Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers argues for values-based capitalism and against neoliberalism in a January 2023 essay in the Australian Monthly magazine. In this episode, show host Gene Tunny discusses the Treasurer’s essay with Dr John Humphreys. John is the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance (ATA) Chief Economist and the founder of the Australian Liberal Democrats. Gene and John discuss just how literally we should take the Treasurer, the risks of the so-called co-investment approach, and whether the Treasurer is arguing for socialism (or a different -ism).
This episode features audio from an ATA Econ Chat livestream broadcast on 31 January 23. You can watch the whole thing here:
You can follow John Humphreys on Twitter.
What’s covered in EP175
- Jim Chalmers’ idea of co-investing with the private sector [4:21]
- Regarding superannuation funds increasingly having social goals that they aim to meet as well as financial goals [9:12]
- The Australian stage 3 tax cuts and values-based capitalism: are they compatible? [12:37]
- ESG, stakeholder capitalism, and socialism [15:24]
- How does the Treasurer intend to direct investment? [23:28]
- How a poor government policy can lead to another poor government policy [27:31]
- The social impact investment bank expected in the 2023 Australian budget [32:34]
Links relevant to the conversation
Transcript: Values-based Capitalism: What is the Aussie Treasurer planning? w/ John Humphreys – EP175
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 00:06
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 and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show. Thanks for tuning into the show. In this episode, I discuss so-called values based capitalism with John Humphreys. John is chief economist of the Australian taxpayers Alliance, and he’s President of the Australian Liberal Democrats. The idea of values based capitalism has been injected into the Australian policy debate by the Australian treasurer of Jim Chalmers. In a monthly magazine essay, the Treasurer argues we need greater coordination between the public and private sectors, and we need co investment. He argues that government business philanthropic and investor interests and objectives are increasingly aligned and intertwined. The Treasurer is the top economic official in Australia. He’s the equivalent of the US Treasury secretary in the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer. So obviously people pay attention when he tells us what he thinks. The audio of my conversation with John Humphreys is taken from a live stream I did with him on the 31st of January 2023. I’ll put a link to the full live stream in the show notes. Okay, let’s get into the episode. Please stick around to the end, because I have additional thoughts after my conversation with John. Well, I think we have to chat about this essay by the treasurer Jim Chalmers capitalism, after the crises, rather extraordinary for the treasurer to publish something like this. I mean, although we had the former PM, Kevin Rudd, publish something similar about how he was going to save global capitalism in I think it was around February 2009. While we’re all busy in Treasury, with actually managing the budget and all of that, somehow, the pm found time to write a 8000 word essay. And now, I mean, Jim Chalmers is done. Well, I think is 6000. It may not be as long as the one Rudd wrote. And Jim Chalmers wants to remake Australian capitalism. I don’t know if he necessarily wants to remake global capitalism. But he does have a critique of neoliberalism. So that’s the new thing that everyone hates. And I mean, it’s similar to a lot of critiques of so called neoliberalism that, you know, we we’ve gone too far in the direction of the market, and we don’t care about society as much anymore and isn’t as all dreadful. And isn’t all this inequality, terrible. It’s causing problems for Democracy Now look, okay. There’s certainly issues and in some countries, inequality has certainly increased, there’s no doubt about that. Overall, it’s this very simplistic analysis. And look, it’s Jim Chalmers is views. I mean, you know, fine. That’s his philosophy, it’s probably what you’d expect from Jim chamas. He’s entitled to those views. I mean, my personal view is you should be looking at specific policies. I mean, what exactly do you think we did wrong? Okay, let’s look at specific issues and see how we can fix those up. I mean, is it tariff cuts? You don’t approve of them in tariff cuts that the whole Keating government supported? I mean, what is it precisely that you think is the problem? So there’s this general critique of neoliberalism, which is no different from a lot of stuff you see online by various progressives? And, look, I mean, I’m not necessarily going to defend everything that that’s been done in economic reform. I mean, there certainly been like, I think there have been some great successes. But there have also been areas where the insert less than stellar results. There’s no doubt about that. But I think what’s important is to get it all. Okay, let’s understand what he actually wants to do because he’s got this general critique, okay. But what do you want to do? And his main idea seems to be this idea of co-investment. That’s the real