When I was in London recently, I was repeatedly assailed with the idea that the Liz Truss debacle proves that the financial markets in Britain are more powerful than the government and can force the latter to comply with lower spending and lower taxes. It seems the progressives have a new historical marker which they can use to walk the plank into conservative, sound finance mediocrity. For decades it was the alleged ‘IMF bailout of the Callaghan government in 1976’ when Chancellor Dennis Healey lied to the British people about running out of money and needing IMF loans to stay afloat. They, of course, never needed any loans but Healey and Callaghan knew the people wouldn’t know that and they used the fiction as a vehicle to keep the trade unions in a subjugated position. That lie has resonated for years and has been a principle vehicle for those advocating smaller government, more privatisation, and more handouts to the top-end-of-town while at the same time cutting welfare payments to the poor, killing the national health system, degrading public utilities, transport and education and all the rest of it. Well now that gang, which now rules the Labour Party in Britain has a new fiction – the ‘Truss surrender to the markets’. And the logic is spreading elsewhere with lurid claims emerging that the so-called bond vigilantes are saddling up to force the US government broke.
Today (February 28, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – for January 2024, which showed that the inflation rate steadied at 3.4 per cent but remains in a downward trajectory in Australia as it is elsewhere in the world. Today’s figures are the closest we have to what is actually going on at the moment and show that the inflation was 3.4 per cent in January 2024 but many of the key driving components are now firmly declining. The trajectory is firmly downwards. As I show below, the only components of the CPI that are rising are either due to external factors that the RBA has no control over and are ephemeral, or, are being caused by the RBA rate rises themselves. All the rate hikes have done is engineer a massive shift in income distribution towards the rich away from the poor. The slowdown the Australian economy is experiencing is largely due to fiscal drag not higher interest rates.
I have been travelling for most of today so I have to keep this post short. Well shorter than usual. Edward Palmer Thompson – who died at the age of 69 in 1993, was a British writer who wrote the exceptional book – The Making of the English Working Class – which was a very long social history published in 1963, and considered essential reading for young leftists at the time. I read it in the early 1970s as part of my rites of passage into Leftist intellectual thought and while I prefer books that are less than 800 pages (-:, I found it absorbing. I was reminded of it when I recently read a UK Observer article (February 4, 2024) – What a legendary historian tells us about the contempt for today’s working class – by Kenan Malik.
When I was in London recently, I noticed an increase in people in the street who were clearly not working and looked to be in severe hardship from my last visit in 2020. Of course, in the intervening period the world has endured (is enduring) a major pandemic that has permanently compromised the health status of the human population. The latest data from the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) – Labour market overview, UK: February 2024 (released February 13, 2024) – provides some hard numbers to match my anecdotal observations. Britain has become a much sicker society since 2020 and there has been a large increase in workers who are now unable to work as a result of long-term sickness – millions. Further analysis reveals that this cohort is spread across the age spectrum. A fair bit of the increase will be Covid and the austerity damage on the NHS. Massive fiscal interventions will be required to change the trajectory of Britain which not only has to deal with the global climate disaster but is now experiencing an increasingly sick workforce, where workers across the age spectrum are being prematurely retired because they are too sick to work. With Covid still spreading as it evolves into new variations and people get multiple infections, the situation will get worse. It is amazing to me that national governments are not addressing this and introducing policies that reduce the infection rates.
Today (February 21, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 4.2 per cent over the 12 months (up 0.2 points). In relation to the December-quarter CPI change (4.1 per cent), this result suggests that real wages grew modestly for the first time in 11 quarters. However, if we use the more appropriate Employee Selected Living Cost Index as our measure of the change in purchasing power then the December-quarter result of 6.9 per cent means that real wages fell by 2.7 per cent. Even the ABS notes the SLCI is a more accurate measure of cost-of-living increases for specific groups of interest in the economy. However, most commentators will focus on the nominal wages growth relative to CPI movements, which in my view provides a misleading estimate of the situation workers are in. Further, while productivity growth is weak, the movement in real wages is still such that real unit labour costs are still declining, which is equivalent to an ongoing attrition of the wages share in national income. So corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale. That is modern day Australia.
