Tony Abbott and his latest Manifesto

Ah, Tony Abbott. “No sniping, no wrecking, no undermining.” Well that’s proven to be about as believable as the “No cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC…” One thing about old Tony, he’s consistent.

And how about this new 6 point plan? They always go so well, just ask Jaymes Diaz. I will now – largely for my own bemusement, I suspect – explore this manifesto. Here’s what it says:

Fix the Parliament.

Hang on, didn’t we just do that? Wasn’t it the Liberal’s great masterstroke to change the rules about how we get to vote for Senators, just before the last election? How’s that working out? And if Tony’s planning on trimming the Senate’s constitutional powers, well, good luck with that. I assume he knows that will require a referendum…

Live within our means.

Here we find the Standard Neoliberal Groupthink. Government debt is not like private debt, unless the government has debts denominated in someone else’s currency (and they don’t). They – and they alone – issue our currency. It is literally the one thing they have in endless supply, and spending it no more puts our grandchildren into debt than Menzies’ string of unbroken deficit budgets indebted you or I.

The government’s “means” are the physical and human resources available in the economy that can be put to work. Not the small pieces of paper.

Take the pressure off power prices.

Apparently Tony thinks we must end subsidies of green energy, but it is perfectly OK to subsidise Adani, Rhinehart and the various other usurers that dig up and sell fossil fuels. Here’s the thing: the reason coal fired electricity is cheap is because the pollution costs of it are not borne by the producers. In economic terms, these costs are “externalised”. What that actually means is that we are putting the costs of that power “on the national credit card”. The cost of fixing the climate, or the effects of its changes – they’re the debt we’re leaving to our grandchildren.

Make housing more affordable.

It’s those immigrants, apparently. Not the toxic combination of capital gains tax discount and negative gearing that have caused the dramatic spike in house prices. Never mind the fact that we’ve always had immigration, but real estate has only skyrocketed since ’99, when Costello tweaked the CGT and NG rules. No, clearly it’s all down to the brown people who somehow manage to simultaneously take our jobs, buy our real estate and bludge on our welfare. And clog up the M4, according to former Liberal MP Fiona Scott. Remember her? Tony thought she was a bit of all right.

Make Australia safe.

You are more likely to die in Australia from a collapsing chair than you are from terrorism. Having Police shooting people in the street, or soldiers patrolling the city do not strike me as measures that will make me feel safe. I’m perfectly happy to go about my normal life, confident that the cops know what they’re doing, that they have eyes and ears on any trouble-makers, and that we can only be terrorised if we allow ourselves to be. And I say that as someone who knew Curtis Cheng personally, and considered him a friend. He was horribly unlucky to cross paths with that radicalised kid, and his death was a shocking, senseless act. But if you want to defuse home-grown terrorism, you need to get to the root causes, not sow division and increase the us vs them mentality.

Celebrate Australia – don’t run it down.

Tony wants to “End funding for bully bureaucracies”. I assume he’s talking about Centrelink, and their “robodebt” debacle, sending the debt collectors around to people to collect debts they don’t owe? And by “straight talking”, is he referring to Brandis’ line that “people do have the right to be bigots”?

So here’s some straight talking. This manifesto is some of the most transparently racist, bigoted and economically illiterate garbage to ever be promulgated by a so-called “senior politician”. If you really want to “Make Australia Work Again”, what you need to do is implement policies that provide the means for people to work. If you’re not doing that, you’re full of shit. As if that wasn’t patently obvious from recycling a Trump slogan, of all things.

GST on imports: plumbing new depths in stupidity

I thought the Backpacker Tax was the high watermark of brain-dead macroeconomics, but it turns out this government is capable of anything, and not in a good way. So just how stupid is this proposal to apply GST to privately imported goods purchased through international sellers? Let me count the ways:

  1. So much argy-bargy, so little money. This is something that the GST on Imports shares with the Backpacker Tax. It raises such a pathetic amount of money it is simply not worth bothering with. This policy is expected to raise $300M over 4 years. That’s $75M per year. To put that in perspective, the federal government expects to collect $63B (that’s Billion) in GST in FY2017/18. So this sop to the Gerry Harveys of the world is worth just 0.1% of GST. And that’s before we even discuss the cost of implementation.
  2. So little jurisdiction. The federal government does not have the power to levy taxes in foreign countries. It is completely unclear how they think they can impose this tax on companies that have no presence in Australia. I can easily imagine a scenario where unscrupulous sellers collect the GST when selling to Australian customers, and quietly trouser it. What’s to stop them?
  3. So little business acumen. How much is it going to cost to collect this tax? Currently any import of less than $1000 in value is not subject to GST, because it is not worth the while of Customs, the Post Office, the Tax Office or any other agency to recoup the money. Now it’s feasible that the cost of recoup has gone down since that decision in 1999/2000 (when the GST was first implemented). Perhaps the threshold should be reevaluated, but removing it completely? How can it possibly be cost-effective to recoup GST on a $4 parcel from Hong Kong?
  4. So little business understanding. This GST collection is supposedly going to be imposed on Ebay. That shows that the government have no concept of how Ebay works. You don’t actually buy anything from Ebay. Ebay is a marketplace that brings buyers and sellers together. When you buy something on Ebay, you pay the seller directly. The seller is charged by Ebay for their use of Ebay’s service. To suggest that Ebay are liable for the GST is like saying Westfield should pay the GST on behalf of their tenants.
  5. So little so late. This policy is well past its use-by date. Joe Hockey first proposed it. Back when he was Treasurer, the $A was buying $US1.10, and that made foreign goods pretty attractive. Now, the dollar hovers around $US0.73, which has put the handbrake on private imports in a big way. Even if this policy was a good idea when it was first broached (and it wasn’t), you would still have to ask the question whether there’s any continuing need for it.
  6. So little fiscal necessity. There’s not room in this post for the full MMT discussion, but taxes don’t fund spending. The government does not need this money, regardless of whether it’s the pitiful amount under discussion or some massive chunk of cash. This policy simply trims the public’s purchasing power by 10% when privately importing goods and services. It in no way changes the government’s ability to fund services or people.
  7. So little consistency. This government have made a great virtue of their “repeal of red tape”. It would seem that small government, light-touch “invisible hand” leave-it-to-the-market philosophy doesn’t apply when we’re talking about big donors like Gerry Harvey.

That’s seven reasons why GST on imports is bad policy off the top of my head. No doubt there are more. I can’t see any angle from which it makes the slightest economic sense to implement this policy, unless you’re Gerry Harvey.

Viagogo and related leeches

Ed Sheeran’s Australian tour was announced the other day, with tickets at two price points, neither excessive: $70 or $165. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished: Scalpers thwart Ed Sheeran’s noble gesture for Australian fans with tickets offered on ticket flipping sites like Viagogo for $1500.

It would be nice if sites like Viagogo were outlawed. Easier said than done though, when they aren’t physically located in Australia. And for all the promoters’ tut-tutting about scalping, they’re making their money, and there’s little downside for them when people flip tickets like this.

But resale sites need a critical mass of buyers and sellers to be successful. I think the only way they could be starved out is if Visa, MasterCard, Amex and PayPal refused to offer them payment gateway facilities. If they were forced to handle payments using bitcoin, Western Union or some other niche method, their business model collapses. Unfortunately there’s no great incentive for the card companies to do this either, of course. But the cost to those companies is inconsequential, and the goodwill possibly quite significant.

That’s the only solution I see.

Surreal Disarray

Politico has a brilliant piece rounding up the interviews Trump gave to mark his first 100 days in office. Chin up! Only 1,361 days to go.

Entitled “Trump’s dizzying day of interviews“, I was particularly taken by this paragraph:

White House officials said privately there was no broader strategy behind the interviews. GOP strategists and Capitol Hill aides were puzzled by it all. “I have no idea what they view as a successful media hit,” said one senior GOP consultant with close ties to the administration. “He just seemed to go crazy today,” a senior GOP aide said.

He. Just. Seemed. To. Go. Crazy. Today.

That’s comforting.

More Goodies and Baddies

So on Thursday morning we were greeted by the thoroughly unedifying spectacle of Federal Treasurer and Irredeemable Incompetent Scott Morrison pitching up the idea that there is now “Good Debt” and “Bad Debt”. You have got to be kidding me. After years of relentless talk of “Debt and Deficit Disaster”, people are starting to notice that under this government, the debt and deficits continue to climb, yet unemployment remains stubbornly high, inflation has been well below target, and consumer confidence is shot. Which begs the question: what the hell are they spending this money on? It clearly isn’t going anywhere useful.

