Australia national accounts – growth continues to be sluggish as material living standards decline

Today (September 6, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, June 2023 – which shows that the Australian economy grew by just 0.4 per cent in the June-quarter 2023 and by 2.1 per cent over the 12 months. If we extend the June result out over the year then GDP will grow by 0.8 per cent, well below the rate required to keep unemployment from rising. GDP per capita fell by 0.3 per cent and Real net national disposable income fell by 1.4 per cent – a measure of how far material living standards declined. Households cut back further on consumption expenditure while at the same time saving less relative to their disposable income in an effort to maintain consumption growth in the face of rising interest rates and temporary inflationary pressures. The result also shows that the RBA’s attempts to engineer a recession are so far failing which tells us about the ineffectiveness of monetary policy.

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US labour market – unemployment rises on back of rising participation rate

Last Friday (September 1, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by 187,000 but also that the unemployment rate has now starting rising (up 0.3 points) to 3.8 per cent. Is this the tipping point? I am very uncertain given the surprisingly large burst in participation which accounts almost entirely for the rise in unemployment and the unemployment rate. Most of the other aggregates were relatively stable which is why I am expressing uncertainty in my assessment. However, there is no sign of recession and no sign that the misguided Federal Reserve interest rate rises are causing rises in unemployment. Powell could hardly take credit for the rising participation rate unless he argued that he had created such desperation that people who normally do not work sought work. A stretch!

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Inflation in Australia falling sharply while the US labour demand collapses

Yesterday (August 29, 2023), the incoming Reserve Bank of Australia governor was confronted with ‘activists’ as she prepared to present to an audience at the Australian National University in Canberra. They presented her with an application for unemployment benefits and had done her the favour of already filling it in with her name. It was in response to her dreadful speech in June where she said the RBA was intent on pushing the unemployment rate up to 4.5 per cent (from 3.5), which means that around 140,000 workers will be forced out of work. The problem is that even if we believed the logic underpinning such an aspiration, the actual empirical evidence doesn’t support the conclusion. Today August 30, 2023, we received more evidence of that as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – for July 2023, which showed a sharp drop in inflation. As well as considering that data, today I reflect on the latest JOLTS data that was released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday. The two considerations are complementary and demonstrate that central bankers in Australia and the US have lost the plot. To soothe our souls after all that we remember a great musician who died recently.

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Another mythical intergenerational report from the Australian Treasury

In my most recent podcast – Letter from The Cape Podcast – Episode 14 – I provided a brief introductino to why economic reports that project fiscal crises based on ageing population estimates miss the point and bias policy to making the actual problem worse. Today, I will provide more detail on that theme. Last week (August 24, 2023), the Government via the Treasury released its – 2023 Intergenerational Report – which purports to project “the outlook of the economy and the Australian Government’s budget to 2062-63”. It commands centre stage in the public debate and journalists use many column inches reporting on it. Unfortunately, it is a confection of lies, half-truths interspersed with irrelevancies and sometimes some interesting facts. Usually, these reports (the 2023 edition is the 6th since this farcical exercise began in the 1998) are a waste of time and effort.

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With central banks chasing shadows, many nations are now plunging towards or into recession

Yesterday, the – Flash Germany PMI – was released, which shows that “German business activity” has fallen “at fastest rate since May 2020”. Also released was the – Flash Eurozone PMI – which revealed that “Eurozone business activity contracted at an accelerating pace in August as the region’s downturn spread further from manufacturing to services”, Europe is heading to recession or should I rather say – stagflation – because the unemployment will rise sharply while inflation is still at elevated levels. All because the policy settings are wilfully and unnecessarily driving nations into recession. Over the Channel, Britain is going through a similar experience – inflation is falling rapidly and the economy is plunging towards recession. The common link is the policy folly. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England have been increasing interest rates as a ‘chasing shadows’ exercise – meaning that the drivers of the inflation they claim to be fighting are not sensitive to the interest rate changes. But the interest rate hikes are causing damage to the real economy by increasing borrowing costs. Meanwhile, fiscal policy is in retreat because the government thinks it has to set policy to complement the central bank hikes – meaning two sources of austerity. And for those commentators who pine for re-entry to the EU – they should look East and see what a mess the European economy is in!

