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Australian labour market in dire straits

At present, the pandemic is causing massive fluctuations in the labour force aggregates to the point that it is very difficult to know more than that things a bad even when conventional indicators would normally be moving in a direction that would lead to the opposite conclusion. Today (September 16, 2021), the Australian Bureau of Statistics put out the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for August 2021. The background is that the entire East Coast is in or has been in lockdown over the last few months and for the two largest labour markets (NSW and Victoria) that lockdown has been very tight. The August 2021 data reveals that the longer NSW lockdown is now impacting heavily on employment growth. Employment, working hours, and participation are now falling sharply and we have the situation where unemployment and the unemployment rate is falling because the labour force is declining faster than employment. Of course that just means that the workers who would normally have been counted as officially unemployed as they lost jobs are now outside the labour force – and we consider them to be hidden unemployed. Their participation decline is because employment opportunities have collapsed. The more stable ratio – the Employment-to-Population ratio fell by 0.8 points in August, which is a massive shift for one month. The situation will get worse in September. So while the unemployment rate might be falling the situation is dire. The lack of any significant stimulus from the federal government is telling. There is now definite evidence that further and rather massive fiscal support is required. The lack of support is one reason low-paid workers in high infection rate areas are still mobile – looking for work etc and spreading the virus further.

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    Monetary policy is not effective in dealing with a pandemic – it must support active fiscal policy

    It’s Wednesday and I have now settled back into my office after being stuck away from home for 9 weeks as a result of border closures between Victoria and NSW. So I am reverting back to the usual Wednesday pattern of limited writing, although today, the topic is worthy of some extended narrative. Before we get to the swamp blues music segment, I am analysing a speech made by the RBA governor yesterday on the role of monetary policy during a pandemic, whether low interest rates are driving house prices too high, and, what should be done about that. The conclusion is that he supports better use of fiscal policy – sustaining supportive fiscal deficits and dealing with the distortions that are contributing to high housing prices, via amendments to taxation (eliminating incentives for high income earners to buy multiple properties) and public infrastructure policies (more social housing).

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      Travelling music

      The Covid situation in Australia has deteriorated in recent months after the conservative NSW government allowed it to spread (after a lax approach to quarantine – privatising the service). For the last 9 weeks or so I have been stuck in another state, away from home, and wondering when I could get back across the border again. Well yesterday I finally acquired a travel permit to cross the border between NSW and Victoria and 10 hours later (by car) I am now back at home. So I am catching up on things this afternoon (with two computer monitors – yeah) and there will be no formal blog post. But there is some music. Back tomorrow.

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        Remembering Tuesday, September 11

        Last Saturday, September 11, we observed the anniversary of a terrible terrorist act, inflicted on a free people with a democratically-elected government by multinational conspiratorial forces. The terrorist attack happened on a Tuesday. It resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people and the offenders have never been brought to justice. We should etch that day – Tuesday, September 11, 1973 – in our consciences, especially if you are an American, British or Australian citizen, given the culpability of our respective governments in that despicable coup d’etat. Today, a bit of a different blog post as I remember this historical event and the way it undermined progressive thought for years. The type of economic policies introduced by Pinochet on advice from the ‘Chicago Boys’ became the standard approach for even the traditional social democratic parties in the 1980s and beyond. We still haven’t abandoned the macroeconomic ideology that accompanies this approach. And Chile, 1973, was the live laboratory. Yes, the Blairites and the Delors-types and the American Democrats, etc don’t chuck inconvenient people out of planes in the ocean to get rid of them like Pinochet did on a daily basis, but the macroeconomics invoked is not that different.

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          The Weekend Quiz – September 11-12, 2021 – 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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            The Weekend Quiz – September 11-12, 2021

            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.

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              NSW fails to control Covid (incompetence) and the labour market contracts sharply across the nation

              There were two significant data releases from the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week that provide information about the state of the labour market – both in the short-term and also in terms of longer-term trends. The first release (September 8, 2021) – Labour Account Australia – June 2021 – is a quarterly dataset that allows us to tie together information about employment, persons, hours and payments. The second release today (September 9, 2021) is the – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia – Week ending August 14, 2021 – which is Australian Tax Office data that provides a much more current view of how the labour market is performing. That snapshot is especially valuable given the on-going tight lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne and the impact they are having on employment and wages.

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                European growth positive but weak

                It’s Wednesday, so just a few items that have passed me by this week. Eurostat published the latest national accounts data yesterday (September 7, 2021) that reveals that key Eurozone states are still lagging behind where they were before the pandemic. In some cases (Italy and Spain), they hadn’t even got back to pre-GFC levels of activity before the pandemic stuck. So a double hit to these nations in the space of a decade or so. That damage will be immense and demonstrates once again the dysfunctional nature of the currency union. Then I consider the latest nonsense from the Business Council of Australia – which is just a special pleading organisation for the top-end-of-town. They think it is time to go back to the deficits are bad narrative (except when their members are receiving corporate welfare that is). And to calm down after that we have some jazz, of course.

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                  As the mainstream paradigm breaks down

                  On September 2, 2021, the Head of the BIS Monetary and Economic Department, Claudio Borio gave an address – Back to the future: intellectual challenges for monetary policy = at the University of Melbourne. The Bank of International Settlements is owned by 63 central banks and provides various functions “to support central banks’ pursuit of monetary and financial stability through international cooperation”. His speech covers a range of topics in relation to the conduct of monetary policy but its importance is that it marks a clear line between the way the mainstream conceive of the role and effectiveness of the central bank and the view taken by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists. I discuss those issues in this blog post.

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                    US labour market recovery stalling

                    Last Friday (September 3, 2021), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2021 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 235,000 jobs in August and a 0.2 points decline in the official unemployment rate to 5.2 per cent. The results suggest that the labour market recovery has slowed quite significantly. The US labour market is still 5,333 thousand jobs short from where it was at the end of February 2020, which helps to explain why there are no fundamental wage pressures emerging.

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