In the days following my blog – Neo-liberals invade The Greens – I have had some interesting responses. Mostly they have been negative and personal but some have been positive and constructively trying to develop the debate. My blog was not an attack on green values – far from it. But it did pinpoint major macroeconomic failings with the current official policy of The Australian Greens which I consider need to be remedied in order to render the other excellent components of their platform viable. I would also note that it is very dangerous to start critiquing a theoretical argument if you really do not understand the basis of the argument. Here is some thoughts in this regard.
The Social Inclusion Research Paper series are slowly emerging. Professor Tony Vinson (Sydney University) was commissioned to write six papers on the topic and they are available HERE. In the paper on Jobless Families in Australia, he considers a range of strategies which have been advanced to reduce chronic joblessness which has wrecked families across Australia since the neo-liberal attack on full employment began in the mid-1970s. I was pleased to see him mention the Job Guarantee. This is what he said.
The Australian Government has now released its so-called Social inclusion principles which are apparently intended “to guide individuals, business and community organisations, and government on how to take a socially inclusive approach to their activities”. I couldn’t find a commitment to full employment among the principles. Pity about that. Another strategy that is rich in rhetoric but squibs the essential nature of the problem. My advice: scrap the plan and start again.
Some readers have asked me to comment on the economic policy of The Australian Greens and how it sits with the other major political parties. I base this assessment on what appears to be the policy statement which was current as at November 2008. There is not a single reference to employment, unemployment or full employment as key economic goals. Moreover, there is as much neo-liberal macroeconomics in the document as you would find in the papers espousing the approach of the main parties. And worse still … if The Greens actually tried to implement some of their macroeconomics principles then they would undermine most of their other major policy goals. So there is no joy to be found in this place for a progressive who understands how the modern monetary system operates.
In the Sydney Morning Herald print edition today (later found in the Tapei Times there was an interesting article – Japan pays a price for lifetime jobs about the way the Japanese are coping with the recession. The story documents the Japanese life-time employment approach which explains why that country can have lower unemployment rates even though its economy is contracting fast. However, once you think about his scheme you realise that it is not without problems. The sentiment and collective will is admirable. But there is a superior buffer stock approach available which also embraces these social values but delivers better outcomes overall – I call it the Job Guarantee.
Today the ABS published its Average Weekly Earnings, Australia data which gives us some information about how workers are faring in the recession from the perspective of their wage returns. It also allows us to compare the trajectory of wage movements over this downturn (so far) against the 1991 downturn. Some interesting results emerge from that comparison.
I was in Sydney today doing various things (see below). It was an interesting day but this morning’s activity gave me some hope that there are community leaders out there who want to fight back and jettison the neo-liberal garbage that is constraining their ability to deliver social equity and job security for their members. My input to the discussion was to tie this in to the macroeconomic debate. These macroeconomic matters – which I write hundreds of thousands of words every year about – really lie at the heart of the problems facing low wage workers and the unemployed. Unless we successfully counter the orthodoxy then tinkering around the edges will be all that we can do. I realise the macroeconomic concepts are difficult to talk about in an accessible way. I also realise that the neo-liberal orthodoxy has been incredibly successful in inculcating notions that the Federal budget is akin to a household budget. Readers of this blog will know it can never be that way. So the challenge for our community leaders is to develop a macro narrative which can permeate the public debate and slowly redefine how we see government; what goals we want the government to pursue (full employment) and how they do business with employers. That is an interesting challenge and I like things like that.
I must have just woken from a bad dream. Did I read this week that the Australian Government will record a deficit of $A58 billion or 4.9 per cent of GDP but are forecasting unemployment will rise from its present parlous level of 5.4 per cent to 8.5 per cent by the middle of 2012? It must be a joke. If it is serious then this lot deserve to be a one-term government not that I have any hope that the alternative (conservative or green) would do any better. They are all caught up in this neo-liberal straitjacket which has been increasingly tightened over the last 30 years and now ensures that our national government will not use its economic policy capacity responsibly. Our current Federal Government not only continues to abandon full employment but is also abandoning the unemployed. What a place!
The ABC News Online business reporter Michael Janda ran this Opinion piece – Economists tackle the deficit and debt debate today. He interviews three economists – myself, Steve Keen (University of Western Sydney) and Stephen Kirchner (Centre of Independent Studies). The discussion is interesting because it demonstrates how the journalists modify what you say to mean something slightly different (no accusation here that it was designed to skew meaning though) and generates the statistic that two out of three economists do not understand how the modern monetary economy works.
Imagine the time when it was the mainstream view that the Earth was flat, representing an infinite plane. The view largely died at around 3 BC but there are still some characters out there who worry about falling off the South Pole. After all the Nile River runs for thousands of kilometres and drops barely a few feet over that distance which doesn’t fit well with convexity does it?
The current budget period seems to have revitalised the theory – albeit in a different form but just as ingenious. Flat Earth Theory (FET) … say it out aloud! … has morphed into DET. This new branch of FET is now dominating the media. Overnight Generation Y are Generation DET. Young children are now viewing their parents differently – wondering why their greedy, selfish and profligate elders are going to destroy their futures. Experts are coming and going on our national TV and radio warning that we are about to fall over the edge! Well I am staying grounded! Here is the reason why.
