There was a story in The Australian newspaper today entitled RED schemes are good written by a former minister in the Whitlam government in the early 1970s. He was extolling the virtues of the old Regional Employment Development scheme, which was a public works direct job creation scheme. He was suggesting such schemes may again find favour as the recession deepens. The RED scheme was a less generous version of the Job Guarantee and suffered as a result of its modesty. It was never based on any fundamental understanding of a modern monetary economy as as such was always a “defensive” program. Defending itself continually from the conservative, soon-to-be, neo-liberal critics. That made me recall my favourite conservative “put down” term – boondoggling and raking – which is used whenever direct public job creation is mentioned as a possibility. Then I recalled a letter that was written by the previous Federal Employment Minister explaining in 2004 why my Job Guarantee proposal was a crock. One thing followed another …
Today I was looking through annual reports of the Australian Future Fund, which is an example of what is known the world over as a sovereign fund. I have been keeping an eye on the performance of the Future Fund not the least because it is so exposed by its stake in Telstra, which has gone downhill ever since the previous regime persuaded Australians to buy a stake in something they already owned!. Anyway, most people have been conned by the Future Fund concept – it is shrouded in lies and deceit. In general, the idea of a sovereign fund is based on a misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) of the way the modern monetary economy operates. So its time to debrief and make it clear that these policy choices by governments generally undermine public goods and full employment.
In the current edition of the German weekly Magazine Der Spiegel (“The Mirror”) there is an article about a “new idea to keep unemployment down” entitled Germany Mulls ‘Parking’ Unwanted Labor in New State-Funded Firms. The thrust of the proposal is that Germany is now examining a proposal to set up government-funded “transfer companies” for workers who lose their jobs as a means of keeping unemployment in check. A reader wrote to me saying that it sounds a bit like the Job Guarantee that I have been advocating for years! Closer examination suggests that while the Germans are starting to come to terms with how bad their economic situation is, they are still a long way off understanding how to get out of it. In that respect, they share the ignorance with most governments. However, being a Euro zone member, the German government has voluntarily lumbered itself with even more constraints that will make it harder to insulate its people from the ravages of the recession.
I did a radio interview on the ABC Drive program this afternoon about different attitudes that Europeans and Americans have to dealing with recession, specifically in terms of the decision to offer shorter hours or use layoffs to trim the labour force as sales decline. While the solidaristic European model is preferred, both call into question what the national government should be doing.
This morning I was reading the Sydney Morning Herald and Economics writer Ross Gittins was talking about the fact that the ALP election victory in Queensland over the weekend violates the dogma that Treasury officials (federal and state) like to put around. Of-course, Gittins is in his own words “has great sympathy for treasuries” so I never expect him to tell his readers how the modern monetary system actually operates. But at one point, he advances without any critical scrutiny one of the greatest myths propogated by neo-liberals (including treasuries) about the way federal government budgets work. The myth: budget surpluses increase national saving. The truth is they do not. Its that time again. Time to debrief.
Today I heard that our Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner is suffering from insomnia because of the growing Government debt burden. Poor thing. Why is he worrying himself sick? Well I have the cure. If he reads this blog and understands it I think he will back in slumberland sooner rather than later.
Senior journalists often do more harm than good when they write about technical issues that they clearly do not understand. In many cases, they rely on the technical knowledge of their favourite economist or the flavour of the month economist and they are not skilled enough to know when their “economist” is also talking rubbish.
Yesterday, the Opposition leader published his reply to the Prime Minister’s grand attack on neo-liberalism. He claims that the apart from hypocrisy, the PM’s other failing is that he is mimicking a “corrupt police officer” because his essay attempted to blame the former Federal regime “for crimes it did not commit”. It is time that we understood just how bad the previous Federal government was.
The long-awaited National Account data was released today by the ABS and shows that the Australian economy is now sliding along the zero line. The headline result was that the measure of overall economic activity, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.5 per cent in the December quarter. This is the first negative result since December 2000. So one more negative quarter and we will all cry recession. For the 12 months December 2008, the economy grew by the very modest 0.3 per cent but this was driven by agriculture. Non-farm GDP did not grow at all over that same period. What are the signs for employment and what is the government doing? Here are some of my thoughts …
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Adele Horin article in the SMH today – Here’s a stimulating idea: create jobs – challenges the Federal Government to get it priorities right. She writes:
If employment is the primary concern, there are surer, more direct ways than cash payments to ensure bosses hire rather than fire. If not now, a debate on the hoary old topic of direct job creation may be just around the corner.
In an article in the Melbourne Age today (February 11) entitled Taxpayer trillions fuel a monster mess, columnist David Hirst writing on the massive injection that the US Congress has approved quotes President Obama who said
“Only the stimulus package to be approved this week, the $US700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program passed four months ago and $US168 billion in tax cuts and rebates approved in 2008 have been voted on by lawmakers. The remaining $US8 trillion in commitments are lending programs and guarantees, almost all under the authority of the Fed and the FDIC. The recipients’ names have not been disclosed.”
His issue is that the secrecy of the arrangements is troublesome given their magnitude. With that I agree.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has written an essay extolling the virtues of a new era in public policy which he calls “social capitalism” which is based on a strong guiding role for government and an abandonment of self-regulation by corporate interests which was the hallmark of the neo-liberal era. He sources the current global economic meltdown to the neo-liberal takeover which began more or less in the mid 1970s after the first OPEC oil price rise. The problem is that his new vision is still tainted with the worst elements of the neo-liberal era.
On January 1, 2005, the ABC carried the headline Business welcomes trade deal, which officially came into force as the new year unfolded. The Australian-US free trade deal was touted by the current government as a major breakthrough. Well from where I sit it is neither a free trade agreement or one that we will look favourably on in the years to come. The fact that the ALP tried to convince us that they were capable of showing leadership (not!) by passing it with some irrelevant amendments is even more frightening.