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Stagflation: be alert, not alarmed – EP143 + transcript

In early June 2022, the World Bank downgraded its global economic growth forecast and warned of the rising risk of stagflation, the uncommon combination of high inflation and high unemployment, or falling GDP growth. Stagflation is a portmanteau word, combining stagnation with inflation. Economists first noticed stagflation in 1970s USA (see the chart below) and other advanced economies, when it was triggered by the 1973 oil price shock, which pushed up prices and reduced industrial output as input costs soared.

A simultaneous acceleration of inflation and an increasing unemployment rate in the mid-1970s surprised many people at the time, because it was contrary to the Phillips curve trade-off between unemployment and inflation.

In Episode 143 of Economics Explored, show host Gene Tunny and his colleague Arturo Espinoza discuss how the current global situation is similar and dissimilar to the 1970s, including consideration of recent perspectives from the World Bank and BIS.  While we also have a commodity price shock, associated partly with the war in Ukraine, it is less in proportionate terms than in the 1970s, and we also have better macroeconomic policy frameworks (i.e. explicit inflation targets) than in the 1970s. So the takeaway of the episode is that, while we should be alert to the possibility of stagflation, at this stage we shouldn’t be alarmed.

You can listen to episode 143 using the embedded player below or via Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, among other podcast apps. A transcript and relevant links are also available below.

Links relevant to the conversation

Is a US recession imminent? w/ Michael Knox, Chief Economist, Morgans Financial – EP142 – Economics Explored (Previous episode with Michael Knox)

Jobs report May 2022: Payrolls rose 390,000 in May, better than expected as companies keep hiring 

https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=stagflation&geo=US (Google Trends for stagflation)

The Fed must act now to ward off the threat of stagflation | Financial Times

Are major advanced economies on the verge of a wage-price spiral? (BIS Bulletin 53)

Commodity market disruptions, growth and inflation (BIS Bulletin 54)

Robert Heller’s paper on International Reserves and Global Inflation (from p. 28)

Stagflation Risk Rises Amid Sharp Slowdown in Growth (World Bank report) 

Stagflation danger prompts  World Bank to cut growth outlook (Washington Post article)

EP59 on the Natural Rate of Unemployment (re. Milton Friedman’s AEA presidential address)

Friedman’s presidential address

Chart of the Week – The real price of crude oil – Callum Thomas

Clarification

Australia’s wage price index increased 2.4% through the year to March 2022 (see Wage Price Index, Australia, March 2022 | Australian Bureau of Statistics

Transcript of EP143 – Stagflation: be alert, not alarmed

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Gene Tunny  00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored. My personal feeling is that; and this is informed by my conversation with Michael Knox last week. I don’t think we’ll end up with stagflation similar to the 70s or rather, I hope not. I don’t see at the moment.

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host, Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist based in Brisbane, Australia, and I’m a former Australian Treasury official. This is episode 143 on Stagflation.

Joining me this episode is my colleague at Adept Economics, Arturo Espinosa. Arturo, good to have you on the show again.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  00:44

Thank you, Gene. I am glad to be here.

Gene Tunny  00:48

Excellent, yes. It should be a good conversation because we know that this issue of Stagflation is topical with the recent World Bank report that we’ll get into in this episode. But before we do that, I just thought I’d provide an update on last week’s episode.

So, in Episode 142, I spoke with Michael Knox, who is the Chief Economist at Morgan’s, which is a major Australian wealth management and stock broking firm. And Michael and I chatted about the prospects for the US and Australian economies and what’s been happening with monetary policy. And Michael made a bold prediction in that episode, on where the Australian cash rates, so the policy rate that’s controlled by the Reserve Bank of Australia, so that’s the equivalent of the Federal Reserve in the US or the Bank of England. And he forecast that they would lift it by 50 basis points. So, half a percentage point from 0.35%, he forecast that they would increase it to 0.85%. He was the only economist in Australia who was forecasting there, and he explained why he thought that was the case in the episode.

So, if you’re in the audience, you haven’t listened to that episode yet, please, think about having to listen to it because Michael, I think is one of the best economic forecasters out there. He looks at the global economy, he looks at the Australian economy. And it turned out that the Reserve Bank did increase the cash rate by 0.85%. And it surprised all of the other market economists, all the commentators, and now there’s all this talk about what does this mean for the economy?

Will people now have trouble paying their home loans? Will they get into financial trouble? And there’s a huge conversation about that now in Australia; well done to Michael Knox for forecasting that correctly.

And we were also chatting about this idea or this concern that there could be a recession coming up in the US. So, there’s been a lot of commentary about that. It’s associated with all of this commentary, all this discussion at the moment about stagflation, which we’re going to get into. But Michael is very optimistic about the US economy as we talked about, and just after that episode was published, there was some new data that came out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; at the BLS. And they reported better than expected, employment numbers in the US for May, CNBC reported that the US economy added 390,000 jobs in May, better than expected despite fears of an economic slowdown and with a roaring pace of inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, at the same time, the unemployment rate held at 3.6% just above the lowest level since December 1969.

Okay, so that’s an update on last week’s episode. Okay. Any questions or thoughts on that, Arturo?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  04:04

No, let’s start discussing about the topic.

Gene Tunny  04:09

Yep, about stagflation, absolutely. So, I want to devote the bulk of this episode, or the rest of this episode to talking about stagflation. This is something that I asked Michael about last week in our conversation. And I mean, this is something we haven’t; it’s a term that, that I remember, you know, I learned in when I studied Economics, and as you did, we would have learned this term stagflation about what happened in the 1970s. But we haven’t really heard it in the economic commentary for a while. So, there were decades when no one was really talking about it. And then there was this revival of interest in it, I think, from around late last year.

And if you look at the Google Trends Data, and I’ll put this chart on the show notes, so you can see, when interest in the concept of stagflation has picked up again. And that was from around, I think it was around September, 2021. And we’ve had various commentators talking about the risks of stagflation. So, on 25th of May this year, Martin Wolf; so Martin Wolf is one of the leading financial economic commentators in the world. He writes for The Financial Times. He wrote a column; “The Fed must act now to ward off the threat of stagflation.” And we know from the 1970s, the time to throttle an inflationary upsurge is at the beginning. And is there going to be a recession in the US and other leading economies? This question has naturally arisen among participants at this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. So, you probably saw, I think that meeting, they had their World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland last week.

Martin Wolf wrote that this is however, the wrong question, at least for the US. The right one is whether we are moving into a new era of higher inflation and wage growth, similar to the stagflation of the 1970s. If so, what might this mean? That was one of the motivations for having this conversation today.

And almost as if I forecast that the World Bank would produce this study on stagflation, they released it overnight, or it came overnight our time. And so, we’ve just been looking at this morning, this new report, from the reserve; sorry, not the Reserve Bank, that’s our bank here in Australia, the World Bank. And the press release; June 7, press release, I’ll put this in the show notes. So, if you listen, and you’re interested, you can find that; stagflation risk rises amid sharp slowdown in growth.

So, you had a look at this earlier, Arturo, didn’t you? What were your main takeaways from this report from the World Bank?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  06:59

Well, I think these are very good reports, where they dedicate special focus on globalist inflation. And there is a section which they talk about similarities to the 1970s. They mentioned that they are three of them. The first is that supply shocks after a prolonged monetary policy accommodation, the existence of weaker growth. Also, there are some significant problems or inabilities in emerging economies. Those three things can be similar from 1970s to the current period.

Gene Tunny  07:51

This is because these supply side shocks really hurt those emerging economies more than the richer economies; is that the idea? Because they generally have lower incomes in those countries. And so, they’re going to be very badly affected by increases in oil prices, increases in food prices, and that can bring not only economic turmoil, but political turmoil as well.

So, what we might do is; we might revisit those, those similarities. Again, in the podcast first, it just occurred to me that we probably should, or I probably should just talk about what Stagflation is, what does it mean? And I couldn’t find any or there’s no strict definition of what it is. It’s a combination of unemployment and inflation or low GDP growth and high inflation. But there’s no agreed definition of it’s stagflation, if unemployment and GDP growth are x and y and inflation is there; there’s no quantitative definition as far as I can tell.

So, stagflation; it’s a pretty horrible word, if you think about it. I mean, it’s one of these, what do you call it? A portmanteau word. So, it’s a word that is a combination of other words, to try and convey a particular meaning, the combination of themselves. So, it’s a combination of stagnation, plus inflation. Glenn Hubbard’s introductory Economics textbook. So, Glenn Hubbard was the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers for President George W. Bush, in the early 2000s. In his textbook, they define it as a combination of inflation and recession, usually resulting from a supply shock. Okay, and like with everything in Economics, we’ve defined a concept by referring to another concept, we have to define a lot of times. So, supply shock. What do we mean by that? We mean, something that increases the cost of inputs; it’s a shock on the supply side of the economy, our ability to produce.

It’s not like a demand shock, where there’s an increase in spending or an increase in the amount of money. It’s a shock to our productive capacity. So, this concept, I think, originally came into Economics, or it became prominent in the 1970s, when there was the huge spike in oil prices in 1973, when OPEC, because of the Arab countries are upset with the West because they were backing the Israelis in the war, I think it was the young people war. That meant that the cost of inputs increased. And when those inputs increase, we use oil, well for petrol and, you know, across the economy. And so, it’s pushing up costs of production and produces; firms will try and pass that on to customers. That can be inflationary. Okay.

And you mentioned supply shocks before, didn’t you? In terms of the similarities with the 70s? So, we’ve had that,

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  11:10

Yeah, we have the impact. However, there is a difference there in the case of the World Bank report, they say that the current shocks or current supply shocks are smaller, compared to those shocks in 1970s.

Gene Tunny  11:33

That’s right. I should have checked the numbers before I came on to record. But if you look at the real oil price back in the 70s, that was in proportionate terms, that was a huge increase, wasn’t it? I mean, it was multiples of the then current price, and it really shocked people. It was a huge shock to face those price rises.

So, I’ll have to dig out what that stat was and put it in the show notes. But that’s what they’re driving out there, aren’t they? They’re saying, well, okay, we’ve seen some big increases in commodities prices, but they’re, they’re smaller still than what we saw in the 1970s. So, they may have a chart and that report that we can refer people to in the show notes. Okay.

So, just on this definition of stagflation again, that was one definition. Now, note, there’s no quantitative; there aren’t any numbers in that definition. Dornbusch and Fisher; so, that was the textbook I use when I studied macro Economics back in the 90s. Rudy Dorn, Bush and Stan Fisher, so very prominent, US macro economists, I think are at MIT. They wrote that stagflation occurs when inflation rises, while output is either falling or at least not rising. And on well, actually, there’s probably no point me giving textbook page references, because this is sort of the 1994 edition. But in that edition, they wrote that during periods of stagflation, such as 1973, 74, 1980, and 1991. There are articles in the newspapers that the laws of Economics are not working as they should, because inflation is high or rising, even though output is falling.

So if we go to the, the data for the US, so I’ll put this chart in the show notes as well. We look at what happened in 1973 – 74. And this was a huge shock, I think at the time. We see that inflation went from a rate of 2 to 3%. And it ended up at a rate of over 10%. I think it looks like nearly 12½ % on this chart, I’ve pulled up. And so, we had those two years; well, after the ‘73 oil shock, so 74, 75 inflation is accelerating. And unemployment is also increasing, and it’s increasing from about 5% to nearly 8 to 9% or so. I’ll put this chart in, and I’ll just check those numbers. And this came as a big shock, because there was this concept of the Phillips Curve wasn’t there? There was this idea that there was this tradeoff between unemployment and an inflation, that if you had high unemployment, then at the same time, you should have low inflation. Or if you had high inflation, you’d have low unemployment. There was this idea that there was this trade off; because empirically, if you looked at the data for the 50s and 60s in the States, or for the UK or other advanced economies, it looked like there was this trade off. It looked like there was a menu from which economic policymakers could choose.

The typical story about the Phillips Curve was that, you could get unemployment down by stimulating your economy, a bit of Keynesian fine tuning, a bit of pump priming. You could reduce unemployment, but if you get unemployment; if you if you do reduce that, that puts more power in the hands of Labor relative to capital, you can tell stories about unions, you can tell stories about people being more aggressive in their wage negotiations, because Labor is scarcer, and that leads to higher inflation.

So, there’s this idea of a tradeoff. And this Phillips Curve was something that was found by Bill Phillips, who was a professor, Bill is from New Zealand originally. And he ended up being a professor at the London School of Economics. Have you heard about that? This is a bit of a tangent, but he built that hydraulic, economic model. Have you ever heard of that, ever heard of LSE?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  16:08

No, I haven’t heard about it.

Gene Tunny  16:11

And he developed this hydraulic, economic model in the 50s and 60s. They built a representation of the economy; they’re essentially modelling the circular flow of income with using water and mechanical parts. And this was a model that London School of Economics; I just remember that because she gave a lecture at the University of Queensland in 2016, Mary Morgan, she’s a professor at LSE, London School of Economics. She wrote a great book on the World in a Model. So, she’s done some great work on the history of economic modelling. Her first job, she said, was looking after that hydraulic computer.

So, Bill Phillips, one of the great economists, he discovered this correlation between all this trade off; the Phillips Curve, the relationship that ended up being influential in economic policy in the 60s until it broke down in the 70s. As we are talking about, he looked at UK wages growth, so wages, inflation and unemployment data. Even though what he did was look at wages data, well, it soon transferred as a concept to a tradeoff between price inflation and unemployment, because well, there is obviously a link between wages and prices, because employers will try and pass on those increases.

Does that all make sense? I was just trying to explain why this idea of this stagflation came as such a shock in the 1970s.

So, what was wrong with that Phillips Curve concept? Why didn’t it work out? Well, it was because of this supply side shock, wasn’t it? This was something that wasn’t really anticipated in that Phillips Curve story. And the other problem was that when you have high inflation, the expectations of people in the economy of workers and businesses, your expectations of inflation increase. You essentially, come to expect inflation and inflation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because every time there’s a wage negotiation, or a contract negotiation, you essentially allow for the future inflation, you expect it. And you have things like cost-of-living adjustments, you essentially build it into contracts and under wage bargaining. So that’s one of the reasons why the traditional Phillips Curve breaks down. And there was a very famous speech by Milton Friedman; the presidential address to the American Economic Association in 1968. And I’ve talked about this in a previous episode – Episode 59, on the Natural Rate of Unemployment. And Friedman argued, well, in the long run, there’s really no Phillips Curve, you might think that there’s some sort of tradeoff in the short run, that you can get unemployment down if you pump-prime; if you stimulate your economy, and you’ll get some inflation as a result of that or you could go the other way and try and contract the economy to reduce inflation.

But in the long run, there is no trade off; there’s no Phillips Curve to speak of this. The economy should gravitate towards a natural rate of unemployment. And inflation can be whatever is consistent with people’s expectations.

There’s a big problem if you don’t get inflation under control, and people come to expect inflation, and then you can just have persistently high inflation, and you can have that with high unemployment as well.

