It was a sort of relief being in Seoul for Monday and Tuesday immersed in discussions about development strategies for Kazakhstan and Korean experience. I could sort of kid myself that the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-13, which usually doesn’t come out until December, didn’t really happen. Out of sight out of mind sort of logic. It did come out and I read all the news and the – Treasury Document – that the Treasurer delivered to the Australian public on Monday. The latter will be oblivious to the chicanery contained in that document and the sheer absurdity of the message that the Treasurer triumphantly presented. This is high farce, high deception, vandalism, and ultimately, shocking politics, despite politics being the motivation for the strategy that the Treasurer is pursuing. Anyway, for two days I abstracted from it, despite calls from the Australian media asking my views. It was much more interesting considering the way in which Korean created its growth miracle. But more on that another day. For now, I am back in Australia (Sydney this morning early, now Darwin) and have to confront the reality – Australia is being governed by a party that is intent on deliberately creating unemployment and pushing more Australians into hardship and despair at a time when we should all be prospering. Interestingly, by next year that unemployment will extend to their own tenure in office such will be the economic consequence of their cynical political strategy, which will backfire gloriously.
One of the complaints that critics of a Job Guarantee raise is that it might compete with the private sector for labour, which they say would be unfair given the unequal capacities of the two sectors (government allegedly has an advantage) and the undesirability of allocations being based on so-called “non-market” criteria. Mostly these complaints reflect the fact that the critic hasn’t read any of the relevant literature about Job Guarantee design and rationale (it employs workers which have no private sector bid). However, when the government becomes a speculator balancing risk and return in private capital markets and, in doing so, contributes to asset price bubbles and uses its financial might to “distort” market outcomes, it is praised for being financially prudent. Welcome to the hypocrisy of the Future Fund, Australia’s so-called sovereign fund. But it gets worse. We have now learned about the types of products that the Future Fund is investing in. It comes down to the Australian government promoting increasing cancer incidence in our nation. And all because they lie about their economic capacities as a sovereign currency-issuer.
As a researcher one learns to be circumspect in what one says until the results are firm and have been subjected to some serious stress testing (whatever shape that takes). This is especially the case in econometric analysis where the results can be sensitive to the variables used (data etc), the form of the estimating equation(s) deployed (called the functional form), the estimation technique used and more. If one sees the results varying significantly when variations in the research design then it is best to conduct further analysis before making any definitive statements. The IMF clearly don’t follow this rule of good professional practice. They inflict their will on nations – via bullying and cash blackmail – waving long-winded “Outlooks” or “Memorandums” with all sorts of modelling and graphs to give their ideological demands a sense of (unchallengeable) authority before they are even sure of the validity of the underlying results they use to justify their conclusions. And when they are wrong – which in this case means that millions more might be unemployed or impoverished – or more children might have died – they produce further analysis to say they were wrong but we just need to do more work. So who is going to answer for their culpability?
Day 2 in Darwin – hot – but back to business. Thanks for all the nice remarks. The IMF once again demonstrated why their entire public funding should be withdrawn by the contributing governments, who could spend it more usefully introducing direct job creation schemes. Once again they have downgraded their growth forecasts as if the situation has changed from when they last told us what they thought would happen. Nothing has changed except the IMF have worked out their previous forecasts were wrong. But then they could never have been right given the policy agendas that the IMF and its repressive partners (such as the EC and the ECB) are pushing on nations that deserve better. More generally, the failure of the IMF to produce reliable estimates is linked to the overall misunderstanding of the relative roles of fiscal and monetary policy that exists among commentators and economists. The neo-liberal dislike of fiscal policy skews the debate towards thinking that monetary policy will save the day. Unfortunately, an understanding of how monetary works and the current problem would not lead one to that conclusion. Only a significant renewed fiscal policy stimulus will arrest the decline towards recession. The IMF has one thing correct – the world economy is backsliding. But then we knew that a long time ago while they were still trumpetting the virtues of fiscal austerity and solid growth prospects.
Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published the August 2012 data for – International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia – which provided further evidence that the so-called once-in-a-hundred years mining boom that was meant to bring employment security and strong growth for years to come is waning – and quickly. Today’s retail sales figures are also in this vein. The Treasurer continued his bluster that they had to go for a surplus. And a prominent (former) banker came out and claimed the surpluses should be bigger – even though the economy is going backwards and non-government spending is incapable of supporting strong growth. He thinks were are on the path to Athens. He thought we could easily become Greece. When you think about it the transition from Australia to Greece is within the limits of human idiocy.
