When the governments in the advanced nations abandoned full employment as an overarching macroeconomic objective, and instead, starting pursuing what I have called full employability, they stopped seeing unemployment as a policy target (to be minimised) and began using it as a policy tool to suppress inflation. As mass unemployment rose, the politics were massaged by the mainstream of my profession who claimed that the level of unemployment that constituted full employment had risen (this was the NAIRU era) and so there was really no problem. Governments adopted the neoliberal line that they ‘didn’t create jobs’ and had to target fiscal surpluses to ensure their position was ‘sustainable’. The costs in lost income and human suffering have been enormous – most people would not have any idea of the massive scale of these losses that accumulate day after day. Now, it seems, the ‘sound finance’ school is going a step further. We are probably facing an environmental emergency in the coming period (years, decades) but the question commentators keep asking is not what we can do about it but ‘how can we pay for it’? So ‘sound finance’ has already destroyed the lives of millions of people around the world as a result of mass unemployment and poverty, now it is turning its focus on the rest of us. Madness. Paradigm change has to come sooner rather than later.
The Australian labour market has been characterised over the last 12 to 24 months by the dominance of part-time employment creation with full-time employment contracting. Over the last 12 months, Australia has produced only 84.9 thousand (net) jobs with 107.2 thousand of them being part-time jobs. In other words, full-time employment has fallen by 22.2 thousand jobs over the same period. This status as the nation of part-time employment growth carries many attendant negative consequences – poor income growth, precarious work, lack of skill development to name just a few disadvantages. Further, underemployment has escalated since the early 1990s and now standard at 8.3 per cent of the labour force. On average, the underemployed part-time workers desire around 14.5 extra hours of work per week. If we look at the US labour force survey data quite a different picture emerges, which is interesting in itself. Does this suggest that the US labour market has been delivering superior outcomes. In one sense, the answer is yes. But recent research based on non-labour force survey data (private sampling) suggests otherwise. That research finds that “all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements.” That is, standard jobs have disappeared and are being replaced by more precarious, contract and other types of alternative working arrangements. The trend in the US has not been driven by supply-side factors (such as worker preference) but reflects a deficiency in overall spending. Not a good message at all.
Some years ago I was asked to design a framework for the implementation of minimum wage system in South Africa as part of an ILO project my research group was involved. We were evaluating the first five years of the Expanded Public Works Programme in South Africa, which was a cut-down employment guarantee program (limited by supply-side constraints on public expenditure largely conditioned by the bullying of the South African government by the IMF). One of the issues I had to deal with was the belief among many economists that the existing cash transfer system introduced by the South African government after 1994 should be expanded into a full-blown Basic Income Guarantee and that any notion of employment guarantees should be rejected. Our work demonstrated quite clearly (in my view) the flawed logic in this argument. The cash transfer system was productive as it stood but was no reasonably extensible into a widespread income guarantee without significant negative consequences. The creation of an employment guarantee scheme to absorb the social transfers and leave them as supplemental to cope with varying family structures was a much better option. That conclusion holds for less developed nations and advanced nations alike.
To coincide with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics release of the May 2016 Employment Situation I updated my analysis on the pay characteristics of the net job creation in the US labour market – see Bias toward low-wage job creation in the US continues. The overwhelming finding was that the jobs lost in low-pay sectors in the downturn have more than been offset by jobs added in these sectors in the upturn. However, the massive number of jobs lost in above-average paying sectors have not yet been recovered in the upturn and do not look like being so, given the labour market is slowing again. In other words there is a bias in employment generation towards sectors that on average pay below average weekly earnings. In the last 12 months, 86 per cent of the net jobs added in the Australian labour market have been part-time and underemployment has risen, suggesting a rise in casual work as well. Further analysis in this blog reveals that this accelerated trend towards part-time employment creation has been accompanied by a disproportionate shift towards low-pay employment (and below-average employment in general). The shifts over the last 6 months, in particular, towards below-average employment has been alarming. So come on down to Australia as our politicians take us on a race to the bottom in the part-time nation with low-pay, that barely grows at all. We are a very stupid nation supporting the policy structures that deliver this poverty of outcomes.
