from the currency user and allows us to appreciate the constraints that each has on its spending capacities. In the case of a household, there are both real and financial resource constraints which limit its spending and necessitate strategies being put in place to facilitate that spending (getting income, running down savings, borrowing, selling assets). In the case of a currency-issuing government the only constraints beyond the political are the available real resource that are for sale in that currency. Beyond that, the government sector thus assumes broad responsibilities as the currency issuer, which are not necessarily borne by individual consumers. Its objectives are different. Which brings trade into the picture. Another core MMT proposition is that imports are a benefit and exports are a cost. So why would I support Jeremy Corbyn’s Build it in Britain policy, which is really an import competing strategy? Simple, the government is not a household.

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