Tonight is federal budget night – which presents the most comprehensive picture of where the Government is going with fiscal policy and the Treasury’s estimate of how the economy is travelling. So for a macroeconomist like me it is a biggest night in the annual calendar. But I am more interested in parrots and spotted owls at the moment. What? Yes, I guess it is escapism … to avoid the hysterical public debate that has surrounded this budget. The economic falsehoods, the outright lies, the duplicity and the all of that. But I cannot escape it because I have a newspaper opinion piece to write on the Budget by 20:00 tonight. So, given that, here is my take on the budget and then …. I can get back to the birds!
I read the headline – Aussies don’t understand deficits: MP – in the Canberra Times with interest and after reading the article I returned to the on-going conversation I have with myself – why have we all been so stupid to have been so duped by the neo-liberal agenda? Almost all the public debate about the Federal Budget tomorrow is a total non sequitur. It bears no relation to the important questions that the Budget process has to deal with. Somehow, we are all sidelined by a rhetoric and a focus that conveniently diverts us away from these real issues and, instead, transfixes us on a piece of fiction. But a convenient fiction which maintains the relative power elites and perpetuates disadvantage. I understand all of that … but I still can’t get my head around why we have allowed ourselves to be so conned.
Continuing the developing country theme of Friday and in response to a comment from a reader I decided to write a short blog on the applicability of employment guarantees to poorer nations. They have particular issues which means that a Job Guarantee scheme has to be carefully designed. But with the experience of several countries and extensive research and evaluation of these schemes, I conclude that the employment guarantee approach to income security is broadly applicable. Most of the arguments against providing a buffer stock of jobs to insulate the workers against the fluctuations of the private economy are based on false neo-liberal arguments about national government budget constraints. Once you get over that sort of fallacious reasoning, then there are real issues left to confront and overcome. This is now an important part of my academic work and a very interesting part to say the least.
Today I have been working on a project for the Asian Development Bank concerning regional development and macroeconomic risk management in the Central Asian countries (all the “stans” plus a few others). I have also been reading a lot of the development economics literature lately, which is generally a place that the neo-liberal troglodytes really run amok. It certainly focuses one’s attention. In the advanced countries the media focuses on our own losses. In Australia, a lot is written about superannuation losses. And journalists, who largely ignored the fact that during the boom we still had around 10 per cent of our willing workers without enough work – wasted and excluded, are once again talking about unemployment. But overall, the public debate is not at all focused on how the current economic crisis is damaging the weakest of the weak in far off lands and killing people.
Everyday brings surprises as a social science researcher. Today I was gearing myself up for the lunchtime current affairs radio onslaught from the budget nazis – “see unemployment is still rising and stimulus doesn’t work” – that sort of thing. But then at 11.30 (or just after) I looked up today’s Labour Force data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and was … to say the least … surprised. Here is what I was expecting – the labour participation rate would fall a little and unemployment to continue rising. I expected full-time employment to fall and perhaps part-time employment to rise a little but for total employment overall to fall. However, given three other pieces of information, two of which were released yesterday, I was thinking that all these “bad movements” would be fairly moderate in size. So a surprise indeed but … we should be careful before we get too carried away.
Today’s ABS retail turnover data is very interesting considering the meltdown that is occuring elsewhere in the world. The summary result that retail turnover grew by 2.2 per cent in the month of March suggests that the Australian economy is still alive – at least in the consumer markets. This figure was a surprise to all those who were in denial of the usefulness of budget deficits – both the discretionary components (the “stimulus packages”) and the automatic stabiliser components.
In the 1980s, as high unemployment persisted following the 1975 OPEC oil shock and the stagflation that accompanied it and then the 1982 recession and its aftermath, neo-liberals started to seek new ways of justifying the lack of government action in restoring full employment. Being very clever, they came up with an ingenious solution – redefine what full employment means. So as the unemployment rate rose they claimed that the so-called “equilibrium unemployment rate” had also risen which meant that attempts to reduce it by expansionary policy would be inflationary. They claimed the only way the government could act was to initiate “structural reforms” aka privatisation, labour market deregulation, anti-union legislation and harsh welfare measures. Why should we be so surprised that they are at it again? The truth is that recessions cause structural imbalances which are corrected again if economic growth is strong enough in the post recession phase.
The discussion about the relative merits of monetary policy and fiscal policy is on-going. A regular billy blog reader has asked me to give some thought to this discussion, specifically in terms of whether monetary policy is a useful counter-stabilisation option. My view is that if one takes a modern monetary perspective then it is clear that the current reliance on monetary policy (accompanied by the budget deficit phobia) will always fail to deliver full employment and relies on the impoverishment of the disadvantaged for its ability to achieve low inflation. Accordingly, it would be far better for the government to set the short-term interest rate at zero and achieve full employment through appropriate levels of net spending (fiscal deficits).
As the Federal budget week approaches the various commentators and interest groups are whipping themselves into a lather about what choices the Government might have or not have. A recurring theme is whether the Government should honour its election commitment in 2007 to cut income taxes from July 2009. The debate is being constructed along the lines of whether the nation can now “afford these cuts” given the “rising debt” and the “shocking state” of the budget deficit. This debate demonstrates perfectly how bad policy can be made when the Government fails to understand its options as a monopoly issuer of a non-convertible currency.
Labour market researchers are concentrating their minds at present on how fast the unemployment rate is rising. While that is what the main game is clearly about, there are also interesting trends happening with respect to labour force participation rates. I have been tinkering around with various aspects of this behaviour because I am interested in this notion that there might be wealth effects operating to reverse the usual falls in participation during a downturn. I am also interested in estimating what is happening to hidden unemployment. So here is a brief report on some work to date.