So now ScoMo is going to rewrite the rules, and retrospectively declare some debt good, and some bad. Furthermore, entire functions of government will be rated on their net debt, as if the whole thing were some corporation implementing an internal charge-back model, rather than, well, government programmes: doing the unprofitable things of positive social worth. It’s just idiocy. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that this is going to lead to an apples and oranges comparison of all debt under Labor, versus (what they hope will be) a downward trajectory of “bad debt” under their so-called superior economic management. Ignore the “good debt”, nothing to see there, folks! That’s investment! Jobs and Growth. Just ignore that man behind the curtain.

So how will debt be classified?

This unmitigated disaster of an NBN, that will be worth a fraction of what’s been spent on it when completed, that’s a “good debt”, presumably? Obviously welfare will be “bad debt”, that goes without saying. Where does the Health Insurance Rebate fit? How about the Chaplaincy programme? Wars on Terror etc?

This mob truly are irredeemably incompetent. They’re obsessed with what the ratings agencies think of them despite it being of zero consequence to anyone, and fixated on how many dollars they can claw back out of the economy, as if they’re some scarce resource we might run out of, rather than the renewable fuel necessary to makes the economy work.

And whilst they bloviate, millions of hours of productive human potential are wasted every day, lost forever.

The Earth Is Doomed

In an unusual development, The Associated Press have published a verbatim transcript of an interview with The Donald. It’s pretty heavy going. I pointed it out to a friend in the US, and he said he would read it before going to bed (since he was working at the time I messaged him). I strongly advised against that. It’s not something I would recommend attempting to read unless you’re in an upright position, and preferably with a strong beverage handy.
Lindy West has written a pretty good piece about it in the Guardian, entitled “100 days of gibberish – Trump has weaponised nonsense”, which I’d also highly recommend. But you really do have to force yourself to read the original. It’s long in words yet bafflingly short on meaning, full of rambling paragraphs that surprise the reader here and there with glimpses of something approaching reality. Not actual reality, of course, but something that might be vaguely related to it.

But most of the time it’s simply extraordinarily unhinged. Not so much an interview as a stream of consciousness, into which a reporter occasionally interjects.

Often times bloggers write pieces that say something along the lines of “I’ve read this so you don’t have to, and here’s a summary”. But you really do need to have a go at taking in the stupefying madness of it yourself. That said, don’t feel bad if you can’t get through it all. There’s not even a prize if you do.

The man is crazy. Deeply, thoroughly, batshit crazy.

Sukkar – New face, same old rubbish argument

The ALP recently announced further proposals for reining in the escalating price of real estate in Australia, and the eastern seaboard capital cities in particular. These proposals add to the changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax announced prior to the 2016 election, and introduce much higher fees for foreign property investors, and outright banning of borrowing for investment in real estate by self-managed super funds (SMSFs). There was also talk of “bond aggregators” for housing construction (meh), and the opening of a discussion with state governments about vacancy taxes on properties.

I’m not sold on the bond aggregator idea, but the rest of the proposal seems meritorious, and good on the Labor Party for getting ahead of the May budget with some concrete policy.

All that said, it’s no surprise whatsoever that the government have come out hard against these ideas. The Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar was quoted in The New Daily:

But Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said Labor’s housing plan, including its policies around negative gearing, would actually make it harder for first home buyers to enter the market.

“We also know Labor’s tax will make it more difficult for renters,” he said.

“If you increase taxes on investment into the residential housing market, you ultimately push up rents.”

In a media release, Mr Sukkar said: “Labor’s attack on Self-Managed Super Funds shows they are once again reaching for the chainsaw.”

“Labor just don’t understand the need for finely tuned measures on housing,” he said.

He also accused the opposition of “plagiarising” the Turnbull government’s policy work on a social housing bond aggregator.

The outright case of the sooks about plagiarism can be safely ignored. The man is just being childish. But the rest of his argument about pushing up rents is simply rubbish, for one very simple reason. The renters and the prospective first home buyers are the same people. Virtually everyone trying to become a new owner occupier is currently renting a house or unit. Every property sold to a new owner-occupier reduces demand for rental property, so they largely even each other out. To put that another way, supply of rental properties may fall, but so will demand at roughly the  same rate. The proposition that these changes, (and the negative gearing and capital gains tax changes announced previously), will push rent through the roof must be challenged. It’s a failure to appreciate the macro aspects of renting versus home owner-occupancy.

Superannuation swindle. Yeah, but not for the reasons you say.

Rob Burgess seems a decent sort of bloke. Affable enough in those videos he did tooling around Melbourne in his old Ford*, pontificating on economics and whatnot.

