Categories
Podcast episode

Hyperinflation: what causes it and what to do about it – EP158

What causes hyperinflation and how can it be avoided in the first place or stopped if it occurs? What characterizes countries which fall victim to hyperinflation? A conversation between show host Gene Tunny and his colleague Arturo Espinoza which explores the economic theory and evidence around hyperinflation, and discusses peculiarities which can arise in hyperinflation-afflicted economies – e.g. pensions denominated in cows in Zimbabwe.  

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

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher.

Links relevant to the conversation

Current inflation rates around the world (Trading Economics)

What is hyperinflation and should we be worried? (WEF article from June 2022)

Wikipedia entry for Alberto Fujimori

Why a Zimbabwean firm offers pensions denominated in cows | The Economist

The Modern Hyperinflation Cycle: Some New Empirical Regularities (IMF Working paper from 2018)

Chris Edmond’s note on Cagan’s model of hyperinflation

Alberto Alesina and Lawrence H. Summers’ paper Central Bank Independence and Macroeconomic Performance: Some Comparative Evidence

Bitcoin Could Solve Zimbabwe’s Hyperinflation Problem—Instead, The Country Is Telling Impoverished Citizens To ‘Just Buy Gold’ (Forbes article)

Inflation is spiking in Zimbabwe (again). Why high interest rates aren’t the answer (Conversation article by Jonathan Munemo): 

Transcript: Hyperinflation: what causes it and what to do about it – EP158

Gene Tunny  00:00

Coming up on economics explored.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  00:01

That, of course, affected or negatively affected people’s economic decisions, because my parents are all the people who live at the moment who are subject to new higher prices every day.

Gene Tunny  00:18

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 158 on hyper inflation, what causes it and what to do about it? In this episode, I chat about hyperinflation with my Adept Cconomics colleague, Arturo Espinoza. Please stick around until the end of the episode for some additional thoughts from me on hyperinflation. I’ll be interested in your thoughts on this episode. So please get in touch and let me know what you think. In the show notes, you can find my contact details along with relevant links, info and clarifications. Please note that alas, I made some Clangers by miss speaking at a couple of points in my conversation with Arturo, the Weimar Republic in Germany came after World War One obviously, rather than World War Two, and the so called Fuji shock happened in Peru rather than Japan. Silly me for misspeaking. Righto. Now for my conversation with Arturo about hyperinflation thanks to my audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Joining me today is my adept economics colleague, Arturo Espinosa, Arturo, good to be chatting with you.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  01:40

Hi, Gene it’s my pleasure to be here.

Gene Tunny  01:44

Excellent. Arturo. So one of the things we’ve been chatting about a lot lately is inflation. And we’ve been looking at inflation and unemployment. And that’s for a project that we’ve been working on. And back a few months ago, we did chat about stagflation, a particular type of it’s a nasty combination of unemployment and inflation. That was episode 143. And I thought, based on what we’ve been looking at, and you showed me, or you alerted me to some data from Peru, in the 1990s, about a hyperinflation they had, I thought it’d be good to chat about hyperinflation is one of those economic calamities, because there are, well, it’s fascinating. It’s not something that happens a lot. And it’s, it’s awful when it happens. And it’s good to know, well, what are the things that lead to hyperinflation? What are the circumstances? How can we avoid it? And if it starts, how can we stop it? So I think it’s an important thing for us to talk about on the show. So yeah, if you’re happy to chat about hyperinflation, I think we should we should get into it. So. Yes. Yep. Let’s start. Okay. Very good. Right. So I guess where this started, was, we had a look at. But what prompted me to do this episode was I forget how it came up. But we were talking about high rates of inflation. You mentioned that in Peru in the early 90s, you had this hyperinflation and caused all sorts of all sorts of problems. And when I looked at the data on macro bond, it had an inflation rate in one year, I think it was over 10,000%. It was huge. It was it was massive. I don’t know the exact rate, I’ll have to put that in the show notes. I can’t recall it off the top of my head, but very high inflation rate. And then that reminded me Okay, well, this is something that happens from time to time, it’s hyperinflation. At the moment in advanced economies, we’ve got inflation rates of, you know, five to 10% or so. So Australia through the year, a bit over 6%, US eight to 9%. And we’re not in that sort of hyperinflation and territory, the way that they typically define Hyperinflation is where you have a monthly inflation rate. And this is prices, on average, increasing by 50% a month. So that’s a standard definition of a hyperinflation. I think that comes from an article by us economist, Phillip Kagan, I think in the 50s on hyperinflations. But there’s no commonly or there’s no widely accepted definition. As far as I can tell, I mean, there’s no official definition and Dornbusch and Fischer, so Stanley Fischer and Rudiger Dornbusch, who wrote this great macro economics textbook, back in the 80s. And, and, I used it in the 90s when I was studying, they defined it as a, an annual inflation rate of 1,000%. So whether it’s 50% Monthly, which if you looked at that on a yearly basis, that it’d be nearly 13,000%, or whether it’s 1,000%. Annual, it’s still really bad. So 1,000% annual inflation rate, where prices go up, basically 10x, isn’t it? I mean, that’s, that’s a huge. That’s a huge, impressive inflation rate. So you’re challenging for people to, to deal with? And, yeah, so I’ve got some data on the what inflation rates that we’ve seen at the moment, and it looks like, while in recent history, we have had some hyperinflations in places like Zimbabwe and Venezuela, which we’ll talk about in a moment. When I look at the trading economics websites, I’ll put a link in the show notes to this, we look at inflation rates around the world, the highest at the moment. So in annual terms, it looks like we’ve got well Zimbabwe coming in at looks like 285%. Lebanon 168%. So the very high inflation rates, but not in the hyper inflation range just yet. Okay. But it had they have had that sort of experience in the past. And we might cover that in a moment. So I thought this would be good to talk about, because, I mean, it’s something that people are aware of this can happen. And we all know that there are concerns about government, money printing and all of that. And it’s, if you’re a member of the public, and yet perhaps you haven’t studied economics, it may not be obvious what leads to these hyperinflations I mean, is this a risk for countries such as Australia, or the United States or, or Britain? And you know, what would lead to this eventuality of hyperinflation? And so what what I want to do in this episode, Arturo is just articulate. What are those conditions that lead to hyperinflation and when should we worry about it? There was an interesting article on the World Economic Forum website, what is hyperinflation? And should we be worried? I’ll put a link in the show notes to that I think that provides some interesting stories about inflation, I might kick off by talking about hyperinflation, I might kick off by reading from that. So it notes that it’s, it’s readily accepted that France and you are the world’s first recorded instance of hyperinflation during the French Revolution in the late 18th century, when monthly inflation topped 143%. Okay, so recall, at the moment in advanced economies, were concerned about inflation rates of between well between five and 10%, over through the year over a year, whereas when you’re in hyperinflation, you’re getting monthly inflation of could be 143% in France in the late 18th century. They go on to say that nevertheless perhaps the most well known example of hyperinflation incurred in the night occurred in the 1920s, when following World War One and crippled by reparation debt, Weimar, Germany saw its monthly inflation rate reached 29,500% in 1923, according to the Cato Institute, more recently, Zimbabwe was bound by hyperinflation, recording a staggering monthly inflation rate of about 70,000,000,000,  79,000,000,000% in november, that’s just insane. So I guess what those examples illustrate is that you’re dealing with countries where there’s an underlying problem, there’s some sort of deep crisis and or there’s a big disruption that occurs. So French Revolution, obviously, the end of the ancient regime, the new revolutionary government, executions, people getting detained, the end of the old regime, and huge disruption. And then following World War Two, we’ve got the Weimar Republic. And I mean, there was that you’re familiar with that the peace deal at Versailles that they struck, which was very hard on Germany at the time. So the reparations debt so the the victors the the allies, so well, outside or Britain and Australia and the US. We imposed a very tough, yes. Yeah. And so it meant that they really struggled. The Germans really struggled to pay that back and that meant that, you know, they’ve put a lot of pressure on their budget. And, well, this is where the problem comes from, essentially, your budget is in such dire straits, your deficits are so large, you have to resort to the printing press, you have to basically, well monetize your deficit, you have to create the new money yourself to be able to, to pay the bills. And that’s where you end up with, with really well, really high inflation and hyperinflation when things get out of control. And in the public, don’t trust the government anymore. They don’t want to hold the currency and the government keeps having to print more and more to try to get enough currency to pay the bills. And it just all ends really badly, you end up with these very high rate well hyperinflation 1000% plus inflation rate per annum. And you need to take really drastic measures to to get that under control. Right. So what causes it? And I think we’ve, we’ve alluded to that it’s the, it’s the fact that there is this, this printing of money to finance deficits that, for some reason or another, the government of the day can’t raise the money it needs via taxation, or it can’t borrow the money from the bond market, it can’t borrow the money from the private sector. So one of the reasons that a country like Australia or the US or Britain, why they don’t usually have to worry about inflation, or why we haven’t had a sorry, a hyperinflation. And why we haven’t had a hyperinflation here is because, well, we generally don’t resort to the printing press to finance deficits at times in the past, we have to a significant extent, but now what we do is we sell bonds into the market, the government sells the bonds, and it gets the money it needs that way. And we also don’t have the big disruption that tends to lead to hyperinflation. So what you have to have really is this combination of, well, you’ve got the there’s the money print ing going on, but that’s, that’s going on, because there’s some underlying disruption, that means that the government can’t get the money it needs, or it’s in some sort of crisis. And it needs to spend a lot of money, such as what the Germans faced in the aftermath of World War One when they had these heavy reparations payments to make. Okay, so what we see Dornbusch and Fisher note in their textbook, that classic hyperinflations took place in the aftermath of of wars. So that’s one thing we know there’s this disruption. And that’s going to affect the government’s ability to to raise money. And one thing that Dornbusch and Fischer noting, in their textbook is that hyperinflationary economies all suffered from large deficits in many cases, that was because of the war, you ended up with this large national debt. And if you end up with a lot of debt, then you’ve got the interest payments associated with that. And also, it just wrecked the country’s ability to raise taxes. Okay, because, you know, it’s destroyed businesses, for example, or perhaps it’s wrecked your, your tax collection capacity. You don’t, you don’t have the, the administrative capacity anymore to be able to collect the tax. So it’s, it ends up being a two way interaction, as they describe it. They talk about how large deficits lead to rapid inflation by causing governments to print money to finance the deficit, and then high inflation then increases the deficit. And that’s because there are two things going on. The nominal interest rates are increasing, because there’s higher inflation expected. And also because if your taxes if you’re calculating them based on what’s happened over the last 12 months or so, and prices have risen since then, then you’re going to lose out in real terms. So there’s this lag in both the calculation and then, the, the collection of the taxes and this is called the Tanzi-Oliveira Effect. So Tanzi, after a famous economist who was at the IMF, Vito Tanzi, okay, so what you have is that you’ve got this two way interaction. You’ve got, you’ve got large budget deficits that have to be monetized. And that ends up being inflationary. But then you have inflation, increasing the deficit that you’ve got, and this thing becomes a vicious circle, or it’s or it’s reinforcing. And this inflation gets a momentum, it gets a life of its own, and you can end up if you’re not careful. And if things get really bad, you can end up in this hyper inflationary situation. Right. And, I mean, the amazing thing is, I mean, we talked about, we talked about Germany, and then that’s the classic, or the infamous case of hyperinflation. And the stories that come out of these periods are just, they’re unbelievable, and they just illustrate the the hardship that’s occurred by people in these in these hyper inflationary periods, which is why we need to really guard against it and why we, we need to ensure that our monetary and fiscal policies are as sound as possible, because this is a this is a pathology, that you get this is a problem you get when you’ve got both bad monetary and fiscal policy, isn’t it? Because you’ve got the fiscal policy, which is there’s a budget deficit. And there’s also the monetary policy, which, which is financing the budget deficit by money printing. So you need the monetary authority, the central bank, or, well, perhaps it’s the Treasury, you need to have this hyperinflation go on, you need them to be doing the wrong thing there, as well as running the budget deficit, you need them to be monetizing it. So there are a lot of things that have to go wrong before you get into this hyperinflationary situation. And what happens is, you end up with massive hardship. And one thing I find I find extraordinary, there’s that story about the hyperinflation in Austria, after World War One. When, and this was a story that Keynes told, and it’s recounted in Dornbusch, and Fischers textbook. And he, they noted that people would order two beers at a time because they grew stale at a slower rate than the price was rising. So you’d go to a bar and you’d order two beers. Because the next time he went to the bar, the price would, would be high. Prices were rising. So fast, I mean, just terrible. Absolutely extraordinary stories like that. And there’s another story from Zimbabwe, we might tell in the moment, but what I thought would be good to do is we might consider some examples of some hyper inflation’s throughout the world. And because this conversation was motivated, partly by what you’re telling me about what happened in Peru, could you tell me a bit a bit about what happened in Peru in the it was it late 80s, early 90s. And then and then how that was resolved, please,

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  18:08

In Peru, in my case, my parents, they live through that harsh time, in terms of in terms of economics and social. So basically, in the case of Peru is a particular case where some components, social, economic, and all models converge to this economic result or economic event that you have mentioned about hyperinflation. Let me give you a little bit of context about the Peruvian economy in the decade of 1980s or last decade in Peru, basically was, as I mentioned, marked by hyperstar stagflation, where is the son of hyper inflation plus recession. During those years. In Peru, the government took bad decisions. They started to spend a lot of money printing money, particularly the government of Ireland, Garcia, the first government between 1985 to the end of 80s, 90s.

Gene Tunny  19:31

Was this a socialist government?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  19:33

Yes, it was a leftist government. But at that moment, the political decision were the words, they they wanted to do the best. The the results told something different. But during that moment, the Peruvian Economy experience for our unfavourable terms of trade wars credit conditions for public debt and also some work condition, which caused floods, also many economic loss in during that time. So all these factors contributed towards in real economic growth.

Gene Tunny  20:23

Right. So you had this triple whammy, didn’t you? You had the declines in commodity prices, I suppose. So lower commodity prices, which affected your terms of trade, and then you said worse credit conditions for, for debt. So, higher interest rates was it at higher borrowing costs. And then you had the bad weather so, okay, yeah, pretty awful.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  20:47

And also is the government of Ireland, Garcia decided not to pay those public depths. So Peru also had some consequences doing that. So in response to that, the Peruvian government implemented a group of heterodox measures. So including the use of price controls, or multiple exchange rates to reduce inflation. So during that decade, Peru faced period of high inflation, so between 20% to 50% K per year, but the wars are pure in September 1988, when Peru faced its first episode of hyperinflation, the second episode of hyperinflation occur between July to August in 1990. So that, of course, affected or negatively affected people’s economic decisions. Because my parents or all the people who live at that moment, were subjected to new higher prices every day. Yeah. So imagine that. So as you mentioned about the viewers, if you want to buy milk, when milk, a jar of milk one day, the next day is, the price is higher also. So imagine that effect. So basically, those relatively poor people were the most affected. Because some of the Peruvians, they started to buy dollars, American dollars in order to avoid all the negative effects of inflationary pressures. Yeah, yeah. So that was the context. Yeah, what happened in Peru.

Gene Tunny  22:48

Um, I might just give you a break there Arturo, because I’ve just found the relevant table in the Dornbusch and Fisher textbook, my old university textbook, and then the estimates they have of the inflation rate in Peru. So if you look at 1985, I mean, it was it would have been higher from our perspective, 163%. And then it got down a little bit in 86, and 87, to 78.86%, in 98 82.5%, 1989 3,399%, 1999 7,482%, before dropping to 410% in 1991, and 88% in 1992. So, you know, just awful numbers would have been difficult for people to plan anything. And if you’re, if you’re holding your wealth in the local currency, I mean, it’s just wiped out. It’s just, you’re just losing all of that, that wealth or if you’re holding government bonds, you’re right. Yeah. You’re in deep trouble. Yeah. Yeah. And so what happened? I mean, the, there was, was there a new government and it implemented new policies.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  24:06

Yes, these new governments implemented heterodox policies like they wanted to control prices. And also they implemented multiple exchange rates. And I remember that impor for example, you want to import something at that moment they were restricted so import was controled as well. It was was a very dark moment in Peru.

Gene Tunny  24:36

Right. Okay, and that so that didn’t go well, that period that the initial that their response was not really the best way to tackle this was

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  24:45

They wanted to do the best, but they think, they didn’t follow the correct prescription. Yeah, for that moment. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  24:53

And so what happens is a is it Fujimori comes in and then he’s got a different way of resolving it.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  24:59

At the beginning of 90s, with a new government for the Fujimori government implemented policies to stabilise the economy. So, basically, that kind of package or general economic package in order to combat the, those economic problems also social problems rely in two pillars. The first was related to cut inflationary fiscal financing. Also, the Peruvian central bank became autonomous in 1993. So there was a good hit for tackling inflation. And the second pillar was related to enhance free market conditions to liberalise the Peruvian market.

Gene Tunny  25:54

Yeah, yeah. So that they’re important, aren’t they? Because, let’s, let’s look at it. So there’s the commitment to cut inflationary fiscal financing. So we’re no longer monetizing the deficits. And I’m not sure exactly the relationship between the finance ministry or the Treasury and the central bank there. The way that deficits are monetized, is going to be different in different countries. But I mean, having this autonomy, having this autonomous Central Bank as well as important because one of the ways that deficits are monetized is that the central bank just buys the bonds from the government issues and just credits them with the money in the government’s bank account of the central bank that’s necessary to that the government wants to pay the bills. So the central bank is important in getting rid of this monetization with the central bank is often part of the monetization. So having an autonomous central bank is important because an autonomous central bank is going to tell the government no, we’re not going to buy your, your bonds, you’ve got to sell into the private market, or you need to borrow from another lender and international lender, for example. And, you know, we’re not going to be part of this money printing and monetization of the, of the deficit. So yeah, that’s incredibly important. And there’s evidence to that this autonomy, or this independence of the central bank, that is correlated with better inflation outcomes. And I mean, that’s, that’s across the whole spectrum of, of inflationary outcomes, right? So it’s going to help you prevent hyperinflation. And even if you’re a country with lower levels of inflation, you don’t have hyperinflations, such as Australia, New Zealand, Britain, US, etc. Having a more independent central bank, you’re going to get better inflation outcomes there. And I think there’s evidence by from Alberto Alesina, that’s a commonly cited study from the late 80s. I’ll put a link about that in the show notes. Okay. Now, this was called the Fuji shock. Is that right?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  28:11

Yes. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. The combat. hyperinflation. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  28:18

And so what was it? It was a, like they cut the they, cut the deficit, where the harsh fiscal measures. And this is, this is where it gets really bad. This is why you don’t you want to avoid getting into a hyperinflationary situation in the first place. Because the medicine is harsh. It’s harsh medicine, isn’t it? I mean, really, because you’ve got to just cut that deficit. You can’t monetize it, you’ve got to, you’ve got to either raise the taxes domestically, or you’ve got to borrow domestically. But what if people don’t want to lend to you what if your own citizens don’t want to lend to you or they don’t have the capacity to lend enough money to you then then you might have to go to an international lender, or you might have to borrow from overseas and what we find I think, in stopping a lot of these hyperinflations it’s a it’s a combination of this fiscal austerity or getting your budget under control, not monetizing your deficits are getting better monetary policy and independent central bank, but also often it’s getting a loan getting some foreign investment or getting a borrowing from overseas to to help stabilise your exchange rate, for example, that can be part of the solution.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  29:41

To facilitate internationally in foreign investment.

Gene Tunny  29:45

Yeah, because there was a paper that you found where you pulled out inflation and the cost of stabilisation, historical and recent experiences and policy lessons by Andre Solimano. World bank research observer in July 1990. And, and in that paper, the author writes that the experiences of stopping hyperinflation provide examples of both rapid disinflation achieved through restrictive monetary and fiscal policies. Yep. So getting your money supply under control by not monetizing deficits, getting your fiscal policy under control. And then he goes on to say, and the key role played by stabilisation of the exchange rate in successful stabilisation. So you need to get your exchange rate stabilised so that you’re not getting inflation through the exchange rate. So if your exchange rate is deteriorating, and then the cost of imports is rising, that’s contributing to inflation, so you need to get that under control. Last but not least, the history of economic stabilisation has amply shown that the availability of adequate foreign financing as a support to the stabilisation effort is a crucial ingredient in the success of stabilisation plan. So I thought that was really fascinating on and that’s an important finding, right? So it just goes to show what you need to get in place to correct a hyperinflation if it if it occurs if you’re in that unhappy situation. Right. And it looks like Peru ended up getting some it ended up borrowing from overseas as part of that if I if I recall, there was a or the IMF ended up guaranteeing loan funding for Peru according to the Wikipedia entry on Fujimori. Fujimori, is it? Yeah, I’ll put it. I’ll put a link in the show notes. And what’s fascinating about him. So he’s, he has Japanese ancestry, and he became President of Peru. But he’s a controversial figure in the end, wasn’t he? There’s a story there’s

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  31:54

a story about the birth certificate. Well, because in order to be a Peruvian President, you need to be born in Peru. But apparently he will. He was born in Japan, but something strange okay with her with his birth certificate. Yep.

Gene Tunny  32:15

Right. Yes. I mean, he got they seem to have got it under control. But I should know that he was accused of corruption wasn’t a Oh, yes, yes. Yeah,

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  32:28

there is. He’s considered one of the wards, precedent or corrupted precedent in the world. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  32:38

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

Female speaker  32:43

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with adept economics. We offer you Frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  33:13

Now back to the show. So I think we’ve talked a bit about how you stop hyperinflation. It’s, it’s harsh medicine, it’s austerity, and that’s going to deliver pain, getting your monetary policy under control. And also stabilising your exchange rate, possibly through some foreign borrowing. Okay. The other example I wanted to talk about was, was Zimbabwe, because that’s an example of D monetization, isn’t it? So one of the one of the points that you made I remember when we were preparing for this conversation is that one thing you see in Hyperinflation is that people start avoiding the currency don’t they try not to use the currency, they might switch to US dollars, for example, if they’re available, they don’t want to use the local currency. or, in extreme cases, they might even use us commodities as as items at those units of account. So this is this this bizarre story. This is from the Economist magazine, I’ll put a link to it in the show notes and this was from earlier this year, and so may 14 2022. And the headline was wire Zimbabwe and firm offers pensions denominated in cows, okay. And there’s this this actuary, Mr. Chimp, Chairman, Norway, and an actuary trained in Britain started a company, the hacker life insurance, so apologies of mangled those pronunciations instead Out of this company to sell inflation proof pensions to Zimbabweans. The Pensions are not denominated in Zimbabwe dollars, since they quickly evaporate nor in American dollars since many Zimbabweans are struggling to obtain any. Instead, they are denominated in cows, which the government can’t print. This is what I love about the economist. I love these really clever, witty, witty lines in there. That’s great, isn’t it? So say there’s typically wage earners such as teachers, they chip in cash, which NACA immediately turns into cattle. So he, okay, the the assets grow by breeding, when a policy matures, clients can demand payment in cows or the cash equivalent, right? So, look, this is a sort of quirky thing that happens when you’ve got this really disruptive hyperinflation, you see people ordering multiple beers at the bar to avoid having to pay higher prices later. And you see things like this where you’ve got contracts denominated in capital. So it’s just an extraordinarily disruptive economic phenomenon that you really need to avoid, if you can, well, it can end up being incredibly costly to get under control, but you need to do it or otherwise you just end up with? Well, societal breakdown. Really. I mean, Hyperinflation is not something that that you can you can live with, you’ve got to get it under control. Okay. So there are a few other papers I just wanted or a few other studies I wanted to mention, before we wrap up, because I think they help illustrate what sort of economies end up in, in hyperinflation. And, you know, what are those characteristics? And why? When we consider that we start thinking, Well, okay, we’re probably not there yet. It’s not yet a concern for countries like Australia, or the US, or the UK. I mean, we’ve got, we certainly have issues in our countries, but it’s, we’re nowhere near the situation where you could end up in some sort of hyperinflation, you need to have some sort of massive political turmoil, a government that just loses control of things and starts turning on the printing press to finance this deficit. So if we think about mid 80s, Bolivia, this is an example that Dorn bush and Fisher Fisher given their textbook, they had a budget deficit of 26.5% of GDP in 1984 10.8%, and 85. And inflation in those years was 1,282%, and 11,750%, in 84, and 85. So you’ve got very large deficits, like crazily high deficits, and then there’s money growth associated with that, because you’re financing it by the printing press. And you end up with the high inflation, too much money chasing too few goods. Right? Oh, they do give an example of how the sharp cut in the deficit, the fiscal austerity can stop the hyperinflation, but at a high costs, so Dornbusch and Fischer go on, they talk about how, as a result of austerity, and and poor export prices, again, in economics is multiple factors at any one time, you can you can’t run control experiments. If you listen to the show regularly, you’re aware of that Bolivian per capita income in 1992 was 30%, less than it had been 10 years earlier. So they really suffered, again, the lesson is avoid hyperinflation in the first place. have made sure you don’t have that societal disruption and, and you avoid the political turmoil that could lead to a government that, you know, enacts policies that are well, not good and need to be financed with, with money printing, right? So yeah. Okay, so there was a study that was done by the IMF. It’s an IMF working paper from 2018, the modern hyperinflation cycles and new empirical regularities. And I thought this was an interesting study, they looked at multiple countries, they had a data set 62 variables, 496 countries over 57 years, they were looking at what are the characteristics of countries that ended up having hyperinflation, and the three big ones were depressed economic freedoms, deteriorated socio economic conditions and rule of law as well as high levels of debt. aesthetic conflict tivity and government instability. Okay. So it’s when you’ve got lots of political turmoil really and, and that’s why it’s, it’s more common or it has been more common in the last well over the last 50 years or so in either Latin American countries, or in some sub Saharan African countries where there’s just been more political strife for various reasons, whereas countries that have been more fortunate countries where there’s there’s been more established democratic norms, and we haven’t had populist governments generally that on either side, I mean, I guess there have been some But largely, we’ve avoided the the extremes in particularly in Australia. And I suppose in US and UK. What’s that? What that has meant is that we haven’t ended up in a situation where we’d have to worry about hyperinflation. But again, something to be conscious of, we want to guard against it, we want to make sure we know the lessons of history and know the lessons of economics. Right. Finally, I’ll also link to a paper by Well, it’s a note on Kagan’s model of hyperinflation. It’s a note by Chris Edmund, who’s a Queenslander who I went to UQ with really bright guy ended up getting a Fulbright scholarship studied at UCLA then worked at the NYU Stern School of Business, he wrote a paper while he was at stern Kagan’s model of hyperinflation, and he talks about the conditions under which you end up with a hyperinflation. So he goes into the maths behind inflation. And its relationship with the amount of money that that people in the economy want to hold. So it’s very technical paper. But a good one, it’s worth reading, if you can, if you can get through the all of the math there, I’d recommend it. And what he, what he concludes is that one of the important messages that economists take away from Kagan’s paper, so this is the famous paper which introduced the concept of hyperinflation, or defined it in the 50s. Or maybe it was early 60s, I’ll link to it in the show notes. One of the important messages that economists take away from Kagan’s paper is the need one for fiscal discipline, and or an independent central bank to prevent monetize deficits that can allow a hyperinflation to get started, and to the need for individuals inflation expectations to be anchored, and thereby relative Lee unlikely to lead to a momentum driven inflation breakout. Okay, so what Chris is driving out here is that when things get really bad, and no one wants to hold the local currency, no one trust the government, the government just keeps printing more and more currency to try to buy the goods and services it needs. And that leads to more and more inflation. And that leads to higher expectations of inflation. And you just end up with this vicious circle, that just reinforces itself, things get out of control, it gets explosive. Okay, so that’s what he’s driving out there. And then he concludes, of course, part of the trick to anchoring inflation expectations is for government policy to be credibly anti inflation, right. So and this is often why you need a change of regime, you need a new government that comes in a new broom sweeps clean, big shock, Fuji shock, for example, in Japan, it’s tough medicine, but sometimes it has to be done to get hyperinflation. Well to to get rid of it to reduce that inflation over over the coming years. And, look, there’s a bit of a debate in economics. I don’t think we’ll have time to cover it today. But it’s about how quickly you can stop these hyperinflations. And there was a famous paper by Thomas Sargent the end, the end of for big inflation’s, or the ends of for big inflation’s, I think it is Yep. And he argues that you can actually stop these hyperinflations relatively quickly. So it’s not it doesn’t have to be a drawn out process over over several years, where you’re losing all this GDP, you can stop it quickly, if you do have a very sharp and credible change in the policy regime. So there must be an abrupt change in the continuing government policy or strategy for setting deficits now and in the future that is sufficiently binding us to be widely believed. And this is related to his rational expectations theory. So if people believe that the There’s a new credible policy, then there are expectations of future inflation can drop massively, very quickly. And that therefore, that means inflation itself drops very quickly. And you save yourself a lot of pain by having to have a slower economy and higher unemployment for several years to get rid of it. Okay. Anything else? Arturo I know, we might have to wrap up soon.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  45:28

I think the these topical Hyperinflation is very complex. But you have provided a good summary. I think my final message is any government around the world must be aware of that it’s important to monitor inflation to target the inflation because that putting these this or that potential economic event would bring a lot of suffer, especially for poor people. Absolutely.

Gene Tunny  46:10

Okay. Tara, it’s been great chatting with you about hyperinflation. So thanks so much for your time.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  46:17

Thank you, Jim. Thank you for having me.

Gene Tunny  46:21

Okay, I hope you found the conversation about hyperinflation interesting and useful. As with many of the episodes I record, I feel I could explore this topic a lot more, and I hope to come back to it in the future, it may be useful to do a deep dive on some specific instances of hyperinflation, possibly the 1920s, German hyperinflation or more recent hyperinflations in Venezuela or Zimbabwe. I’d like to delve into exactly what went wrong in the first place. How did these countries end up with big government budget deficits that needed to be monetized in the first place? Please let me know if there’s a specific hyperinflation that you’d like to learn more about, and I’ll see what I can do. I should note that one point I think I could have covered better in this episode relates to D monetization. One way a hyperinflation can end is if the government abandons the currency and replaces it with a currency that people trust such as the US dollar. When this occurs, not only is there D monetization that is declaring that a currency is no longer legal tender, but there is so called dollarization as well. This happened in Zimbabwe in 2009. Eventually, the Zimbabwe government tried to reintroduce a new local currency in 2018 19. And hyperinflation started again. Governments of course, would prefer to have their own currency as it means they can partly finance themselves via the printing press A found a good article on what happened in Zimbabwe on the conversation website, and I’ll put a link to it in the show notes so you can check that out. One other issue I would have liked to have covered in this conversation is whether hyperinflation affected economies could abandon their currencies and adopt a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. There was an intriguing Forbes article in July titled Bitcoin could solve Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation problem. I’ll link to it in the show notes. If you’re a regular listener, you’ll know that I’m sceptical about the potential for cryptocurrencies to replace traditional currencies, particularly given the huge degrees of volatility in their values. But I will acknowledge that crypto advocates are right about the potential for fiat currencies to be debauched. Hyperinflation is the outcome of the most extreme divorcement of currencies. As always, I’m trying to be open minded and plan to come back to cryptocurrency and other crypto assets such as non fungible tokens in a future episode. I’m also keen to have a closer look at the concept of smart contracts which are enabled by Aetherium. Right, I better finish up now. I’d love it. If you could join me again next week for some more explorations in economics. Ciao. 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 writing on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact at economics explore.com And we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Till next week, goodbye.

Credits

Thanks to Josh Crotts for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au

Please consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

Bitcoin & books w/ author & ex-fighter pilot Lars Emmerich – EP157

Author and ex-fighter pilot Lars Emmerich explains why he’s so excited about the future of Bitcoin. And you’ll hear how he responds to the criticism that Bitcoin mining wastes a lot of  energy. Lars also tells show host Gene Tunny about his experience as an author operating in a disrupted book industry. Lars explains how the internet can give authors a better deal than traditional book royalties, and he tells us about the importance of Facebook Ads for acquiring new readers.   

Notes:

a) This episode was recorded on Tuesday 13 September 2022, two days before the Ethereum Merge with Lars and Gene discuss in this episode.

b) This episode contains general information only and nothing in this episode should be taken as financial or investment advice. Please see a professional financial adviser regarding investment decision making specific to your needs. 

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google Podcasts, Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher.

About this episode’s guest: Lars Emmerich

Lars Emmerich is a retired fighter pilot, entrepreneur, investor, and musician. He writes about good guys with a bad streak and bad guys with a few redeeming qualities.

He is the author of the million-selling Sam Jameson series. He lives in Colorado with his family and his neuroses. He’s either hard at work on the next novel in the series, or he’s procrastinating. Usually the latter.

Stop by Lars Emmerich Books to pick up a free digital copy of The Incident: Inferno Rising, the first installment in the Sam Jameson series.

Check out Lars’s author page on Amazon

Links relevant to the conversation

The controversy over Tim Ferriss’s deal with Amazon Publishing for the 4-Hour Chef: Timothy Ferriss’ ‘The 4-Hour Chef’ stirs up trouble

What is hash power and why would anyone buy it?

Financial Times article – The Merge: a blockchain revolution or just more hype? (pay-walled)

Book on Bitcoin recommended by Lars: The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking

Transcript: Bitcoin & books w/ author & ex-fighter pilot Lars Emmerich – EP157

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  00:00

Coming up on economics explored.

Lars Emmerich  00:01

The bull case for Bitcoin is that at some moment in the future, we will have given the world the last dollar the world cares to have, cares the hold…

Gene Tunny  00:18

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 157 on books and Bitcoin. My guest is Lars Emmerich, a popular author and investor in Bitcoin. His bio on his Amazon page reads, Lars Emmerich is a retired fighter pilot, entrepreneur, investor, and musician. He writes about good guys with a bad streak, and bad guys with a few redeeming qualities. Is the author of the million selling Sam Jamison series. He lives in Colorado with his family and his neuroses. In this episode, you’ll hear from Lars and why he’s such a supporter of Bitcoin. You’ll hear how he responds to the criticism that Bitcoin mining wastes a lot of energy. Lars provides some great information and makes some thought provoking points. Nothing in this episode should be interpreted as financial or investment advice specific to you. Obviously, you’d want to think about whether it makes sense for you to invest in something so risky and so difficult to value. Do you believe the story that Bitcoin enthusiasts tell about it potentially becoming a global reserve currency? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch, either by email or voice message. You’ll find my contact details in the show notes along with relevant info and links. Right oh, now for my conversation with Lars Emmerich. About online book publishing in Bitcoin. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Lars Emmerich, welcome to the programme.

Lars Emmerich  02:04

Thank you, Gene. Pleasure to be here.

Gene Tunny  02:06

Yes, good to be chatting with you, Lars, I’m keen to speak about a couple of things, at least that your you’ve been involved in. So you’re successful author, so I’m keen to chat with you about your experience in the book industry, because that’s an industry that’s been disrupted substantially over the last few decades because of the internet. So I’m interested in how you thrive in that industry. And also, I’m keen to get your thoughts on crypto and Bitcoin and, and other cryptos to the extent that you’ve been involved in them, because that’s, that’s a sector in which a lot is happening. And there’s been a lot of big news lately. So be keen to keen to chat with you about those things. So, to begin with, could you tell us a bit about your experience as an author, please Lars.

Lars Emmerich  02:56

I think I formed the idea of becoming an author when I read my first Tom Clancy novel, back when I was probably 20 Years Old. I was just fascinated by the way these seemingly mundane and separate storylines, wove themselves together into this amazing, multifaceted story. And fortunately, I had nothing to say at 20 or 23. So I was off doing other things, flying fighters for 20 years and, and learning about life. And I came back to it at a time when I was spending most of my days in airports and hotel rooms. And so I wanted something productive to do with my, quote unquote, free time. And I just started writing, I had writing professionally. Not as a novelist, but for business purposes. And I, I think I was writing a piece on a particular bit of sewage processing equipment. And I had one of those, what in the world am I doing with my life moments, and I decided if I was going to write words, I was going to write my own stories. And I dove in and really enjoyed it. And I quickly discovered that the publishing landscape was definitely in the process of being disrupted by at the time, nearly Amazon but Barnes and Noble and a couple of other retailers had a significant online presence as well. And I never, I never had it in my mind to pursue a traditional publishing deal, because it just didn’t seem like a good deal. The royalty percentage, the effort was the same. You were very much beholden to the degree of interest your publisher took in your work or didn’t take in your work. And generally speaking, if your author career is to go anyplace, you’re going to be the one pushing, you’re going to be the one doing the work. And so if that’s the case, I would much rather be on the 94% and of the revenue stream than on the 6% end of revenue stream, as it were,

Gene Tunny  05:08

Sorry, what do you mean exactly by that exactly Lars. Sorry just so I understand that you’d rather be on the 94%, than the 6%, oh, you get 94% of it rather than just 6%.

Lars Emmerich  05:19

That’s an a normal publishing deal like a traditional publishing deal, author royalties, and this changes per deal, for sure. But at the time I was making this decision, the number in my head that I had researched was about 7% of the book, royalties would find their way in your pocket, at some, some moment, well beyond when the books were sold, and the tallies were conducted. And all of the rights subtractions were, taken from your royalties. And the way that I had approached it originally was just to publish directly via the online retailers. I realised quickly that this was just a slight adjustment to the existing agreement, they paid you a bit more, but you’re still pretty much at their whim. And it was still up to you. And so I believe in 2018, I decided to sell directly to readers. And so while my books remain available on Amazon, they’re also mainly sold directly to readers, readers just buy directly from my website. That’s where the 94% revenue comes in. There are some there, there are some realities associated with credit card processing, and a few other services that are mandatory, that take it take their cut, but by and large, the, the gross revenues are yours. Now against that is the advertising costs, that’s required to make any business enterprise go. And that becomes that can become, it’s extremely time consuming. And it also consumes a huge portion of the revenue. So the margins in business are no better than they really ever have been. For most authors. But the landscape as you as you’ve alluded to, has definitely changed.

Gene Tunny  07:17

Yeah. Look, there are a few things I want to follow up on. And this is, it’s so fascinating stuff with advertising. What’s the best channel for you? Or for authors? In generally, I’ll just say anything about that? Is it Facebook? Is it is it is a Google ads, do you have any thoughts on that?

Lars Emmerich  07:38

I do, absolutely. I’ve tested, if there’s a place you can advertise and sell books are most likely tested. And far and away the most profitable, has been historically Facebook ads. And this is changing now. Because the way that Facebook worked, relied on very granular user preference data, Facebook was able to see a good bit of what you bought as a consumer. And so it could, it could understand Facebook could with a good bit of detail which authors a person liked to read. And you could and we’re talking about the big luminaries in each genre, the big names, the biggest names in the genres. And if your books were similar to those other authors’ books, you could reach fans of the big names in your genre, via the data that Facebook had on the number of people and who they were who really enjoyed these authors. Now, last year, at some point, Apple said, Facebook, you’re very welcome for all the data you’ve been getting for free and building this billion dollar business on top of, however, we’re building our own advertising platform, and we’re, we’re cutting you off. We’re producing data that you’re that you’re able to use and profit from. And when this happened, we’ve lost a lot of the detail that we used to have about we can tell generally who likes to read, it’s much more difficult to tell what those people like to read. And so that has, that’s the first thing that has changed the profitability of Facebook, it’s still profitable, not not as much as it used to be. The second thing is that it is an auction market for advertising. And all of the excess profit margin in any industry accrues to the advertising, the advertising platform, because I’m always competing with the next person who’s trying to get attention to sell books, and I compete all the way up until I have just squeezed the last bit of margin out of my business and I either quit, or I took another take another channel and all of that excess profit, all of that excess margin accrues to Facebook and to Google. And there was some interesting report where 40% of all venture capital investment went to Facebook ads.

Gene Tunny 10:21

I’ll have to look that up. Yeah, I believe it. Yeah.

Lars Emmerich  10:24

You know, don’t take that number to the bank. It’s an interesting, you know, it’s an interesting, it’s an interesting concept. And, and certainly, having been deeply involved in Facebook advertising and Google ads and other mechanisms, I can see that it does not sound false to me.

Gene Tunny  10:42

Yeah, it’s that point about, the, the the auction mechanism, that’s one that Seth Godin has made, and how that means a lot of the money ends up with Google or Facebook. So I think that’s a very good point. Just on. So you mentioned Tom Clancy. So this is the Jack Ryan series of novels, is it? Is it clear and present danger and Patriot Games and Hunt for Red? October is that’s what’s inspired you, is it? And then how did, what is your series of books about you write thrillers in that? Well, I mean, I’m not necessarily saying you’re trying to emulate Tom Clancy, but you write thrillers you’re trying to write in that sort of genre, so to speak.

Lars Emmerich  11:25

Yeah. Alright. So I spent a long time in the national security business. And I don’t write directly about those for various reasons. But I write peripherally about them. And they, I basically write edgy spy novels. And so Clancy was this intersection of espionage and statecraft and whatnot. It’s interesting that it’s interesting thinking about Tom Clancy now, because several years ago, I went back and I started rereading one of the novels, the cardinal of the Kremlin, and I got about 60 pages in. And it struck me that it was going so slowly. The pace of the narration was so slow, I couldn’t finish it, I stopped, I put it down. And I think our standards for what makes the story interesting have definitely changed, there needs to be much more movement, and much more. It needs to be much twister and turnier then some of those old masters. Another one along those lines is another one along those lines is the Bourne series. Yeah, they’re amazing movies, the books not so much. But they’re classics. And at the time, they were revolutionary, but our taste for story has changed, the pace at which we consume concepts has changed, we’re smarter. Generally, we have access to so much more information. So there’s less description required for any particular scenario, that’s another interesting phenomenon that my inspiration was now so slow as to be unreadable for me. But interesting, how that’s changed your I suppose what’s now been 30 years.

Gene Tunny  13:21

Yeah, but could you tell me, could you tell me about the series that you’ve developed? You’ve got a central character, haven’t you? You’ve got a central, you’ve got someone in sort of an arc or whatever you call it. Can you tell us about that process?

Lars Emmerich  13:35

Yeah, the Sam Jameson series. And by the way, these are the best deal I have at any given time available at Lars.buzz, if this is of interest to anybody, large.buzz is a great spot to go get the best, the best deal currently. But the SamJameson series is centred around a female protagonist, Samantha Jameson. And her, her stint in the series begins as she’s a counter espionage agent for Homeland, some made up office in a, in a real bureaucracy. And I did that to avoid the inevitable letters about oh, no such and such reports directly to so and so in the real world wanted to avoid all of that by creating a fake office inside of the Department of Homeland Security. And I have a lot of fun exploring all sorts of different kinds of themes that relate to the relationship of the individual to the state, the big macro kind of way and that leads us directly into the cryptocurrency discussion that I think is around the corner. The other thing that is really interesting is how do you discover what’s true in a business where everybody is lying. Yeah, everybody is deceiving somebody in some way. Many people are deceiving everybody in some way. How do you find what is true? Not I don’t mean like metaphysically true. I mean fact, how do you discover what’s factual and act on it? And that’s a really interesting set of really, interesting set of situations.

Gene Tunny  15:27

Yeah, well, I mean, in real life, there was the concern in the 60s and 70s that there was a high level mole in think it was in British intelligence or even in US intelligence and the counter counter espionage people I think was a James Jesus Hangleton in the US and yes, yeah, but he was just obsessed with finding that mole whether or not they existed and, and John, the John le Carre, in Smiley’s People and tinker Tailor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I think it was I mean, he’s very good at just explain, just telling that story about how difficult it is to figure out what’s going on. And you don’t know who you can trust. I love those. Those novels. Right. Okay, so yeah, I’ll put links to your, to your books to the Sam Jameson series. So, so yeah, that sounds that sounds great. Just on the book publishing can ask you’ve, you’re selling direct. And you’re also selling via Kindle. Is that right? On the Amazon store?

Lars Emmerich  16:29

I am. Yep. So I’m always testing, testing, right? What’s the, what’s the best way to get books to readers that have a value that they are pricing in a way that meets their value expectations, but also allows allows us to run a profitable business? That’s a constant evolution as big landscape changes, and it changes quite quickly.

Gene Tunny  16:54

Yeah, and the best deal for you is obviously if they buy on your website, because is it the case that Amazon takes a substantial cut on Kindle,

Lars Emmerich  17:04

Your royalties are either 70% or 65%, depending on the way it is set up. 70% is a terrific royalty rate, it represented a 10x improvement in the deal that authors generally otherwise got. And, and so they, they disrupted the industry in a way that, that really allowed a lot of very talented folks to find an audience who otherwise would not have done. But there’s a level of bureaucracy that comes with having to curate a library, that’s, I don’t know, 20 million volumes old and are large. And they’re not always well behaved, about how they do that. So within, you know, within the Amazon community, there’s a lot of unrest on the part of authors regarding the way that we’re treated. And, you know, we’re, there’s always some dissatisfaction about how royalties you calculated, or discoverability on the platform, or the way that your rankings are calculated, which influences your discoverability on the platform. And these things are always in flux. And you occasionally come to realise that Amazon, they’re actually serving their shareholders, which is the way that American businesses constructed, but you’re not a shareholder, you’re a supplier. And they’re overtly and aggressively looking to replace and vertically integrate suppliers. So the price pressure, and a bunch of other aspects of the way the book business has developed under Amazon’s auspices, it’s not appreciably better for many authors than it was under the old system, in spite of a better route.

Gene Tunny  18:55

By the vertical integration, what do you mean, exactly? Do you mean they’re trying to get them have people as dedicated Amazon authors, I’m just trying to understand what your what you mean by that, 

Lars Emmerich  19:08

Their business model as as they in order by being the marketplace, you have a terrific understanding of what where margin exists in the marketplace. And when you find that, you can just either use your own manufacturing techniques and technologies to replace the merchants so that you don’t have to pay them. You don’t have to pay them a cut you. You are the merchant as Amazon, and they’re doing this in a lot of other industries. And they’re, they’re definitely looking at looking into it in, in the book business as well. And there are some interesting projects underway related to artificial intelligence, writing stories and and whatnot. We’re not there yet. Wow. But as a position as a position. They’re interested in paying suppliers less and less and less and having fewer and fewer and fewer suppliers to have to pay. There are reading that writing on the wall, you have to make your own way. You can’t, you can’t rely on it for your, you know, for your meals.

