I find it amusing when some self-styled ‘progressive’ commentator, usually writing in the UK Guardian newspaper, bemoans Brexit and points to claims by business that there is a shortage of workers. The ‘shortage’, of course, is results from not being able to access unlimited supplies of cheap foreign workers as easily as before. When I see a shortage of workers, I celebrate, because it means employers will have to break out of their keep wages growth low mentality to attract labour; that they will have to offer adequate skills training to ensure the workers can do the work required; and, that unemployment will be driven as low as can be. What is not good about that? Brexit has done a lot of things, one of them being to provide the British working class to arrest the degradation in their labour market conditions that neoliberalism has wrought in a context of plenty of low wage labour always being in surplus. A similar thing will come from the pandemic in Australia where our external border has been shut for nearly 18 months now.
The article in the Socialist Worker Review (No. 89, July/August 1986, pp. 19-21), by Eammon McCann – The protestant working class – has kept me thinking for some years. I recalled it the other day when I was updating my Northern Ireland labour market data and working on some text. As a result of reading this article many years ago, I became very interested in the labour market dynamics in Northern Ireland, in particular, as they impact on the debate about unification and EU membership (yes, I have always been anti-EU). In that vein, I have been following the trends over time rather closely. More recently, the central place of the North Ireland Protocol in the Brexit discussions has increased the relevance of this research. I also benefitted from some very interesting conversations a few years ago with my host in Galway (forever thankful Niall), while I was visiting the Republic of Ireland on a speaking trip. These conversations filled in many gaps in my understanding of some of nuances of the issues involved. These trends provide some good background to what has been happening in a region that is undergoing significant change and how we might assess the Northern Ireland Protocol in a post-Brexit world. It also helps us understand the demise of the DUP as a relevant political force. They represent a different era. From my understanding, it is also the major economic changes that have been taking place in Northern Ireland that are more likely to influence the trend away from identifying as either unionist or nationalist or proceeding along ‘religious’ lines. A working class impoverished by austerity is a powerful solidifying force. The labour market has changed dramatically over the last several decades. In this multi-part series, I provide some reflections on these issues. This is part of a book project I am working on (more about which later).
It is Wednesday and I have been busy on other writing projects. But today I offer some data analysis on the Greek fire tragedy as well as a short video promoting a very important festival that is coming up. Then I offer some personal insights on the accusation by the right-wing press that on-line learning is just a ruse for lazy “work-shy” professors. And to calm us after all that – we have some fine jazz from 1960.
It’s Day 14 today and later this afternoon I am to be released from my stint in quarantine as a result of shifting myself from Newcastle to Melbourne 2 weeks ago. NSW (where Newcastle is located) is now an area of extreme risk according to the Victorian government, given the growing COVID outbreak in Sydney, and any resident travelling back into Victoria was required to do the 14 days in strict Iso. So today is my ‘freedom day’ after being stuck inside my residence for 2 weeks. Woo! Given my extensive CPI report yesterday, I am not treating today as my normal Wednesday work pattern and so apart from some great music, I offer a few observations on things that have come to mind recently.
When I studied British politics (as one unit in a politics minor) at university, I was bemused by the role of the House of Lords. I know it is a curiously British institution that would be hardly tolerated anywhere else. But the fact that it serves as a part of the British democratic system continues to amaze me. Recently, the Economic Affairs Committee has been investigating (if that is what they get up to) Quantitative Easing because, apparently, some of the peers were worried about the “operational independence” of the Bank of England and the “economic effects” (read: inflation fears) among other concerns. They published their first report last week (July 16, 2021) – 1st Report – Quantitative easing: a dangerous addiction? – and it is littered with errors. The government has until September 16, 2021. The reply does not have to be long – they could just submit this blog post and get on doing things that matter, although the Tories are currently finding it hard to get their head around that essential task at the moment.
It is Wednesday and I am now unable to get home to Melbourne as a result of the border closure between Victoria and NSW. That closure is the result of the incompetence of the conservative NSW government who thought they could beat the Delta variant of COVID and leave Sydney open for business. They have now learned that their claim to be the world’s best virus containing government were hubris and so regional NSW is also suffering, what will be a very long lockdown. Victoria has sensibly closed its border as have the other states to NSW, which now is an isolated, pariah state. Pity the NSW Labor opposition is so weak. Anyway, today is a few snippets about the British Labour party being so weak, some reflections on monetary sovereignty, and a note that the barbarians are trying to kill off social sciences in our universities. Then some happiness via some great bass playing.
It is Wednesday so a blog lite day for me. The next part of this week is a bit up in the air for me after the Covid outbreak that resulted from a breach of quarantine in Adelaide has spread to Melbourne and looks a bit ugly. Fingers crossed that I can get back home to Melbourne tomorrow. Today I briefly review the latest payroll data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which shows that despite all the bluster from the Federal government to the contrary, their fiscal retreat in March is now costing jobs, as predicted. I also examine the latest production data from the UK, which should provide good news for British manufacturing workers. And finally, we have a little birthday celebration with some singing.
The other day I gave a talk to the ‘investment’ community in Melbourne and they wanted to talk a lot about inflation, which seems to be their foremost concern at the moment. Tomorrow, I am giving a similar presentation in Sydney and I expect a similar line of questioning. Think about it. Wages growth is projected to be so low over the next several years that real wages will decline for at least 3 to 4 years. The Output gaps are still significant and were significant even before the pandemic. Households were already cutting back consumption spending growth, given record levels of indebtedness and no prospect of wages growth. Where pray tell are the inflationary pressures going to come from? I also keep reading of similar fears from economists and central bankers. The latest I saw came from Britain, where the outgoing chief economist from the Bank of England started beating on the inflation drum. There are some areas of our economies that will experience price pressures in the coming period given the disruptions in supply and various administrative pricing decisions by governments (reversing pandemic assistance in areas like rents, energy, child care etc). But these pressures in some segments of the economy are unlikely to instigate a major shift to high generalised inflation rates because the capacity of workers to defend their real wages is diminished now. Fiscal policy has a long way to go yet in reducing unemployment and underemployment from their elevated levels before that capacity becomes functional again.
Last week (April 29, 2021), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product, First Quarter 2021 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that the US economy grew by 1. The following day (April 30, 2021), saw Eurostat announce that the Eurozone contracted by 0.6 per cent in the first-quarter 2021, which means it is now enduring a double-dip recession. The European Union, now without Britain as a member, contracted by 0.4 per cent. In contrast, with Britain now out of that mess and determining its own future, we saw the British economy return a positive GDP growth rate in February as exports rose and government stimulus sustained domestic activity. Why should we be surprised about this. In this post, I examine the US situation in more detail and reflect on some interesting trends in the UK. The Eurozone situation is too depressing to write about on a sunny day!
When the British Office of National Statistics published the January 2021 trade figures in March, the first after Brexit was finalised, they showed a 42 per cent decline in UK exports to the European Union. Exports fell by £5.6 billion and imports fell by 28.8 per cent or £6.6 billion. it was the worst monthly drop since records were first published on a monthly basis in 1997. The Remain crowd went berserk and the ‘I told you so’ chorus was raucous. I wonder where there voice has gone now the February 2021 trade figures show a 46 per cent rise in UK exports to the UK. Boats and trucks are carrying goods to the EU from Britain still. We shouldn’t take the monthly data too seriously, especially as it has been complicated by the transition arrangements and COVID. There will be costs from the change in border arrangements. But the predictions of doom are proving to be wildly inaccurate. I have my flame suit standing by.