Australia’s irrelevant election

Satyajit Das spells out the challenges facing the Australian economy in the next decade:

The centerpiece of both major contenders’ campaigns are large tax cuts and significant government spending on infrastructure and welfare. Both parties pay lip service to sound public finance. But the sustainability of policies based on outbidding political opponents and financing permanent expenditure with impermanent revenues is questionable.

….This striking lack of control that Australia has over its economy is grounded in four factors.

….Sadly, no party’s manifesto addresses these fundamental challenges. Tax cuts will not reform a system which needs to be overhauled. Infrastructure spending provides a short-term increase in demand. Bad choice of projects and poor delivery, evidenced by the disappointing National Broadband Network which is over-budget and slow by the best international standards, may not enhance longer-term efficiency and productivity.

The narrowness of the economic base is ignored. No political party is willing to address over-investment in housing, the total value of which is around $6 trillion or around 4 times gross domestic product and constitutes a large proportion of household wealth. Encouraged by complex subsidies, capital is locked up in property, unavailable for more productive activities such as new industries. Leaders are reluctant to champion forceful structural reforms to improve education and skill levels as well as streamline regulation. Instead, all contenders seem happy to rely on windfalls to finance the nation’s living standards through ever shorter electoral cycles.

Worth reading the full article at Nikkei Asian Review

Hat tip to Macrobusiness.

EconoMonitor » Australia’s Economic Outlook—The Nauru Option?

Satyajit Das writes:

In a 29 November 2010 speech entitled The Challenge of Prosperity, RBA Governor sought to illustrate the combined effects of the gains of the appreciating terms of trade position and the A$ strength in the following terms: “In 2005 a shipload of iron ore was worth the same as around 2,200 flat screen televisions In 2010, the same shipload was worth around 22,000 flat screen TVs”. In a Freudian slip, the RBA Governor identified a fundamental issue with Australia’s economic model.

Australia may have substantially wasted the proceeds of its mineral booms, with the proceeds channelled into consumption. The nations did not channel enough into strategic long term investments or develop a new industrial base. According to one study, the commodity boom increased government revenues between 2002 and 2008 by around A$180 billion of which A$36 billion was used to repay public debt, A$69 billion was placed into the Future Fund (to meet the cost of public sector superannuation liabilities) and $75 billion was transferred to households in the form of tax cuts and payments.

Read more at EconoMonitor : EconoMonitor » Australia’s Economic Outlook—The Nauru Option?.

RBA gambles on China – MacroBusiness

Glenn Stevens: Those at home [Australia] see this as well. As consumers, they have responded to the higher exchange rate with record levels of international travel. As producers, however, they also see, with increasing clarity, that the rise in the relative price of natural resources amounts to a global and epochal shift, which carries important implications for economic structure in Australia, as it does everywhere else. Some sectors of the economy will grow in importance as they invest and employ to take advantage of higher prices. Other sectors will get relatively smaller, particularly in the traded sector, as they face relatively lower prices for their products and competition for inputs from the stronger sectors. The exchange rate response to this shift in fundamentals is sending very clearly the signal to shift the industry mix, though this would occur at any exchange rate. The shift in relative prices is a shift in global prices that is more or less invariant to the level of the Australian dollar…..

Delusional Economics: And there is the China gamble laid bare for all to see. It is true that in relative pricing terms Australia’s income has increased but, as the Governor alludes to, the prices we are paying for cheaper imports is a hollowing out of some industries and a corresponding restructuring of the labour force. By not intervening via monetary and/or fiscal policy in the capital flows associated with the commodities boom the government and the RBA have made it clear that a restructure of the economy will be the outcome.

However, as I have pointed out in my analysis of Europe , and Mr Stevens goes on to say later in the speech, structural change is difficult and expensive. By allowing the economy to restructure in this way we are making a one-way bet on China. That is, if we’ve got it wrong on Beijing, we are in seriously deep trouble because there is no Plan B.

via RBA gambles on China – MacroBusiness.

Why the RBA should cut rates –

Nominal house prices are falling. Not collapsing, certainly. But falling very consistently, roughly 6% peak to trough. 8.5% in real terms. This has had a number of well documented effects including high savings rates, historically conservative levels of retail sales and stalled services sector investment.

…..Now, in August, the latest month for which we have data, coal and iron ore earned Australia $12 billion in export income. Assuming the price falls we have seen get no worse (or better), by the time new prices filter through the various contract systems, those same commodities will earn us roughly $9 billion in January next year (all things being equal with the currency).

via Why the RBA should cut rates – |

The Rolex economy – |

My main concern is that frighteningly, the RBA, and probably much of the government, sees Australia’s future as a single bet on mining, and is willing to sacrifice much of the remaining economy for this to happen……. Remember, the minerals will be in the ground if we don’t mine them now, but the decades of production chains elsewhere in the economy are easily destroyed and slow to rebuild.

I acknowledge that the RBA has a single tool in its toolbox, but surely the message we should be hearing is that a strong and stable economy is a diverse economy. Quarry Australia is a very volatile and risky place to want to be.

via The Rolex economy – |