Gene Tunny  20:08

Okay. Yeah, I’ll have to look more into that. I remember, I think it was Tim Ferriss got into trouble. Well, he had an issue, maybe 10 years ago or so with his Four Hour Chef book that he was developing. I think he developed it for Amazon. And it was going to be sold through Amazon and then some of the traditional booksellers, I think Barnes and Noble, were unhappy with him about that. I have to look up the details and put it in the show notes. Fascinating developments. It looks like yeah, this is the, this is the wider guide and the extent that you can do it yourself. And the technology’s there, and why not? And I know that there was a lady who wrote 50 Shades of Grey, who think she started off as a self published and just selling it, using the platforms that are available to sell it rather than having a traditional book and is able to say whether that you’ve you’ve been, have you been approached by anyone in the film industry? Has your work been optioned at all?

Lars Emmerich  21:08

No, not at the moment. We’re not under option for anything. You hear rumblings and such.

Gene Tunny  21:15

Oh, yeah, I was just gonna say it sounds like you’ve got a good concept and, and, you know, people that people are looking for new content to develop and that I think that Jack Ryan series on Amazon Prime was popular. I think that’s, that’s a good example of how everything’s sped up, right? Because the new Jack Ryan is much more he’s much younger, he’s much more, there’s much more action than in the traditional Harrison Ford films. Okay. So I might ask you about crypto now, Lars, you were talking about how one of the themes you explore is the relationship of the individual to the state. Now, it’d be good to unpack that exactly what you, you mean by that? And how then that influences your views on? Well say traditional money, fiat money? And, and crypto like how, why did? Why does that lead you to be a supporter of crypto? Could you tell us a bit about that, please?

Lars Emmerich  22:13

Sure, I noticed that the money that I was saving was worth less and less over time, I became aware at some moment that there was an inflation target. Not more than but also not less than. And I think when you print more and more of anything, the sum the total, individual dollars that you print each become less valuable over time. So it struck me as weird that you couldn’t just hold your money, because it would lose its value by virtue of just being held. And that was, I mean, it’s part of the it’s part of culture, it’s part of just the socio economic background, the water that we’re swimming in, we all take it as a given, you must invest your money, otherwise it would disappear. And I started wondering, gosh, who does it really serve? process. And it turns out, I think that a fiat system, it has a lot to recommend. There’s a there, there’s a lot in terms of being able to organise and focus, human effort and energy in a particular direction, you can do that very, very quickly. With a loan. Those dollars don’t generally exist before you go take out a business loan to open a gas station or whatever. It’s a very quick way, at the point of need to deploy capital. I think it exists mainly to ensure that the authority that issues that remains the authority remains viable remains in charge. And they, the agreement is, hey, we’re the state we have the monopoly on violence. And we decree that all transactions will occur in our currency will control the supply of that currency. And that’s for your own benefit. You know, when times are tough, we’ll be there to help. When it gets a little too crazy. We’ll be there to ease back, right. Inherent in that is that we have both the wisdom and the judgement to do that effectively. And I think that’s the great weakness of the fiat currency system is that the temptation is, is overwhelming to irresponsibly print. And, and I think, where you get into trouble and when it seems to happen, it seems to happen with a very large percentage of fiat currencies. Something will happen where the state feels the need to have it really amounts to an abuse of this agreement, like the estate says, Here’s the money, your job is to pretend it’s valuable. And we’ll control the supplies such that we don’t flaunt your trust. It’ll, you know, we won’t just flood the world with so many of these things that you’re pretending it has value, these little green pieces of paper are these numbers in a spreadsheet, you’re, you’re pretending that they’re valuable. It’s sort of relies on the state’s good behaviour. But something inevitably comes up, somebody wants to start a war, how do you get it? How do you start a war? Well, you don’t save a trillion dollars, and then go buy a war, you start a war, and print your way to the hardware and payroll that you need to execute this war. So that’s one way that it’s, it’s sort of abused. In other ways, when you’re looking to be reelected, or you’re looking to quell any kind of an uprising, you can very easily pander and purchase the loyalty that you need, with printed money that occurs at like an accelerating pace over time, either to the point where people recognise that whatever was supposed to have been backing the currency, for example, gold, there’s no longer any real relationship between some quantity of currency and a different quantity of gold. That’s supposedly back into currency. That’s the first way that people lose confidence in a currency. And I think a second way is when the rate of inflation is visibly painful. It’s personally painful. It’s causing hardship in a way that it wasn’t before. It’s just under the radar until it is until you’re thinking my gosh, I’m having trouble affording my food and my energy costs. And that’s the second major way I think that people on mass, lose confidence in occurrence. Yeah, ultimately, that’s what it is. It’s an agreement, we’re all going to agree to pretend this is valuable, until pretending it is so far farcical that we have to start doing it. And then the currency collapses.

Gene Tunny  27:16

Yeah. So I think what you’re describing when you’re talking about, oh, well, we want a war or we want to, you know, we’ve got a reelection election coming up, then we’ll just spend up big and we’ll just turn on the printing press to fund that. I think that’s something that’s been, you know, that’s occurred in some Latin American countries or some kleptocratic African states in the past. And you’ve seen the results of that. We mean, I was just looking the other day, at the inflation rate in Peru in the early 90s. That got up to I think it was 10,000% over the year, or something like that, just absolutely insane. And, and you’ve seen that in some other Latin American countries in the past, I guess, in the US and Australia and Britain, we, we haven’t had inflation that bad, thankfully. And we’ve we’ve managed, we haven’t we typically haven’t financed, or we’ve been careful with how we have finance budget deficits, where we can we do try to borrow from the bond market, so that it’s not as if we are turning on the printing press to to fund that. But one of the big changes in the last well, since the financial crisis, and this is something that economists are still debating and something that, you know, I personally, I used to work in the treasury here in Australia. And you know, it’s something that has started to concern me is just this now that quantitative easing, or this large scale purchase of assets with newly created money by the Central Bank, that’s something that, I don’t know, 20 or 30 years ago, we thought we would never do that. I mean, that’s sort of, yeah, that’s really, that that unconventional monetary policy is that’s, that’s a bit out there. We wouldn’t go there. But now it seems to be part of the standard, macro economic playbook. And I think we’ll be debating that for the wisdom of that for decades to come. So yeah, I think I think you do make some some good points there. Lars. And so is this what has led you into being a crypto investor? Could you tell us a bit about that, please?

Lars Emmerich  29:28

Yeah, I like the idea. I think it’s important here to make a distinction. Cryptocurrency is has become a fairly broad term. I view it this way. There’s, there’s Bitcoin and there’s everything else. And the distinction there is the degree of decentralisation which makes Fiat type printing extremely difficult to do with Bitcoin. And exceptionally easy to do with the other projects, which amount to very centralised. They’re basically unregulated unregistered securities. They’re, they’re a project run by founders, in the best cases, the feathers of CEO and a CEO and a board of directors not vetted to the same extent that you would find on a stock exchange, for example. In the best cases, you’re, you’re investing in a legitimate business. And the worst case is you’re investing in vaporware. And you have a rogue pool in your, in your future, where and how Bitcoin differs is that the supply is algorithmically controlled, which means nothing if one person can change the algorithm, but spread around the globe are something on the order, somewhere between depending on whose numbers you believe 15,000 and 100,000, individual verifiers if you will have every transaction. So if you suddenly want to change the rules, you can do so if and when you convince 51% of everybody globally, involved in the project, that it’s a good idea to devalue the currency. So from a practical standpoint, it’s it’s not likely to happen. And what this ensures is scarce. And so it’s it’s very, it’s unlikely that there will be runaway inflation, or even inflation of any sort that’s beyond the programme to mount that. That exists in Bitcoin as the minting and mining that the total number of planned coins, which is 21 million. So that’s the part one, it’s scarce, nobody can abuse, no individual, no small group of people, no even large group of people are likely to be able to abuse your trust in the currency. On the first hand, on a second hand, there’s no third party risk. Meaning when I put my money in a bank, that’s a building full of people doing things. And they’re in between every transaction that occurs, I give them money that I have, they dole it out to whoever I say, I want them to pay it to, they’re the trusted third party that makes the whole thing go. And trust like that can and is abused. And it’s most obvious and most prevalent in the cases where nations undertake capital controls where suddenly the money that was in your account is not. The state took it, okay, it’s part of living here, sorry, times are rough, we’re taking your money, or we’re going to ensure that you can’t, you can exchange your money and take it out of country. Bitcoin allows you to move millions of dollars all across the globe, inside of 10 to 15 minutes for fees under 10 bucks. So the degree of participation available now, economic participation is much higher than it was before when there was a third party gate gatekeeper standing between you and whoever you were trying to pay or receive money from. So this, is this has just dissolved economic borders. And it has a huge impact for things like remittances. But it also has a huge impact. For things like personal sovereignty. We’re less beholden to the good behaviour of the state in order to earn a livelihood in order to provide for your family. If things become politically untenable, where you live, you have the you have a real option by memorising your private key to carry all of your wealth with you out the door with nothing in your pockets. So the degree of personal sovereignty and individual liberty that comes from having this a construct like that. It’s quite important in many, many parts of the world. And I think those two things scarcity and this global transaction capability, they’re going to prove to be quite transformational.

Gene Tunny  34:39

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

Female speaker  34:44

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with adept economics. We offer you Frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia. But we work all over the world, you can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  35:13

Now back to the show. With that private key this is your password to your, your wallet, is it? Is that what you’re talking about? And is that just that’s a string of characters? Is it? Is it something that you can memorise it, because I know that some people have lost that in the past, and then they’ve lost their, their access to Bitcoin that would be worth, you know, large amounts of money. So you got to make sure you keep hold of that.

Lars Emmerich  35:40

Yeah, there ain’t  no free lunch. So if you are responsible, if you think of it as you are your own banker, so you have to learn how to take take care of your private keys. Now you can leave them on an exchange, but now it’s just like leaving it in the bank, you’re trusting the third party? So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a way to get your foot in the door in to the space, but the best practice is to, is to be the custodian of your own private keys, which are like your password to spend the money that is yours.

Gene Tunny  36:13

Gotcha. And can I ask you about the volatility? So you were talking about look, the problem with fiat money is that inflation will erode the value of it. And you’re concerned about our monetary and fiscal authorities and their policies and what that means for, for inflation. I mean, I think we’ve seen that in the time of the pandemic, and then we had the big monetary expansion and then followed by the inflation that probably should have been predicted back then, when they were undertaking those policies. That if we look at what’s happened with Bitcoin, I mean, it’s fallen in value by almost 50%, or something this year, or over the last year. So

Lars Emmerich  36:54

More than that, I would imagine.

Gene Tunny  36:56

Yeah, I mean, crypto is, crypto is quite, it’s volatile, because we’re still trying to figure out what the true value of it is. So how do you how do you deal with that? Is that something you just accept that just comes with, with crypto assets?

Lars Emmerich  37:14

Well, in in the case of in the case of Bitcoin, that relates to sentiment, news cycle, whatever’s in the news, I think it also relates to the fact that the supply is really quite, quite inelastic. So you get wild price swings as sentiment changes, I think the other thing at play is the available availability of investable cash. So I think it has become known at the moment as an inflation hedge and an asset to invest your dollars in, in the hope that you can exchange them for more dollars in the future. I think the bull case for Bitcoin is that at some moment, in the future, we will have given the world the last dollar the world cares to have cares the whole. And I think we because the SWIFT system settles in USD, because for years, we’ve been forced militarily, the petro-dollar concept where whoever buys oil anywhere from anybody pays in US dollars, that has given us carte blanche to print in a way that, you know, small countries, there’s only so many of the units of currency you can print before they spill over. And this spilling over is what we can think of as this as the crisis causing loss of confidence. But that the entire globe is now the reservoir of dollars, everyone is kind of infected with dollars everyone is whether they know it or not. They’re deeply exposed to the US dollar. So what that means is we can print a lot more dollars for a lot longer before the crisis occurs. But when the crisis occurs, because I think these things tend to have this kind of cycle, there’s likely to be some moment where we’ve, we’ve just pushed it too far. And people have finally said, it can’t be worth all this if you’re just printing it at this pace, right? If and when that happens, what I think will be a very strong candidate for the global, global reserve currency is something like Bitcoin is relatively free of politicisation. I mean, all of all the miners were kicked out of China, get out, beat it. And Bitcoin didn’t skip a beat. The network ran, transactions settled. This was an entire block, a huge block of mining entire operations just overnight, decimate and and yet, functionally, and practically. Yes, there were price fluctuation associated Bitcoin to dollar exchange rate that fluctuated, of course, but the way the network function, completely oblivious to this loss of hashing power and this giant political upheaval, I think that will make it very attractive as a reserve currency. So, in the moment, we’re comparing, how many dollars is a Bitcoin worth? And we hope it’s worth more in X number of months or years. I think the long case is this is this has some likelihood of being the reserve currency. So you’re, you’re purchasing today, what will be the money going forward? And so from that standpoint, if your horizon is that length of time, whether it’s a decade or two, or three, who knows? If that’s your horizon, you’re far less concerned about the volatility than if you’re trying to put in a good result, result this quarter. Yeah, my argument is if you want to invest in this space, take the longest view possible. And make your decision based on the longest you don’t, don’t, don’t expect that you’re going to be able to, A predict the right project and B predict the right timeframe, an entry and exit points to get in and out to make a bunch of dollars off of your crypto investment. But that’s, you know, people will make a lot of money, but a lot more people will lose a lot more money.

Gene Tunny  41:20

Yeah. So you talked about a loss of hashing power. So I’ll put a link in the show notes about hashing power. I think I know what you mean. But this relates to the process of, is this the process of solving the puzzles of proving whether a transaction is legitimate or not, broadly speaking?

Lars Emmerich  41:40

Yeah, this is, so it’s the marriage of how Bitcoin is created. And the pace at which it’s created, the way it’s set up is that every 10 minutes or so a new block. And a block is nothing but a list of all the transactions that have occurred in the last 10 minutes, plus the hash. So the cryptic cryptographic code that summarises every prior transaction. And this does two things. The way this hash is determined, you, you can’t calculate it in advance, but it’s trivial to verify it in reverse. The way the math works, it’s, you couldn’t with massive amounts of computing power, you couldn’t trick the system and guess faster than everyone else. So the way mining works, is that these processors, they’re guessing millions of times a second, the hash, and the world is literally guessing what string of characters will solve this hash of the summary of the last 10 minutes worth of transactions plus the hash that represents cryptographically, every other transaction that’s ever happened. And so because it’s trivial to verify, its takes no, almost no computation power whatsoever to verify that the right hash has been found. But it’s very, very difficult to guess it, you have to roll a 36 sided dice correctly, 100 times in a row, that’s what mining is. Now, that’s when your computer or your mining pool guesses correctly, you get rewarded with some number of Bitcoins. That’s the incentive for mining. But what mining represents, is when you, you take the list of transactions and package them together and create a hash function out of them. What you’re saying is if anybody tries to go back and change any one of these transactions, no words, if anyone tries to commit fraud, the entire world knows about the entire world rejects the fraudulent transaction, because the entire world can tell cryptic, cryptographic, if one thing has been changed at any point along the line. And so this is the real value of mining operation, is that it it prevents fraud. It prevents theft, it prevents double spending in a way that takes entire police apparatus and, you know, buildings full of banks and all sorts. It’s a beautiful solution to a really intractable, intractable problem prior to this, prior to this innovation that reason. It’s remarkably immune to political and criminal intervention. Right.

Gene Tunny  44:52

It sounds like they’re using a brute force approach as you were describing it. So there’s no algorithm that allows you to quickly get to the right solution to solve this, this hash or figure out what it is. And that’s why you need all of this computing power. Now, there’s, if I’m interpreting this all correctly, and there was an article in the Financial Times that I didn’t get a chance to send it to you before, because I just, I just read it this, this morning, my time in Australia, and they’re talking about how the amount of energy that’s consumed by Bitcoin mining or the, you know, all the Bitcoin operations around the world is equivalent to the energy use, or the electricity used by the country of Belgium, I think it was, and this was in an article.

Lars Emmerich  45:44

Its about 1 half of 1%, I think of current global energy supply. So there’s a lot in that figure that we can, we can pull apart, the first thing I think we would say about that is given that every transaction is visible and verified by the entire globe. That removes what you’re, what you’re buying by expending that energy, is the security of the global financial network and the integrity of the global financial network. And what you don’t have to buy is the military intervention for 30 years in the Middle East to ensure that all petroleum transactions settle in US dollars, you don’t have to pay the energy for all of the buildings and humans it takes to run the global banking system, which is just a series of of parochial, third party, you know, intermediaries, and you don’t pay the cost of a fraud and theft. And you also don’t pay the enormous cost of inflation. When you’re, even if inflation is 3% per year, you’re you’re, you’re spending 3% more energy every single year, just to keep your nose above water to keep your productivity to keep your standard of living. So that’s what you’re, that’s what’s on the other side of this energy equation. I don’t know how much energy that amounts to. I know that, by many estimates, we, we’ve spent between six and a half and $10 trillion, since 2001 prosecuting the global war on terror, which has been conducted largely in the oil producing countries on the planet. And you know, someone somewhere on the order of, of a million lives, you have to think that those kinds of things are less necessary, when the currency has its own integrity. The other thing that is difficult to quantify is and we’ll get to the actual breakdown of that, that number one half  of a percent, in just a second, there’s more there than, than their first appears. The other thing is that when a currency is scarce, and you can’t just print it up, when you’re ready to go fight a war there’s likely to be fewer wars, there’s likely to be less military action, when when it’s an it’s always always destructive, you know, that the real cost of military action is just astronomical. And it’s far less feasible when you can’t just print up a war like you, like you can now. So I think those are costs that are that are on the other side of the ledger that that people don’t necessarily appreciate. That’s what scarce and sound and and forcibly scarce and and forcibly sound money buys for you. The second thing is it’s an exceptionally competitive industry mining Bitcoin, super competitive, the salient variable, are two. Chip production and these are application specific integrated circuits, their their purpose in life is to mined Bitcoin period. When you produce a new semiconductor, that’s an expensive process. The second and this ends up being the dominant cost in Bitcoin mining is the price of energy. So what this means is that the Bitcoin mining operation automatically flows to those places where energy production is cheap. And so you can think of it like the aluminium industry where it takes a massive amount of electricity to smelt aluminium. And so, aluminium, put production migrated to those places where geothermal energy is cheap or other sources of energy. So Iceland, a couple of places that have a high geothermal energy output? Well beyond what people, what people can use in those areas, and there are places in China where seasonally, and places all over the Earth where seasonally, the hydroelectric power that’s available in the rainy season is astronomically more than the population consumes. And more than current battery technology lets you hold. So the hashing power goes to these places where excess electricity is produced largely sustainably. And so a good portion of the energy that secures the Bitcoin network is pretty green. Another area is that as petroleum is processed in the world runs on petroleum, that’s not going to change overnight. It’s not going to change in several decades, because it’s it’s so deeply entrenched in everything that we that we do. It’s just a fact of life. But the process of it, you have to burn certain amount of, of gas, that’s a byproduct. So these are refineries all over the earth, you see these bright orange flames, just shooting energy into the ether, because there’s nothing else that they’re doing with that gas. Well, what Bitcoin and Bitcoin and energy production, they’re, they’re coming together, because Bitcoin helps stabilise the production profile for power plants, number one, number two, it gives a bit the burn, that refineries do just burning off this waste gas, that thermal energy can produce electricity on site that can be used for Bitcoin mining, and there are several places where those agreements are, are being implemented now. So that’s, that’s energy that is just currently being absolutely full of waste, that will no no longer be wasted it will be put to put to use. So it’s not clear. It’s not this clear case where we’re irresponsibly securing the Bitcoin network, which in and of itself, I think is a mean, what else you’re going to spend energy, if not to secure the financial infrastructure of potentially all sorts of nations on Earth, and maybe even at some point, what may become a global reserve currency in the way that the US dollar has become a global reserve currency. You know, it’s not quite the soundbite that the reality of the situation is not quite the soundbite that you hear, Oh, gosh, it’s terrible. It’s kind of warm the earth up to whatever and it’s evil? Not so much, you know, not so fast. Yeah, there’s, there’s been a bit a bit of thought put into it.

Gene Tunny  52:56

Yeah, I’ll have to look more into those, those opportunities you were talking about to to use energy that would otherwise be wasted for for crypto. So I’ll have to look at that. That’s interesting. You’ve got an interesting hypothesis there about how crypto could mean less military intervention worldwide. So again, yeah, I think I have to get my head around around that. And but I think yep, you know, if that’s, if that’s, that, that’s, that’s a hypothesis. So I’m happy to accept that as a as a hypothesis. Can I ask about a theory? Um, if you’ve been following what’s been happening with a theory? Are you mainly in Bitcoin laws

Lars Emmerich  53:42

with a great deal of interest? Yeah. I want to circle back Yeah. It’s not nearly crypto. That is, like, not all crypto is good in the way that I have described bitcoins virtues, okay. Because if, if it is just down again, to a central authority to govern the supply, whether or not it’s cryptographically secured, once you’ve issued the new supply, doesn’t really matter. If I can print more of these tokens whenever I desire, then I lose the scarcity. I’m just an all I am is an updated digital fiat currency and the central bank, digital currencies that that are. I think, in autocrats, you know, dream. They’re, they’re really, they’re really just digital forms of the existing system. There’s not there’s not any advance not any revolution, not any evolution there. And in the case of Aetherium this is a really interesting case because Aetherium is a project that you know that eath has some some value. eath is also used to power it’s a substrate a commodity used to To power computation in Aetherium, related applications, or business. In other words, it, you can think of it almost like a programming language that requires fuel. And eath is the fuel. And they are currently on a proof of work system. And that’s what Bitcoin is proof of work. They’re talking about moving to a proof of stake, meaning who makes the rules, the people who have the most eath make the rules, they have the greatest stake in the game, and therefore they have the greatest authority over the governance. And this is, this is basically fiat currency. It’s, it’s basically the same thing as the fiat currency, you know, the, the, the Board of Governors or or whoever’s whatever small collection of people is in charge at Etherium. They will ultimately decide how many tokens or print Yeah, and, and the proof of stake just you’ve automatically instituted an oligarchy. As you go proof, you the only people are the people who have the most say, over the way our money is handled, if that comes money, or the people already have all the money, or most of the money. That doesn’t seem like an improvement. To me, that seems like more of the very same. And the bumper sticker is oh, we’re going green. Yeah, we’re not gonna do this evil energy thing. Instead, we’re just gonna hand the keys to the kingdom to the people already, who already own the kingdom.

Gene Tunny  56:40

Yeah, yeah, that was. That was. I think that was the sentiment from some of the critics of this, that were quoted in the Financial Times. I’ll put a link in the show notes. Yep. So they’re saying that look, this is going away from what crypto is all about? So yeah, it’s it’s not the right direction, according to them. Okay. Lars has been great. Pick your brain for the last nearly an hour or so. Is there anything? Before we wrap up any anything we’ve missed? Or any any important points you think would be good to? To get out there to my audience? Before we wrap up, please?

Lars Emmerich  57:21

Sure. I think there’s been a, we’ve talked a lot, a lot of it is technical. And there are some technical details to digest. For sure. I think the most important thing to say on this particular topic is there’s there’s a lot out there that you can, that you can educate yourself on, you won’t fully understand it unless and until you bite the bullet. And just get into some of the more technical discussions. Until you do that. You’re completely at the mercy of the interpretation of whoever’s writing the news article, and whatever slant has been taken on it. So if you want to make a real decision, I would say look at how the technology actually works. Whether you’re thinking of a project that’s that’s not Bitcoin, that’s more of a security or a stock, or a new investment, or a new startup that you’re thinking of investing in that’s issuing a token? Or if you like, what you’ve heard about Bitcoin, go look at how it functions, and then make up your mind from there and stress tested, think about edge cases, think about who can manipulate it, and how what would it take to manipulate this particular venture. And I think that’ll go a long way toward also, think about your time horizon. If you’re looking to get in and get out with a quick book, join the club, everybody wants to do that. And there’s enough lottery ticket winners to just keep us off frothing at the mouth, but you’re gonna lose your shirt, most likely. Think really long term, and think about all the edge cases and arrive at a sober you know, well considered position on

Gene Tunny  59:07

rod and were there any good resources from your perspective that I could link to in the show notes? If there are if you do have any I can. I can link to them in the show notes for people.

Lars Emmerich  59:17

Yeah, there’s there’s a, I recommend this with reservation safety and almost the Bitcoin standard. There’s a few digressions in there that are that are worrisome, and that detract from the central argument that he makes, he goes on a few tangents that are not helpful, but he does a really good job of describing the fundamentals of how the network works and how how the Bitcoin, the Bitcoin network works. So if you can ignore the rant on modern art. I mean, just completely skip the chapter. And if you can, you know, just focus on the way he describes the functioning of network that’s really quite useful.

Gene Tunny  1:00:02

Good stuff. Okay, last anyway, thanks so much for the conversation. I really enjoyed it. And yeah, it’s made me think think a bit more laterally about these issues. So that’s great and yeah all the best for your, your publishing career. I think it’s terrific. You’re, you’re doing well in that area. So that’s great. And yeah, Lars, really appreciate it. So thanks so much for your time.

Lars Emmerich  1:00:28

Thank you, James. My pleasure.

Gene Tunny  1:00:31

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 at economics explore.com And we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Till next week, goodbye.

Credits

Thanks to Josh Crotts for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au

Please consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

EV taxes, congestion charges & taking high-polluting trucks off the roads w/ Marion Terrill  – EP155

An electrified vehicle fleet will mean lower fuel tax revenues for governments and possibly greater traffic congestion as EVs are cheaper to run. Governments around the world are having to reassess how they charge for road use and one Australian state, Victoria, has introduced an EV tax based on distance traveled. In Economics Explored EP155, Marion Terrill from the Grattan Institute discusses what a rational road user charging system would look like. She also talks about Grattan’s truck plan, which is designed to get high polluting old trucks out of major Australian cities.  

This episode’s guest Marion Terrill is Transport and Cities Program Director at the Grattan Institute. Marion is a leading transport and cities expert with a long history in public policy. She has worked on tax policy for the federal Treasury, and led the design and development of the MyGov account. She has provided expert analysis and advice on labour market policy for the Federal Government, the Business Council of Australia, and at the Australian National University.

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher.

Links relevant to the conversation

Marion’s bio: https://grattan.edu.au/expert/marion-terrill/ 

Grattan Institute on Twitter: @GrattanInst

Marion’s Australian Financial Review article “Electric vehicles: Feds should pave way for gold standard road user charges” (pay-walled)

Grattan’s 2019 report Right time, right place, right price: a practical plan for congestion charging in Sydney and Melbourne

The Grattan truck plan: practical policies for cleaner freight

Previous episodes featuring Marion:

Megaprojects with Marion Terrill from Grattan Institute | Episode 62

Unfreezing Discount Rates with Marion Terrill of the Grattan Institute | Episode 42

Transcript: EV taxes, congestion charges & taking high-polluting trucks off the roads w/ Marion Terrill  – EP155

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  00:00

Coming up on Economics Explored.

Marion Terrill  00:01

As we get more and more electric vehicles, great in many ways, and they’re much cheaper to run than internal combustion engine vehicles. But if they’re cheaper to run, it means people will be inclined to drive more. So I think unless governments take some kind of action on congestion, this is a recipe for gridlock.

Gene Tunny  00:26

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 155. On road user charges, what’s the right way to charge for road use, particularly as we switch to electric vehicles and governments lose revenue from fuel taxes. My guest this episode has been thinking a lot about this. It’s Marion Terrill, who was transported cities programme director at the Grattan Institute, a leading Australian Think Tank. You may recall I previously spoke with Marion and on the podcast, we spoke about mega projects in Episode 62. And about discount rates in Episode 42. I’ll put links to those episodes in the show notes along with other relevant links. In the show notes, you can also find out how you can get in touch with me. Please let me know what you think about either Marion and I have to say in this episode, I’d love to hear from you. Right now from my conversation with Marion Terrill on road user charges. And we also chat about Grattan’s new truck plan for Australia. Thanks to my audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. 

Gene Tunny  01:47

Marian Terrell from the Grattan Institute Good to have you back on the show. 

Marion Terrill

Hello, Gene. 

Gene Tunny 

Yes, good to see you, Marian. I’m keen to chat with you about the piece you had published in the financial review last week on road user charges. And also I know that Grattan released a new truck plan. So I’m keen to, to chat a bit about that as well. Now in the financial review, last week, you had a piece that was titled, Feds should pave way for gold standard road user charges by and by feds, you mean federal government. And there’s a sub heading here, which may have been written by their sub editor. I’m not sure. But we can. I’d like to sort of launch off from this. It says that regardless of what the High Court decides, fuel excise duty, should be killed off quickly and give way to a smarter way to pay for roads. By mentioning the high court you’re referring to this. There’s a challenge isn’t there that some people are challenging? This new Victorian electric vehicle tax and the Commonwealth has got involved? Can you tell us about that, please?

Marion Terrill  02:58

That’s right. So Victoria introduced new charges on electric vehicles in July of last year. So, the rate that they pay is 2.6 kilometres, or sorry, 2.6 cents per kilometre for an electric vehicle and 2.1 cents per kilometre for a plug in hybrid. And New South Wales is also planning to impose similar charges from 2027, or whenever electric vehicles make up 30% of new car sales, whichever comes sooner. And there was a plan to do this in South Australia. But when the government changed, I understand it’s been canned. So but I think there is, there has been, some coordination across the states to do this. That’s what the charge is. And then what’s happening here in Victoria, is that electric vehicle drivers have been up in arms about it. And two of them are challenging it on constitutional grounds. And so they’re saying, as I understand that this the argument is that it is a tax on kilometres is actually an excise or ad valorem tax, if you like for your business. And so this all hinges on how broadly or narrowly you define an excise because only the Commonwealth can charge an excise. So that’s the basic argument. I don’t know how that will play out. There would have been other ways to implement this tax or this charge this charge on electric drivers but this particular method of charging it does permit space for this constitutional challenge.

Gene Tunny  04:54

Right and what was the justification that these EVs aren’t paying, well, there’s no fuel excise paid by the owners of the EVS because, well, they, they’re powered by electricity. And presumably, this is the reason why the hybrid charge is lower because the they would be saying, well, they are at least contributing somewhat in terms of the fuel excise the 44 cents a litre. Yeah, so that must be the justification. But it is a bit cheeky, isn’t it? Because it’s the federal government that collects the excise, isn’t it? Is that right?

Marion Terrill  05:31

That’s right. That’s right. It’s a little bit of a rat’s nest here. So the, the rationale is, as you say that these drivers are not paying fuel excise, therefore, they’re not contributing, some people say contributing to the upkeep. But it all goes into one big pot really. But the other the other way of making that argument is a fairness argument to say, Well, how is it fair for this driver over here to be paying like this, and this driver over here not to be paying? So those are the arguments, but I think there is a further argument that doesn’t get so much of a public hearing. But that, and I guess this is what I’m pointing to in my, in my article that really, you would imagine that fuel excise is a even though it’s kind of not declining. Today, it is in structural decline as the fleet electrifies. And so it will become increasingly unfair because the because electric vehicles are more expensive to buy, the people who most quickly get out of paying it, those who can afford a more expensive vehicle and, and that I think that will become acute as a political pressure. And so the federal government has got the option to let it just wither on the vine, and become kind of increasingly unpopular. Or another option is just to say, Okay, we’re gonna kill it off now. And we’ll hand over the responsibility for taxing the taxes on driving to the States, but we’ll also hand over a funding responsibility to go with it.

Gene Tunny  07:17

Yeah, yeah, I think that could be there could be some attraction there or there could be an attractive option. I mean, it’s good to have that funding, the ability to fund it and the spending responsibility in the same place. Okay, so yeah, I guess it is a big issue, isn’t it? Because the is it 11 billion a year or something is is raised in fuel excise by the Commonwealth? Yeah.

Marion Terrill  07:41

That team in net fuel excise. It’s the actual amount is somewhat higher. It’s about 19 billion, I think. 18 or 19. But then seven, and a half of it is, is rebated throw the fuel tax credit. So the net amount that 10 million, so it’s, it’s about five? Well, yeah, it’s sorry, it’s about two and a half percent of Commonwealth taxman news, the net amount?

Gene Tunny  08:10

Yeah, and you mentioned all goes into the same or a bit the big pot of money that is consolidated revenue, so it’s not earmarked or hypothecated. Is that correct? That’s right.

Marion Terrill  08:21

Not in any meaningful way. It was last hypothecated in 1959. Right. 59, it was hypothecated. There is a little bit of it, that’s hypothecated. So this is getting a bit in the weeds, but basically, it wasn’t indexed for a period from 2001 to 2014. And when the indexation restart, and the index amount is hypothecated, but it’s gonna not meaningful, because it’s such a tiny amount and far less than what the current spends on roads.

Gene Tunny  08:58

Okay. Yeah. I’ll have to just look at that that small bit, just to make sure I’m across all the detail. Yes, because there is that common understanding. People seem to think that well, this pays for roads. And I mean, I guess it does go into the pot. And so it does help pay for roads, but then you can’t say that any that particular dollar raise from fuel excise is what actually pays for roads, because money is fungible, as they say,

Marion Terrill  09:22

Because the amount that is raised through fuel excise and about 10 billion is more than the Commonwealth spends on transport infrastructure, which is usually it’s lumpy, but it’s usually seven to eight. So, I mean, kind of where you draw those lines, I think, is an open question. But yeah, the amounts Don’t bear any relationship to one another.

Gene Tunny  09:44

Yeah. Have you looked at whether the fuel excise and motor vehicle registration fees at the state and territory level combined? Do they add up roughly to what is spent on roads by federal and state governments? I heard that some One quarter that I’ve heard or quoted in the last few months, but I’ve never been able to verify whether that’s the case or not I’ve ever seen that

Marion Terrill  10:08

We have been looking at that sort of thing. And the short answer is no. Okay. What we have noticed those and as a trend is that the the share of road related tax revenue raised by state seems to be rising. But it’s harder to discern a trend on spending, because it is so lumpy, from, as you know, from one year to the other, to the next, it does jump around a bit. So, which would be a problem if you did try to hypothecated? Actually, because they’d be it’d be quite difficult to predict how much you’d have to spend, but you do need to predict because the roads take time to plan. So yes. They there’s, there is a lot of, or there’s a lot of reasons why Hypothecation isn’t a great idea, but people do really believe that. It’s hypothecated. And even if not formally, that it’s somehow it is informally hypothecated.

Gene Tunny  11:12

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I’m not a big fan of earmarking, because it reduces your, your flexibility with your budget. Okay. Do you know what’s happening in other parts of the world? Marion? I mean, you look, you mentioned Victoria’s, it’s tried to impose this. EV tax. Sa was going to but then there was a change of government, New South Wales is considering it. Are we leading the world on this? So do we know if other countries are looking at this sort of thing as well?

Marion Terrill  11:43

I’m not too sure. Who is I think, at the time when the Victorians announced this tax, there was a lot of media. And it’s sort of painting in quite extreme terms, even calling it the worst EV tax in the world. That I think a lot. I mean, we’ve been looking at the different fuel excise type regimes around the world. And, and sort of, I think, by global standards, a couple of things I’d say on this and one is we don’t charge much in fuel excise or similar types of taxes compared to other countries, particularly similar countries to us. And we see genuine the like, and we also don’t have any congestion charging or that kind of thing. So on the whole driving, is, appears to be relatively lightly taxed here, compared to in many other countries.

Gene Tunny  12:42

Yeah, I’ll have a look for whether there’s any OECD table. I seem to remember one years ago. Is it the case that, UK has high excise or taxes on fuel? I’m guessing the Germans probably do.

Marion Terrill  13:00

Yeah. Continental Europe does. Yeah. Sorry. I don’t know off the hoof.

Gene Tunny  13:06

level. I’ll have a look. Yeah, I agree with that general point you made? I think that yeah, I have seen some data on that. So that’s good. might be good to go on to what you’re arguing in that piece? Because you said that? Well. Yeah, this EV tax? Well, it’s probably not the way you resolve this problem we’ve got with this The problem we’ve got with fuel excise duty disappearing. This EV tax probably isn’t the right way to go about addressing what you might see as a an issue there. Could you explain what your argument is, Marion? I mean, what do you think would an optimal policy would look like and first, am I right that you don’t agree with this EV tax just for just to be clear on that.

Marion Terrill  13:56

I don’t think it’s the worst tax in the world. I think it’s fair enough for the states to raise this revenue. And I would also say, given that you’re running an economics podcast, perhaps I can make the point that the people’s, like if you think about fuel price, elasticities, they’re pretty low, are not likely to change their behaviour much in the presence of a modest tax. And this is very modest. I think the estimates are that the typical driver might pay $300 a year. So I would have thought it was a reasonably efficient base. And I think it is arguably laying the groundwork for it to become to spread to other types of vehicles and to be paid at a higher rate over time. So I think all of that is fine. I guess I think well, if you just think about it as a revenue base, that you know, this low elasticity is a good thing. But I think a lot of the debate does sort of invoke the fact that EVs are better or better for the community because they aren’t producing the carbon emissions. And so they should be advantaged not disadvantaged. And I think that that’s in the absence of an economy one carbon price. That’s absolutely right. But I think in the the point of taxing driving, that I think makes the most sense is to try to bring about an efficient use of the road network. And by that, I mean that you should be charged, little or nothing, if you’re driving at a time of day in in a place where there’s no congestion. But if you want to contribute to congestion in peak hour, then you should be paying for it. So here, it’s an externality argument. So what you really want to do is set it at a low rate, so that you just deter that driver who can be most flexible, who cares the least about being there, they’ll put their trip off or take it another way. And that’s an efficient outcome. But if you do that, you won’t raise much revenue. So I think that governments are confronted with a choice. But I suppose I think in the road network is so important to the economy and society that what you really want is the latter. So I would like to see road user charges that vary by time of day and location, and vehicle size. So the Commonwealth can’t impose that kind of charge, because it cannot charge different Taxs, to different parts of the country, under the Constitution. So this has got to be in state based charge. And so that’s why I think, well, perhaps it is time for the governor for the federal government to step out of its role in taxing driving and hand that job over to the States because the technology has now improved. And it’s it is now much more realistic for states to do sort of fair and precise charging in a way that probably wasn’t feasible, even 10 years ago.

Gene Tunny  17:23

Right. So by the technology has improved. You mean that there are ways of tracking people. I know that if you’re going on toll roads here, in Queensland, you’ve got a tag or something that pings or that that tells the toll road company when you go on the toll road? So imagine there’d be some device, is that what you’re thinking?

Marion Terrill  17:47

Or you can do that, I think, look at the I think the most foolproof way is to use number plate recognition cameras, which are more up to date technology really than those tollgate. But I think people are foreshadowing when we’ll be able to use GPS to do this. Now, my, my feeling that that is it will happen. But we’re not really there yet. That no country has used GPS to introduce a road pricing scheme across the board. But they’re so let’s sort of see what Singapore does, really, but I think that that is becoming increasingly likely, but number plate recognition cameras, much less kind of unsightly and obtrusive than Tollgate entries. And so that that’s definitely a way that you can do it. In the shorter term.

Gene Tunny  18:45

I should have thought of that because I’m a big fan of British crime shows and often they will catch people with that, that number plate recognition, technology or they’ll know where they’re going. So I should have thought about that.

Marion Terrill  19:00

It has improved a lot and become that technology. So yeah.

Gene Tunny  19:03

Okay. And one point that one of my guests will Tim who was on the show, last week I was chatting with about EVs. One thing he was concerned about is this issue of well, it’s surveillance where our privacy is being compromised. Have you thought about that at all? Is that often raised as an objection to this sort of thing?

Marion Terrill  19:25

Yeah, I think it’s, I agree with him. I think people are very quick to dismiss it. It is actually another reason why I’m dubious about GPS technology, because there’s sort of a few different ways in which Surveillance can be a problem. One is that the government can surveil you. The other one is the company can surveil. Yeah. And maybe market at you or, you know, interact with you in a unwelcome way. So both of those are concerns I think. So really what you want is the, you need to set up a structure I think where you have the information, that’s the image of you, or image of your vehicle is sent to a place in the encryption key that links that image to you is in a different place to protect people’s privacy, but I do think in this country, we do have, we have had a long history of the, of the, of privacy. The Privacy lobby, I think, is quite effective at unraveling government ideas, too, to act in ways like to make use of technology in ways that could be prejudicial to people’s sort of freedom to go about their lives anonymously.

Gene Tunny  20:52

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

Female speaker  20:57

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you Frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis, studies, and economic modeling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  21:26

Now back to the show. So Marion, have you looked at how this is working? Or how road user charges have worked in other countries? I mean, you mentioned? Well, I mean, there’s the UK. I mean, there’s the the infamous congestion charge in central London. That’s probably the only one I’ve experienced. But I understand. Well, I’ve heard that there’s this sort of thing is there this sort of thing in Singapore and is it germany you mentioned?

Marion Terrill  21:55

Well, it’s interesting this, there’s established congestion charging in quite a few cities around the world. So Singapore was the first London, Stockholm and other countries, other cities are thinking about it. But what’s happening these days is now low emission zones are coming in. And so in London, for example, the low emission zone is layered on top of the congestion zone. And really these many, many, many cities are doing low emission zones. And they kind of like a coordinate around the central part of the city, that now the motivation, we’re recommending that for the major capitals here in Australia, because the the effect of exhaust pipe pollution from trucks is so terrible for health. But it’s interesting, because in some cities like Milan, for example, there is a low emission zone, but the reason for it is to preserve the beautiful buildings rather than to preserve people’s health. So there’s, I think there’s certainly a significant, a significant global movement towards this sort of thing. And it can usefully be combined with congestion charging, because what you’re really doing is you’re trying to deal with two externalities at once. And you can calibrate your instrument to do both of those things. Because where there’s a concentration of vehicles, that’s where you get obviously, congestion, but also concentration of exhaust pipe pollution.

Gene Tunny  23:28

Right. Okay. Okay. Yep. So with the congestion charging, that’s almost like a syntax is it or it’s a form of corrective taxation, or you’re making the driver face the marginal social cost of them going on the road network at that particular time in that particular place?

Marion Terrill  23:50

Yeah, that’s right. And people have different sort of strength of desire to use the roads at peak periods. And so it would be a poor result, to put off too many people. So don’t want to set your charge too high. And you certainly want someone who’s going to a job interview or an important appointment, you don’t want to put them off. But if you are thinking about someone who’s perhaps a retired person going to a medical appointment, for that person, it may be very low cost to do it at 11am, not 9am. And so to send a signal to such a person, to that gets them to take into account their contribution to slow it not only being slowed down by everyone else, but also to slowing everyone else down. And I think this is going to become more acute Gene because as the as we get more and more electric vehicles, great in many ways, and they’re much cheaper to run than internal combustion engine vehicles. But if they’re cheaper to run, it means people will be inclined to drive more. So I think unless governments take some kind of action on congestion. We really are. This is a recipe for gridlock. I think is very strong for governments to act on congestion charging, and preferably to do so early. And so that to go back to the we were talking before about our electric vehicle chargers. Yeah, I think, you know, this is the side of it that the current charges in Victoria and on the table elsewhere, don’t really take account of at this point 

Gene Tunny  25:31

Right Yeah, I look, I think what you’ve, what you’ve said, and what you wrote in that piece is great. I mean, as an economist, it definitely appeals to me. I’d like to see the model, though, of course, as you would do, you know, if anyone’s developing this, what this could look like, what the parameters would be, what those charges would be. When, I mean, how would the prices be set? Would it be? How regularly they would they be reviewed? Is there some algorithm involved? Have you thought about how this would work? In practice? Is anyone developing a model for this, Marion?

Marion Terrill  26:08

Yeah, we’ve developed a detailed model for it, actually. So yeah, we published it in 2019. So we designed in detail, a congestion charging scheme for Sydney, and Melbourne and one for Melbourne. And what we did was we in terms of phasing, just start with a cordon around the CBD. And we worked out exactly where the cordon would go, and how many detection points you would need. Look through all the different technologies that’s really rare came to the view that number plate recognition was the way to go. And then we looked at the, we looked at traffic data and worked out when peak hour and when the shoulder period should be. And finally, we worked out the what we thought were the appropriate charges to levy taking into account the cost of public transport into the CBD. And then we worked with Veitch Lister Consulting who did the demand modeling for us to see what the impact on congestion would be? So all of that detail is in a report called ‘Right Time, Right Place, Right Price’ up on the grattan website. So we did do that. And so that was on congestion charging. I guess. This week, we put out a report on trucks, Grattan truck plan, and one of the recommendations was to introduce a low emission zone. And we didn’t scope that up in detail, because I think it is the subject for reporting its own right. It’s quite a complex area. But we are, we’re planning to do that report and publish in 2023. With detailed design for how to, and this takes into account, things like how much proximity matters to a main road. How much sort of how much difference it makes when when you’ve got a more vulnerable population in one way or another. So and what kind of mitigations you can take in terms of sort of greening and that sort of stuff, so that we can come up with a detailed design, but at this point, our recommendation is that trucks manufactured before 2003 should be banned from the densely populated areas of the major cities.

Gene Tunny  28:30

Yeah, I wondered about that. And I was stunned. Looking at the figures you had in that report regarding how much worse they were or trucks that were, you know, over 20 years old, how much worse they are in terms of the the toxic particles that come out and the in the exhaust? Or how much worse than more modern trucks? Is there some reason you chose 2003? Was there some change in technology?