Have you seen those diagrams of the Phillips Curve, with the vertical long run Phillips Curve? And then if you start off at a point on that Phillips Curve, so say you’re at your natural rate of unemployment, and you’ve got high inflation expected, then what can happen is, there some sort of shock that increases unemployment. And so, you start off at that high point with high inflation already. Maybe, it eventually has some sort of; it does contribute to a reduction in inflation somewhat, but you still at that higher level of inflation. And so, you can have higher unemployment or high unemployment and high inflation still.

So, that was probably a bit more technical information than we needed. If you have a look at an intermediate or advanced macroeconomics textbook, they’ll have some diagrams; I have some models that go over, that we probably don’t need to look into that. But the main point is that this Phillips Curve, discovered by Bill Phillips; people thought it was this stable tradeoff between unemployment and inflation, didn’t hold in the long run. And if your economy is subject to the supply side shocks, so increase in the price of oil, for example. And then if people come to expect inflation, then you can get high levels of inflation. And they can be very persistent, and you can have the economy slow down, you’re going to have high unemployment, and inflation can still persist for a long time.

And if you did want to get that inflation down, you really need a change in monetary policy, you need a much more aggressive monetary policy, and you need a credible Central bank that can deliver it. And I think this is what Paul Volcker in the US did in the early 80s. And this is what when they massively tighten monetary policy, high interest rates, crunch the economy, but they did get inflation under control. And I think this is related to this point that the World Bank made. There was a point about better monetary policy frameworks. Is that right?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  22:37

Yes, that’s right. After that economic event occurring 1970s, most of Central banks started to control prices, try to target inflation. Also, they incorporated the old thing related to these rational speculative in order to take into account potentials proven that pulling golden, been analyzed before 1970s since the Phillips Curve wasn’t explained correctly, the prequel evidence, as you mentioned. In the short run, that Phillips Curve is playing well, but in the long run, they didn’t account other factors, and relationships was different. So, I think most of the Central bank started to work better in terms of expectations.

Gene Tunny  23:45

Yeah. And so, this is this point, that Central banks, they need to have a credible monetary policy. And one way of having a credible monetary policy is to have an explicit inflation target that you’re judged on. And that’s why our Reserve Bank of Australia has a 2 to 3% inflation target, and the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve, they’re aiming for, I think it’s 2%. I’ll put that in the show notes. But they sort of; all of these Central banks tend to have inflation targets in 2 to 3%, which is a recognition that you’re going to have some inflation, but what you want to avoid is higher rates of inflation or double-digit inflation, or even worse, that’s what you really want to avoid, because that really causes a lot of misery. People can sort of, live with inflation of 2 to 3%.

So, that was this point about monetary policy; another thing that helps signal a credible monetary policy. So, by credible, we mean that people in the economy, businesses and workers know that if inflation starts to accelerate, the Central bank is going to squash that inflation as soon as it can. And that helps keep inflationary expectations down so people don’t come to expect higher inflation.

Okay, and one other thing that does help with the credibility of a Central bank is having an independent Central bank, who the worst thing you can have is if your Central bank is influenced by politicians; if it’s controlled by politicians, because, say they’re coming up to an election, there might be inflation increasing, but the politicians don’t want the Central bank putting up interest rates just before an election.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  25:43

That’s right. In the world, we have seen many examples. For example, Peru is a good example of a thing that would the government shouldn’t do. For example, in the middle of 80s, Peruvian government, had a high level of debt. That moment, government Allan Garcia took place, and he didn’t recognize the debth. So, they didn’t want to pay. And also, in the government, they started to print money because the other Central bank, was subordinated to the current government. And that was the world’s respond for [unclear] because Peru initiated a stage of hyperinflation. And also, Peru faced a recession period.

Gene Tunny  26:52

So, hyperinflation; there is a quantitative definition of hyperinflation. It’s when you have inflation running at about 50% a month or something. It’s a very high rate, and you can end up with annual inflation rates of over 1,000% or something, which is just mad. What they had in Germany in the 1920s. But also, we’ve seen it in South American countries in the;

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  27:18

Most South American countries, experience periods of hyperinflation.

Gene Tunny  27:23

So, you are highlighting one of the; when it gets really bad when you don’t have that independence. And because the Central bank is the bank for the government as the government just commits to making all of these payments, and it might not actually have the money, but the Central bank just prints the money. It just pays the bills for the government; the money is just created. So yeah, what they call modern monetary theory nowadays; bad results.

We’ve chatted about the Phillips Curve, why it’s not reliable. I’ll put links to all of these things I’ve mentioned particularly to Milton Friedman’s presidential address, which is just brilliant.

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  28:18

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Gene Tunny  28:47

Now back to the show.

Okay, now, one of the things Central banks are essentially wanting to avoid is this idea of a wage price spiral. So, we’ve talked about inflationary expectations, you want to avoid inflation becoming expected, and then it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, one of the concepts that disgusts is a wage-price spiral.

Okay, so in early May 2022, the Reserve Bank of Australia; this was a report in the Australian Financial Review. The Reserve Bank of Australia has warned of a wage price spiral if unions exploit the low jobless rate to push for higher pay rises to compensate for an inflation rate to peak at a higher than expected 6%.

So, what is a wage-price spiral? The Bank of International Settlements in Basel in Switzerland; it’s defined a wage price spiral in the following way, and this is in a bulletin that they produced, BIS bulletin number 53 on Major Advanced Economies on the verge of a Wage Price Spiral.

A wage price spiral entails feedback in both directions between wages and prices. Inflation then rises persistently on the back of such a spiral. Once the economy enters the spiral, workers bid up nominal wages more than prices, prompting firms to raise prices further, the likelihood of an economy entering the wage price spiral depends in part on macro-economic conditions.

Workers bargaining power is typically greater when Labor demand is strong and Labor supply is tight. Similarly, firms may have more pricing power when aggregate demand is strong. Labor market institutions also influenced the likelihood of a wage price spiral emerging.

Automatic wage indexation and cost of living adjustment. So C-O-L-A or COLA clauses make wage price spirals, more likely.

And this was important in the; well, it became an issue in the Australian election campaign, because the then opposition leader now Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese; did you see his comments when he was saying that, if we were in government, we would support workers being getting a wage rise in line with inflation. Inflation was rising at well; inflation was 5.1%. That was the last reported estimate from the Reserve Bank, which was higher than expected. And then, Anthony Albanese came out and said, yes, workers, their wages should increase by at least 5.1% To make up for that. And then, the then Prime Minister, Scott Morrison tried to make a big thing out of that and he said, Anthony Albanese is a loose unit, because this could then lock in inflation permanently.

So, this is his concern about a wage price spiral and the BIS was arguing that, this sort of thing; there’s automatic wage indexation, which is almost what well, it’s essentially what Anthony Albanese, our current prime minister here in Australia was almost hinting at. I think he regretted making that comment, because they really don’t want to do that. And if I think they’ve walked back a bit from that position, I mean, they put a submission to the Fair Work Commission, ultimately, it’s up to the Fair Work Commission to decide the increase in minimum wages in Australia.

There was some criticism of the opposition leader at the time, because it could have; there were commentators who were saying, this is a sort of thing that risks a wage price spiral. And you could take that BIS note as supportive of that position. Ultimately, I don’t think that mattered much in the election campaign. So, who knows? I mean, it could have even increased support for Anthony Albanese. People think, well, that sounds fair enough that we’re compensated for inflation. Most people are wage earners as more wage earners than business owners in the country. So, it could have been a popular thing. The PM at the time was trying to say, well, he’s a loose unit, who knows how much impact it had on the election campaign?

Ultimately, I think the election was decided over concerns about climate change. There was this general perception out there that the government wasn’t doing enough on climate change, rightly or wrongly. And that was the dominant consideration.

Do you remember that whole debate or that whole discussion around the opposition leader’s comments?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  33:43

I remember that. I saw some news about it. I also reviewed some comments from some Australians, And some people or some citizens mentioned that the proposal is not correct for the current situation in the global economy. Because of course, if you want to raise salary, that will be loads, let’s say factor, or determinant to boost inflation pressures in Australia.

I remember that I checked some economic paper; it’s okay to raise the wages, but it could be implemented gradually. Or maybe you can target some sectors in order to improve the salaries but it’s not a good policy response to increase generally, the wages in the whole Australia.

Gene Tunny  35:01

Maybe limited to the lowest paid workers, rather than have at across all of the wage agreements in the economy so that; fair enough. Okay, we might have to come back to this whole issue of how wages are set in a future episode.

So, what did the BIS conclude about whether major economies are on the verge of a wage price spiral? Well, with most economic issues, they weren’t able to reach a firm conclusion. I mean, none of us has a crystal ball. I mean, I’m always very reluctant to give firm or precise forecast, because you just can’t, because there’s so much uncertainty.

So, my reading of what the BIS was saying in that wage price spiral bulletin, is that, well, they’re not really sure. The key things that they noted in their analysis were that while inflation is returned, it’s reached levels not seen in decades, whether inflation enters a persistently higher regime will depend on labor market developments and on whether a wage price spiral emerges. To date, evidence for a broad acceleration in wage growth is mixed. It’s picked up significantly in the US, but it remains moderate in most other advanced economies. So, it’s certainly still moderate in Australia, it is picking up a bit, but it’s not near what arguably, we’d like to have. And this became an issue in the election campaign to you probably remember this. Well, this is why Albanese made those comments to begin with. Because if you looked at wage’s growth, which was, 2.7 or maybe it was a bit lower through the year, compare it with inflation of 5.1%, then you get a real wage decline of 2.6%.

I will put the exact numbers in the show notes. It must have been about 2½%. If we’ve got a 5.1% inflation rate, I think they were saying the real wage decline was 2.6 or 2.7%, that it must have been a 2½% wage price index increase. I’ll put the right data in the show notes.

That became an issue in the recent election campaign.

Here is where the BIS basically admits; we really don’t know:, Extrapolating behavior from low inflation periods is problematic if inflation remains high, households may ask for higher wages to make up for lost purchasing power and firms may raise prices to protect profit margins. And stubbornly high inflation may lead to institutional changes, such as automatic indexation and cost of living adjustment clauses. So, that’s the sort of thing we want to avoid. And that’s why people were worried about what our current Prime Minister was saying, because there was a concern that we could effectively do that sort of thing, if he followed through on what he was saying.

Did you have any thoughts on that wage price spiral article? You had a looked at that today, didn’t you Arturo?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  38:17

Yes. I think, in the report, they also mentioned that some condition must be complied to be under these kinds of wage price spirals. But from my point of view, I think is quite complex to determine if all the countries are going to face that wage price spiral? I think that depends on the particular condition from each country.

Gene Tunny  38:50

Yeah, that’s the problem that the World Bank and the BIS, or the IMF have, because they’re trying to produce forecasts, or do analysis for the whole world or all major economies, whereas there are differences in the institutions within those economies; a very good point.

Okay, so let’s get back to the central question. I mean, all of these things we’ve been talking about, are related to because if we have a wage price spiral, and then we have some shock or the economy goes into a downturn, then we could end up with stagflation. So, it’s all related.

We’ll talk about now, the prospects for stagflation. So, is this something we should be worried about? And it turns out the BIS looked at this last month, so before the World Bank, so this is obviously something that economists in these major institutions are concerned about, and the BIS had to report commodity market disruptions, growth and inflation.

We’ve talked about the broad base supply shock increasing inflation, food and energy prices spilling over to other components of inflation, and possibly; well contributing to a reduction in global economic growth. And we should talk about the World Bank’s forecasts because the World Bank now is forecasting a reduction in global growth, isn’t it? That was one of the major things in that latest report. I’ve got it here.

The bank slashed its annual global growth forecast to 2.9% from January’s 4.1% and said that subdued growth would be likely to persist throughout the decade because of weak investment in most of the world.

And so, the BIS was saying that this is the sort of thing that would happen. It was saying this last month, and I guess, I mean, a lot of other economists have been concerned about that. There’s a recognition that what’s happening with Ukraine, what’s happening with commodity prices, that is going to compromise, global economic growth.

Now, it looks like the BIS; they’re saying similar things to the World Bank and the World Bank, probably. I mean, I’m sure it read what the BIS analysis is pretty much; I think they reach the same conclusions almost. So, let’s go over what the BIS says, and then we’ll compare it with what the World Bank says. So, the BIS has concluded, recent shocks have been smaller than the 1970s oil shocks, but broader based encompassing food and industrial commodities as well as energy. Nonetheless, structural changes, as well as stronger policy frameworks and nominal anchors.

So, by a nominal anchor, they mean, something that’s keeping prices down. They’re talking about inflation targets. So, they make stagflation less likely to return. But this is where they acknowledge that.; we’ve said that, but ultimately, things can happen that derail the economy that can mean our forecast is incorrect. And they know commodity price increases in the wake of the war in Ukraine are likely to weigh on global growth and add to inflation. While lower energy dependence and stronger policy frameworks make a repeat of the 1970s stagflation unlikely, high and volatile commodity prices could still be disruptive. This puts a premium on restoring low inflation quickly before it becomes ingrained in household and corporate decisions.

Absolutely. I think that’s a very good point to make. So, that’s what the BIS said, That’s pretty similar to what the World Bank said, isn’t it?

We might have a look at that now, again. Let me just go back to the media release. They also got a comprehensive report and that chapter, the focus on stagflation, which I’ll link to in the show notes, which is worth reading. I’m just going to consult their media release, which is a really good summary and well written.

Let’s just talk about how the current situation resembles the 70s. And why? What are the reasons why we might think that we could end up with global stagflation?

The current juncture resembles the 1970s in three key aspects: persistence supply, side disturbances, fueling inflation, preceded by a protracted period of highly accommodative monetary policy and major advanced economies, prospects for weakening growth and vulnerabilities in emerging market and developing economies face with respect to the monetary policy tightening that will be needed to rein in inflation.

Let’s have a look at what they’re talking about there. We’ve talked about the persistent supply side disturbances, preceded by a protracted period of highly accommodative monetary policy. By accommodative, we mean, loose, we mean, ultra-low interest rates, we mean lots of money printing, that sort of thing; credit creation, due to the low interest rates. And that’s what we’ve seen in Australia, we’ve seen in the US, we’ve seen it in other advanced economies. So, there’s no doubt about that. And the argument is that buildup of that additional money, that additional liquidity will end up with too much money chasing too few goods, accelerating inflation, right. We’ve talked about that on the show before.

They also talked about vulnerabilities that emerging market and developing economies face with respect to the monetary policy tightening that will be needed to rein in inflation.

So, let’s have a think about what they’re driving out there. I mean, as the western economies increase interest rates, that’s going to mean; this is just one aspect of it. That will attract investment capital, portfolio investment to the US or to other major advanced economies. And if those developing economies don’t put up their interest rates, then that will lead to a depreciation of their exchange rates, which means that the cost of imported goods in those economies will be compromised, or if they’re trying to fix their exchange rates, it puts pressure on their balance of payments. So, it’s a bad situation for those emerging economies.

And also, the thing is, when you have situations like this in the world, when there’s concerns about volatility, there is this flight to safety and money can flow to the advanced economies where there’s a perception, it’s safer, and that could compromise these emerging economies. I wouldn’t be forecasting this yet, but things can happen unexpectedly or rapidly. We know that there can be crises in emerging economies that are difficult to predict, such as the Asian crisis in the late 1990s.

 Any thoughts on any of those key aspects, Arturo? About how, how there are similarities with the 70s?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  46:19

No. Your explanation was very clear.