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New feudalism seems to forget about the capitalists

It’s Wednesday and I am now more or less settled in my new office which has the sun coming in from the north-east. I was talking to someone yesterday about various things and the topic of neo-feudalism or new feudalism entered the conversation – as you might expect (-: I am deeply suspicious of adding ‘neo’ or ‘new’ to any conceptual term for reasons I will explain. And if you don’t want to know about that then just skip to the end and listen to some great music, as I have been today while working.

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Australian labour market – emerging signs that tight fiscal and monetary policy is killing prosperity

It’s been a big data week and after the US inflation data that I analysed on Monday, and the Australian wage data (analysed yesterday), we have the Australian labour force data release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia – for July 2023 today (August 17, 2023). The July result shows a weakening situation (although the rotation in the sample contributed to this somewhat). Employment fell (particularly full-time) and unemployment rose to 3.7 per cent (up 0.2 points). There are now 10.1 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 really close to full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators. As I noted yesterday, wages growth is declining and modest. We will see next month whether this weakening is, in fact, a trend consistent with other indicators (retail sales, etc). Given inflation has been in decline since last September and there is no wages pressure, there is no reason for policy settings to be trying to push people into joblessness. That is just an act of bastardry and ideological zealotry.

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Australia – real wages continue to decline and wage movements show RBA logic to be a ruse

Yesterday (August 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the June-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 0.8 per cent over the quarter (steady) and 3.6 per cent over the 12 months. This represented a slowdown over the 12 months on the previous quarter’s result. If we consider the rate of increase in the CPI in relation to this nominal wages growth then in the June-quarter the two were equal and so real wages were steady. However, over the last 12 months, real wages have fallen by 2.4 per cent using the CPI measure. But the ABS note that the CPI is not a good indicator of cost-of-living changes and they have produced special time series based on expenditure patterns for selected groups including employees. If we use the Employee Selected Cost of Living Indicator we find that real wages fell by 0.7 points over the June-quarter 2023 and by a stagerring 6 points over the 12 months. That puts the Treasurer’s spin that the latest data is a good sign into perspective. Further with the gap between productivity growth and real wages increasing, the massive redistribution of national income away from wages to profits continues. Further, the RBA continue to claim there is a threat of a wages breakout and so interest rates have to keep rising to create the necessary unemployment increase to prevent that from happening. It is just a ruse. There is no sign of a wages breakout.

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US labour market – ‘steady as she goes’

Last Friday (August 4, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2023 – indicated a rather ‘steady as she goes’ outcome. A slightly weaker employment outlook compared to the beginning of 2023 but overall a very stable situation. There is no sign of recession and no sign that the misguided Federal Reserve interest rate rises are causing rises in unemployment. More evidence that monetary policy is not an effective tool.

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Mainstream logic should conclude the Australian unemployment rate is above the NAIRU not below it as the RBA claims

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a mainstream New Keynesian economist for a moment. We would never want to walk in them for long because our self esteem would plummet as we realised what frauds we were. But suspend judgement for a while because to understand what is wrong with the current domination of macroeconomic policy by interest rate adjustments one has to appreciate the underlying theory that is guiding the central bank policy shifts. The New Keynesian NAIRU concept, which stems from work published in 1975 by Franco Modigliani and Lucas Papademos is pretty straightforward. Accordingly, they define an unemployment rate, above which inflation falls and below which inflation rises. So that unique rate (or range of rates to cater for uncertainty of measurement) is the stable inflation rate – where inflation neither falls or rises. They called it the NIRU (“the noninflationary rate of unemployment”). So if the unemployment rate had been stable for some period, yet inflation was continuously declining, then they would conclude that the stable unemployment rate must be ABOVE the NIRU and vice versa. Apply that logic to Australia at present and you will see why the RBA’s claim that the NAIRU (the modern term for the NIRU) is around 4.5 per cent and this is why they are hiking rates in order to stabilise inflation at the higher unemployment rate. They are frauds.

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Australian labour market – unemployment remains at 3.5 per cent yet inflation continues to fall – how can the NAIRU be 4.5 per cent?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (June 15, 2023) – Labour Force, Australia – for June 2023. The June result presents a relatively stable picture with moderate employment growth keeping pace with the underlying population growth and the unemployment rate being largely unchanged (a slight drop in rounding). The only negative is that participation fell by 0.1 point but that may just be monthly variance. We should realise though that there are still 9.9 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 really close to full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators. As I note below, the stability of the unemployment rate at around 3.5 per cent coupled with the rather sharp declines in the inflation rate indicate that the RBA claims that unemployment must rise to bring inflation down is spurious. Their so-called estimate of the NAIRU at 4.5 per cent should mean that inflation is still accelerating given the actual unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent. Exactly the opposite is occurring.