substantive thing. That seems to be how he’s going to define his time as treasurer or his time as PM if he later becomes PM, because in a way, this is job application for PM he wants to be Labour leader. He sees this as defining his philosophy as a labour treasurer. We’re going to fix capitalism. He talks about values based capitalism, he thinks capitalism, we want to move away from a system where it relies upon people beings If interested in greedy and the private sector alone, we want to have a cooperation between the private sector and the public sector. We want the public sector, getting the policy settings right and and then co-investing with the private sector to provide some, some ideas about how that will occur. He talks about the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is designed to provide finance for various renewable energy projects. He sees that as a success, even though it doesn’t appear to be meeting its investment mandate. So I had a look at that, because I found it interesting that that was his one, the example that he gave, so he talks about co-investment as a powerful tool at our disposal. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has been a great success, partnering with investors to direct capital where it can have the greatest impact, not by subsidising returns, but by helping structure investment vehicles in a rapidly emerging economic sector, we will employ this co-investment model in more areas of the economy, with programmes already underway in the industry, housing and electricity sectors. Okay. So they’re looking at providing some type of framework, having these entities like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and I think they’ve set one up similar to that in housing, it’s to encourage investment by the private sector and by I guess, providing more accessible finance, or making creating financial products, perhaps with some government guarantee, I don’t know, we have to wait and see what exactly the treasurer is, is talking about here. So yeah, that’s where I think we’ve really got to focus. This seems to be his idea of how he’s going to be this innovative, new wave labour treasurer. Yeah, Nick’s made a good point here in the comments that they want the super funds to, to invest in some of these areas such as housing, or an infrastructure. But again, I mean, we’ve got to ask exactly how are they going to do that? There’s, what I see is the risk that the government provides some sort of guarantee or does provide financing, he’s saying it’s not subsidised. But, I mean, you’ve got to wonder about if it isn’t subsidised? Or if if the government’s not making finance more readily available in the market within the banks would then what exactly is the market failure they’re addressing? Why wouldn’t the private sector do it? So I think there is going to be some sort of subsidy or, or risk taken on by the public sector that’s not compensated for. And so when I looked at the Clean Energy Finance Corporation webpage on financial outcomes, I discovered that and this is what this is a an institution that the treasurer claims has been a great success is its return its lifetime annualised portfolio benchmark. Return. So this is, this is a return that they’ve earned. So 4.38%, which is, you know, hardly anything, really, if you think about what you’d really want to be earning as an investment vehicle like that. So I think there is a risk that this sort of thing is subsidised. I think there’s a risk that they’re taking too much risk onto the government balance sheet. And there’s a potential to fund projects, which are uneconomic. So if that’s the big idea, I mean, okay, well, let’s see the specifics, and let’s analyse exactly what you’re, you’re recommending, and we can talk about that. Yeah. And there’s that point about, yeah, they do want access to the super funds, money, they will have to make sure that it’s a compelling investment opportunity to actually get that money. And, and that is a big risk. I mean, we don’t yeah, that those super funds, if they just invest in something because the government wants them to invest in it, then they are breaching their fiduciary duties. That would be a terrible thing if the government does direct where that money should go.
John Humphreys 09:12
Interesting points on that today. I think this is part of the problem that we’re sneaking up on the situation several ways. Super funds increasingly have social goals that they need to meet, as well as financial goals. You make a good point that, well, that needs to show that they’re going to meet the financial needs of the super investors. Increasingly, the super funds feel the need to meet their social KPIs, rather than their financial KPIs. And if they are required to meet social KPIs, then they’ll very easily get away with it. Remember, it’s not like this super is optional. We’re forced to give it and if the government gives the super funds who have guaranteed access to our money, social KPIs, you must do something social. By the way, here’s something social we want you to do. You can imagine it happening, even if it doesn’t have financial risk. I think the point Nick can correct me if I have not expressed her concern accurately, please jump into the chat again, Nick. But that’s my understanding of your point.