Marion Terrill  28:58

There was. Yeah, so the pollution levels for trucks are the international standards and known as Euro standards. And before 1996, there were no standards at all, so anything goes and those trucks are the worst. So a pre 1996 truck emits 16 times as much particulate matter, and eight times as much of the poisonous nitrogen oxides as a truck sold today. And then in the when the Euro standards were first adopted in Australia, Euro one the first level, operated until 2003. And that is better than nothing but still, by today’s standards, very lenient standards. And so, the reason all this matters is that more than a quarter of the trucks on the road today 2003 or earlier, and 14% of them are these pre 1996 ones which are particularly toxic. And that’s if they’ve been properly maintained, some of them will be worse. So, over time the standards have increased have become more stringent. At the moment, we’re on Euro five standards, we have been since 2011. We’re a decade behind kind of most major markets, which have been on Euro six for a long time. And so we’ve been agitating to get on to Euro six. But even this year, Euro seven is coming out. So we’re, we’re so far behind. And so of course, the track operators don’t really have an incentive to adopt these standards, because it costs money. So it really is a matter of for government regulation to prevent the interaction of really dirty old trucks with densely populated areas.

Gene Tunny  30:51

Yeah. So have you thought about how this would impact the industry? I’m sure you have. I’m just interested in your thoughts on it. Because I mean, there could be significant short run costs, you could have a lot of probably smaller operators, leave the market if they can’t use their truck anymore. I mean, imagine that the bigger operators have more a more modern truck fleet, but then there’s a lot of smaller operators that have the older trucks. Could this impact our supply chains? I mean, we’ve had all the logistics problems this year and associated with people being off work or in isolation due to COVID. Things haven’t been turning up at the supermarket. Have you thought about how this would? What impact would have on the industry and how that could be mitigated Marion?

Marion Terrill  31:36

Yeah, we have some I’m very alive to this. I think you’re absolutely right, that the big fleets of trucks are generally pretty new. And they’re the ones that kind of get sold on and feed through the chain. So at the at the oldest end of the spectrum, it is a lot of operators who might struggle to get them to upgrade the truck. So a couple of things, I’d say. One is that we don’t really the compromise that we thought was reasonable was that these trucks would be able to operate but not in the densely populated area. So, for example, a lot of trucks that do farm runs can be quite old. And it’s if they’re in an area where there aren’t many people will, the harm is much less. Now that’s not any good if you’re the actual driver, but it’s some some mitigation, that you’re not going past childcare centers and spewing out poisons at the kids. So there is one comment I’d make. The we did. We did recommend, though, that the government should assist by sort of with a track replacement fund or scrappage fund. Basically, we thought it should have a tender based programme where truck owners can make a binding bid for how much they’d be prepared to accept to scrap their truck. And because government’s got to be bit careful not to overpay for this stuff. In the end these traps have been allowed perfectly legally, to create quite a public health hazard. And we think that should stop, but we, you know, recognising that there are implications and that the government might want to assist with the scrappage fund.

Gene Tunny  33:39

Yeah. And so are you confident that this would pass the cost benefit analysis tests, if there was a regulation impact statement arrears on this, you’d be able to demonstrate that the avoided costs of the community through the fact that these particulates were causing an elevated level or incidence of disease in the community? And if we tried to put some, you know, put a figure on that, what you’d be willing to pay to avoid that? What it’s costing the economy in terms of the well, having to replace that truck fleet, any disruptions associated with that. Are you confident that that equation would be in favour of this measure? Have you done any numbers yourself?

Marion Terrill  34:26

Yeah, look, the government’s done a raise. And, and there are clear social benefits to doing it. So we’ve updated that and I think the, the basic figure is like the health benefits or health costs avoided, if you like, like by 2014, would be of the order of 1.7 billion in a year. Yeah. So yeah, very considerable health benefits. And just just to clarify for your listeners by health benefits, or health costs, avoid I don’t mean In the costs of treatment in hospitals, it’s the pain and suffering of, of getting the disease. Like, they’re the diseases that you get from these poisons, or you get, obviously, respiratory illnesses. But because the particles are so fine, they get into your bloodstream. And so you can get cancer type two diabetes, stroke, can affect it affects children in particular and vulnerable people, even in children in the womb. And it also even when it’s not causing diagnosable disease can impair cognitive function. Then every time the World Health Organisation or researchers do research on this, they find Oh, it’s worse than we thought

Gene Tunny  35:41 

Right? Yeah, yeah. So this really is I’ll have to have a look into this. So this has already been done. Do you know how recent it is? I mean, is this on the agenda of governments to do something about?

Marion Terrill  35:54

Yeah, it’s been on the agenda of governments for quite a while. The I think the reason is about five years old, yeah. So we, we’ve updated that. But it’s, if anything more compelling now than it was then.

Gene Tunny  36:13

Yeah. Yeah. But they’ve obviously that there, someone in government has been concerned about what it mean for the industry. Maybe they’ve been lobbied on it. I’m just wondering why they haven’t done anything. But it looks like you’re, you know, have been I mean, I guess, assuming that these numbers are right, I mean, hopefully, your report does motivate some action in this on this issue.

Marion Terrill  36:39

Yeah we are really hoping so. And I think by doing some follow up work in 2023. We’re working with some students at Monash to get more sort of air quality data, and to just enrich our understanding so that we can do detailed design, that that should be pragmatic and practical and effective. So it’s it. I think it’s a big issue. And it’s, I think it’s an under researched issue, actually.

Gene Tunny  37:10

Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Just final question. When I read the press release, and I had a quick look at the report, it looks like you’re focused on Sydney and Melbourne. Why not Brisbane, one at the third largest city in Australia.

Marion Terrill  37:26

Oh, we had a lot of debate about this actually, Gene. And I absolutely think that Brisbane should be in this, Adelaide in particular has got almost it’s got 45% of its trucks, pre 2003. So, so. And people have said to me, Well, what about Wollongong? And what about Newcastle? Absolutely. So in Europe alone, there are 250. More than 250 Low Emission zones. This is not a big deal. But we, yeah, we’re so we do plan to unfold more on this, but I think you’re absolutely right that Brisbane has got I forget the exact figure but approximately 20% of trucks. Pre 2003. It’s too many.

Gene Tunny  38:13

Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, there are still a lot of old trucks out there for sure. Okay, Marion, this has been fantastic. I’ll put links to all of these reports that have been mentioned in the show notes. I’ll put links to your social media. Anything else before we wrap up?

Marion Terrill  38:32

Oh, no, I reckon that’s about it for now.

Gene Tunny  38:35

Great. Yeah. Well, thanks, Marion. And that’s been terrific. Good. A good summary of all of these issues, and I’ve learned a lot. I mean, I always think I’m keeping up to date with what different think tanks are putting out and including Grattan’s. But maybe I sort of in the back of my mind, remember that that congestion charging one but I’m gonna have to revisit it this ‘Right time, Right Price, Right Place’. Yeah. And, and have a close look at that. So that’s terrific. So yeah, again, thanks so much for your time. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Marion Terrill  39:13

Me too. It’s always a pleasure. Thank you, Gene.

Gene Tunny  39:17

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

Thanks to Josh Crotts for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.auPlease consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

Fuel prices & electric vehicles (EVs) – EP154

A wide-ranging conversation on petrol/gasoline prices and electric vehicles (EVs). The conversation explores the peculiar economic phenomenon that is Australia’s petrol price cycle. What drives it and how can consumers make it work for them? Show host Gene Tunny and his guest Tim Hughes then discuss the big issues around replacing petrol-powered vehicles with EVs. What does it mean for total electricity demand and what challenges do we face in adopting EVs?

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher.

Links relevant to the conversation

Australian Financial Review article (paywalled) quoting Ampol CEO saying EVs have to be 50% cheaper before widespread take up

Recent oil price news

Brent crude oil price (ABC news)

Australian Competition and Consumer Commissions (ACCC) monitoring of Australia’s petrol price cycle

Information on Queensland’s electric superhighway

Queensland Government website on environmental benefits of EVs

The Grattan Car Plan which includes lots of useful data on EVs

John Freebairn on fuel excise in Australia

Drive magazine article on impact of EVs on electricity use

Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) paper on integrating EVs in the power grid

Economics Explored EP113 – Lithium and the new energy revolution with Lukasz Bednarski

ABC News report As EVs drive a mining revolution, will Australia become a battery minerals superpower?

Transcript: Fuel prices & electric vehicles (EVs) – EP154

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,

Tim Hughes  00:04

But you can maximize your chances. And you can sort of, play the game over that four-week cycle to keep your fuel costs down.

Gene Tunny  00:13

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 154, on fuel prices and electric vehicles. I’m joined this episode by Tim Hughes. Tim has been doing some business development work in my business, Adept Economics. Tim’s not an economist, but he’s very interested in economic issues. And in my opinion, he asked very good questions, so I thought it’d be good to have him on the show again to chat about some big issues regarding fuel prices and electric vehicles.

On fuel prices, Tim and I have a close look at a regular cycle and fuel prices that we see in Australia. On EVs, one of the important takeaways from the discussion, is the big challenge we face in replacing petrol powered vehicles with EVs. It’s not impossible, but we’ll need to generate much more electricity and spend a lot of money getting the necessary infrastructure for EV charging in place. 

Please, check out the show notes for relevant links and clarifications and for details of how you can get in touch. If you’re outside Australia, please let me know if there are any patterns and how fuel prices behave where you live. Also, please let me know your views on EVs and any useful info you may have. I’d love to hear from you. 

l’ll come back to EVs in a future episode for sure. I know that I need to look more closely at all the resources needed to build EVs such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper. Australia looks well positioned to supply many of these minerals. But will there be sufficient supplies worldwide to meet the growing EV demand? We’ll aim to cover that issue in a future episode. 

Right oh, now for my conversation with my colleague, Tim Hughes on fuel prices and EVs. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode, I hope you enjoy it. 

Tim Hughes, welcome back onto the show. 

Tim Hughes  02:16

Gene Tunny, good to be back.

Gene Tunny  02:17

Excellent, Tim. Now, Tim, you actually suggested the topic of today’s conversation. So, could you just tell us please, what are these issues that are turning over in your mind at the moment? What are you interested in speaking about today?

Tim Hughes  02:33

So many things Gene, but we’ll settle with; for today, we’ll talk briefly about the price cycle. We’re in Brisbane, in Australia, we have this price cycle of roughly month fuel prices, yes. So, it was in relation to that when we got chatting. There’s a lot around this that we did discuss that we won’t go into today around, you know, the future with electric vehicles and that kind of thing. I don’t know if we’re going to talk about that too much. 

Gene Tunny  03:05

I’d like to chat about that, because I’ve done some research on that.

Tim Hughes  03:09

So, it did set us off around fuel prices. And then, we did talk in broader sort of, ways about the future of what that fuel cycle might look like with the rise of electric vehicles, and then how they’re going to be paired. So, we’ll talk about that in a bit shortly, I guess. But fuel prices otherwise, yeah.

Gene Tunny  03:31

Exactly. I mean, there is a logical connection there isn’t there. Because with the higher fuel prices that’s making more people think about electric vehicles. The problem is electric vehicles are still so expensive. And the Chief Executive, I think, was Ampol. The other day, I saw it in the financial review, I’ll put a link in the show notes. He came out and said, look, basically they have to half in price, you need to get those EVs prices, which I think start in the 40,000s and if you want a Tesla, it’s above 50,000. You need to get them into the 200 to 300 range for there to be widespread take up of EVs in Australia. And I suspect I mean, there’s going to be a similar issue in the States as well and in other countries. 

Although Scandinavian countries, they seem to have higher rates of take up and yeah, but here, I think the price is a barrier and also the so-called range anxiety. We can talk about that a bit later.

Tim Hughes  04:28

There are so many things that would be interesting to talk about with that. And of course, there’s a cost, an ongoing cost to me, the amount that for instance, you might pay, on petrol or diesel now, over a year compared to what your costs might be to charge an electric vehicle and the running costs of any vehicle, which seems to be at the moment far less if you have an EV.

Gene Tunny  04:56

Exactly. Well, you’re not paying for the petrol.

Tim Hughes  05:00

You’re paying for the power, I mean, at the moment, you charge these not from home, it like, there are certain stations that you charge the EVs at. Is there a cost to those? I haven’t actually checked that. I understood that Tesla didn’t charge for recharging the car. I don’t know if that’s correct or not.

Gene Tunny  05:18

That’s a good question. I’m not sure if it’s made it or not. I’ll have to look into that. I know that the Queensland Government has; it’s built this EVs super-highway across Queensland. So, it’s set up charging stations in different cities, I think there must be over 20 of them. I’ve got a link somewhere I can put it in the show notes. They’ve got them in places like Port Douglas and there’d be some places in Brisbane and Cairns Townsville.

Tim Hughes  05:45

I mean, this is an area, because I know that we were speaking broadly today. So, we’ll go into a deeper dive into that part of the infrastructure and the costs. Because I can only imagine that if it’s free at the moment, that it won’t stay that way. I mean, it doesn’t seem to be tenable to not charge people. And also, it’s not the way that it normally works. Obviously, if there’s energy being used, somebody’s got to pay for it somewhere. 

Gene Tunny  06:11

Well, I think there’s a big issue with apartment blocks. So, if you, if you’re doing it at home, then you’re paying for it. The question is, what happens with apartment blocks and some of the evidence I’ve seen, and I’ve got, when I was doing the research, I found these experts talking about the challenges in some apartment blocks of getting the right infrastructure in there, and making sure that the apartment block can support the EVs that are drawing all that power, given they’ve already got lifts and things that are also drawing on power. So, that’s a big issue there. So, there’ll be cost associated with that that’ll have to be met by the body corporate.

Tim Hughes  06:50

Well, we might as well dive as deep as we can on this now, because that is such a big part of what that future of EVs will look like, I mean, obvious time for people to charge their vehicles is overnight, most people, you know, working sort of, during the day. So, to charge overnight, you’d want to be able to charge from home, if you’ve got a house, that’s going to be more likely. Clearly, you’re going to be using power. If you’re in an apartment, like you’re saying there’s going to be an infrastructure challenge there to make that available to the cost basis. And if you’ve got street parking, you know that’s going to give you another challenge, as well. But all of that energy as well, it’s got to come from somewhere. So, we’re going to have to produce more energy than we currently do for electricity to basically replace what we use fuel for, petrol and diesel to have electricity. And then the conversation around the likelihood of where that energy is going to come from, again, infrastructure would be something to consider. But clearly, at the moment, we can’t do that through clean energy. So, the drive towards clean energy is also then part of that question. I don’t know, we’ve talked about the importance of coal, in a transition phase from current coal supply or coal supply power to clean energy.

Gene Tunny  08:20

Well, at the moment, we really don’t have much of an alternative, because we’re still generating the bulk of our electricity from fossil fuels, than coal and gas. Now, the idea was that gas would be the transitional fuel that we would move out away from coal fired power much quicker than we have. But I think we’re discovering now just how hard that is and what that means for the reliability of the network. A lot of the problems we’ve had in the electricity market here in Australia this year, have been because we’ve had some coal fired generators offline, the Callide generator up in Queensland, part of that which was shut down for they had some incident there last year, if I remember correctly, and there are other coal fired power stations that have; there was a big one that closed down in Victoria. And that means that there’s not as much capacity as there once was. So, that’s a big issue. 

And when you have a winter, that was unexpectedly cold, there’s a big demand. There’s not enough supply, the renewables are intermittent. We don’t have enough battery technology to store the power. We don’t have enough pumped hydro. Yeah, this is it’s a big problem.

Tim Hughes  09:35

Well, I mean, the thing is, like, it clearly seems to be moving that way. Personally I’m fully supportive of. I think the drive for clean energy, and electric vehicles is good. One of the things I wanted to talk about was, from your perspective as an economist, you know, to look at just how clean the making and running of electric vehicle is because obviously, there’s an environmental cost to anything that gets produced, and then whatever waste products come from that. But the move towards that seems to be, it’s quick. And so, in some ways, I guess it’s not a problem unless we’re just trying to move too fast. You know, like, clearly there’s a transition period that’s needed with the available infrastructure and fuel supply that we have currently. But that’s going to change significantly over the next 5-10 years. 

So, as that move towards electric vehicles, as the infrastructure does catch up, and as the cost of the vehicles comes down becomes more attractive. I can only imagine then that, we can only move as fast as we can move. So, if there’s a holdup with the infrastructure, or the power supply of electricity for EVs, that’s going to just slow down the rollout of EVs and lengthen the period of time that we might have fuel powered cars. 

Gene Tunny  11:03

Yeah, I think maybe we’ll save this discussion for later on in the program, because you’ll get on to the fuel prices. I think that’s a very good introduction. I agree with you regarding those challenges that we face, I think you’ve actually captured that or presented that quite well. That’s good. Very good, Tim. 

So, you got me thinking about these issues myself. 

Tim Hughes  11:31

Yeah. And there are big areas as well. And we will have like, a lot of this, obviously, like I said, we can dive as deep as we can. We have got some guests and friends and colleagues that we’ve been talking to about coming on here who can dive far deeper than us on these individual issues. But this is more of an overview. I guess, at the moment. 

Gene Tunny  11:53

I had Lukas Bednarski from, well, he’s over in London, he’s wrote a book on lithium. He came on the show last year, and just talking about all the opportunities with electrification and making use of, of lithium batteries. So, we had that conversation. So, I’ll put a link in the show notes. So, that was good. 

So, there’s a lot of potential there. It’s just a matter of, you know, how’s all this going to come together and play out? And if you’re an optimist, you think, oh, yeah, we’ll solve it all with technology. And we’ll, get the policy settings right. But then if you’re an economist who has been around a while, you might be thinking, no, it looks pretty risky. And, I’m not sure we will get those policy settings right. We will eventually, but there’ll be a lot of messiness in the meantime. And that could last decades. 

Tim Hughes  12:49

It’s really interesting, because we’ve obviously headed in this direction of electric vehicles, because hydrogen powered vehicles are still in the conversation and all sorts of other options, I guess. And it’s going relatively fast in the EV direction, and where it had been talked about for decades prior to it really happening. So, this is really quite fast. And I guess technology is just driving that little bit further ahead, of course. And so, we’re just following the available technology. And as they get better, the rollout of EVs is getting quicker. So, it’s that, I guess, we have all of these industries, working like crazy to get ahead of the demand to try and make it possible. So, it’s an interesting time. It’s a fascinating time to see all of this change happening globally, extremely fast. It’s very quick.

Gene Tunny  13:45

Talk about how fast it’s going. It’s going faster in other parts of the world than it is in Australia.

Tim Hughes  13:53

Always fastest in Scandinavia. They always seem to be ahead of the curve over there.

Gene Tunny  13:58

Yes, yes. Yeah. That’s a whole different; that’s another podcast episode, possibly. What is it about Scandinavia? What is it about Sweden? I mean, from the outside, it looks like they’ve got a lot of things right. And we look at it from our Anglo-Saxon perspective and we think oh, well, we really wouldn’t do things like that but it seems to work for them and they seem to be very happy.

Tim Hughes  14:27

The Viking mentality tribes.

Gene Tunny  14:33

We’re gonna chat about that in another episode. Let’s begin with fuel prices. So, everyone’s noticed petrol prices are so high. I mean, what are we paying? Is it nearly $2 a liter or something? 

Tim Hughes  14:47

Well, so we’re in August 2022 in Australia, so this is going to be not an evergreen episode for this part of it. Currently, the cycles just finished in the last week or so. So, it went up to $1.95. So, I’m going to come clean here, I’m a complete fuel nerd. Like when it comes to prices, I’ve sort of, tried to maximize everything, which is I think, where this conversation started with us. The previous peak of the cycle went to around $2.25. So, which is about as expensive as it has ever been? I think it was hitting new heights that was just a couple of months ago.

Gene Tunny  15:23

Was that before they cut the fuel excise?

Tim Hughes  15:27

That was after. So, we were still with the fuel excise in place, which I think is 22 cents a liter. Is that right?

Gene Tunny  15:33

Yeah, it’s normally 44 cents a liter. And they halved it temporarily and

Tim Hughes  15:37

So, the Morison government put that in place. We had an election over here, of course, and new government, but that is still in place, and has been extended until the end of September, I believe.

Gene Tunny  15:49

Yes. So, finishes in late September, September 29, or something like that, and it’s going to be a big deal when the cut is unwound, and there’s another 22 cents a liter added to your fuel bill.

Tim Hughes  16:04

From the consumer’s perspective, we can only imagine that when we were paying $2.25, we should have been at the top of the, you know, the most expensive part of the cycle, effectively, we would have been paying $2.47. Without that fuel excise cut, you know, an extra 22 cents. So, in the cycle, it’s just been, we’ve dropped down to as far as a dollar 53 was about as low as it went. Which was great, you know, so for the consumer, it’s really good. It’s just going up to $1.95. So, it’s about a 40-cent jump whenever it seems to jump. The cycle seems to be around a 40-cent cycle. So, we’ve gone a lot deeper than before, without any real understanding of why there’s still a war in Ukraine, which apparently has an influence on fuel prices here.

Gene Tunny  16:55

Yeah, because Russia was producing oil and also, the gas supplies have been compromised. And so, there’s some substitution between gas and oil in our generation. And so like, everything’s connected, and so when Russia gets taken out of the market, and there’s still the demand for it, because the global economy has been recovering from the COVID recession, prices really,

Tim Hughes  17:24

Which made sense. I’m saying, like, it supposedly affects us over here, because it doesn’t explain why we got so low at the bottom of our last cycle, which was down to like $1.53.

Gene Tunny  17:38

Okay, so the global oil price was coming down, it’s going back up now. So, if you look at the Brent crude oil spot price, and I’ll put a chart in the show notes, it got up to about $125 a barrel earlier in the year, it fell back down to maybe about 95, or something it’s been at, and it’s going back up now. 

So, there’s a report from Reuters. So, this is a 23rd of August report, 2022. Oil prices surged by nearly 4% on Tuesday, after Saudi Arabia floated the idea of OPEC plus output cuts to support prices in the case of returning Iranian crude and with the prospect of a drop in US inventories. Okay, so prices are starting to go back up. Yeah, they reached almost $130 A barrel in the US earlier in the year. So, they’ve been down a bit since then. But they’re much higher than they were a few years ago. 

Tim Hughes  18:45

Yeah. So, the thing being is like, I find it really interesting as to why there’s such volatility in these little four-to-five-week cycles that we have here. So, for instance, we’re up at 2.25 just a few weeks ago, with the 22 cents cut. So, that’s dropped 30 cents, if we’re talking the peak of the cycle. So, we’ve just gone back to the start a new cycle, and it went up to $1.95. So, that’s still 30 cents less than what it was. As a consumer, it’s great, you know, like, obviously, we love the low prices, but that volatility in the local cycle doesn’t seem to match other cycles. That’s not linked, that kind of volatility that doesn’t seem to be linked to the price of crude oil.

Gene Tunny  19:33

Okay, so what’s interesting I think about the Australian market and we’ve studied this extensively in Australia, the ACCC, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission keeps an eye on it. I think I’ll have to look more closely at other markets but I think this really isn’t Australia phenomenon that we’ve got this price cycle. I don’t know if you noticed it when you’re in England.

Tim Hughes  19:54

They’re pretty stable over there. Like it doesn’t seem to move around very much. I mean, I have to say it’s actually a bit of a game. It is a game over here, which kind of you know, like putting fuel in the car is pretty dull. So, it’s a little bit more spice to doing that, because you can, which we’ll talk about at some point. I know, this is one of the things we talked about, which got us on to this conversation, but you can maximize your chances. And you can sort of, play the game over that four-week cycle to keep your fuel costs down.

Gene Tunny  20:24

So, we can talk about how it is a game and one way that economists have analyzed fuel prices is as a game. So, there’s a field of study called game theory. So, you’ve seen A Beautiful Mind, haven’t you, John Nash, the great mathematician who, you know, had a few issues, but was, obviously a genius. He made major contributions to game theory. So, game theory is a theory of how do people interact? What’s their best strategy, and you can apply that to businesses. And you can apply that to say, fuel retailers, I mean, what’s turned out to be the optimal strategy that they’ve all figured out works for them, and no one really deviates from it. Because it’s just going to make life worse for everyone. If they get into some fuel price war, that is figure out, let’s not do that, let’s not rock the boat, let’s just go along, and we’ll will benefit from this cycle. And they’re making this cycle work for them. So, there’s no real collusion, they’re not ringing up each other. They just sort of, all know how the games play; this has developed over the years. 

Tim Hughes  21:30

They’ve got a mode of behavior that they all follow. They just have to do the same thing at the same time.

Gene Tunny  21:40

Yeah, it’s, it’s funny, isn’t it? You can explain that with Game Theory. So, there have been various different models of this proposed over the years with fuel prices. I’ll have to revisit it, I remember learning about it in the 90s. This was a topic of conversation in one of our micro economics lectures, I remember Harry Campbell is a professor at UQ. He would often talk about fuel prices. 

Now, the way I think about it is how this benefits the petrol retailers is that they’re able to segment the market, they’re able to divide the market into different segments and charge different prices to both segments, and this is going to maximize their profit. Now, one of the challenges that firms have when they’re selling to the public is that they can’t distinguish between different customers in terms of their willingness to pay, how much were they actually willing to pay for this their product. And so, what they end up doing is, well, if you can’t really discriminate, every customer has to pay the same amount, then the price you charge is just enough to cover the costs of production of the last unit, the last sale that you’ll make to the last consumer that is profitable to sell to. But what that means is that you’re missing out on a lot of the upside from customers who would have paid more. And, well, what you can do is have a strategy of price discrimination, if you can separately identify different groups of customers, you can discriminate amongst them charged at different prices, depending on their willingness to pay. So, that’s why for years I mean, well, look, that could be another explanation. But one explanation for why nightclubs used to charge lower cover charges for females, relative to males is that males typically had more money, they made more money on average, higher income, higher willingness to pay to get into the nightclub. 

Tim Hughes  23:41

I thought that was to encourage, because it was better to have women in the nightclub.

Gene Tunny  23:46

I think so, that’s part of it. But it could also be because men have a higher willingness to pay to get into the nightclub than women. So, yeah, it’s in the interests of the nightclub to attract the women in;

Tim Hughes  23:59

And to get the men in who want to pay more to get in.

Gene Tunny  24:03

Yes. To the attract the right ratio, or the right numbers of women, and they have to lower the price for females. And then they charge the males more. Males have a higher willingness to pay to get into the nightclub.

Tim Hughes  24:17

And then we’re known as meat markets, which sort of, explains that approach, I guess, because that was part of that scene, I guess.

Gene Tunny  24:29

Yeah. Don’t think as many places have covered charges now.

Tim Hughes  24:35

They do apparently, someone also tells me

Gene Tunny  24:38

I guess I’m not going to;

Tim Hughes  24:41

You can get in free before 10 o’clock at certain clubs. But back in the day.

Gene Tunny  24:48

I’ve just noticed that there seem to be fewer places with cover charges. I think maybe it’s more competitive now, who knows. Anyway.

Tim Hughes  24:54

We should do some research on that.

Gene Tunny  24:59

So, how I think this plays out in the fuel market with the fuel cycle that goes over several weeks is that they figure out there’s a group of customers who are really price conscious, they’ll buy when the fuel price is cheap, we’ll get them in. So, they’re a group that we can’t really get out. Or we can’t charge the high price to. They are the savvy consumers, they’re like you, Tim. They’re monitoring the, what are you doing? Are you monitoring or not?

Tim Hughes  25:45

Yeah, we’ll go into that in a bit. I’ll let you finish what you were saying. I’ll go into that.

Gene Tunny  25:49

Okay, you’re the savvy consumer. They know that there are some consumers they have to charge this lower price, too. But then there are the less savvy consumers or the consumers with deep pockets who don’t really watch the fuel tank, who aren’t thinking about when should I fill up what’s the optimal time, they just don’t care, there’s a high opportunity cost of their time. And the fuel retailers know that it’s sometimes, we can really charge them the maximum that we can get away with.

Tim Hughes  26:18

So, they are the only ones who are going to be filling up.

Gene Tunny  26:21

So, what they’ve done with this fuel price cycle, it allows them to segment the market into the high opportunity cost people who don’t care, people with deep pockets, let’s charge them as much as we can get away with. And then another market segment; that’s the savvy consumer, the cost-conscious consumer, the consumers who are paying attention to this price cycle, the fuel nerds, they might be monitoring the ACCC website, and the ACCC website is amazing. It has buying tips. I’m going to have to follow this now. Buying Tips, prices are decreasing, but they are likely to decrease further. So, this is what you were saying before, we were at the peak of the most recent cycle, is that right? And so they’re coming down now.

Tim Hughes  27:08

So, it went up to $1.95, which is a peak, is lower than it has been. It was going up to 2.25. That was the peak just a few weeks ago, maybe, one or two cycles ago; the top of it was 2.25. And that’s with the 22 cents cut in in the excise.

Gene Tunny  27:26

Yeah. Okay. And they recommend, if possible, motorists should delay by and petrol until later. I wonder if anyone’s ever complained to the ACCC about their advice. But I guess their advice is based on the cycle, and the cycle is just built in now. Because everyone’s playing the game; all the fuel retailers know that this is in their best interest, all the customers come to expect it.

Tim Hughes  27:48

There’s very little said about it, because it’s just accepted. That’s just how it is, but you can see, when the when the cycle does change. Because it happens gradually, it’ll happen over a seven to 10 day period from the first one you see, changing all of a sudden, that’s 40 cents difference, no one’s going there, it’s empty. So, very few people are going to be at that first one. And then it trickles down over the next seven to 10 days, until the last ones there. And when you get to that pointy end, those last ones normally have quite a few cars in there filling up. So, you can maximize your chances obviously, by keeping topping up or go through.

Gene Tunny  28:29

Yeah, you know, you go through it, but just tell me, did my explanation makes sense?

Tim Hughes  28:37

It did, because it was one of the questions why did they do that? But that made sense as to why they do it because they’re looking to charge as much as they can for those who don’t care as much.

Gene Tunny  28:50

That’s my as to why they’re doing it. It makes sense in terms of price discrimination, which is something you learn about in first year economics or micro economics. It’s a strategy that a firm will employ if it can distinguish different market segments and charge different prices to different market segments.

Tim Hughes  29:12

I guess it’s interesting. I’d like to say I don’t mind it, it’s a bit of a game and you play the game, or you don’t care. And it’s it doesn’t really matter. But I wouldn’t be interested; like my other experience really is in the UK, where I’ve been for longer periods and not noticed the cycles. And I would imagine with anything like this, if there’s a benefit that that will catch on and get done around the world. So, it’s kind of like side thought, but it’s it would be interesting to see if it’s unique to Australia to have this kind of volatility in a four-week cycle, or if that’s common in other parts of the world.

Gene Tunny  29:47

Yeah, I’ll have to look more into it. But it’s my understanding that it is. This is an Australian phenomenon. We’re examining that there might be elements of it in different countries, but for some reason it is baked in here. Our retailers have figured out, this is in our best interests.

Tim Hughes  30:04

Because it’s a big step, I mean, 40 cents out of it. Like, even if we average $2 at the top of the range at the moment, you know, that’s a 20% difference, which is big.

Gene Tunny  30:19

Anyway, okay. I want to hear about how you’re playing the game, Tim. Could you tell us how you’re playing the fuel price game?

Tim Hughes  30:26

It’s great, because technology really helps with this. There are several apps out there, for instance, again, this is Australia. So, for other countries, it’s going to be different. But there are; RACQ have one, there’s another one called fuel track, I think it is. And if you just look up fuel app, you’ll come up with all these different ones. And they will tell you, or you can search your local area to find out what’s the cheapest and you get a good idea as to, once you hook into the cycle, you can start to see when they’re starting to go up. There’s normally a couple of, for instance, here in Brisbane, around Kenmore, there’s a couple of servos there that are like the first to adopt; but that changes around too, you know. So, you can find that where it used to be the first place to go up isn’t always the case, I don’t know how that works. And again, that’s going to be stuff that we may never know about. But it doesn’t seem to be absolutely predictable. 

But what is predictable is once you see one go up. And so, if you can search an area around you and you see the first one go up, then you know you’ve got maybe a week before that disappears out of the realms of being able to get that lowest price. And so, when you know you’re at the bottom of the cycle will you fill up, you know, you fill your car up, and you keep topping it up until the cycle is completely gone. There’s a further thing you can do, which I’ve got, which is from the 7-11 app, it’s called My 7-11. And so, 7-11 and Mobil have joined forces. So, it’s basically a Mobil servo with the 7-11 shop attached to it. And the My 7-11 app allows you to do a fuel lock, which is fantastic. So  So, when you when you know you the end of that, and again, this is a real game, because when you do your fuel lock, it’s locked in for seven days. So, you can do it, but effectively, you’ve got seven days before you can then put another fuel lock in. I did a fuel lock, and it was a long time before it all disappeared. So, I filled up on my sixth day, and it reset. So, it looks like if you do your fuel lock, I might be hard to follow with this. I’ve realized but, if you do a fuel lock and then you buy some petrol. What happens is you show your app and the little barcode of when you did the fuel lock and it’ll lock in the price that you locked in. Then it starts again. So, that seven-day cycle does actually start again. So, you don’t have to wait seven days until you can do your fuel lock again.

Gene Tunny  33:05

Is there a transaction fee if you’re locked? Do you have to pay for fuel lock?

Tim Hughes  33:09

No, nothing. So, it’s really good. So, obviously, if you don’t use a full tank in those seven days, you stretch out until the seventh day, you’ve got a time on your fuel lock, which says it’s only up until this point. And then you can go to a 7-11 or Mobil station, fill it up and show them that fuel lock barcode on your app, and it’ll charge you, so for instance, instead of paying $1.95, I paid $1.55 for the tank full I got yesterday. There’s one little tip there, which I got wrong. The first time I used it is you have to specify what kind of fuel you’re going to use. So, I just had unleaded and I filled up with the 10 and they wouldn’t honor it because you can only do it for the fuel lock of the fuel that you’ve locked in anyway. Nerdy stuff but you can get you can get another week’s worth or another full tank of discount fuel once everyone else is paying top dollar.

Gene Tunny  34:12

Yeah, so tell me about that. I mean, you’re not going to get from trough to trough of the cycle with one tank of fuel, are you?

Tim Hughes  34:21

It depends what you do, what car you’ve got. And for me, I use about a tank full of fuel every week. I do a lot of running around. Like for you, you’d be okay.

Gene Tunny  34:32

I Hardly use any;

Tim Hughes  34:36

But you don’t do a lot of driving with it. So, you probably fall in the category where you don’t really care because you don’t use much anyways. You just get fuel when you need it. Yeah, but using a tank a week with a lot of running around, it makes a big difference. So, I never pay top price. And so, the rest of my strategy, I’ll just finish my thing there. So, I’ll do that, I’ve filled up at the cheapest, I’ve put my fuel lock on, or go for another week, and then fill up again at the last opportunity, either the weeks running out, or I’m running out of fuel, fill up again. And then you run that all the way down. So, you basically run that extra tank out, by which time, more than halfway through the next cycle. So, you should be heading towards a reasonable price anyway. And at that point, you just put in 20 bucks, $30 at the most to top up until it gets to the bottom of the cycle, then you fill up and go through it all again.

Gene Tunny  35:30

Yeah, I find it interesting that they don’t charge you for that privilege of having fewer lock, because if you think about it, there’s a correspondence to something in financial markets called a call option. Okay, so this is the Investopedia definition, a call option is a contract that gives the option buyer the right to buy an underlying asset at a specified price within a specific time period. So, you might have a call option on a share. Now they’re giving you something of value and you’re not paying for it because you got the right to buy that; maybe they figure out some people are going to make the wrong call. Or it’s a way of them segmenting the market even further, because they realize it’s the real savvy, the super savvy customers who are going to fuel lock, that will do enough research to figure this out. And yet we know we can’t rip these guys off.

Tim Hughes  36:35

Well, it’s an interesting point and they’ve obviously got reasons for that one of it. One of the reasons with 7-11 is that you have to go in their store, which is effectively a 7-11 shop, to pay for your fuel, and they have all these other rewards and incentives for you to buy stuff in there. So, the more often they can get you into that shop, the more often they can get you to buy things from them.

Gene Tunny  37:00

So, they’re hoping you get the connoisseur cookies and cream ice cream?

Tim Hughes  37:04

That’s just a rumor, Gene. That wasn’t real.

Gene Tunny  37:06

that was stuck. At 7-11.

Tim Hughes  37:12

They had this brilliant thing with a $2 Pies sometimes ago, which were okay. But yes, so there’s other incentives and other marketing schemes for doing that. And I think 7-11 is one of those that doesn’t take part; my understanding is they don’t take part in an ongoing rewards offering. So, for instance, part of my strategy is using Puma for that interim time. So, once I’ve used my fuel lock, when I get my fuel from that point onwards, I go to Puma, because I can use my RACQ card and I get four cents off a liter, so that drops it down again. This is another retailer, so, my understanding is I don’t think there’s one out there for Mobil. And so maybe they just sort of, like balance that out with being able to offer fuel lock, but they don’t do the four cents off. Because that’s another point worth making in my world of fuel nerdery that there are certain ones; the Woolworths one I think is one, I haven’t checked that, but you get four cents off for having rewards card. I think it’s Caltex that are linked with Woolworths, and you get a further four cents off if you spend $5 or more in store. But normally, that sort of, doesn’t pay out whenever you have to buy something in store, the elevated prices of whatever you’re getting in store normally, cancel out any kind of financial advantage of having that four cents off a liter. So, the little things like that play into it and it was funny. 

One of the things we did mention so through all those cycles, occasionally you get somebody who sticks out as not playing the game. And here in Brisbane, there’s one that I know of, which I have used if I’ve run out of fuel. And if the false sense of Puma is still higher than Keith Mackay at Red Hill, who does his flat, he has a flat level price that he tries to change very infrequently. And so sometimes, he’s for instance, is $1.79 At the moment, so he’s a good 16 cents less than most. And so that’s the place to go for fuel if you feel conscious and having to fill up at this time. So, I want to give a shout out to Keith Mackay for sort of, being an independent out there. 

Gene Tunny  39:36

What’s the problem? I mean, because it’s on a busy road and not everyone’s going on Waterworks road, you sort of, have to be going past Keith’s place for it to work for you to get there. Is that right for it to be economic for you or optimal? No, for anyone else?

Tim Hughes  39:52

For anyone, you have to go in person. You have to be going the right direction for that particular, I guess is the same for a lot of all analysts shorter corner. That’s pretty much the same for anybody getting fuel. If you’re on the wrong side of the road, you’re not going to go there.

Gene Tunny  40:06

But there are fewer servos here in Australia than there were 20 or 30 years ago. That’s a fact. I mean, I remember seeing a chart and in an ACCC report years ago when I was in Treasury, and I think, I don’t know the exact numbers, but at one time, there would have been 15,000, maybe, and then it’s well below 10,000 now, in terms of retail outlets in Australia.

Tim Hughes  40:29

Well, we can get onto that in a sec, because I imagine will change with part of the landscape, moving towards EVs that’s going to be impacted, massively. 

Gene Tunny  40:41

Oh, yeah, well. That’s right, all of that space that’s currently devoted to petrol stations to their forecourts, we may not need that anymore but let’s see. We should move on to that. Because we’ve had a good 41 minutes or so, so far of chat. So, we’re going to get on to EVs, which was one of the key things you’re interested in. But that fuel price cycle stuff, that’s fascinating, isn’t it?

Tim Hughes  41:09

Yeah. I just want to add with Keith Mackay, his main gig is tyres, which I think, he’s not there as a fuel guy. But it’s interesting and nice to see that somebody isn’t affected by the, the cycle as much or as standing up to the cycle and just sort of, leveling out.

Gene Tunny  41:27

Yeah, so it sounds like he’s willing to; he wants to offer a service to people in local area. He’s not as motivated by profit as a lot of the other retailers, or maybe he’s trying to profit in another way.

Tim Hughes  41:44

I think it’s his main gig. So, it’s just part of what he does, but like, it’s not a main one. But we’ll have to get Keith on here one day to explain.

Gene Tunny  41:53

I’d be interested in his logic and also, what does he think of this whole fuel price cycle? How does it work? Does he have any insight? We’d like to know. 

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

Female speaker  42:09

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis, studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  42:38

Now back to the show. 

We better move on to EVs, Tim. Okay, so you had some questions about EVs. So, do they reduce greenhouse gas emissions? I mean, it’s a key one. 

Tim Hughes  42:53

I think what it was is like, looking at the whole process, from the making of the EV, to any waste products to them, the end life of an EV. So, the amount of, lithium being one, there’s a lot of resources needed; a lot of resources that go into making an electric vehicle. Yeah, they still have to be dug out of the ground, like, you know, 200 kilos of

Gene Tunny  43:19

Copper too, it’s got copper in there?

Tim Hughes  43:23

Yeah, I’ve only seen this from one source. So, this is unverified and people will know far more about it than I. But clearly, there’s an environmental cost of building an electric vehicle. There’s an environmental cost of running an electric vehicle; obviously we’ve discussed, you know, the fuel source of producing that energy, and in this transition phase, and that’s going to be coal or gas, or whatever, it may be some, you know, part of it would be solar or clean, but certainly not all of it. We’re not there yet with that capability. 

I imagined that the future, ideally, would be a point in the future where we can do all of our electricity needs, and including the ability to power electric vehicles from clean energy. So, that I imagine is, you know, that’s a worthy place to head towards. And that transition phase is going to be a certain period of time where we do need fossil fuels of some sort, like coal and gas or whatever to get us to that point. And that infrastructure is going to change massively in that period of time.

Gene Tunny  44:26

Yeah, okay. So, just on EVs, I think it’s difficult to say but all of the credible studies I’ve seen suggests that they do result in lower emissions and then, they’re better for the environment than petrol driven vehicles. I think we can confidently say that. 

There’s a Queensland Government website shifting to zero emissions vehicles. I’ll put a link in the show notes and it says across Australia, battery electric vehicles, so, your Tesla’s, emit on average, 29 to 41% less lifecycle emissions than a typical fossil fueled vehicle for every kilometer driven in Australia. And then the extent to which electric vehicles can lower emissions varies depending on which state and territory you live in, much depends on how much electricity is generated from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and hydro. So, my interpretation of less lifecycle emissions means that they should have taken into account the manufacturing process, but look, that’s not guaranteed. So, I’d have to dig more into their sources. But I’d be fairly confident in saying that they’re better for the environment than petrol powered vehicles, I think that’s pretty clear. The problem is that they’re still so costly, and they’re just not economic for most consumers yet.

Tim Hughes  45:45

Yeah. And the thing is also that we would hopefully become more efficient in the manufacturing of electric vehicles, you know, in the manufacturing of batteries, and the disposal of batteries and other parts of that whole process when it comes to it.

Gene Tunny  46:03

I think all those costs are coming down. Before battery technology, I don’t think it’s improving fast enough. Maybe it is for cars. But one of the issues with batteries is that we really need them to back up the electricity grid, we really need them to be able to absorb the solar energy that comes during the day, and then allow us to power the country during the peak periods. That’s one of the big challenges we’ve got at the moment. I mean, we need more Tesla power walls, and we need big sort of, batteries across the suburbs. Really, we need big Tesla Powerwall type batteries in local areas.

Tim Hughes  46:50

And the charging time as well. Obviously, when you fill up with fuel, it’s relatively quick, five minutes and you normally done; 10 minutes tops, if you’re getting a cookies and cream connoisseur from the freezer. But I know I’m fully behind this move towards greener energy. And I think it’s really exciting to see how quickly it’s moving. But it’s that transition phase we’ve mentioned, which seems to be happening organically anyway, because it appears that people are able to charge EVs at the moment and that sort of, they’re selling more EVs. So, it seems to be the way this is happening, you know, appears to be working, but for everyone to be expected to have an EV or the majority of people. Clearly the infrastructure is a long way from being what it needs to be.

Gene Tunny  47:43

Yeah, we could talk about that in a minute. So, just on this is happening quickly. Look, the growth rate is, is high. I think they’re growing; I don’t know 200%. EV sales have grown by some really high rate over the last few years in Australia. But, so in the first half of 2021, there were 8,698 EVs sold in Australia. That compares with 6900 EVs sold in 2020. I think a stat I saw was that there’s been 40,000 electric vehicles sold in Australia since over the last 10 years or whatever the period was. But look, we have to compare that with 20 million registered motor vehicles in Australia, right? So, it’s really small relative to the total stock. It’s going to take a long time, decades for EVs to become the predominant vehicle type in Australia. And we’re actually a global Lagarde. This is according to a Grattan Institute report. The Grattan car plan Australia is a global laggard on electric vehicles. So, electric vehicle sales as a proportion of new vehicle sales in 2020. Australia was 0.78%, United States, 2.3%, global average 4.2% China 6.2%, Sweden 32.2%, Iceland 45%, Norway 74.8%.

Tim Hughes  49:15

Iceland makes sense. So, because small place, they can be far more agile with this kind of infrastructure and technology. And the energy that they have at their disposal with geothermal energy is just enormous. I mean, that just drill down and away you go.

Gene Tunny  49:31

Well, that’s better as a renewable, is it renewable, or whatever it is. I mean, it’s greenhouse friendly. It’s better for the environment than fossil fuels. But that’s a more constant source of energy, isn’t it? than say, wind or solar, the problem we’ve got is, the renewable energy sources, we’ve got are intermittent

Tim Hughes  49:52

Yeah, and the geothermal, from what my understanding is very stable and it’s 24/7.

Gene Tunny  50:00

Yeah, I need to get an engineer on here to explain it all. But this is a challenge with trying to understand what’s going on and this whole debate. There are all these engineering issues and scientific issues that it’s challenging for any economist to comment on.