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Starmer must confront the reality – more spending will be required but taxes will probably also have to be higher

The question is when is a Labour Party a Labour Party? The answer is: When it is a Labour Party! Which means when it defends workers’ interests against capital and when it defends families against pernicious neoliberal cuts or constraints on welfare. Which means, in turn, that the British Labour Party is a Labour Party in name only and the British people have little to choose from with respect to the two parties vying for government – Tory and Tory-lite! The British Labour Party has been abandoning its traditional role for some time now and while it is true that society and the constraints on government have evolved/changed, some things remain the same in a monetary economy. And that means that the statements from the Labour leader in recent days about fiscal spending austerity and a refusal to reverse some of the most pernicious Tory policies fail to recognise the reality. More spending will be required in the coming years not only to redress the damage done by the years of Tory rule but also to meet the challenges ahead in terms of climate, housing, education, health and more. The real question should be not whether more spending is required but what must accompany that spending by way of extra taxation. In my assessment, the next British government will have to lift taxes to create sufficient fiscal space in order to meet the challenges facing the nation with extra spending. Starmer is clearly not wanting to have that debate, which means the British people are once again being deceived by their political class. Taxes will rise with growth but I doubt that will generate sufficient space for the extra spending that will be required.

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US inflation rate down to 3 per cent and falling fast – it was transitory, folks

Yesterday’s US inflation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (July 12, 2023) – Consumer Price Index Summary – June 2023 – shows a further significant drop in the inflation rate as some of the key supply-side drivers continue to abate. The annual inflation rate is now back to 3 per cent and dropping fast. The risk now is that the conduct of the Federal Reserve will drive the US into a deflationary period with rising unemployment. Given that inflation peaked in the third-quarter 2022, that wages growth has been relatively subdued, and inflationary expectations’ survey evidence suggests no-one really thinks the inflation was going to endure, means that the US Federal Reserve’s logic is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose. They have been chasing an obsession that exists in a parallel universe to the real world. The risk is that they will continue to chase that obsession and use the fact that unemployment has still not risen much to claim there has to be higher unemployment. However, hopefully, the 3 per cent inflation rate result yesterday will cut-off any wild claims that they have to get the inflation down more quickly or risk a wages or expectations explosion. All cant of course.

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UN Report on employment guarantees misses the essential points about buffer stock mechanisms

In 1978, during my postgraduate studies at the University of Melbourne I came up with the idea of a Job Guarantee – although I didn’t call it that then. I have written about it extensively since then and you can see some of the non-academic work published in this blog under the category – Job Guarantee. Among the many blog posts is this one – Some historical thinking about the Job Guarantee (February 25, 2021) – where I discuss some of the provenance of the idea. It is hard to get people interested in this idea because they dismiss it as just another public sector job creation scheme and then make all sorts of claims about inefficiency, ‘make work’ and all the rest of the ruses that are used to divert attention from the substance of an idea or proposal. In fact, the way I conceived the Job Guarantee and the way it has subsequently become a central part of the body of knowledge now known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is not as a job creation program, but, rather, as a comprehensive price stability framework exploiting the dynamics of buffer stock mechanisms. Anyway, it seems that the UN might be interested in the idea of guarantee employment now after the special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights published – The employment guarantee as a tool in the fight against poverty – in April 2023. The question is whether this is a job creation program or closer to the concept of a Job Guarantee.

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Monetary policy in the hands of the central banker sociopaths is advancing the class interests of the elites

Recently, I wrote about the conditions that dictate what impacts interest rate changes will have on aggregate spending and demand-driven inflation in direction, magnitude and temporality – see RBA governor’s ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’ moments of disdain (June 8, 2023). It is highly likely in many cases, the decisions by central banks to increase interest rates, ostensibly to ‘fight inflation’ actually make inflation worse. More people are starting to understand that point even though central bankers appear to be still talking big about further interest rate rises. But the evidence is mounting against their position and ultimately that evidence is exposing the deep flaws in mainstream macroeconomics. I argue today that the problem is not only that the interest rate hikes can be inflationary but they are also facilitating a major reinforcement of the class divisions in our societies whereby the low income cohorts are transferring massive income benefits to the higher deciles. I also discuss cricket which recently has provided a demonstration of how the class divisions work. Then some music, given it is a Wednesday.