Gene Tunny  46:23

Okay, well, then we should; before we conclude this episode, we should talk about how the ongoing episode also differs from the 1970s. The dollar is strong, a sharp contrast with a severe weakness in the 1970s, the percentage increases in commodity prices are smaller, and the balance sheets of major financial institutions are generally strong.

More importantly, unlike the 1970s, Central banks in advanced economies, and many developing economies, now have clear mandates for price stability. And over the past three decades, they have established a credible track record of achieving their inflation targets.

And they go on to conclude as the World Bank global inflation is expected to moderate next year, but it will likely remain above; I think I’ve missed the words there, it must be above average.

And they talked about; something’s gone wrong with my printout. They do talk about, you know, there is a risk of stagflation. So, stagflation risk rises amid sharp slowdown in growth, okay, so, there’s going to be some moderation in inflation, but it’s likely to still remain high or higher than the normal. And you couple that with the fact that there’s a risk of a slowdown, and they’re talking about a slowdown in global growth. That’s what they’re forecasting, then, yes, certainly, stagflation of some kind is a risk.

My personal feeling is that; and this is informed by my conversation with Michael Knox last week, I don’t think we’ll end up with stagflation similar to the 70s, or rather, I hope not. I don’t see at the moment. I think the US economy based on the indicators I’ve seen in my conversation with Michael, I think, at least for the next year or so, the prospects for the US economy are very good. Likewise, for Australia, I mean, there are always risks. We’ve got some heavily indebted households; we’ve got interest rates increasing. That’s one of the great unknowns at the moment. But if you look at the indicators, such as job vacancies, you look at the fact we’ve got a 3.9% unemployment rate. You look at what’s happening with commodity prices, which were in net terms benefiting from, because we’re a net exporter of energy and minerals to the world. Like, our coal prices have been $400 – $500 US a ton.

Queensland is a huge producer of coal; and that’s benefiting our state and budget. I mean, there’s ultimately; there may have to be a transition out of coal because of concerns over climate change. But at the moment, it’s something that is beneficial to the state economy. So, I think in Australia, I’m not concerned about stagflation at the moment, but as always, I need to say, I don’t have a crystal ball.

Any thoughts, Arturo? I mean, what’s your general feeling on stagflation? Is this just the latest thing that we’re worried about? Perhaps for no really good reason? I mean, it certainly; I haven’t seen this interest in the concept for a long time. And yes, is it something we should be worried about? What do you think?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  49:35

I think the case is; it’s good to have these discussions and it’s good to know that most of the Central banks are considering these potential, let’s say, this potential event. If they are well prepared, they can avoid that kind of situation for some countries. As I mentioned this thing, if a cure isn’t going to be general, so some countries perhaps are going to face stagflation. In some cases, if they don’t manage properly their monetary policy and some fiscal responses.

But of course, there are many risks that are out there, for example, as the World Bank report mentioned, if the supply disruption proceeds or the commodity prices continue to climb, inflation could remain above Central bank’s target. So, I think those are potential risks, the Central bank must consider giving good response.

Gene Tunny  51:00

Yeah, good point.

One other point I wanted to make is; and this is related to the other thing that differs from the 70s, which is, the World Bank set out a few ways that the economy is not the same as the 70s. And, one of the important ones, I think, is they talk about the US dollar, don’t they, the dollar is strong. Now, this is a very technical issue, it’s a hard one to sort of get your head around, because you have to go back to the situation in the 60s and the early 70s, before the era that we’re now in, in advanced economies of floating exchange rates. When we had the Bretton Woods system.

Michael Knox referred to the growth in international reserves, he talked about the growth of foreign currencies, held by Central banks in the early 70s that just massively increased in the early 70s. Because what was happening were because of the issues in the US and higher budget deficits and concerns about inflation, people around the world were trying to get out of US dollars. And because of the Bretton Woods system, they were trading their US dollars for their own currency or other currencies, or for European currencies, because there was the strong; well, in those that post-war recovery in Europe and Europe was becoming more prominent. And so, there was a move out of US dollars and to buy those US dollars, the Central banks essentially printed money, they created new money.

So, these changes in international reserves that Michael was talking about, I think was like 80%, over from the end of 1972, sometime in 1972. It was a huge growth in these international reserves, that led to a big increase in domestic money supplies, and that fueled inflation.

This is a great article by Robert Heller, that was in one of the IMF journals; might have been finance and development. I put a link to it in the show notes before, I’ll put it again, because it’s just well worth reading. But I think for us to do that justice, we will probably have to come back and talk about Bretton Woods and the whole international financial system pre 1970s. And look, that’s going to be a lot of work.  

This shows the complexity of the issues that we’re dealing with. In the economy, so many moving parts, it’s all interconnected. And yes, but what we’re trying to do, I think on this show is to simplify it as much as possible. And really make sure we understand those mechanisms because in a lot of economic discussion, there’s just too much that’s assumed in terms of the knowledge of the people reading or listening. There are too many concepts explained by reference to other concepts without explaining those concepts. And I want to try to make sure that we’re as clear as possible.

I think we’re probably in a position to wrap this up. Arturo, any final words? Thoughts?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  54:18

I think this conversation was pretty clear. And you’re to understand what is going on globally, in terms of inflation, potentially stagflation problems that some country may face. So, I think let’s stay alert. I think that Central banks are going to react properly in order to address that problem.

Gene Tunny  54:56

Okay, so you said, be alert, I like that. As our Former Prime Minister John Howard once said, Be alert, not alarmed. We will be alert to the prospects for global stagflation. But we’re not going to be alarmed at the moment.

You may not have been in Australia when he said that. That was something that people had amusing. There was about a serious issue is talking about international terrorism, which was, of course, a serious issue. And he said, be alert, but not alarmed. And then that sort of prompted all of these sorts of jokes about, what does that exactly mean to be alert, but not alarmed? I mean, how worried should we be?

And there was the old joke in Australia. Be alert, Australia needs Lurtz. I don’t know if you’ve heard that one. So, I think people would probably; as soon as John Howard said, Be alert, not alarmed. People were instantly sort of thinking, this is a bit of a funny thing to say. But maybe because I remembered that all joke about being alert.

Thank you, Aturo, I really enjoyed that conversation. And if you’re in the audience, and you’re listening, and you’d like to know more about these issues, I’ll put links to everything we chatted about in the show notes. I’ll also make any corrections. If I’ve got anything wrong I discover, in terms of numbers. I generally think the concepts and the facts; I think we got that right. But it’s possible some of the numbers I may have misremembered. So, we’ll put clarifications links in the show notes. And thanks again for listening. Arturo, really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  56:43

Thank you again. Thank you very much.

Gene Tunny  56:46 Okay, that’s the end of this episode of Economics Explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact@economicsexplored.com And we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Until next week, goodbye.

Credits

Big thanks to EP143 guest Arturo Espinoza and to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode and to Peter Oke for editing the transcript. 

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

Categories
Podcast episode

The high cost of housing and what to do about it w/ Peter Tulip, CIS – EP134

Property prices have been surging across major cities in advanced economies. In Australia, a parliamentary inquiry has recently investigated housing affordability, and it handed down a report with some compelling policy recommendations in March 2022. Our guest in Economics Explored episode 134 provided an influential submission to that inquiry. His name is Peter Tulip, and he’s the Chief Economist at the Centre for Independent Studies, a leading Australian think tank. Peter explains how town planning and zoning rules can substantially increase the cost of housing.  

You can listen to the conversation using the embedded player below or via Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, among other podcast apps.

About this episode’s guest – Peter Tulip

Peter Tulip is the Chief Economist at the Centre for Independent Studies, a leading Australian think tank. Peter has previously worked in the Research Department of the Reserve Bank of Australia and, before that, at the US Federal Reserve Board of Governors. He has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.

Links relevant to the conversation

Inquiry into housing affordability and supply in Australia

CIS Submission to the Inquiry into Housing Affordability and Supply in Australia

Gene’s article Untangling the Debate over Negative Gearing

Missing Middle Housing podcast chat with Natalie Rayment of Wolter Consulting

A Model of the Australian Housing Market by Trent Saunders and Peter Tulip

Transcript of EP134 – The high cost of housing and what to do about it w/ Peter Tulip, CIS

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Gene Tunny  00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored,

Peter Tulip  00:04

We know that zoning creates a huge barrier to supply. And it’s not clear that there are any other barriers that can account for distortions of this magnitude.

Gene Tunny  00:17

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist based in Brisbane, Australia and I’m a former Australian Treasury official. This is Episode 134 on the high cost of housing. Property prices have been surging across major cities in developed economies. In Australia, a parliamentary inquiry has recently investigated housing affordability, and had handed down a report with some interesting policy recommendations in March 2022. My guest this episode provided an influential submission to that inquiry. His name is Peter Tulip. And he’s the chief economist at the Centre for Independent Studies, a leading Australian think tank, which I’ve had a little bit to do with myself, over the years. Peter has previously worked in the research department of the Reserve Bank of Australia, and before that, at the US Federal Reserve Board of Governors. He has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.

Incidentally, here in Australia, we had a federal government budget handed down in late March 2022. But it didn’t take up any of the proposals in the housing inquiry report that Peter and I discuss this episode. The budget extended an existing housing guarantee scheme, which helps a limited number of first-time buyers avoid mortgage insurance. But the budget didn’t really do anything substantial to improve housing affordability. So we are still waiting for improved policy settings here in Australia, which would make housing more affordable. In my view, such policy settings would not include some more radical ideas that have been injected into the policy debate, such as the government itself becoming a large-scale property developer. That would be too interventionist and too costly policy for me to support. In contrast, what Peter is suggesting in this episode is a very sensible and well thought out set of measures that deserves serious consideration from decision makers.

Okay, please check out the show notes for links to materials mentioned in this episode, and for any clarifications. Also, check out our website, economicsexplored.com. If you sign up as an email subscriber, you can download my e-book, Top 10 Insights from Economics, so please consider getting on the mailing list. If you have any thoughts on what Peter or I have to say about housing affordability in this episode, then please let me know. You can either record a voice message via SpeakPipe, see the link in the show notes, or you can email me via contact@economicsexplored.com. I’d love to hear from you. Righto, now for my conversation with Peter Tulip on the high cost of housing. Thanks to my audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Dr. Peter Tulip, chief economist at the Centre for Independent Studies, welcome to the programme.

Peter Tulip  03:10

Hi, Gene. Glad to be here.

Gene Tunny  03:12

Excellent, Peter. Peter, I’m pleased to have you on the programme. So earlier this month, an Australian parliamentary inquiry chaired by one of the MPs, one of the members of parliament, Jason Falinski, released a report on housing in Australia. And it quoted you among other economists, and I was very pleased that you actually referred to a paper that I wrote a few years ago on a housing issue here in Australia. And that was in your submission. And yes, you got quite a few mentions in this report, which was titled The Australian Dream: Inquiring into Housing Affordability and Supply in Australia. Now, Peter, would you be able to tell us why is this such an important inquiry, please, and what motivated you to make a submission to the inquiry, please?

Peter Tulip  04:20

Sure. So the report’s huge. It’s 200 pages long. They had hearings for several months. And I think about 200 people or more made submissions to the inquiry. So there’s an enormous amount of information. And it’s motivated by these huge increases in house prices, that the cost of housing has gone up 20% this year, on the back of similar increases in previous years. So you go back a decade or two and the price of housing has tripled. And that’s having all sorts of huge effects throughout Australian society. It’s making housing unaffordable. And that’s reflected in homeowners can’t get into the market, because deposits are incredibly high, renters suffering a lot of stress. There’s an increase in homelessness. Because housing is one of the largest components of spending, the huge increase in housing costs is having a huge effect on household budgets, changing the way we live. 30-year-olds are living with their parents. Tenants are living with flat mates they don’t like. People are having to suffer three-hour commutes to work. Housing affordability is a real problem in Australia.

Oh, sorry. The other huge issue is that inequality dimension is enormous. So society is increasingly divided up into wealthy homeowners who are having very comfortable lives, and renters and future homeowners who are really struggling. And that’s becoming hereditary, because it’s very difficult to get into homeownership without parental assistance. The Bank of Mum and Dad, it’s often called. And so it’s the children of the wealthy that get a ticket, these enormous capital gains. And people without and less privileged, they’re really suffering.

Gene Tunny  06:38

Yeah. Now, you mentioned the big increases in house prices we’ve had in Australia so over 20%, or whatever, since the recovery for the –

Peter Tulip  06:48

Just this year.

Gene Tunny  06:49

Yes, yes. But we’ve seen big increases around the world and in capital cities around the Western world, from what I’ve seen. The Financial Times had a good report on that last year. Was it the case that our house prices were high relative to benchmark? If you look at things like house prices relevant relative to median income, they were high prior to the pandemic. There’s been this big surge since the pandemic with all the monetary policy response. Is that the case that they were already high and they’ve got worse?

Peter Tulip  07:28

Yeah. And there are a lot of different benchmarks. And the benchmark partly depends on the question you’re asking. But Australian house prices are high in international standards. So for example, one think tank, Demographia, put out a league table of housing affordability. And they looked at, what is it, something like, it’s 100 or 200 big international cities around the world. And Australian capital cities have 5 of the top 25 cities in terms of expense, in terms of price-to-income ratios. So that’s one of many possible benchmarks you can use. And by that benchmark, Australian cities have very expensive housing.

Gene Tunny  08:24

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Okay. Now I just want to talk about the inquiry and how it went about its job. I found the preface to it or the foreword written by, I think it was must have been by Jason Falinski, quite fascinating. He talked about two different tribes of people in the housing policy arena in Australia. The first tribe consists mainly of planners and academics who believe that the problem is the tax system, which has turned housing into a speculative asset, thereby leading to price increases. Okay. And then he talks about how the second tribe believes that planning, the administration of the planning system, and government intervention have materially damaged homeownership in Australia. I think I know the answer to this, Peter, but it’d be good if you could tell us which tribe do you fall into? Do you feel fall neatly into one of those tribes?

Peter Tulip  09:30

Yes, I’m in the second tribe, and as in fact, are almost all economists. I mean, this is one of those issues where you get a real division of opinion between economists and non-economists. And a lot of the most vocal of those non-economists are probably town planners. So there have been a lot of economic studies of the effect of planning restrictions on housing prices. And they find very big effects using a whole lot of different approaches. And that’s a result that’s been replicated in city after city around the world there, and dozens and dozens of papers, economics papers showing planning restrictions are a very big factor, explaining why housing is so unaffordable. And town planners don’t like that and complain and they don’t believe that supply and demand is relevant for prices. They will say that in varying degrees of explicitness. The general public doesn’t like to admit that result. They don’t take part in the academic debates.

Gene Tunny  11:04

So we’re talking about restrictions on what you can build in particular areas. So in Brisbane, for example, where I am, we have restrictions on to what extent you can redevelop these old character houses. A lot of these old character houses, these old Queenslanders, the tin and timber houses, they’re protected in the inner-city neighbourhoods. In other state capitals, you have similar restrictions for different types of properties. And so it ends up distorting the development that you see. In Brisbane, we end up with these horrible, tall apartment towers in just small pockets of where there’s some activity allowed because it was formally allied industrial or commercial area. But yeah, it seems logical to me that we are restricting the supply, because if we had fewer restrictions, presumably we’d see more medium density development, or at least that’s what I think. It doesn’t seem controversial to me that supply restrictions would lead to an increase in prices.