Tim Hughes  50:17

And also, after so with Iceland, they do have the possibility of something cataclysmic happening as well over there. I think anywhere where you’ve got geothermal availability, you’ve got the possibility of something crazy happening.

Gene Tunny  50:30

And I think the fact that it’s a small place to means they don’t have that range anxiety, which is a big issue in Australia, where you could be driving hundreds of kilometers to your next destination, particularly if you’re in the outback. Or if you’re in regional Queensland and New South Wales, you might have to travel 200-300 kilometers to the next town. And you’d probably rather have a petrol driven vehicle with a big tank than an EV which, I mean, what’s the range? Is it 300 kilometers maybe? I’m trying to remember; I hope to look it up. But I know that’s an issue here in Australia. I know that EVs are getting better at that. But there are some people still are concerned about whether they can go the distance, so to speak. But then look, Norway is a big place and they seem perfectly comfortable. So, they’ve obviously set themselves up well, with the necessary infrastructure.

Now there are two more issues I want to chat about, because we’re sort of, approaching the time limit. You want to talk about how much more energy is required? There is just quite a bit more. There was a report in Drive Magazine that suggested that it could be equivalent to 12 million more houses. So, like one new electric vehicle is equivalent to a house. And I was struggling to find a good figure for the proportion of electricity that’s consumed by households compared with business and industry. But it’s going to be a fraction of the title. So, it’s not as if we’re going to double the amount of electricity needed. But it could be 50% or something. Yeah, I think it’s probably Yeah, maybe 30 to 40%, I think I saw an estimate. So, we’ll need 40% More energy, electricity. And yeah, the challenge is that at the moment where we’ve got all of this coal fired power stations that are retiring or projected to retire over the next two decades, and we’ve got a challenge, just replacing that capacity with renewables. And doing that in a way that we don’t screw up the liability of the energy system, where we’d end up having blackouts and all that; we need to avoid that with the firming with the battery power. If battery technology gets cheap enough that everyone can have a Tesla Powerwall, or whatever the competitor’s product is, if we can have grid level storage, big batteries dotted around the suburbs, or if we have more pumped hydro, that’s a challenge because environmental considerations, raising dam walls building new dams, I mean, that’s, that’s not going to be popular.

Tim Hughes  53:16

All comes back to energy at that every point really, isn’t it? We’re going to get our energy from and what’s the most efficient and clean way of getting that energy? And to be able to increase the capacity.

Gene Tunny  53:28

But we do need more, we’re going to need more energy for EVs. The authorities are aware of this. So, the Australian energy market commission published a paper in 2020, that dealt with this issue. And I’ll put a link in the show notes. They had a paper integrating electric vehicles into the power system. And its press release to the AMC says Australia needs a forward-thinking plan to get the energy system market ready for an electric vehicle future. Now, are we going to get that forward thinking plan? I don’t know. We’ve had a lot of problems in Australia getting an energy policy that makes sense; that sensible that everyone agrees on. I mean, we’ve had the climate wars, the big debates over climate change policy. This is going to be a big challenge. But look, people are aware of it. They know it’s an issue. There’s an issue with apartment buildings for sure. So, in that drive magazine article I mentioned, electric cars could have big impact on Australia’s energy supply. They quote this Mark Hartje, who’s CEO of charging installation company, Harman electric. His business regularly encountered developers who are unaware of the demands electric car charging good place on energy supply. One of the issues in this building we’re working on is the amount of power they have available. It sounds like a lot, but it’s running lifts, a lot in aircon, so the building doesn’t have the capacity to provide any more energy and we could burn the substation down. So, not good. 

So, he claimed the risks are high developers and body corporates were dealing with don’t really realize it’s an issue until we tell them. It will be like the pink bats cladding issue, once a couple of buildings go up in flames, they’ll do something. And then what he’s saying is that as a result, our chargers have automatic load management. So, if demand gets too high, like when all the air cons on the Chargers will throttle back, how we notify owners, we’re still not entirely sure about I think what he’s saying is that, yeah, basically what’ll happen is if there’s always EVs getting charged the system, there’s some intelligent system that is, an IT there that will just throttle, that turn the power down. So, it’ll shut down some of the EVS or the charging or shut down some air cons, or they’ll have to manage that it’ll cause all sorts of problems.

Tim Hughes  55:55

And, of course, this is a problem that’s not currently there. So, it’s, like, you know, the general population, we’re not great at dealing with new problems, like we, you know, like things to get easier and better. So, it is, I mean, I can only feel that whatever these issues are, that they will get sorted out, you know, it seems to be that we’re on this path towards electric vehicles. And, you know, we’re moving fairly quickly in that way, even though those percentages that you talked about are really very small. Well, percentages of how many electric vehicles we have actually have here. It’s not a lot. So, like, we’re massively predominantly having fuel driven cars. But the changes that we’ll need to make, I mean, of course, all of this stuff doesn’t happen with everything in place, you know, like it evolves and the challenges get met along the way. So, clearly, there are some big challenges here. And I’ve got no doubt that they’ll get met, which will be really interesting to sort of, see, because there will be some challenges, as we’ve outlined, with getting these EVs powered for everybody.

Gene Tunny  57:04

Yeah, and bringing them down. So, they’re cost effective, and people can purchase them. One of the challenges, or one of the reasons that they’re so expensive, is that these companies are making the EVs are trying to recover all of the R&D that they’ve spent developing the EV.

Tim Hughes  57:22

The last two years have been felt, of course, with supply of any new vehicles. That is still getting caught up with that.

Gene Tunny  57:30

Title mess, supply chain problem;

Tim Hughes  57:33

It will be really interesting to see how this changes and just want to briefly mention on that, like, we’re talking about the infrastructure changing. And the amount of fuel stations that there are here at some point, those fuel stations just become charging stations, then that infrastructure doesn’t necessarily change too much, but they’re just going to be selling, because they’ll have to sell it at that point to recharge, you’re not going to get free electricity to charge your EV as an ongoing basis. I think that’s just a bit of a perk to get people. Right. So, Tesla are doing it’ll happen at some point. That’s not going to continue. 

Gene Tunny  58:10

Well, if you’re offering that if you’ve got your recharging station, then that’s taking up land. And yeah, you’ll need to;

Tim Hughes  58:16

Somebody’s got to pay for that, no matter how its generated. But I’m sure it’ll get worked out. But it’ll be interesting to see how all of all of this unfolds.

Gene Tunny  58:25

Exactly. Okay. Just one more thing. One of the issues that economists are thinking about at the moment is, as we move away from petrol driven vehicles, we’re going to get less revenue from fuel excise here in Australia. So, that’s currently bringing in, well, before we cut the rate temporarily, I think it was running at about 10 billion per annum or something like that. I mean, it’s, it’s a big amount of money. I’ll put the exact figure in the show notes; might be 11 billion, there was a great article by John Freebairn an economist at University of Melbourne. What is petrol excise? And why does Australia have it, anyway? I’ll link to that in the show notes. 

So, there’s a big debate about well, how do we make up for that revenue? Should we have an electric vehicle tax, as Victoria has implemented? There’s currently a high court case on that. I think the Commonwealth is taking them to court and say no, we don’t want you to have that. That’s not the right way to go about it. And where economists are going is that, that’s probably not a good idea. Because at the moment, we want to encourage people to take up EVs. So, you don’t want to go and tax them. But there is a legitimate debate about how we charge for the use of roads and the damage that’s done for roads and the fact that roads can be congested at times. So, there’s a big debate about road user charging. And so there’s a lot of thinking going on about that. And that’s something I’ll try and cover with Marian Terrell from Grattan Institute in a future episode. She’s written a great piece in the financial review this week on that. She’s opposed to that EV tax in Victoria as I am, I think we should take the opportunity to think, more laterally; think about what’s the appropriate way to pay for the roads. And so, what John Freebairn writes in his article is that in an ideal world, we would charge explicitly for road use pollution and congestion in the cities during peak hours. Fuel excise is an increasingly inappropriate way of charging for road use. Because more and more cars, including hybrids are using less fuel per kilometer, and some, including all electric vehicles are using none. So, look, I don’t know how we do this, we probably need some sort of, chip or tag to keep track of you. 

And then the one of the ideas is that on a really congested road, you could charge people if they’re driving on that road. You know how there’s the congestion charge in London? I think we were probably talking about that before you got standby. 

Consider a London and getting the thing. Yeah. So, yeah. So, there’s a lot of thinking going on about what’s the right way to charge for roads. So, I’ll cover that in a future episode. Does that makes sense because we are losing fuel excise and a lot of people will point to the fact, that’s partly paying for the roads well sort of, I mean, it goes into the big pot of money. That is a whole bunch of things. Money is fungible that. Okay, it’s a legitimate thing to be to think about that. Yeah, we’re going to be getting less revenue to pay for services, including roads, goods and services.

Tim Hughes  1:01:53

Because it gets complex, doesn’t it? Like HGVs and obviously, you know, different size vehicles and heavy vehicles, potentially do more damage to the road. 

Gene Tunny  1:02:07

There’s a system for charging heavy vehicles. We’ve got that. Yeah. 

Tim Hughes  1:02:11

So, it makes sense that it would be done on a per kilometer basis. I don’t know. I mean, I’m also in favor of less, certainly personal tracking, you know, over the last two years, the whole of the pandemic and throw no liberalism and freedoms. That’s another conversation as well. I think it’s really hard to give up ground on personal movement and you know with your vehicle, although that would be the fairest way. If you travel a kilometer, you pay X amount per kilometer.

Gene Tunny  1:02:43

Very good, Tim, I should have thought about myself. As someone who just went to the Friedman conference, in July in Sydney, as someone who’s had a long-term association with center for Independent Studies, which is a great proponent of liberty in Australia. I think I should have thought of that point myself. It’s a very good point. I mean, it’s tracking to be able to implement this road user charging system, you need to have some way of tracking people as they drive. 

Tim Hughes, we better wrap up. Any final words before we close?

Tim Hughes  1:03:12

No. Just that it’s a fascinating subject that I know a lot of people talk about, it comes up in conversations everywhere. We’ve done just a broad overview of this, to the best of our knowledge at the time, but these are individually little areas that we’ve talked about, that will dive deeper with industry representatives, or colleagues or people.

Gene Tunny  1:03:35

And experts, yeah. I’ll try and get some EV experts on charging the energy network. Because, there’s so much complexity here, you almost have to be an engineer, an economist, a philosopher in a way as well, to try and grapple with these issues.

Tim Hughes  1:03:51

And as a consumer, you sort of, like, see this unfolding. And it is really interesting. And my driving principle, for me, personally, is about, you know, the environment and what’s best for the environment. So, I’m interested to see that discussion further, with the greenest possible solution to how we move from A to B and back to A again.

Gene Tunny  1:04:13

Okay, so long as it doesn’t cost us too much. We want it cost effective, but, we want to look after the environment, that’s right. We want to make sure it’s done in the most cost-effective way. We want to minimize the pain going forward. 

Tim Hughes  1:04:28

It’s got to be practical, you got to be able to do it, you know, like the green options now, which is to walk or cycle, you know, but that’s not practical for me to by the time we get to work, I’d have to turn around and go back again. 

Gene Tunny  1:04:41

All the way was set up as cities. We’re all living in these big cities, and we’re all time constrained. Yeah. 

Tim Hughes  1:04:48

So, the overriding principle for me anyway, like is, what’s going to be best for the planet in our hippie at heart, and, but you got to be realistic as well. But I’m excited because that’s the way that EVs seem to be heading. And that can obviously be tweaked and fine-tuned to be better and better and more efficient and less impact on the environment as we move ahead.

Gene Tunny  1:05:13

Okay. Tim Hughes, is it’s been great chatting with you. We always enjoy our conversations. I think you’ve raised some really important issues here. And yeah, really enjoyed our conversation. And we’ll try and get some experts and other industry people on in the future and we can have a further chat with them. So, thank you. 

Tim Hughes

Thanks, Gene.

Gene Tunny

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.

Thanks to Josh Crotts for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.auPlease consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

GDP & the National Accounts: What they are and why they matter w/ Brendan Markey-Towler – EP153

The National Accounts are a huge intellectual achievement and an incredibly useful set of data, including GDP and its components. Chatting about the National Accounts with Economics Explored host Gene Tunny is fellow economist Dr Brendan Markey-Towler, author of the Substack newsletter Australian Economy Tracker. Brendan explains how the National Accounts help us track the current state of the economy as well as longer-term trends, such as shrinking manufacturing sectors and growing services sectors in many advanced economies.

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher.

Links relevant to the conversation

Brendan’s Australian Economy Tracker Newsletter

Brendan’s post discussed in this episode

Planet Money episode on Simon Kuznets

Australian Financial Review article (pay-walled, alas) which reported “Federal government business generated $1.7 billion in revenue for the big four accounting and consulting firms over the past five years – though the government has a different take on the contract value of that business.”

Transcript: ROI of education: how economists estimate it + US economic update – EP152

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.

Brendan Markey-Towler  00:04

So, that’s where we get the view that Australia is less and less a country that makes things and builds things. Construction, manufacturing declining as a share of GDP.

Gene Tunny  00:16

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 153 on GDP and the National Accounts. What they are and why they matter. 

Chatting about the national accounts with me this episode, is my good friend and fellow economist, Dr. Brendan Markey-Towler, who started a new sub stack newsletter, Australian Economy Tracker. Brendan explains how the national accounts help us track the current state of the economy, as well as longer term trends, such as shrinking manufacturing sectors and growing services sectors in many advanced economies. 

In the show notes, you can find relevant links and any clarifications. Please send any comments or questions to contact@economicsexplored.com. I’d love to hear from you. I’ve been very grateful for all the comments on recent episodes. Your comments really helped me figure out the issues that you’re interested in, and the types of guests that you’re interested in hearing from. So, please keep the comments coming to me.

Right oh! Now for my conversation with Brendan Markey-Towler on the national accounts. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Brendan Markey-Towler, welcome back to the program.

Brendan Markey-Towler  01:43

Gene, it’s always a pleasure to be here. Sorry, I’m a bit husky today, but I’ve bruised my throat. I’d like to pretend that it was under heroic circumstances, but it was not.

Gene Tunny  01:52

Okay, well, thanks for participating. I understand it’s not damaging your throat, you’re able to talk, you’ve been talking all day. And you’re still happy to talk.

Brendan Markey-Towler  02:01

I could talk under wet cement, mate. So, a bruised throat isn’t going to stop me.

Gene Tunny  02:07

Well, you know, now, you can get a job as a rugby league commentator, possibly?

Brendan Markey-Towler 02:14

That’s true. I’m more of a union man. Yeah, but I will go with league. That’s good. 

Gene Tunny  02:18

Right oh, okay. So, the topic of today, national accounts, what it is, why it matters? You’ve started a sub stack and one of your first pieces that came out on the sub stack was on the national accounts. And you displayed a level of enthusiasm for the national accounts that is very rare. And it actually reminded me of just how marvelous the set of data – the national accounts are, and what a superb intellectual achievement. 

So, going back to the work of Simon Kuznets, and Colin Clark, who, was it Stone as well, Richard Stone, who formulated the methodology financial accounts, and then it was like a system a toss by the UN. So, I think, what your note did was it really helped us; well, it really reminded me of just how impressive those national accounts are. So, could you just tell us first, what you were trying to do in that note? And what’s your sort of general take on the national accounts, please, Brendan? Why do you think they’re so important?

Brendan Markey-Towler  03:28

Partly to justify why I had no friends at school. Because I get excited about nerdy stuff like this. But look, when you actually know what the national accounts are, they’re extremely interesting. And what they really do is they aim to provide a snapshot of the activity within an economy over a set period of time. So, in Australia, and throughout almost the world, I’m not sure of any country that doesn’t do it this way. It gives you a snapshot of all the activity that went on in an economy over the previous quarter. And the central number that depicts that activity is the number that we call gross domestic product. And gross domestic product is a measure of how much wealth was added to the economy, how much production, how much activity, and under the three great categories production, exchange, and income, or earning. That’s what the national accounts do. And they add that up into a single number, GDP. And that tells you how much activity went on in the economy over that quarter. 

Now, where it gets really interesting, is that number not alone would be kind of cool. And we talk about the GDP growth rate. That’s what we mean when you hear on the news that people say economic growth or the economy grew by, that’s what they meant that GDP number increasing or decreasing. But where it gets really interesting is that we approach GDP in three ways. And you can think of this as looking at the economy as the same thing, but from three different directions. And that changes the way that you interpret that number. So, we call these GDP I, or at least I call them GDP I, GDP O, and GDP E. That is, GDP expenditure, GDP income and GDP output. 

And what those numbers are doing are adding up GDP, the activity in the economy, looking at that activity from one to three ways: as a production, as an expenditure, and as an income, right. So, if you think about it this way, when you go down and you buy something that’s dear to our heart, here in Queensland, you go down into buy your coffee, there’s three things going on, there’s three ways that they get that same transaction gets measured and add to GDP. From the expenditure side, the expenditure that you make, when you buy that coffee goes into GDP E, and we add all of those up together, and we get GDP. That expenditure becomes income from the perspective of the person behind the bar. And that gets added up into GDP income. 

And there’s also an interesting concept of gross value add, which is how much value has been produced by that transaction. The way that we measure that in GDP O, is we take the value of the output that was sold and subtract the value of the inputs that went into it. And that by definition, that’s the value that was added. 

So, that’s the three ways that we add up GDP and we get an interesting view of the economy from that. A little bit further breaking that down, obviously, you can break that down to the level of the individual transaction. But the you know, you don’t get a huge amount of information that you get so much information, you have no information. So, we categorize at a high level, these different activities to get a sense of what’s driving GDP. So, within GDP E, the expenditure, which is the most popular and most focused on of the national accounts measures of GDP, we break down expenditure by consumption, investment; in Australia, we break down by housing, as well, government expenditure, both consumption and investment, and net exports.

Gene Tunny  07:34

And by investment, we mean capital investment, we mean expenditure on capital goods. So, we mean, new housing developments, or we mean, new, non-residential buildings, new schools, new factories, new capital equipment that’s purchase.

Brendan Markey-Towler  07:55

That’s right. Yeah. So, in Australia, we call it gross fixed capital investment, which is at the addition to the capital stock of the country in the capital stock of the country is; in Australia, again, we trade a little, perhaps, oddly, that we add housing into that. But factories, equipment; we actually add intellectual property as well. So, science and technology research get added into that figure. And so that’s what we that’s, that’s the way that we break down the economy. 

So, when we break down GDP E that way consumption, investment, government spending net exports, we get a sense of which sector of the demand side of the economy is pulling the economy along. Is it household consumption? Is it buying new houses or building new houses? Is it businesses investing? Is it government consuming, spending money? Or is it government investing? Or is it coming from the international sector? And that gives us a lot of information about the activity within a country, it also gives us information about what might be dragging economic growth as well. So, that’s expenditure. 

Another really interesting measure, well, I mean they’re all interesting, but the second measure GDP O – GDP output, sometimes called GDP gross value add, gives us a sense more of the supply side of the economy. 

So, expenditure gives us a view of what’s driving the economy on the demand side. GDP O gives us a view of what’s driving the supply side. So, we get GDP in Australia, broken down by industry. And that’s where it gets really interesting because we can see which industries are adding the most to GDP. So, that’s cool. We can say, oh, mining adding more? Or how much is mining adding to GDP and how much is it driving or dragging on GDP? Ditto for professional scientific and technical services is another one that we use, agriculture and fishing, public administration safety; how much are these sectors adding to GDP and how much are they dragging or driving GDP. And then finally, the GDP I number. This is typically not quite as informative as the others, which is kind of ironic because it’s the easiest to add up because we just look at the tax returns. GDP I, breaks down GDP by income. And in Australia, we do it by what we’d call the greatest states of Australian society. So, wage earners, non-financial corporations, financial corporations, and government. And we can get a view of who’s earning the income within GDP. How what of that GDP that’s expended and outputted. Where is the income from that activity accruing to? Is it accruing to wages? Is it accruing to company profits? If it’s an accruing company profits, is it occurring to financial or non-financial companies? So, that’s some of the really interesting stuff that we get from GDP, it gives us this, really, especially in Australia, because our accounts are quite amazing.

Gene Tunny  11:05

Yeah, we’ve got some of the best in the world for sure. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  11:09

They really are and we get a really rich view of what’s driving and dragging the Australian economy. What’s creating the wealth in our economy and what’s potentially dragging on the wealth of our economy. And kind of, we get a sense as well, where it’s going.

Gene Tunny  11:26

Okay, so the few things I want to talk about there, Brendan. Okay, so you mentioned that GDP; well, is it an approximation of the addition to wealth? Let me think about this. I mean, part of it is in addition to wealth, to the extent that you’re increasing the capital stock, but then part of it is consumed, and then part of the investment is consumption of fixed capital. So, I mean, it’s national income really, isn’t it? I mean, it’s related to wealth. Yes. So, it’s certainly related to that. It gives us a picture of our national income. I think national income was the original term for it, wasn’t it?

Brendan Markey-Towler  12:11

Yes, although national income gets a little trickier because the we focus on GDP, because it’s really limited to the geographical definition of the country. And that distinction was made early on in the development of the methodology, because national income is a bit fuzzier because it’s typically added up by nationals, rather than by where the activity occurred. So, that’s why the classic example that we give in an economics course, is that national income for a country like Luxembourg is, I think, Ireland, sorry. National income for a country like Ireland is actually much higher than its GDP, because a lot of its nationals live overseas. So, there’s few distinctions that we make within it. But really, what it’s giving you is a view of the activity that’s occurred in the economy, the economy being that system of human behavior, why we produce and exchange stuff that we need for everyday life. And so obviously, that adds to the stock of wealth in the economy, because some of that gets consumed and taken out and other elements of it gets allocated to the national wealth. 

So, yeah, it’s a flow metric in the classic distinction between stocks and flows. It a reflection of the consumption and investment activity in an economy during a particular period.

Gene Tunny  13:40

Yes, it was developed during, well; the need for it became obvious during the 30s, when they were trying to quantify the extent of the Great Depression, I think Kuznets produced a report for the US federal government that strangely became a best seller. I mean, it was the first time someone had produced numbers like this. There’s a great planet money episode on that. I’ll try and find it and link to it in the show notes.

Brendan Markey-Towler  14:09

Well, that’s a good point, right? Because before then everyone kind of knew when times were good, or times were bad. And so, you could tell there were panics and manias and crashes as Charles Kindleberger famously said, but before the national accounts were developed, we never really were able to quantify what that was. And a lot of this was crystallized by John Maynard Keynes, his famous book, The General Theory of Interest, money and employment. I’ve got that wrong, interest money I think I got three. I’m one of the few in my in my generation, I think who actually read the book, which is, which is why it’s embarrassing I can’t remember the name because we always refer to it as the general theory.  And what Keynes was trying to do there was give a theory of why we experienced these manias, panics and crashes, you know, boom and bust. And the problem was that when he wrote it, he was dealing with a lot of abstract thoughts and that needed to be measured. And I’ll actually give a little plug here for our home state of Queensland because Queensland was at the forefront of this, currently the building out at UQ, which houses the School of Economics, the University of Queensland, the School of Economics there is housed in the Colin Clark building, which is kind of ironic because Colin Clark didn’t become an academic at UQ until much later in life, I think around the 1980s. But Colin Clark was at the forefront of developing the methodology, not only for what the national accounts are, but how you actually design the surveys that add up those numbers and find out what the numbers are. 

Gene Tunny  15:49

And he’s quoted in Keynes’s book because Keynes used his estimates of consumption spending for Great Britain, if I remember correctly, in the general theory. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  16:01

And it’s kind of funny. So, Colin Clark who came out here to Australia and did a tour of Australia and he was the hotshot wizkid political economist from Cambridge. And he met with all of the premiers because back in those days, we understood the constitution. So, the premiers were much more powerful than the prime minister. And when he came up here to Queensland, the premier at the time William Forgan Smith, which the alumni of UQ will know, is that is the main building at the University of Queensland. Kind of, a nice little coincidence. Forgan Smith basically said to him, look, do you want to come and be my adviser on all things economics? As Forgan Smith was a great reformer and trying to develop the Queensland economy, he needed to be able to measure the size of the Queensland economy: what was driving, what was dragging, what was causing development, what was dragging on development. And there’s a famous letter that Colin Clark writes back to Keynes to say, I’ve been offered a job to basically become the shadow premier of Queensland. I’m not going to turn that down. And Keynes, I think said something to the effect of where is Queensland. So, then, Colin Clark came out, join the Queensland Statistical Bureau and, he was instrumental in the development of the national accounts and as a point to why the national accounts are so important. While Colin Clark was doing that, he’s obviously thinking about what goes into an economy? What is an economy? What exactly does it mean to say an economy? Because when you actually; we all kind of know what it is, is the economy stupid?

Gene Tunny  17:44

It’s an abstraction, isn’t it? 

Brendan Markey-Towler  17:47

But it is an abstraction. And so, he had to think about, Okay, what does it actually mean? What is an economy, what counts as economic activity? And this is becoming very pertinent again, in these days, where we’re talking about things like Facebook and Amazon and Google where a lot of the activity that goes on there, we sort of think of as economic but it doesn’t measure it. But what happens as a result of Colin Clark thinking through these questions, is he’s starting to develop views of how economic development occurs. So, he ends up writing a large book, which sort of became a classic and development economics on how economies develop, what the basis for economic development are, what the settings for economic policy should be to encourage development. Particularly important question here in Queensland, which was a quite underdeveloped economy at the time.

And as a result, he became a very close adviser to Bob Santamaria, who those diehard fans of Australian politics will know was instrumental in the foundation of the Democratic Labor Party. So, this is the guy who invented a lot of the methodology behind the national accounts. So, when you understand something at that level, when you understand what an economy is, when you know how to measure it, imperfect as that measure may be, you get really rich insights into how an economy is tracking over time. And you get really rich insights as a result that develop over a long period of time of working with these things of what drives economic growth. You can situate those numbers in a history that tells you why the economy is growing, or why it’s not.

Gene Tunny  19:32

Yeah. Where do you get that Colin Clark story from? Is that in that book you keep talking about by, was it Millmow?. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  19:38

Yeah. Alex Millmow, A History of Australasian Economics Thought. I think that’s where I got it from. Yes, it is where I got it from. It’s a really good book because Alex points out that a lot of Australia’s economic contributions to economic thought came from really practical questions like this. How do we measure?

Gene Tunny  19:57

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

Female speaker  20:07

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. 

You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  20:36

Now back to the show. Okay, now, I did want to go back to the point you made about the difficulty of well, the issues around the modern economy and the India head, etcetera. There was a great lecture that John Quiggin, who’s a professor at UQ. And if any Australian economist is going to win a Nobel Prize, it’d be John. I mean, he’s one of the most cited academic economists that Australia has. I mean, maybe, Warrick McKibben could win one. So, but yeah, certainly, John is;

Brendan Markey-Towler  21:11

I always like for John Foster personally.,

Gene Tunny  21:15

Well, John Quiggin, is incredibly distinguished economist and his view at the this lecture he gave was that the problem with GDP is that it’s gross, its domestic and its product. Okay, so we’ve already talked about the domestic issue. So, the fact that you could have a lot of production, but if all your incomes remitted overseas, okay, because it’s just foreign mining companies producing and sending profits home, and then you may not see all of that benefit. But the point he was making is it because its product, and it’s measured at market prices, what you could be missing out on is consumer surplus, you’re not necessarily measuring the benefit to consumers, because all of these products are provided for, well, a lot of them for free. But yet, the foreign company makes money out of you in some other ways, because it’s monetizing your attention, isn’t it?

Brendan Markey-Towler  22:11

Yeah. And so, this is a debate that’s been really reopened, it’s been a perennial debate in economics, and there’s a lot of interesting ideas floating around, inspired by it, which is that when we talked about, you know, how GDP is added up, we talked about the exchange, okay. But the only way that we really observe and exchange is by the exchange of money, right? So, the price multiplied by the quantity of goods or services sold. Now, the problem merges; what happens in a world full of freemium models? What happens in a world where the price of a Facebook membership is zero? That sort of kind of, well, I don’t particularly like Facebook. So, you know, I would challenge just how much consumer surplus is creating, but there’s, you know, many people would argue that there is a value added.

Gene Tunny  23:11

I think TikTok is creating the most at the moment. Especially among the younger generation..

Brendan Markey-Towler  23:16

Massively, yeah. the only thing that shows up in the national accounts from Facebook, Google, TikTok, Instagram, is the data sales. That’s the only thing that shows up in the national accounts. I mean, apart from the marketplace exchanges that go on as well in the Facebook marketplace, and so on like that. But really, it’s ultimately the advertising for Google the sales of data from all of them. That’s the only thing that shows up in the national accounts. So, but there’s more than that, as well. Another problem, And Peter Thiel has recently raised this issue.

Gene Tunny  23:53

Oh, the billionaire? Right.

Brendan Markey-Towler  23:57

The chap who founded PayPal, he thinks that we’ve actually had no economic growth or very little economic growth in the past 70 years. And the reason he says that is because he contends that what is observed as economic growth in the past 70 years, is actually just us bringing production and exchange; valuable production exchange that used to happen in the home, into markets. So, cooking, cleaning, keeping the house in order, gardening; all this stuff gets done on marketplaces, rather than in the home. And that’s a bias in GDP. It doesn’t measure that stuff because it’s not on a marketplace. It can’t be observed. So, that’s another argument. 

You know that GDP doesn’t measure the actual value that’s being created. Now, the problem ultimately is, this goes back to a problem of micro economic theory, which is what is utility? And what is consumer surplus? And actually, from my perspective, why I ultimately say, look, let’s stick with GDP. It’s the worst measure we have, except for all the other things. Some countries have toyed with measuring gross national happiness. You know, New Zealand is toying with that at the moment, Bhutan famously measured it. The UN uses the Human Development Index, which is a weighting of GDP per capita literacy rates and life expectancy, I think.

Gene Tunny  25:31

All of which are highly correlated, aren’t those?

Brendan Markey-Towler  25:33

Yeah, and so, that was a March Ascends Brainchild, Jagdish Bhagwati famously said, well, yeah, they’re correlated. So, what are we talking about here? So, all those debates over replacing GDP ultimately, were reduced to a deep, deep philosophical problem, which economists are not well placed to solve, which is, what is value? What is good, what is true, what is beautiful? And I got some views on that. But as an economist, I ain’t got nothing to say about that. And so, when economists start dabbling in it, you kind of go, I used to be a fan of the happiness literature. But now I read and go, ah, this is, you know, it’s very simplistic. We’re going to use subjective wellbeing measures to add up Gross National Happiness. Okay, fine, that’s a really subjective and not very tangible measure. Whereas I can look out the window and see the cranes on the skyline here in Brisbane and see that’s an objective, measurable thing.

Gene Tunny  26:37

Well, it stood the test of time, hasn’t it? So, we’ve been using it for decades now. And there’s a general feeling that it does capture the state of the economy reasonably well. I mean, there are going to be people who grumble about it from time to time, but generally well, in Australia, at least when we had the recession, I mean, I always remember the 91 recession, because I was in high school at the time. And like, things just look bleak for anyone who was in high school and wanted to get a job. But then that was the period when retention rates at high school really ramped up. So, it was it was telling us something important there and it tends to; like it could give false signals, there’s a big debate at the moment over what’s happening in the US. But then look, the economy’s looks like it is slowing to an extent. There’s the impact of the Federal Reserve hikes. So, let’s wait and see how it all plays out. I mean, my feeling is, it’s generally a pretty good indicator of the state of the economy. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  27:38

I look bad, I’m a Queenslander first, Australian second, and as a result, I do have a bias which is towards tangible reality. Right, feelings are very ephemeral. And feelings are important, right? They are very important, but they’re really difficult to measure. And they’re very subjective, and they can be easily manipulated. Now, GDP can be manipulated as well, depending on how you count things up. But at the end of the day, it’s stuff that’s being produced stuff that’s being consumed. And it’s tangible, observable goods and services. So, insofar as I really have a criticism of GDP, my major criticism is that it really; I agree with Peter Thiel largely, biases us away from realizing the value that is produced in a house. 

And look, I’ve got a young, I’ve got a four-month-old son now so and my wife is at home, taking care of that. And I tell you what, that is incredibly mind blowing valuable work that she’s doing; doesn’t show up anywhere in GDP. Now, that doesn’t negate GDP. Because I think the solution to that is really, let’s just realize what GDP is actually measuring. Now, that does work in a political debate, because in politics and the way that the media works, you need a number and you need that number to be growing, otherwise, elections get lost, and so on and so forth. But when you’re, you know, when you’re doing grown up analysis instead of politics, I think the solution is to look at what GDP is actually measuring. It’s not a measure of value and if you think of it that way, then you’re wrong. Stop thinking of it like that. Think of it as it’s a measure of the production of stuff and the exchange of stuff within the economy, within the market that we can observe. Don’t try and start thinking about as a measure of all of the economic activity that ever happens in an economy. Just recognize the limitations, it doesn’t measure this stuff that goes on the household and that’s incredibly important.

Gene Tunny  29:51

Yeah, fair enough. That’s a good point. I’ll have to come in another episode to this issue of what’s in GDP? What’s out? What does it all mean? I’ll try and have that discussion in a future episode because there is a couple of other things I wanted to pick up on from your note; your note reminded me of a couple of things. And it’s the fact that this system is so beautiful, I mean, we end up getting from two different directions, possibly two different sets of data. I mean, we can look at what spend on consumption goods, final consumption goods, now, we have to be careful, we’re talking about final consumption goods and final investment goods, because what we’re trying to do is avoid double counting, we’re trying to get; because there are a lot of business to business transactions, businesses selling to other businesses inputs, so you have to take care of all that and make sure you’re not double counting title output, you want the expenditure on final goods and services. 

So, if you look at that, that ends up telling you what GDP is, once you add exports, subtract imports, because, well, if you import something, then you don’t have to produce it here. So, there could be stuff that shows up a consumption spending or an investment spending that’s imported, and we didn’t produce it here. So, you have to subtract it. And likewise, if we’re exporting something, well, we produced it here, we know we produced it here, then that adds to our output. But then, you look at spending data, on the other hand, you can look at income data. So, you are saying, look at the wages data, look at the profits data. And yeah, I guess it is coming from the ITR. I’m not sure exactly where the IBS gets it from. But I mean, that’s a likely source. I do surveys of businesses.

I’d have to check exactly how much they’re using ATO data, but I know they do surveys of businesses to get that information. They’ve got a household expenditure survey, they’ve got surveys of, well I guess they got their business server; I’d be looking at what they spending on capital goods. Looking at what they’re earning. And so, they build up this picture of earnings that way, and also the gross value added in the business. Which as you described, is their revenue less their production costs, and wages are part of the value added to. So, wages plus the gross operating surplus, is your value added in the business?

Brendan Markey-Towler  32:21

Yeah, it’s a very slippery definition, because it’s not quite profits. But it’s, you know, the value of inputs minus the value of outputs. And that by definition has to be the value that is added by that business to the economy, insofar as we can measure it.

Gene Tunny  32:35

This is because we’re talking about gross domestic product. So, we haven’t subtracted for the depreciation of capital stock, because some of the investment that occurs is just replacing existing capital stock. So, the building wears out and we have to replace it.

Brendan Markey-Towler  32:52

Too hard. We set that aside. Depreciation is very funny thing to talk about.

Gene Tunny  32:56

Right? Yeah. Well, we’ll leave that for now. You got time just to chat about your great quote? I should have brought it in earlier. You use these different perspectives on GDP to provide a really nice summary of what’s been happening in Australia. I thought this was very good. Exactly. Okay, so after you analyze where the growth has occurred, and you know, it’d be good if you could explain this at the moment. You concluded this; to put it somewhat tribally, Australia is less and less a country that derives its wealth from making and building things. Still a country that makes its wealth by digging stuff out of the ground and renting houses, and more and more a country that consults and cares. Could you please explain how you came to that conclusion, Brendan?

Brendan Markey-Towler  33:53

Well, you so what I did there, this is one of the most informative aspects of the national accounts I’m very interested; everyone focuses on the demand side of the economy, because we’re all Keynesian.

Gene Tunny  34:07

What we’ve been heavily influenced by Keynes, yes. There’s no doubt about that, whether we’re Keynesian. So, that’s another question. You can go ahead. Yes.  

Brendan Markey-Towler  34:13

We are all Keynesians. But the supply side of the economy is super interesting. See which sectors of the economy are generating the wealth. Now, the way that you can do that is by looking at gross value add, right. So, then you take the gross value added by each industry divided by the total GDP and you get the share of GDP, economic activity, economic value that is being created by that industry. And you can track that over time. Now, the problem with that data why almost no one really uses it? Some people do, but almost no one does. And you’ve used it, Gene, is that there’s a lot there, the ABS breaks the economy down by I think its 20 sectors. possibly 25. So, you’ve got to kind of cut it down to get some useful insights from it. 

So, the way I did it was alright, let’s cut out everything that’s less than 5% of the economy and look only at things that produce more than 5% of Australian GDP. Now, no sector really produces more than about 15. But there’s a clear standout. And there are clear standout trends once you do that, and you clean the graph up by eliminating all the Martin “minor sectors”. And you see some very strong trends. 

Trend number one that’s quite striking, and I should emphasize, this is all by real data. So, we hold prices constant to see what’s going on at the volumetric level in each of these sectors. So, we hold P constant, and we look at what’s changing in Q. Q is for quantity. And so, there’s benefits and costs to doing that. But it’s valuable as an exercise as long as you’re aware of the limitations of doing that. First interesting thing, manufacturing and construction are in decline in Australia. They’re not producing as much value add. In volumetric terms, they’re not producing as much value add anymore. They’ve been declining for the past 10 years as a share of GDP. So, that’s where we get the view that Australia is less and less a country that makes things and builds things; construction, manufacturing declining as a share of GDP.

Gene Tunny  36:30

So, with manufacturing, we had a car industry once, we subsidized a car industry, we tried to buy ourselves a car industry, and it just could not be viable on its own. And there wasn’t any more money we could throw at it to keep it open. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  36:48

And you look at somewhere like Maroubra or Ipswich. Which would you know, once kind of manufacturing ish areas in Queensland. Maroubra main manufacturing now is government contracts, building bullets for the Australian Army.

Gene Tunny  37:03

And do they build trains, still?

Brendan Markey-Towler  37:06

They do now. Yes, Maroubra now has a trains contract to build trains for the Queensland Government as well. And I think Ipswich still has a little bit of a train industry as well. But really not too much, by the way of price manufacturers. It’s not to say that it doesn’t exist, and it’s not to say that it’s very valuable. Queensland, for instance, has very vibrant medical manufacturing sector. That’s kind of grown up on the back of our extremely good hospitals and medical research. But generally, across Australia, the story is one of the car industries; we don’t really make stuff anymore. It’s just not competitive to build stuff. And so, that number is reflecting something that you see a lot when you go down to Fortitude Valley here, which, you know, the state would like to think Silicon Valley. Yes. Anyway, it’s Fortitude Valley, Queensland Silicon Valley, you see that a lot of the companies there just want to grow big enough that they can afford to offshore their manufacturing elsewhere. And the classic one is, I think Trivium, the electric car battery manufacturer, which is, as soon as they got big enough, they got a loan from the Queensland Government and then went to build factories in Tennessee.

Gene Tunny  38:17

Is that right? Is that a good use of taxpayers’ money?

Brendan Markey-Towler  38:21

Well, I’m completely agnostic on that. So, that’s what’s that number is reflecting. Similarly, construction,  this runs a bit counter to the crane index that we’re seeing in the city at the moment, but construction has been adding less and less to the economy. It’s not just large construction projects, but construction is declining as a share of GDP. 

Gene Tunny  38:48

Well, I’ll have to look at this. But I think what could be explained is 10 years ago, we had that massive project up in Gladstone at Curtis Island where we built the three LNG terminals or what are they? Refrigeration or liquification facilities. They turn the methane that comes from the coal field, the coal seams to liquefy it so, they can put it on a boat economically and ship it to Japan or Korea. And that was like $70 billion.

And it basically doubled the level of capital expenditure in Queensland at the time. It’s absolutely extraordinary.

Brendan Markey-Towler  39:31

There’s a huge effort on part of government corporations to get that going. 

Gene Tunny  39:35

And then in the southern states, maybe a few years later, I can’t remember the time; we had that big apartment construction boom. So, that could be explained. I’ll have to look at the data but go on. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  39:48

And that’s what’s really good about the national accounts is kind of counter to what you’re seeing if you’re walking around, particularly, Brisbane at the moment. The number of cranes in the sky is astounding, but this is why statistics are important because what’s local loss to a particular area is not necessarily true of the entire country. And what’s even true of a particular sector of construction, residential construction, government construction is not necessarily true, it might mean that we’re not building that many mines, which ties into the second point, which is, although it has declined in volumetric terms, the mining sector is still the single biggest contributor to Australian real GDP. And it’s not close, it’s way up; I forget the exact number, but it’s well up towards 10% of the entire Australian economy value added is produced by the mining sector. 

So, that’s, you know, digging stuff out of the ground, selling it to various countries around the world.. Behind that really interesting sector is, is the rental sector. So, a lot of value added in the Australian economy. It’s the only sector that holds candle to mining is the rental sector where people are building houses and renting them.

Gene Tunny  41:03

Okay. So, when you analyzed that, did you look at the industry, is it rental services? Or did you look at what’s in the national accounts as; there’s rental income, isn’t there? What do they call it? Trying to remember what the label is in the national accounts, but they impute rent for owner occupied dwellings as well, in that sector. If I remember correctly.

Brendan Markey-Towler  41:29

Rental services. I’m pretty sure is the exact name of the sector.

Gene Tunny  41:33

Looking at it by industry. Okay. Yeah.

Brendan Markey-Towler  41:36

So, that’s an important point, right? Because rent to also shows up as an income segment as well. Not nearly as big there. But the value add is quite large. And so that’s saying, you know, the Australian economy is very much one that is dominated at the moment, by digging stuff up out of the ground, and then sending it offshore, and providing housing for people. Those are the two biggest sectors of the Australian economy. And then, finally, the very long-term trend, we come to the third part of that bond ma that you so ably quaffed, which is, surprisingly, the sectors that are growing fastest as a share of the Australian economy are; you’ll have to double check me on this, but I’m pretty sure it’s called health care and social assistance.. And professional scientific and technical services. Those have gone quite strongly over the last few years as a share of GDP. 

Scientific and Technical Services is obvious enough, right? That’s the IT department and you know, the lab.

Gene Tunny  42:45

There’s professional too. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  42:49

Yeah. Professional Services is the big one. So, this is your consultancy lawyers. So on and so forth, right. It’s Eagle street, the consulting firms along Eagle street.

Gene Tunny  42:58

Where we are in Brisbane, in the top end of town, would you call it the big end of town? You’re sitting in water from place to the moment and the offices of Hopko Gannon, thanks, again for allowing us to use.

Brendan Markey-Towler  43:13

And so this area is growing really strong. I forget where the legal services are counted among professional service.

Gene Tunny  43:18

But I think I would be Yeah, sure.

Brendan Markey-Towler  43:21

They might be under administration, administrative services. But professional, scientific and technical services, basically, scientific and technical can kind of be in house. But a huge majority of that professional services is consulting, right? So, Australia is doing a lot more consulting as a share of GDP.

Gene Tunny  43:40

And this is business to business, typically? Business-to-business consulting services or business to government.

Brendan Markey-Towler  43:47

Business to government is the big one, especially here in Queensland right now. That’s not backed by a number. But that’s you know, that’s kind of;

Gene Tunny  43:58

There are numbers for the Australian Government. I’ll put them in the show notes, because I looked at what the Australian government has spent on the Big Four consulting firms like KPMG and PwC. And it’s hundreds of millions a year, right? It’s big money. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  44:12

And then, you go step below and the state governments will probably be even bigger again, because every consulting project by the Department of Public Works now gets a cut benefit cost analysis written by one of the big firms, right. So, just because of the procurement rules around that, so professional, scientific and technical services really growing as a segment of GDP, but also health care and social assistance. And so that I would posit is really a reflection of the ageing population. Ageing population, you need more health care and social assistance, certainly. That sector is growing very strongly – aged care.

Gene Tunny  44:49

Yeah. Which is NDIS too, the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Brendan Markey-Towler  44:53

Absolutely massive, huge boom. You throw a stone in Brisbane and you hit NDIS provider, which is really not good, you shouldn’t do that because that’s naughty. And that getting on the back of Yeah, health departments are in Queensland; Queensland Health is the largest single employer in the state. That’s a massive sector. It’s a $20 billion in the state budget. That’s a big number, right? And we’re always trying to spend more on it. So, very big sector that. So, those are the two real growth sectors in the Australian economy. And again, I should stress by volumetric measures, right? So, notice that that kind of cuts against the mining booms like us, and that goes to the difference between real and nominal GDP. Real being a volumetric thing where we’re trying to hold prices constant, and the reason we do that is because nominal GDP could be growing because the actual underlying productive capacity of the economy is growing, or because inflation is growing. And real GDP tries to say, what’s the underlying volumetric productive capacity of the economy? How’s that growing and contracting. And in that measure, you really see the big growth sectors, mining is actually declining as a volumetric share of GDP as a share of real GDP, but it’s still the biggest by far professional, scientific and technical services, and healthcare and social assistance really, really growing. Yeah, that’s where the saying, that’s where my little trite way of putting it came from. Australia is less and less a country that makes things and build things. It’s still very much a country that digs stuff out of the ground and provides housing, but it’s more and more something of a white collar economy.

Gene Tunny  46:43

Oh, yeah. It’s postindustrial. We’re moving more to services. Yeah.

Brendan Markey-Towler  46:49

Natural I mean, with the natural resources sector.

