Australian government proves it can end poverty, but refuses to, and is deliberately pushing more people into that state

The Australian – Productivity Commission – was created in 1998 as a result of an amalgamation between the Industry Commission (established 1990), the Bureau of Industry Economics (established 1978) and the Economic Planning Advisory Commission (established 1983). As you will read below, its antecedents go back to 1921. The Commission is one of many government-funded institutions that have undergone structural shifts over time as their initial role becomes redundant, a redundancy that reflects the changing dominant ideology of the time. It is now the government’s principal ‘free market’ think tank that spews out predictable nonsense regularly – always ending with recommendations for more deregulation and less government intervention. Its latest offering was released on Monday (May 20, 2024) – A snapshot of inequality in Australia – which, in its own words, “provides an update on the state of economic inequality in Australia, reviewing the period of the COVID-19 induced recession and recovery” with a focus on women, older people, and First Nation’s peoples. It contains some interesting analysis but falls short because its fiscal framework, upon which it makes assessments about the data that is made available, is mainstream and assumes the Australian government has financial constraints. Once they adopt that fiction, then the scope for policy is limited and we end up not solving the problems discussed.

Read more

Tracing the British Labour Party’s fears of The City – Part 1

When I met with John McDonnell on October 11, 2018 at his Embankment office block in London he was then the Shadow Chancellor. The theme of the meeting was dominated by the concerns (near hysteria) about the power of the City of London (the financial markets), expressed by his advisor, a younger Labour Party apparatchik whose ideas are representative of the bulk of the progressive side of politics in Britain. The topic of the meeting centred on the fiscal rule that the British Labour Party chose to apparently establish credibility with the financial markets (‘The City’). I had long pointed out that the fiscal rule they had designed with the help of some New Keynesian macroeconomists was not just a neoliberal contrivance but was also impossible to meet and in that sense was just setting themselves up to failure should they have won office at the next election. Essentially, I was just met with denial. They just rehearsed the familiar line that the British government has to appease the financial interests in The City or face currency destruction. That fear is regularly rehearsed and has driven Labour policy for years. It wasn’t always that way though. As part of preliminary research for a book I plan to write next year I am digging into the history of this issue. What we learn is that the British government has all the legislative capacity it needs to render The City powerless in terms of driving policy. That raises the question as to why they don’t use it. All part of some work I am embarking on. The reason: I am sick to death of weak-kneed politicians who masquerade as progressive but who bow and scrape to the financial interests in the hope they will get a nice revolving door job when they exit politics. A good motivation I think.

Read more

Australian labour market – mixed signals but probably still in a weakening phase

Last month’s Labour Force data release for April 2024, revealed that the Australian labour market was starting to weaken in the face of the fiscal squeeze (the government announced a second successive annual fiscal surplus on Tuesday) and the 11 interest rate hikes since May 2022. Today (May 16, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for April 2024, which shows that there are mixed signals which make it hard to say categorically where things are or where they are going. Total employment growth was positive and the participation rate increased, which usually signals a strengthening labour market. But full-time employment fell and monthly hours worked were static. Further both the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate rose, which indicates weakness, notwithstanding the fact that the participation rate increase accounted for some of the rise in unemployment. Moreover, there is now 10.8 per cent of the working age population (1.58 million people) who are available and willing but cannot find enough work – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.

Read more

Real wage cuts continue in Australia as profit share rises

The Annual Fiscal Statement for Australia (aka ‘The Budget’) came out last night and ordinarily I would analyse it today. But I am travelling a lot today and also the wage data came out today, so I plan to leave the fiscal policy commentary until next week when I have more time to think about the shifts in policy. Today (May 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2024, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 4.1 per cent over the 12 months (down 0.1 point on the last quarter). In relation to the March-quarter CPI change (3.6 per cent), this result suggests that real wages achieved modest gains. However, if we use the more appropriate Employee Selected Living Cost Index as our measure of the change in purchasing power then the March-quarter result of 6.5 per cent means that real wages fell by 2.4 per cent. Even the ABS notes the SLCI is a more accurate measure of cost-of-living increases for specific groups of interest in the economy. However, most commentators will focus on the nominal wages growth relative to CPI movements, which in my view provides a misleading estimate of the situation workers are in. Further, while productivity growth is weak, the movement in real wages is such that real unit labour costs are still declining, which is equivalent to an ongoing attrition of the wages share in national income. So corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale. That is modern day Australia.

Read more

Degrowth will require humans shovel less energy … into our bodies

I haven’t much time free today and with the federal government’s fiscal statement coming out tomorrow night and wage data and the labour force data coming out Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, it is going to be a full week. Given I am using all my time to finish the manuscript for my next book which has to be delivered to the publisher on June 1, I am writing very little here today. But there was some interesting data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) last week that bears on my general theme of degrowth, in a roundabout sort of way. The data from the – National Health Survey 2022 – is very revealing and shows how far people will have to go to adopt degrowth behaviours at a personal level. And just so you know, while I wrote about health matters last week and will again today, I don’t intend to make it a regular habit on a Monday.

