I read an interesting report this morning, which resonated with some other work I had been looking into earlier in the week. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) released a report yesterday (September 27, 2023) – Inequality in Australia 2023: Overview – which shows that “The gap between those with the most and those with the least has blown out over the past two decades, with the average wealth of the highest 20% growing at four times the rate of the lowest”. It is one of the manifestations of the neoliberal era and is ultimately unsustainable. Earlier in the week, I spent some time analysing the latest data from the US Federal Reserve on the distribution of wealth among US households. The US data goes a long way to explaining why the recent interest rate hikes have been inflationary in themselves.
I read an article in the Financial Times earlier this week (September 23, 2023) – How do we raise trillions of dollars to fight the climate crisis? The answer is staring us in the face – which was written by former British Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown. The article is really just a promotion for a soon to be released book he has co-authored with characters from financial markets and mainstream economics. While purporting to be a solution to the climate challenges facing the world, it falls into the ‘progressive’ mainstream trap of coming up with just another ‘tax the rich’ plan.
This Tuesday report will provide some insights into life for a westerner (me) who is working for several months at Kyoto University in Japan.
Today (September 25, 2023), the Australian government issued its – Working Future: The Australian Government’s White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities – statement, which portends to define labour market vision and policy for the years to come. White Paper’s are grand statement and this one falls short of that requirement. Compared to the path-breaking – The 1945 White Paper on Full Employment – which set the path for several decades of prosperity for workers, the current effort by the government is a mediocre affair. It is just a restatement of the NAIRU cult that has justified the so-called ‘activation’ or supply-side approach to labour market policy, which effectively relegates macroeconomic policy to the bench and considers micro policies are required to reduce the NAIRU and the measured unemployment rate. This is the failed strategy that has dominated for the last three decades and has cause the problems that the White Paper claims it wants to address. Its release today demonstrates that the Labor Government is really just a neoliberal-lite outfit – full of spin but short on any directional shift in policy. It is very dispiriting.
I am now in a very hot and humid Kyoto having left Australia yesterday in weather that was in some places 20 or more degrees Celsius above the norm for early Spring. The heat here and back home at this time of year is rather scary given what it portends. I also do not have much time today given I have been contending with various ‘moving in’ requirements. But I read an article on the plane last night which I think marks a divide between what ‘green’ progressives think and what I think is needed. I was talking to a friend the other day who remarked he was enduring what he termed ‘ecological anxiety’. In the week that followed, bushfires across Australia have started burning some months earlier than has been the typical pattern over a long period. There are massive ‘weather’ events now all around the globe and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the sceptics to dismiss these conjunctions as random or ‘we just haven’t had data long enough’ type ruses. Some ‘green progressives believe the solution lies in governments inducing the financial speculators to shift funds into ‘green’ investments so that profitability can be safeguarded. They also believe that governments will get more money to invest this way (through providing inflation-indexed sovereign bonds). Talk about a vision for increased corporate welfare. My starting point is that we should do everything possible to keep the speculators out of our policy moves to decarbonise. It will end badly if we rely on the gamblers for the solution.
Today, I am heading to the airport for travel to Japan. For the next several months I will once again be working as a professor at Kyoto University as part of the research team concerned with integrating the macroeconomic principles in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles into a broader framework to build national resilience in the face of climate change, demographic challenges, transport and housing challenges and more. So from tomorrow I will be in Kyoto and depending on commitments my blog posts might be a little less regular although I think I will be able to continue the usual output. I will have more to say about what we are working on, including the release of a book we have been completing from last year’s collaborations. There is also a major event planned for later in November in Tokyo to launch our latest work. I will provide details later when I know them. We are also talking about hosting an Modern Monetary Theory symposium in Kyoto next April to welcome in the Spring and the cherry blossoms. When I know more I will relate the details here. I am also working on my next book which will traverse the topics of degrowth, the sustainability of capitalism and more. Japan’s shrinking population presents an opportunity to lead the world in reducing the society’s reliance on economic growth and exploring more substantial aspects of human existence. I mapped out that argument in this blog post – Degrowth, deep adaptation, and skills shortages – Part 4 (October 31, 2022). Anyway, until I resurface tomorrow beside the Kamo River, we can listen to some music.
Last week (September 13, 2023) in Brussels, the President of the European Union delivered her annual – 2023 State of the Union Address. We all know that these events are spin-oriented and the leader of the 27-nation bloc is hardly going to come out and talk the arrangement down. But this was an election speech – with the next major elections coming in the year ahead. The President lauded all the half-baked and under-funded programs that they have initiated under her ‘leadership’ and when it came to assessing the state of the labour market she made the extraordinary statement that as a result of Commission policies (such as – SURE) “Europe is close to full employment.” Yes, they are spinning the view that the problem is not a lack of jobs but “millions of jobs are looking for people” while admitting that “8 million young people are neither in employment, education or training” – the so-called NEET generation. Language should above all else convey meaning. Trying to claim that Europe is close to full employment violates that basic aspiration. The reality is that Europe is nowhere close.
Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for August 2023 today (September 14, 2023). Employment growth was strong in August and kept pace with the underlying population growth and the participation rise so that unemployment remained steady. The weaker result in July was probably mostly reflecting the rotation in the sample. However, there are now 10.2 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed. That extent of idle labour means Australia is not at full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators. The other point is that the relatively steady unemployment rate indicates how ineffective monetary policy has been, given the RBA’s intention to push unemployment up to 4.5 per cent through a sequence of interest rate rises since May 2022. Unemployment has barely budged.
Two items this Wednesday before the music segment. First, we saw the stark ideology of the elites on full display in Sydney yesterday with a property developer demanding the government increase unemployment by 40-50 per cent to show the workers that the employer is boss and redistribute more national income back to profits. For anyone who doubts the relevance of a framework based on underlying class conflict between labour and capital, then this outburst should eliminate those doubts. On the same day, a leading research group in the welfare sector released an update in their series tracing poverty in Australia. It demonstrated a rising incidence of poverty (nearly 20 per cent of the population) and 1 in 6 children living in impoverished conditions. And the profit takers want more of that to enrich (engorge) themselves even further. A shocking indictment of what has gone wrong with this nation.
Several related strands have come together in the last week of work and thinking. Today (September 11, 2023), of course, is a massive day in history and I am not referring to the year 2001. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the overthrow of the Salvatore Allende’s democratically-elected government in Chile by the US CIA and there local puppets under the leadership of General – Augusto Pinochet. I have also been following a trail of the antecedents of the Powell Manifesto (thanks to Jonathan for a tip), which helps understand how the neoliberals infested every institution in the US and beyond. And the Chilean coup d’état in 1973 was followed by – Operation Condor – which together with the coup demonstrated the principle terrorist organisation in the world has been the US government and its agencies. Tracking the Powell trail also took me to old research about the so-called ‘Manne Programs in Economics for Federal Judges’ – which was a program mostly taught by Chicago School economists that indoctrinated US judges into free market economic thinking and has distorted US judicial decisions ever since. And the circle closes when we investigate the role played by the so-called – Chicago Boys – who were Chilean PhD graduates from that school, who went back to Chile and ravaged the prosperity of the people with their extreme neoliberal ideas. All interlinked events on the path to global neoliberal domination. History is worth studying and it is striking how interrelated all these things are that have come together in my work the last week or so.