Gene Tunny 10:09
Yeah. So the whole thing with this values based capitalism, one of the concerns is that you end up with this very odd relationship between the government and banks and super funds. And in a way, it’s very odd for a Labour leader or an aspiring Labour leader. And this is a point that Matt Canavan made that he was very critical, as you probably would expect of this sort of thing. And I mean, he was saying that the treasurer seems to have been spending too much time in the boardrooms of banks and super funds. So yes, it’s, it’s very strange, but what I think might be going on, and this is, this is one thing that I’m wondering is, is this because he really doesn’t have many other options due to the state of the budget due to the high amount of debt, and due to the fact that he’s committed to the stage three tax cuts? Katherine Catherine Murphy on the Guardian podcast asked him, Okay, if you’re talking about values based capitalism, does this mean or she, she was basically asking me if you actually, given what you’re professing about values based capitalism and your concerns about inequality, etc? Does this mean you’d revisit those stage three tax cuts? And other there was a good question, and he just gave the standard line? I look, we’ve already dealt with that. And we’re, you know, my position on that. I think she probably could have pressed him more on that because it is a legitimate question, if in terms of traditional Labour government, some people have been saying that with this essay, Jim Chalmers is channelling Whitlam or it’s going back to the Whitlam government, I’m not entirely sure about that, because the Whitlam government was big spending on social welfare programmes, I really ramped that up. I mean, I know now we are spending more on that sort of thing. But there’s, I don’t know if there’s a capacity for this government, given the fiscal situation to really increase those welfare payments, or expand the welfare state much at all. And so he’s really falling back on this sort of thing, because he may not have any other option. And to an extent, that’s because the government’s had to go along with the stage three tax cuts for political reasons to win the last election. And now they can’t go back on it. So you know, this could be the only shot he’s got in the locker, so to speak. That’s one thought I’ve had on this, this essay.
John Humphreys 12:47
It will be interesting to see what they do in the next budget in terms of tax, I suspect, I’ll sneak that tax rate up, they are going into that. Look, I think that was politically hamstrung with their previous commitments. And quite frankly, I think they made the right decision to stick to their promise, both because I’m a big advocate of the stage three tax cuts, but also politically, if you want to keep any political capital, you can’t just line up lie after lie after lie in your first year in power. So I think it was the right political move and the right economic move. I suspect they also know it’s the right political move. They think it’s the wrong economic move, but they’re stuck with it. And so I’m happy about that. You’re not just a couple of quantifications. I haven’t thought about this article as long as you have, but I think you’ll write in one very important point. There’s been a lot of furor about the words. And I think the words of what Jim says, if taken literally, we shouldn’t be worried if they can, literally. But you pointed out, I think that it’s not necessarily true that we should take it literally, because there’s a lot of fluff and waffle in the middle there, that could be interpreted multiple ways. And to a large degree, what we have to do is go back to them and say, what does that mean, exactly? Exactly what I’m suggesting here. And I suspect what’s happening is there’s two things it’s worth responding to both. I suspect he’s the policy recommendations coming out of this, I suspect will end up being tinkering. I don’t think it’d be good tinkering. But this is probably a lot of grandiose statements. I’m not sure if they’re going to follow through on grandiose actions. I gotta say, as I say that, if I’m right, that would be a good thing. Because if they followed through on all the grandiose statements, I think it would be a supreme mistake for the future evolution of our country. So I am hopeful that this is a lot of bluff and bluster. But also if history is anything to go by, politicians are often full of bluff and bluster and grandiose statements. And then once they actually sit down and work out, what does this mean? It can be a tweak here and tweak there.
Gene Tunny 14:46
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Gene Tunny 15:21
Now back to the show.