Peter Tulip  12:17

Oh, well Gene, now you’re sounding like an economist.

Gene Tunny  12:20

Well, I mean, I read Ed Glaeser’s recent – I think it’s Ed Glaeser.

Peter Tulip  12:25

He’s done a lot of stuff on the issue. In fact, he may be the leading expert in the world on this topic.

Gene Tunny  12:31

Yeah, yeah. He’s very confident in this impact. Now, you’ve done research on this, haven’t you, Peter? You did research at the Reserve Bank.

Peter Tulip  12:43

Before we get to that, Gene, just a comment on what you just said. There are lots of planning restrictions. They come in dozens of different variations. But there are two of them that are especially important, one of which is zoning as it’s strictly and conventionally defined, which is separation of different uses. Most of Australia’s cities, as in fact is the case for a lot of cities around the world, most of our cities are reserved for low-density housing. That’s single-family detached houses. And in most of Australia’s cities, as cities around the world, apartments, townhouses, terraces are prohibited. Where medium or higher density housing is permitted, there are height limits. And so even if flats and apartments were permitted at your local train station, there’ll be a limit on how high that building can go. Brisbane actually, what you mentioned, is not a very bad offender in this, and so particularly around the river in Brisbane, there’s been a lot of tall apartment buildings, and partly reflecting that, apartment prices in Brisbane are pretty moderate. But in Sydney and Melbourne, the height restrictions are really severe. And so as a result, apartment prices are much, much higher.

Gene Tunny  14:28

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Okay, so you did research a few years ago, didn’t you, when you were at the Reserve Bank, on the magnitude of the impacts? Now these impacts could be even larger now, given prices have increased so much, but do you recall what sort of magnitudes of impacts you were getting, Peter, from these types of restrictions?

Peter Tulip  14:49

Yes, so the effects are huge. The way we looked at it was to compare the price of housing relative to the cost of supply. And in a well-functioning market, the price will equal the cost of supply. But planning operates as a supply restriction, sort of just in the same way as a quota or a licence to supply will. A lot of cities have taxi licences, and it’s the same thing, that you have a restriction on output, so the price goes much higher than the cost of supply.

And we found when you look at detached houses, the effects are huge in Australia’s big capital cities, I think 70%. Around 70% in Sydney, about 60% in Melbourne, was also very large in Brisbane and Perth. I can get into the details of how we actually estimate that. The more important figure for policy is for apartments, because that’s where the real demand for extra housing is. That’s where the big policy debates are. If we do want more dense housing, it will have to come in the form of urban infill. And again, we find very big effects there, especially for Sydney. I think the effect was about 60%, or a bit higher, it raises the cost of housing. In Melbourne, it was moderate, about 20%. And in Brisbane, actually, we didn’t find much of an effect. It was fairly small, just a few percentage points. But as you say, prices have risen very substantially in the, what is it, four years since our data was put together. So those effects will presumably be bigger.

Gene Tunny  16:52

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

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Gene Tunny  17:26

Now back to the show. Okay, so we’ve talked about the views of one of the tribes, the tribe that you’re a member of. There’s another tribe, which it’s arguing, oh, it’s all to do with tax policy settings. And, look, we’ve got some quirky tax rules here in Australia. Well, to an extent they’re logical, and which is one of the arguments I made, but they’re different from what happens in some other countries. We’ve got this thing called negative gearing whereby if you lose money on your rental property, taking into account your interest costs and depreciation and the whole range of expenses that are eligible, then you can use that to reduce your taxable income. That reduces the amount of tax you have to pay. And that’s outraged many people in the… There are a lot of people who don’t like that as a policy and think that’s a big problem and leading to higher prices. And there’s also rules around capital gains, concessional taxation of capital gains.

Peter Tulip  18:48

So the whole tax of housing is one of the more controversial parts of this. So can we talk about that?

Gene Tunny  18:55

Yeah, go ahead. Yeah. I’m interested in your thoughts. Yeah.

Peter Tulip  18:59

In fact, you’re the expert on this. In fact, as you mentioned earlier, a lot of what I’ve learned on this topic comes from a paper you wrote in 2018, which was published by the Centre for Independent Studies. It might be easier if you give a quick rundown on what the key issues are. Actually, before that your professional background is probably really relevant here. So in the interest of disclosure, do you want to tell the listeners where you learned about all of this and your experience?

Gene Tunny  19:35

I was in the Treasury, so tax was one of the issues we looked at, but the main research I did on this issue, on the issue of negative gearing and capital gains tax, came from a consulting project I did for a financial advisory firm here in Brisbane, Walshs. Walshs, they clients who are – they have investment properties. And so they were very interested in what the potential impacts of the federal opposition’s policies regarding negative gearing, so changes to that. So basically limiting it and not only allowing it on new houses, if I remember correctly, newly bought properties. And they were concerned about what that would mean for their clients and then what it would mean for the market.

So certainly, negative gearing does make investing in a rental property more attractive. It does two things. So it does lead to more rental properties, and it does push down rents. And it also increases the price of houses to an extent because it does increase that demand. So look, there’s no doubt that it is impacting on prices, but it doesn’t seem to be a huge effect. I got something like 4%. Grattan when they looked at it got 2%. Some other market commentators, I think SQM Research, Louis Christopher thinks it could be 10 to 15%. It’s hard to know, It’s not a huge impact. So you’re not going to solve housing affordability by getting rid of negative gearing. At the same time, there are logical reasons why you’d have it.

Peter Tulip  21:43

Can I just butt in there, Gene? You’re underselling your research. What you said is all right. Everything there is correct. But, in fact, since your study, there have been a whole bunch of further empirical studies and academic studies on the effect of negative gearing, and, and they essentially get the same result as you, that these effects are tiny. So there was a bunch of Melbourne University academics. There was a study by Deloitte and a few others. They use actually different approaches. So the Melbourne Uni study is the big structural model micro-founded in assumptions about preferences and technology. And so we now have a range of different studies, all using different approaches. And they’re all finding the results, the effect on housing prices comes in between about 1% and 4%. So I think we can be more confident than you were suggesting about this result. It’s a big important controversial issue. So we need to talk about it. Listeners need to be aware that it just doesn’t actually matter for anything.

Gene Tunny  23:15

Yeah. So I think one of the main points that’s important, I think, in that whole negative gearing debate is that it is quite a logical feature of the tax system, and as the Treasury explained in one of their white papers, on tax issues, it’s important for having the same treatment of debt and equity if you’re buying an investment property. So I thought that made sense. So there’s some logic to it, and it certainly does improve the rental market. Now, look, there was a huge debate. It was all very political. I thought, well, certainly it would impact house prices. And then that ended up becoming a big story. And there was a lot of discussion about that and just what could the impact on the market be.

Peter Tulip  24:15

Is the problem negative gearing or the discount for capital gains tax? Because they interact.

Gene Tunny  24:21

Yeah, I think that’s part of it. But I think there is a logical reason to have concessional treatment of capital gains, particularly if –

Peter Tulip  24:33

Concessional taxation of real capital gains?

Gene Tunny  24:37

We don’t adjust them for inflation.

Peter Tulip  24:41

We do it both ways. My sense is you can argue that there is distortion, that an investor can put, I don’t know, $10,000 into a property improvement and write that off against tax with depreciation. But then that will increase the value of the property, presumably by about $10,000. And though they get the full deduction, they only have to pay tax on half the benefit. So there is an incentive towards excessive investment in housing for that reason.

Gene Tunny  25:30

Look, potentially, I think you could argue about those capital gains tax settings. Yeah, certainly, I think that was one of the things I acknowledged in the report, if I remember correctly. So yeah, I guess the overall conclusion is that I didn’t think negative gearing was the villain that it was being portrayed as, and if you did make changes to it along the lines suggested you could end up having some adverse impacts. If you look at what estimate I made of the potential impact on house prices, and you look at how much house prices have increased in recent years, you think, well, who cares?

Peter Tulip  26:15

It’s one week’s increase. I think you’re exactly right. And while I say I think there is an argument that it creates distortions, if you fix that up, you then create distortions elsewhere, as you said, between debt and equity, and there are distortions between investors and owner occupiers. And given that so many different aspects of housing are taxed differently, it’s impossible to remove all the distortions. You remove them somewhere, then create them somewhere else. And the bottom line is that this doesn’t really matter, the housing affordability. The effects on prices are small and positive. And there are offsetting effects on renters, which I think are often neglected. Negative gearing promotes investment in housing and is good for landlords. And because it’s a competitive market, the free entry, that gets passed on in lower rents.

Gene Tunny  27:21

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I’ll put a link to that paper in the show notes. So if you’re listening in the audience, and you’d like to check that out, you can read it. Bear in mind it’s now over. It’s four years since I wrote that, and probably six years since I did that report for Walshs. I think the logic is all correct. And I think the analysis still makes sense because it was a static model in a way. Yes. It was a static model. I was just looking at how much does a change in tax policy settings affect the rate of return for an investment property? So you could argue it’s still relevant in that regard. But the whole political sort of imperative, it’s not as big, it doesn’t figure as much in the political debate now, of course, because the opposition has dropped it as a policy, because I think they’ve recognised that, look, it is unpopular, because there are a lot of people – there have been in the past – fewer people now with low interest rates, but there have been a lot of people in the past who have been negative gearing. So I think they accept that it’s probably not a policy that is popular with the public.

Peter Tulip  28:35

But also, it’s just a non-issue. It wasn’t going to deliver benefits in terms of housing affordability. So I think one of the reasons I dropped it, or at least the reason I would have told them to drop it, was it was just a red herring.

Gene Tunny  28:50

Yeah, yeah, I think that’s correct. That’s how I would how I would see it. Okay, we might go back to the Falinski report. I know it does deal with this issue in the… It is part of the conversation for sure. Where did the Falinski report come down on deciding which of these two tribes is correct? Did it make a judgement on that or did it –

Peter Tulip  29:17

It’s strongly on the side of economists, of those who argue that planning restrictions have large effects on house prices. The commission discussed it in a lot of detail. It’s all of Chapter Three, I think of the report. It’s the first substantive policy-oriented chapter of the report. It’s some of their lead recommendations. And they note that there were… I think they described it as the most controversial issue they dealt with, with very lengthy submissions on both sides.

Their assessment was that the weight of evidence is not balanced. It’s overwhelmingly on the side of those who think planning restrictions have big effects on prices. In fact, they cited our submission, which said there have been a lot of literature surveys of this research. I think we cite six of them by different authors, a lot of them very big names in the policy world. And all of those surveys conclude that planning restrictions have big effects on prices. And the commission recognise that even though it’s hard to tell in the noise on social media, if you look at the serious research, the weight of evidence very clearly goes one way.

Gene Tunny  31:01

Okay. What does that evidence consist of, Peter? You’ve done your own study. Was your study similar to what others have done around the world? And broadly, what type of empirical technique do you use?

Peter Tulip  31:17

So in fact, there have been dozens and dozens or more years of studies on this question, both in Australia and in other countries. The approach we used is… The reason we used it was we thought it was the best and most prominent approach to answer these questions. And it’s been successfully used with essentially the same results in a lot of cities in the United States, some focusing particularly on coastal cities, some on California, some on Florida. There’s a big study for the United Kingdom and a lot of European cities, another study in Zurich in Switzerland, studies in New Zealand, all using essentially our approach of comparing prices with the cost of supply. And they all come up similar results.

Other people have looked at planning restrictions more directly. So for example, we know that planning restrictions are very tight in California and very loose in a lot of Southern and Midwestern cities in the United States. And there, you get a very strong correlation with prices. California is incredibly expensive. Houston, Atlanta, places with relaxed zoning are relatively inexpensive.

Gene Tunny  32:46

So is there a regression model, where you’re relating the price of housing to cost of supply, and then you’ve got some… Do you have an indicator variable or a dummy variable in for planning restrictions? Is that what you do?

Peter Tulip  33:05

So there are lots of different ways of doing it. Yes, people have constructed indexes of the severity of planning restrictions. That’s one way of doing it. The most famous of these is what’s called a Wharton Index, put together by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, in fact, my old alma mater. Our approach doesn’t actually – and this is a criticism that some people make of it – it doesn’t actually use direct estimates of zoning restrictions, because they’re just very difficult to measure. But when you have prices substantially exceeding costs, you need to find some barrier to entry. And just as a process of elimination, we know that zoning creates a huge barrier to supply. And it’s not clear that there are any other barriers that can account for distortions of this magnitude.

Gene Tunny  34:10

Right, okay. I better have another look at your study, Peter, because I’m just trying to figure out how did you work out what’s the cost of supply? You looked at what an area of land would cost, where it is readily available, say on the outskirts of a city, and then you looked at what it would cost to build a unit on that or a house on that site?

Peter Tulip  34:38

So where it’s simplest is for apartments, because there you don’t need to worry about land costs, and which is a big, complicated issue. But you can supply apartments just by going up. And so we have estimates of construction costs from the Bureau statistics, to which we add on a return on investment, interest charges, a few tax charges, developer charges, marketing costs. There are various estimates of those other things around, and they tend not to be that important. And the difficult thing is getting an estimate of the cost of going up, because as you increase building height, average costs increase. You need stronger foundations, better materials, extra safety requirements, like sprinklers and so on. You need more lift space. So a lot of it involves a discussion of the engineering literature in housing, where we can get estimates of things like that. And they exist both in Australia and in other countries, where the other people that did that. And that’s how we get our estimate of the supply cost.

Gene Tunny  35:59

Okay. That makes sense now.

Peter Tulip  36:03

That’s one way of doing it. There are other ways of doing it. So you can assume that’s the cost of going up. We can also do the cost of apartments by going out. And there you just make an assumption that it’s the average cost of land in that suburb or on that street or in that city, is the land cost. And then you get a cost of going out, which in some cases is a bit higher, some cases a bit lower.

Gene Tunny  36:33

Yeah, yeah. Okay. That makes sense to me. Can I ask you about the recommendations of the Falinski report? It looks like it’s come down. It supports the view that, yep, supply is a big issue. And also, there’s this issue of now we’ve got this issue of young people having this deposit gap, haven’t we, that it’s difficult to save up for a deposit? So that’s another issue. And I think it’s made recommendations that may help with that. I don’t know. But would you be able to tell us what you think the most interesting and the most important recommendations are of that inquiry, please, Peter?

Peter Tulip  37:13

So I think the most important recommendations go to the issues we were just talking about, the planning restrictions. A difficulty with that is that this was a federal government inquiry. But responsibility for planning regulations rests in state and local governments. And so there’s not a lot that the Commonwealth government can do, other than shine a very big spotlight on the issue, which I think it has done. It’s helped clarify a lot of the issues. And it’s putting more pressure on state and local governments to liberalise their restrictions. But I think the most important recommendations is it wants to couple that with financial grants, and in particular, provide grants to state and local governments in proportion to their building activity, so that neighbourhoods that are building a lot of housing get more support from the Commonwealth Government than neighbourhoods that are refusing to build anything at all.

his should help allay some of the local opposition. We get to housing developments, that a lot of neighbours and local residents understandably complain if new housing is going in, in their neighbourhood, without extra infrastructure, without transport, parks, sewerage, and so on. And what the Falinski report says is we’ll help with that, that we don’t want local neighbourhoods to bear the burden of increased population growth, it’s a national responsibility, and so the Commonwealth will help. So I think that will be the most important recommendation, that should improve incentives to local and state governments to improve housing. Want to go to some of the other recommendations that I think are interesting?