Last week (February 15, 2024), the Japanese Cabinet Office released the latest national accounts estimates for the December-quarter 2023 – Quarterly Estimates of GDP for Oct.-Dec. 2023 (The First preliminary) – which showed that the economy had slipped into an official recession (two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth) and in the process had moved from being the third largest economy in the world to become the fourth behind the US, China and Germany. According to the media release – 2023年10~12月期四半期別GDP速報 – the quarterly growth rate was -0.1 per cent (annual -0.4 per cent). Domestic demand was weak, contributing -0.3 per cent while net exports contributed +0.2 per cent. Part of the story is related to a ‘valuation drop’ because the yen has depreciated in recent months, undermining the value of exports and increasing the value of imports. But while there is some hysteria in the ‘markets’ and the mainstream economics commentary about the result, caution is required because the data will be revised (it was only preliminary) as more data comes in and it is highly possible for the negative to become a positive. But, I also take a different perspective on this from the dominant narrative in the media as you will see if you read on.
Episode 12 – the finale for Season 1 in our new Manga series – The Smith Family and their Adventures with Money – is now available. We will let everyone calm down from the excitement for a little while to give us time to write and draw Season 2, which will begin on May 24, 2024.
In the meantime, have a bit of fun with it and circulate it to those who you think will benefit …
Today (February 15, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for January 2024, which confirms a weakening in the labour market. The signs of a slowdown were appearing in late 2023 and the January figures probably confirm that trend, although the changing holiday behaviour makes it difficult to be definitive. We will know more next month when the holiday period effects wash out. Employment growth was unable to even keep pace with the underlying population growth, which is why unemployment rose with participation constant. The best indicators that the labour market is weakening are the fall in the employment-to-population rate since November 2023 (down 0.5 points) and the sharp decline over the last few months in hours worked. It also appears that the slowdown is impacting teenagers disproportionately. There are now 10.7 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.
It’s Wednesday and I have comments on a few items today. I haven’t been able to write much today because the power has been down after the dramatic storms yesterday in Victoria damaged the network and caused absolute chaos (see below). Power is mostly back on now (which is why this post is later than usual). The US CPI data released yesterday showed that inflation continues to decline and the so-called ‘surprise’ that seems to have shocked the ‘markets’ are mostly down to the eccentric way the US Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates housing costs. The data provides no justification for further rate hikes in the US or anywhere else for that matter. I also report on an interesting survey from Japan regarding local attitudes to foreigners. I don’t think it reflects Japanese insularity although many will conclude otherwise. Then some Wayne Shorter.
It was interesting to spend a few weeks in London recently and catch up with friends and research colleagues. It always focuses the mind on issues when one is in situ rather than gazing at data and reports from afar. My view of British Labour as being incapable of providing the British people with a progressive solution to the poly crisis the nation confronts has strengthened in the last few weeks and was emphasised once again by the decision of the leadership to backtrack on its £28 billion green investment strategy – its second U-turn on this key policy in the last few years. Touted as making Britain “A fairer, greener future” for Britain, “Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan” certainly differentiated it somewhat from the ruling Tories. Now that differentiation has been abandoned and the Labour politicians are claiming that “Labour’s fiscal rules … [are] … more important than any policy”, which is about as moronic as it gets. More of the same from the so-called political voice of the working class. I told an audience in London a few weeks ago that I considered the ‘institutions’ that had been created in the late C19 and into the C20 to give political voice to the working class had past their use-by date and were no longer fit for purpose. The British Labour Party is one such institution and it has been so captured by ‘conservatism’ of the worst type (sound finance etc) that it no longer is capable of delivering sustainable prosperity.