The extraordinary events in world financial markets which have undermined the basis of capitalism have led to equally amazing Government responses – massive injections of public spending, nationalisations of banks and bailouts of huge financial institutions with little regard for the relevant shareholder interests.
A major paradigm shift is occurring in economic thinking away from the free market deregulation era that has dominated since the 1970s. All the logic that justified government cut backs; the run down of public infrastructure; the harsh treatment of welfare recipients; the wasteful privatisations, and the rest of the neo-liberal litany that served to transfer wealth from poor to rich and create an disadvantaged underclass has been destroyed by these events.
How bad is it when the Treasurer of the nation fails a test in basic national accounts (the material that is covered in Macroeconomics 101)? And how bad is it when he also reveals a fundamental ignorance of the basic operations of the monetary system? When the Senate moved to block the luxury car tax yesterday, the Treasurer Wayne Swan was quoted (see http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/09/04/2354836.htm) as follows: “If the surplus is raided to a significant extent that will be on the head of Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Party, who are clearly saying that into the future, they prefer a higher level of interest rates than we otherwise might have”. In fact, if he had even the remotest understanding of the way the modern monetary economy works he would know that surpluses put upward pressure on interest rates, other thing equal, while deficits put downward pressure.
As a brief follow up to yesterday, German labour force data came out yesterday (Tuesday) and reveal that unemployment rose sharply in December and the disgraceful barrier of a record 5 million unemployed is now highly likely in early 2005. In December there were 4.48 million unemployed or 10.8 per cent of the active population. This is the highest level since 1990 and the second highest level in the whole period since World War II.
Australia is not alone in mistreating our disadvantaged and unemployed citizens. As a portent of things to come in Australia after July 2005, tough new labour market reforms came into law in Germany on January 1. The Hartz IU reforms received a bit of European press in the last few days. I read two stories over the last few days, one in the German paper Bild am Sonntag (BamS) under the heading – Hartz-IV-Chaos! Kann ich meine Stütze bar abholen? – and another from the French daily Le Monde that provided some useful insights into the how a country that refuses to provide enough work for its citizens turns on the same.
In the Melbourne Age today (January 3, 2005), the forecasts of 18 economists for the year ahead. The group was overwhelmingly comprised of economists with vested corporate sector interests with only one academic economist being included. They make interesting reading given I also indulge in a bit of crystal ball gazing myself.
On January 1, 2005, the ABC carried the headline Business welcomes trade deal, which officially came into force as the new year unfolded. The Australian-US free trade deal was touted by the current government as a major breakthrough. Well from where I sit it is neither a free trade agreement or one that we will look favourably on in the years to come. The fact that the ALP tried to convince us that they were capable of showing leadership (not!) by passing it with some irrelevant amendments is even more frightening.
Foreign minister Downer displayed his fundamental macroeconomic ignorance yesterday when he was trying to explain to reporters the accounting behind the relief payments the Australian Government is proposing to aid the tsunami victims. Reported on the ABC he said that “the Government will need to dip in to the Budget surplus to provide relief money to areas affected by the tsunami disaster. The amounts proposed are beyond the government’s current disaster relief fund. For reasons I explain below this fund can be nothing more than a notional accounting allocation that the Government considers it will spend each year on disaster assistance. It does not exist in the same way as you and me (as households) might have saving accounts with actual dollars in them in a building society (or bank) each year.
I am in a quandary … as usual! I thought along the same lines when Australia was stricken with drought recently and there was a national urgency to provide both government assistance and support from the private sector (national appeals and such). At present the world’s media is focused on the events following the natural disaster in the Indian Ocean. Not without some justification given the extent of the calamity. Nation’s (some) are rushing to provide aid and our Prime Minister John Howard quickly committed $35 million in aid and has said more funds will be made available. He is quoted on ABC news today as saying “The amount will be added to significantly in the time ahead … We have a moral obligation on the basis of pure humanity to help and we will help.” Say that again John: “We have a moral obligation on the basis of pure humanity to help and we will help.” But try this logic out: the citizens who have been ravaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis could have taken steps to avoid their exposure. Why didn’t they educate themselves enough to ensure they knew about the dangers and why didn’t they build better houses and why, why, why?