Gene Tunny  39:34

Yeah, I was just thinking about that one. They obviously haven’t put a cost estimate in the inquiry report. So they’ve just said, oh, this could be a good idea. But then we’d have to think about what this ultimately would end up costing.

Peter Tulip  39:47

So our submission put dollar figures on it, even though Jason Falinsky didn’t want to sign on to actual numbers. These conditional grants in terms of housing, good housing policies, could be in place of current Commonwealth programmes that are of less value. And one that’s just been in the news a lot the last few weeks is, I think it’s called the Urban Congestion Fund, which is essentially something like a slush fund that the government uses to channel money towards marginal seats. That’s about $5 billion the Commonwealth uses at the moment.

We could remove that invitation to corruption, and at the same time, solve some of our housing problems by instead, by making that conditional on housing approvals. And if you use that $5 billion, divide that by the, what is it, 200,000 building dwellings that get built in Australia every year, that works out at something like $25,000 per new dwelling. A grant like that will provide a lot of local infrastructure. It’ll give you a new bus route, it’ll give you a new park, it’ll give you some new shops. It’ll fix up the local traffic roundabout, and so on. You could do even more than that, if you start looking at state grants and other grants that are currently on an unconditional basis.

Gene Tunny  41:38

Right. So was the origin of this recommendation, was it from your submission, was it, Peter, the CIS submission?

Peter Tulip  41:44

In fact, a lot of people have been recommending a policy, something like this. We talked about it maybe a bit more detail. But the Property Council of Australia actually wrote a paper on this a few years ago, sorry, commissioned a paper by Deloitte, which discusses some of these issues. But in fact, it’s been proposed in a lot of other countries around the world. And so the original Build Back Better proposal from the Biden administration had substantial grants from the US government to local governments along these lines, and that’s been cut back a little bit in their negotiations. They’re still talking about substantial grants from the federal government, to local counties that are improving their housing policies.

Gene Tunny  42:43

Right. Okay. That’s fascinating. Now, I have to have a closer look at that. Yeah. On its face, it sounds yep, that could be a good idea. As the ex-Treasury man, I’d be concerned about the cost of it to the federal government, but you’re saying we’ve wasted all this money on various pork barreling projects anyway, we could redirect that to something more valuable.

Peter Tulip  43:13

And if you want to talk about really big money, you could change grant commission procedures, so that if housing were regarded as a disability, in the formula for dividing up, the GST, the fiscal equalisation payments with the states, then states that are growing quickly and providing a lot of housing should be able to claim money for the extra infrastructure charges that requires. I think that’s consistent with the logic of the Grants Commission processes. And they currently already do this, but something like this to transport. So there is a precedent, and that would substantially improve incentives for state governments to encourage extra housing.

Gene Tunny  44:08

Yeah, yeah. Okay. Just with the supplier restrictions, am I right, did they make a recommendation along the lines that local councils and state governments, they should look at existing restrictions with a view to easing those restrictions? Did they say something along those lines?

Peter Tulip  44:26

It’s not a formal recommendation, but that’s emphasised in several places in the report, and I think it might be… I can’t remember the exact wording. Recommendation one certainly discusses that issue.

Gene Tunny  44:43

Right. Okay. I should be able to pull that up pretty quickly.

Peter Tulip  44:49

It’s not something the Commonwealth can do something directing it. So the wording is a bit vague. That’s clearly the thrust of the report. Yes.

Gene Tunny  45:03

Right. Yep. So the committee recommends that state and local governments should increase urban density in appropriate locations, using an empowered community framework as currently being trialled in Europe. I’m gonna have to look at what an empowered power community framework is sometimes. I haven’t heard that before. I had Natalie Raymond on. She’s a planner here in Brisbane. And she got an organisation called YIMB, Yes In My Backyard. So I’ve chatted with her about some of these issues before, but I can’t remember hearing about this empowered community framework. Have you come across that concept at all, Peter?

Peter Tulip  45:45

It’s something that the report is very vague about.

Gene Tunny  45:50

Okay.

Peter Tulip  45:52

No, I’m not sure what that means either.

Gene Tunny  45:55

I’ll have to look it up.

Peter Tulip  45:57

Should we talk about some of the other recommendations?

Gene Tunny  45:59

Oh yes, please. Yeah, keen to chat, particularly about this idea of tapping into, well, they didn’t recommend allowing people to withdraw money for housing, for a deposit for a house. But they made some recommendation around superannuation. Would you be able to explain what that is, please, Peter?

Peter Tulip  46:19

This, I think, is one of the most interesting recommendations. And it wasn’t explicitly discussed in detail in any submissions they received. But it’s something that I and the CIS have been talking about in the past, so we were delighted to see it get up.

The argument is that people should be able to use their superannuation balances. But people outside Australia, that would be equivalent to something like a 401K or Social Security in the United States, or Social Security contributions in several European countries. People should be able to use those balances as security or collateral for the deposit for their house. And so lenders would reduce deposits, presumably by the amount of the collateral, by the amount of the superannuation balance.

The committee argued that the main obstacle towards homeownership in Australia is getting the deposit together. And this recommendation is directly aimed at making that easier, and it does it in a way that doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything. And it doesn’t jeopardise the retirement income objectives that superannuation is set up to solve.

So there have in the past been proposals that people should withdraw their money from their superannuation to pay their deposit. And the objection to that is that will just undermine retirement income objectives. And in particular, the compulsory superannuation system is set up on the assumption that people are short-sighted and will tend to fritter away their assets if they’re made too liquid. This objective, allowing withdrawals from superannuation is directly applicable to that argument.

But using superannuation as collateral doesn’t is not subject to that argument, that the superannuation balance will only be touched in the very rare and the unexpected event of foreclosure. Historically, that’s a fraction of a percent houses ever go into foreclosure. So it would be extremely unlikely to affect retirement incomes. But at the same time, people have saved this money, it’s their asset. So they should be allowed to use it in ways they want, that don’t jeopardise their retirement income. And using it as security helps in that.

Gene Tunny  49:35

Yeah. Do you have any sense of how the banks will react to this, how lenders will actually react to this? Is this something that will be attractive to them? Has anyone made any announcements along those lines?

Peter Tulip  49:51

Not that I’ve seen. You would hope and expect that if the policy is put together well, that deposits would be reduced by something like the order of the superannuation balance. And it could be a bit more or a bit less. It may be a bit less because the superannuation balances are risky. It may be a bit more because they’ll be growing over time with. We don’t know exactly how those things will factor in. You would hope and expect that deposits would be reduced by about the amount of the superannuation balance.

Gene Tunny  50:34

An interesting recommendation. I was wondering just how much of an impact it could have. But then the way you explained it, I think it makes it a bit clearer to me how this could potentially have some benefit. Yeah.

Peter Tulip  50:54

It’s not huge. The people that most want this are going to be young, first home buyers having difficulty. People having difficulty getting a deposit tend not to have huge superannuation balances. And there are a few numbers floating around. The average super balance of say, a 30-year-old tends to be, I think there was one estimate I saw, it’s about a quarter of the average deposit on a house for a first home buyer. So it doesn’t get you all the way there. It does get you a sizable bit of the way there so that instead of it taking eight years to save for a house, it’ll only take six years. And you use the super for those other two years. That doesn’t solve the problem. But I’m sure there are lots of first home buyers that will appreciate getting into their home two years earlier than would have otherwise been the case.

Maybe the other point to make in this is that I think superannuation is unpopular, particularly amongst young people, because it is an obstacle to homeownership, that people would like to be saving, but instead 10% of their income has gone off to this account that they wont see for 50 years.

Gene Tunny  52:22

Do we think they would be saving, Peter? I wonder. That was the reason we introduced the super system in the first place.

Peter Tulip  52:28

Exactly. Well, there are some people that would like to be saving for a house. Yeah, superannuation definitely makes that harder. And as a result, superannuation is unpopular. The effect of this policy is it changed it from being an obstacle to being a vehicle towards homeownership. And so I think it makes the superannuation policy more popular.

Gene Tunny  52:51

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Okay, so I’ve got in my notes, and I must confess, I’ve forgotten what your paper… You wrote a paper with Trent Saunders in 2019. What was that about, Peter?

Peter Tulip  53:06

So that’s a big one in the housing area. We did a lot of empirical modelling of the Australian housing market, and trying to put together how the prices and interest rates affect housing construction, nd then how does housing construction feed back under prices and quantities. So there have been a lot of studies of individual relationships in the housing market. But there’s feedback between construction and other variables. So it was always difficult seeing what the full effect was, without allowing for that feedback. And the big result from that paper that got all the headlines was on the importance of interest rates. So partly interest rates are very important for construction. But even more surprisingly, they’re very important for housing prices. And in particular, the big decline in real mortgage rates that we’ve seen over the past 30 years or so, accounts for a very large part of the run-up in house prices over that period.

Gene Tunny  54:20

So with the cash rate, the RBA policy interest rate, it’s expected to go up, and then borrowing rates will go up. And there are some economists and market commentators speculating this could lead to falls in house prices, some double-digit falls, if I remember correctly, in some capital cities. So there’s that issue. I’m keen for your thoughts on that. Also immigration. If we reopen Australia as we are and we have net overseas migration running at 250 to 300,000 or whatever it was before we had COVID, what will that do for house prices?

Peter Tulip  55:09

Our paper tries to estimate. In fact, a big point of the paper is exactly to answer and quantify those questions. House prices are an interaction between supply and demand. And in the short run, the bigger effect on demand is interest rates. And that, for example, is why, we talked earlier, house prices have risen over 20% just in this past year. That was essentially a response to the record low interest rates that the RBA implemented just prior to the prices taking off. And you’re right, our model suggests that that’s going to go into reverse over the next few years as interest rates increase. Interest rates go up and down. And in the long run, you would expect them not to trend so they don’t explain trend changes in prices. The big trend increase in demand in Australia has been immigration. Our population doubles or so every generation or two. And so that creates an ever increasing demand for housing that we need to supply.

I don’t know if you’re about to ask this, but I’ll ask the question. How does this relate to our earlier stuff on zoning? Essentially, they’re asking different questions. Zoning is asking the question, how do we change process in future, how do we adjust policy? The previous paper is empirical. Policy is given, and asks, what explains changes in the past? And they’re slightly different questions. The effect of zoning is to make supply inelastic, like just a vertical supply curve. I’m sorry, I’m waving my arms around, and people listening on a podcast aren’t going to know what I’m doing. But the changes in interest rates and immigration increase the demand curve, shift the demand curve out to the right. And so it’s the interaction of supply and demand that drives house prices. So it’s a combination of rising demand and inelastic supply.

If we fixed up, if we had a better planning regime, that instead of being inelastic, the supply curve would be flatter, would be closer to horizontal. And then these big increases from immigration and low interest rates would result in extra construction instead of extra prices.

Gene Tunny  58:05

Yeah, yeah. Okay. So I’ll put a link to that paper in the show notes. I just realised Trent Saunders, he’s in Queensland now.

Peter Tulip 58:10

He’s at QTC.

Gene Tunny 58:11

Queensland Treasury Corporation, yep. He’s been doing some good stuff. So that’s terrific. Okay. Peter Tulip, chief economist at the Centre for Independent Studies. Thanks so much for the for your time today. That was great. I think we went over a lot of the economics. I’ll put plenty of links in the show notes for people because some of these studies, they’re fascinating studies and also, it’d be good to just… You may be interested in the empirical techniques and in more of the details. So Peter, again, really appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

Peter Tulip  58:56

Thanks, Gene. It was great to talk.

Gene Tunny  58:59

Okay, that’s the end of this episode of Economics Explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact@economicsexplored.com and we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Until next week, goodbye.

Credits

Big thanks to EP134 guest Peter Tulip and to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. 

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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US Inflation, Woke Capitalism & China w/ Darren Brady Nelson – EP127

With US inflation at a 40-year high, who wins and who loses? Are greedy corporations to blame as some pundits are suggesting? Episode 127 of Economics Explored features a wide-ranging conversation with Darren Brady Nelson, Chief Economist of LibertyWorks, an Australian libertarian think tank, which also considers so-called Woke Capitalism and what’s going on with China. Here’s a video clip from the episode featuring Darren chatting with show host Gene Tunny about the 40-year high US inflation rate.

In the second part of the show, the Grattan Institute’s Economic Policy Program Director Brendan Coates explains the franking credits controversy, related to some peculiar Australian tax rules, to show host Gene Tunny.   

You can listen to the episode using the podcast player below or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher, among other podcasting apps.

About this episode’s guests

Darren Brady Nelson is an Austrian School economist and liberty evangelion as well as a C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton style Christian. He is currently the Chief Economist at LibertyWorks of Brisbane Australia and a long-time policy advisor to The Heartland Institute of Chicago USA. He is also a regular commentator in traditional and online Australian and American media. Check out his full profile at Regular guests – Economics Explored.

Brendan Coates is the Economic Policy Program Director at Grattan Institute, where he leads Grattan’s work on tax and transfer system reform, retirement incomes and superannuation, housing, macroeconomics, and migration. He is a former macro-financial economist with the World Bank in Indonesia and consulted to the Bank in Latin America. Prior to that, he worked in the Australian Treasury in areas such as tax-transfer system reform and macro-economic forecasting, with a strong focus on the Chinese economy.

Americans Return to Work as Biden Administration Work Disincentives Expire, but Jobs Remain Over 7 million Below Trend | Latest | America First Policy Institute (article referring to inflation tax of $855/year for an American family associated with a 7% yearly inflation rate)

Summers stumbles – John Quiggin

Woke Capitalism Is a Monopoly Game | Mises Wire

Joe Biden appears to insult Fox News reporter over inflation question

The implications of removing refundable franking credits – Grattan Institute

Here’s another video clip from the episode in which Gene and Darren compare the contributions to economics of Friedman, Keynes, and Mises:

Charts

US CPI inflation rate, through-the-year

US Producer Prices inflation rate, through-the-year

US inflation expectations – University of Michigan estimates

Clarifications

“Average hourly earnings for all employees on US private nonfarm payrolls increased by 5.7% year-on-year in January of 2022” (see United States Average Hourly Earnings YoY – January 2022 Data – 2007-2021 Historical) This compares with inflation running at 7.5% through-the-year. 

Amazon hikes average US starting pay to $18, hires for 125,000 jobs | Reuters

Abbreviations

CPI Consumer Price Index

PPI Producer Price Index

Credits

Thanks to Darren and Brendan for great insights and conversation, and to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. 

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Video clip

Clips from EP126 on UBI: impact on inequality & can a wealth tax fund it?

I’ve published some new video clips of highlights from EP126 on Universal Basic Income (UBI) with ANU Associate Professor Ben Phillips. The first one considers the potential reduction in inequality that a UBI could deliver. Ben thinks a UBI could reduce inequality in Australia to the level experienced in Nordic countries.