Gene Tunny  46:52

Yeah. that’s right. And I mean, because the world wants to buy our resources. And for the last year or so, they’ve been paying ridiculously high prices for them. It’s an open question over whether we want to sell it. Right. Well, yes. I mean, there’s the big issues there of course that we don’t have time for.

You’ve been very generous with your time, Brendan

Brendan Markey-Towler  47:22

You are very generous letting me on the podcast to talk to people again, Gene.

Gene Tunny  47:27

You’re a great talker. Always enjoy having you on.

Brendan Markey-Towler  47:30

Even with the bruised throat? Like I told you, I could talk through a wet cement.

Gene Tunny  47:35

Very good. So, any final points before we wrap up?

Brendan Markey-Towler  47:39

No, it just ends up on I ended up with the note of circling back to where we started, which is don’t underestimate the national accounts. They’re a really, really, really interesting data set. They give us such a rich view. We didn’t even talk tonight about how in Australia, they break down by state as well, so, we can get an even richer view of how the different states are doing because you know, Australian economy tracker – my blog.

Gene Tunny  48:06

Okay, right. On Sub stack, is it?.

Brendan Markey-Towler  48:09

Yeah, on Sub stack. Please subscribe and contribute to the Markey-Towler retirement fund. It’s founded on two points, which is that one, the perfect graph says more than a doctoral thesis and two, there’s no such thing as an Australian economy. There’s actually six different city state economies and two territories. So, the national accounts in Australia are amazing, not just because of the depth of analysis, they allow us on the supply side of the economy, but on the demand side as well. We get some really, really rich version. So, a plug to remember has to diehard nerds who didn’t have friends at school, but now we have the national accounts.

Gene Tunny  48:53

I’m sure you had friends at school, Brendan. Brendan Markey-Towler, that’s been terrific. I really enjoyed talking to you about the national accounts. 

Brendan Markey-Towler  

I really enjoyed talking to you, Gene. Thanks for having me. 

Gene Tunny  

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. Till next week, goodbye.

Credits

Thanks to Josh Crotts for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.auPlease consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

Global economic outlook + Aussie inflation & house prices – EP150

The message from the IMF July 2022 World Economic Outlook was that the outlook is “Gloomy and More Uncertain”. This week also saw the United States slide into a technical recession. Certainly there are big risks to the global outlook. It’s possible that central banks could tip many economies into recession as they hike interest rates to tame inflation. This episode considers the global economic outlook as well as the economic challenges facing Australia’s new federal government. It’s an abridged version of a conversation that show host Gene Tunny had with Decactivist host Randall Evans on his show. The conversation was recorded prior to the US GDP release, but Gene remarks on the data in his introduction to this episode.

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Randall Evans’ Deactivist show:

https://www.youtube.com/c/Deactivist

IMF World Economic Outlook July 2022: Gloomy and More Uncertain:

https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2022/07/26/world-economic-outlook-update-july-2022

US recession news from NPR:

https://www.npr.org/2022/07/28/1113649843/gdp-2q-economy-2022-recession-two-quarters

Transcript: Global economic outlook + Aussie inflation & house prices – EP150

Gene Tunny  00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored.

Randall Evans  00:04

I don’t know if you saw the lineup for Qantas, I think two days ago. But it was out the door all the way down the road for Qantas flights in Sydney, like all the way out there. Never seen it like that, it’s insane.

Gene Tunny  00:21

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 150 on the Economic Outlook. 

We are at a risky point in the global economy. It’s possible that Central banks could tip economies into recession as they hike interest rates to tame inflation. Indeed, I’ve just seen the news that the US has experienced the second quarter of negative economic growth. So, according to the traditional definition, the US economy is in a recession. I’ll have to cover this in more depth in a future episode. But for now, I’ll know that there will be a big debate about this, given the jobs growth has been really good in the States, something noted by US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, she’s claimed the two quarters of negative growth rule for a recession can be misleading. And you need to look at a broader range of indicators, as the National Bureau of Economic Research does when it calls recessions. There’s a lot to explore here, so I’ll leave it to a future episode. 

Okay, I should note that this current episode is an abridged version of a conversation that I had with fellow Australian podcaster, Randall Evans, on his Deactivators show earlier this week, on Wednesday, 27th, July 2022. I’ll put a link to Randall’s YouTube channel in the show notes. So, you can check out the full unedited chat, and Randle’s other videos. 

You may notice I’m short of breath at some points in this episode. That’s because I’m still recovering from COVID. I picked it up at the Conference of Economists in Hobart, two weeks ago. It was an awesome conference, but it was also a super spreader event. Alas. 

In the show notes, you can find relevant links and details of how you can get in touch with any questions, comments or suggestions. Please get in touch and let me know your thoughts on this episode. I’d love to hear from you. 

Right on, for my conversation with Randall on the Economic Outlook. I hope you enjoy it.

Randall Evans  02:38

Hello, everyone and welcome to the show. We’re here with Gene Tunny. Gene, how’re you doing?

Gene Tunny  02:42

Good. Thanks, Randall. How are you?

Randall Evans  02:44

I’m pretty well. For people who don’t know you, why don’t you give us a little background about yourself and what you do?

Gene Tunny  02:52

Okay, I’m an Economist. I’ve got my own consultancy business, Adept Economics. So, I do project work for different clients, private businesses, nonprofits, some government agencies, councils. So, often business cases for different projects or analysis of different policies or programs. So, I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years or so. Before that, I was in the Federal Treasury. So, we’ve got a broad background in Economics.

Randall Evans  03:27

And you’ve also got your podcast as well with over 130 old episodes I think, so far.

Gene Tunny  03:33

Yeah. Economics Explored. Yeah, that’s going well. I’m really happy with how that’s going. I mean, we’ve covered you know, a wide variety of issues on that, including housing and inflation and the RBA and the current review of the RBA. So, yeah, that’s going really well.

Randall Evans  03:55

What’s the current review of the RBA? Is to get rid of it? 

Gene Tunny  04:02

Some people might want that. There are some libertarians out there who are pushing for the abolition of Central banks and the abolition of fiat currency. But no, they’re not going to do that. I mean, they probably won’t do anything too radical, they might make some changes to the board composition, they might make some changes to the language around what the Reserve Bank is supposed to do in terms of targeting inflation. But yeah, there won’t be any radical changes, I’m afraid. Particularly if you look at the people who are who are going to be doing the review. They’ve got an academic Economist. They’ve got a former government bureaucrat, Gordon Brewer, and then they’ve got a deputy head of the Central Bank of Canada. So, you’ve got fairly mainstream people there. So, I don’t think we’ll see big changes. Having said that though, I mean, the Reserve Bank certainly needs reviewing, because there’s been a lot of concern that their policy settings have been wrong at different times. Phil Lowe’s, arguably misled people last year, and there are a lot of people who are concerned about that. His forecast, which was widely reported that interest rates wouldn’t be increasing until 2024. And he was saying that late last year, and now, they’ve already gone up from 0.1; this is the official cash rate, the overnight cash rate, which is lower than what people pay for home mortgages. Now it’s at 1.35. It’ll go up to 1.85 tomorrow, sorry, not tomorrow, on Tuesday, next week.

Randall Evans  06:02

Is that just people wishful thinking that believed that it wouldn’t go up till 2024? I mean, we had mass quantitative easing and the inflation followed, and then the logical step was; interest rates are going to go up. So, who was saying we can hold off till 2024?

Gene Tunny  06:22

Well, I guess there was this view that the economy had changed. And, I mean, there was quantitative easing, not in Australia, but in other countries during and after the financial crisis. So, starting around, 09, 0-10. And there were people forecasting, oh, this is going to lead to runaway inflation at the time, and that didn’t really happen. But what we’re seeing in the last was over the pandemic period, is that we’ve had, you know, more quantitative easing, and we’ve had big budget deficits to try to stimulate the economy as well. And I think the combination of that has meant that, you know, inflation has really soared. So, they were lucky last time, it didn’t happen. Last time, they got away with it. I think perhaps they thought that they might be able to get away with it again. Yeah, they were wrong.

Randall Evans  07:32

Imagine my shock that they might have. So, I guess first off, one of my first questions would be, as you see, is it all doom and gloom for Australia, or are we In a place we have to be? Where do you see us going over the next 12 to 18 months?

Gene Tunny  07:55

Well, I think it’s doom and gloom for Australia. I mean, really, things have been pretty good when you think about it. I mean, we’ve recovered very strongly from the pandemic. And unemployment is now at three and a half percent, right? This is extraordinary. And now there’s talk about sign-on bonuses. I don’t know how legit this report is. But there was a report in Perth now, that McDonalds in WA is paying sign-on bonuses of $1,000 due to the shortage of people; how difficult it is to get people. And the mining sector is paying $10,000 sign-on bonuses just to get people, there’s a shortage. Partly, that’s related to the fact that we haven’t had; I mean, immigration starting to increase now. But we had a year or so when we weren’t letting anyone in the country. So, I guess we’ll start to see that impacting wages. That could end up leading to inflation itself. I mean, one of the things we want to avoid is what they call a wage price spiral, where inflation just keeps feeding on itself. And prices and wages just sort of, go up in this; once leads to so high wages lead to higher prices, higher prices lead to higher wages, because people need to be compensated for that and they push for it in their wage bargaining. So, yeah, that’s the sort of thing that people are concerned about.

Randall Evans  09:35

The unemployment rate, typically, when there’s high inflation will be low. And I think that’s on the Phillips curve, if I’m not mistaken. Can you just explain that for the for the layman viewing?

Gene Tunny  09:52

I probably should finish the previous question, first. I will get on to that, Randall. I just realized you asked me about if it’s gloomy; I don’t want to be too positive, because, there certainly are risks in Australia, I better clarify that. Because of the rising interest rates, and it looks like, people probably; many households possibly overextended themselves, borrowed too much. There was that fear of missing out. And so therefore, as interest rates increase, even though they’re not going to get up to the really crazy levels that they got up to, in the late 80s, when they were up around 17, 18%. I mean, that won’t happen. But I mean, still many households could get into trouble. We’ve seen consumer’s confidence really plummet, and it’s at you would associate with before, like just before a downturn or a recession. So, there are levels that are almost recessionary. I think one of the bank economists, may have been the ANZ, economist, who said that. So, there’s certainly concerns about that.

On this point about unemployment and inflation. Yes, I mean, the traditional view, and this is a view that we learned was not correct. It broke down in the 70s was that, there is this tradeoff between unemployment and inflation; one story you can tell is if you have low unemployment, that means that workers have more bargaining power. Labor is scarce and so, workers are able to negotiate better with their bosses, and that pushes up wages. So, that’s the theory. 

So far, at least in the official data we’ve had up till March, we haven’t really seen a wages breakout in Australia, that’s why there’s was all their talk about declining real wages. And I think that cost Scott Morrison at the last election. That was really a strong attacking point that the then opposition, now government were able to make against the then government that you’ve got inflation running at the time was 5.1%. Now 6.1% yearly, and wages are only grown at 2½%  So, you’ve got a real wage decline of over 2 ½%. So, that was a bit of a worry. 

The traditional story was that, if you had low unemployment, you’d get high inflation. Conversely, you could, if you wanted to reduce inflation, you had to have high unemployment, because that would give workers less bargaining power. Okay, so there’s this tradeoff between unemployment and inflation. And this was based on a study by a New Zealand economist, Bill Phillips, who was actually an engineer, but he was an economist as well. And he might have been at LSE, in London, at the time. But that whole thing sort of, broke down in the 70s because what we noticed is that there wasn’t this stable tradeoff between inflation and unemployment. What there was, was the possibility that you could have both high unemployment and high inflation, and indeed, you could have unemployment increasing and inflation increasing, you could have what’s called stagflation. 

So, there’s no real trade off in the long run between unemployment and inflation. You can have high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, if people come to expect inflation, if there are, what you call inflationary expectations if they increase. So, that’s one of the concerns that people have about the global economy at the moment. The IMF, World Economic Outlook came out overnight. So, it came out Tuesday, in the US, and it’s gloomy; it’s talking about a gloomy outlook, globally. And I think it’s suggesting  we have very high inflation globally. Was it 6 or 7? It was it was a high rate. I’ll have to just check it. But there’s a lot of talk globally about stagflation, where they will end up in stagflation. And then there’s acknowledgement by international agencies that we could end up in a situation with high unemployment and high inflation down the track. I mean, it’s not likely at the moment. I mean, we are having global growth slowdown, because we’ve had this shock from the war in Ukraine, which has increased the oil price and petrol prices. So, one of the reasons you can have a stagflation is if you have this shock to the economy, such as higher oil prices, which push up the costs of production. And that means that it’s less profitable for businesses to produce what they were doing. And so that could lead to reductions in economic activity, and at the same time as costs of production is increasing, that’s passed on to consumers and increases prices. So, that’s one of the great concerns now.

That’s certainly something that, you know, people are concerned about, and you couldn’t rule it out as a possibility. I’d like to be a bit more optimistic than that, though. But so much depends on what happens with this war in Ukraine, and whether we can resolve that; the oil prices are coming down, but they’re still higher than they were a few years ago. So, a lot is going to depend on what happens there. Also the pandemic, which is causing all sorts of problems with the supply chain, it’s very disruptive. Things just don’t work now, as they did before. I mean, you’d see you see all the delays with Qantas and the disruptions that are occurring.

Randall Evans  17:04

I don’t know if you saw the lineup for Qantas, I think two days ago. But it was out the door all the way down the road for Qantas flights in Sydney, like all the way out there. Never seen it like that, it’s insane. I did want to ask you, and perhaps you should explain the theory first because the question from cue, which disappeared off the chat, was whether the RBA will actually increase interest rates enough to slow down inflation. But first of all, what is that theory though? How does that work? And then, what do we expect the right to probably go to?

Gene Tunny  17:46

Okay. Let’s begin with the fact that inflation is a monetary phenomenon. So, this is a famous quote from Milton Friedman. So, inflation is always in everywhere, a monetary phenomenon. In that, it’s associated with an expansion of the supply of money or the stock of money. So, this is currency that we have, but it’s largely; it’s mostly deposits sitting in the bank accounts of households and businesses. Okay, so, there’s the view that although the understanding that we end up with inflation, because the amount of money is expanding, and it’s expanding faster than the capacity of the economy. So, what we have is too much money chasing too few goods. 

So, inflation is a monetary phenomenon. The Central bank, the Reserve Bank is responsible for the money supply. And so therefore, it’s the RBA that has responsibility for dealing with inflation through monetary policy. So, the way they do that is by manipulating the overnight cash rate, this is the standard way of doing it, the official cash rate. This is what they call the cash market, which is a market in which banks and other market participants will borrow money overnight. And banks need money so that they can settle their accounts with each other at the RBA. The RBA controls this overnight interest rate. And what it’s trying to do is it’s trying to influence all the interest rates in the economy that are have a longer term. And so, what happens is as the cash rate increases, though the cost of borrowing money overnight increases, and that has a knock on effect to the cost of borrowing money for 30 days and six months and 12 months, etc. 

What they’re trying to do there is a few things and the RBA talks about different channels by which monetary policy works. Now, let’s think about what those channels are; one of those channels is through the amount of credit that’s created in the economy. One of the reasons we’ve had the big expansion in the money supply in the last couple of years during the pandemic, it’s not just because of the quantitative easing that the bank has engaged in, it’s not just because of their own money printing in their purchases of bonds. It’s also because with the very low interest rates that the bank has said, that’s meant that more people have borrowed money, or the bigger mortgages. So, we’ve had this expansion of Housing Credit. And the new credit, so the net additions the Housing Credit, that is expanding the money supply, I mean, there’s additional money in the economy. 

Okay, so one thing that the bank needs to do through increasing interest rates is reducing the amount of borrowing for housing and new credit creation. So, that’s one thing they’re trying to do. The other way it works is possibly more direct, or more immediate. It’s the fact that I mean, when they increase the cash rate, and that flows through to variable interest rates, mortgage rates, and eventually to fixed rates, when they reset, people have fixed rates for a few years, and then they reset at higher interest rates. What that means is households have less money to spend, they’re paying more to the bank, the bank gets the money, but the bank may not necessarily lend it to someone who’s going to spend it then. So, you have this subtraction from demand that way. So, that’s another channel by which monetary policy works, what the what the bank, what the Reserve Bank, what all Central banks are trying to do is they’re trying to take some of the heat, well, they’re trying to take the heat out of the economy, they want to have the economy go on this Goldilocks path, not too hot, not too cold. So, make sense? 

So, with the interest rate increases, the idea is you can pull some money out of the economy; will have the money supply, expand at a slower rate, or even contract, so that you can get inflation under control. And because you’ve got less, people don’t have as much to spend, that puts less pressure on the economy; it’s not overheating, there’s not as much demand out there. There’s not as much money chasing the few goods that we talked about before; too much money chasing too few goods. So, that’s the general idea. There are multiple channels, we know that if you do increase interest rates, it does eventually slow the economy. The great challenge is knowing how far you have to do that. And it’s not always obvious in advance how much you have to do that. And the problem in the 80s, the late 80s, in the lead up to the recession, is that they discovered that they really did have to increase those interest rates a lot to be able to slow the economy.

Randall Evans  24:18

Yeah. I was going to ask you a question, but then I was reading a comment.

Gene Tunny  24:28

Was the comment okay?

Randall Evans  24:31

Yeah, it was just should Australia be concerned with China’s financial issues that seem to be compounding? And also, these crazy images coming out of China of the tanks rolling in front of the banks not lending money out. What are your thoughts on what’s going on in China, and will it will impact us? I know, that’s kind of off topic to inflation and the housing market, but can we have your initial thoughts?

Gene Tunny  24:59

Clearly, we need to worry about what happens with China given that it has become such an important part of the global economy. And yes, if the Chinese economy did crash; it is slowing. So, we know that it has been slowing down. And the IMF is concerned about the outlook. I mean, there are risks from you know, that the property market, and construction sector, we know about Evergrande. Look, , it could be a could be a real concern for us, because so much of the commodities boom that we experienced, starting around 2003; we had the first phase of that over about 2003 through to 2013. And then, late to late last decade, commodity prices started rising again, then there was a bit of a downturn before; I think coal prices came down even before the pandemic. But since, end of last year, I think this started picking up with the global recovery, the global recovery was stronger than we thought. And then this year, commodity prices have gone absolutely nuts because of what’s happened in Ukraine. So, I guess, China is important. At the moment, it’s hard to forecast what would happen if we did have a downturn in China, because they’re probably, given all the disruptions that have occurred in the world and the fact that they need our; the world needs our coal, and coal prices are crazily high because of that. We probably would be okay in terms of coal. Iron ore would suffer because China has been a major purchaser of that. So, yeah, I mean, it certainly would be a problem. I mean, it’s hard to know what’s going on with China. Just a very difficult place to understand, really?

Randall Evans  27:33

Yeah. I did remember my other question relates to housing as well, you were talking about interest rates in the economy at different times, because a lot of people on mortgages might be on a fixed term mortgage, and that might go for X number of years. So, that flow-in effect might not hit them, and might not actually reflect in the numbers, two years down the track. So, what do we expect for the housing market, even though interest rates just going to keep going up?

Gene Tunny  28:09

Well housing prices are already coming down. I don’t know if you’ve seen those statistics. But Christopher Joy, who’s one of the top financial commentators in Australia, he writes for the Australian Financial Review. I’ve actually done some work for him in the past. He’s incredibly a bright guy. He’s got a company called Coolibar Capital Investment. And they’ve got billions of dollars of money under management. So, they’re really paying attention to this stuff. Look, you just look at the losses in or the reductions in housing prices since the first interest rate increase in May. And this is suggesting that, look, this is already impacting how sales was. I don’t know the exact breakdown; I should have looked it up before I got on. But I mean, there are a lot of households that are on variable rates. We see in the data that house prices are falling. I guess that will be, because as the interest rates increase, people won’t be able to borrow as much as they could have previously. And so that means they don’t have as much or they can’t go to the auction with the same expectations as they did before. Or maybe they’re more cautious about borrowing. They’re more concerned they’re less willing to bid at an auction because they are worried about the future. We know that consumer confidence has dropped. So, I think the interest rate increases have started to have an impact. So, there are obviously enough people worried about it. And it’s also impacting prices because it’s reducing the ability of people to the amounts that they can borrow. So, what was seen as Sydney’s fall and 5%, Melbourne, 3%, Brisbane, around 1%. That since May, since the first rate hike, capital cities overall, that minus 2 ½%. So, look here we prices are going down.

Randall Evans  30:35

I was just saying you’re recovering from COVID and I forgot to thank you for coming on.

Gene Tunny  30:43

Thank you. I usually think I’m okay. I thought I was okay, before I started. And then as I keep talking; should be okay. So, what Chris was writing was, if you look at Sydney, it’s declining at an annual rate of 22%. So, house prices are falling, and it looks like they’re falling at an accelerating rate.

Randall Evans  31:10

That’s a huge number to be dropping at 22%.

Gene Tunny  31:15

That’s if you take the rate it’s dropping out at the moment and annualize it. So, it may not last over the year. Although, it’s possible that it could; house prices soared during that pandemic period, even though many forecasters were expecting they might fall, it actually, surged because there was all this additional borrowing. There’s the fear of missing out. And, the market went nuts. And so, they’ll probably land above where they were at the start of the pandemic, but a lot of the gains will have been lost; it’s looking like that now. Because those interest rate increases are having more of an impact than was expected.

Randall Evans  32:11

Yeah, I couldn’t believe how much housing prices rose during the pandemic, it was just so counter to what I thought was going to happen. But it did, and I guess we’re going to see that correction. Probably not an overcorrection, though maybe, like you said, probably just above pre pandemic levels.

Gene Tunny  32:35

Yeah. And that’s what we’re seeing. It’s it started for sure. The big unknown is just how vulnerable households are to interest rate increases and whether you will start; they will massively cut back on their spending and that could then lead to a downturn. At the moment, the labor markets going ridiculously strongly, we’ve got 3 ½% unemployment, 300,000 vacancies, I think I saw someone report the other day.

Randall Evans  33:11

The unemployment figure that includes people actively looking for work, right. Yes. So, I’m not sure if that’s a great signal to our strength, if there’s a lot of vacancies and a lot of people looking for work, or am I missing something?

Gene Tunny  33:33

But that’s showing that there’s hardly anyone looking for work compared with before the pandemic. And there’s lots of vacancies. So, this is why we would expect wages to start increasing or perhaps we hope that they will. I think they probably are. We’re certainly seeing well, the sign- on bonuses that have been reported, there’s a story about McDonald’s. Possibly, who knows whether that’s true or not, it’s hard to know whether McDonald’s would be paying $1,000 sign-on bonuses, but that was the Perth Now report. I believe it in the mining sector though.

Randall Evans  34:12

Yeah, I could fly to Perth for like 400 bucks, have a job for a week and I’ll pay for my holiday.

Gene Tunny  34:20

You probably have to serve at some time. I’m sure they’ve got something or their agreement to cover that. So, I think the unknown is just how the economy will react as interest rates increase and just how much people will cut back their spending and whether you know, we had a boom and then we’ll have a burst. One of the challenges is going to be; and this is a big issue for the new government. You will recall that the previous government cut the fuel excise in half, so it’s down at about 22 cents a liter now, and what’s going to happen is that that’s going to go up to, it has to be 44 cents because they cut it in half, at the end of September. People will notice that unless petrol prices come down a bit more, they’ll really notice that and that’s going to come at a bad time, because we know interest rates are still going to go up. They’ll go up half a percentage point next week.

Randall Evans  35:38

What are your thoughts on how the Albanese government is going to shake up the economy? I guess some of the things that are promising, like, I guess the government backing certain home loans by 40%, and things like that. Does anything about his election promises stand out to you that will have a big impact?

Gene Tunny  36:06

Not really. They wouldn’t implement policies that I would probably implement at the moment to try to get inflation under control, they wouldn’t do that, they wouldn’t go that far. There was a discussion that we had? Well, I think we have to massively reduce his budget deficit we’ve got now. So, Jim Chalmers, the Treasurer, he’s talking about the need for savings. One of the reasons they’ve got to find savings; they need to get the debt under control – the trillion-dollar debt, but also because the government at the moment is contributing to the inflation problem we’ve got by running these large budget deficits. Still large, what you call a structural budget deficit. so that they’re still running these large structural deficits of 3 to 4% of GDP, if you look at the budget documents. So, what that means is that if you adjust for the state of the economy, you take into account the fact that the economy has been doing very well. At this point in time, the government should be running much smaller deficits or surpluses than they actually are, and they’re not. They’re still running reasonably sizable deficits. So, there’s this structural deficit, and that’s contributing to inflation. They’re adding to the demand in the economy, they’re contributing to the overheating. So, what this federal government has to do is to really cut back on their spending. Or, one alternative, I don’t know whether they’ll do it or not, because they promised that they would follow the stage three tax cuts. I think in stage three. There’s another tax cut coming through, that’s going to knock out one of the marginal tax brackets, if I remember correctly. And so, there are some people on the left who are arguing that the government shouldn’t go through with those, those tax cuts that are programmed in.That’s one possible thing they could do. To address that structural deficit. I’d probably prefer that they cut their spending, because they’ve got some big spending programs that are really getting out of control. So, NDIS, it’s well intentioned; I think a lot of people support the principle of it. But it’s growing, it’s tens of billions of dollars, or 30 billion, or whatever it’s going to overtake Medicare, in terms of the amount of money that’s spent on it over the budget estimates, over the next four years. 

So, that’s something they’ve really got to get under control, but that’s going to be difficult for them. I think it’s a well-intentioned program. The challenge is, where do you limit it? That’s the problem. There’s the desire to keep expanding it and to make it to provide as high level of service as possible and I think yeah, that’s just financially unsustainable at the moment, we need to really fix that up. 

That’s what I think needs to happen. There needs to be the expenditure restraint, or you know, the larger cuts than anything Jim Chalmers would be contemplating. I’m former Treasury, the Treasury would have provided some list of the things that should be cut. And knowing how these things work, Treasury have this huge book full of potential savings that could occur. And the government will probably pick a handful of them, because they look at most of the things Treasury’s proposing and they go, how could you ever contemplate cutting all of these things? Politically naive, so that that’s what will happen, that’ll be the reality. 

Randall Evans  40:38

Well, one of my questions is that, I know the RBA is supposed to be a separate entity, but allowing the RBA to increase interest rates to such a level that’s going to hurt your voter base. It’s almost political suicide. And I know they don’t really have a say, but, there was that kind of situation where I think it was Roosevelt who grabbed one of the members of the Federal Reserve by the scruff of his neck and was like, you’re destroying my presidency. So, is there a situation where the Australian Government can effectively halt the interest rate rise for political reasons? Or do we have enough kind of checks and balances to stop that happening?

Gene Tunny  41:31

Okay, they actually could, there’s, they have the power to do that. I’m trying to remember this is a point that Nick Growing often makes, I’m trying to remember correctly, I think there’s a provision in the Reserve Bank Act that the treasurer can table something in Parliament and tell the RBA what to do, right. So, the Treasurer could direct the RBA. And I don’t know if you remember, back in the 80s, we had a treasurer of Paul Keating, the Labor treasurer at the time, and he gave a famous or probably infamous speech. It was in the lead up to his challenge to Hawk when he said, I am like the Placido Domingo of Australian politics. And I’ve got the Treasury in this pocket, I’ve got the RBA in the other pocket. That was a great speech; it was not a modest man, it was a very coveted man. But yeah, Keating thought he ran the RBA. So, back in the day, the government had a lot more control over the RBA. The problem then is that, you don’t want monetary policy set by the government. Because for that reason, because the government’s going to want to have it more well, looser, they probably want to have the economy more prosperous in time for their reelection. And they’re not thinking longer term about what the inflationary consequences of that are. 

So, what economists have learned from that problem, the problem that if you have a Central bank politically influenced and you can get you can get higher inflation is we need to have Central banks independent of the government. So, we need to give them some independence. And so, what our governments have done is that they’ve struck an agreement with the Reserve Bank, there’s an agreement on the conduct of monetary policy. That was first, I think it was first formalized by Peter Costello, and in the fall, and in the 90s, in 96. And what that did was that codified in an agreement, the inflation targeting goal that we have now. So, the Central bank, the Reserve Bank, is targeting inflation between 2 to 3%, on average, over the economic cycle, so it’s of which means that they don’t have to be zealous or they don’t have to solely target inflation, if they’re going to crash the economy, they could ease up a little bit on interest rate increases, but ultimately, their goal is to get inflation under control, get it 2 to 3%. That’s what they’re accountable for. So, they’re going to be doing everything they can without crashing the economy to get inflation under control. But look, who knows? We hope we’re not in a situation that the Americans or that we were in the late 80s or the Americans were in the sort of early 80s and Britain too when you really had to increase interest rates a lot to get inflation under control because you had double digit inflation. Now we’re not there yet, hopefully we’ve moved in time to prevent that from occurring. But if you get to a situation where you’ve got double digit inflation, then you might have to increase interest rates much more than the economy can bear and then you end up in a crash. 

I’d like to think that we haven’t left it too late. And we’ll need to resort to those measures. But, let’s wait and see. So, I guess the answer is that, the government could direct the RBA. But then, the bad press they would get over that would be incredible. You’d have all the financial journalists around the country, criticizing them over compromising the independence of the RBA, Jim Chalmers wouldn’t be able to finish a press conference.

Randall Evans  45:52

You’re acting like they answer the presses questions. I think Anthony Albanese is the fondest to just brush off questions. But I understand completely what you’re saying. And I wasn’t suggesting; just for my viewers that the government should do that. I was just putting the thought out there. As a former Treasurer, what do you think the current government values most when it comes to the economy? Because everything seems to be a trade-off, right? It’s either we can get inflation under wraps, or we can have high job growth or, we can have housing affordability, so what do you think that they’re actually going to? Because you can’t have all of them or maybe you can? What do you think their focus should be, moving forward?

Gene Tunny  46:49

Well, I think the focus should be on the overall health of the economy. So, it should be about making sure that we’ve got the right tax policy settings or we’re spending on the right things, we’re not wasting money. We’re not contributing to the inflationary situation. We’re not enacting silly policies. 

One thing I have been encouraged by is the fact that they’re not doing really silly things, or they’ve knocked back this idea from the greens that we should have a moratorium on coal and gas projects, right? At a time when the coal price has been; well, that’s what Adam Danza saw, right. And at a time when the global coal prices being up at 500, or 400 US a ton for thermal coal, that’s extraordinary. 500 a ton for metallurgical coal, for coking coal. The idea that you’d actually wouldn’t develop any new coal mines when the world is crying out for it, because there’s no gas. We’ve got a global conflict and Europe’s worried about their gas supplies and whether they’ll have enough gas in the winter. Yeah, it’s a bit crazy. Full credit to the prime minister for knocking that back. 

I think there’ll be broadly sensible, but what you’ll see with a labor government is that they’ll be more aligned to what they perceive as the workers. Okay, and they won’t care as much about the costs they impose on business. Okay. And so, you’ve seen that recently. The problem we’ve got is that there are a lot of well-intentioned policies and so it’s hard to argue against a lot of these things, but they are costly to business. This government will probably do more things like this, we saw that there was that recent decision about from about, what is it? Paid leave for if you suffered domestic violence, or family violence? I can see what why that would be a good thing to have, at the same time, there is already paid leave available, you get four weeks if you’re a full-time employee. And this is an additional cost to employers. And you’d have to be a pretty nasty employer if you didn’t look after an employee of yours who was in that situation. I wonder why this sort of move is necessary from the government. Maybe they think it’s not going to have much of a cost because your employers would probably do the right thing, to begin with. 

I guess it’s a signal that this government is probably going to be more focused on the workers, it’s going to be less concerned about the impacts of its policies on employers. One thing that worried a lot of people, a lot of economists and financial commentators, John Keogh wrote a great column on this in the Finn review was when Anthony Albanese in the lead up to the election, talked about how the Fair Work Commission should just agree to wages going up at the rate of inflation. And there was a concern that, well okay, that’s a good thing that just leads to that wage price spiral where, if prices go up, oh, let’s increase wages by the same amount. And then that increases the cost to employers, they pass it on in prices. And then oh, let’s have wages go up again, prices go up again. And they just sort of gradually creep up a little, not gradually, they can increase, they can go up very quickly. And organizations such as the Bank for International Settlements and various other economic agencies around the world have warned about this wage price spiral, and one of the quickest ways to get there is to have automatic indexation of wages to inflation. 

So, there were people concerned about what the PM said there back in the election campaign. Ultimately, it was up to the Fair Work Commission, the Fair Work Commission recommended an increase that wasn’t complete. It was just a bit; I think it was a bit lower than the inflation rate. For non-minimum wage workers is about 4.6% or something, if I remember correctly.

So, that would be my take on it. I think they won’t do anything too crazy. They’ve resisted that crazy proposal from the greens, so, good on them for that. Sorry, go ahead.

Randall Evans  52:15

I follow a few greeny pages on Facebook just to see what they’re yapping on about. And I did see a lot of angry people today about that very thing you’re talking about. Saying, you can’t be for sustainability, but then allow coal mines to open. 

Gene Tunny  52:42

Yeah, well, just on that. it’s a real threat to labor. So, it was the coalition that got smashed on the climate change issue, last election, they ended up losing some of the blue-ribbon seats. But labor’s similarly threatened, right. Labor got what was it? 31% primary vote. So, labor was lucky to, it’s just the way that it played out in terms of the seats that were that were lost. And it managed to be able to form government, even though it ended up getting fewer votes than the coalition. But yeah, it’s in trouble from the greens as well.

All of these inner city seats are turning green. So, I’d be interested to see what happens in the future, whether Labor has to; how it survives, it’s under threat, as well as the coalition. So, I think that’s one thing that’s going to be fascinating to watch in the next few years.

Just on housing, the government’s policy isn’t going to do much for affordability because it was only going to apply to 10,000 people or so. It was it was limited in the amount of people that would apply to and it has to apply to hundreds of thousands of people to really make any sort of impact. The reality is there’s not much the federal government can do because the states are more relevant when it comes to housing because well, one, they’ve got responsibility for social housing. Now, my view is they’re just never going to be able to build enough of that. One of the problems with social housing is that they’re aiming to offer it at below market rent. The challenge there is you’re going to have a huge demand for your social housing because you’re offering something that’s cheaper than what the market is able to provide right? So, you’re never going to win there. You’re always going to be attracting more people, than you’re going to be able to build houses for. 

So, that’s probably not the answer. I think the answer is having a more liberal approach to development, allowing more development, particularly in the inner cities where we have heritage restrictions. There are all sorts of zoning rules around our capital cities. And even across the whole metro area here in Brisbane, for example, where I am, there’s a ban on townhouses in low density neighborhoods. And that’s just really silly. Because, that’s constraining the supply of housing. And there was research by Peter Tulip, at the Reserve Bank when he was there at the Reserve Bank, that showed that these zoning restrictions, they’re massively increasing the cost of housing, like 50, or 60%, something like that. So, that’s up to councils, but state governments, they possibly could do something like that with some of their planning legislation. But the commonwealth really can’t do much about housing. So, even though it’s an issue, it’s a big issue. I’m not sure they really can do much about that. 

The big issues the Commonwealth is facing; there’s the general economic management issue, what its budget deficit is doing for the economy, what its budget deficit means for the accumulation of debt and risk to the credit rating in the future and our ability to service that debt. And so therefore, that’s why Jim Chalmers is having to trim the budget where he can. He’s going to find it difficult though, just because that reason we discussed. Labor sees itself as the party of the workers, it also sees itself as more socially caring, more compassionate than the conservative side of politics. And so, it’s going to be very hard for them to make the substantial budget savings that are necessary.

Randall Evans  57:15

Well, we’ll touch base with you again, in a couple of months’ time and see where we’re at as a nation. And if people want to watch, we’ve had Gene on before, so you can just search for it in the little YouTube bar and watch that episode too. But apart from that, make sure you check out his website. It’s on the screen right now. If you want to have some more in-depth conversations.

Bye Gene. Thanks for your time. Thanks for being here.

Gene Tunny  57:42

Pleasure. Thanks. Thanks, Randall and thanks to everyone listening. Yeah, glad to be to be connecting with you. So, it’s been great. Thank you. 

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

Thanks to Randall Evans for letting us borrow the audio from his latest Deactivist show for this episode. Also, thanks to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.auPlease consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

Reserve Bank of Australia being reviewed after big mistakes w/ Peter Tulip – EP149

The Reserve Bank of Australia has allegedly made some bad calls in recent years and now the Australian Treasurer has commissioned a major review. This episode’s guest, Dr Peter Tulip of the Centre for Independent Studies, has long pushed for a review of the RBA. Peter, a former RBA and US Fed economist, thinks the RBA can learn from other central banks such as the Fed and Sweden’s Riksbank, and it can avoid future bad policy decisions which cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Here’s a video clip of Peter’s conversation with show host Gene Tunny to give you a flavour of what is covered in the episode.

About this episode’s guests – Dr 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.

Peter’s twitter handle: @peter_tulip 

Links relevant to the conversation

Peter’s previous appearance on Economics Explored: https://economicsexplored.com/2022/04/11/the-high-cost-of-housing-and-what-to-do-about-it-w-peter-tulip-cis-ep134/

Australian Treasurer’s 20 July 2022 announcement of RBA review:

https://ministers.treasury.gov.au/ministers/jim-chalmers-2022/media-releases/review-reserve-bank

Peter’s CIS paper on the RBA: https://www.cis.org.au/publication/structural-reform-of-the-reserve-bank-of-australia/

Kevin Warsh’s review of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee: https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/transparency_and_the_bank_of_englands_monetary_policy_committee.pdf

This is the 2010 Statement on the Conduct of Monetary Policy that Peter refers to at the end of the episode:

https://www.rba.gov.au/monetary-policy/framework/stmt-conduct-mp-5-30092010.html

This is the most recent statement:

https://www.rba.gov.au/monetary-policy/framework/stmt-conduct-mp-7-2016-09-19.html

Transcript: Reserve Bank of Australia being reviewed after big mistakes w/ Peter Tulip – EP149

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.

Peter Tulip  00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored. Many of us, including me, think that the Reserve Bank has been making big mistakes and is in need of structural reform.

Gene Tunny  00:15

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 149 on the review of Australia’s Central Bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia, or RBA. This review was announced by Australia’s new Labour government on the 20th of July, 2022. 

My guest this episode, is Dr. Peter Tulip. Peter has long pushed for a review of the RBA, and he’s been extensively quoted in local media on what needs to change. Peter thinks that the RBA has made some big mistakes in the past, and it could learn from other central banks, such as the US Federal Reserve, and the Bank of England, as he explains in this episode. 

Currently, Peter is the Chief Economist at the Centre for Independent Studies. And before that, he’s worked at the RBA, and at the US Federal Reserve Board of Governors. So, he knows how central banks work on the inside, and his perspective is a valuable one. 

This is Peter’s second appearance on the show. He previously appeared in Episode 134 on the high cost of housing. So, if you haven’t listened to that yet, please listen to it after this episode; it’s great. 

In the show notes, you can find relevant links and details of how you can get in touch with any questions, comments or suggestions. Please get in touch and let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. 

Righto. Now for my conversation with Peter Tulip on the review of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Thanks to my audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. 

Peter Tulip, Chief Economist at the Centre for independent studies, welcome back to the program.

Peter Tulip  02:01

Good, Gene, how are you? 

Gene Tunny  02:03

Good. Thanks, Peter. It’s great to be chatting with you again. I’m keen to speak with you about the review of the Reserve Bank of Australia that was announced earlier this week by the treasurer, Jim Chalmers. One of our colleagues, Steven Kirschner; Stephen has been on the show before too. He wrote that the RBA review is; he wrote about it that everything is on the table, and that’s good. So, it is a very expansive review. The only thing it looks like they’ve left off the table to me, is that they’re not reconsidering the split in responsibilities between the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. They obviously still see a role for that as a separate entity, rather than rolling, prudential regulation back into the RBA. But other than that, it seems like a very broad ranging review. Are you generally happy with what’s been announced?

Peter Tulip  03:02

I’m delighted. Many of us have been calling for something like this for a long time. And the terms of reference are fairly deep and broad. The people running the review, first class, and there’s a good mix of people too. I mean, they’ve got a central banker, an academic and central bureaucrat. And any substantial reform, the RBA is going to require integrating those three perspectives. So, that’s useful also.

Gene Tunny  03:41

Right, okay. So, we’ve got an international expert, someone who’s been on the committee, the Monetary Policy Committee in the UK;

Peter Tulip  03:49

The Financial Policy Committee, slightly different. That’s financial stability rather than monetary policy.

Gene Tunny  03:55

All right. Okay. But she’s had a senior position in the Canadian Central bank, is that right? Caroline Wilkins? 

Peter Tulip  

Yeah, sure.

Gene Tunny  

And also, Renee A. Fry-McKibbin, who is an academic at the Australian National University, so highly regarded macro Economist, and also Gordon Brewer, who I worked with in the Treasury many years ago. And I mean, I think Gordon’s an excellent choice for that. So, yeah, it looks like;

Peter Tulip  04:24

And before that, Gordon worked at the RBA, so it’s good to have some internal experience.

Gene Tunny  04:31

Right, okay. But it wasn’t exactly what the RBA wanted, was it? Even though it looks like the RBA has had some role in shaping the terms of reference, I saw an interview with Jim Chalmers on, was either Coffee show or the Today show here in Australia. And he was saying that the RBA said some input in the terms of reference, but originally, they just wanted to review themselves, didn’t they? Which would have been a great idea if you think about it.

Peter Tulip  04:58

To be credible, it needs to be external and independent. They’ll have a secretariat, which will be largely staffed, I think, from Treasury and the RBA. So, they’ll be able to call on the resources of the bank, and it’ll be informed by the bank by insiders, but the ultimate judgments will be independent and external, which I think they need to be.

Gene Tunny  05:26

Well certainly will, particularly if they’ve got Rene on the review committee. So, Rene is the editor of the Economic Record here in Australia, which is the top Economics journal here, and she’s well known in the economics profession and her husband, Warwick McKibbin, is actually a former board member, isn’t he? I mean, she’s obviously a separate person to Warwick. But I mean, I’m wondering if this is a way that Warwick’s views are actually getting inputted into the review in some way, even though obviously, she’s her own individual.

Peter Tulip  06:03

Yeah. His views will clearly get a lot of weight. But Rene is an expert in her own right. Yes.

Gene Tunny  06:09

Yeah, along with other economics colleagues. So, it’s not going to be something that the Reserve bank is going to necessarily get its way on, which is good. There’s going to be input from a broad range of sources, including yourself, I mean, I’m guessing you’ll be making a submission to the review.

Peter Tulip  06:26

I’ve already written my submission. I mean, so I did a big paper calling for reform of the RBA, just a few months ago. In the context that this review has been called for. And I set forward my views on what I was hoping the review would look at and what it would conclude. So, I’ve done my bit, and now it’s up to them.

Gene Tunny  06:48

Great., I mean, you’ve certainly been one of the most influential people in in this discussion so far. And you wrote a fascinating AFR piece earlier this year, which was titled Reserve Bank must be made accountable for inflation mistakes. So, might chat about that in the moment. But to begin with Peter, could you tell us why do you think this review was necessary in the first place? Is it because of those inflation mistakes?

Peter Tulip  07:14

Can I give a long answer to that? So, there are three levels of an answer in increasing areas of being controversial. The first and simplest answer is that, it’s just good practice to regularly review your monetary framework every few years, in the light of new research and new experience. People are writing about these frameworks all the time, and you need to, every now and then have a stock take of that. And this is what all of our foreign, not all, most other Central banks do. It’s standard amongst foreign central banks to have regular reviews. And the format of those varies, and we’ll talk a bit about that. Some of them are external, some of them are internal. Some of them have a heavy academic focus. Some of them are on; the Bank of Canada does is on a regular five years schedule. Others are more ad hoc. So, that’s one thing. It’s just regular practice. 

The second bigger argument is that the Reserve Bank has been missing its targets that prior to the pandemic, the inflation rate was well below the target of 2 to 3%. And the unemployment rate for an even longer period was well above estimates of its sustainable or full employment level. And so, particularly with the inflation rate, which is the reserve bank itself describes as a key performance indicator, when you’re persistently failing to hit your targets, there is there has to be a presumption that a review is necessary that otherwise there’s just no accountability at all. 

And then the third layer of arguments I gave, which is more controversial, is that many of us, I mean, including me, think that the Reserve Bank has been making big mistakes, and is in need of structural reform. And it’s great to have a chance to hear those views. And these are arguments that part of them are related to the composition of the board that these are decisions for the government and parliament often, rather than for the bank itself. And so, you need some kind of external review to evaluate this widespread argument.

Gene Tunny  09:53

Yeah, I think they’re good points. Peter, can ask you about that inflation target of 2 to 3%. Now, there could be two possibilities couldn’t there? It could be that either the 2 to 3% target doesn’t make sense, or we should review that target; we should, maybe we could downgrade it or just set it at 2% or have it at 1 to 2%? Or another possibility is the Reserve Bank; I mean, it was derelicting its duty. So, is that right? There are two possibilities there, there could be; and this is why a review would be desirable because you’d either look at the appropriateness of the target, and also whether the Reserve Bank is actually doing what it would need to do to achieve that target.

Peter Tulip  10:36

Correct. So, the reviews that other Central banks have had, often have had a strong focus on the specification of the targets. And that should be part of this review. And there are many people that would prefer a different target to the 3%. There are some people who think the inflation target should be lower, there are some people who think it should be higher. There are respectable arguments for both that the review should be considering. And that should be an important part. In my view, those arguments are really secondary, oh sorry, I should also say, there are other people who want to target a different objective completely, such as nominal income. And we’ll talk about that later on. 

In my view, those arguments are really secondary. That for most of the past decade, the bank has not been hitting its targets, it hasn’t even been trying to hit them. So, it’s a bit pointless specifying worrying about how you exactly define the target. If the bank isn’t just going to ignore. The most important question is governance, and how can we change the incentives of the RBA so that it actually does hit the targets it’s given? And you need to get that right before you worry about what that target actually is.