But once again we’ve got the same old tripe being trotted out in The Great Superannuation Swindle Must Be Stopped.

Yes, allowing people to access their super to invest in housing is only going to drive real estate prices up further, you’ll get no argument from  me on that score. That’s a colossally stupid idea if your aim is to help first home buyers.

But the rest of the article is just Neoliberal Groupthink 101. For example:

State and federal governments raise taxes to fund infrastructure, education, health, administration and so on – goods and services which on balance make the economy work more efficiently and increase the ‘common wealth’.

State governments do, but the federal government does not. This is a lie, and Burgess knows it to be a lie. Yet it blithely gets repeated here.

If Australia had not amassed a pool of $2 trillion in superannuation assets so far, with more to come, we’d have had no hope of providing for the ageing population in retirement. So no, it’s not true that money in your super account is your and yours alone.

It has not only been topped up by your fellow taxpayers, but it is a comprehensive plan to prevent older Australians living in cars and dining on tinned dog food.

This is where I start to shout at the screen as I read the article. The ageing retired population cannot eat their superannuation, no matter how large it is.

The New Daily is supported by Industry Super, so these comments would be deeply unpopular on their site, but the simple fact is that superannuation is a complete con. It just does not do what its proponents (such as Mr Burgess above) claim. In fact, as Dr Steven Hail wrote recently, you can argue that it could actually have the opposite effect of what it was intended for, and is in fact – to use the terminology in Warren Mosler’s work – an “innocent fraud”.**

Superannuation is a forced savings plan. Legislated garnisheeing of your wages into a savings account, deferring your spending until you turn 60/65/whatever. It cuts your spending capacity today with the promise of increased spending capacity in the future. As Dr Hail says, releasing that spending capacity later on could conceivably trigger inflationary effects, driving up the cost of the goods and services that pensioners require at the very time they require them, what with the ageing population crisis we keep hearing about.

Superannuation is bullshit. There’s nothing wrong with saving for your retirement, but it’s simply false to assert super is the only way the nation can afford to keep our senior citizens. The federal government can afford to pay pensions and public service retirement scheme costs every fortnight forever. They issue the currency and can never run out. What’s important is that there are the real goods and services available in the economy to be purchased with those dollars. It’s the lack of things to buy with your money that causes inflation, not money itself.

Look, I’m a fan of Keating, but he sold us a pup with superannuation. The moment we floated the dollar, the rationale for superannuation disappeared. Perhaps he didn’t realise that at the time, but it should have become obvious since.


* Call that thing old? Pfft. Perhaps I should do some videos on macroeconomics whilst driving around in my 1956 Holden?

** I cannot recommend Dr Hail’s article highly enough. If you didn’t click the link before, do it now. Here it is again.

Monbiot on Neoliberalism

We* try to post original content on this blog, but occasionally something turns up and that just needs to be shared. This interview with George Monbiot is well worth 16 minutes of your time. He explains succinctly what neoliberalism is, what its impact on society has been, and ultimately the thread that has brought us from Hayek to Trump.

I’m looking forward to reading this new book, although I suspect it will profoundly depress me.

* That seems to be a royal “we”, since none of the other rogues have quite brought themselves to start blogging…

Define Employment, if you would

Before the Garage Death Match that was the contretemps between SA Premier Jay Weatherill and Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg (as it might have well have been given the way it consumed all available journalists  for days), something else noteworthy happened in Adelaide.

Former Treasurer Wayne Swan gave a very thought-provoking speech at Flinders University where he argued that full employment needs to be an active strategy for governments, not a passive one.

As usual, this was met with howls of “government interference in the markets”, make-work schemes, communism, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it and so on. This particular example is fairly typical:

What a ridiculous idea, you may as well employ people to dig up holes and then fill them in again, employment for the sake of employment, similar to countries like the USSR and other command economies. The problem is that this involves siphoning money away from the private sector which could be used to create new products and services that improve living standards.

I never cease to be amazed by the lack of imagination on display in comments like this. Why must government provided employment be make-work?

Just take a walk around your community, and ask yourself what could be done to improve the place if there was a standing army of people willing and able to do them? If your local council had the human resources (paid for by the federal government) to call on to provide services to the community, what would they be able to achieve?

Virtually anything that the private sector wouldn’t touch because there’s not a quid in it is a candidate for a Job Guarantee Programme. Think big.

Because the fact is every single unemployed person is already on the government’s payroll. It would make so much more sense to pay them a living wage to do something useful than pay them a miserable pittance to do nothing.