Its my Friday lay day but today is going to be anything but. I am in Helsinki at present and it has been a busy few days so far. The concept of Unit Labour Costs (ULCs) is being used by the right-wing government in Finland to bash the population into submission so they can impose the nonsensical austerity. The Finnish government is trying to get rid of some public holidays and reducing wages for sick leave, overtime and working on Sundays. This is the starting point for a broader austerity attack on the public sector and the prosperity of the people. They are calling for a decline in ULCs of at least 5 per cent. The rationale is that with growth flat to negative for five years or so and the massive export surplus they had disappeared the only way to stop unemployment going through the roof is to cut labour costs relative to productivity – that is, cut ULCs. They have been caught up in the ‘dangerous obsession’ that prosperity can only be gained through ‘export competitiveness’ (whatever that actually is) and the domestic economy has to be sacrificed at the net exports altar. International competitiveness is a slippery concept at best but so-called internal devaluation is rarely a successful strategy.
Its my Friday lay day and I am trying to finish one paper that is due and also prepare the presentations that I will be giving in Finland next week. But I was reading a Briefing Paper (No 406) from the US Economic Policy Institute (published September 2, 2015) – Understanding the Historic Divergence Between Productivity and a Typical Worker’s Pay – that resonated with me today. One of the defining characteristics of the neo-liberal era has been the divergence between real wages growth and productivity growth. It has been a deliberately engineered divergence as policy makers have shifted from mediating the distributional struggle between labour and capital to being ‘pro-business’ and introducing a range of initiatives that have allowed capital to gain greater shares of national income and build a booty that has then been pumped into the increasingly deregulated financial markets. Oh, and to allow the bosses and their managers to take out obscenely high salaries and swan around in private jets. The dynamics unleashed by these distributional shifts helped cause the Global Financial Crisis. A sustainable recovery with progressive outcomes (reductions in income inequality etc) will only be possible if Governments abandon the ‘pro-business’ bias and instead introduce policies that ensure real wages grow in line with productivity (along with other changes).
Its my Friday Lay Day blog and I have several deadlines on other projects coming up like today even! But I am sick of the Economist Magazine being held out as a voice of moderation and sound analysis. It has always been a merchant of so-called free market myths and adopting the conservative, anti-government intervention line. It claims that it “offers authoritative insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science and technology”. It frothed lovingly when Margaret Thatcher was running her wrecking ball through the UK under the guise of ‘reform’. It didn’t say a word when the financial market deregulation that her government and its successors, including Tony Blair’s New Labour, set in place and fostered, started to turn ugly well before the crash that started the GFC. It is not moderate at all. It has come to the Attack Corbyn Campaign somewhat later in the piece but better late than never I suppose. It article (September 24, 2015) – Murphy’s law unto himself – is a disgrace. Its reveals that the Econmomist is a tawdry little rag that feigns understanding but reveals ignorance. This article is really just a spewing out of some poor undergraduate mainstream macroeconomics textbook chapter or two without any guile or deeper comprehension.
Its my Friday lay day and brevity will triumph today. It might just be a case of a poorly edited title, but a current article in the Jacobin Magazine (September 17, 2015) – Why Leftists Should Be Deficit Hawks – shows that if one starts from a wrong premise the conclusions will lead one astray no matter how noble the intentions are. Progressives have to get the basics of macroeconomics correct before they launch into critiques of this and that. Otherwise they get stranded in this ‘neo-liberal’ space of government financial constraints without really realising it. And then the wheels fall off because they are reduced to arguments like “we have to tax the rich to pay for the services to the poor”, which of course, is nonsense and self-defeating. There are much smarter ways to proceed.
Its my Friday lay day blog and I am on the austerity trail. I have been in Porto, Portugal for the last few days, ostensibly taking a short break by the beach. There has been no swell at all. The beach area to the south of the Douro River is like beach areas everywhere. They give little hint of what austerity has done to this country. Porto is the northern capital of Portugal and a town of around 240 thousand people (in 2012) with the wider region containing around 1.4 million people. It is considered one of “the major urban areas of Southwestern Europe.” But it is also disintegrating as an urban centre with an extraordinary number of derelict buildings and many shops closed as austerity ate into incomes and spending. There are decaying buildings everywhere some with for sale signs on the front. The urban infrastructure is falling apart – the main market is being held up with scaffolding and weeds overtake sporting arenas. In many respects, it looks like a city in the poorest nations rather than being part of Europe. Around a third of the inner city population has left. A large number of people in the greater urban area have left. The mobile are dominated by the young and the educated with the skills leaving behind an elderly population. There is little hope for the city under the current policy structures. A nation and its cities destroyed by austerity. There is no exaggeration here. I invite people to see for themselves. An extraordinary outcome of an out of control recession cult ideology reinforced by neo-liberal Groupthink ruining the prosperity of a people. I had quite a day yesterday as I went on a field trip around Porto organised by the – The Worst Tours.