Gene Tunny  12:04

Okay, a bit of follow up on that. Peter, you’re saying that it hasn’t even been trying to achieve those targets?

Peter Tulip  12:11

Sorry, I’m wording that too strongly. You’re right.

Gene Tunny  12:13

I think I understand the point you’re making. I want to just explore that a bit. 

Peter Tulip  12:18

Can I give you an example? 

Gene Tunny  

Yes, please.

Peter Tulip  

So, in November 2019, just before the pandemic came along, the Reserve Bank issued a set of forecasts, and it had underlying inflation staying outside the target range for the whole horizon. And it had unemployment exceeding the bank system, it’s a full employment for the whole horizon. 

Gene Tunny  

So, inflation was below 2%?

Peter Tulip  

Yeah. Unemployment was I think, being forecasted 5% or higher, varying depending on the horizon. And despite what you would think is an obviously unsatisfactory outlook. The Reserve Bank didn’t change interest rates, either at that November meeting or subsequent meetings until the pandemic came along. And it did so because it was worrying about other things, in particular, financial stability. So, there was a disregard, or at least down weighting the bank statutory responsibilities in the legislation that says, the objectives stability of the currency, which we interpret is 2 to 3% inflation, and full employment, which we would interpret now as the preferred terming, that other Central banks uses, maximum sustainable employment, which were estimated about four and a half percent. So, there was a down weighting of those objectives in favor of this new objective that the bank invented about indebtedness, and we’ll talk about that later on too.

Gene Tunny  14:01

Okay, so shouldn’t central bank be concerned about indebtedness and the related issue of financial stability? I mean, that’s ultimately what they’re concerned about, isn’t it that if they’re worried that monetary policy, if it’s too loose, if it’s too accommodative, then households could take on too much debt and then get into trouble at a later date and that could have adverse economic consequences.

Peter Tulip  14:28

Sure. So, we know from the global financial crisis, that if your banks start failing, then it’s catastrophic for the economy. Australia had a similar experience in; when was it? In the early 1990s. When several of our small banks failed and some of our big banks came close. And again, that that was one of the worst recessions Australia’s had in living memory. So, yes, financial stability matters a huge amount. The question is how you deal with that? And what’s the appropriate instrument for that? And there’s a very large volume of research saying that it’s not interest rates or monetary policy, it’s prudential policy. And they were in particular, about the capital requirements that banks are required to have. And the way to avoid a repetition of the GFC is not to put 270,000 people unemployed, is to raise your capital requirements. So that if in the event of losses, banks making losses on their loans, banks have sufficient equity to cover that. And so, the important objective is, yes, we do very much want to avoid a repetition of the GFC. The way to do that is with high capital requirements.

Gene Tunny  16:04

This 270,000 jobs number Peter, is this from an analysis by, is it Andrew Lee and?

Peter Tulip  16:15

And Isaac Gross. So, Andrew Lee is now an assistant Treasurer, he’s a government minister. And Isaac Gross is an academician at Monash University of Economists. And they, just recently, published a paper in the economic record, which you were referring to before. That’s the journal that Renee A. Fry-McKibben edits. Where they found that, yes, the reserve bank kept interest rates too high, between 2016 and 2019. And because of these worries about debt, and because of that, unemployment was 270,000, higher than it should have been.

Gene Tunny  17:08

Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, I’ll take the point there about; if you do run that simulation, and I think they use the Reserve Bank’s own macro-economic model Martin, I think they’d call it. And so, look, yeah, good point. I mean, if I were on the board, I’m probably one of those who wouldn’t have minded them having kept the rates where they are. I probably wouldn’t have supported cutting them, as that model would suggest, given that I would have those concerns about financial stability. But I do recognize that there are a variety of views. And I’ve been interested to learn about that literature that you’ve written about, and also Steve Kirschner talked about when I spoke with him on nominal GDP targeting. And I want to have a closer look at that. 

Peter Tulip  18:00

I’m happy to argue the merits of that particular argument further if you want, but what’s maybe a more important point to make here is that the process was bad. Yes, the bank never really explained or defended its position in public, that there seems to have been a real lack of scrutiny of the decision. So, there are people such as yourself, who were sympathetic to what the bank did. But those arguments, I would say, the large majority of expert opinion is on the other side, which is that you should regulate these considerations with prudential policy, not with monetary policy, that the most direct instrument is almost always the most efficient, and involves the least collateral damage? Yeah. 

And even though, a majority of expert opinion in a majority of other central banks were explicitly opposed to the bank, there was no real defense of that position in the bank’s documentation. Beyond a few brief sentences. The bank never quantified its concerns, was never actually very precise, even about whether it was really worried about the level or the growth rate of indebtedness. It didn’t even say what; no discussion of what’s the best way to measure this, no real clear discussion of the consequences of this. But maybe even more important, even though most expert opinion was against the bank, there was no; counter arguments were never addressed. 

So, in the paper I wrote that earlier this year, I mentioned another half a dozen arguments against the bank’s focus on indebtedness, any one of which I think would be fatal. And none of these were publicly addressed. Just to give one, a lot of research studies find that low interest rates don’t actually have almost negligible effect on indebtedness, that the debt to GDP ratio has a numerator and a denominator. And low interest rates will encourage both. And a lot of research says that actually, you have a bigger effect on GDP than you do on the debt. So, low interest rates have a greater effect on the capacity to repay, or to bear a burden than on the actual burden itself. Insofar as what the bank was doing, it was counterproductive. And there are more arguments and people; rather than going through succession of arguments on it. Yeah, actually, this is the paper. It’s called structural reform of the Reserve Bank of Australia. I mentioned a lot of further reasons as to why the bank was wrong in targeting indebtedness at the expense of its core objectives.

Gene Tunny  21:35

Yeah. I’ll put a link in the show notes to that paper for sure. Peter, in fact, I’ve got it in front of me, it’s a Centre for Independent Studies analysis paper, 36, April 2022. And in that paper, I mean, you, I mean, it’s Frank and fearless for sure. You’re someone who used to work at the bank. And you’ve probably still got a lot of friends there at the bank. But you mentioned or you talked about their poor communication and poor process. Now, I mean, you’re talking about that before. What do they need to do better? How do we improve it? I’m guessing this would be one of your hopes for what the review recommends. But how do we improve the process in the communication?

Peter Tulip  22:27

So, let’s start with this particular issue, the bank needs to fully explain itself, that it needs to outline the pros and cons of its arguments and address obvious counter arguments. And preferably, if something is important, you need to say what’s the evidence, both consistent with the bank’s position and how do we address evidence that people think weakens the position? And some kind of quantification of these effects is, well, I mean, some of these things can be measured, and there is substantial research on aspects of this question. And that really needs to be discussed and its relevance to policy explained. 

So, that’s dealing with one specific error, and why that’s important, is, unless you do that, mistakes will happen. And so, regardless of your position, on this particular question of indebtedness, the process was clearly flawed. That if you keep making big decisions that slip hundreds of thousands of people out of work, without a full, open public discussion, sometimes you’re going to make mistakes. And when you make mistakes, they will persist. An open discussion is the best antidote to making serious mistakes. Because this was not just a one off, the bank has a record of very controversial decisions that run counter to mainstream economics. For example, Warwick McKibbin, we mentioned earlier, was pushed out of the bank when he objected to its policy. This is back in the late 80s, early 90s of targeting the current account deficit. The bank had interest rates far too high, because it was worried about the current account deficit. Warwick McKibbin said that that was wrong. And essentially, he was told he wasn’t welcome. So, he left.

So, this is a cultural problem within the bank, its resistance to criticism and to scrutiny, even internal scrutiny.

Gene Tunny  25:09

Peter, can I just ask what are they doing now? So, at the moment, they do publish; there’s a decision, there’s a monetary policy decision every month regarding what they do with the cash rate, there’s a page or so of, you know, discussion of where the economy’s at and some sort of; all they make clear what their decision is, you’d like to think there’s some logical connection with their analysis of the economy in that decision. The governor does make himself available to give speeches, he appears that I mean, parliamentary committees, from time to time. So, what more needs to be done? And are there any examples around the world of how it’s done better?

Peter Tulip  25:54

Yeah, I think most Central banks are clearer and more transparent than the RBA. Where it matters most is in reasons better decision. So, where transparency, I think is most necessary is for the banks to say why it made a decision, and why its choice was preferable to alternatives. So, for example, at the moment, the bank with the rising rates, the market expects to be going up about 50 basis points a month, the next few months. It would be very useful, in fact, I think it’s necessary for the bank to say, what would be the consequences of alternative choices? Suppose interest rates were to rise slower, and interest rates could rise higher, and what would be the unemployment and inflation consequences of those alternatives? My guess is that a faster path of increases would give us lower inflation and higher unemployment, in both cases, bringing those variables closer to the bank’s targets. 

So, why is that not the preferred choice? That strikes me as the central requirement for transparency, explaining why you’re not doing something different, and the bank doesn’t really do that. It certainly doesn’t quantify it. But other central banks do. The Federal Reserve, the Risk bank are prominent examples. I mean, all it takes is just a little four panel chart to show; again, this is the Goldilocks path in the middle, and this is too high and this is too low. And these are the consequences and we pick the path, the Goldilocks path with the best outcomes. Other central banks do that as a matter of routine, so should the RBA.

Gene Tunny  28:05

Right, so you’re talking about the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England? Okay. 

Peter Tulip  28:09

The Bank of England does it in a slightly different way with scenario analysis. That would not be my preferred model. Either the Riksbank or the Fed approaches, or just very clearly convey the central issues in the monetary policy position.

Gene Tunny  28:27

Yeah. In preparing for our chat, Peter, one thing I noticed was a review that was done of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee by Kevin Walsh, 2014. Actually, I may have learned about that from you. I’m trying to, I can’t remember exactly, but I thought that was very good. If I’m reading one of his tables correctly, it does suggest that we have very low transparency here in Australia relative to those other countries. I think that’s.

Peter Tulip  28:57

So, about Kevin Walsh, he used to be a governor of the Federal Reserve and went to the Bank of England. This is an example of the kind of external reviews we were talking about, specifically to review their processes for transparency and openness. And it ended and it’s a very good thoughtful report, and anyone interested in that issue, I strongly recommend it. As part of his review, he looked up the Central bank practices and then yeah, the RBA was terrible. And the RBA is partly rectified. It as been more opened since that report was done. And in particular one, one of his glaring findings was that Australia was the only country he looked at where the Central bank didn’t give regular press conferences and and other countries find that a very useful way of explaining that as decision, and in particular, having important decisions challenged and defended. But since then, Philip Lowe has started getting press conferences, so, that’s a great thing. I’d still like them to be more frequent. He only does them occasionally, I would think you should do them, at least quarterly.,

Gene Tunny  30:34

Yeah. They certainly need to improve their communication. I’ll have to think myself about what that would best look like. I quite like the idea of having scenarios or having different, you know, looking at what different policy parts could mean for inflation and unemployment, but also being honest about what’s the uncertainty around that. And I mean, one of the things that our Governor, Philip Lowe has got into trouble for in the last few months is just the fact that their forecasts appear to have been just so bad. Perhaps, if they’re more honest about just how unreliable economic forecasts can be, given that the economy is hit by shocks all the time, and I mean, we’re not even sure we’re properly modelling the underlying mechanisms. Perhaps that would have; he would be held in high regard now. But everyone’s mad at him because he was, people were taking his word for it, that interest rates would stay where they were until 2024. And so, he’s in a heap of trouble now.

Peter Tulip  31:37

If I can comment on that. So, I think people exaggerate how bad these forecast errors were, and in particular, their relevance to the review. You have to remember that Jim Chalmers came out in support of a review of the RBA, over a year ago. So, before inflation took off, in fact, back a year ago, inflation was below the target. So, what’s happened? There are these unusually large forecast errors, but they’re not the reason we’re having a review. And forecasting is difficult, and in particular, if you’re forecasting in the middle of a pandemic that you’ve never been through before, you’ve got no historical experience to go by. And as it turned out, vaccines came on stream very much quicker than expected. And they worked much better than they’re expected. And the RBA got that wrong. You know what, no one can forecast accurately. I’ll be impressed with criticisms about the bank’s forecast record from people who actually do forecasts better than the bank. Hearing a lot of criticisms that we’re forecasting for people that don’t actually present forecasts themselves makes me roll my eyes a bit. Yeah, fair point. And the bank will always make forecast errors. And it has processes to improve its forecast performance and it does reviews of its models and this and the databases and things like that. The review will probably look at that. I’ve actually been involved in that process. I don’t see great scope for change or even questioning what the bank is doing there.

Gene Tunny  33:48

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

Female speaker  33:53

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  34:22

Now back to the show. 

Okay, can I ask you about this transparency, like how we improve that? One of the suggestions that came from a panel member at the conference of economists last week when we’re in Hobart, you were there? I can’t remember. Sorry, Peter, were you in that session? You were in that session, weren’t you? There was that recommendation that I forgot who made it. But that part of members of the board of the Reserve Bank that their deliberations or their decisions are published or someone’s got a dissenting opinion that’s published. So, we get more communication from the board members. And so, we understand that there is a difference of views and that could help the public understand the deliberations and realise that the Reserve Bank isn’t this all-seeing, all-knowing entity that’s fully in command, or maybe that’s the wrong way of putting it. But maybe that would make people realise that they’re human, and mistakes can be made. And so, when we have a governor who says, oh, interest rates will remain this, at this level until 2024, we should realise, well, he’s talking about based on these assumptions. I mean, you can never guarantee anything. But what do you think about that idea of having more information about what different board members are thinking?

Peter Tulip  35:51

I think that’s a great idea, partly to improve the incentives have individual board members, that individual board members should be accountable for their decisions. And at the moment, there isn’t any individual accountability, these decisions are presented as decisions of the board. And so, I think there’s no incentive for a board member to say, I think this decision is wrong. The research says opposite. We need to pursue an alternative course of action. So, partly, there’s inadequate challenge within the board process, as and as a result, less need for the bank to defend itself. But also, it means the public is not brought into these highly consequential debates and decisions. And that would improve things. And where a board is divided on a particular course of action or a particular piece of analysis, this is where external research and external opinions are most valuable. But no one knows that. So, people talk about monetary policy, including you and me, but we’ve got no idea whether we’re talking about something that the board regards has completely settled, or as a 50-50 decision. And so, a lot of what we say is not relevant. And there are big questions on which further evidence would be useful. That we don’t know about.

Gene Tunny  37:30

Right. On the members of the board, you’ve been quite prominent in the media recently, and in the commentary on this RBA review, you’ve made the point that the level of expertise of board members is not really where it should be. I mean, obviously, there are some that have the expertise. But are you arguing for more economists on the board rather than business people? Is that correct?

Peter Tulip  38:01

Yes. And to be precise, more monetary policy experts. And this would be my number one recommendation for reform of the RBA. We talked earlier about the bank making mistakes, the first place that they should be caught and challenged is at the board level. But at the moment, the board seems to be operating as a rubber stamp for the governor, and that’s not good. I mean, so Phil Lowe is a very talented economist who gets lots of things right. But he is human and he’s just one person and he makes mistakes. You’ll have you will have fewer mistakes, if the decisions were instead, made by a committee of experts.

Gene Tunny  39:04

And is that what they’ve got in the States or in England or in or in the UK?

Peter Tulip  39:09

Yeah. So, I mean, that’s an interesting comparison. So, in 1959, when the RBA board was being set up, it was actually common to have non economists making monetary policy decisions. But since then, other Central banks have decided these are technical questions on which research is relevant and needs to be apply. So, they’ve moved to monetary policy committees, overwhelming, really comprised with monetary policy experts. Actually, it’s not just experts, but they have some of the leading economists in the world on monetary policy, sitting on their monetary policy committee. These the people that wrote the textbooks I learned my monetary policy from are often on the FOMC, or the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. So, whereas other countries have stars making their monetary policy decisions, we have part-time amateurs.

Gene Tunny  40:19

Yeah. Well look at who’s been the Federal Reserve Bank Governor in the US. You’ve had Ben Bernanke. You’ve had, I mean, he’s made huge contributions to macroeconomics. Janet Yellen.

Peter Tulip  40:33

The deputy of Stanley Fischer.

Gene Tunny  40:35

Right. And he’s the person who wrote the textbook;

Peter Tulip  40:39

And Bernanke and Frederick Michigan. Yeah, they’ve written textbooks on how to do monetary policy.

Gene Tunny  40:48

Okay. Yeah, good point. That’s a very good point,

Peter Tulip  40:52

Let’s say a bit more about the composition of the board. So, there are two parts of it, you would get better decisions with more experts on the board. And it’s just like, any other technical decision being made by a government bodies on immunisation or building a bridge or whatever you want. You don’t want business leaders making these decisions, you want experts in the field. Within that, you want a diversity of views. So, you want a mix of hawks and doves, for example, some empirical people, some theoretical people. Instead of that diversity of expertise, sorry, that diversity of views, we have a diversity of expertise, that there are some members of the board that are capable of challenging the governor, but most are not. And that results in groupthink and status quo bias and other flaws in decision making that we see in our monetary policy decision.

Gene Tunny  41:59

Yeah. So, look, I agree with you on that, Peter. And I think the government will find it, I mean, I don’t think that I’ll accept a recommendation along those lines, unfortunately. They’ll probably want to have a trade union member on the board. I think there’s going to be a push for that. Some people pushing for, let’s have a regional representative on the board. I mean, I don’t necessarily think we should be selecting people for the board for that reason. But what you’re going to have is, you’re going to have; there are people who are sceptical of experts, because there’s this general view out there now in western economies, that look, experts have led us down. And you know, people are upset about things that happened during the pandemic, and even before then. So, there’s a larger scepticism about experts. And there’s this issue of democracy, isn’t there? I mean, so, there could be an objection. Well, we don’t want all these technocrats running things. We think there should be some democratic element there. But then I think the issue there is that if you don’t have an independent Central bank, then you get worse inflation outcomes.

Peter Tulip  43:15

See, you’re raising several issues there, Gene. So, think about the other big important decisions that have been made in the news lately. I’m going to say public health. Do you want doctors and Epidemiologists making decisions on whether vaccines are approved? Or do you want business leaders?

Gene Tunny  43:36

I want the doctors and the Epidemiologists for sure. 

Peter Tulip  43:41

If a bridge is being built, you want that decision to be made by engineers or by business people? I mean, so in other areas, government policy, we rely exclusively on people that prompt eminent experts with technical expertise, and monetary policy is the same. It used to be that the values of monetary policy and even the objectives were vague and not clearly decided. And so, the board had a lot of discretion as to why monetary policy should be set but that’s no longer the case. Central bank has moved to a world of clearly defined objectives, essentially set by the government by the elected representatives. So, they decide that the objectives of the RBA are full employment and inflation of 2% to 3%. And it then becomes a technical question as to how to best achieve that, and that’s the decision that should be made in the national interest. It should not be made by representatives of sectional interests. Excellent point. And this interacts with the other recommendation we’re talking before about public votes. 

So, if you have a representative of say, the mining industry or the agricultural industry; industries that are heavily exposed to the exchange rate, do you want them making decisions that affect the exchange rate for the national interest or that will affect their sectional interests? I mean, if it’s the sectional interest one, they’ll always be voting for lower interest rates, and a depreciation of the exchange rate, and their constituencies will be expecting and demanding that. So, if you do have so called sectional interests, but you want the vote to be a national interest, you would need to keep the votes private. And this is an unusual way of dealing with a conflict of interest. Normally, we think conflicts of interest are best dealt with by transparency, not by secrecy.

Gene Tunny  45:58

Okay, what about the banks themselves, the staff on the banks themselves? Do you have views on how our reserve bank, how it compares with its peers with the Federal Reserve or Bank of England in terms of its ability to analyse the economy and to provide the advice to the board?

Peter Tulip  46:20

Yes. So, as background to that, before I worked at the Reserve Bank, I worked with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, I was on the staff there for 11 years. I also worked at the OECD, on monetary policy, going on around the world talking to Central bankers about how they were sitting, making their decisions. And so it’s interesting, I mean, that background shows real differences in character and culture between different Central banks. I mean, have you noticed that just in government departments, different cultures, but even with Central banks, where they’re technically doing the same decision from different countries, they vary enormously. The RBA tends to be much less interested in research, and much less interested in technical modelling than other Central banks. And most clearly, with the Fed where the Fed has 400 PhDs on his staff, essentially putting together its forecast. The RBA has a very different human capital model, where academic qualifications and less important promotion and research is not ending, external research is not expected of most staff. And again, that is something that the review could look at a lot of people. I mean, there are differences on views as to whether that’s appropriate, and reflects lots of reasons that I mean, culture and history is a lot of it.

Gene Tunny  48:08

Yeah. So, your big recommendations for this review, or what you hope to get out of this review, improvements in transparency and communication.

Peter Tulip  48:18

Can I list them in order? Yes, please. 

Number one, we want more monetary policy experts on the board. 

Number two, we want those members to be individually accountable. That means public votes and public explanations of decisions. 

And third, the bank needs to be more open and transparent. And in particular, needs to do clear reasons for its decisions, and why alternatives are not taken. They would be my three main recommendations.

Gene Tunny  48:53

Okay. So, no changes to the inflation targeting regime, this flexible inflation targeting regime they talk about?

Peter Tulip  49:00

That’s why I have views on that. But as I said before, I think they’re secondary. So, the main changes I would make is, first of all, every time there’s a change in government or change in governor, there’s a new agreement between the bank and the government called the agreement on the statement of conduct of monetary policy. And that is where the target is specified in detail, which I think is appropriate. Currently, that says the main objective of the bank is inflation 2 to 3%. In my view, it should also specify full employment, or to be precise, maximum sustainable employment as an objective of equal status to the inflation rate. So, in legislation, the bank has a dual mandate that’s not reflected in the agreement on the statement of conduct and I think that causes a lot of confusion. People think that when people read the bank’s explanations of what it does, they often think that the bank is an inflation nutter. Which it’s not, it takes its unemployment objective very seriously. And it does it in this vague way, because flexible, inflation targeting, which should be specific about what flexibility is required and what isn’t. There would be other changes, but that would be the main one I would make.

Gene Tunny  50:31

Do you think there’ll be any changes to that framework? There seems to be a view from the RBA, and I guess from others that the inflation targeting approach seems to have worked pretty well in keeping inflation low over the last few decades, I mean, you mentioned, there is that issue of the times it might have meant we had higher unemployment than otherwise.

Peter Tulip  50:56

No, that was because they abandoned their inflation target. They had inflation too low, accompanied by excess unemployment, you would have sold both of those problems with lower interest rates. It didn’t do that, because it did invent this other objective of indebtedness that it should not have done. And it certainly shouldn’t have done it without a more open, transparent and accountable process. So, I think the main proposal for a change in the framework is for nominal income targeting, which Warwick McKibbin and Steve Kirschner and numerous other monetary policy experts think would be preferable. I think that’s a minority position. And I think you’re right, that the consensus of informed opinion doesn’t think that the framework needs to change much. I mean, I think there are some minor tweaks that shouldn’t be implemented. 

Nominal income targeting is not popular, partly because no other Central bank does it. So, there’s no example to show that it works. And the RBA is not a pace setter in these things. It’s a follower, not a leader, which is useful in a lot of ways. But also, the American literature on nominal GDP targeting some phrases in terms of nominal GDP targeting, which would just be inappropriate for Australia, because we have such volatile terms of trade. And we don’t want monetary policy being jerked around to target the coal price. Which just would mean big dislocations for most households. Not much apparent benefit.

Gene Tunny  53:02

Yeah. There seem to be some recognition of that in that panel discussion in;

Peter Tulip  53:08

So, Warwick McKibbin has said, you would target a slightly different variable, maybe some measure of nominal income. And that makes more sense. Warwick keeps contrasting his arguments for nominal income targeting with inflation targeting, which is what the bank says it is that it’s not what the bank is, in practice. In practice, the bank has a dual mandate. And we’re its main argument, as I take it is that inflation targeting is wrong, because activity is an appropriate objective of the Central bank and being explicit about the dual mandate would avoid that confusion.

Gene Tunny  53:50

Yeah. Okay. I’m just thinking about the tweaks; one tweak that seems clear to me that needs to be made is clarification on this point about what do you do about indebtedness? So, one way or the other, make that clear. Is the bank targeting financial stability or not?

Peter Tulip  54:09

And in my view, I mean, it’s the bank as an institution needs to worry about financial stability, but primarily, it should be dealt with, with prudential policy, not monetary policy.

Gene Tunny  54:23

And by that, you mean the Prudential Regulation Authority, which is looking at the banks and, you know, in looking at their balance sheets and making sure that they don’t make a bunch of risky loans.

Peter Tulip  54:34

Well, the nature of banking is you make risky loans. The big question is whether you’ve got an equity buffer to deal with those risky loans in the event that they all go sour at once. I mean, there are arguments about lending controls. That’s another controversial argument. But for this review, what’s going to be relevant is the status of financial stability within monetary policy. And in my view, I liked the wording. I think it was the 2009 agreement that the government had with the RBA, which said financial stability is an objective of the RBA, but it’s secondary, it’s subordinate to the core objectives. Or it should be said to be subordinate to the core objectives of full employment and stable inflation.

Gene Tunny  55:39

Okay. I’ll look that up and put in the show notes. Right, Peter, that’s been great. I mean, there are so many other aspects of this, I guess we could explore but we’ll probably have to wrap up because you’ve been generous with your time so far. Any final thoughts before we go? Anything we missed that you think is important to convey?

Peter Tulip  55:58

Oh no. I think it’s been good discussion of the key points. People who do want more, again, a lot of it is in my earlier paper.

Gene Tunny  56:11

Yes. You’ve been incredibly influential on this, Peter. So, well done. I saw you on ABC the other day, and it’s terrific that you’ve had this impact. And let’s say we get a really high-quality review with some recommendations that improve monetary policy in the future. 

Peter Tulip  56:34

Thanks for that, Gene. That’s great.

Gene Tunny  56:35

Pleasure. Thanks, Peter.

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

Thanks to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au

Please consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

Aussie Conference of Economists wrap-up w/ Leonora Risse & Cameron Murray – EP148

While in Hobart, Tasmania for the 2022 Australian Conference of Economists, show host Gene Tunny caught up with Dr Leonora Risse and Dr Cameron Murray to reflect on the big economic issues covered at the conference. The Conference was framed in the context of adjusting to the so-called new normal. It dealt with issues such as government wellbeing budgets, the housing affordability crisis, the pandemic, and nowcasting, among others. Hear from Gene, Leonora, and Cameron regarding conference highlights and takeaways, including the risk of unintended consequences of government policy interventions.

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

About this episode’s guests – Leonora Risse & Cameron Murray

Dr Leonora Risse is an economist who specialises in gender equality. She is a Research Fellow with the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, and recently spent time in residence at Harvard University as a Research Fellow with the Women and Public Policy Program. Leonora is a co-founder of the Women in Economics Network (WEN) in Australia and currently serves as the WEN National Chair. Leonora earned her PhD in Economics from the University of Queensland, and previously served as a Senior Research Economist for the Australian Government Productivity Commission. She is currently appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Economics at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her Twitter handle is @leonora_risse. 

Dr Cameron Murray is Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Henry Halloran Trust at The University of Sydney. Cameron has taught a number of courses including UQ’s MBA economics course, macroeconomics, globalisation and economic development, and managerial economics. He writes for MacroBusiness, IDEA economics and Evonomics. Cameron has a PhD from the University of Queensland on the economics of corruption. He hosts the podcast Fresh Economic Thinking and his Twitter handle is ‎@DrCameronMurray.  

Links relevant to the conversation

Greta’s articles at the Lowy Institute Interpreter:

https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/contributors/articles/greta-nabbs-keller

Greta’s articles at ASPI’s the Strategist:

https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/author/greta-nabbs-keller/

Greta’s conversation article on Australia’s relationship with South East Asia:

https://theconversation.com/how-well-has-the-morrison-government-handled-relations-with-southeast-asia-181958

Background reading on China and Taiwan:

https://www.cfr.org/blog/what-xi-jinpings-major-speech-means-taiwan

https://www.brookings.edu/on-the-record/understanding-beijings-motives-regarding-taiwan-and-americas-role/

Transcript: Aussie Conference of Economists wrap-up w/ Leonora Risse & Cameron Murray – EP148

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.

Leonora Risse  00:04

I think we also need to clarify that a well-being budget doesn’t mean just spending more, like spending more on feel-good items. I think there is some misinterpretation out there. I think it’s more about proper reallocation.

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 148 on the 2022 Australian Conference of Economists, or ACE as we call it. The conference was held on 11th to 13th July in Hobart, Tasmania. 

In this episode, I reflect on the highlights of ACE with my colleagues, Dr. Leonora Reese, and Dr. Cameron Murray, who I was lucky enough to catch up with at the conference. 

Leonora is the chair of the women in Economics Network, and she’s a senior lecturer at RMIT, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. This is Leonora’s third appearance on the program. 

Cameron Murray, however, is appearing on the program for the first time, and I’m delighted that he agreed to share his thoughts on the conference with me. Cameron is postdoctoral research fellow in the Henry Halloran Trust at the University of Sydney. 

One of the big takeaways for me from the conference was the risk of unintended consequences from government policy interventions. And I give some examples of those in this episode. 

The show notes, you can find relevant links and details of how you can get in touch with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Please get in touch and let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. 

Right oh, now for my conversations with Leonora, who’s on first, and Cameron who’s on second on ACE 2022. 

Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. 

Leonora, good to be chatting with you again.

Leonora Risse  02:00

Thanks, Gene for having me. 

Gene Tunny  02:02

Oh, it’s good to catch up here at the conference in Hobart. So, how have you found the conference so far?

Leonora Risse  02:10

It’s great to be back in person. This is the first Annual Conference of Economists in Australia since the pandemic. So, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by people again, seeing people face to face, hearing the latest research. In some ways, it feels like time hasn’t really passed. You know, we’re seeing everyone again. And there’s some great research that’s really timely reflecting on COVID. But also thinking about climate change, politics, immigration, the labor force, So, many highly topical issues are being covered.

Gene Tunny  02:49

Absolutely. And we just had this amazing presentation via Zoom last because he couldn’t make it by Martin Wolf, one of the editors at the Financial Times. And he was talking about a number those issues and the crisis of democratic capitalism, which I found really a fascinating presentation and gave us a lot to think about and their issues I’ve tried to cover on the program in the past. I was grateful for that presentation. Were you involved in the organization of this conference?

Leonora Risse  03:19

This year, I wasn’t. So, the way that the conference works is each state or territory branch usually takes carriage of organizing it. So, this year, a big shout out to the Tasmanian branch of the Economic Society who organized it. I’m part of the Economic Society Central Council, a representative of the Women in Economics Network. So, we were involved in organizing the wind sessions of the conference. So, I was involved in that part.

Gene Tunny  03:48

Okay, good one. So, what were those sessions, Leonora?,

Leonora Risse  03:52

Each year, since WEN was created, that’s the Women in Economics Network, that was created in 2017. So, WEN has been a part of the program, we’ve held a special session where we’ve discussed some of the issues that are confronting women in the economics profession. 

This year, we talked about what WEN had achieved in its first five years. We looked back at what action we had taken to deal with this problem of women’s under representation in economics. So, we were sharing some statistics as well as some examples of the initiatives that WEN had embarked on in that session, and it was more it was broader than just talking about gender inequality. It was talking about diversity and inclusion in the economics profession. So, we held that special session. 

We made sure that there were females amongst the keynote speakers, we had Angela Jackson, talking about the well-being budget. And Angela is a member of our WEN committee, but a very distinguished speaker in her own right and that was wonderful to make sure we had females amongst the keynotes. And tomorrow, we have a lunch for WEN members to come along and network and meet and talk about some topical issues.

Gene Tunny  05:12

Oh, good one. And So, Angela is a co-author of Yours. On a paper, I’d like to talk with you about; so, you had a look at how COVID affected the economy here in Australia and how it had differential impacts by agenda. So, would you be able to tell us about that, please, Leonora?

Leonora Risse  05:32

Thanks so much for the opportunity to share this with you, Gene. We looked at the workforce impacts of the first year of the COVID pandemic in Australia, where we had very strict lockdowns as well as the direct effects of the pandemic. And at the time, there was obviously a lot of interest from the news, from the media, from the government, what exactly were the impacts, and we knew that women were generally being more severely affected on average than men, because of the gender patterns that exist in industries of employment. So, we know that the types of industries that women are employed in, they tended to be the ones that were most affected by the direct lockdowns, particularly in the state of Victoria. But then, also women were potentially dropping out of the workforce, because they were responsible for homeschooling; schools were closed. Childcare wasn’t necessarily available through out that duration. 

So, we wanted to produce a systematic and statistical based analysis of what exactly happened in terms of labor force indicators. So, employment, unemployment, labor force participation; and break it down by gender, because I think there was a lot of talk, and there’s potentially some misinterpretation about what exactly those effects were, and generally, we saw a dive, a plunge in women’s employment, that was steeper than men’s. Then towards the end of the first year of the pandemic, women’s jobs did start to pick up again, which was a positive thing. And we were concerned that that was giving the impression that things were okay again, and even though there were huge numbers of women who dropped out of the workforce, just looking at those numbers climb again, it potentially led to people assuming that that time out of the workforce hadn’t caused any damage for women being detached those interruptions losing your job, and perhaps coming back again, but not being the same job that you had before; losing potentially, your eligibility for leave entitlements. It’s what we call scarring effects of economics.

Gene Tunny  08:05

Is this hysteresis? Is that the old term for it? Or am I thinking of something else? Was that related to it? There was that idea that if you had a period out of the workforce that reduced your; well, you lost the attachment, it can affect your marketability in the future, So, it can have these long run consequences. 

Leonora Risse  08:27

Yeah, that is a concern about people sort of, getting stuck in that state of unemployment or labor force detachment. That’s exactly right. So, we were looking at net numbers, aggregate numbers. We weren’t necessarily following the same individuals to see potentially, people who dropped out of the workforce who lost employment and didn’t reenter. But that would have been a concern behind the scenes. When I presented the paper here at the conference, there was an excellent question about long term unemployment, people would become entrenched in unemployment or drop out of the workforce and don’t reenter. So, that’s part of that concern about hysteresis as well, people getting stuck. And that skill erosion and perhaps that lack of confidence to reenter again, some of the dynamics that can explain what you’re describing there.

Gene Tunny  09:14

Right. So, I’ve got a couple of questions. You looked at the Australian data, do you know if this happened in the US and the UK as well? Was this the xi session that they talked about?

Leonora Risse  09:26

Yes. This was very much a global picture. You’re right. We were hearing this from the US, from Europe and the UK, from many other countries throughout Asia, Canada; that there were terms like it was a she-session, a play on the recession, but emphasizing the gender element of it. And the thing is that this is very different from past economic downturns. So, in our analysis, we look at what happened with job losses during the 1990s recession in Australia and during the global financial crisis around 2008. And what you see with the economic downturn, the recession that occurred as a result of COVID, women share those total job losses was a much higher proportion than what had occurred in previous economic downturns. And why that matters is because, it meant the policy responses needed to be different.

Gene Tunny  10:24

That was stunning. So, I was struck by just the proportion of the jobs lost in the early 90s recession here in Australia that were lost by men; what was it? 90% or something. I guess that makes sense because at the time, the industries that suffered were manufacturing industries or construction, because we had the colossal property boom in the 80s, and then the crash. So, they were industries dominated by men, but this time, and this is what you found, I think, isn’t it? that it was those sectors where women were disproportionately employed such as hospitality.

Leonora Risse  10:58

Yes, that’s right. So, it was the preexisting patterns of employment. For instance, at retail trade, what are the types of jobs within retail trade that women tended to be employed in things like clothing stores, Ford fronting customer service roles, waitress or waiter jobs in hospitality, whereas males tended to be employed in things like in retail, but in electronic stores, or building supply and hardware stores, which actually were all booming during the pandemic, because of all the incentives for people to stay at home or invest in these other things and things like shell fillers, or deliveries and transport behind the scenes rather than face to face customer service. 

So, these preexisting gender patterns of employment, as well as who’s doing the bulk of caring duties at home and who takes on the majority of the homeschooling responsibilities, meant that there were demand side factors as well as supply side factors, putting a lot of pressure on women’s capacity to retain their attachment to the workforce as well.

Gene Tunny  12:12

Okay. I might ask you about your highlights of the conference. I can tell you mine so far. I mean, one highlight was definitely Martin Wolf’s presentation, which made me think a lot about, how do we get that balance between having a market system which provides the goods and services we want that’s dynamic, that allows for you know, that is compatible with individual liberty, but at the same time, avoid a system where we have monopolization, where we have money getting into politics and corrupting it and inequality widening for various reasons, including monopoly, because of the big tech platforms, the big tech giants, people being able to earn money globally because of these platforms. And then if you’ve got an advantage that can be magnified by the technology, also skill biased technological change all those reasons. How do we deal with that in a way that keeps the incentive to innovate, but means we don’t have inequality that could be politically devastating? And I mean, I don’t know the answer to that. But I’m just saying that I thought that was a great presentation and Hal Varian, I mean, that was amazing. Talking about how they’re using all of the Google Trends data to Nowcast the economy, so, unemployment claims just based on people searching, where’s the local unemployment office in Michigan or wherever. So, I thought that was great. But how about you, Leonora? What were your highlights?

Leonora Risse  13:41

Oh, I haven’t been able to see everything on the program, which is frustrating when there’s so many options, you can’t see them all. The keynote speakers have been fantastic this year, because they’ve been so timely. The topics, the issues that they’ve been delving into, I thought hell variants, illustration of how we can use Google data for economic analysis, really enlightening. There’s so much capacity there. I’m looking forward to hearing Joseph Stiglitz speak tomorrow. So, we haven’t come to the end of the program. And he’s, he’s obviously an eminent voice in terms of inequality issues. I really enjoyed Angela Jackson’s keynote address at the start of the conference. And Angela talked about a well-being budget and put a lot of thought into what would be the dimensions of well-being. 

And also, she brought up some really potentially confrontational issue. She did talk about how do we handle domestic violence and family violence? And I think that was an indication that these are some hard topics that economists and policymakers and researchers need to deal with. And I mentioned that as a highlight, because I really don’t think in past conferences, we’ve been empowered or bold enough to bring up some of these confrontational topics.

Gene Tunny  15:02

I think that’s true. I want to see how this wellbeing budget is implemented in practice. I mean, as a former Treasury bureaucrat and someone who worked in Budget Policy Division, I’m just not sure what it’s going to mean. Is it just another chapter in the budget, enhance more work for Treasury analysts? Or is it a fundamental rethinking of how the budget process works and how the all of these policy measures are assessed? Will there be an explicit wellbeing score? I don’t know; we have to see exactly how the government is going to implement it. And whether it is something that really will mean that the budget is reformulated or rethought of as something that’s explicitly dedicated to improving well-being and therefore you would look at the whole range of government expenditures and activities. 

Is it that or is it just something that is just going to be another glossy budget document or something that the government of the day can sort of, wax lyrically about, but doesn’t have any real practical implications? That’s just my natural skepticism. So, I’m not knocking it. I just want to see how it’s implemented.

Leonora Risse  16:10

Yeah, I think that’s a really healthy degree of skepticism to have with any government. I sense that this government is really sincere and actually quite well informed by the research because as your listeners have known, there are very deep and comprehensive streams of research looking at measures of multi-dimensional poverty or disadvantage, which is really part of that literature on what constitutes a well-being and life satisfaction. And I think the takeaway here is when we think about a well-being budget, it’s about broadening the suite of indicators that we monitor, and we care about. So, it’s not just GDP, or inflation or wage price index. But we include a wider and fuller list of economic indicators, including measurements of inequality. So, I imagine that if you’re constructing a well-being budget, you’d want to compute a Gini coefficient, for instance. So, at least inequality is going to be on the minds of your policymakers, it becomes more salient, so that when they’re developing their policies, they’re not just thinking about how do we increase GDP, but what is the distribution of those prosperity benefits?

Gene Tunny  17:19

So, they could ask how do these particular budget measures affect inequality, affect the Gini Coefficient? Is that what you thinking?

Leonora Risse  17:26

Potentially along those lines, that’s right. So, it’s thinking about measuring success along a broader spectrum or dimensions of real world impact.

Gene Tunny  17:37

Yeah. Okay. So, every budget, as well as providing the economic outlook in terms of GDP and talking about what the budget aggregates are, you could have a reflection, the government could reflect upon what’s happening with some of these other indicators, such as inequality. Angela mentioned a whole range of things they could be interested in targeting in the interests of well-being, mental health, reducing domestic violence. 

Leonora Risse  18:04

The budget contains a lot of that already. And it’s about pointing out; actually, a lot of that contributes to GDP, which we know like, if you invest in your mental health and physical health and community inclusion in your population that are all in federal ingredients was making people or supporting people to become more productive as well. But I think it will probably find that there are a lot of government initiatives that are in place that are supportive of well-being and this is, I guess, perhaps justifying that expenditure in a broader set. 

I think we also need to clarify that a well-being budget doesn’t mean just spending more, like spending more on feel good items. I think there is some misinterpretation out there. I think it’s more about proper reallocation. So, you could say, well, let’s not go ahead with this hypothetical, say tax cuts for a higher income bracket, because that’ll have a negative effect on the Gini Coefficient. It will detract from income equality. 

So, we then have another benchmark of impact you consider some of these redistribution or reallocation decisions, it doesn’t mean spending more, it just means spinning things in different ways.

Gene Tunny  19:23

Yeah, fair point. Okay, Leonora thanks so much. Great to catch up with you here in Hobart.

Leonora Risse  19:27

Thanks, Gene. And thanks for running such a great podcast.

Gene Tunny  19:30

Thank you. 

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

Female speaker  19:38

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  20:07

Now back to the show. 

Cameron Murray, good to be chatting with you.

Cameron Murray  20:13

Thanks for having me,Gene.

Gene Tunny  20:14

It’s a pleasure. We’re both finished the Conference of Economists for 2022, here in Hobart. We just had the lecture by Joseph Stiglitz. And, yes, it’s been a busy, few days. How have you found the conference, Cameron?

Cameron Murray  20:30

Yeah, pretty good. Pretty broad range. I’ve been to this conference many times, I like it because you, you will find a few people that study related topics, and you can catch up with your mates who researched your area, and then you can sit in on the random ones. Your session was called what, Miscellaneous? Which is actually pretty good. I think most people enjoyed, you know, a variety of discussions that you just don’t really get a lot of smart people in one room to chat about that often. Yeah, it was a good time.

Gene Tunny  21:01

Thanks. Yes, that was an interesting session. And we can touch on that a bit later. I thought it’d be good to chat about highlights of the conference and also what the themes of the conference have been. So, I guess on the themes, there was a big theme, it seemed to me of Economics in the New Normal; I think that was actually the designated theme of the conference, something about the new normal. And there was that speech by Martin Wolf, where he’s talking about the crisis of democratic capitalism. And then Joseph Stiglitz, today was talking about the Post-Neoliberal Order. So, there seems to be this general recognition that things need to change. I still don’t know exactly what they’re proposing. 

Cameron Murray  21:54

Yeah, I got the same impression. There’s a lot of; we’re at the end of some era, and something’s happening. And I wasn’t clear what specifically is not working? I’m not a big believer in labelling of things; oh this is proper capitalism. I’m like, well, you can have capitalism and a good welfare state and good public services and, you know, all of those functions well, together. It’s not clear that we need a new label. I think we do have a lot of things right. I found that a little bit unusual, I thought Stiglitz was right, in terms of Economics as a discipline evolving. And I can observe that I’ve been involved after the financial crisis in that rethinking economics and those groups trying to add some color and flavor to your economics education, because it can be a bit dry, like it’s straight with the neoclassical view on things. But in terms of actual policy, yeah, it’s wasn’t super clear to me where it’s going, but it was kind of unusual to get that feeling that everyone thinks there’s some change happening..

Gene Tunny  23:03

So, you’ve got a blog, haven’t you? Fresh Economic Thinking, and I found that interesting, what you were saying about the teaching of Economics and you said that you’ve tried to give it a different flavor. What sort of things have you done? What have you tried to emphasized in your teaching and your writing?

Cameron Murray  23:20

Yeah, well, maybe let me give you an example. Because Joe Stiglitz, one of the last things he talked about was, well, we use Robinson Crusoe as this example of production. And when Friday comes, we talk about specialization. And I use that to say, well, that’s one element of the coordination problem when you’ve got two people. Someone pick the coconuts and someone go fishing. That example allows us to think more broadly? Why is someone better at picking coconuts? Who taught them? Who has the fishing net? And why do they have it and not the other person? Can they be more productive if the two of them go fishing on one day using a net holding one end each, and then the two of them pick coconuts the next day by helping them climb the tree? Like these, the coordination problems are much broader than I guess the way we’re trying to think about it. And I think in Economics training, we can think more broadly as issues come up, we can maybe see where there’s these net improvements on the status quo. And that’s kind of, what my blog is; is there a different angle to this problem? Is this really a coordination problem? Is it really specialization? Is it this? Is it that?

When I look at housing, for example, I was writing about the Shared Equity proposal, I’m like, well, is this the best option? Why isn’t a 100% equity better? This is the proposal where the government will buy 30% of a house for you as an equity partner for first home buyers. 

Gene Tunny  24:46

Are they going to go ahead with that, aren’t they? Because they want government here in Australia, right. 

Cameron Murray  24:51

And someone at the conference was telling me that the details are being worked out, can’t say anymore. I think we got to think well, that’s one policy, and we can look at it. But we should be tweaking at the edges as well and going well, if 30% is good, why isn’t 40% better? And if 40% is better, why not 100%. And if we’re at 100% equity, where sort of the government owns your house, that’s public housing. Like we should be a bit more expansive in thinking about how things fit together. And that’s what I tried to do.

