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Deficit spending 101 – Part 1

A lot of people E-mail and ask me to explain why we should not be worried about deficits and why they do not have to be financed by debt (even if the government does typically increase its debt when it goes into deficit). So in the coming weeks I will write some blogs to explain these tricky things. First, I will explain how deficits occur and how they impact on the economy. In particular, we have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that when governments deficit spend they automatically have to borrow which then places pressure on the money markets (which have limited funds available for lending) and the rising interest rates squeeze private investment spending which is productive. This chain of argument is nonsensical and is easily dismissed. So this is Deficits 101. Next time I will detail the reason why the central bank issues bonds (government debt).

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The danger of underemployment …

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics released underemployment data for the US overnight. The results are disturbing and follow the same trend that is now common in Anglo countries – these economies, even in good times are increasingly generating marginal employment with low pay and job security, and, most importantly, deficient hours of work relative to the preferences of the workforce. But underemployment presents an added danger as we enter this current downturn.

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The origins of the economic crisis

A good way to understand the origins of the current economic crisis in Australia is to examine the historical behaviour of key macroeconomic aggregates. The previous Federal Government claimed they were responsibly managing the fiscal and monetary parameters and creating a resilient competitive economy. This was a spurious claim they were in fact setting Australia up for crisis. The reality is that the previous government created an economy which was always going to crash badly.

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The job creation bandwagon …

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.

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Labour force data surprises …

The ABS published the January Labour Force Survey data this morning which is the monthly indication of how the labour market is faring. All expectations were that with other indicators such as the NAB Business Confidence Index and the ANZ Job Advertisements count all heading south very rapidly in the last month that the Labour Force data would be equally grim and signal the slide into recession. How wrong we all were. But should we believe the data?

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Why pander to the financial markets?

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.

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Bang for mega-bucks: how many jobs can $42 billion buy?

The ABC Radio National Interest programme ran a segment last night about the unemployed! Yes, they are the ones that actually lose their jobs in an economic downturn and bear the brunt of the adjustment. The programme was interested in why the $42 billion package announced by the Federal Government had very little in it…
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Fiscal stimulus effects …

Opposition leader Turnbull has decided to go to the wall in opposing the $42 billion package. In particular, they want tax cuts rather than the $12.7 billion in cash handouts. He said they will not be provide economic stimulus and that December’s $10.4 billion in handouts had not worked. Soon after Turnbull provided these conclusions the ABS released the latest retail trade figures which showed that consumer spending shot up by 3.8 per cent in December, the highest monthly increase since August 2000 (since the GST came in).

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90,000 jobs for 42 billion is a bad strategy …

Yesterday the Government announced its latest fiscal response to the rapidly worsening economic situation. They will spend $42 billion (mostly in 2009 and into 2010 to shore up aggregate demand. They estimate this will underwrite 90,000 jobs in the economy. That is not new jobs but existing jobs. They also estimate that the unemployment rate will rise to 7 per cent over the coming year which is around 300,000 people extra who will be without work. That will take unemployment towards 850,000 and underemployment will certainly rise in lock-step (already around 600,000) so you see the scale of the deterioration.

However, while I think the package is a step in the right direction, the Government has failed to really target jobs. If the Government had have introduced a Job Guarantee and paid the workers the current national minimum wage (with holiday pay etc) it could have hired 557,000 full-time equivalent workers for around $8.3 billion per year. Where does this figure come from?

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