John Humphreys 15:24
I do worry about them targeting the super funds, I do worry about what they when they say race, it just sort of interaction cooperation between the government in the corporate sector, that could be done in several different ways. Some of them supremely damaging, and some of them rather mild. And some of them perhaps useful, we really need to know the details first, but I worry that what he’s talking about is not the mild version. But hopefully what he does is the mild version. But what he’s talking about here has echoes of a lot of things that have been growing over the last couple of decades. Some people have actually said it in the chat and see if I can find some here. I think Percy said this twice. It’s the ESG goals. A lot of the language here is also the language of ESG, the environment, the social and governance systems. And it’s steadily in being embedded through several different means fair and foul into the goals of a lot of companies sometimes basically being shoehorned in there by governments, sometimes by industry super funds, which as was also pointed out by Percy, I think, that they are closely related to the union’s so you are getting lots of deviations from normal capitalism for ESG. Another term that’s been thrown around a lot by people that are it looks like Jim Chalmers is influenced by the stakeholder capitalism, and stakeholder capitalism, it sounds so benign, but if you scratch the surface, it’s a very worrying idea. The whole point of capitalism is that corporations are supposed to represent the owners and benefit the owner, it is capitalist who make a profit and the profit goes to the people who made the investment. That’s the idea. Stakeholder capitalism basically means all you know that ownership thing we told you about, yeah, not so much. Right? I mean, you don’t have to be an owner to have a stake, you could be a consumer, or a worker, or a neighbour or just anyone with a pet dog that ran across someone’s front yard. And that basically means society, if society is the owner, where that’s not a real thing, right? That’s always code word for government. If society is the owner of the business, i.e. government is the owner of the business. That does not, that system and economics does not have a good track record at work. There’s a couple of things here. The Chalmers thing has been likened to out and out socialism. I don’t think that’s quite right, because what he’s talking about is this incestuous relationship with big business and big government and big unions. And now socialism, just what’s the leaders of big business up against the wall, shoots them and takes their property. This is like traditional socialism. It’s been likened a bit to Whitlam. And you already mentioned that before, but it’s not quite that either. Because what Whitlam wanted to do was have the government take over all of the realms of how you help the massive welfare state, massive redistributions. He’s not really talking about changing the welfare state. He’s talking about changing the way business operates. So it’s not quite socialist. It’s not quite Whitlamisk, what I call it an eco socialism. It’s instead, this incestuous mix of big government, big corporations, big unions, and we need another word for that. There was a word for that this is not a new idea. This is the thing I’m seeing showing up by some of the op ed writers look at this wonderful new idea. It’s not Whitlam. It’s not Marx, it’s a new idea. It’s actually not a new idea. These ideas have been around for quite a while they were quite prominent, about 100 years ago. I believe, Jim Chalmers is the follower of an Italian economist at the moment. These ideas were very popular amongst a certain Italian politician. From about 90 years ago, if anyone knows their Italian history, El Deus, the Mussolini ideas were basically exactly this. But we don’t need to get rid of business. What we do is we need to have a really close relationship between big government, big business, big unions, we all work together. It may be better than for more efficient for socialism, but it’s a bloody dangerous system. And of course, if you actually call it fascism, everyone gets upset because they say no, no, no, Jim Thomas doesn’t hate the Jews. But fascism isn’t only the economic system of fascism isn’t just about being a Nazi. The economic system of fascism was quite literally the idea that big business can exist, but they just have to cooperate in bed with big government. That was literally the idea of the fascist model of the economy. And it’s not a new idea. I don’t think it has a good track record is actually working as an economic idea. And I’m not trying to say Jim Chalmers is a fascist, I’m just simply saying that we can look at how this has worked in the past. And I don’t think it’s been pretty. The other thing to note about this is they talk a big game about how much they want to cooperate with big business and integrate with them. It’s as if they that they’re unable to draw a distinction between the markets and a business. Right. I mean, most people on my side of politics we believe that a market is a better way of cool donating things, then bureaucrats and politicians. That’s true. That’s not from a love affair with business. Indeed, business are often also the