Recently my research centre set up a new office in Melbourne, Victoria (a southern Australian state). We do a lot of work in Melbourne and so it was a cost-saving measure to establish a permanent capacity there. It coincides with some other big changes that I will make public on Monday next. The experience has generally been favourable – we have installed very reliable IT systems and have off-street parking, which is somewhat redundant given our proximity to the CBD and the University of Melbourne, where I am involved in some large projects. But try getting power connected – and when it finally is connected – try keeping that connection. Welcome to the world of privatised power. Read on to learn about how efficient it all is. And as you read reflect on the fact that the neo-liberals sold this farce on the back of arguments that the nation couldn’t afford state-owned power supplies and that the new privatised world would be like a journey to Shangri La! It just hasn’t turned out that way.
It is a public holiday in NSW today – Labour Day – to celebrate the 8-hour day although for many workers that victory is now a thing of the past as labour market deregulation bites harder on the hard-won conditions that workers enjoyed during the full employment period. I am also ailing (with “the bug” that is “going around”) and I have two major pieces of work to finish (one completed this morning). There is also a birthday in my immediate family and so I am partying tonight (in relative terms). So all that means a shortish blog. I was giving a talk in Perth last week about the absurdity of state (non-currency issuing) governments running down public infrastructure because they refuse to borrow all in the name of preserving their AAA credit rating from the corrupt ratings agencies. The obvious question seems to evade people – why have AAA credit rating if you refuse to borrow. The ridiculousness of the ratings game raised its head again last week when one of the ratings agencies threatened to downgrade the British Government’s rating. It is clear that the agency is probably needing a revenue boost so tried to attract some publicity. If I was the Chancellor I would have told them to buzz off and to stress how irrelevant they really are. But the reaction was typical – angst and worry. For what? Nothing. The only thing it demonstrated was how mislead the public are and how mindless this “dark age” that we are living through at present really is.
I am in Perth today speaking at a public service employees union congress. The talk is based on a major report we have just finished tracking the implications of public spending cutbacks in Australia on the volume and quality of public service delivery. We did several case studies – one of which was child protection – and the cutbacks will lead to increased child abuse in Australia without doubt. The story is pretty grim and I will write about it once the Report is made public by the commissioning party. But with travel (Perth is a long flight from anywhere and I have to get back to Newcastle tonight – 6 hours) and commitments I haven’t much time to wax lyrical on my blog. But I have been meaning to write about the upcoming Scottish referendum on independence from Britain and it fits a nice theme with yesterday’s blog – The demise of social democratic parties – they are all neo-liberals now – where I argued that good intentions come to naught if the economic policy paradigm used is erroneous. I would recommend the Scots vote yes at the 2014 referendum. But only if they introduce their own unpegged, floating currency and avoid any talk of joining the Eurozone. Further, the yes vote should be conditional on the government committing itself to achieving full employment on the back of their newly created currency sovereignty. Then the yes vote will improve welfare for the Scottish people. If they continue to use the British pound – then nothing will be gained.
There was an article in this morning’s Melbourne Age (September 26, 2012) by former Australian Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, which talked about the structural decline of social democratic parties around the world. Recently I was in the Netherlands for the Dutch national election and the Labor Party could not gain office and is likely to go into coalition with the Conservatives (what?) – the common bond – their support for the Euro and fiscal austerity. What set of circumstances would see what should be polar opposite political forces in coalition? And then there are the LDP and the Tories in the UK. And the debate in the US is not about a deficit versus a surplus but how quickly to get into surplus. The same goes in Australia. The policy debate is marked by claims from both major parties that they will generate bigger budget surpluses quicker than their opponents. The social democratic political tradition is fading because the parties have become indistinguishable from the conservatives in economic policy. They are all neo-liberals now and that is an ugly option for those with a progressive bent who have traditionally supported the social democratic parties.
The scaremongering about inflation and higher interest rates continues to flood out of the mainstream economics community. The conversation has become a little more sophisticated since the claims in the early stages of the crisis that the fiscal and monetary policy innovations introduced by governments would be inflationary. Now we are hearing stories about longer lags – channelling Milton Friedman who also fell foul of the evidence more often than not. So inflation is just around the corner rather than coming tomorrow. As in the past, the mainstream macroeconomics has a serious credibility problem. It is no wonder it keeps making erroneous predictions. It begins with an erroneous construction of reality. It is all downhill for them after that.