Its my Friday lay day blog and today it comes from a dark London (given the hour). At present, there is an event going on in Australia that sums up what is wrong with our conception of the economy. The right-wing News Limited press and the conservative Fairfax financial newspaper along with a management consulting firm that has had its snout in the privatisation trough around the world (and given my location – was one of the ‘approved suppliers’ of support services as the British government moves to privatise the National Health Service) have organised what they call the ‘National Reform Summit 2015’. It brings together big business, the co-opted trade union movement and welfare agencies, academics who propagate neo-liberal fiscal myths, and government officials who are intent on pushing more deregulation and reduced government involvement in the economy. It beggars belief that this stuff can pass muster. But it is no surprise, given that the right-wing media is organising the show and can make money by pumping out ridiculous headlines that it knows will scare but the content will not be understood by the average reader. So as the neo-liberal Groupthink is not challenged publicly at the Summit, the organisers have carefully screened the invited participants to sing from the same hymn sheet. The cartoon that follows says it all really.
Its my Friday lay day. This week I have written a few (very) long blogs on what I consider to be significant topics. I have been writing on topics that have a direct bearing on what is happening within the British Labour Party over the last few weeks as a way of providing an economic knowledge base for activists who wish to defend their position against the attacks from the Tory-lites (New Labour). Anyway, after a few days of heavy writing I am not going to write much today (in blog space) and will fill this blog up with music, advertisements, promotions and a cartoon. But there is an issue that has come up this week in Australia which goes to the heart of the neo-liberal attack on our democratic rights which I can write about succinctly. The decision by a court to overturn an approval for a coalmine development has caused our neo-liberal government to go into ‘conniptions’ and accuse community groups of being “radical green activists” engaging in “vigilante litigation”. Read on to learn how the neo-liberal way is that when the government is caught acting outside the law to help their corporate business mates the solution is simple – change the law to make it easier for business to bypass acceptable approval processes.
Its my Friday lay day with respect to blog writing but at the risk of today’s publication looking like an advertising catalogue, I thought I have better write something. There are a number of topics I am delving into at present so deciding what I was interested in writing about today took a little coin-tossing (in virtual space that is). So some notes on corporate greed and management lies. Familiar themes for me. In a week where we learned that wages growth in Australia is at record lows and real wages are skating along the zero growth line despite on-going productivity growth, the big business barons want the government to scrap weekend our wage system and instead allow the ‘market’ (inverted commas!) to rip. This is code for cutting wages for a range of occupations and sectors. Business is also continuing to lie about the state of the economy claiming massive skill shortages exist, which then lead them to recommend more lenient use of short-term migrant visas – which is code for bringing in non-unionised workers from abroad who will work for minimum rates and be susceptible to illegal scams that violate those minimum rates. Even the Government has noted the skills shortage argument which is part of the relentless public relations assault on workers’ conditions does not accord with the evidence. But then since when have the right-wing allowed the facts to get in the road of their ideological push to destroy unions and drive wages down as low as they can.
Its my Friday lay day and I end this week feeling infinitely better (how would I measure that?) than this time last week. The human capacity is pretty phenomenal. This week the Productivity Commission of Australia released its draft report on how to reform the Australian industrial relations system – Workplace Relations Framework (11.7 mbs). The Productivity Commission grew out of the old Tariff Board (then Industries Assistance Commission) and so administered the trade protection policy of the Federal government in the C20th. As ideological preferences changed, it morphed into its current guise, which is to give advice to government on how to deregulate, privatise, outsource and other trash the conditions of workers. As we awaited this current report, the only interesting question was not what they would recommend but what spurious route and flaky evidence they would call upon to attempt to justify their inevitable embrace of more deregulation and wage cutting in the labour market. As it turned out, the Commission disappointed. They couldn’t even find enough flaky evidence to support their conclusions so in the best traditions of the right wing they just offered up the tripe without any coherent argument and then managed to fit all that into a 1001-page tome. I imagine there is low job satisfaction in that part of government having to come up with this sort of nonsense and pretend you do serious work.
Its my Friday lay day blog and I am limping into the weekend to rest up some more. There was an interesting article in the Washington Post (July 31, 2015) – Why Italy is the most likely country to leave the euro. This accords with the view I outlined in my book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – that a large economy such as Italy should demonstrate leadership in the Eurozone and pave the way for the weaker nations to restore their own growth. We would not have witnessed the torturous brutality that was dealt out to Greece recently if the Troika were dealing with Italy. The question is whether Italy is likely to provide that leadership. On July 22, 2015, Eurostat released the latest government debt data for the Eurozone which showed that – Government debt rose to 92.9% of GDP in euro area – which, of course is well above the 60 per cent threshold allowed for by the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). In the last 12 months “fourteen Member States registered an increase in their debt to GDP ratio at the end of the first quarter of 2015, twelve a decrease and in Estonia there was no change.” In the last quarter, fifteen states increased their debt ratios. Greece shows up as having the highest debt ratio but the largest reduction over the last year. But the interesting thing about the data is that Italy has the second-large public debt ratio (at 135.1 per cent) and is among the nations with the largest increases. On the numbers, Italy is being left behind, stuck in recession with high unemployment and a rising public debt ratio which will surely bring it into conflict with the Excessive Deficit Mechanism before too long.