The second clip asks whether a billionaire tax or a wealth tax more broadly can fund a UBI? According to Ben, it could make a contribution to funding a UBI, but alone it couldn’t fund a UBI at a level most people would expect a UBI to be set at.

You can listen to the full audio episode via podcasting apps, including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, among others.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Podcast episode

UBI: Universal Basic Income w/ Ben Phillips, ANU – EP126

Episode 126 of Economics Explored features a conversation about the pros and cons of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) with my old University of Queensland economics classmate Ben Phillips, now an Associate Professor at the Australian National University (ANU). Ben is one of Australia’s leading modellers of the impacts of tax and welfare policies on households, so he’s the perfect person to chat with about UBI. Here’s a video clip from the episode to give you a sense of the issues Ben and I discuss.

You can listen to the full audio episode using the podcast player in this post or via podcasting apps, including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, among others.

A transcript of EP126 is provided below.

About this episode’s guest – Ben Phillips

Associate Professor Ben Phillips is a Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Research and Methods. He has nearly 20 years of experience as an economic and social researcher in Australia. Prior to joining the ANU Ben was responsible for a range of modelling projects at NATSEM including the STINMOD microsimulation model of Australia’s tax and transfer system. Ben managed several key projects including the distributional analysis of the Australian Government’s 2014-15 and 2015-16 Budgets.

Prior to joining the ANU Ben twice worked at NATSEM and has also had roles at the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a methodologist and economist, The Housing Industry Association as a senior economist and the Bureau of Tourism Research as an economic forecaster. Ben has a first class honours degree in economics and is undertaking a PhD through the Crawford School of Public Policy focusing on the tax and transfer system.

EP112 – Taxing the rich: Billionaire and inheritance taxes with Miranda Stewart

Ben’s co-authored 2019 paper: A basic income for Australia? Exploring rationale, design, distribution and cost

Economist article Gene quotes from: Might the pandemic pave the way for a universal basic income?

Thanks to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. 

Transcript – EP126 on UBI w/ Ben Phillips, ANU

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Gene Tunny  00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored.

Ben Phillips  00:04

Well, I think there’s some ideas of UBI that we can borrow. I think a lot of the issues we’ve identified could be used to improve what we’ve currently got. I think a more realistic and practical approach is probably just to fix up some of the issues in the current system that have fairly minimal costs.

Gene Tunny  00:19

Welcome to the Economics Explored Podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host, Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist based in Brisbane, Australia, and I’m a former Australian Treasury official. This is episode 126 on UBI, universal basic income. The pandemic has amped up enthusiasm for a UBI, because people have seen government’s boosting various welfare benefits and paying new benefits. Would a UBI have been a better option? Does the huge spending on emergency support during the pandemic prove that governments could afford a UBI? These are intriguing questions.

My guest this episode is Australian National University Associate Professor Ben Phillips, from ANU’s Centre for Social Research and Methods. Ben is one of the world’s leading experts on micro simulation modelling. As background, here’s how the Urban Institute describes micro simulation. In the social sciences a micro simulation model is a computer programme that mimics the operation of government programmes and demographic processes on individual micro members of a population, people, households, or businesses for example. For each observation in the large scale survey, a computer programme simulates outcomes of interest, such as income tax liabilities or Social Security benefits, by applying actual or hypothetical programme rules to the survey data about that observation. This is what you need to do if you want to analyse the costs and benefits of a UBI.

And hence, I thought, Ben would be the perfect person to talk to about UBI. And indeed, he has done some great research work on a UBI here in Australia. I’ve known Ben for over 25 years. We’re both in the same honours year in economics at the University of Queensland. Ben’s worked at the world leading National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, NATSEM, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and the Housing Industry Association. His micro simulation work has been widely quoted in the media, and he’s the go-to expert in Australia on the impact of the federal budget on households.

Please check out the show notes for links to materials mentioned in this episode. And please check out our website economicsexplored.com. If you sign up as an email subscriber, you’ll be able to download my new ebook, Top 10 Insights from Economics. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, then please either record them in a message via SpeakPipe, see the link in the show notes, or email them to me via contact@economicsexplored.com. I’d be really interested in whether you have any suggestions of good people to talk to about UBI in the US, the UK or other parts of the world. While I think that the points I make in my conversation with Ben this episode generalise to other economies, I’m conscious that there are specific circumstances in each economy, which may modify the economics of a UBI somewhat.

Okay, before we get into it, I’d like to ask you to please stick around until the end of the conversation, after which I will follow up some of the points in the discussion with Ben. Righto. Now for my conversation with Ben Phillips on UBI. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Associate Professor Ben Phillips from the Australian National University, good to have you on the programme.

Ben Phillips 04:16

Hello there, Gene, how are you doing there?

Gene Tunny 04:18

Excellent. Thanks, Ben. Ben, I’m keen to chat with you today about this concept of universal basic income. So this has been requested by a listener of mine who’s just fascinated with this concept and suspects that given where the sort of views that are often expressed on this programme, he suspects I’m probably sceptical of it, and he’s generally right, but I’m sceptical of a lot of proposals. But I do remain open-minded and I want to understand what it would involve and just whether it could be feasible, what it would look like. And given that you’ve done some great work on this in the Australian context, so you’re one of Australia’s top micro simulation modellers. So you understand all the data about what people are earning, what they’re paying in tax, what welfare benefits they’re getting. And so I thought you’d be great to chat about this issue. So to kick off, Ben, I’d really like to sort of just establish, what is this idea of a universal basic income. So are we talking about a payment that goes to, everyone, so every adult in the economy, of a particular amount, so I don’t know, 10,000 a year or 20,000 a year? And that’s the idea to give a basic type of income? That’s essentially what we’re talking about?

Ben Phillips  05:47

Look, I think at its most simple level, there’s lots of different models of what it can be or what it might not be. But typically, what you’re talking about is, at the moment we’ve got a very means-tested system of welfare payments. So you say you have to be unemployed, or you have to be a single parent with young children or you have to have a disability to receive a certain payment. Those payments vary by your age, or what type of payment that you’re on. They’re relatively meagre, I suppose. Universal basic income, obviously, as I said, it varies. You’re typically looking at, as you say, of a payment of say at least the amount of say the JobSeeker Payment that we have in Australia at the moment, which is around about sort of $14-15,000 per year, and potentially higher than that. So I say maybe the age pension or even higher. I think the Greens at the moment, the Greens Party, are actually suggesting I think it’s about 1,150, 1,160 per fortnight, which is a fair way above even the age pension. So the age pension is about sort of nearly $1,000 a fortnight, and I think the Greens are after a payment of over 1,100 per fortnight, I think for all adults in Australia. So at the moment, current welfare payments might go to around about say, oh, with maybe around about 4 million people in Australia at varying levels, so JobSeeker, that 600 a fortnight, up to say, 1,000 a fortnight for the age pension, whereas if you had a full blown universal basic income, say as say the Greens are suggesting, you’d be looking at about, you know, a payment of 1,150 a fortnight or getting up towards $30,000 a year for around about 20 million Australians. So it’s a huge difference. And obviously, that requires some rather astronomical numbers in terms of financing. But of course, there are different models of basic income. That’s just, I guess, what we most commonly perceive as being universal basic income, everybody gets enough to get by. And obviously, someone has to pay for it, either through more personal income tax or wealth tax or some other form of tax.

Gene Tunny  07:41

Right. Okay. What are the different models, Ben? What sort of things are you thinking of?

Ben Phillips  07:48

Well, there’s various models in terms of, I guess, generosity. So the most generous one that I’ve seen is really what the Greens are currently suggesting. And that is where you’ve got about $30,000 per year for every single adult in Australia. Going down from that, there’s others who have proposed, I think Ross Garnaut, not that long ago, proposed a similar system where every adult gets a certain amount of money. I think it was more like the JobSeeker or the old Newstart payment, which is more like about sort of $13-14,000 per year, so a lot less expensive. And then going down from there, you have what I guess we’ve looked at a few different models that are much cheaper than that. And that’s where you’ve got more of a means-tested approach, or what in one of the papers we’ve called affluence testing. So that is, the higher your income or the more wealth you’ve got, the less you would receive. So it’s a little bit like means testing. There’s other versions that are similar. So things like a negative income tax, that’s where everybody gets like a tax refund, a full tax refund of say maybe $10,000 per person, that as your income increases, you lose some of that, and at some point, it goes to zero. So that’s another way of looking at it. Another one is sort of a guaranteed minimum income. So everyone has a sort of a guaranteed minimum amount that might be say you’ve got at least $10,000 per year. And again, that’s means tested. So the more you earn, the less of that you get, and obviously at some point, it peters out to nothing. So that’s sort of the basic models. Obviously, the full-blown basic income’s easily the most expensive, and I dare say the most unlikely to ever, evidenced to be so boring to legislation in Australia, or to the past legislation in Australia, whereas the guaranteed minimum income, that might be something that’s a little more realistic. Obviously, they’re all quite different to our current, very tightly means-tested system. We also have a lot of conditionality on our current payment system or current welfare system, particularly if you’re working age, obviously for an aged pensioner. If you’re under a certain income limit, certain wealth limit, you get that payment. But if you’re of working age, unless you’re disabled, there’s usually some sort of fairly strict sort of workplace sort of, I guess, work requirements that one must get through.

Gene Tunny  10:02

Yeah. And that’s allowed Australia to have a, well, a very cost effective welfare system, you could argue, or one that … I mean, arguably, the benefit of means testing is you can assist the people who really need it at a low fiscal cost, or that that’s the theory, isn’t it? So that you could argue that, well, you know, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that a great idea? I mean, UBI is sort of moving away, a long way from that. It’s the opposite of means testing, isn’t it? Is that right?

Ben Phillips  10:34

Yeah, so the current system, Gene, just to put it in perspective, so we currently pay out about a little over $100 billion per year in welfare payments to adults. There’s another sort of 20 or so million in family payments, which is effectively for the cost of children. So you put that to one side, if you will. So about $100 billion dollars. So the most expensive welfare system under a UBI, say under the grand scheme, would be somewhere around about $500 billion per year. So you’re looking at an additional $400 billion per year. Keep in mind, Gene, the current federal tax receipt is about 500 billion. So you go from 500 billion to 900 billion. That’s an unbelievable amount of money. And as you probably remember well, Gene, we had a big argument, big fight about carbon pricing in say 2012. That was over about a $5 billion tax. Now, regardless of what we thought of the carbon price, we’re having a big argument over 5 billion, how would we go with an additional 400 billion? Having said that, of course, you don’t have to have the full-blown measure, the full-blown universal basic income. But even the more sort of the cheaper versions, say like the affluence-tested model that we’ve modelled was more like a bare minimum of $100 billion per year. So you’re still looking at having to sort of double the welfare system in Australia, and knock-on from that is to increase taxes by, you know, 20, 30% across the country. So I think in a current environment that’s very unlikely to ever happen. But still it’s an interesting idea to think about, I guess.

Gene Tunny  12:04

Oh, absolutely. Certainly interesting to think about. So a couple of things I want to pick up on there. Ben, you mentioned negative income tax. So that, I think that was associated with Milton Friedman, who I’ve got a poster on the wall there. So he was advocating that back in the 70s I think. There’s a great paper that you co-authored along with Miranda Stewart, who’s been on the programme before. We chatted about wealth taxation, and in a way this discussion sort of goes on, or it’s related to that discussion. So we’ll go into that a bit later. And with David Ingles, or Ingles, is it? Sorry.

Ben Phillips 12:44

Ingles, yeah.

Gene Tunny 12:45

Ingles, great. Yep. And it’s got an excellent intro where you go through just the history of this proposal, and you talk about how it was suggested by Bertrand Russell, this basic income concept. And then the idea was resuscitated during the 60s, when Milton Friedman, among others, they proposed this negative income tax you talked about, and there was an experiment. There were negative income tax experiments in Canada and the US in the 70s. I’m going to have to look up those, because that sounds fascinating. And George McGovern, who was a US presidential candidate, he was proposing a $1,000 demo grant to all citizens. And then what the paper does, which I like, is it says, well, okay, this idea is coming back, because there’s this growing concern about wealth inequality, and there’s this growing concern about AI and automation, and we won’t have any jobs in the future, there’ll be fewer jobs, even for accountants and lawyers possibly, and just given how good the AI is getting. And so you’ve got a lot of people in Silicon Valley even, they’re proposing this idea of a UBI. I think Andrew Yang, who is a US presidential candidate, has this idea. So from what I’m sensing, it’s come out of this concern about wealth inequality. You’ve looked at the possibility of a wealth tax paying for this UBI. Is that the sort of thing that you’d have to do?  Because  you mentioned, look, people would probably, you know, they’d push back on a big increase in taxation. Is there a way of sort of taxing the richest or the wealthiest, the billionaires? Is it possible to get more tax out of that group to be able to pay for this UBI? Have you looked at that, Ben?

Ben Phillips  14:42

I think no doubt there’s probably some there’s … I think most of the modelling I’ve seen around taxing billionaires is a little disappointing in that the amount of money you typically get out of billionaires isn’t usually as much as what people might want to think. I think the Parliamentary Budget Office has done some recent work around, it was a Greens proposal again for taxing billionaires. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do that, but the amount of money is probably not really enough to be funding these sorts of schemes. You have to have a revenue base that I think is a lot broader than just say billionaires, which we may only have, you know, a couple of dozen or so in Australia. And it’s a pretty precarious base anyway. During good times, it might be healthy money, and during bad times, well, who knows, you might not have too much at all. So you need to have a fairly broad-based wealth tax, if that’s the path you’re going to go down. And that certainly could be done. I think we probably don’t tax wealth as much as we probably could in Australia. We’re very income-heavy. And that’s something that we could look into changing. But if you’re going to find additional money, you’d have to have a fairly broad-based wealth tax. And it’s certainly true to say that saying superannuation at the moment, there’s a lot of concessionality there in superannuation taxation, which perhaps goes further than where it needs to do. And I guess beyond that there’s the family home. There’s no tax on the family home. And there’s other concessions around wealth in Australia, things like trusts and so forth. So there’s certainly money that can be found there. I think for the sort of scheme that David Ingles and Miranda Stewart were proposing, that was probably quite a sensible place to go. They’re also trying to minimise the effective marginal tax rates. So if you fund it through personal income tax increases, you go straight to increasing what are called effective marginal tax rates. And that’s sort of lowering your incentive to work, whereas wealth tax, you tend to get at those people who perhaps are not actually even working, and it returns a little bit of money to the state through that avenue.

Gene Tunny  16:35

Right. Could you tell me a bit about that proposal that you modelled for Miranda and David? So what did the wealth tax look like? Can you recall the threshold and what the impacts were, Ben?

