There was a story in The Australian newspaper today entitled RED schemes are good written by a former minister in the Whitlam government in the early 1970s. He was extolling the virtues of the old Regional Employment Development scheme, which was a public works direct job creation scheme. He was suggesting such schemes may again find favour as the recession deepens. The RED scheme was a less generous version of the Job Guarantee and suffered as a result of its modesty. It was never based on any fundamental understanding of a modern monetary economy as as such was always a “defensive” program. Defending itself continually from the conservative, soon-to-be, neo-liberal critics. That made me recall my favourite conservative “put down” term – boondoggling and raking – which is used whenever direct public job creation is mentioned as a possibility. Then I recalled a letter that was written by the previous Federal Employment Minister explaining in 2004 why my Job Guarantee proposal was a crock. One thing followed another …
Today I was looking through annual reports of the Australian Future Fund, which is an example of what is known the world over as a sovereign fund. I have been keeping an eye on the performance of the Future Fund not the least because it is so exposed by its stake in Telstra, which has gone downhill ever since the previous regime persuaded Australians to buy a stake in something they already owned!. Anyway, most people have been conned by the Future Fund concept – it is shrouded in lies and deceit. In general, the idea of a sovereign fund is based on a misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) of the way the modern monetary economy operates. So its time to debrief and make it clear that these policy choices by governments generally undermine public goods and full employment.
The recent policy decisions of the Federal government appears to be in line with those of the previous (insidious) regime when it comes to the unemployed. In expansion packages which have so far totalled more than $A50 billion, there has been an allocation of $650 million for a Jobs Plan and renewed funding for the privatised and failed Jobs Network. You might think that odd given that the unemployed bear the brunt of any economic downturn. I find it obscene. And with the May budget coming up, there will be increasing claims that there is “not enough fiscal room” to do anything more. After all, the Federal Employment Minister has told us “there is no quick fix” despite knowing full well they have the capacity to offer minimum wage public sector jobs to anyone who wanted one. We might take lessons from more enlightened
Yesterday’s labour force data which showed how quickly the labour market is deteriorating, brought some extraordinary reactions from the Federal government. So far their response suggests to me that they have no coherent plan to meet the crisis and are trying to operate within the same labour market policy framework that the previous government installed. That framework failed to achieve full employment when the economy was growing and will do nothing at all for a labour market that is now in freefall. A major shift in policy is needed. More worrying is that the labour force data shows that the teenage segment is in terrible shape. That requires immediate policy action. But the responses I have heard overnight suggest very little will be done because the Employment Minister seems to want us to believe that “there is no quick fix”. That claim is of-course nonsense. The costs of the downturn could be considerably lessened if the Government abandoned neo-liberalism and demonstrated some leadership through direct job creation.
Several readers have asked me to demystify the processes involved in issuing Australian government debt. They also sought an explanation for the sort of scare-mongering that various commentators have been engaging in about the increasing budget deficit causing higher future tax and interest rates because the “mountains of debt” will have to be paid back somehow. Well anyone who is worrying about saddling your kids (and their kids) with mountains of debt and punishing levels of taxation should “just take a Bex, have a good lie down” … and stay calm. All of these claims are of-course mythical and are designed to perpetuate the neo-liberal view that governments should refrain from interfering in the private market. So its time to arm yourselves with the weapons (arguments) that you can use when your mates start up with this nonsense. Yes, its time to debrief!
On Friday, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published their latest labour force data which revealed that the US aggregate unemployment rate had risen to 8.5 per cent, the highest level since March 1982. It is clear that thousands of jobs are being lost (in net terms) in the US as the recession there intensifies and the deterioration is spawning protests. Times are changing for the US. Australian commentators seem to be suggesting that Australia is faring better at present. On the surface that may be right, but when you start digging a little, things do not look as well. This blog takes you through some graphs I have constructed as part of an academic paper I am working on. They are easy to understand and tell an interesting story.
I was asked by a journalist today to comment on employment trends in the public sector. I was also thinking about the statement made at the G20 meeting which has been reiterated by our Prime Minister – we will do whatever is necessary! Well what is necessary is a massive upscaling of public sector employment. The best place to start would be to offer employment at the minimum wage to anyone who wants a job and cannot find one. However, this week’s news about the revamped job-seeking program, Job Services Australia which appears to be the Australian government’s centrepiece employment strategy tells me that our Government, at least, is lying about being prepared to do what is necessary.
I received a call from a journalist at the Financial Review today asking how the Federal government could afford to run labour market programs given that it might suffer a substantial revenue loss if it cuts back net migration. I told him that irrespective of what happens to net migration and any losses to tax revenue that that might bring (should they cut it back), the Government will always be able to fund any labour market program if it thought that was the best use of its funds. It brings to mind a new theme in this period of turmoil – how can the government keep its programs going while at the same time bailing out all and sundry? Answer: easy, just keep funding them. The national government is not financially constrained and the size of its budget is nothing that can be determined independent of the shortfall of aggregate demand.