Gene Tunny  25:22

So, we’re reportedly having a housing crisis here in Australia. And you’ve previously commented, or you’ve recommended a Singapore model, haven’t you? Is that what you’re driving at with a 100%?

Cameron Murray  25:37

Oh, well, my example, for example, in that blog post was the Land and Housing Corporation in South Wales that owns all the public housing stock. And the value of that housing stock went from $32 billion in 2012, to $54 billion in 2019. And like, that’s a really good return on equity for government, if we consider that as an independent entity, making $20 billion in seven years in terms of the value. So, that was my example of well, you know, we’re going to start another fund over here, and it’s going to buy equity in people’s houses; we have a fund here, that’s buying equity, we’re just not conceptualizing it this way, we’re only looking at the costs, and we’re ignoring the fact that what public housing is is an equity investment. So, that’s the expansive way to think about it.

Gene Tunny  26:24

Right. Okay. I’ll put some links to your blog in the show notes, and also some of the reporting on your recommendation regarding that Singapore model.

Okay. What I found were the highlights, and I can ask you about yours. Papers that really struck me as something I wasn’t expecting, or that made me think differently, it was an analysis by this recent master’s graduate from Harvard, Nicole Kagan, not so super. And what she showed was that, that policy during the COVID period here where they let you withdraw $10,000 from your superannuation balance, and it was a lot easier than the normal requirement where you had to demonstrate hardship. And she was making the point that it could actually backfire on the government in the long term due to the fact that it’s reducing their super balance, and therefore the government would have to pay them more pension in the future. She had some calculations that illustrated how that could occur. I thought that was a good analysis, a good paper, and it just shows those unintended consequences and just how there, whenever you’re designing a policy, there’s probably or there’s possibly a lot better way to do it. And So, you should be thinking laterally about the types of policies.

Cameron Murray  27:58

I thought hers was very good as well, because she didn’t just say, this is the result of this policy. She said, oh, here’s another policy of an interest free loan. And what was the other; that she had a third one as well and said, here’s something else. And now I’m going to compare all three of them. And I feel like that’s a really fundamental economic approach of saying, well, this is a good policy I showed you, it’s like, no, what are all the alternatives? And we should be picking the best one, because if we can beat this, we should. Right. So, I thought that was very good. And that was my comment to her as well, there was another. And it might be related to your presentation as well, that the government could have let you take your super or it could have bought your assets from your super and given you the cash and held those assets in its own fund and got their compound growth or whatever. And, therefore, the government would have had those future assets to pay you back when you got the pension, if you know what I mean. So, you could sort of draw a little circle around the super early release program, and take that forward through time by the government owning those assets in its own federal treasury super account, and then paying the extra pensions to you in the future out of that account if it wanted to. So, you know, that’s just another alternative. And she evaluated three and I really liked that approach and was enthusiastic to look at more.

Gene Tunny  29:25

Yeah, I thought it was good. The other papers I liked; Stephanie Schurer who won Young Economist of the Year Award, she looked at a paper, while her paper looked at these anti interventions of various measures in the Northern Territory to a world to reduce alcoholism or to reduce domestic violence and sexual abuse in the indigenous population there. She had this, I think it was some differences model share this methodology to identify what happened in Alice Springs when they introduced a minimum price of alcohol to try to reduce the drinking and the cost of wine. It didn’t have the effect that they necessarily expected. When they looked at what did it mean for babies with the birth way of babies? And what seems to have happened is, well, there was some substitute; they did stop drinking cask wine. There was a big drop in the consumption of that. But then, there was an increase in consumption of beer and other alcohol, to an extent. So, there’s sort of substitution there. But also smoking, smoking increased.

Cameron Murray  30:43

Yeah, it did. That was pretty clear and one of the main results, wasn’t it? 

I think that’s actually a result I’ve seen elsewhere of trying to change behavior with the sort of syntax approach where you tax the behaviour you don’t want to get. And I think we get that in cigarettes and marijuana and things like that, if there are substitute ways to get the broader consumption good. Then you’ll find them.

Gene Tunny  31:12

Yeah. I thought that was a good illustration of the possibility of unintended consequences that you can get with policy and as was Nicole’s paper, too. Okay. The other one I thought was great was Warwick McKibbin’s paper on COVID. So, he went over some modelling results of his early in the pandemic. And I mean, Warwick was claiming, I think he’s probably right about this, that he got reasonably; I mean, his estimates were probably better than any ones in terms of the ultimate economic impact. And a lot of it came from voluntary, people voluntarily withdrawing from the labor market.

Cameron Murray  31:58

I wasn’t in that one. Can you? What did he predict? And why?

Gene Tunny  32:03

This was a paper he released in February of 2020. He saw that COVID was spreading in China. And it was going to come to the end; I think it was in Italy at the time. And he used his, what is it, the McKibbin Sachs Global model – MSG model he’s got some global economic model originally built with Jeffrey Sachs at Harvard. And he’s sold it; to all of these finance ministries, I think Treasury had a copy when I was there. How would you describe it? Well, it’s a general equilibrium macro-economic model of the global economy. And he was projecting; he calls them simulations, he’s not calling them forecasts. He made a joke today about how he doesn’t like doing forecasts, because you’re only ever going to be wrong, you never forecast know precisely.

Cameron Murray  33:10

I think that’s very wise. 

Gene Tunny  33:12

So, I think that’s very clever of Warwick to do that. And he was showing what GDP deviations he was getting from his assumptions around how COVID would spread. Then he had endogenous policy responses, or actually, they may not have been endogenous, he must have assumed what policy responses would be in terms of fiscal policy, and then monetary policy. He knew that governments would respond and that would help the economy recover. And he was showing that he had the big GDP losses to begin with, but then the V-shaped recovery or the rapid recovery. So, Warwick was claiming that; and it’s probably right.

Cameron Murray  33:56

Did you get the inflation element as well as it’s sort of second half of last year and this year? Because the V-shape recovery; remember, there was a big debate, V-shaped recovery, W-shaped recovery. There was a lot of chatter, and I think obviously he was right on that. But what about the inflation part?

Gene Tunny  34:19

I think he was. He may not have got it to the; he may not have predicted as much as it has occurred, but I’ll have to check that. I think he did say something about that. I just can’t remember off the top of my head. I’ll put links in the show notes to that paper. I found that fascinating. 

One thing he didn’t predict and he was surprised by; he was really surprised by just how badly the United States did. But he was modelling the COVID infections and mortality, the COVID deaths, and his prediction for the US was too low. And because in his model he was basing the health response. So, he had the epidemiological development of the disease, the infections and the deaths. He had that related in part to the public health system or the public health response. And because the US, because of the CDC, it came out high in terms of public health effectiveness. So, in his model, US had high public health effectiveness. So, that was reducing his estimate of what would happen in the States. We all know that it just didn’t work. I mean, they may have had the CDC, but for some reason or another, something didn’t work.

Cameron Murray  35:49

Well, you know, the assumptions matter don’t they? One of the standout presentations for me was Hal Varian, the Chief Economist at Google. And I think, simply because he’s got the inside run on all the data, he had a great method of augmenting your traditional time series forecasts that have seasonality and trends with an additional regression that selects for the most useful search terms out of Google Trends, and then uses them as predictors in the regression part of the overall model. And was pretty good at predicting a lot of economic outcomes from Google trends search data, which I thought was pretty impressive, but I guess we kind of, accept that that happens. But what impressed me more is they have a Google survey tool that you can put as like an ad on the news item. And people get credit on Google Play or something if they fill in surveys. So, you can do these really rapid surveys, and it will distribute them to readers of news that meet certain criteria. And it replicates really well, these well-done official surveys that sample representatively across society based on census records of types of people and where they live, it replicates a lot of findings by being completely non representative, and just flooding the internet, essentially, with the survey. 

So, the message here is sort of saying is we don’t know if representativeness is that important, but you can find out cheaply and quickly by just doing a Google survey to augment your official survey where you’ve got representative samples from different parts of the country, in different age groups and so forth. 

We’re obsessed about sampling and he’s now saying, well, as long as we throw it out to the internet, sometimes it doesn’t really matter. 

Gene Tunny  37:54

It’s good enough, the results are good enough. It may not be as precise as a random survey, or a survey done by Roy Morgan or Gallup but it’s got to be good enough for what most people need it for.

Cameron Murray  38:07

Especially picking the trends, right? Is this declining in interest or rising interests, you’ll get that sort of stuff very quickly and cheaply. So, I immediately went back to my computer after that session and looked at housing markets and predictions and tried to catch up with the state of the literature on that, and it’s booming right now. So, I think that’s going to be something we’ll hear more about. And I expect, for example, in the next five years, we’ll probably have a new house price index that is informed by daily Google search trends. Like a live modelled index from this type of stuff, that would be my expectation, given that people are already trying to do that.

Gene Tunny  38:46

Yeah, because CoreLogic put out a daily House Price Index, I think, don’t they? 

Cameron Murray  38:52

They do put out a daily index but there’s a lot of assumptions because you don’t know sales data until the settlement and the price was 30 or 60 days beforehand. Over a longer term, it works well. And it seems to pick turning points well. But I think if you’re in the market for producing high frequency index like that, and you can augment that with Google Trends, I think you would dominate that market because people would put more stock in yours, you’d get more press coverage, you’d become very; So, I’d be very interested in if CoreLogic has got people looking at this. They obviously have a lot of data nerds. You might see live daily trackers of many things; could be an interesting new world at the next conference.

Gene Tunny  39:40

Yeah, absolutely. That was great, that nowcasting session and I chatted about that with Leonora. I’ll put a link in the show notes regarding that, too. 

So, on housing, Cameron, you presented a paper on housing, didn’t you? Would you be able to tell us about that, please?

Cameron Murray  39:56

Yeah. So, it’s pretty straightforward. There was a lot of very detailed statistical modelling at this conference and mine was the exact opposite. Mine was just, here’s the data on the rate of production of housing from new major subdivisions in Australia. Because the argument that we have at the moment, are planning regulations, stopping supply and keeping the price of housing up. And my question was, how are planning regulations stopping supply? Because we can observe in practice, all these major approvals with three to 20,000, approved housing lots, and we can observe how quickly they supply after the approval. And what you find is that during an economic boom, these property developers will sell at a rate that’s 30 to 50 times faster than when it’s not a boom. 

So, they’ll sell five a month, and then they’ll sell eight a month for a few months when there’s a boom. So, if you look at land sales in major subdivisions around Melbourne, when there was that 2015 to 17, boom, you can see, not only did the price rocket, but the sales rocket, and then when the price is up, typically, supply and demand say, well, at higher prices, you sell more, but then it stops once price gets up. So, as prices start rolling over, they stopped selling again. 

The main point of that is, there seems to be a built-in speed limit. And then in addition to that, I looked at aggregate company data for listed companies across states where they had eight to 12 different projects. And the question there as well, is that variation I’m observing; does it average out across different areas, if we diversify? And it does, but only to a small degree. And then I looked at council level data for the different councils in Queensland and showed that actually, the variation, even at a whole council level is much the same. So, the point of all that is that there’s some kind of built in speed limit that the market will supply, regardless of planning restrictions. So, if you want to talk about the effective planning regulations, it has to go via this market absorption rate, this optimal rate per period that you would produce new housing. 

Gene Tunny  42:20

Yeah, I see what you’re arguing there. So, at any point in time, there is going to be a speed limit. I think that’s fair enough. It’s like with the sale of government bonds, for example. So, they don’t just go and auction off the whole years in one day.

Cameron Murray  42:42

Yeah. The market has a finite depth, right? Especially in property, your local market has a very; it’s very competitive. But in your local area, if there’s only a few buyers rocking up each week, you can’t really sell faster than that. And if you did want to, you’d have to reduce the price dramatically. And that itself might not even work, because who wants to buy something that’s falling in price? Right? You’ve just showed me this is a terrible property asset to buy, because you keep decreasing the price on me. Right? I think property markets function like other asset markets, property developers aren’t in the business of panicking, and to reduce price and selling very quickly. So, if we want to talk about cheap and affordable housing options or systems, we’ve got to acknowledge that limit. 

We can’t go around saying oh up zone, and it’ll all be fine, because we’ve got a property boom in the whole world, regardless of local planning conditions. There’s almost no city you can name right now, Regardless of whether they’ve got very generous planning, whether they’ve got height limits, where they’ve got no height limits. Auckland, famous in 2016 up zone the whole city, and then had the biggest boom, I think just about in the world between 2016 and 2021.

So, that was mine. Yours was one of the last sessions of the day, that was just before Joe Stiglitz. I actually really liked your topic because, I have a strong interest in privatizing public assets and accounting trickery.

Gene Tunny  44:26

Yeah. Well, what I thought was bizarre about what Queensland Government did. This is the state government, where Cameron and I both reside; it’s the state government where Brisbane is the capital. What I found odd about what they did was they actually didn’t privatize it, they pretended they privatize it. They said if we did privatize it, we could sell it for $8 billion, and therefore, even though it’s still doing the same thing it did yesterday, we’re now going to treat it as a well; we’re creating this private company, we’re converting a government.

Cameron Murray  45:08

This was the property title’s office, right where you change, when you sell a house, you register the change in ownership. It’s the Torrens title.

Gene Tunny  45:16

Yeah, that’s right. Sorry, I should have mentioned that. Well, this is actually a private company, and we own shares in it. So therefore, we’re going to take it out of the general government sector. And we’re going to recognize this $8 billion asset on our balance sheet and use it to offset our $40 billion worth of debt or whatever it was, and that reduces our net debt.

Cameron Murray  45:47

That’s an accounting trick. I did think it was very interesting that we’re going to privatize, we’re not going to change the ownership. We’re just going to say that it’s; and I guess my point to you was; The other point you were saying is that Queensland has a future fund that does investments in private companies. And they were saying that we’re not putting it in that fund is that?

Gene Tunny  46:14

I know they did. So, it is in that future fund? Yeah. It is in there – the debt retirement fund they’ve got. 

Cameron Murray  46:22

Well, and I think one of the questions in your comments was that New South Wales got a lot of flak last year for doing the same thing. And they created this thing called the transport asset holding entity. Did you follow that news? 

Gene Tunny  46:38

Yeah, I’ve got to look more into it.

Cameron Murray  46:4

The basic gist was the same thing. They said, well, this is the Department of Rail or whatever it’s called. But actually, we’re going to corporatize it and say it’s a private company. So, when we subsidize it, that’s an equity injection. So, that’s actually an investment, not a cost. So, there was this great big accounting trick to get around there other standard measures of government spending and standard ways that they produce the budget. They’re like, well, no, that’s not a cost, that’s an equity injection, which of course, you could do for anything.

Gene Tunny  47:19

I have to have a closer look at that. I guess the point I was trying to make is that I thought this was a good example of just the financial or the public accounting trickery that can go on. And I think as economists, we need to be mindful of that.

Cameron Murray  47:40

I think your point; you said at the beginning that we’re meant to be sort of, reporting in a standardized way. And you’re comparing governments between countries and budgets and debts. How much does this accounting trick matter? And we’re comparing Queensland and Western Australia or Australia to New Zealand to Canada.

Gene Tunny  48:01

Yeah. It’s difficult to know. And while any one of them, you might think in the greater scheme of things, okay, maybe that’s not the biggest deal but they just all add up and you just don’t know. 

I remember what I was saying about what was going into the future fund. What I was trying to say is that originally, they were going to put in liquid assets. So, the original idea was, we would have, I think it was 4 billion or whatever it was, from the defined benefit. The funds set aside to meet the defined benefit superannuation liability, and they were going to take that out, because they were saying, well,  we’ve got excess there, we don’t need that much to pay the pensions. We’ll put that into this future fund, but they would have been liquid financial assets. So, cash or shares or whatever. But then, they didn’t have as much as they expected. So, they couldn’t actually put in liquid assets. What they then did was said, well, oh, we’ve got these $8 billion titles registry, let’s stick that in the future fund. And is not the same thing, because it’s not actual ready money. It’s not a liquid asset.

Cameron Murray  49:13

No, it’s definitely not. Although, we did later discuss before we recorded that, a cynic might say that the government is wedged right now in not privatizing any public assets. And they’re literally setting this up. So, when they’re out of power, they get the result they want because the next government, it makes it easier for them to then privatize and sell this off, because the structure is already changed.

Gene Tunny  49:42

It certainly does do that.

Cameron Murray  49:45

It depends how much you think these political games are being played behind the scenes.

Gene Tunny  49:50

Yeah, I’ll put a I’ll put a link to both of our papers in the show notes. I’ve got to think more about your housing article because I think that’s a fair point about the speed limit at a point in time. And I’ve had Peter Tulip on the show before. Peter is someone that you’ve debated or you have a lot of interactions on Twitter and

Cameron Murray  50:15

and in person every time. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  50:19

So, Peter was here at the conference too. And I think Peter’s point is that; I think he acknowledges that, like, you’re not going to solve the housing supply shortfall overnight by relaxing restrictions, because there’s just so much construction or so much building that would have to occur. I mean, have to occur over many years. And I think his point is that, well, the problem is we’ve had these restrictions in place for decades. So, there’s been a whole lot of under building. 

Cameron Murray  50:51

We had a good conversation last night with Peter. I think there’s a hidden mental model that we both have that I can’t quite articulate with both tried. One of the components of that is this competitive element in the property market, like how fast would we supply? What’s the real counterfactual? Because his argument, and it’s a common argument, is that we’ve had supply constraints for a long time, therefore, we don’t have enough houses. If we didn’t have a supply constraint, we would have more dwellings per person and more space than ever before. And yet, that’s actually what we have. 

Although prices are high. Part of that’s the interest rate, right? Rents compared to income in the private market are 20%. They were 20% in 1996. So, we’re talking, what’s that 26 years ago, quarter of a century. So, not only are rents the same proportion of income, and we’d probably expect people to spend roughly the same proportion of income on housing as they do, you know, there’s a fixed budget share results in the Cobb Douglas function as your income grows. But we have bigger houses, we have more bedrooms and more area and fewer people. And we actually saw that in the recent Census. Census was interesting, because last year, the week that we filled it out in August 2021, I predicted that the homeownership rate in the census would go up. Because it was 65.4%, in the 2016 census. And when the data came out a month ago, it was 66.0. So, a 0.6% increase. So, we got more homeownership. And we saw that the number of people per dwelling fell quite a lot as well, partly because of COVID. People sort of spread out a little bit more. Yeah. And we had a bit of a building boom as well, in that period. And So, we’ve got bigger houses, fewer people in them. So, the question is, why isn’t this the market outcome? Like, surely, you’ve got to tell me why the market outcome is something of even bigger houses and fewer people than what we have. And why would that be the case? That’s where we still disagree. Myself and Peter Tulip as the most active housing supply debaters on Australian social media.

Gene Tunny  53:27

Absolutely. Love to have you both thoughts for a chat in the future. But anyway, we’ll have to leave it there. Because we’ll wrap up soon, because we’ve got the State of Origin game between Queensland and New South Wales coming up. 

Yeah, I thought that’s been a great discussion. I just thought of something with Nicole Kagan’s paper.. So, you’ve got that idea that the government could have bought the shares off or it could have basically bought the super assets…

Cameron Murray  54:05

From people if they want to cash out their super, then the Superfund says, okay, we’ll give you cash but the government’s got to give us the cash to take a claim on their same assets.

Gene Tunny  54:15

Yeah. So, the government would have to borrow to buy or to let them cash out. But your argument would be they would be earning more, the government would be earning more from those assets than the cost of the borrowing, giving borrowed and was so cheap.

Cameron Murray  54:31

Yeah. And also, that whatever they earn on those assets is exactly what the people who took the money out of super would have earned. So, if you’re thinking about a cost to the age pension in the future, well, the government now got those assets, exactly the same amount of assets that it can use to spend on your age pension. Do you know what I’m saying? Because you don’t have the super, the government has it. And if you need the age pension, they’ve got exactly the same amount of money that they can give back to you if you qualify for the age pension.

Gene Tunny  55:00

I’ll just have to think that through because I’ll also have the debt one day to a border. Although you could think about the Reserve Bank doing it, perhaps. I mean, that’s one thing that could have;

Cameron Murray  55:14

I mean, it’s a balance sheet expansion for the government. And it’s a contraction for the person who took the cash and doesn’t have that other asset. I might write a blog on this; 

Gene Tunny  55:25

I think would be good. I’d love to see.

Cameron Murray  55:27

Nicole was the author of the paper? I’ll reach out because I thought she had the right idea of testing all these scenarios. There you go. That’s what conferences are for; meeting people and sharing ideas.

Gene Tunny  55:41

Absolutely, very good. Cameron Murray, from University of Sydney. Thanks so much for your time. It’s been really great chatting. And it’s been amazing catching up with you at this conference. It’s been great.

Cameron Murray  55:52

Yeah, I know, it has been great to hang out, Gene. 

Gene Tunny  55:57

Thanks, Cameron.

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. Till next week, goodbye.

Credits

Thanks to this episode’s guests Leonora and Cameron for the great conversations, and to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au

Please consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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.

Categories
Podcast episode

Charter Cities: A Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model w/ Kurtis Lockhart – EP147

In episode 147 of Economics Explored, Kurtis Lockhart, Executive Director of the Charter Cities Institute, tells us about the benefits of charter cities – cities with their own rules or charter, independent of national or subnational governments. Kurtis argues the best way to implement charter cities is via public-private partnerships (PPPs). Learn about the fascinating work the Charter Cities Institute is involved in around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, with a view to stimulating economic development and lifting millions out of poverty.  

You can listen to the episode via the embedded player below or via podcasting apps including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Here’s a video clip of Kurtis’s conversation with show host Gene Tunny to give you a flavour of what is covered in the episode.

About this episode’s guest – Kurtis Lockhart

Kurtis Lockhart is Executive Director & Head of Research at the Charter Cities Institute. Kurtis is also a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Oxford. His research examines the effect of institutional reforms on public goods provision with a regional focus on sub-Saharan Africa. At Oxford he has taught both quantitative methods and African politics. 

In the field, Kurtis has previously worked as a Research Manager for the International Growth Centre (IGC), for Warc Africa (both in Sierra Leone), and for the ELIMU Impact Evaluation Center in Kenya where he managed the implementation of several randomized control trials across many different sectors (health insurance, rural electrification, tax administration, and legal aid). Kurtis has also completed consulting projects with both Oxford Development Consultancy and with Warc Africa. He holds an MSc in Development Management from the London School of Economics where he graduated top of his class, as well as a BA in Economics and Development Studies (First Class Honors) from McGill University. 

Find him on Twitter @kurtislockhart.

Links relevant to the conversation

The Charter Cities Institute 

Podcast Archives – The Future of Development (Charter Cities Institute podcast)

Paul Romer: Why the world needs charter cities 

The Charter Cities Institute on Twitter: @CCIdotCity

Transcript: Charter Cities: A Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model w/ Kurtis Lockhart – EP147

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…

Kurtis Lockhart  00:05

As an organization, CCI’s vision is to empower new cities with better governance; to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty. So, we’re all about poverty alleviation.

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 147 on Charter Cities. We’re going to learn what Charter cities are exactly, and what progress has been made setting them up. My guest this episode, is Kurtis Lockhart, Executive Director at the Charter Cities Institute, and a PhD candidate at Oxford. One important takeaway for me from this episode was the importance of having a genuine partnership with host countries. So, Charter cities aren’t seen as Neo colonialism.

In the show notes, you can find relevant links and details of how you can get in touch with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Please get in touch and let me know your thoughts on this episode, or have any ideas that you have for future episodes. I’d love to hear from you.

Right on, now for my conversation with Kurtis Lockhart on Charter cities. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it.

Kurtis Lockhart, Executive Director at the Charter Cities Institute, welcome to the program.

Kurtis Lockhart  01:33

Thanks so much, Gene. I’m happy to be here.

Gene Tunny  01:36

It’s great to have you here. I’m keen to learn about what you’ve been up at the institute. As an economist, this is a concept that’s I’ve been fascinated by since, I think it was Paul Romer, famous Economics Professor Nobel Laureate, if I remember correctly; he had this great TED Talk, probably about eight years ago now on Charter cities. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

To begin with, Kurtis, could you just tell us a bit about the Charter Cities Institute, please? Where’s it located, what you’re doing, what your mission is, please?

Kurtis Lockhart  02:17

The Charter Cities Institute is a 501C3. That just means a nonprofit Think Tank and nonprofit research organization. We are headquartered here in Washington, DC. There’s a Zambian office of CCI in Lusaka, that we’re really proud to have opened late last year. That now has three full time staff there, so we’re ramping up quickly there. And I can break down CCIs activities around Charter cities into a few buckets. And they’re all-around building the ecosystem for Charter cities. So, one is around just research, right? So, we provide very nerdy, longer papers on academic jargon and that you’re more e-con inclined audience members would probably resonate with, around why Charter cities are an idea whose time has come. Why they are; we think they’re convincing from a public policy standpoint, to pursue, and why we think that they could be game changers in terms of economic growth, and spurring economic development. So, that’s research, in addition to this longer, more academic oriented pieces, we also, you know, we want to start a movement, and we want people to be involved. You also need to communicate it in other forms, like blogs, like media outlets in more popular press, and exactly like I’m doing with you here today, Gene, on podcasts. So, that’s the research bucket.

The second bucket is around events; we host various events and conferences and summits. One other things that we’re really excited to do, later this fall is co-hosting a conference, a two-day conference with MIT in Boston. They have a sustainable urbanization lab there. And we’re hosting a two-day conference with them, where the first day will be focused on academics; talking about this idea of Charter cities and new city developments as a way to grapple with really rapid urbanization that we’re going to experience as a species over this century. And then the second day, we’ll be less academically inclined and more focused on practitioners and policymakers and new city developers themselves.

So, we’ll go from, the abstract and the academic on day one to the practical and the real world on day two. And I think that’s really necessary in a new space like this with a new novel idea is to get those two silos talking to each other and that’s one of the key things that we see CCI doing in terms of building the ecosystem. So, first bucket – research, second bucket – events.

The third bucket of activities that CCI engages in, is around technical assistance and partnerships. So, engaging in and providing advisory to new city projects on the ground to get these things built in thriving new Charter cities out there in the real world.

Gene Tunny  05:24

Great. I mean, I’m keen to learn about new cities being built. And because this Charter cities idea, it’s designed to stimulate economic development to improve outcomes for people out there in the real world. So, you’re keen to learn what’s going on there? Would you be able to explain first, what is a Charter city? How do you conceptualize it? How would you describe it, Kurtis?

Kurtis Lockhart  05:48

Our simple definition of a Charter city is new city with new rules. And there are two pieces of that: the city component, which is the built environment, or the urban space, and the rules, which economists, have a fancy jargon word; institutions for rules. And economists of all stripes pretty much come to agree that the fundamental determinant of long run economic growth, long run economic development, is institutions and governance. And the issue is, across a lot of countries, low-income countries, lower middle-income countries in the Global South, you have poor governance and poor institutions. And they’re really hard to change. So, we see Charter cities as a mechanism to bring about deep reforms needed in governance and institutions that can then lead to increases in long run economic growth, which is, we think, the major way to lift masses of humanity, from poverty, to prosperity, in its short amount of time as possible. And that’s the main reason; I can go more into why we think that Charter cities are a great mechanism to bring about that institutional reform and institutional transition, if you want. But I’ll pause there.

Gene Tunny  07:17

So just first, why is it called a Charter city? The Charter, is there an actual charter that you give to the city? Is that the idea there’s a document or a set of principles, a set of rules? Is that the idea?

Kurtis Lockhart  07:32

Yes. So, I mean, it comes from history, where new jurisdictions being settled, were granted charters; and basically charter is a standing for the new rules that apply in this new jurisdiction. And it’s a stand-in for institutions. That’s what we mean by charter. And then city, I always break it down by those two words, because that’s what we’re all about at CCI is cities, which is about the physical, geographic space, and urban planning, and land use regulation, and how the city is kind of planned, it is super important. Transportation, urban infrastructure, the built environment. And then on the other hand, the charter, right? That’s what you could call the soft infrastructure of the city, which is the rules that govern different policy domains in a city. Both of the soft and hard infrastructure need to be right, in order for a city to thrive.

Gene Tunny  08:39

So, it’s a new city with its own rules. So therefore, you either need to carve out, or you need to carve out territory from an existing country. I mean, you’ve got to; most of the world’s is going to be covered by sovereign nations, isn’t it? Like, how does this work? I mean, you have to get the agreement of a government, is that right to get a new bit of land and have your own rules? Is that correct?

Kurtis Lockhart  09:09

Yeah. So, this is a great time to bring in Paul Romer, who you alluded to in the first question. So he had a TED Talk back in 2009, that you talked about, where he coined this term Charter cities and defined this concept to begin with, or at least early versions of the concept. And his model, Romer’s model of Charter cities is what we can call the foreign guarantor model to Charter cities where he advocated for a high income, well governed country like Canada to come into a low income poorly governed country like Honduras, and Honduras would cede a large city scale chunk of land to Canada. Canada would then effectively you know, import its good institution. And in that delimited chunk of land that it’s been ceded, and because of that institutional shift towards good institutions, and being administered by Canadians; I’m Canadian, so I’m kind of, patting myself on the back right now, then you would therefore, get economic activity, you’d attract investment, you’d get business formation. And those things would spur sustained rates of growth moving forward, and you get all these good outcomes.

So that was kind of Romer’s foreign guarantor model – a candidate coming into Honduras. As you’ve brought up now, that idea was seen as controversial by a lot of people because it has implications for sovereignty, right. A lot of Hondurans are going to say, wait a second, you’re telling me that we don’t have sovereign control over all of our Honduran territory, and we’re ceding that sovereignty to foreigners? Like no, I did not agree to this.

Well, I think that critique, that sort of, Neo colonialism critique is a bit misguided in certain ways, nonetheless, it’s real. And it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and was seen as controversial. So Romer tried to implement this model in Honduras, and in Madagascar, and it didn’t work out so well, and then he sort of, receded from this charter cities movement. So, the Charter Cities Institutes, CCIs model is different from Romer’s, We advocate for Public Private Partnership, a PPP between a host country and an urban developer. And ideally, it’s an urban developer from that host country so that they know the context, they have appropriate connections and whatnot. And the reason we think that’s better is basically two reasons:

One is it sidesteps all of these issues of sovereignty that are implicit in Romer’s model, right. This space of land that the developer is going to build is not at all, a separate entity. It is part of the sovereign jurisdiction of the country, subject to its constitution, subject to its criminal law, subject to its international treaties. The only other things that it has kind of special control over is commercial law and everything else other than those three things; constitution, criminal law, and international treaties.

So, number one, it sidesteps these issues of sovereignty implicit in Romer’s model. Number two, we think that this PPP model does a much better job aligning incentives between the urban developer on the one hand, and both the host government and the population, the city residents on the other. The reason is because, urban developers make their profit from the appreciation in land values over time, right? And so that’s their main incentive; is to maximize land values. How do you maximize land values? Well, you attract as many people, as many residents and businesses to your city as humanly possible. How do you do that? You create a livable city, you govern that city well, you provide urban services and urban amenities to the businesses and residents of that city and you will attract more residents and businesses, and therefore see land values increased.

So, we think that aligning incentives is done much better under this PPP model than the foreign guarantor model. It’s a lot sort of, analogous to, you could say, the way a shopping mall is set up. I think that’s a good model in a lot of people’s heads, maybe your listeners. You have a shopping mall, where there’s the mall owner, and then they rent out storefronts, or store space to various shops. And the shopping mall owner provides public goods like lighting, garbage removal, and cleaning and security to the public space within the mall. And in exchange, they get rents from the various stores within the mall to the extent that it then therefore attracts foot traffic to those various stores, and therefore the force base within that mall increases. That benefits the shopping mall owner. So, it’s a very kind of similar model and you can use that as an analogous thing to the way it aligns incentives.

Gene Tunny  14:50

Right. You mentioned that Paul Romer had; there were some practical examples of this that he was involved in. He was advising them, was he? And they just didn’t work out. Do you know why they didn’t work out? What were the problems that occurred?

Kurtis Lockhart  15:07

His full involvement is still unclear; the extent to which was involved. I know that the Hondurans in particular saw the Ted Talk that both you and I have alluded, and I think he was the adviser to the President, really resonated with him. And so, he called Paul Romer and got the Presidential in support and they said, let’s go with these things. And there were a few, several iterations that I don’t want to go into all the history. But eventually, this new Charter cities law, you could say was passed called the ZEDE law, which basically stands for the Zone for Economic Development and Employment. And Romer, as part of this law was placed on the transparency commission. So, there was like an oversight board, that would make sure there’s not a lot of, abuse going on with these zones and the developers kind of, given a lot of powers within these special jurisdictions, these ZEDEs,

The issue then became that potential developers or deals started to arise between folks that wanted to govern these ZEDEs and the government that were being held without the oversight or input from the transparency commission. So, Paul Romer said, okay, I’m done with this, you’re kind of, not at all going about this in a transparent way that I had signed up for. So, he left the ZEDE project.

There have since been a few that he’s started. I think there are three in operation right now, including well known one called Prospera, on the Island of Roatán.

Gene Tunny 

Sorry, Roatán; where’s that? Sorry.

Kurtis Lockhart 

Roatán is an Honduran Island. Those were the first kind of, ZEDEs under this law, a socialist was elected president last fall in Honduras. And she was elected with one of her platform planks being the abolishment of this deadly law. The Honduran Congress just passed that abrogation earlier this year. And so that’s kind of a huge blow to this ZEDE regime.

I think the three ZEDEs that are currently in place, that were passed before that law came in or was abolished, aren’t going to be abolished, they still have the ability to function. But obviously, if you’re an investor, and you see a president in place, that is hell bent against this concept of a ZEDE, that’s going to likely give you pause about getting involved. So, it’s great for the space. But I think what the Honduran example goes to show you is that you need legitimacy. And you need buying from the local population. And I think the way that the ZEDE law was passed in Honduras in the early days, did not at all, have that legitimacy necessary for long term success.

Gene Tunny  18:19

Right. Did you mention Madagascar as well? I can have a look into it. It’s just fascinating, I wasn’t aware that that was happening. And I mean, if I can get Paul Romer, on the show in the future, or, I’d love to chat with him about that. But you did mention Madagascar, was that right?

Kurtis Lockhart  18:38

Yeah, Madagascar happen. I think Paul Romer met with the president whose name is long, and so I’m not even going to attempt to say it, but they had a conversation and the president, I think was on board. But for many other reasons in addition to this one, what was happening is I think a South Korean company was going to come in and get a large tract of land, and the local population didn’t like that idea. So, a kind of protests broke out. Again, this is somewhat related to the Romer presidential conversation, but there were other factors involved that spurred the protests and riots. So the reform didn’t end up going through. Both attempts, well-attempted and in the Honduran case, it did get implemented, t just hasn’t been very successful. They didn’t end up having an enduring impact and Romer has since receded.

Gene Tunny  19:39

I was interested in that point you made about the new; there was a new government in Honduras and it’s a socialist government. They’re not going to like a Charter city. If you think about it, because is the idea of a Charter city, it’s going to have more liberal or more free market institutions, lower taxes, lower tariffs, more business friendly regulations, is that the idea? That they want to try and replicate what Hong Kong was in a few decades ago. I mean, Hong Kong is still a prosperous place. But there’s concerns about the, the administration or the influence of Beijing in Hong Kong now. Is that the idea that it’s; you want to have a free market type of city state? Is that the idea?

Kurtis Lockhart  20:34

By our simple definition of Charter city being new cities with new rules, that’s a pretty politically agnostic definition, right. So, if you think about it, that could be taken on either end of the spectrum and ran with. I think the model that CCI advocates for is more in line with what you’ve been saying. So, liberalizing and introducing market-oriented reforms, just because if you look at history and how well you know Hong Kong has done and Zen Jen has done and Singapore has done and Dubai has done when they’ve liberalized, that would seem to indicate that that’s a good idea to do. And then you contrast that with reforms on the other end of the spectrum and how those worked out. And I think that effective option is pretty clear from history.

But that’s not to say that we have been approached by, for example, indigenous groups that are interested in this model of Charter cities, because they want as a group, and want to push for an advocate for more decentralized, and devolved authority and autonomy over the jurisdiction that their group resides in. And they see this Charter cities model as a potential way to do that. So, I wouldn’t label that as kind of libertarian or free market fundamentalism in any way; that’s more just an indigenous group seeking some more ability to control their own fates. And I think this is an interesting avenue of the Charter cities movement is around this kind of more traditional local groups that are pushing for more reforms or more powers over their areas.

One other things that; I’m from Vancouver So, I’ve been following this. I guess, developments around this section of Vancouver that’s reserved, a first nation’s reserve, it’s called the Squamish nation. And they own some very, the reserves on some very prime real estate within Vancouver, and just as other in thriving cities elsewhere in Vancouver, real estate prices are astronomically high. And so, what this Squamish nation decided to do was partner itself with an urban developer and say, hey, instead of letting this very pricy and scarce, urban land lay vacant, and just dedicating it to a park or something, let’s build some skyscrapers. Let’s build some housing and apartments for Vancouverites. We have an equity stake in this development. We partner with this urban developer that they bring in the technical expertise and the financing to get the project built. The urban developer benefits, we benefit as the Squamish nation, and each of our members can benefit and was voted positively, overwhelmingly by the Squamish nation. And now, this indigenous group is going to benefit immensely from an urban development project. It’s also going to provide a lot of housing that’s very sorely needed in the city of Vancouver.

So, there’s win-win situations. And I think the model of Charter cities can span the gamut between these helpful models that indigenous groups can like as they want more devolved authority, all the way to more libertarian like sea steading models or something like this have in the past.

Gene Tunny  24:10

I remember listening to an episode of, I think it was Ross Roberts econ talk show about see steady, it just sounded like something that couldn’t work. I couldn’t see how that would be feasible. You just have to give up too much of your lifestyle. I mean, like I often complain about regulations where I live here in in Brisbane in Australia, but I do recognize that there are a lot of good things about living in Brisbane and I couldn’t imagine as much as I am relatively free market and I do have some sympathy for libertarian views. I couldn’t imagine going on to; I don’t know what would you go on to, an oil rig or something or you’d have to buy an island somewhere, I suppose. But I mean the amount of investment you need to get a critical massive population, don’t you? I mean, they’re all these things that you’d have to get right.

But I guess we can talk about your Charter city model in a minute and how that’s going to work and how it’s going to grow and develop.

I want to ask you about this concept of institutions. So, you’re talking about institutions and how important they are to economic development, and then they facilitate trade, and they facilitate innovation. Now, there was a great book about, I don’t know, maybe a decade or so ago, why nations fail, and that really emphasized the importance of institutions. And the problem is in some many developing economies, the ones that can’t get beyond that, per capita income of a few or a few thousand US dollars a year or So, they’re trapped because those institutions are so bad, and they’ve got kleptocrats in charge, and they’ve got marketing boards, which are extracting surplus, and you’ve got all of these really bad institutions. I mean, Reimer gave an example of regulations that mean that electricity companies won’t, they’re not covering a lot of the population. So that’s where you really want the Charter cities, is it in developing economies, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa? Is that where your focus is?

Kurtis Lockhart  26:35

Yeah, I would say that’s accurate. As an organization, CCIs vision is to empower new cities with better governance to lift 10s of millions of people out of poverty. So, we’re all about poverty alleviation. And so our focus does tend to be on those places in low and lower middle income countries, because that’s where most of the poverty lies, almost teleologically. And so that’s where we focus our efforts. And, like, I want to go into the mechanism of institutional change that sort of our theory of change, because you kind of alluded to that we’re talking about kleptocracy and marquee awards and sort of incumbents that kind of dominate the current rule set in the current system. And I think this is really important.

Some of your listeners may be familiar with, not just Why Nations Fail, which is a fantastic book on institutions, but also a book called The Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson. And he writes about this phenomenon called, The Logic of Collective action. And in essence, you get collective action problems when you have concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. So, what do I need? Let me unpack that. I’ll give an example. So, the main example given in the book and in the States is around sugar tariffs. So, you have these Florida sugar farmers that because of this sugar tariff in the States, sugar therefore, in the US is a lot higher per unit than elsewhere. That tariff puts a lot of money and profits in the pockets of these sugar farmers. Because there are a few farmers, they’re really incentivized and mobilized to go lobby their politicians to keep this sugar tariff in place and not abolish it.

On the flip side, consumers of sugar like you and me that maybe go to the store to buy a bag of sugar once every year for like a few bucks, we are maybe going to have to pay 50 cents extra because of this tariff. And while the group of consumers that are impacted by that 50 cents is huge, much larger than the number of farmers, because that impact is so small at 50 cents is so sort, of trivial. We, I mean you are not going to get all mobilized and angry and co-lobbying our politicians to abolish this tariff. That is completely the opposite for the farmer, they are going to be mobilized.

And so, you get this bad equilibrium for these rules where despite the tariff being suboptimal for society as a whole, it is continued because of this dynamic of the logic of collective action. And you can apply this example with the sugar tariffs to institutions writ large. There are incumbent political elites that are currently benefiting from the status quo institutions, right. So, they have every incentive to see the status quo institutions continued and undermine attempts to reform them, despite reforms, potentially bringing these institutions into a much better and more optimal equilibrium. And because, on the flip side, everyone maybe, has to deal in that place with those institutions, maybe as to kind of, give a bribe once every three months or so. We’re not hugely, hugely impacted in our day to day lives, or perhaps we have other worries to worry about. We are less mobilized as a group of citizenry to push for institutional change on a national level, than the small group of political elites who currently benefit from the status quo are at mobilizing to keep those subnational suboptimal institutions in place.

So, we see Charter cities as a way to, instead of attempting to pass national level reforms, where you’re going to get and threaten all of these political elites interests, and therefore those elites are going to try and stymie and undermine reforms. We see Charter cities as a way to circumvent those interests in elites by situating themselves in a delimited, small geographic space. Ideally, greenfield space where it’s sparsely populated, so you’re not bumping up against any of these incumbent elites interests, and therefore, these spaces can get a lot deeper institutional reforms than otherwise possible. And so that’s the mechanism and theory of change, and why we think Charter cities are this great policy tool to get very deep and needed institutional reforms.

Gene Tunny  31:28

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

Female speaker  31:33

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  32:02

Now back to the show.

So, could you now tell us please, Kurtis, where your institute is involved in new Charter cities? Like where are we talking about? Where will these cities be? Where are they in the development cycle? What’s happening? I’d love to know.

Kurtis Lockhart  32:22

So, we are an organization CCI, we were founded in 2017. So, we’re in year five, that’s in the think-tank world, we’re still a baby. And, it does take a long time to build driving new cities. So we’re talking on the timeline of decades, not years.

We are involved in several projects. They are nascent, so I’ll go over some of them. One of them is in Lusaka, Zambia, just outside Lusaka, Zambia, it’s called Nkwashi. It’s a Charter city, a new city development that’s aimed at 100,000 residents. And its anchor tenant is anchored around a university. So, what the model is, is to have this stem University of science, technology, engineering, math, attract really bright smart Zambians to this university, train them up in STEM subjects, and then connects those graduates that STEM graduates with remote work in either Europe or the states. And that does two things. I mean, you’re going to earn more being employed by these European and American tech companies – number one.

Point number two, these graduates are also going to earn in American dollars or euros and that allows them also to hedge against the volatility of the Zambian kwacha, which is really tied to copper price, copper price fluctuations, which can be it can experience really wide swings. And so that’s the model for Nkwashi. Nkwashi attracted its first few residents; I think it’s a few years in operation, the groundwork foundations have been laid for the building of the university. There’s also a feeder school, a high school that will attempt to feed students into the university called Explore Academy; that’s I Nkwashi.

The other ones worth mentioning are a Talent city, in Nigeria. The founder of Talent city, his name is Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. He is one of the most successful Nigerian tech founders in the country. He’s co-founder of Andela and Flutterwave, two or the more successful African tech startups and unicorns. So, he wants to give back to the Nigerian tech community that’s growing really rapidly. But he sees the biggest constraint on that tech ecosystem in Nigeria as tech talent. And so, he wants to establish this space, this jurisdiction with new rules that especially allow for freedom around things like crypto and more innovative technologies, and provide very reliable digital infrastructure, and power and electricity, and all those things that you need in order to function as a tech company in the modern world. So that’s talent city.

Another one in Nigeria is called Enyimba Economic city. It’s in the south west, not on the outside of Lagos like Talent city, but in a place called Abia State, and that’s in the Delta region. And so those familiar with Nigeria know that the Delta region is sort of the oil and gas sector, oil and gas region of Nigeria. This city is aiming for 1.5 million residents, it would in phase one, be oriented around logistics and processing around the O&G sector in the Delta region. But it envisions and phase two and phase three, to expand beyond that focus on logistics and O&G processing, to having a university and a world class research hospital, because some of the social sector provisions in the south and southeast of Nigeria are just really, really lacking. And so that’s probably our biggest and most ambitious, single project.

The other, and this is the most recent project that we’re engaged with is in Malawi. And we’re really, really excited. So, we’ve just signed an MOU with the National Planning Commission in Malawi, who have spent the last three years coming up with these secondary cities plan. This plan is really and this has happening across the continent. It’s aimed to address this challenge across a lot of African countries of really rapid urbanization. As it stands right now today, Malawi, is actually among the least urbanized countries on planet Earth. It’s about 17% urbanized. But what we’re going to see in the next 30 years, 28 years to 2050 is Malawi’s urban population is going to more than triple. And so very kudos and plaudits to the National Planning Commission, they see this trend and say, okay, well, we need to get our ducks in a row, and plan for this really, really rapid urbanization in advance. So, the secondary cities plan that they’ve created, and they launched on May 31, I spoke at the launch, it lays out eight new secondary cities, and lays out the spatial development plan for those eight cities.