Ben Phillips  16:49

So from memory, Gene, the amount of money that was being given out through this scheme wasn’t actually particularly large. I think it was roughly in line with the sort of amount of money that we give out to family payments, which is around sort of five or $6,000 per year. So in that sense, it wasn’t there to replace the current welfare system. It was really just as a very low base addition to what we currently have. So it wasn’t a large amount of money. We didn’t need to find nearly as much money say as a full-blown universal basic income scheme. And I think in terms of wealth, we just made a very simple assumption around I think it was non-housing-related wealth, and taxing that. So you’ve still got a fair amount of money. You’ve got about $4 trillion in Super. That compares to say that $10 trillion in housing, which much of which we weren’t touching, because it’s in the family home. I think it was just a flat rate of tax per year. I can’t remember the exact rate. It was at probably a small amount per year, which is enough to sort of fill out probably the several trillion, the several billion dollars worth of money you need to fund these sorts of schemes.

Gene Tunny  17:54

Right, okay. Yeah. Okay, so I guess it’s probably the politics of it that’s going to defeat it, from just based on this conversation. It sounds like, I mean, sure, if you’re going to implement it, and if you’re going to implement what people would generally perceive as a universal basic income when they think of a universal basic income. So I think Andrew Yang was talking about in the States, was it 1,000 US advance then? And that’s why I was thinking, well, if we had it in Australia, it’d probably be around maybe 15 to 20,000 a year. And if we’re going to have that, then that does imply a large increase in taxation. And there will be a lot of pushback, but in some segments of the community, particularly where they’re going to be paying more. And we saw what happened in the last election, the last federal election when there was a proposed change. I mean, you mentioned the carbon tax and then look at what happened when the opposition proposed doing something about the franking credits issue with the with the shareholders. So yeah, it seems like people, if you look at what it actually implies, it’s probably politically infeasible to bring it in. Do you have any thoughts on that, just how the likelihood or feasibility of bringing something like this in?

Ben Phillips  19:30

Look, to be honest, Gene, and I don’t really think it’s something that’s on the radar of say the major political parties at this point, not to say it won’t be at some point in the future if the world changes, but at the moment, I think as you pointed out, the potential of the requirement for such substantial tax increases would virtually rule that out. Ignoring whether or not it’s sensible or that it’s economically sensible, I think it’s the tax increases will just be too substantial. I think there are some problems with our current welfare system at the moment. But they really are only, they’re relatively small changes that are required to fix that. So for example, the JobSeeker Payment many would argue is a little bit too light, needs to be increased by probably a modest amount per year. So at the moment it’s about 630 per fortnight. It probably needs to be at least another couple of $100 a fortnight higher than that. The cost of that is only a few billion dollars per year. There’s a few other issues with the welfare system, particularly around say some of the conditionality, that’s probably a little bit too punitive on those on the payment. You could loosen some of those up, I think you can potentially improve the current system that we’ve got. That is very well targeted, I think. And you can improve it with only relatively modest amounts of money. So maybe, you know, as little as say $10 billion per year could really make a very large difference to that system. So $10 billion for what I think could give you a reasonable system compared to say having to spend potentially at least $100 billion on one of these more grandiose schemes of universal basic income. I think that shows the relative costs and minimal additional benefit, I think, where you end up a very big sort of a churn, additional churn in the system, for no particular great benefit. So I think there’s some relatively easy fixes that are relatively cheap. More people might disagree with to say $10 billion is relatively cheap or not. But compared to these other big schemes, I think it’s relatively cheap. So get a relatively simple fix for not a lot compared to these very expensive schemes. That’s probably where I would see it potentially going, if we are going to go down that path.

Gene Tunny  21:33

Yep. So it’s probably not. I mean, the big issue at the moment is that, well, arguably, some of the welfare payments are too low, and that therefore if you’re going to do anything with the welfare system in Australia, then you should look at increasing some of those payments. I was just thinking, I mean, in other countries, maybe that there are different issues. I mean, with the US, for example, I guess what’s attractive about the UBI in the US is that their welfare system is not as generous as ours, or it’s not as much of a safety net. So perhaps that’s why it’s more attractive in the States. Although I guess it does have a lot of support here in Australia. There was something reported on ABC, a majority of Australians would welcome a universal basic income, a survey found. But then I think that’s because people aren’t aware of just what it means for tax rates. And if anyone actually proposed that as a real thing, and they had to talk about how they funded it, how they would fund it, it will quickly become apparent it was … It’s not something necessarily I’d support, but it would involve some redistribution. I guess where some people, why they support it is that they, you know, there are a lot of people who think housing’s becoming increasingly unaffordable. And this could be seen as a way of supplementing their income. So could it be seen as a way of … Is it basically about more redistribution? So redistributing more from the top end to the lower deciles? How have you done analysis of what it means in a distributional sense, this universal basic income? I suppose it depends on the model that you apply. But what could it look like? I mean, could it actually improve the wellbeing of households in the sort of lower deciles? Not just the most disadvantaged, where we’re assisting them currently with welfare benefits, but households where they’ve got people in the house are working? Is it going to be a way of supplementing their incomes and, you know, making it easier for them to say buy a house? Could that be a benefit of it?

Ben Phillips  24:00

It’s certainly one benefit of it, Gene. Again, as you say, it depends exactly what sort of model you’re using here. It could vary wildly. But the models that I’ve looked at in the more sensible versions, they are funded usually through an increase in a wealth tax or increase in say, an income tax. And they usually tend to be quite progressive taxes. So as a result, you do tend to find that with most of the basic income schemes, at least I’ve seen, you do get a redistribution from the rich to the poor, effectively, and we end up having income inequality that looks a little bit more like Nordic countries, rather than our current system, which is fairly sort of middle of the road, I suppose, similar to the UK and a little bit better than the US, but more closer to the Nordic countries. So you do get that impact. A lot of people are concerned about why would you give say $10,000 to someone on $150,000 a year. Well, that’s understandable, but they’re probably paying even more than $10,000 in tax to fund it because we’ve got such a progressive system. So that’s true, it does redistribute the income from the rich to the poor. That’s probably one of the positives of it.

Gene Tunny  25:02

Right. Okay. Now, what does it mean for those effective marginal tax rates?  Does it actually reduce them? Is this a way of reducing the impact or am I on the wrong track here, Ben? Sorry, I think I’m off.

Ben Phillips  25:21

Again, Gene, I think it really depends on the model. You could have one model where it would reduce them, one where it would increase them. I think, as a general rule, the more money that the higher the programme costs, the higher the overall EMTRs are for the country. The more churn you have, the more you more you give, the more you’re going to take as well. There having said that, I think what it can do is it probably does lower the effective marginal tax rates for certain groups, particularly low-income groups and say, single parents, where they do typically have quite high EMTRs, but it would increase the EMTRs from say the middle of the income distribution to the higher end of the income distribution, because they’re the people who are funding it. So for example, I did some modelling with some guys from Macquarie Uni in Sydney. And we had a relatively cheap form of basic income, which is costing about 100 to 120 billion a year. And I think what we found there is you have to increase the marginal tax rates across the board by about 15 cents on the dollar. So that means that say that the 19 cents becomes 34 cents in the dollar. And so the 45 cents becomes sort of, you know, around 60 cents on the dollar. So obviously, for those who are not in the welfare system, at the moment, they would have a much higher marginal tax rate. Those who are in the welfare system, probably what we call the withdrawal rates of that basic income are quite small. So you probably have a lower effective marginal tax rate down the bottom end of the income distribution. So it really varies where you are in the income distribution. But I think as a general statement, overall, if you’re giving more money out, you’re probably going to have a higher EMTR across the board. But for certain groups that do face very high EMTRs at say, 70, 80, 90 cents on the dollar, they probably would come down.

Gene Tunny 27:04

Right, okay.

Ben Phillips 27:05

When you’ve slanted out across the income distribution is one way of thinking better, but a little bit higher overall.

Gene Tunny  27:10

Okay, I’m just trying to understand how this would work. So it sounds like with some of these, that well, the age pension, it sounds like that’s probably at the moment higher than any, or what I was thinking would be a universal basic income, which is sort of in the 15 to 20k range. So does that mean, could there actually be some welfare recipients who would be worse off under some models of UBI?

Ben Phillips  27:42

Yeah. Look, I think mostly what they do, Gene, is they, they only apply it to the working age population. So they say, look, if you’re an aged pensioner, we’re not so concerned about you. Many of the issues that relate to universal basic income, as to why you might introduce the UBI, don’t apply to the age pensioners, so we leave them as they are on the age pension. It’s more about the working age first. So if you’re on JobSeeker or say you’re missing out on JobSeeker at the moment because of you know, the wealth, the liquid assets test or some other income test you’ve got, you would be better off under the UBI scheme. And also, you would be losing that money more gradually as your income increases, whereas at the moment, you might be losing say 50 cents, or 60 cents on the dollar, for every dollar that you earn. It’s people who are on the JobSeeker payment, who are working part time, they might be better off and face lower effective marginal tax rates as they increase their income. Where it would impact people is say those around say 80 or 90,000 a year, you might go from say being on 30 cents on the dollar to say 45 cents on the dollar. That’s a big problem, I think, as I see it, for these more expensive versions of the universal basic income,

Gene Tunny  28:50

Right, okay, what about single parents? Do you know how they would be affected by a UBI if it was brought in and it replaced the current suite of benefits?

Ben Phillips  29:03

Yeah, so some of the models that I’ve looked at, what we’ve tended to do on this, really, it’s where you start to make … One of the main reasons you have a UBI is to have it as it’s sort of simple. One of the big arguments is that the current system is too complicated. And it is complicated, no doubt at all. I would argue it’s complicated because it is complicated. The world’s complicated. You’ve got single parents, you’ve got disability, pension recipients, you’ve got all sorts of different people in different situations. This is one of the things I like about the current system, where it targets to those sorts of issues. But in terms of single parents, yeah, if they are on 15,000 a year, they will be worse off. And that’s where you might have some special clause where if you’re a single parent, you remain on the current payment, but then you’re going back to another complicated system. This is why I sometimes wonder about what the point of a UBI is, unless it’s I’d say at the age pension level.

Gene Tunny 29:58

Right, which is …

Ben Phillips 30:00

Which is about say about $25,000 a year.

Gene Tunny  30:05

Okay. And is that similar to what the Greens is proposing that’d be …

Ben Phillips 30:10

Thereabout 30,000 a year.

Gene Tunny 30:11

30,000 a year, right, okay.

Ben Phillips 30:13

So where that comes from, Gene, is when the JobSeeker was increased when we had COVID, it was increased to about 1,115 per fortnight. And I think the Greens have gone along with that number, which is closer to about sort of 28, 29,000 a year or 30,000 a year. I forget the exact figure. Which relates to the Henderson Poverty Line, which is, in my view, a fairly outdated version of … As you probably recall, Gene, it was constructed by the Henderson review into I think, probably in Australia back in the 60s and 70s. Yeah, so it’s very outdated.

Gene Tunny  30:50

Yeah. So UBI, I mean, it certainly would be a nice thing to have, just thinking about it. I mean, and one of the advantages that’s put all the pros or the arguments in favour of it is it would allow us to be able to choose our lifestyle. And I mean, we could take a few months off and devote it to yoga or to improving our wellness, that sort of thing or writing a book. So look, I can see the attraction of it. It’s just the fiscal cost of it and implementation. We’ve already got this welfare system in Australia, at least that seems to do a reasonable job at not too high a cost. But I can see the attraction. What about this, there’s this vision of the future where with AI on automation, we have massive job losses, even among white collar professionals? Now, I mean, you know, we’re economists, so we’re probably great believers in the market adjusting, and eventually people finding new jobs in this in the services sector. But do you have any thoughts on that, Ben? I mean, how big a risk is AI and automation? And to what extent does that improve the argument for a UBI, if that’s the case that we could see these massive job losses in the future?

Ben Phillips  32:26

Yeah, look, I would, probably a bit like yourself, Gene, be clouded by my economics background. I guess looking at history over the past 50 or 60 years, we’ve had some pretty incredible technological changes that arguably are larger than what we’re currently seeing. And you know, you have periods of course, where you have some higher unemployment. But generally speaking, the economies have transitioned and people have transitioned. Perhaps there are strong arguments for, I guess, helping people restructure their lives, structural assistance packages for those in industries that disappear, and that there is the argument of, as you said, of basic income advocates that you have a UBI for that potential outcome in the future. But I’m sceptical of it, Gene. That said, I’m not a futurist, so I don’t really know what the future holds in that area. I could be wrong, but I’m a little sceptical, just given that we’ve had very large technological change in over the last century and people still remain in jobs. Yes, there are issues, you know, for certain people in certain industries. But that’s sort of part of the ebb and flow of the economy.

Gene Tunny  33:34

Absolutely. Okay. Well, just finally, this affluence-tested model, is that the one you recommend? Would you be able to go over that again, please, Ben? I’m just interested in what exactly that is.

Ben Phillips  33:50

The affluence-tested model, Gene, this is the model that some co-authors of mine, Ben Spies-Butcher from Macquarie University and Troy Henderson from University of Sydney, I guess it’s their model, their version of universal basic income. Obviously they’re well aware that a full-blown UBI is very expensive and politically difficult to implement. So it was an attempt to come up with a model that might be a little bit more politically possible within Australia. And that model really was, let’s look at the current JobSeeker amount. We’re a little bit higher than the JobSeeker amount, so that 15,000 or 18,000, two different models, 15,000 year and a more generous 18,000 a year and apply that to all adults. But it was in effect means-tested or affluence-tested, as they called it. So that was as your income increased, you’d lost some of that payment. So basically, up to about 10. You can earn up to 10,000 a year in income, and you’d receive the full 15 or 18,000 for the year, by that median income that have gone to  about half and by about 180,000 you have none at all. So it still costs about 100 or $120 billion per year. So that’s still roughly a doubling of the current sort of welfare system. So it’s very, very substantial. But obviously, it’s a lot cheaper than a full-blown system. And it does have the benefits of, some of the benefits of the basic income. It sort of becomes a bit more like a guaranteed minimum income, I guess, rather than a universal basic income. So that was their model. I think it’s quite interesting. But again, it’s got that concern of being wildly expensive, and we didn’t need to increase personal income tax rates, I think it was by 15 percentage points to the more expensive version. And I think adding that on to the current personal income tax rate regime would scare a lot of people off and would be politically extremely challenging.

Gene Tunny  35:43

Yeah, yeah. Okay. So just for clarity, this was a proposal that the other authors, it was their proposal, and you were doing the modelling for that.

Ben Phillips 35:53

That’s correct. Yep.

Gene Tunny 35:54

Gotcha. Okay. Ben Phillips, any final thoughts on UBI before we wrap up?

Ben Phillips  35:59

Oh, look, I think we’ve covered pretty well, Gene. I think it’s a really, in one sense, it’s interesting. I think that people are talking more and more about these sorts of schemes. I do feel that there are some problems with the current welfare system and I think there’s some ideas of UBI that we can borrow. I think the a lot of the issues we’ve identified could be used to improve what we’ve currently got. I think a more realistic and practical approach is probably just to fix up some of the issues in the current system at a fairly minimal cost, as opposed to the full-blown versions of UBI that I think are interesting, but perhaps not really realistic in the current environment. Too much of a change for Australia, whether we like it or not.

