Today, we have a guest blogger in the guise of Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time. Today, he follows on from my previous post – The financial markets should be kept away from the climate crisis solution (November 10, 2021) – and discusses the failure of the Australian federal government to produce a workable net-zero emissions plan. So, it’s over to Scott.
Today (November 17, 2021), the ABS released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter 2021. The WPI data shows that nominal wages growth rose above levels recorded in previous quarters and the pattern resembled the pre-pandemic growth path – low to modest. The inflation rate continues to outstrip nominal wages growth, which means that workers in all sectors bar ‘Professional, scientific and technical services’ experienced on-going cuts drops in their real wages (purchasing power). The behaviour of nominal wages in Australia gives us a clear signal that there is little prospect of sustained inflationary pressures emerging from the labour market any time soon. Wages in the public sector grew by only 1.6 per cent over the 12 months as a result of the ridiculous wage freezes and wage caps that the federal and state governments are imposing. There can be no sustained recovery for the economy post Covid without a significant shift in the way we think about wages growth.
One of the important concepts one learns in studying the way firms work with respect to pricing and markups is the distinction between quantity and price adjustment over the course of an economic cycle. When economists talk of supply and demand, they usually refer to price adjustment, where prices adjust up or down when there is an imbalance between these aggregates. Orthodox economics presumes that prices adjust, for example, to eliminate an excess supply, which they apply to the labour market and conclude that the cure for mass unemployment is wage cutting. The problem is that in many circumstances, firms use quantity adjustments long before they contemplate price adjustments, because the former involves lower costs. The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) ran a story from its business reporters today (November 16, 2021) – As migration restarts, will it hold down wages for everyone? – which has also become a feature news segment on its television coverage today. The analysis presented is seriously misleading. It not only fails to characterise the problem properly but buys into a highly contentious debate about whether migration has negative impacts on the labour market prospects for local workers. It behoves analysts to actually construct the problem correctly before they start taking sides in this debate. The ABC article fails in that regard which is disappointing. Their failure also reflects the lack of diversity in opinion they seek these days. They chose to simply rehearse the arguments presented by one pro-migration analysis as if it was definitive rather than seek expert opinion from neutral analysis. But it also demonstrates why understanding the difference between quantity and price adjustment is crucial to getting the conclusions right.
I have finally been able to read the latest fiscal statement – Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021 – from the H.M. Treasury, which was released on October 29, 2021. That 202 page document is not something anyone should spend time reading but in my job one has to in order to stay abreast of what is happening around the world. It also took me down the Office of Budget Responsibility snake hole to read their latest – Fiscal risks report – July 2021 – which obviously conditions the way the fiscal statement is framed. That is a really bad document. And as it happens, footnotes in that document take us further into the pit of New Keynesian fiction, where we find modelling that OBR relies on, that has the temerity to model fiscal shocks where labour markets always clear and households choose the unemployment rate, which is constructed as ‘leisure’, as they maximise their satisfaction. I suppose that is okay in a world where we assume households live to infinity. That is, nothing remotely like the world we live in. I don’t plan to analyse in detail the fiscal statement. Rather, here are some reflections on some of the material that the Treasury think is useful in framing the statement. Which helps to explain why these sorts of statements become lame quickly.
Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest labour force data today (November 11, 2021) – Labour Force, Australia – for October 2021. The background is that the entire East Coast has now come out of an extended lockdown over the last few months. The October 2021 data reveals the damage that those lockdowns have caused. But, given that today’s data reflects what was happening about a month ago, it is still too early to say what the speed of recovery will be although more recent payroll data suggests that employment growth is rebounding. But the story of today’s data is that total employment and the unemployment rate are worse than before the pandemic – so the nation has lost ground over the last 20 months. And that is largely because the federal government withdrew its fiscal stimulus too early. The summary results are clear: employment continues to contract, the unemployment and broader underutilisation rates soared. There are nearly 2 million Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed) and several hundred thousand who have left the active labour force due to lack of employment opportunities. Overall, the labour market is in poor shape and the federal government is doing nothing to help. The lack of any significant stimulus from the federal government is telling. There is now definite evidence that further and rather massive fiscal support is required.
It’s Wednesday and today, apart from presenting some great music, I am commenting on the ridiculous notion, that even progressive greenies propagate that we need to harness the financial resources of the markets (Wall street types) to help governments decarbonise their societies. The narrative that has emerged – that the financial CEOs with “trillions in assets” (all at COP26 because they could smell lucre) are a key to solving the climate challenge – is as ridiculous as progressives saying we need to tax them to fund schools and hospitals. Both narratives reflect the dominance of mainstream macroeconomics which has convinced us that currency-issuing governments are like big households and can ‘run out of money’. That is fiction but is part of the reason we have a climate crisis. Read on.
I have been researching the so-called labour shortage that business types are talking about relentlessly as part of their on-going strategy to undermine the conditions of work and make more profit. In the course of that enquiry, I came across an interesting juxtaposition between two US companies that illustrate a lot of what we have known about for years but have allowed this relentless, neoliberal, race-to-the-bottom to obscure. Well-paid workers with job security, work better and are happy workers. Companies that pursue the ‘race-to-the-bottom’ strategy and seek to build profits by trashing the conditions they offer workers eventually struggle to prosper because their bad reputation undermines their ability to attract productive workers. In the case we discuss today, the so-called ‘labour shortage’ is really just a signal of management caprice. Rather than being a shortage of workers, there is a shortage of workers who will tolerate the indignity of low wages, onerous conditions and capricious management. It is also a union versus non-union type of discussion where the unionised work places generate high productivity and worker attachment, while the non-unionised workplaces find it hard to attract reliable staff and blame it all on ‘labour shortages’.
Last Friday (November 5, 2021), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – October 2021 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 531,000 jobs in August and a 0.2 points decline in the official unemployment rate to 4.6 per cent. With participation unchanged, this was a stronger result than the previous month and the employment-population ratio rose by 0.1 points. It is still well down on the February 2020 peak though. The US labour market is still 4,204 thousand jobs short from where it was at the end of February 2020, which helps to explain why there are no fundamental wage pressures emerging. An occupational analysis shows that the lower paid occupations have not participated proportionally in the jobs growth and many groups have endured real Median weekly earning cuts over the course of the pandemic. Any analyst who is claiming the US economy is close to full employment hasn’t looked at the data.