Read more

The fiscal lunancy reaches peak levels this time of year

In the last week, as the Federal government comes towards next Tuesday’s annual fiscal statement (aka ‘The Budget’ although we don’t use that terminology around here, do we?) and the State Government’s are progressively delivering their own Budget Statements (they being financially constrained) we have witnessed the absurdity of the system of public finances that pretends the Federal government is a big household and that somehow monetary policy is the most effective way to deal with an inflation that is sourced in supply side constraints. Earlier this week, the Victorian government released a fairly shocking fiscal statement, which cut expenditure programs in many key areas such as health care (while the pandemic is still killing many people), public education, essential public infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, and more. Why? Because it built up a rather large stock of debt during the early years of the pandemic and is now in political jeopardy because the state debt is being weaponised by the conservatives who claim the government is going broke. Similar austerity agendas are being pursued by other state and territory governments although Victoria leads the way because it provided more pandemic support to offset the damage that the extensive restrictions caused. Meanwhile, the federal government is boasting that it is heading towards its second consecutive surplus, as unemployment rises, hours of work fall, and the planet requires massive investment to attenuate climate change. The madness compounds when we realise that around 85 per cent of all state and federal debt that was issued between March 2020 and July 2022 was purchased by the Reserve Bank of Australia – that is, effectively, by the federal government itself. If citizens really understood the implications of that they would never agree to the swingeing cutbacks in public expenditure and the user pays tax hikes etc, that have been justified by an appeal to the debt build up. Its just madness.

Read more

COVID-19 myopia – it actually costs more to have no acute care protocols in place and more people die as a result

I regularly scan research output from disciplines other than economics that I think impacts on economic matters. On April 17, 2024, a new study from medical researchers at the Burnett Institute in Melbourne, working with staff at the Department of Health and Human Services, in Victoria published a pre-print in The Lancet – Admission Screening Testing of Patients and Staff N95 Masks are Cost-Effective in Reducing COVID-19 Hospital Acquired Infections – which continues to show that public health policy in Australia is failing and part of that failure is the myopia that ‘sound finance’ principles engenders. I have written before about this myopia where governments think they need to cut back on spending because they are ‘short’ of funding and end up having to spend more over time because the initial spending cuts cause massive (and predictable) problems. We have seen this phenomenon in many situations (several cases are cited below). This new research puts an end in my view to the debates about hospital and more general health practices in the Covid era and exposes how the lack of political leadership, a refusal to fund public education, and poor hospital practices – mostly due to alleged funding shortfalls – have turned Australian hospitals into death zones. And while the authorities are telling the public they are ‘saving taxpayers’ money’ the reality is that the pubic outlays to deal with the problems they are creating by this austerity will be multiples of what would be required to implement sound policy now and avoid those longer-term problems.

Read more

The green growth paradigm has a long tradition – which has never been supportable

In October 1987, the United Nations published a report – Our Common Future – (aka Brundland Report) which was the work of the then World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) – that was chaird by the then Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. It laid out a multilateral approach to dealing with climate change and establishing a path to sustainable development (growth). While the Report was published by Oxford University Press, you can access it via the UN – HERE. It is the foundation of the more recent ‘green growth’ and ‘green new deal’ movements that have besotted the progressives in the advanced nations. The problem is that the framework presented implies that we can maintain the capitalist market system with some tweaks and continue prioritising the pursuit of private profit as the main organising principle for resource allocation. I disagree with that approach and my current research is building the case for system change and the abandonment of the ‘growth paradigm’.

Read more

The yen, podcast, and book announcement – all on International Workers’ Day

It’s Wednesday and today I consider the current yen situation which is causing some hysteria in the financial media even though there is not much to worry about. I also provide access to my latest podcast with the Washington-based Bad Faith, which traverses issues of class, the demise of the Left, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and degrowth. And the book announcement – pre-orders are now available. And finally an anthem for International Workers’ Day.

Read more

Japan’s municipalities disappearing as population shrinks

I have just finished reading a report from the Population Strategy Council (PSC) of Japan – 令和6年・地方自治体「持続可能性」分析レポート (2024 Local government “sustainability” analysis report) – that was released last week April 24, 2024). The study found that around 40 per cent of the towns (municipalities) in Japan will likely disappear because their populations are in rapid decline as a result of extremely low birth rates. The shrinking Japanese population and the way in which local government areas are being challenged by major population outflows (to Tokyo for example) combined with very low birth rates makes for a great case study for research. There are so many issues that arise and many of which challenge the mainstream economics narrative concerning fiscal and monetary impacts of increasing dependency ratios on government solvency. From my perspective, Japan provides us with a good example of how degrowth, if managed correctly can be achieved with low adjustment costs. The situation will certainly keep me interested for the years to come.

Read more
Back To Top