Gene Tunny  36:41

Yep, yep. Absolutely. I agree with you. So yeah. Thanks, Ben. That was great, a really good overview of the issues in Australia. I’ll have to have a look at what it might mean in other countries, but I’m guessing that it would involve a similar high level of expenditure, additional expenditure, and therefore a higher tax burden. I will have to look into that. And, yeah, I thought that that point you made about how well it could be seen as a way of addressing some of these inequality issues. And then we’d look more like the Scandinavian countries. And perhaps we do. I mean, our inequality isn’t as high as in the US, but you’re saying it’s similar to UK. It’s lower in some of those Scandinavian countries. So that’s something I’ll cover in a future episode. Just, you know, what’s going on in those countries. Always fascinated with that sort of Nordic model they talk about. So I thought that was a really good point. So Ben, but just want to thank you so much. I think what’s great about your work is that you’ve really modelled all this out, you’ve thought about what this looks like, in a practical sense, how it could be implemented, what that means for all the different groups in the community. And so yeah, I can highly recommend your work. So there’s Basic Income for Australia: Exploring Rationale, Design, Distribution and Cost, that you co-authored with David and Miranda. I’ll link to that in the show notes. So Ben Phillips, really enjoyed that. Thanks so much.

Ben Phillips  38:26

Thank you, Gene. My pleasure talking to you.

Gene Tunny  38:29

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  38:35

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Gene Tunny  39:04

Now back to the show. Okay, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Ben on UBI and got a lot out of it. I certainly did. In this segment of the episode, I want to cover some issues that I didn’t get to chat about with Ben, particularly whether UBI will have a big negative impact on people’s labour supply. So their willingness to work. Will we see people dropping out of the workforce, drastically reducing their hours of work, and therefore reducing the capacity of our economy and the government’s capacity to raise money to pay for a UBI?

Now around the world, we’ve had several experiments of different types of UBI over the years. I intend to devote a future episode delving into the details of these experiments, and even into the negative income tax experiments in the 70s. I probably don’t have enough time at the moment to do full justice to those experiments, but I will try to summarise what I’ve found so far. One UBI experiment which received a lot of media attention happened in Finland, in 2017 and 2018. 2,000 randomly selected unemployed people received a 560 euro a month payment, which was similar to the unemployment benefit payment. But they received it for the trial period, and they didn’t lose it, they didn’t lose the UBI if they started working.

Now, I’m going to rely on a great article from The Economist. So one of my favourite magazines. This article was in March 2021, Might the Pandemic Pave the Way for a Universal Basic Income. I’ll put a link to that Economist article in the show notes, but it may be paywalled, and you may need an Economist subscription to access it. In the article The Economist reported evidence from the experiment was muddied by a change to a law in 2018, which tightened conditionality for receiving unemployment benefits. Even so, the results are intriguing. Among the biggest worries relating to UBI is the possibility that it might discourage recipients from seeking paid work. Yet, participants who received unconditional payments actually work more than those on the dole. Reported wellbeing was substantially higher. Recipients also registered less depression and stress, a higher degree of confidence in their abilities, and more social trust than did those in the control group.

The Finnish results are broadly consistent with findings from other experiments. Rebecca Hasdell of the Basic Income Lab at Stanford University conducted a review of 16 basic income studies published between 2009 and 2019, that covered rich and poor countries. The research provides consistent evidence of a positive effect on educational attainment and on measures of physical and mental health and reduce poverty. Effects on labour market participation are generally small. Half of the studies that assess its impact do not find a statistically significant effect. Most of the rest find a positive effect, she writes. Okay, so that’s really interesting.

Based on the experimental evidence that we have, and assuming the Economist is reporting it correctly, we may not have to worry about lots of people dropping out of the workforce if a UBI is implemented. However, as the Economist notes later in that article, these experiments don’t necessarily tell us what would happen if a UBI were available on a wide scale. They talk about the possibility of a social multiplier effect. Okay, so the Economist notes, some activities become more enjoyable as more people engage in them. So what they’re getting at there is that being out of the workforce is going to be much more enjoyable when more of your friends or family are also out of the workforce, they’re not working, so you can more easily spend time with them.

Possibly, you could even foresee a risk that you have sizable groups of people that maybe they can drop, they might drop out of the workforce at the same time and set themselves up in, well, for lack of a better word, communes. Perhaps that’s something that could happen. Are these legitimate concerns? I really don’t know.

But I do know a UBI would cost a lot of money. As Ben and I chatted about in our conversation. So the major criticism of UBI that it’s incredibly costly, and it would require much higher taxes, I think that is an important criticism and it still holds. On the work incentives issue, Ben Phillips’s view is that the net impact of a UBI is unclear. This is because of what Ben and some of his co-authors describe as a complex interaction of income and substitution effects. Okay, what do they mean by this? Here’s how I understand it.

The income effect that they’re talking about is the change in labour supply expected to be negative due to the change in income brought about by a UBI. So, a UBI, all other things equal, will boost income. And people might choose to spend that income on more leisure by working less in paid employment, okay. The substitution effect that they’re talking about relates to the substitution between work and leisure, as the relative price of leisure changes as the opportunity cost of leisure. So the loss of income, the money that you get in the bank, if you take an hour off work, or you, you take an hour in leisure, there’s a substitution effect. Because a UBI affects what is called the effective marginal tax rate, the EMTR. So Ben and I were chatting a bit about that, in our conversation.

Let’s remind ourselves that the effective marginal tax rate is the percentage of additional income that we earn, that we don’t get to keep. So it’s the percentage we don’t get to keep. And we don’t get to keep it because either A, the government takes it off us in tax, or B, the government reduces a welfare benefit that we’re currently receiving. And it does that because we’re earning money from working. If there’s a change in the EMTR, then the relative price of leisure changes, okay, so if the EMTR increases, so the government’s taking more off you in tax for an additional hour that you work, then that makes work less attractive to leisure, it means that the relative price of leisure has fallen, so the opportunity cost of leisure has fallen, because you’re getting less money for that additional hour of work. That makes leisure more attractive. And so you might work less, you’ll take more leisure.

Okay, I hope that makes sense and I explained that properly and I didn’t get lost midway. As you can appreciate, this is extremely complex. There’s quite a lot going on. As Ben and I discussed in our conversation, a UBI is expected to reduce the EMTR for current welfare recipients. So if you’re currently receiving a payment from the government, then your effective marginal tax rate is expected to fall, because the UBI wouldn’t be as aggressively taken away or clawed back as current welfare benefits are when people start earning money. Okay. So for welfare recipients, a UBI could actually result in additional hours worked, depending on their circumstances.

This gets really complicated, as Ben tried to explain in the in our conversation and as they go into in their papers. Okay, so Ben and his colleagues, David Ingles, and another colleague of his, previous show guest Professor Miranda Stewart, they wrote in a 2019 paper, which I’ll link to in the show notes, that the aggregate impact on work incentives is unclear. This is because the high linear tax rate required to finance the BI, so BI is what the authors are calling UBI in whatever model that … They go through a few models in their paper, but when they say BI they basically mean UBI. That high linear tax rate may increase work disincentives across the population.

Okay. So to finance the UBI, we’ve had to put up tax rates. And that’s going to increase the effective marginal tax rate for many people who are working and aren’t receiving welfare benefits. And so therefore, if they work an additional hour, they don’t get to keep as much. And so what does that mean? Well, that means that the relative price of leisure or the opportunity cost of leisure, if I take an hour off, then I don’t lose as much because the government, it wants to take more of that money I make, an additional hour. So it affects the work incentives for that group of people.

Now look, there’s a big literature on labour supply and how it’s affected by after tax earnings that we don’t really have time to go into today. I should cover it in a future podcast. I think it’s enough for now to say that look, this is very complex. This is the point Ben’s trying to make. The key takeaway is that the UBI will mean different people will respond to it in different ways. And it’s hard to know what will happen to overall labour supply unless, well, unless we actually introduce a UBI and find out.

Okay, I should note that Ben has used a static micro simulation model. So his modelling has been conducted using ANU PolicyMod. So he hasn’t explicitly modelled those work incentive effects or the impacts on labour supply. Now, my feeling is this, this is something that would be extremely difficult to model. Policy experiments are possibly our best hope of figuring out whether a UBI is simply a utopian fantasy that is unaffordable, or whether it is something that really is feasible, and that could improve our lives immensely.

As always, I’m trying to keep an open mind on these important policy issues. So that’s all I have to say on UBI for now, but I’m sure I’ll come back to it in future episodes. I know a lot of people are interested in it. So please consider this as a first instalment. I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative. Please get in touch with any comments or suggestions. I would love to hear from you. You can email me, contact@economicsexplored.com. And again, there’s a SpeakPipe service that can let you record a voice message if you’d like to do that. Okay. Thanks for listening.

Okay, that’s the end of this episode of Economics Explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact@economicsexplored.com and we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Until next week, goodbye.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Economics Explored Live

Livestream featuring US jobless claims, Aussie GDP + farewell to Tony Makin

I did a livestream earlier today (Friday 3 December 2021) with my regular co-host Tim Hughes on the latest economic news of the week, including the latest US initial jobless claims confirming a strong US economy, the impact of the omicron COVID-variant on equity markets, and the September quarter Australian GDP figures which revealed the adverse impacts of NSW and Victorian lockdowns. You can click on and watch the video on YouTube below. You can also download the slides I showed.  

In the livestream, from around 22:05, I reflected on the late Professor Tony Makin’s contributions to the Australian economic policy debate, particularly on whether we should worry about the current account deficit in the late 80s/early 90s and on the effectiveness of the Rudd Government’s fiscal stimulus. On the current account deficit, Tony’s articles, along with the contributions of John Pitchford, clearly led to a change in the policy consensus on the current account, so it was no longer something that would be a macroeconomic policy target. Sadly, Tony died unexpectedly earlier this week. This came as a huge shock to so many of us, and it’s obvious from all the conversations I’ve had about Tony over the last few days just how much respect and admiration his colleagues and former students had for him. Tony’s funeral is on Monday on the Gold Coast (see notice below). 

Funeral notice for the late Griffith University Economics Professor Tony Makin, who will be greatly missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and former students.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Podcast episode

EP111 – Australian Senator Matt Canavan – COP26 Dissenting Voices Part 2

In Episode 111, Australian Senator Matt Canavan, Australia’s most prominent critic of the Net Zero by 2050 policy to address climate change, speaks with Economics Explored host Gene Tunny about the 2021 UN climate change summit, COP26 (i.e. the 26th Conference of the Parities) and policies to address climate change. 

About this episode’s guest – Senator Matt Canavan

Matt Canavan is a Liberal National Party Senator for the state of Queensland, Australia. Matt was first elected at the 2013 Australian federal election for the term beginning 1 July 2014. He was the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia between February 2016 and February 2020. Matt holds the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Economics (Hons.) from the University of Queensland. He has professional experience working as an economist in Australia’s Productivity Commission, and he has also worked as a consultant at KPMG. Matt’s main office is in Rockhampton, in Central Queensland.

Matt spoke with Gene over Zoom while located in his Parliament House office in Canberra, Australia. The conversation was recorded on Friday 22 October 2021. 

Links relevant to the conversation

FLASHBACK: Queensland’s hydrogen-powered car | 7NEWS

Global Coal Plant Tracker

EP110 – COP26 Dissenting Voices Part 1 – Dr Alan Moran

EP108 – COP26 climate change summit with Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

Thanks to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. Check out his Upwork profile.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Podcast episode

EP110 – COP26 Dissenting Voices Part 1: Dr Alan Moran

In Economics Explored Episode 110, Dr Alan Moran, prominent Australian critic of climate change and renewable energy policies, speaks with show host Gene Tunny about the 2021 UN climate change summit, COP26 (i.e. the 26th Conference of the Parities).

About this episode’s guest – Dr Alan Moran

Dr Alan Moran is Director of Regulation Economics, a consultancy firm. He is a noted economist who, in his own words, “has analysed and written extensively from a free market perspective.”  Dr Moran was the Director of the Deregulation Unit at the Australian Institute of Public Affairs from 1996 until 2014. He was previously a senior official in Australia’s Productivity Commission and Director of the Australian Government’s Office of Regulation Review. Subsequently, he played a leading role in the development of energy policy and competition policy review as the Deputy Secretary for Energy in the Victorian Government. Dr Moran was educated in the UK and has a PhD in transport economics from the University of Liverpool and degrees from the University of Salford and the London School of Economics. 

Links relevant to the conversation

Beware a blind charge to net-zero emissions | The Spectator Australia

Australia’s Obscene Green Subsidy Machine – Quadrant Online

The Business Council of Australia’s green schizophrenia | The Spectator Australia

Bruce Mountain article The verdict is in: renewables reduce energy prices (yes, even in South Australia)

Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET)

EP108 – COP26 climate change summit with Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

Thanks to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. Check out his Upwork profile.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Economics Explored Live

Aussie reopening, Kiwi inflation, oil and petrol prices, and Bitcoin news – livestream from 22 October 2021

Economics Explored host Gene Tunny’s latest Friday livestream for 22 October 2021 covered:

  • accelerating NZ inflation and the implications for interest rates of accelerating inflation in advanced economies more broadly;
  • the great Australian reopening and booming job vacancies (i.e. as noted by the National Skills Commission “Nationally job advertisements are up by 36.2% (or 60,800 job advertisements) compared to levels observed prior to the pandemic”); and
  • the extraordinary Bitcoin narrative which is being reinforced by the introduction of Bitcoin-exposed Exchange Traded Funds.

You can download Michael Knox’s excellent note on the oil price which was mentioned in the livestream here:

Biden’s oil and gas lease pause

Also, check out this great note (also quoted in the livestream and which was likely written by Pete Wargent) in the BuyersBuyers newsletter from yesterday:

Yields creeping higher

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

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Economics Explored Live

US inflation and Aussie jobs data – 15 October 21 livestream

Economics Explored Live for 15 October 2021, the first edition of what I’m planning to be a weekly livestream, covered:

  • the growing concern internationally about accelerating inflation, prompted by the latest US CPI figures (see chart below;
  • the September ABS Labour Force data revealing big drops in hours worked and workforce participation in the locked-down economies of NSW and Victoria; and
  • my state of Queensland’s relatively low vaccination rate (72% for 1st dose vs 84% nationally) and what it could mean for the state’s reopening and the economy – it’s pretty obvious the Queensland Premier should set a date for re-opening ASAP to encourage people to get vaccinated promptly, as suggested by the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association.

Here’s the video of the livestream, which was streamed to YouTube and LinkedIn Live:

Regarding inflationary pressures in advanced economies, I quoted leading market economist Stephen Roach from his recent Financial Times op-ed The sequencing trap that risks stagflation 2.0:

As brilliant and lucky as they have been, today’s generation of central bankers is afflicted with the same sense of denial that proved problematic in the 1970s. Due to a lack of experience and institutional memory of that tough period, the risk of another monetary policy blunder cannot be taken lightly.

Certainly, central banks have been running a massive monetary policy experiment with ultra-low interest rates and Quantitative Easing, which have been associated with double-digit growth rates in money stocks. I agree with Roach regarding the potential for a “monetary policy blunder”.

Other links relevant to the livestream include:

Pete Faulkner’s post Labour Force; national data hit by lockdowns while QLD powers ahead

QEW post featuring my The Other Side interview on Australia’s economic suicide

Vaccination numbers and statistics

ABS: New data shows lockdown impacts on business turnover

Cross-posted at http://www.queenslandeconomywatch.com. Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.