In May 2023, when the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released the March-quarter national accounts data (first estimate), which showed that real GDP grew by only 0.1 per cent in the first quarter and a rate equal to the December-quarter 2022, the critics were out in force. Brexit this. Brexit that. Graphs were created showing that Britain was recording the worst growth across the G7 nations. Brexit this. Brexit that. The Labour Party was cock-a-hoop as they continued the purge of the progressive elements in the Party. Then the second estimate came out on June 30, 2023 using additional data which the ONS said provides ‘a more precise indication of economic growth than the first estimate’, we learned that GDP “increased by an unrevised 0.1% in Quarter 1”. Brexit this. Brexit that. William Keegan who is like a cracked record stuck in a rut, wrote more UK Guardian articles bemoaning the democratic choice to leave the European Union. The problem is that all this data-centric inference was based on an illusion, which is why one must always be circumspect when dealing with this sort of data. The latest national accounts data released by the ONS on Friday (September 29, 2023) revised the first quarter result – scaling it up by a factor of three – to 0.3 per cent, which is still slow but hardly the disaster the pundits claimed.
I read an interesting report this morning, which resonated with some other work I had been looking into earlier in the week. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) released a report yesterday (September 27, 2023) – Inequality in Australia 2023: Overview – which shows that “The gap between those with the most and those with the least has blown out over the past two decades, with the average wealth of the highest 20% growing at four times the rate of the lowest”. It is one of the manifestations of the neoliberal era and is ultimately unsustainable. Earlier in the week, I spent some time analysing the latest data from the US Federal Reserve on the distribution of wealth among US households. The US data goes a long way to explaining why the recent interest rate hikes have been inflationary in themselves.
I read an article in the Financial Times earlier this week (September 23, 2023) – How do we raise trillions of dollars to fight the climate crisis? The answer is staring us in the face – which was written by former British Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown. The article is really just a promotion for a soon to be released book he has co-authored with characters from financial markets and mainstream economics. While purporting to be a solution to the climate challenges facing the world, it falls into the ‘progressive’ mainstream trap of coming up with just another ‘tax the rich’ plan.
This Tuesday report will provide some insights into life for a westerner (me) who is working for several months at Kyoto University in Japan.
Today (September 25, 2023), the Australian government issued its – Working Future: The Australian Government’s White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities – statement, which portends to define labour market vision and policy for the years to come. White Paper’s are grand statement and this one falls short of that requirement. Compared to the path-breaking – The 1945 White Paper on Full Employment – which set the path for several decades of prosperity for workers, the current effort by the government is a mediocre affair. It is just a restatement of the NAIRU cult that has justified the so-called ‘activation’ or supply-side approach to labour market policy, which effectively relegates macroeconomic policy to the bench and considers micro policies are required to reduce the NAIRU and the measured unemployment rate. This is the failed strategy that has dominated for the last three decades and has cause the problems that the White Paper claims it wants to address. Its release today demonstrates that the Labor Government is really just a neoliberal-lite outfit – full of spin but short on any directional shift in policy. It is very dispiriting.
I am now in a very hot and humid Kyoto having left Australia yesterday in weather that was in some places 20 or more degrees Celsius above the norm for early Spring. The heat here and back home at this time of year is rather scary given what it portends. I also do not have much time today given I have been contending with various ‘moving in’ requirements. But I read an article on the plane last night which I think marks a divide between what ‘green’ progressives think and what I think is needed. I was talking to a friend the other day who remarked he was enduring what he termed ‘ecological anxiety’. In the week that followed, bushfires across Australia have started burning some months earlier than has been the typical pattern over a long period. There are massive ‘weather’ events now all around the globe and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the sceptics to dismiss these conjunctions as random or ‘we just haven’t had data long enough’ type ruses. Some ‘green progressives believe the solution lies in governments inducing the financial speculators to shift funds into ‘green’ investments so that profitability can be safeguarded. They also believe that governments will get more money to invest this way (through providing inflation-indexed sovereign bonds). Talk about a vision for increased corporate welfare. My starting point is that we should do everything possible to keep the speculators out of our policy moves to decarbonise. It will end badly if we rely on the gamblers for the solution.
Today, I am heading to the airport for travel to Japan. For the next several months I will once again be working as a professor at Kyoto University as part of the research team concerned with integrating the macroeconomic principles in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles into a broader framework to build national resilience in the face of climate change, demographic challenges, transport and housing challenges and more. So from tomorrow I will be in Kyoto and depending on commitments my blog posts might be a little less regular although I think I will be able to continue the usual output. I will have more to say about what we are working on, including the release of a book we have been completing from last year’s collaborations. There is also a major event planned for later in November in Tokyo to launch our latest work. I will provide details later when I know them. We are also talking about hosting an Modern Monetary Theory symposium in Kyoto next April to welcome in the Spring and the cherry blossoms. When I know more I will relate the details here. I am also working on my next book which will traverse the topics of degrowth, the sustainability of capitalism and more. Japan’s shrinking population presents an opportunity to lead the world in reducing the society’s reliance on economic growth and exploring more substantial aspects of human existence. I mapped out that argument in this blog post – Degrowth, deep adaptation, and skills shortages – Part 4 (October 31, 2022). Anyway, until I resurface tomorrow beside the Kamo River, we can listen to some music.
Last week (September 13, 2023) in Brussels, the President of the European Union delivered her annual – 2023 State of the Union Address. We all know that these events are spin-oriented and the leader of the 27-nation bloc is hardly going to come out and talk the arrangement down. But this was an election speech – with the next major elections coming in the year ahead. The President lauded all the half-baked and under-funded programs that they have initiated under her ‘leadership’ and when it came to assessing the state of the labour market she made the extraordinary statement that as a result of Commission policies (such as – SURE) “Europe is close to full employment.” Yes, they are spinning the view that the problem is not a lack of jobs but “millions of jobs are looking for people” while admitting that “8 million young people are neither in employment, education or training” – the so-called NEET generation. Language should above all else convey meaning. Trying to claim that Europe is close to full employment violates that basic aspiration. The reality is that Europe is nowhere close.
Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for August 2023 today (September 14, 2023). Employment growth was strong in August and kept pace with the underlying population growth and the participation rise so that unemployment remained steady. The weaker result in July was probably mostly reflecting the rotation in the sample. However, there are now 10.2 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed. That extent of idle labour means Australia is not at full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators. The other point is that the relatively steady unemployment rate indicates how ineffective monetary policy has been, given the RBA’s intention to push unemployment up to 4.5 per cent through a sequence of interest rate rises since May 2022. Unemployment has barely budged.