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There is nothing good in today’s labour force data

The glow from last week’s National Accounts figures is now gone with the yesterday’s Retail Sales data and today’s Labour Force data showing that the Australian economy is far from being healthy and might better be termed hanging on by the skin of its teeth with strong fiscal support. The data also confirms why I am now calling this the underemployment recession. I could use this blog to show further flaws in the Austrian School’s approach to the labour market but I will leave that theme until another time.

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    Retail sales – a story within a story

    Today the retail sales data came out in Australia and showed a 1.0 per cent fall in the month of July and the beginnings of a declining trend (2 negative months in a row). Many economists are seeing this as a sign that the impacts of the fiscal stimulus packages have come to a screaming halt and all we have left for our troubles is a public debt burden that will kill our kids and pets. While the fall-off in retail activity is a problem I don’t think we are about to follow the US path into temporary oblivion. Further, debates about retail sales allow me to extend my Austrian theme. Attack dogs on the ready!

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      Stock-flow consistent macro models

      Many readers keep calling for my views on Austrian economics. Apparently when pushing what we might call the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) view they get hit with a barrage of Austrian school criticism along the lines that statism is dread and that by privatising everything you will improve the human condition. My first thought when I get E-mails like this is to wonder where my readers hang out in their spare time! I wasn’t aware that the Austrian school was anything more than a cobbled together bunch about as large as the modern monetary school (laughing). Anyway, I am taking the request seriously and as a start I present some background – some modern monetary armaments. We are going to war.

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        How much difference do the GDP forecasts make?

        Some readers of yesterday’s blog – Why we need more fiscal stimulus, noted that I used IMF estimates of the real GDP growth over the next three years, which have been criticised for being too pessimistic relative the the RBA and the Treasury. They asked me to briefly summarise what the difference would be to the projections if the more optimistic RBA and Treasury forecasts were deployed. This short blog shows you that it doesn’t make much difference in terms of the evolution in unemployment and total labour utilisation. It is all bad.

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          Why we need more fiscal stimulus

          It is clear that next year’s federal election will be based on the deficit-debt-waste agenda, if the mounting calls for the federal government to cut back net spending now to avoid us drowning in a mountain of debt are any guide. However, the political rhetoric is at odds with the major forecasts (such as the OECD and IMF) which confirm that the stimulus packages must not be wound back. The fact that the IMF and OECD are saying that is some endorsement given their neo-liberal credentials. Today, I thought I would do some digging to construct some of my own scenarios. This is what I came up.

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            One good reason for the government to remain in office

            In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the Opposition Shadow Treasurer revealed two things. First, he doesn’t know a thing about economics and would be dangerous in that position should he ever get the chance. Second, he is prepared to say anything to undermine the government whether he understands it or not. What it tells me is that this is a pretty good reason for the current government to stay in power! Spare that thought.

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              Gold price surge … what is it about?

              Mostly, financial markets (the wealth shuffling casino) and the real economy (where people live and work) run as parallel universes. But occasionally as in the case of the GFC morphing into a full-blown real crisis with massive income and job losses the two merge. In many cases the merger is driven by a poor understanding of the way the fiat monetary system operates. As a consequence we get decisions taking by the gamblers (they prefer to be called speculators – it sounds better) based on faulty analysis of how the econmy works, pushing asset prices up (or down) which in turn affect the way governments are reacting to the “real crisis”. The surge in gold prices in the last few days might be an example of that.

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                Negative interest rates – QE gone mad

                On July 8, 2009 a world first occurred in Sweden when the Swedish Riksbank (its central bank) made announced that its deposit interest rate would be set at minus 0.25. While this has set the cat among the pidgeons around the financial markets, it is a classic example of “central banking gone crazy” or more politely “quantitative easing on steroids”. The only problem is that performance enhancing drugs seem to make athletes ride or run faster. This move will do very little to make the Swedish economy increase output or employ more people. For a background to my analysis on this event in central banking history you might like to read my blog – Quantitative Easing 101.

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                  GDP is growing but further stimulus is required

                  So today’s National Accounts data offers us a rear-vision mirror view of where the Australian was between April and June of this year. To some extent events have overtaken the relevance of this information. More recent news in the past week indicates that right now we are even further advanced in recovery than the June National Accounts data is indicating. But be warned. Not everything is what it seems to be.

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