enemy of markets. Like I am not pro business, I am pro markets and markets happen to have business in them. And it seems when a lefty stumbles across this idea and sees markets working, they think markets work, because there’s a couple of nice businesses. So they Co Op those businesses. But it’s not the existence of those businesses that make the market work. It’s the nature of the dynamic nature and the competitive nature of the market. That helps the market system to work. And sometimes a good market needs businesses to fail. If businesses make enough bad decisions, they fail this idea that markets defending markets are about defending businesses. Some people on outside of politics need to get out of that way of thinking, bad businesses should fail. We’re not here to defend businesses, I’m happy to defend people who make good decisions and get ahead and are rewarded for that, whether they are in any field of Endeavour. But it’s not just about defending businesses. And this approach the Chalmers has seems to be pro business anti markets, whereas I am pro market and indifferent to any individual business. And that’s some of the things I do notice in some of his language. He talks about redesigning markets, and that markets need to be carefully constructed. So I think once again, that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what we mean with markets. Markets are evolutionary concepts. They’re not design. They’re not constructed at all. They happen sort of spontaneously out of the interaction of a bunch of voluntary interactions between consenting adults, it is a it is an evolved system. And one of the most dangerous things we have is these politicians that lack the humility to realise that they can’t design such a complex system meddling in a hugely complicated evolved system that is probably beyond their capacity, it’s beyond their can to actually understand the dynamics. It’s beyond the understanding of most people. Leonard Reed famously wrote a book saying no one knows how to, it’s called “I pencil”. And he pointed out that no one knows how to make a pencil, seems like a crazy statement. But if you unwrap each part of making a pencil, someone has to know how to cut down the wood, which means they have to know how to use a chainsaw, which means they have to know how to make the chainsaw, which means they don’t have to know how to get the metal for the chainsaw, which means they have to know how to make the iron, which the steel which comes from the iron, which comes from the mining. So you go back through all the parts of making a pencil, no one person can do it, but it comes together spontaneously, seemingly spontaneously without any central controller. That’s the important point. There’s no central controller in that. And yet, you can go and buy a pencil now for 10 cents. It involves the cooperation of literally 1000s of people around the world who speak different languages, and may not even like each other, they may hate each other. And yet 1000s of people around the world all coordinated and managed to bring you a pencil at your local store for 10 cents. That is insane. And there is no controller. It wasn’t designed, it wasn’t carefully constructed, as Jim Chalmers seems to think, it was a spontaneous order coming together. And that is the dangerous thing. I think there is when these politicians decide that they need to redesign markets in their own image. And often they have wonderful goals, right? I mean, their vision of the world, that vision of the future is not some dystopian nightmare. That’s just the accidental byproduct of their arrogance and their lack of humility. So anyway, that’s my rant on this. Now, I haven’t spent as little thinking about it as you, so maybe I’ll have to duck into it a bit more over the next week.
Gene Tunny 23:28
But I want to have a closer look at just what these vehicles are and how they intend to direct investment. I mean, he talks about, well, we’re not going to pick winners. Okay, that’s great. Oh, but we’re just gonna set the priority. So it’s like this state directed model that the French had, I think in the 50s or 60s, I wouldn’t call it fascism. I’d call it corporatism, or, or whatever the French used to call their system back in the day, the government’s got an idea of where the investment needs to go broadly. It’s sort of national economic planning. That’s the type of mindset and one thing I’m waiting to see is will they try and revive this idea of an infrastructure bank? So this was something that was raised during the time of the Rudd Government but got knocked down. Turnbull criticised Kevin Rudd has been Kev Lonnie, with reference to Kim Lonnie and there was the people were talking about well is this gonna be the new transcontinental I don’t know if you remember it was it transcontinental, the tri-continental, the, the Merchant banking arm of the state bank of Victoria that went bust in the late 80s. Victoria, when it just got into, you know, just made all these crazy loans during that, that colossal boom in the late 80s. There’s a real risk to government balance sheets here, and I just want to wait and see just what they’re proposing. And whether there is some bold scheme like that, that the treasurer could be announcing. That’s what I’m going to be looking out for.