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A large government presence required for energy transition does not mean massive deficits are required

There appears to be confusion among those interested in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as to what the implications for a green transition that will fasttrack the transition to renewable energy will require by way of government. I regularly see statements that government deficits will have to be ‘massive’ for extended periods because the private (for profit) market entities will not move fast enough to deal with the climate emergency in any effective way. The confusion inherent in these claims is that they fail to separate the ‘size’ of government from any particular ‘net spending’ (deficit) recorded by government. The two outcomes are quite separable and have to be if government action is to achieve sustainable outcomes, not only in terms of environmental goals but also price stability goals. So let’s work all that out. Failing to do so, leads MMT activists to make claims that open them up to criticism from those who understand the point I am making but have different ideological agendas. So they make erroneous claims such that ‘MMT just advocates big deficits’, or that ‘MMT thinks that deficits do not matter’. But they have been lured into that position, in part, by the social media behaviour of some MMT activists.

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RBA wants to destroy the livelihoods of 140,000 Australian workers – a shocking indictment of a failed state

My early academic work was on the Phillips curve and the precision in estimating the concept of a natural rate of unemployment, or the rate of unemployment where inflation stabilises at some level. This rate is now commonly referred to as the Non-Accelerating-Rate-of-Unemployment (NAIRU) and my contribution was one of the first studies to show that the rate was variable and went up and down with the economic cycle, rendering it a meaningless concept for discretionary policy interventions. I extended that work into my PhD and built on much earlier work as a undergraduate to articulate the Job Guarantee idea. The NAIRU is unobservable and there have been various ways to estimate it from actual data. The problem is that these estimates are highly sensitive to the approach – so two researchers can get quite different estimates using the same data. Further, the estimates themselves are subject to large statistical errors meaning that we cannot be sure whether the NAIRU is say 4.5 per cent or 3.5 per cent or 5.5 per cent, say. Such imprecision makes it impossible to use the concept as a guide for monetary policy because if the NAIRU actually existed then ‘full employment’ might be at 3.5 or 5.5 per cent today but next week the estimates might be even wider. When would one want to start changing interest rates in pursuit of inflation stability – when the actual unemployment rate was down to 3.5 per cent or at 5.5 per cent or somewhere in between or at higher or lower unemployment rates, depending on what the models pumped out? You can see the problem. For some years, central bankers went quiet on the use of the NAIRU and stopped publishing their estimates exactly because they knew full well about the imprecision and that policy based on such a vague, difficult to estimate, unobservable would be discredited. That is until now. The RBA is now clearly admitting that their damaging and unnecessary interest rate hikes over the last year and a bit have been driven by the NAIRU. A sham. But a tragedy as well given the RBA’s almost obsession with pushing unemployment up by around 140,000. A shocking indictment of where we have reached as a civilisation.

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Beware: pension systems about to collapse. Not! More mainstream fiction

Sometimes, one thinks that the intellectual world should evolve as intelligent people take account of the dissonance between their ideas and the facts before them and adapt their views. I know that doesn’t happen much but it should. I have studied the philosophy of science deeply enough over my student and postgrad days and beyond into my career to know that intelligent people have the capacity to completely fool themselves and hang onto defunct ideas as part of a paradigm-resistance to change. We know why that happens: senior professors have their reputations and legacy at stake, they control appointments, promotions, access to research grants, publication success for junior academics, and continuity of lucrative consulting empires. But sometimes I still am amazed when I read some research paper that I know has taken months to research and write up and which has been presented and talked about in seminars and conferences, and after dinner drinks and all the rest of it, but which bears no correspondence with the underlying reality. That was the situation when I read a research paper from three economists who were claiming that taxes have to rise and pensions cut if governments are to escape insolvency in the face of ageing societies. This continues, obviously, to be a powerful framework for proselyting the neoliberal mantra and a narrative that most people cannot see their way through to a conclusion that is all a fiction.

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Australian labour market – rebound after weak month but 10 per cent of available and willing labour remain idle

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (June 15, 2023) – Labour Force, Australia – for May 2023. The May result reverses two consecutive months of weaker results from the Labour Force survey. Employment rose by 75.9 thousand (a strong monthly result), participation rose by 0.1 point to a record high, and unemployment fell by 16,500. But one month is not a trend and it should be emphasised that there are 10 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 really close to full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators. I am waiting for the RBA governor to claim the fall in the unemployment rate justifies further interest rate increases. It doesn’t but since when has logic and facts got in the road of his agenda.

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