Today, I was (perhaps) going to discuss the Federal coalition’s so-called budget costings, which they have released this afternoon a day and a half before the federal election is held. The major policy proposals are not costed and the whole exercise makes a mockery of their claims to transparency. The Coalition hired three so-called experts to validate the “costings” (after the debacle in the last election when their were major mistakes in the arithmetic revealed) and those characters should be ashamed of themselves for giving their imprimatur to such a shoddy process. Even from the pittance of information they have released it is clear they do not understand the macroeconomic reality and will damage overall growth. So that is all I intend to say about that matter. But in the last few days I have done a few media interviews (radio) on an article that appeared in the local Fairfax press, but was originally published in the Strike! Magazine as – On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by LSE anthropologist, David Graeber. The title in the local article had changed to “nonsense jobs” – a sign of the conservatism of our press. The interviews I did were interesting because the article brings together a number of strands that further expose the weakness of the economic theory taught to students in most universities. That is much more interesting to write about here than the tawdry realities of Australian politics at present which can be described as indecent ignorance.
I read an interesting study today from the Brookings Institute (published August 29, 2012) – Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America – which aims to provide US policy makers “with a better sense of the specific problems facing metropolitan labor markets”. The paper concludes that “the fall in demand for goods and services has played a stronger role in recent changes in unemployment” than so-called structural issues (skills mismatch etc). This is an important finding and runs counter to the trend that has emerged in the policy debate which suggests that governments are now powerless to resolve the persistently high unemployment. The simple fact is that governments have the capacity to dramatically reduce unemployment and provide opportunities to the least educated workers who are languishing at the back of the supply queue in a highly constrained labour market. The only thing stopping them is the ideological dislike or irrational hatred of direct public sector job creation. Meanwhile, the potential of millions of workers is wasted every day. Sheer madness!
You can sense the fear in people’s lives at present as the economic crisis seems to be worsening and various so-called opinion leaders are telling us we are in danger of lapsing into a depression like the 1930s unless there is drastic action taken by governments. For example, the IMF’s latest salvo. Then you hear them say that the action necessary is more fiscal austerity. And you know it will definitely get worse. My own superannuation fund sent us letters last week suggesting that they are in danger of being unable to meet their liabilities and benefits – current and future – will likely be cut. How much? Fear tells us a lot. Action: all those retiring will take lump-sums and invest in cash – eliminating the risk but solidifying the cuts and – further undermining the viability of the fund. That what is happening everywhere. A moment’s reflection tells us that this fear is being deliberately created by the elites who are elected by us to advance our best interests. These elites are using fear – and deliberately perpetuating falsehoods to keep us ignorant – in order to usurp democracy and take control of the wealth creation processes so they can tilt the field further in their favour. This crisis could be over in a few weeks or months with appropriate policy interventions. It has now dragged on for years. That is because it is taking the elites that long to organise their on-going coup.
The US President delivered his long-awaited speech outlining the proposed American Jobs Act today to a packed Congress. The room was full of self-serving, anti-intellectuals masquerading as the representatives of the people of America. Eventually, this sham will be clear to all and the “American people” will “demand action”. If they don’t then the neo-liberal domination of policy which has led to the crisis and the extended malaise will continue to impoverish them. Bold action was needed from the President at least to demonstrate leadership so that the democratic forces could start to pressure the T-pots. Unfortunately, the President doesn’t seem to understand that it is easy to create jobs. A government just has have the will to do so.
