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Treasury boss defending the wrong thing!

Yesterday we had the rather unusual situation of the Treasury Head presenting a robust defence of his Department’s work after various commentators have suggested the forward estimates were flaky to say the least. Overall, it is an amazing exercise given that the issue is about how quickly the federal budget balance will return to surplus. So instead of a robust debate about why the Government is allowing unemployment to blow out and long-term unemployment to become entrenched again, all the hot air is about how quickly the federal government can start trashing the saving capacity of the private sector again. You get some feel for how low brow the debate actually is out there in expert media commentary and interview land by reading the ABC 7.30 Report transcript from last night when the presenter tried to question the Opposition Treasury spokesperson. It was as bad as it gets.

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    Norway and sectoral balances

    Some readers have written in and asked about whether Norway behaves like a modern monetary economy after they read the New York Times article titled Thriving Norway Provides an Economics Lesson. The short answer is yes but this is a case that raises interesting issues about the way the government and non-government sectors interact and how sustained economic growth and high employment can be accompanied by a budget surplus. Yes, it is possible but atypical. In this blog I provide the explanation. We also encounter some very dodgy manipulation of data to push an ideological line! Not good.

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      A new agenda for our union movement

      I was in Sydney today doing various things (see below). It was an interesting day but this morning’s activity gave me some hope that there are community leaders out there who want to fight back and jettison the neo-liberal garbage that is constraining their ability to deliver social equity and job security for their members. My input to the discussion was to tie this in to the macroeconomic debate. These macroeconomic matters – which I write hundreds of thousands of words every year about – really lie at the heart of the problems facing low wage workers and the unemployed. Unless we successfully counter the orthodoxy then tinkering around the edges will be all that we can do. I realise the macroeconomic concepts are difficult to talk about in an accessible way. I also realise that the neo-liberal orthodoxy has been incredibly successful in inculcating notions that the Federal budget is akin to a household budget. Readers of this blog will know it can never be that way. So the challenge for our community leaders is to develop a macro narrative which can permeate the public debate and slowly redefine how we see government; what goals we want the government to pursue (full employment) and how they do business with employers. That is an interesting challenge and I like things like that.

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        A sad place – a $58 billion deficit and soaring unemployment!

        I must have just woken from a bad dream. Did I read this week that the Australian Government will record a deficit of $A58 billion or 4.9 per cent of GDP but are forecasting unemployment will rise from its present parlous level of 5.4 per cent to 8.5 per cent by the middle of 2012? It must be a joke. If it is serious then this lot deserve to be a one-term government not that I have any hope that the alternative (conservative or green) would do any better. They are all caught up in this neo-liberal straitjacket which has been increasingly tightened over the last 30 years and now ensures that our national government will not use its economic policy capacity responsibly. Our current Federal Government not only continues to abandon full employment but is also abandoning the unemployed. What a place!

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          Saturday Quiz – May 16, 2009

          Welcome to the billy blog Saturday quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days.

          See how you go with the following five questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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            Structural deficits – the great con job!

            There has been a lot of talk lately about the need for the Government to plot a course over the coming years back into fiscal surplus. Our perceptions of fiscal responsibility are being conditioned by the relentless media campaign that this is the best thing for the Government to do. We are being told that cyclical deficits are unavoidable at this time but the “structure of the budget” should point us back to surplus as soon as possible. This campaign is being supported by official looking documents that are produced by Treasury (notably the Budget papers) which have all sorts of technical terms in them that only the cognoscenti understand. The term structural deficit is being touted around in these documents and appearing in the opinion columns. But the way this concept is being represented is very misleading and is deliberately being used to obfuscate the lack of intention by this Government to seriously pursue full employment. Well lucky for me I am part of the cognoscenti and cannot be so easily fooled. Here is the truth.

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              The deficit and debt debate

              The ABC News Online business reporter Michael Janda ran this Opinion piece – Economists tackle the deficit and debt debate today. He interviews three economists – myself, Steve Keen (University of Western Sydney) and Stephen Kirchner (Centre of Independent Studies). The discussion is interesting because it demonstrates how the journalists modify what you say to mean something slightly different (no accusation here that it was designed to skew meaning though) and generates the statistic that two out of three economists do not understand how the modern monetary economy works.

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                Flat Earth theory returns – budget aftermath

                Imagine the time when it was the mainstream view that the Earth was flat, representing an infinite plane. The view largely died at around 3 BC but there are still some characters out there who worry about falling off the South Pole. After all the Nile River runs for thousands of kilometres and drops barely a few feet over that distance which doesn’t fit well with convexity does it?

                The current budget period seems to have revitalised the theory – albeit in a different form but just as ingenious. Flat Earth Theory (FET) … say it out aloud! … has morphed into DET. This new branch of FET is now dominating the media. Overnight Generation Y are Generation DET. Young children are now viewing their parents differently – wondering why their greedy, selfish and profligate elders are going to destroy their futures. Experts are coming and going on our national TV and radio warning that we are about to fall over the edge! Well I am staying grounded! Here is the reason why.

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                  The Budget (what else) and a parrot or two

                  Tonight is federal budget night – which presents the most comprehensive picture of where the Government is going with fiscal policy and the Treasury’s estimate of how the economy is travelling. So for a macroeconomist like me it is a biggest night in the annual calendar. But I am more interested in parrots and spotted owls at the moment. What? Yes, I guess it is escapism … to avoid the hysterical public debate that has surrounded this budget. The economic falsehoods, the outright lies, the duplicity and the all of that. But I cannot escape it because I have a newspaper opinion piece to write on the Budget by 20:00 tonight. So, given that, here is my take on the budget and then …. I can get back to the birds!

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                    The size of the deficit should not be the focus

                    I read the headline – Aussies don’t understand deficits: MP – in the Canberra Times with interest and after reading the article I returned to the on-going conversation I have with myself – why have we all been so stupid to have been so duped by the neo-liberal agenda? Almost all the public debate about the Federal Budget tomorrow is a total non sequitur. It bears no relation to the important questions that the Budget process has to deal with. Somehow, we are all sidelined by a rhetoric and a focus that conveniently diverts us away from these real issues and, instead, transfixes us on a piece of fiction. But a convenient fiction which maintains the relative power elites and perpetuates disadvantage. I understand all of that … but I still can’t get my head around why we have allowed ourselves to be so conned.

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