Public infrastructure 101 – Part 1

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.

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An insomnia cure for Lindsay

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.

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Labour market discrimination rising

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.

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Crimes of the past …

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.

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Deficit spending 101 – Part 2

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.

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Deficit spending 101 – Part 1

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).

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90,000 jobs for 42 billion is a bad strategy …

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?

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From boom to bust …

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.

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Unemployment shame to increase!

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.

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Macroeconomics 101 … not!

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.

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Why didn’t they build better houses!

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?

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The war on the poor

Mike Rhodes reported from California in Homeless attacked in Fresno that in February 2004, a “a coordinated multi-agency attack on homeless encampments earlier this month, the City of Fresno destroyed tents and other shelters used by the homeless … the Fresno Police Department … has returned to the tactic of not allowing the homeless to build any permanent structures. With thousands of homeless on the streets in Fresno, and homeless shelters able to provide only a couple hundred beds, a majority of the homeless have been turned into criminals. If you are homeless and can’t get into a shelter, you are breaking the law if you try to sleep anywhere in this city. This new policy penalizes the homeless and criminalizes poverty … There have also been public service announcements telling the community not to give money to the homeless … ”

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