I am giving a presentation tomorrow in Melbourne at a conference on Annual Skilling Australia and Workforce Participation Summit. My topic is Making Australia a “full employment economy” and that topic stands out from the others which are all about the mainstream pre-occupations of participation and training. My view is simple – if you offer someone a job and a training slot you solve the participation problem and provide them with a paid-work environment to develop their skills. The most effective skill acquisition comes from training within a paid-work context. I am also talking about how workers get trapped in a low-skill, low-pay circle of disadvantage and the increasingly casualised Australian labour market is reinforcing that pathology. This proposition, of-course, runs counter to the mainstream view that has justified the growing precariousness of work in Australia (and elsewhere) as being a market response to the desire by workers for more flexibility. They also argue that casual work is a “stepping stone” into better jobs and provides unskilled workers with a transition from low pay to high pay. The evidence does not support the mainstream view – why would we be surprised about that. The evidence is categorical – casual work traps workers into low-pay and precarious jobs.
Today I am catching up on things I read last week. Each year, there are various publications provided to high school students telling them about all the programs that are on offer at Universities. The prospective students use these publications to help them decide which program they want to pursue after high school and at which university or other higher educational establishment they might want to pursue it at. There is a lot of lobbying by institutions to get favourable reviews. But there is never a catalogue published which advises students where not to study. So today I am noting three economics departments which should be on the blacklist of any student who is considering undertaking the studies in that discipline. They are on my blacklist because of the questionable competency of at least some of their staff members. I will expand this list over time!
There were two very different Op Ed pieces in the New York Times on July 31, 2010. On the one hand, the “strategic deficits” man, David Stockman is trying to ramp up a bit of advance publicity for his upcoming book on the financial crisis which I hope goes out to the remainder desks shortly after being published. He is advocating balanced budgets and “sound money” – which is neo-liberal speak for austerity and rising unemployment. On the other hand, Robert Shiller is advocating a “just do it” approach to recovery where the “do it” is defined in terms of public sector job creation. I find the latter argument compelling when you look at the data and what it is telling us about the American lives that are being destroyed by the policy vacuum. I am also sympathetic to Shiller’s line because sound macroeconomic theory points to that solution. Stockman displays an on-going ignorance of macroeconomics although some of this views resonate with me in a positive way.
Today is actually the much promised shorter Friday blog. I had to write an Op Ed piece today for the Fairfax press on my recent evidence before a House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into regional skills shortages. So I thought I would expand on that Op Ed a little for this blog. In April, my research centre – CofFEE – made a formal submission to this Inquiry. In June I gave formal evidence (see below) and some interesting things came up. A conservative MP on the Committee thought I was insane for suggesting that the public sector might consider creating employment given the high degree of labour underutilisation we have in this country. Some regions have 50 per cent of their workforces idle! Anyway, today I summarise our submission and provide some text from the official government hansard (record) of my evidence.
Today I have reading a swag of literature which attempts to explain cross-country differences in change in unemployment and average duration of unemployment in the current recession. This issue has been topical in the US recently as the US Senate debates whether to extend unemployment benefits. The mainstream economics view is that the previous assistance caused the unemployment problem and a decision to extend the assistance will worsen it. However, you have to wonder what planet the proponents of these views are on. The overwhelming evidence is that the longer the recession the higher average duration of unemployment becomes and the larger the pool of long-term unemployed. The solution is always to stimulate employment growth. That simple truth is always lost on the mainstream. As you will see, among the proponents of the erroneous view that benefit provision has caused the worsening of the unemployment situation are researchers at JP Morgans. I would like to think that if the US government hadn’t bailed those bums out then these researchers might have been unemployed themselves. They could certainly use a dose of harsh reality.
The OECD, the organisation that has spearheaded the abandonment of full employment in all its member countries since releasing the supply-side blueprint in 1994 – The Jobs Study, has now finally realised that things are very bleak in labour markets across the World and is saying more action is desperately needed. All their rhetoric in the last decade about making labour markets resilient and flexible through active labour market programs has not apparently stopped the major economies from going belly up.
There is a parable that the Australian Government still doesn’t understand – its the 100 dogs and 95 bones story that all children should be told at an early age. I will tell the story presently. I mention the parable because once again it seems that a major Government initiative designed to reduce disadvantage arising from unemployment will be poorly conceived and constrained by a reluctance of the Government to jettison the destructive neo-liberal approach that has dominated labour market policy for the last few decades. I am referring to today’s announcement from the Government that our youth will all be working, studying or training or face a loss of income support.