John Humphreys 24:58
I think on the retail politics that is the right thing to look for I should reiterate, I don’t actually think Jim Chalmers is intended to be a fascist, because I don’t think he intends to follow through on the logical consequences of his own article. But I still think it’s worthwhile pushing back on the substance of the article, even if I don’t think you’ll follow through on it. I don’t want people to think of it as an ideal, because I still think the ideals in there are very dangerous. And look, I also take your point, in reality he’ll be whether it’s fascism, or corporatism, it’ll be a watered down version of that. And we need to see the details I agree. But still, the steel man version of that is worth addressing, in case it seduces the thoughts of any young people that stumble across these ideas. You make a good point that perhaps corporatism is the better word for it than fascism. I’ve thought about that a bit lately, that could work. I wonder though, whether there is a difference between the two, they both involve this incestuous relationship of big business and big government. Perhaps the difference is who has the upper hand. And I think in corporatism, perhaps the idea is that big business has the upper hand, and they kind of use big government as their tool for success. And in fascism, it’s the government has the upper hand, and they use big businesses, their tool for enforcement, or getting things done. But anyway, that’s a thought bubble there on what the potential difference could be. I don’t know which one Jim Thomas hopes he would achieve. Probably not corporatism. But I’ll cheekily put that aside for the voters. What he
Gene Tunny 26:17
wants to achieve is he wants to get enough votes from the labour left by imagining he’s can remake capitalism, where, really, he’s going to get some he’s going to create some investment vehicles. There’ll be some additional money into into renewables and housing. But is it really going to make much of a difference? And I don’t know, I mean, in housing that, you know, that’s one of their big challenges. I mean, that housing affordability is a massive problem now. And the number of people who can’t find accommodation, particularly in Brisbane, I mean, I go for a walk along Wickham terrace in Spring Hill. And I mean, the usual homeless people, you see, but now you see there are people living in cars, they’ve got all their worldly possessions, in, in the back of their vehicles. And it’s just tragic. And it’s because for years, we’ve just stopped people from building houses where people want them. So we’ve got, we’ve got problems that have been created, in part through government regulation. And now that’s going to be used as one of the excuses for remaking capitalism and providing, I don’t know, whatever, they’re going to do subsidised housing, there’ll be some money for that social housing, but it’s not really going to be enough to solve the problem, in my view.
John Humphreys 27:30
But it’s so often the theme, isn’t it? A government programme goes wrong. And the lefties turn around for capitalists to say, Why did you do that? And then they use that to justify another government programme that also goes wrong. And the whole cycle repeats itself. I do like the fact that every time I try to get us distracted in a conversation about the grandiose philosophy of the implications of Jim Chalmers article, he brings us back to the real retail politics, which I think is entirely correct. I think your read on this is true that his grand philosophical statements, they’re mostly just fluff and waffles so that he can try to get the Labour leadership and it’ll mean a bit of tinkering. I think you’re right. I just still enjoy rebutting the actual words. Anyway, that this has been a fun discussion.
Gene Tunny 28:13
Definitely John. Okay, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with John Humphrys about the Australian treasurer’s essay on values based capitalism. I’d say the takeaways from the episode include firstly, that there’s clearly been a big change in the intellectual climate since the financial crisis, and treasurer Jim Chalmers has picked up on this making some of the standard criticisms of so called Neo liberalism. Secondly, it’s important to consider specific policies and to weigh up their costs and benefits and the likelihood that claim benefits will be achieved in my view. If we do so it’s understandable why there’s been such a negative reaction to Jim Chalmers essay by economists and financial commentators here in Australia, I should say, I don’t want to be too negative. I have met Jim Chalmers in the past when he worked for treasurer Wayne Swan, and he struck me as a nice person. He clearly thinks a lot about economic issues, and I respect that. And the treasurer did say some say on things in the essay, for instance, he writes, in the wider world, the contest between democracies and autocracies is economic as well as military. Despite deep disquiet about our own economic models. The reality is that democracies largely work. As of 2021 GDP per capita is around 60%, higher in democracies than in autocracies and the gap isn’t closing. Thankfully, Chalmers is a Social Democrat rather than a revolutionary. But he argues that to protect democracy, we need to have greater economic inclusion. That’s fair enough, but we need to think critically about the measures he proposes to promote it. obvious questions include, will they actually achieve greater economic inclusion, what will they cost? What are the risks to the government’s balance sheet and to taxpayers who will ultimately bear the cost of any bad investments? As I suggested in my conversation with John, history tells us we should be wary of governments owning banks or other financial institutions that don’t have a great track record. The failures of the state banks of South Australia and Victoria were big news in the early 90s. But now three decades have passed and the lessons may have been forgotten sadly. Also, as I noted, when chatting with John the results of the body that the treasurer calls a great success, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, well, they’ve been pretty ordinary and they don’t appear to be meeting the target of return. The presentation of the financial results for the corporation is rather confusing, but it looks to me that they’re