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.
On November 11, 2020, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published a very interesting new experimental dataset – Non-Discretionary and Discretionary Inflation – which was derived from the standard Consumer Price Index data. It provided us with new insights and a richer knowledge of the impacts of inflation, particularly in distributional terms. Last month (May 25, 2021), the ABS published a followup article – Measuring Non-discretionary and Discretionary Inflation – which summarised some of the key findings. After receiving feedback, the ABS has refined the data series and will publish them on an on-going basis from the September-quarter 2021 as part of the “regular quarterly CPI release”. This new approach to measuring inflation will help us considerably assess the implication of wage movements on the real living standards of Australian workers.
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.
Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
I have been updating my databases in the last few days and getting up to speed on the latest trends. In the past, I developed a set of broad labour market indicators for Australia with colleagues at the – Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE). Our quarterly measures of underemployment were precursors to the Australian Bureau of Statistics measures which are now published on a monthly basis. I was doing some calculations this morning using Eurostat data as part of some research I am doing to assess the inflationary potential that exists in various labour markets. As regular readers will know, my assessment of inflation risk starts in the labour market. Rarely do we encounter a situation where nominal spending outstrips the productive capacity of the economy (a demand-pull inflationary environment). That can occur is specific product segments but rarely overall. History tells us that there has to be some distributional struggle between labour and capital to drive an inflationary spiral. I am out there looking for any evidence of such a struggle. I am not having much success!
It is Wednesday and so a few snippets and some Afrobeat. Today, I briefly discuss a rather extraordinary claim by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia that Australian employers refuse to pay higher wages in an environment where the federal government is biases aggregate policy towards surplus creation, even though that strategy was temporarily disabled during the first year of the pandemic. The overall austerity environment has distorted business decision-making to such an extent that firms are now obsessed with cost control and have forgotten that spending equals income and by encouraging a high wage, high productivity culture, their profits rise as well. Win-Win. At present it is lose-lose.
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.
In my daily data life, I check out movements in commodity prices just to see what is going on. As I wrote recently in my UK Guardian article (June 7, 2021) – Price rises should be short-lived – so let’s not resurrect inflation as a bogeyman – the inflation hysteria has really set in. I provided more detail in this blog post – Price rises should be short-lived – so let’s not resurrect inflation as a bogeyman (June 9, 2021). Yes, I stole the title of my article for the blog post if you are confused. The inflation hysteria really reflects the fact that mainstream economists are ‘lost at sea’ at present given the dissonance between the real world data and the errant predictions from their economic framework. They cannot really understand what is happening so when they see a graph rising it must be inflation and that soothes them because rising deficits and central bank bond purchases have to be inflationary according to their perverted theoretical logic. The financial market press then just repeats the nonsense with very little scrutiny. But given many graphs are falling again, this Pavlovian-type response behaviour must be really doing their heads in. I have no sympathy.
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.