The unemployed cannot find jobs that are not there! I have written about that topic extensively. So today I have been examining what vacancy data is telling us about the labour market. The relationship between unfilled job vacancies and unemployment (the so-called UV ratio) is well entrenched in economics. The UV ratio is a good indicator of the state of the labour market because it tells us (approximately) how many people there are for each unfilled job. Of-course, it understates the degree of slack because it fails to include underemployment. Anyway, you can also determine whether there are significant supply-side issues going on which would require supply-side policies. As you will see in the following graphs – it is all demand side! Which tells us, yet again, that job creation is required.
A few weeks ago, I updated my research on the way employment growth accesses the different unemployment duration pools using Australian data. In that blog post (October 19, 2020) – The long-term unemployed are not an inflation constraint in a recovery – I showed that the claim that the long-term unemployed constitute an inflation constraint because employers will not choose to offer them jobs due to perceived scarring is a popular neoliberal assertion but has no basis in the actual data. The orthodox economists use that assertion to justify microeconomic (supply-side) policies (training, activation, etc) rather than direct job creation. The reality is that when employment growth is strong enough, both short-run and long-run pools of the unemployed are accessed by employers. In the latter case, employers alter hiring standards and offer on-the-job training to ensure they do not lose market share. I have received several E-mails stating that the US is different and the long-term unemployed are shunned by employers, which means that trying to stimulate the economy will hit the inflation constraint sooner than if there was a Job Guarantee in place. Logically, there is no reason the US labour market operates differently in any fundamental way to the Australian labour market so I decided to examine the validity of the ‘irreversibility hypothesis’ using US data. Guess what? The hypothesis doesn’t hold up in the US either.
I gave some advice to a politician last week who had read some MMT literature that he said indicated that using the Job Guarantee reduces inflationary pressures in a recovery relative to a situation where a nation had an unemployment buffer stock. I was surprised by the question because the assertions didn’t appear congruent with the facts. It appeared to be rehearsing and endorsing the standard neoliberal supply-side agenda that defined the so-called ‘activation’ approach to unemployment, which militated against job creation programs in favour of training initiatives – the full employability rather than the full employment mindset. The fact is that long-term unemployment always lags behind the overall unemployment movements given it takes time for people to work their way through the duration categories until they get to 52 weeks, after which the national statistician terms a person long-term unemployed. The longer the recession the higher average duration of unemployment becomes and the larger the pool of long-term unemployed as people start to flow into that category. However, the way we think about solutions has been influenced by the myths about the way long-term unemployment behaves, which we summarise as the – ‘irreversibility hypothesis’. This idea has influenced governments to rely on training approaches rather than job creation as solutions to unemployment. And, it has led to the various pernicious unemployment management policies where the victims of the system’s failure to create enough jobs are considered culpable in their own misfortune and shunted through a series of compliance processes in order to receive income support, which do little to get them work.
This is the second and final part in my response to the Social Europe article by Stuart Holland (July 11, 2018) – Not An Abdication By The Left – where he attempts to eviscerate various writers who have dared to suggest that the “social democratic Left in Europe … has run out of ideas” or that “there has been an intellectual abdication by the Left”. He uses his experience as an advisor to Harold Wilson in the 1960s and to Jacques Delors in the early 1990s as an ‘authority’ for his rejection of the claims that the Left has abandoned its social democratic remit. He holds the likes of Delors and António Guterres has shining Left lights. In Part 1, I showed that the view that Delors and Guterres are beacons of Left history and that the social democratic Left has not sold out to the neoliberal orthodoxy (particularly at the political level) is unsustainable. Holland distorts history to suit his argument and is in denial of the facts. In Part 2, I trace the argument further by examining the 1993 Delors White Paper, which was meant to be the European Commission’s response to the mass unemployment that was bedevilling the Continent at the time (and remains, by the way) and later propositions that Holland was associated with in relation to Greece during the GFC. They further demonstrate that Stuart Holland is attempting to maintain an indefensible position.