The issue of minimum wage adjustments always invokes a lot of debate and invokes the usual (boring) reactions from employer groups and conservative economists. Their narrative is always the same: you cannot have a minimum wage rise because it will cause unemployment among the low-skill ranks of the workforce. If you believed their logic, then there never would be a minimum wage rise. The reality is that there is no evidence available to support these notions and lots of evidence to refute it. The new problem is that the current Federal government is now aligning with the conservatives and using the same defective logic to oppose any reasonable rise in the minimum wage. Its that time again. Time to debrief.
The US President appeared on the US commercial television show 60 minutes program on March 22. He was talking about about the AIG debacle, the economy, and his first challenges in his new job. His responses to questions about the economy though were positively scary. The most powerful man in the World and he doesn’t understand how the modern monetary economy works. Very scary indeed.
I rode my bike 80 kms early this morning (usual Sunday) in the beautiful Autumn weather that Newcastle (NSW) enjoys this time of year. The Pacific Ocean looks superb (although there is nothing surfable in sight – maybe tomorrow morning). The sun was out and we were heading for 26-27 degrees. Then it had to happen. When I returned home I opened this morning’s newspaper and came across an authoritative headline: US faces huge deficit blow-out, with the sub-line “Program cuts, tax hikes likely.” The journalist (added to my bogan list) probably got 0 out of 5 on last night’s quiz. Well the truth is that almost everything the journalist wrote is wrong if he is talking about the real world. Anyway, I thought so. Its that time again. Time to debrief.
I read a headline in the Australian newspaper yesterday (March 19) – Nation building funding crisis as private sector fails to find cash. What? Nation building requires significant budget deficits. When was it dependent on the private sector having to trump up cash? I soon recalled that we have been living in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) era where governments have relinquished their responsibilities to build essential public infrastructure that not only supports a sense of public good but also underpins the prosperity of the private market economy. Its that time again. Time to debrief.
Today I heard that our Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner is suffering from insomnia because of the growing Government debt burden. Poor thing. Why is he worrying himself sick? Well I have the cure. If he reads this blog and understands it I think he will back in slumberland sooner rather than later.
One of the advantages of running the economy at “high pressure” – that is, with low unemployment is that some of the more malevolent aspects of human behaviour are suppressed. We know that when the economy goes into a downturn, firms increase their hiring standards because they have the upper hand – lots of workers are unemployed and so the firms can pick and choose more readily. One of the worst aspects of these adjustments is that pure prejudice begins to reveal itself more openly. The most recent data from the US suggests this is the case.
Yesterday, the Opposition leader published his reply to the Prime Minister’s grand attack on neo-liberalism. He claims that the apart from hypocrisy, the PM’s other failing is that he is mimicking a “corrupt police officer” because his essay attempted to blame the former Federal regime “for crimes it did not commit”. It is time that we understood just how bad the previous Federal government was.
This is the second blog in the series that I am writing to help explain why we should not fear deficits. In this blog we clear up some of the myths that surround the so-called “financing” of budget deficits. In particular, I address the myth that deficits are inflationary and/or increase the borrowing requirements of government. The important conclusion is that the Federal government is not financially constrained and can spend as much as it chooses up to the limit of what is offered for sale. There is not inevitability that this spending will be inflationary and it does not necessarily require any increase in government debt.
A lot of people E-mail and ask me to explain why we should not be worried about deficits and why they do not have to be financed by debt (even if the government does typically increase its debt when it goes into deficit). So in the coming weeks I will write some blogs to explain these tricky things. First, I will explain how deficits occur and how they impact on the economy. In particular, we have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that when governments deficit spend they automatically have to borrow which then places pressure on the money markets (which have limited funds available for lending) and the rising interest rates squeeze private investment spending which is productive. This chain of argument is nonsensical and is easily dismissed. So this is Deficits 101. Next time I will detail the reason why the central bank issues bonds (government debt).
Yesterday the Government announced its latest fiscal response to the rapidly worsening economic situation. They will spend $42 billion (mostly in 2009 and into 2010 to shore up aggregate demand. They estimate this will underwrite 90,000 jobs in the economy. That is not new jobs but existing jobs. They also estimate that the unemployment rate will rise to 7 per cent over the coming year which is around 300,000 people extra who will be without work. That will take unemployment towards 850,000 and underemployment will certainly rise in lock-step (already around 600,000) so you see the scale of the deterioration.
However, while I think the package is a step in the right direction, the Government has failed to really target jobs. If the Government had have introduced a Job Guarantee and paid the workers the current national minimum wage (with holiday pay etc) it could have hired 557,000 full-time equivalent workers for around $8.3 billion per year. Where does this figure come from?
The Sydney Morning Herald is running a series at present looking at the labour market prospects in the coming year. It is a welcome return of emphasis to the massive labour wastage that this country endures given that the major media has up until now largely bought the erroneous “we are at full employment” rhetoric pumped out by the previous federal government.
The story entitled Statistics point to hard time on job front, written by Andrew West and Jessica Irvine and published today (January 24, 2009) began with:
AS MANY as 2 million Australians could be jobless or working fewer hours than they would like by the next federal election – the highest rate of “labour wastage” in a generation …
An analysis by a leading labour economist, Professor Bill Mitchell of the University of Newcastle, predicts the total rate of labour wastage could rise to about 20 per cent of the workforce by mid-2010.
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.