When you know how economies work, it’s frustrating to hear on Neil Mitchell’s radio show on 3AW this morning doctors and teachers complaining about underpayment for the work they do . Read the newspapers, watch TV, or go online often enough and you’ll learn every occupation is underpaid!
In fact, the growth of Australian average weekly earnings has declined in the second half of the Kondratieff Wave, ever since the 1970s. Incredibly, some employer groups applaud this trend whilst businesses struggle to make a profit, not appearing to realise that business will perform better if people have dollars in their pockets to spend. There’s the supposition based on a false dichotomy: wages versus profits – and mainstream media laps it up because it doesn’t understand how the economy works. “False dichotomy”? Read on.
It’s not just the decline in growth of average wages that accounts for the poor performance of the Australian economy, or for that matter, of world economies. US Bureau of Labor Statistics data show real average wages have actually gone backwards since 1972!
Many wonder how this is possible in a world of incredible innovation and apparent prosperity, but it is explained by impossibly high levels of private debt, and the diversion of wages and profits into rent-seeking.
Some people note that the beginning of the decline in wages commenced with Richard Nixon ‘temporarily’ taking the USA off the gold standard, but although this had an effect at the margin, we have to dig deeper, that is, before we consider money, debt and taxation..
Production (P) is naturally distributed to wages (W), earned profits (I) and unearned economic rents (R), the latter mainly as land rent as society progresses. So, P = W + I + R.
But if we capture unearned economic rent for revenue as we did once, we don’t have to tax wages and profits: P – R = W + I
But we have increasingly permitted more and more of our economic rent (R) to be privatised, particularly since the outset of the 1970s. This has meant that wages and earned profits have necessarily been taxed more. Not only this, but the private capture of publicly-generated economic rent also creates higher and higher land prices as it becomes capitalised.
So people are confronted with higher and higher land prices and taxes, as rent-seekers–particularly the 0.1%–steal our wages and profits, generating obscene wealth differentials.
So it’s no wonder professions are complaining about inadequate income, and youngsters can’t get a home because of impossible land prices, whilst many households carry massive debtloads – and economies continue to collapse. Land prices and taxes on labour and capital have gutted world economies.
We need to capture economic rent.
The way business is currently run is fractured and must change. “Absentee Ownership and its Discontents” is a powerful new book addressing our failing economies. It’s edited by Michael Hudson and Ahmet Öncü.
The return of the Australian Capital Territory’s Barr government was in keeping with the unpredictability of elections and upsetting of polls we’ve experienced around the world recently. Andrew Barr was seen as an intelligent man leading a lackluster government in Canberra, and surely his time was up after fifteen years of Labor government?
The victory was marginal, not resounding, but was remarkable insofar as the media had largely seen the Barr government’s advocacy of a Canberra light rail system and the introduction of a transition away from stamp duty–by employing higher and higher property rates–as largely untenable. His opponent was going to stop this gradual transition to higher rates. Smart local media personality Tim Shaw said the ACT election was about three things: “Rates, rates and rates”.
So I got to thinking. The introduction of higher rates was certainly “a brave decision” as Sir Humphrey Appleby might say in trying to cajole his minister from taking a particular action. However, the credentials for fairness and efficiency of land-based revenues are impeccable and, despite grudging hesitancy, the Barr government seems to have pulled it off.
What a stimulus such strong action should be for our hesitant politicians! However, as other local governments and state and federal politicians are not as bold as Andrew Barr, a reward ought to be given, not only to the ACT, but to other municipalities who use the rating system as it should be: no more ‘minimum rates’, rate-capping, or separate garbage charges.
What sort of reward?
The federal government should provide a direct rebate of local government rates against income tax – or a cash grant of their rates back to retirees. Not many people know that the federal government subsidises local government to the tune of almost 20% of their revenue. The feds could gradually transition out of this local government subsidy to make local government fully responsible for its own affairs.
Similarly, the next step might be for the states to reform their land taxes, by having an all-in land tax with no exemptions, thresholds, multiple rates or aggregation provisions! That is, provided the feds eventually make them responsible to run their own show, by weaning themselves off the teat of the federally-applied goods and services tax.
There’s an aphorism that what you tax, you’ll have less of, so Australia very much needs to un-tax wages, profits and exchange and draw more revenue from imputed land-based incomes. After all, it has become pretty obvious that rent-seeking around the world has crippled economies and led to the obscene wealth disparities recently documented by Thomas Piketty.
The Barr government has shown that it’s possible – so let’s go!
Insightful analysis by “Houses and Holes” at MacroBusiness.
A black swan event is not necessarily required to cause a crash. Based on pure credit dynamics only, an inevitable plateauing of prices must occur as debt thresholds are reached, and no further sustained acceleration is possible, sans raiding super accounts etc., which really is the last throw of the dice.
So, the Minsky moment/panic/herd running for the door emerges as the consensus is established that prices are on a definite downward trend.