underperforming. I’ll put a link in the show notes so you can see for yourself. One thing I should have covered in my chat with John is the concept of social impact investing. This is an investment where there are both financial and social returns, such as in a profitable social housing development. Social impact investing is one of the concepts that Jim Chalmers is fond of. In a recent financial review article, John Keogh referred to an example from New South Wales in 2013, a social impact bond which raised $7 million from investors to finance the new PIN programme. N E W P I N. New PIN stands for New Parent Infant network. It appears to be a programme to support new parents so they look after their children properly and the children don’t end up in foster care. It looks like the Queensland Government has tried something similar. Typically, impact investments require government involvement of some sort to ensure that the private sector investors get a return. For instance, governments could pay performance bonuses if certain social outcomes are achieved. There’s a handy note from the Treasury which summarises the Australian Government’s principles for social impact investing, which I’ll link to in the show notes refers to such things as payments by results, contracts and outcomes focus grants, that’s how the investors will be rewarded if the investment achieves its social objectives. These payments could be justified because successful programmes could result in budgetary savings in the future. For example, if programmes result in healthier children, that could reduce health costs in the future. You could also imagine programmes resulting in savings in welfare spending, or cost of the justice system. I’d say that such savings are possible, but we should think critically about the likelihood of such benefits and follow up to make sure that they do actually occur. That is, so we’re not paying nonprofits and investors additional money for results that they don’t actually achieve. It looks like treasurer charmers might end up announcing a social impact investment bank in his next Australian government budget in May 2023. James says that the Financial Review gave a good summary of what this bank could do in an article in October last year, which I’ll link to in the show notes. He wrote, the new body would work with investors to supply capital to intermediary funds, which would direct private investment into social housing, aged care, early education or disability services alongside government funding. This could take some pressure off the government budget for providing these services alone. Okay, that’s the point I made in my chat with John, that some of the motivation for what Chalmers is proposing is the poor state of the government budget, they just don’t have the money to undertake traditional programmes. He’s talking about impact investing because he doesn’t have a lot of options. With his social impact investing bank, he can support things that he wants to do off budget, so to speak. James Ayers continues, the institution would make returns when service providers who would typically be receiving some government funding make predetermined improvements to social outcomes such as housing, education or caring for more people under agreed service standards. Apparently, there’s a body like this already in the UK called Big Society Capital. There’s a fair bit to explore with impact investing, so better return to it for a closer look at a future episode. There are a lot of players involved and I’ll do my best to get someone familiar with impact investing on the show for a deep dive. In the Australian model, it looks like there’ll be a government backed social impact investment bank referred to as a wholesaler. Major commercial banks could also provide capital for this bank. It appears based on reporting from the financial review. There’s talk about 200 million coming from the government and 200 million from the private sector. I expect the social impact investment bank will provide finance at lower than market rates for social impact investing funds. These funds then invest in nonprofits or so-called Social Enterprise causes which are delivering programmes under government contracts. An example of a social impact investing fund is the $91 million social impact investment trust, established by social ventures Australia, a nonprofit and Hester a superannuation fund. How the performance bonuses are shared by the nonprofit, the investors and the government back bank will need to be defined by various contracts between the players. This all seems very elaborate to me. There are no doubt a lot of investment bankers and fund managers earning healthy fees along the way. Does this lead to better results? It may do so if the investors push the nonprofit to deliver superior services. As always, I’m open minded but sceptical. I’ve seen that the consultancy firm Airbus has undertaken a positive evaluation of the New South Wales new ping programme. So it could be good to go through that in a future episode. I haven’t had a real chance to dissect that one yet. I do wonder just how much we can rely on impact investing to solve social problems compared with other measures. As I noted with John, I doubt it will solve the housing availability shortage, which to me appears related to restrictions on housing developments. And it’s not going to replace welfare state programmes such as Australia’s various support payments and the National Disability scheme. Maybe you can do positive things at the margins, we have to wait and see because it’s still early days when it comes to impact investing. For a sceptical take on impact investing, which I’ll link to in the show notes, I’d refer you to a 2020 Harvard Business Review article by Ruben Finnegan, who I know well and Alan Schwartz is a prominent Australian businessman. Impact Investing won’t save capitalism. Okay, that’s all from me on values based capitalism for now. If you’d like a closer look at impact investing or any other topic, please let me know. Thank you. Right oh, thanks for listening to this episode of Economics Explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via firstname.lastname@example.org Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting outlets you then please write a review and leave a rating. 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