Two stories today make you wonder about the direction of our Australian government. The first relates to the changes to the industrial laws that the Greens finally were able to push through the Senate last night and the second relates to the threat of mass censorship using lists that are seemingly highly flawed.
Today I released a major new research report Red alert suburbs: An employment vulnerability index for Australia’s major urban regions which was the result of a collaboration with Scott Baum (URP, Griffith University) who I share a large ARC Discovery Grant with. The Report and its findings has already received front page coverage in the large Australian dailies – The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Australian government announced that as a result of the rising unemployment it would cut the skilled migrant intake by nearly 20,000 to 115,000 this financial year. It also removed some key industries (construction and manufacturing) from the critical skills list which will prevent firms from sourcing tradepersons from abroad unless they can prove local labour is not available. The announcement while seemingly a sensible statement of the jobs equation – less jobs require less workers – once again raises the question of how population policy should be formulated.
Put People First group are running a grass roots campaign for all of us to send a message to the G20 about their priorities. The campaign symbol is the megaphone logo appearing below. Their campaign will culminate in a march in central London on March 28, 2009 to push a case for jobs, justice and climate. I am not associated with this group but I share their priorities, even if I might see them in different terms. Anyway, this is the first of my messages to the G20. In summary: they need to learn how the economy actually operates and then they would use their fiscal policy capacity to ensure everyone has a job in a sustainable economy.
Many readers have asked me to explain why social security and pension schemes run by national governments can never become insolvent. Some have heard me commenting on the radio recently about this. In the current recession, where automatic stabilisers are pushing the budget back into deficit to dampen the fall in aggregate demand there are now renewed cries that social security funds around the World are likely to become insolvent. There are the familiar howls that all the “debt” that is being built up as governments go into deficits (mostly because they have been dragged into them by the cycle) will require huge future tax burdens that will undermine the capacity of governments to deliver adequate social security and health care systems. I think its time to de-brief again. The short answer to these claims is: sovereign governments can always fund social security in their own currency. Always, always, and even always.
Some readers have written to me asking to explain what quantitative easing is. Some of them had heard an ABC 7.30 Report segment the other night which interviewed the Bank of England Governor who outlined the BOE’s plan to “print billions of pounds” as its latest strategy to stimulate lending and hence economic activity in the very dismally performing UK economy. Once again we need to de-brief and learn what quantititative easing actually is. We need to understand that it is not a very good strategy for a sovereign government to follow in times of depressed demand and rising unemployment. We also need to get this “printing money” mantra out of our heads.
After yesterday’s shock admission that our Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was losing sleep because he was worried about the Federal debt buildup, there he was on the ABCs 7.30 Report last night giving us more cause for concern that his sleeplessness is having a negative effect on his ability to conduct reasonable dialogue on economic matters.
Today’s labour force data revealed the the world recession is starting to impact directly on jobs in Australia. Last month’s data surprised people because it suggested the labour market was resisting the global trends. At the time I indicated that the inaccuracy in the data due to the large sample errors was likely to be a factor. Today’s data also carries some surprises although the trends it is indicating are clear enough.
One of the advantages of running the economy at “high pressure” – that is, with low unemployment is that some of the more malevolent aspects of human behaviour are suppressed. We know that when the economy goes into a downturn, firms increase their hiring standards because they have the upper hand – lots of workers are unemployed and so the firms can pick and choose more readily. One of the worst aspects of these adjustments is that pure prejudice begins to reveal itself more openly. The most recent data from the US suggests this is the case.
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.
Australian governments have not yet understood that privatisation was yesterday’s strategy to abrogate their legitimate responsibilities. Today it has no place in a return to a viable sustainable and balanced mix of public and private activity. Privatisation was part of the swing to market-based allocations and a blurring of public interest with private profit. The two rarely go together if ever. While the NSW Government is still trying to push the sale of the electricity generators, the other major privatisation push is to extend the private ownership and operation of our prison system. There is no way that we should ever give monetary incentives to imprison people. Here is what happens …
The global recession is presenting a new dilemma for the first world which will have significant impacts long after growth has returned. We saw in recent years that the price of oil rose sharply as the demand of energy from emerging nations skyrocketed. While we clearly have a short-term incentive at least for China to redirect its economic energies into domestic growth to give our export sectors a boost there will be implications of this that we might not have bargained for. Do we really want an extra 1 billion or more people to be as rich as us? It is a case of being careful what you wish for …
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 …
Lat night’s ABC 7.30 Report had a segment titled Australian economy resilient in tough times. It was so bad I was prompted to write to the ABC complaining of their neo-liberal bias. All the commentators were the usual coterie of investment bankers and private consultants all of who have particular vested interests which are not disclosed when they are held out by the ABC as so-called experts! Not one independent researcher was included in the segment. In another world, this might have been the way the show evolved.
There is an interesting labour market case of national interest at present relating the the overpayment of Special Air Service (SAS) troops who have been serving in Afghanistan and who have faced debt recovery action for such overpayments of allowances of up to $50,000. The case has led to calls for the Federal Defence Minister to be sacked for daring to ask our soldiers to pay back the cash. Another labour market group has for years been subject to so-called “debt-recovery” actions from the Federal government and the sums are nothing like $50,000. Yet the press has been largely silent on the plight of this latter group even though I would argue they are among our most disadvantaged citizens. The juxtaposition highlights the inconsistency of the public debate and the selective treatment of individuals by our Federal government who should be treating us equally according to our rights as Australian citizens.
In response to criticism that the Federal government has failed to do anything significant for the unemployed or those about to become unemployed they have announced they will provide an extra $300 million funding for Job Network providers to help the retrenched workers get jobs. This initiative confirms my worst fears that this is a government that has failed to learn the lessons of the past.
As a follow up to my blog on underemployment this afternoon, I was interviewed on national ABC radio programme PM this evening. You can read the transcript here PM Transcript. You can also listen to the podcast (courtesy of the ABC) from the CofFEE podcast site. The discussion also had Ian Harper from the Fair Pay Commission on. You will not be surprised to hear that I totally disagree with him on minimum wage setting.
Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its underemployment data for September 2008 and it shows a major deterioration in the quality of employment since September 2007. The data shows that there are now 687,700 part-time workers (about 23 per cent of part-time workers) who want to work more hours but are unable to find them. The gender breakdown is 447,100 women and 240,600 men. There are some alarming trends in this data.
This is the second blog in the series that I am writing to help explain why we should not fear deficits. In this blog we clear up some of the myths that surround the so-called “financing” of budget deficits. In particular, I address the myth that deficits are inflationary and/or increase the borrowing requirements of government. The important conclusion is that the Federal government is not financially constrained and can spend as much as it chooses up to the limit of what is offered for sale. There is not inevitability that this spending will be inflationary and it does not necessarily require any increase in government debt.