Of course, anything external can amplify this, or be a trigger in and of itself, with the obvious things being Terms of Trade, a collapse as China’s credit bubble implodes on the back of a land Ponzi (about now) and so on.
This was our summary in the theory section, based on the research we canvassed for the plateau and contraction phase. (It looks like it is all coming into play now.)
Key Events and Factors in the Contraction Phase of the Asset Cycle
Deceleration and then eventual stabilisation in private investment and consumption detracts from aggregate demand and causes economic contraction in a credit-based economy; an effect worsened by excess productive capacity and a surplus labour pool.
Asset Price Plateau and Excess Inventory/Overproduction
Asset prices plateau and then steadily fall, with debt to equity ratios rising. Asset markets experiencing significant overproduction during the credit cycle experience an excess of sellers over buyers, swelling inventory and falling turnover.
Weakening Profits/Incomes and Pessimism
Ponzi finance units experience deterioration in income flows associated with their investment and a negative consensus forms as prices soften.
Falling Asset Prices and the ‘Minsky Moment’
Continual falls in asset prices cause investors to reassess the market critically. Sale of the most marginal investments sets the tone for the entire asset market. This may lead to a ‘Minsky moment’, wherein investors simultaneously attempt to exit the market in a moment of panic. Few suitable counter-parties are found to meet high asking prices and a negative consensus emerges regarding the asset class.
Temporary recoveries in asset prices may emerge during short-lived bursts of accelerating debt, but prices will persistently deflate if credit growth continually grows at a slower pace than nominal GDP, stabilises, or a trend of negative credit growth is established (a persistently large and negative credit impulse/accelerator).
Keynesian Savings Paradox
The negative wealth effect is established by falls in net business and household wealth, reinforcing the prevailing pessimism and loss of private sector confidence. A Keynesian savings paradox may emerge, characterised by limited discretionary spending/investment and the hoarding of cash deposits, exacerbating falling monetary velocity.
Credit Growth Contraction and Deleveraging Trend
A persistent deceleration in credit growth and a private sector preference for repaying debt establishes a deleveraging trend and overall private investment falls. Balance sheet repair is extended in duration due to onerous debt burdens.
Falling Monetary Velocity and Deflationary Pressures
Debt deflation (falling asset prices) is compounded by persistent deleveraging, the associated fall in monetary velocity and the destruction of credit as loans are increasingly repaid or defaulted on.
A low interest environment exacerbates deflationary pressures because household and business incomes will not artificially rise to ease debt burdens.
Debt Liquidation/Distress Selling and Rising Unemployment
Debt is liquidated by distressed sellers and aggravated by: a worsening labour market, a falling number of Ponzi investors transacting in the market, private sector over-indebtedness (debt saturation), financier inability to lend/source additional funds and rising interest rates reflecting increased credit risk.
Weak Business Conditions and Rising Bankruptcies
The fall in aggregate demand associated with declining private sector borrowing leads to a reduction in business profits, growing inventory and rising unemployment. Falling prices for goods and services results in decreasing profits and a lower net worth of businesses, meaning those who operate on small margins soon capitulate.
Small to medium enterprises fare worse than large businesses that generally have greater buffers to withstand the downturn. The financial sector experiences a steep rise in impaired assets and personal/business insolvencies and bankruptcies.
Cost Cutting and Price Deflation
Weakening business income streams prompt margin cutting and asset sales to reduce debt, and many enter default arrangements during a significant downturn. Other negative effects include a reduction in wages or hours for workers, firing of workers, and lower margins in an attempt to remain solvent. The household sector has little flexibility to cut margins or sell assets to reduce debt, accelerating personal defaults during a downturn.
Financier Pessimism and Subdued Economic Activity
Reductions in trade, output and employment reinforce the process of debt liquidation in the business and household sectors. Financial sector pessimism is reinforced by capital write-downs in asset values and surging bad debts. Credit rationing on fear of future losses inhibits economic recovery.
Failure of Ponzi Financiers and Insurers
Thinly capitalised financial institutions and insurers with significant exposures to Ponzi assets often fail without government intervention due to ballooning bad debts and inadequate capital reserves
Government Spending and Automatic Stabilisers
Government debt may rise significantly during periods of private sector deleveraging to compensate for reduced demand. The public sector deleverages once the investor and financier classes have sufficiently purged toxic private debt burdens.
Deleveraging End and Transition to Hedge Finance
After a sufficient period of debt deleveraging (debts no longer drag on economic growth) and asset prices approach fair valuation based on fundamentals (P/E, P/R and P/I ratios), the economy again enters the calm investment phase. Politicians and regulators enable a repeat of the boom-bust asset cycle by letting prudential standards ease over time, paving the way for speculation to be repeated on an often larger scale. Financiers forget the excesses of the past and begin their credit cycle again.
– Paul D Egan & Philip Soos in “Bubble Economics: Australian Land Speculation 1830 – 2013”