Malawi is a North South country. So, the cities are spread out from the north, all the way down to the south. What we are going to do as CCI, after we’ve signed this MOU, and we’re now an official implementation partner of this secondary cities plan. We’re in the process with the National Planning Commission, the Ministry of local government, the Ministry of lands, the president’s office, writing up the special jurisdiction laws that are going to apply to these eight secondary cities across Malawi.

So, this, to me is one of the most exciting projects because we have, government buying across a slew of needed ministries, including the President. There’s already been a lot of resources and thought put into this over a sustained period of time. So, you have a demonstration effect that there is that political buying. The plan is already in place for these eight secondary cities. And we’re getting in at the ground floor to shape the legal jurisdiction around those eight cities. So, this is a huge opportunity for us. And we’re really excited about what we’re seeing in Malawi.

Gene Tunny  38:56

Yeah, that’s fantastic. Are you involved in getting any of the financing or any funding from say, World bank or other donors? Do they get any funding from those organizations? You mentioned PPP, Public Private Partnerships? So, there’s an infrastructure developer, or what did you call it? An urban developer or a development company that develops it and they’ve got some deal with the government that the government will not pay them for providing infrastructure? How does that work, Kurtis?

Kurtis Lockhart  39:30

One of the roles that we will play as implementation partner is to help facilitate financing. This is one of the constraints I think most African cities and towns face is this ability to adequately finance urban expansion, right. It’s the most rapidly urbanizing place on planet Earth. In Africa, the estimate is that almost a billion people are going to move into their cities over the next 30 years. So this is a huge transformation. Yet, African towns and cities are not able to issue municipal bonds to the same level that historically, European cities and American cities were able to tap in order to fund and finance urban infrastructure.

So we see these kinds of municipal bond markets in Africa are either kind of, really nascent, or more commonly just nonexistent. So we want to help number one, come up with a de risk model of municipal bonds. And number two, help fill that financing gap by not just kind of public sector debt in the bond market, but also deifies. Like you mentioned the World Bank; the IFC is a World Bank arm that invests in privates. I know, the Millennium Challenge Corporation was also at the launch of the secondary cities plan in Malawi on May 31. And they’re involved in work in Malawi. So, they would be great partners, because they focus on infrastructure growth and institutions.

You have the municipal bonds that need to be figured out, that’s on Malawi, you have the DFIs that will be involved in financing as well. And then the hope is that once those two financial pillars are in place, that a third financial pillar will be then convinced that this is a good idea, and that’s the private sector. Typically, in these new emerging frontier markets, it’s the government that needs to get its house in order, and then the DFIs that come in ahead of the private sector, and that’s a signal to the private sector that okay, this is now a place where I can do business and start offering different financial instruments to.

Gene Tunny  41:47

Can I just clarify Kurtis DFI, do you mean Development Finance Institutions, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc? Is that right?

Kurtis Lockhart  41:58

Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Gene Tunny  41:59

That’s okay. I was just wondering, because I used to work in the Treasury in Canberra, we call them IFIs. I think International Finance Institutions, or I can’t remember. I remember there was some sort of abbreviation or acronym…IFIs.

Kurtis Lockhart  42:12

IFIs is more fun than DFIs. So, I’m happy to go by if IFIs.

Gene Tunny  42:18

Right oh, yeah. Sorry, I interrupted you there. We’re talking you’re going to help sort of, sort out financing and all that. One thing I’m wondering is about the deal or the relationship with the host country? Because I mean, one of the; and you would have thought about this. I know, and this is why I’m interested in your thoughts on it. How do you constrain or tie the hands of the host country of the host government? Because I mean, one of the risks is that you have this thriving Charter city, and the economy is going gangbusters. And, everyone’s wanting to move into it. And if you’ve got lower taxes, or it’s running itself, the host country, their finance ministry, they’re going to look enviously on this little Charter city, aren’t they? And, I mean, they’ll want to get a piece of the action. So, isn’t there a risk there that they could then impose? They could ramp up taxes, they could try and, take, extract some money out of the Charter city, and that threatens the viability of it. How do you deal with that situation?

Kurtis Lockhart  43:32

You hit on what I think of as probably the biggest risks to Charter city projects. And that’s just the fact that there’s a political risk. And, the urban developer is going to enter into a public private partnership in a point in time with a particular political regime. And because these city projects are decade’s long projects, the project is going to span multiple political regimes. And so how do you as the developer know that the political regime that’s agreeing to the public private partnership today, is going to also agree to that same public private ship, public private partnership tomorrow, when that political regime has changed or altered? How do you know that there is a credible commitment? So that risk of the government’s killing the birds that laid the golden egg is ever present.

We’ve thought of this, and there are several ways that we can go about trying to mitigate that risk, that political risk of expropriation, two of the simplest, I think, are just about, again, aligning incentives. One, I think, within that public private partnership, there should be a revenue sharing agreement that’s embedded. So, every year the developer within that jurisdiction collects user fees, they collect taxes, they collect land leases, right land lease rents, from those within that jurisdiction. And I think a proportion or percentage of those funds should be remitted to the host country so that every year, the country gains something in their coffers from the success of that Charter city. Therefore, it has less of an incentive to, see that pot of money that it gains every year, destroyed.

Another way to do exactly that is by giving an equity stake in the development company, to the host country, right. So, if the urban developer succeeds immensely, as has happened in kind of Sangen, and Singapore, and Hong Kong and Dubai, and the city grows, 5, 10%, on average year on year, then the post country also reaps huge rewards from that success. So those are two pretty simple ways to align financial incentives.

Another simple way is that there are organizations that do offer political risk insurance MIGA, M-I-G-A, I forget what the acronym actually stands for, but they are the entity under the World Bank Group of organizations that offers political risk insurance. A few other things that could be attractive to help mitigate this risk is floating the development company and publicly trading the development company. So, then you have big sort of institutional investors within that host country, like pension funds, for example, invested in the success of this Charter city, and whether we like it or not sort of business elites, and political elites kind of talk with each other and influence each other. And if the political elites are threatening to expropriate the Charter city, and that’s going to have adverse consequences for the pension fund folks. They’re going to raise a stink and say, hey, don’t do that, that’s going to hit our pocketbooks, and we might not support you in the next election. And so that could also be some cover.

Another way, and I think this is this is probably really effective, is to include sort of an objective, international organization in the project. You mentioned the World Bank. So, by including the World Bank in a Charter city project, whether that’s alone, or I don’t know, if they would do equity investments in a private company, that would more be IFC, which is their private arm. But including them in the project would mean that if the political elites decide to expropriate or jeopardize or threatened interfere with that Charter cities project, and the World Bank is involved, that means they’re also jeopardizing a bunch of other loans and projects that the World Bank is investing in their country. And they’re also jeopardizing their access to concessionary loans and finance that the World Bank offers their country. So, they would not want to, ideally, they would not want to do that.

So, there’s a bunch of ways to lessen the risk, to de risk, but you cannot fully get rid of that risk of political expropriation, just because, again, unlike Romer, our model doesn’t create a new sovereign, right? These are not sovereign entities, they are subject to the constitution, and criminal law and international treaties of the host country. And so that’s sort of an ever-present list. But again, I just listed off a bunch of ways you can help de risk and mitigate that risk such that it’s, it’s less, much less likely to occur.

Gene Tunny  49:01

I just wanted to ask, those examples you gave of how you can de-risk. Have they been any of those been applied? Or is that just your ideas of how you can de-risk?

Kurtis Lockhart  49:12

I know revenue sharing agreements are part of it. And I know for example, Enyimba Economic city, which I mentioned in Nigeria, both the state government, located in Abia state, as well as the federal government in Nigeria, have equity stakes in the Enyimba development company. And so that risk mitigation technique has been implemented there. There’s also a revenue sharing agreement embedded in the PPP.

When it comes to others that I recommended; it’s not a Charter cities project, but it was a pipeline project in Cameroon. And it was, oil was discovered in Cameroon and Exxon Mobil at the time. I think this is the late 90s or the early 2000s. Exxon Mobil saw an opportunity there to operate in the country. But there had been some protests in the past about the oil sector. So, ExxonMobil was worried about, engaging in all this upfront investment and investing all this capital only to have these protests breakout and then to have to, leave the country. So, they wanted reassurances, they wanted a credible commitment on the part of Cameroon and the Cameroonian government, that that wouldn’t happen. And that also the sort of funds, the revenues derived from the pipeline project would not be expropriated by the Cameroonian government. So, it is what both the Cameroonian government in negotiation with ExxonMobil agreed to, was there would be this escrow fund, that the revenues flowing from the pipeline project went to, and there would be a council approving disbursements from that escrow fund. And some of the spots on that council would be appointed by Exxon, some of the spots on that council would be appointed by Cameroon, but that basically, the tie breaking vote on that council would be the World Bank. It was seen as sort of legitimate from both sides from both Exxon and in the Cameroonian government. Any sort of dispute or kind of corruption or revenue issue was sort of mitigated by having the World Bank involved. Again, for this reason that I brought up earlier that the World Bank is involved in a lot of these low and lower middle-income countries in terms of a bunch of infrastructure projects, or health projects, or education projects, and gives loans of various sizes and numbers to a bunch of really important political projects across the country. If they’re involved, the host government is much less likely to interfere with and expropriate the project than otherwise would be the case. So, I use that example, as kind of illustrative of that, of that power of that risk mitigation technique.

Gene Tunny  52:15

Right. Now, I do want to just ask about special economic zones. This idea of a Charter city, this is broader than a Special Economic Zone, S-E-Z or SEZ because you’ve got people living there, haven’t you? You want to actually establish a city? It’s not just a sort of an export processing zone or whatever it says is, is that right?

Kurtis Lockhart  52:40

Yeah. So, there are a few main differences between a special economic zone and a Charter city. They’re kind of analogous in that both are delimited jurisdictions with different rules, right. But there are a few main differences that we think make Charter cities much more impactful than SEZs. One is just size, right? So Charter cities are cities scale, SEZs are usually much smaller and more narrow. And that just affects how many people and how many businesses can agglomerate within a particular area. Both you and I, being economics nerds, we know the importance of agglomeration economies, and this is why cities are fantastic, because of all these agglomeration economies. So, that’s number one is size.

Number two is SEZs tend to be focused on a single or one or two different sectors or industries. So, you have textile or manufacturing, or tech hubs, those types of zones that have one sector that they really want to focus on. Whereas, Charter cities are mixed use and multisector. They’re cities, right.  There’s not just an industrial component, there’s also a commercial component, and very importantly, residential component.

A lot of zones and industrial parks don’t have people living there, right? And again, that impacts this urban agglomeration potential, and we really, really want conglomeration economies to take off. So, the mixed use so multisector and the residential component are super key differentiator.

The third difference is around governance and the rule set. SEZ legislation, when it’s passed, is sort of, you could say setting stone; my whole thing is humility. So, we’re not going to get the rule set exactly perfectly right at the beginning of these things. And the zone operator or administrator is going to figure out that, okay, hey, we didn’t get this law that we wrote, five years ago, completely right. There are a few clauses that are causing us a lot of problems that we need to change pretty quickly, otherwise, these businesses aren’t going to like it. When that happens with SEZs, they have to go to higher tiers of government or Parliament even and get Parliament to pass an amendment or pass a new SEZ law. As you can imagine, that takes a lot of time and slows the reform process down immensely. And, usually the reform doesn’t even happen at all. And so that hurts business dynamism and the ultimate success of those zones. Whereas, Charter cities, we devolve that ability to change the rules over time, down to the city administrator and the city operator. And so instead of having to do that slow process of every time they need to change, they have to go up to higher tiers of government, they can make those changes really quick on the fly as needed within the Charter city. So, those are the four main differences.

Gene Tunny  55:44

Good one. Okay. Just finally, I’ll try and sneak this in. You’re doing a PhD at Oxford. Are you nearly finished? And is it on Charter cities?

Kurtis Lockhart  55:51

Yes, I have a year left. I mean, I’m knocking on wood right now. I am doing a Doctorate in Political Science at Oxford. It’s focused on political decentralization. So, a couple of the articles will be around New City developments and Charter cities, and the potential of these for economic growth and prosperity around the globe. So, that work really aligns with the work that CCI is dedicated to.

Gene Tunny  56:18

Brilliant. Okay, Kurtis has been fabulous. I’ve really enjoyed and I’ve been blown away learning about what you’re doing. And the sheer potential of Charter cities is something that excites me. So terrific work, I’ll put links to your institute and to your social media in the show notes. I really enjoyed the conversation. If there’s anything you want to say to wrap up, please do otherwise. Yeah. I’ve really enjoyed it. And thanks so much.

Kurtis Lockhart  56:50

Yeah, thanks so much, Jean. I will just say if people are hearing this, and they want to learn more and get involved in the Charter cities movement, we are starting and has started a coalition this year called the next 50 Cities Coalition. So, it’s really easy to sign up, you can sign up as an organization, or even an individual, and you’ll get notifications of upcoming events and conferences, you’ll get newsletters and all that stuff. So, I’d encourage you to go to our website, Chartercitiesinstitute.org. And it’s backslash nxt50. And you can join the movement that way.

Gene Tunny  57:26

Great. I’ll have to look into that. I mean, one of the things I found fascinating about this conversation, you talked about the indigenous people in Canada, we’ve got indigenous people in Australia. I don’t know whether any of the indigenous leaders in this country have been thinking about Charter cities, but that’s something I might follow up. Yeah, absolutely fascinating. Kurtis Lockhart from Charter cities institute. Thanks so much for the conversation, I really enjoyed it.

Kurtis Lockhart  57:51

Yeah. Thanks so much, Gene. This has been fun, appreciate it.

Gene Tunny 

Okay, ciao.

Gene Tunny  57:56

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. Till next week, goodbye.

Credits

Thanks to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au

Please consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, 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

ESG: Useful concept or greenwashing? w/ Rachel Baird & Stephen Howell – EP145

ESG, short for environmental, social, and governance, is proving difficult for companies to implement in practice, and some have been accused of greenwashing. What exactly is ESG and has it come to the end of its useful life, as the Financial Times has suggested may be the case?  

Joining show host Gene Tunny in episode 145 to discuss ESG are some highly experienced corporate governance experts: Dr Rachel Baird and Stephen Howell, part of HopgoodGanim Lawyers. Both Stephen and Rachel advise boards on ESG matters and Rachel is currently facilitating the Law & Sustainability short course delivered in partnership between Pearson and Oxford University.

In this episode you’ll learn how good corporate governance is the critical foundation for everything, and how company leaders should ensure their company’s policies are not dictated by inexperienced people posing as ESG experts pushing their own agendas. 

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

Links relevant to the conversation

Dr Rachel Baird, GAICD, FGIA – Director – IcebergSRC | LinkedIn

Stephen Howell – Director – Effective Governance – Part of the HopgoodGanim Advisory Group | LinkedIn 

Origins and Consequences of the ESG Moniker (paper mentioned by Rachel in the episode)

Who Cares Wins 2005 Conference Report: Investing for Long-Term Value

Tim Paine scandal a mess of Cricket Australia’s making — and it will get worse – ABC News

How ESG investing came to a reckoning | Financial Times

Effective Governance

Transcript of EP145 – ESG: Useful concept or greenwashing w/ Rachel Baird and Stephen Howell, Effective Governance

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…

Rachel Baird  00:04

We don’t even know what the implications are of lithium, like, is that actually going to be environmentally friendly? We don’t even know; you know, there’s movements about green steel. We don’t know what the impacts are of all the cloud-based servers in the American desert. So, there’s so much more potential to understand what we’re doing.

Gene Tunny  00:22

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 145 on ESG, short for Environmental, Social, and Governance.

According to Investopedia, ESG criteria are used to screen investments based on corporate policies and to encourage companies to act responsibly. But ESG is proving difficult for companies to implement in practice, and some have been accused of greenwashing.

What exactly is ESG? And has it come to the end of its useful life, as the Financial Times has suggested may be the case? Joining me to discuss ESG this episode, are some highly experienced corporate governance experts, Dr. Rachel Baird and Steven Howe, of effective governance, part of HopgoodGanim lawyers. Both Stephen and Rachel advise boards on ESG matters. And Rachel is currently facilitating the law and sustainability short course delivered in partnership between Pearson and Oxford University.

In this episode, you’ll learn about how good corporate governance is the critical foundation for everything, and how company leaders should ensure their company’s policies are not dictated by inexperienced people posing as ESG experts, pushing their own agendas. In the show notes, you can find relevant links, corrections and clarifications. You’ll also find details of how you can get in touch with any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Please let me know what you think about this episode. And if there are any topics you’d like me to cover on the show. I’d love to hear from you. Right now, for my conversation with Rachel Baird and Steven Hale from effective governance on ESG. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it.

Rachel Baird and Steven Howell from effective governance part of Hobgood Ghanem Lawyers, welcome to the program.

Rachel Baird  02:26

Thanks. Great to be here.

Stephen Howell 

Yeah. Great to be here, Gene.

Gene Tunny  02:29

Yes, it’s good to have you back on again, Steven. We chatted about corporate governance a while back and I reached out to you because I’m interested in this issue of ESG. And you mentioned that Rachel is an expert on ESG. So, I thought, that’s great. Let’s bring her into the conversation. So, Rachel, it’s good to have you.

Stephen Howell  02:51

It’s good, Gene, because, in our practice, we recognize the importance of the Australian; ESG is not just Rachel’s area of practice, she does right across the governance advisory work, but she does have an interest in ESG. So, that was one of the main reasons that we brought Rachel into the business to assist us with that. Because of the increased activity, particularly from boards.

Gene Tunny  03:21

Right. Okay. I’ll be interested to hear about that. Rachel, could you just tell us a bit about your background? When I spoke with Stephen last time, I learned a bit about Stephens background at ASIC and, and before that, in the Police force. I’d be interested in your background; you’ve been in the law, haven’t you?

Rachel Baird  03:43

I have, but I actually started my legal career in the defense force. So, Stephen and I share that; we come from, I guess, regulatory backgrounds, which is good for governance. And I was a lawyer in the Airforce and decided that I needed to have more challenges and got out into the masters of environmental law. And that led to practice at Clayton Newts, which was great; big law firm, lots of exciting work. And then, children came along and I ended up doing academic work and did my PhD in International Environmental law with Gillian Triggs, who was a great supervisor. And I’ve always had this very strong interest in ESG. And even in the late 1990s, that corporate social responsibility concept was starting to take seed. In a way, I feel like I’ve written this wave where environment wasn’t accounted for on the financial pledges, and now it’s very firmly on the board table conversation. And I’m really excited about that. And obviously, of course, social as well, and we’ll unpack that acronym soon. But yeah, I have a strong sort of academic and practical background in environmental social issues. I’ve worked on big oil and gas projects, I’ve been exposed to the social impact, I have done large projects as well.

Gene Tunny  05:02

Right, okay; very good. Let’s get started.

Rachel, would you be able to tell us what ESG is exactly? You mentioned corporate social responsibility; is this a successor to that concept? What is it exactly?

Rachel Baird  05:20

You could say it is. I guess to start with, it obviously means something, because there’re some estimates that, by 2025, around US 53 trillion dollars, will be held in ESG assets, whatever that could be. And it’s a very nebulous term. And I think it’s an acronym with a huge remit. And, I could be cynical and say that it’s like, avocado on toast, or soya balls; it’s the big fad. But I don’t want to be that cynical, because ESG is very, very important. But you can trace its roots back; I think the first time it was mentioned was 1999, the UN came out and they were more forward looking. And they talked about this global compact where they wanted big business and banks and government to be part of a social conscience. And so, there was a report that came out of that global compact, called Who Cares Wins. I guess that was by James Bond,

Gene Tunny  06:23

Yes, yes, very good.

Rachel Baird  06:27

So, Who Cares Wins, and buried in this report was a statement that said, “better inclusion of environment, social and corporate governance factors in investment decisions from there and its use.” Well, that was the statement, sorry; “better inclusion of environment, social and corporate governance factors and investment decisions would lead to better outcomes.” But from there, its use really grew in investment decisions and investment circles. So, for a long time, it was spoken about in investment circles. And I think that’s borne out by a lot of the standards about, climate change related disclosures, financial disclosures, you know; are there climate change related risks or litigations that are going to impact the financial bottom line of a corporation? But gradually, it sorts of crept out of the investment circle.

So, in 2005, there was a UN report that linked ESG factors to financial performance, and that was increasingly being recognized. So, it wasn’t just nice to have that, it was actually proving its worth looking at environmental issues, social issues, and corporate governance, decision governance issues.

Gene Tunny  07:37

So, what was this report, again?

Rachel Baird  07:39

In 2005, the UN report, I’m sorry, I don’t have…

Gene Tunny  07:43

That’s okay. But they were making the case that it does improve financial performance.

Rachel Baird  07:49

And I think that’s been accepted. Well, and truly now, with 17 years later, there’s a definite link between improving your environmental and social and corporate governance factors. I mean, Stephen…

Stephen Howell  08:01

I think it links back to good, or highly effective governance processes and procedures in place. We know from other reports, we know from a lot of research that’s been done, we know from our own businesses, and our own business activity, that, investment decisions often relate to good governance practices within corporations. Investors will look for those good practices; investors will be turned off by those bad practices.

So, good, solid governance frameworks, good processes in place, good controls in place, having the right people with the right skills sitting around board tables, having the right people with the right skills, in the executive teams making those decisions, always attracts investors and investors nowadays will go out of their way to seek out good companies to invest in based on their governance practices. And that’s what Rachel was saying. By having; investors will now look towards those organizations that have good ESG practices in place.

Gene Tunny  09:37

Yeah, they mean to have a closer look at those types of studies because the skeptical economist is going to wonder, to what extent is the correlation rather than causation? or to what extent is it; is it the fact that it’s something else? I mean, it’s the fact that these companies are better run, they’ve got all of these other processes and then they adopt ESG because they like to have that suite of policies and procedures and it may not necessarily be ESG that’s improving their performance. It’s the fact that they’re well run in the first place.

Stephen Howell  10:12

Some really game commentators will talk about percentages of increase in performance levels, based on good governance practice. I think that’s a bit dangerous to do that. Because, it sends the wrong message. And but, I think a lot of it, Gene, is also based around government policy, particularly around particularly the regulators; we’ve got a lot of regulators in this country, we talk about ASIC, our company regulated when we got our pro rail, prudential regulator, we’ve got the ACNC, charities regulator, and all those regulators always talk about the; sorry, not so much, talk about they articulate the level of scrutiny of companies that aren’t abiding by good governance practice. And they will highlight the fact that they need to have the people that are able to make the right decisions. The people that have the background and experience. It’s a big push from regulators at the moment to ensure that directors and executives for that matter, have the right skill, they’re the right people to make decisions that are going to affect shareholders, stakeholders, consumers.

Rachel Baird  11:47

I think economists can be encouraged by the fact that the term ESG started in investment circles, okay? So, it’s earned its chops so to speak, because it’s proven that it relates to a better financial performance. But it’s true that the better organized you are; the better your governance structure is, the better equipped you are to take advantage of opportunities. Some people talk about ESG is a risk, but it’s an opportunity. So, if you’ve got a really well operating organization, then you can go; let’s take advantage of the opportunities that an environmental and social strategy provide us. So, if you just look at environmental, and we’re talking about this before, it’s becoming a requirement of government tenders to show that you’ve got an ESG strategy.

If you don’t, you’re straightaway cutting yourself out of those opportunities to get the government work. We also know with our young workforce, the millennials entering the workforce, they want an organization that’s aligned to their values.

A research shows that employees want to work for companies that have a strong environmental and social moral license, whatever that means. But then you’re going to have more engaged employees, you’re going to have theoretically lower attrition rate, a higher discretionary effort. There’s also benefits to your bottom line where you’re operating more efficient processes; there’s a lot of economic benefits to be gained. And I used to say to my environmental law students years ago, when we get very idealistic, and they go, why does environmental social issues; why do they always lose out to the Big E economy? And I’d say, it’s time will come when it will have a financial value and I think that time has come.

For the ASX 200 companies would not be involved in ESG because it’s voluntary in Australia still. If there wasn’t a financial benefit to doing it, because they still at the end of the day, have shareholders to be responsible.

Gene Tunny  13:46

Okay. I mean, it’d be good to explore that a bit later. And to what extent they’re doing it because it is of economic value, or to what extent is it just for PR, or is it so called greenwashing, that sort of thing? So, we can we can chat about that? There are a couple of things I want to pick up on what you’ve said.

It’s ESG; and you mentioned the statement relates to environment. Is it society or social? Social issues and then corporate governance. So, to create the ESG abbreviation, they’ve dropped the C because ESG sounds better than ESCG, presumably. So yeah, that makes sense. Environment, social, and corporate governance. What typically are these issues; what are the big ESG issues, Rachel?

Rachel Baird  14:37

Okay. Well, before I go to that, I’ll just talk a bit about how I think the term can be misused or misappropriated. So sometimes it’s used for investment analysis and a lot even more and ASIC has made some comments that we can talk about later. Some say we’re ESG friendly, whatever that means. It can also be used from a risk management point of view, opportunity point of view; it can be used in what I call corporate social responsibility context, which is really values-based or morals-based. And then it can also be just its trend, like the vibe of people want to go to the movie, the castle, it’s the vibe.

So, I do sometimes get a bit cranky that people misuse the term or bandied around and don’t know what it means because it’s complex. And so, when people get, I just want an ESG strategy as well, I want one piece. What do you really want from your strategy? And it goes down to what your business is.

So, short climate change, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, sea level rising, they’re huge, big-ticket items, from a global point of view. But your local florist is not going to have much of an impact on that. What does ESG mean to them? So, then you have to really translate it to them and go, well, what are your environment impacts? Are they waste to energy use transport suppliers? What are your social impacts? What’s your supply chain? Are you employing staff properly? There’ll be micro level but, to them, don’t make a difference. And then also, what’s your what’s your governance impact? So, a florist who’s running a chain of florists might say, well, how governance impacts or compliance or decision making policies about employment or whatever they are, but you relate it to the florist.

But then if I move to say, a suite of health, transport operations, they would have completely different E, S and G issues. I guess, there’s no one size fits all, you can’t just roll out a roadmap or a playbook to a company and say, we’ve got your ESG sorted, because it will depend on their level of maturity, where they are in the businesses; some businesses might be so broken that until they get their governance framework sorted, people throw around diversity is a governance issue. Yes, it is. But if you if your governance framework is so broken, I can’t even talk to you about diversity until you get the governance framework working.

I’m working with an organization at the moment, who going on; we need women on the board, we need women on the board. I said, yes, you do. But governance is not static, it’s dynamic – it’s a journey. So, let’s sort out your basic hygiene first and your policies. And then you can talk about diversity on the board. And I think with ESG, people try and promise too much, as in, over promise and under deliver. And I think they really need to be realistic and going, what can we actually deliver? And that goes to greenwashing which we’ll talk about but don’t over promise and under deliver because that’s greenwashing territory.

Stephen Howell  17:34

I think it’s really interesting, Gene, with the activity that we’re seeing, at the moment. Yes, ESG is a big issue. But some of the questions that were being asked, as you know, in my role as the Principal Advisor for effective governance, I spend probably about 95% of my time working directly with boards. And the questions that I get asked all the time by boards is, those questions that you’ve posed today, what is ESG? How do we deal with it? Should we be dealing with it at board level? Should we be just ensuring that we’ve got the right people with the right skills in the management team? Or do we need people on the board? And if we do need people on the board with those skills, where do we get those people from? How’s that going to affect our business? How do we report on that? So, they’re asking all the right questions.

I’m talking about boards in the listed area, in the unlisted area, the public companies, even governments, of course. You know we do a lot of work with government and corporations, and we do a lot of work with charities, which is really interesting; the big charities around Australia. And they are asking those questions, because that’s going to improve their governance footprint, if you like. Particularly when they’re talking to funding bodies, about how they might be operating the hospitals, that we do a lot of work in the hospital; health sectors. in working imagine the ESG implications for within hospitals.

Rachel Baird  19:29

I was just going to say charities are; they’re going to have the biggest impact on the SRP – ESG. Because their whole purpose; their purpose driven for social impact and social change. So that’s where we’re going to see a lot of a lot of good work.

Gene Tunny  19:46

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

Female speaker  19:51

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  20:20

Now back to the show.

So, one of the criticisms of, I think it’s a criticism of ESG, or maybe it’s a criticism of the whole sort of woke concept in the States, particularly is that there’s this concern by some commentators, particularly on the right, that companies such as Disney, and well, I think Netflix has pushed back on it recently, we chat about Netflix, perhaps. But other companies, Nike, they’ve gone, so woke, so to speak, and that they’ve embraced particular sort of positions. They’re promoting diversity. And I mean, I think diversity is great. But it looks like they’re taking political positions. To some extent they might be; Disney will be changing traditionally, male characters into female characters. There’s a huge debate about all of this. And that, I mean, there’s an argument that it’s gone too far. I’m just wondering to what extent is what you’re seeing in the States, I don’t know, maybe it’s a bit of a beat up? I don’t know. You’ve seen similar things in Australia? Is this something you’re concerned about?

Rachel Baird  21:34

Yeah, it’s really good question. And before I get to that, Steven mentioned something about the boards asking lots of questions. There’s a real dearth in ESG talent. Okay? So, what I worry about and it goes to your question, is there’s not enough people who have the skills to talk about this in an informed and intelligent way. So, and we can’t just call someone a sustainability officer, okay. So that they are so if you’re sticking someone in a big multinational and saying, drive sustainability, if they’re a young generation person, they might drive it from a me too lens because that’s all they know. Or if they’re a greeny who; I shouldn’t say greeny. It’s not in a pejorative sense. But if there’s someone who recycles and, and it has zero waste and doesn’t use plastic and all that, they’re going to drive it from an environmental sense. So, you’ve got to be really careful about what the corporate strategy is.

So, Nike, for example, their purpose is people, planet, profit. And so, they are going to go out and make comments about; and a lot of companies go people, planet, profit, because the planet is environment, people are social and profit is still their shareholders. Like I said before, there is the risk that the term gets misappropriated to drive different agendas. So for example, if we’re going to say that we’re going to have more animated characters – female because there’s been a dearth, and it’s been to male, that goes to gender diversity and social. But is that really part of ESG? Is that really the roots of ESG? And that’s where; you could be debating about that the whole time. But it probably has lost its way. And there’s a really interesting article that I’ve got with me, written by an American academic, where she out of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and it’s a really good one. It’s called the Origins and Consequences of the ESG moniker by Elizabeth Pullman. And it explores how the term evolved and has been appropriated.

Gene Tunny  23:29

Okay, I might put that in the show notes. I’ll have a read of that. Okay. Good stuff.

Rachel Baird 

I’ll send you the link

Stephen Howell  23:35

From the Institute of Law and Economics, Gene.

Gene Tunny  23:39

Oh, good. Excellent. So, another thing I wanted to chat about was, you mentioned the younger cohorts. I mean, we’ve got, millennials have come into the workforce. And now, we’re getting what came after Millennials or Gen Zs; they’re coming in.

Rachel Baird  23:58

I forgotten I’m a Gen X. I’m just sandwiched between the baby boomers who spend my inheritance and my children who inherit it.

Gene Tunny  24:05

Yeah, same here. But I remember when I first entered the workforce, I mean, I don’t think anyone cared what I thought about. I wouldn’t have been presumptuous enough to try and change the culture of the, the organization of the company. I don’t know. But yeah, it’s extraordinary. It’s become an issue in the States because I think, it was Netflix; there were some employees at Netflix who complained about the Dave Chappelle special. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. Or was it, Josh Dave Chappelle the comedian and Ricky Gervais has had a controversial special on recently, and whether they’ll make comments that upset some of the people working because the people in the organizations think that they’re not respectful of the rights of marginalized groups or whether it’s gays or whether it’s trans people. And yes, there was some pushback internally, and then Netflix, I think, put out a memo that said, ultimately, we have to make the business; the business has to work, and we have to produce content people want. Just settle down people, was basically what they were saying. I thought that was interesting, because ultimately, these companies have to make money. They do have an obligation to shareholders, don’t they?

So, how do companies balance these considerations? Because the traditional economists view and what Milton Friedman argued, in that infamous Newsweek article in the early 70s, was that companies just owe an obligation to their shareholders. And so, they’ve just got to maximize profits. That’s what they do. They should abide by the law, but they shouldn’t go beyond that and do much more for the environmental social issues, and that they should just maximize profits. That’s how they’ll maximize well-being.

But is that right? That companies still owe an obligation to shareholders, don’t they? And how do they balance all of these things?

Rachel Baird  26:04

It’s a double-edged sword because this new phrase of stakeholder capitalism has been gaining traction. And then it’s, well, how long is a piece of string? Because shareholders are stakeholders, but so are the community that you operate in. So, if you’re operating in a developing country, they’re stakeholders. So are your employees, so are your suppliers, so is the government. So, how do you keep all of those stakeholders happy? It’s a huge balancing job. And I think the key is to be really strong on what your strategy is, so that you’re not doing what I call the 24/7 news cycle, knee jerk reaction, that if someone says something, you go; I’ll be better put out a press release to keep them happy. The board goes back to its strategy and goes, well, look, we can’t keep everybody happy all the time. But our strategy is this, we’re happy with it, we’ve deliberated on it, we in a moment of quiet deliberation, we agree this was our strategy. So why in a moment of crisis, would we deviate from our strategy and make some kind of knee jerk comment? A bit like I guess, if you want to say cricket, Australia, when they handle the Tim Payne thing, stick to your strategy.

Gene Tunny  27:18

Can you elaborate on that?

Rachel Baird  27:20

I don’t know a lot about it. But I just think that they probably acted in the heat of the moment when they decided to part ways with Tim Payne rather than sticking to; and again, I wasn’t in the boardroom, sticking to a strategy and going, we don’t need to feed the 24/7 news cycle, we can take a moment, we can issue a press release that talks about strategy. So, the Netflix one sounds like they’ve done something where they’ve gone no, this is our pathway. We’re not going to keep everyone happy, but as long as we’re not being egregious, we’re being socially and environmentally, sustainable and responsible. We’re not going to apologize for who we are. I think that’s where boards are the second guessing themselves a bit trying to think well, we just got to keep; so I think really, Cricket Australia was trying to stay on the right side of the me-too movement. But if you ever try and stay on the right side of a movement, you’re never going to be on the right side of it.

Gene Tunny  28:13

Gotcha. So, Tim Payne was an Australian cricketer. And I’m trying to remember the circumstances; did he have an affair with someone who was working at Cricket Australia?

Rachel Baird  28:21

I think there’s something about that incident, messages exchanged or something. Okay, even the facts aren’t really relevant. It was I was more raising my eyebrow about how it was managed.

Gene Tunny  28:33

Right. Okay. I’ll put some links in the show notes. Can’t remember the facts.

Rachel Baird  28:39

And he was ultimately stood down as captain of Australia for something he did several years ago.

Stephen Howell 

Several years prior.

Gene Tunny  28:46

Right. Okay. I’m interested in the companies that are asking for this. You talked about a wide variety of companies; there’re public companies, but what about private companies where the owners have a strong control over the operations of the company? I can see why charities would want something like this because they’re trying to achieve some social purpose. But what if you’re an Elon Musk or something; actually that’s not a good example, because these companies are public, aren’t they? But he’s been trying to privatized Twitter, but what about private companies? Are they immune from this or they’re not? Do they want ESG as well? what’s driving…

Stephen Howell  29:33

They might not want it now, but particularly, I always think about the private companies being some of the big building corporations, some of the big builders that are building not just homes;

Rachel Baird  29:51

We’re getting commercial work that needs to comply;

Stephen Howell  29:55

They need to comply. Yeah. It’s really interesting. Yes, the private companies are going to be involved as well.

Rachel Baird  30:05

They’re slower, they’re definitely slower than public companies. And I’m seeing in Europe because I’m, I’m involved in this course that’s run by Oxford University. But I’m employed by Pearson, I’m not allowed to say I’m employed by Oxford University even though I teach the university course. And I’m seeing talking to all my students who are from all around the world, that I mean, environmental law really started in Europe anyway, and those streets ahead of Australia, and we’ve been following the lead of the Europeans. And the private companies are jumping on and realizing they have to comply with ESG requirements as much for their customers, their employees, and also to be competitive, definitely. They might not have the stakeholders who are shareholders, but I’ve got all the other stakeholders.

Gene Tunny  30:55

Okay, so this is something that will you mentioned, the younger, potential employees, it’s something that they care about that if you want to get the best people, you need to show that you’ve got ESG. Right? That’s interesting.

Rachel Baird  31:11

You’ve got everything, so you care about your staff, you’ve got good leave programs. You do waste recycling, and you give them leave days to do like, say, a law firm, pro bono, or whatever it is. You’ve got a social conscience, what does that mean? it’s defining it for the firm. Like you said, when you join the workforce, it was just you just turn up and work and do what you’re told. But now it’s like, I know, I want to have a work life balance, but I also want value in the work I do.

The worst thing my son told me was, I don’t want to grow up and be like you because you just leave the house and you look sad, and you go to work, and you come back and you’re tired. I really do enjoy my work when I’m at work. But they seem to think there’s a utopia out there in the workplace. I don’t know; it is still works.

Gene Tunny  32:02

Yeah. Well, ultimately, if you’re in business, you need to make money, you need to make a profit to keep going. just with this regulatory requirement or this requirement intenders, that you need to demonstrate your ESG credentials. I know for government that’s right; is it also corporations that are pushing this on their suppliers as well? Are they pushing for ESG?

Rachel Baird  32:32

It’s becoming more evident. I was talking to a very large company, I won’t say what industry they’re in, or it might be easy to pick them. But they found out dealing with other commercial providers that they were needing to show that they had an ESG strategy. If you think of it as like a food chain or supply chain. If they’re tendering for work, they needed to be able to demonstrate that the suppliers that they deal with how socially responsible. So, it goes up that whole ecosystem.

Gene Tunny  33:08

Gotcha. Yeah. Okay.

Stephen Howell  33:11

Also Gene, as I mentioned earlier, the push; there’s a significant push from government and regulators, and my experience is that when there’s a push from government, when there’s a push from regulators, boards and corporations will take note because they need to take note; because government and regulators don’t have a heightened scrutiny in particular areas for no reason. They do it based on  what’s driving that, and it’s normally driven by shareholders, the people, those investors and the general public who want to see higher levels of  ethics and responsibility in organizations. So, that’s what’s normally drives it.

And so, boards and organizations will take note of what the regulators have to say and as we were saying earlier about the; yesterday, ASIC made a press release in respect to that whole issue of what’s described as greenwashing. particularly Australians, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and, who are responsible for Australian or most of Australians companies.

It’s interesting that they targeted superannuation funds and managed funds. There’s a similar push from the corporate ring at the prudential regulator, ASIC being the corporate regulator; APRA, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, being the prudential regulator, the ones that the regulator looks after the financial institutions. Being, of course, some of the super funds and managed banks and insurance companies. And, in fact, I was only talking to a life insurance company this morning, one of their clients along the similar lines about skills that are needed in particular areas, and this particular area came up.

It’s all about what the regulator is saying, what ASIC is saying is that, these firms need to be very careful about how they represent their financial products, or their investment strategy. Particularly around being environmentally friendly, sustainable and ethical. If they market their products as being ethical and sustainable and environmentally friendly, they need to be able to show that that’s in fact, correct.

What ASIC is saying today is, these promoters need to use clear labels and they need to clearly define what sustainability terminology they’re using, they need to define that. What does that actually mean?  This product will help maintain a sustainable, organization or product. But unless you properly describe it, it doesn’t make much sense, and clearly explain how sustainability considerations affected in to the investment strategy. How does that all work? How do you actually factor all that into any investment strategy?

They made it clear; the regulators made it clear that it’s what they call it a priority area of focus. And they’re going to be looking at it and monitoring the market.. And they specifically highlighted that any misleading claims about ESG and sustainability will come under their notice. What I’ve seen of recent times, Gene, is how the regulators making these sorts of comments about monitoring, and about how they’re going to be, really watching the market clearly. So, it’s not just ASIC, it’s APRA, and it’s the ACNC – the charities regulator,

Rachel Baird  37:54

Even the securities [exchange] ASX has come out and said, companies should check their sustainability claims. But what’s interesting is I think, this comes off the back of litigation. So, Australia is a bit of a hothouse of litigation. But in America, there is a shoe wear company called Allbirds. And they manufacture wool; they’re called slippers, but they’re not slippers. They are like soft linen, sunlight pleasure shoes, and their statement was that their wool was sustainably sourced. Now somebody in New York who had a lot of time on their hands delved into that and challenged that in a New York court and found that their wool wasn’t sustainably sourced or their statement was greenwashing. And I think everyone in Silicon Valley was wearing Allbirds shoes.

But then in Australia, we’ve had Santos; there was a federal court claim made by the Australasian Centre for corporate responsibility, alleging that they engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct saying that they would produce clean energy and had a clear pathway to net zero emissions. So that was what I mean about over promising because, they were tested and then the Commonwealth Bank, a shareholder, must have been a large individual shareholder, made a claim in a federal court, and they ordered that he be given access to documents in the bank’s premises to, I guess, scrutinize the bank’s decision to finance oil and gas projects. So, more and more claims are being challenged to be verified the accuracy of those claims. And so, as Steven mentioned, the ASIC information sheet that just came out, came off the back of ASIC’s own review. They just looked at a sample of superannuation funds and found there were some areas for improvement.

We’re not at the stage yet, as the UK and New Zealand where they have actually; the government has mandated there’s got to be disclosures of financial related climate change, material risks or material disclosures. We are not there yet. But I think the change of government, they’re probably testing the mood of the public. I don’t think we’re that far away from some kind of mandatory reporting or tighter scrutiny. And the ASIC guideline is enough to put every single ASX company on notice to go. We can’t be cavalier anymore about ESG and greenwashing and just say, those terrible shows you see where you have marketers ago, just put that out that will do. This can’t happen anymore because it will be scrutinized.

Gene Tunny  40:38

I better make sure I understand what the actual requirements are now. Is it under the Corporations Act and other countries would have, I mean, the UK would have a Companies Act? And the US has got some legislation for corporations, but companies are supposed to look after the interests of shareholders or obligation to shareholders. I guess we’ll talk about Australia, given you’re working in this jurisdiction? What are the requirements for reporting on environmental and social and governance issues at the moment? They don’t have any, do they?

Rachel Baird  41:09

Directors have a responsibility to exchange due diligence in relation to climate change.

Gene Tunny  41:13

Due diligence in relation to climate change? That’s included in the corporations act, is it?

Rachel Baird  41:20

There’s no requirement to produce an ESG report, for example. There is a preference from shareholders, that any such report was integrated with the financial report, because a lot of companies are doing standalone reports, but there’s no requirement to do; just a financial disclosure report, is all that’s required.

Stephen Howell  41:39

So, directors just generally have a duty of care and diligence. Like, that’s one of the fundamental wrong to govern, with due care and diligence in the interests of the organization. I just think that we really do need to; I will be advising my clients to be very careful about how they label and explain any of their products, because any misinformation that will erode investor’s confidence in the Australian markets, is going to be looked at very, very closely by the regulators, and by the market supervisor, the ASX.

Gene Tunny  42:33

Yeah, I have to look into that provision about climate change, because I’m going to be the skeptical economist again. Because, the government saying you’ve got to give due diligence, or you’ve got to pay attention to climate change. But what’s wrong with a company just abiding by the law? And if there’s no carbon price imposed? What do you do? I mean, how do you know what to do? I mean,  what if you do too much, and that adversely affects your company and the viability of your company? I mean, you’ve got employees, what if it affects our competitiveness relative to other countries?

Anyway, I know, these are big questions, and we can’t answer them today. But it just strikes me as just over the top to have that in the act at the moment.

Rachel Baird  43:21

It relates to financial disclosures. So, you’re obligated to make financial disclosures, material risks of climate change might be material risk. You’re not obliged to make non-financial disclosures. Does that makes sense?

Gene Tunny  43:34

It’s not imposing an obligation to do anything in a positive sense, to get to net zero? I misunderstood what you are saying.

Rachel Baird  43:43

There’s no obligation. And again, I don’t have it right in front of me, but I know that there’s been talk about; I wish I could remember the name of it. But some kind of safety mechanism, it might be called the safeguard system for over 200 Children 21 large emitters in Australia, those companies to help them transition. So even if there is something that comes in, there’ll be a recognition that you can’t require, say AGL for example, or Santos to suddenly pivot and stop emitting greenhouse gases, because otherwise we’d all be sitting around in the dark.

There’s got to be that pragmatism that we want to move to; not just net zero but just reducing our footprint waste use. Food waste is one of the worst contributors of carbon emissions and people don’t even talk about food waste. So, there’s all sorts of ways we can reduce our carbon emissions.

Stephen Howell  44:47

I saw a great thing, talking about food waste; I saw a great innovation just recently, one of our colleagues showed us, was in here in Brisbane or around and all the public hospitals, you can only just imagine the food waste within public hospital systems. And it all traditionally just gets delivered out to a waste disposal facility somewhere. What they’ve been doing is there’s a company been gathering all waste food up and turning it into fertilizer and putting it into carryback packaging and selling it as fertilizer. It’s just amazing. Rather than take it all the way and dispose of it, turn it into something that’s going to be useful and, and making money out of it as well. So, turning it into fertilizer

Gene Tunny  45:45

That’s useful, particularly because the price of fertilizer has been spiking, hasn’t it because the cost of the inputs;

Stephen Howell  45:54

I thought that was a very innovative, sort of a process; deal with what would otherwise be a total waste of product.

Rachel Baird  46:05

And that reminds me like ESG, you can take it really, really high and say okay, what’s Wesfarmers doing about ESG? Or you can take it really, really low and say what’s Rachel doing about ESG so in where I live, I can have my little worm farm and my little recycling compost thing and I cannot use plastic; that’s the thing, it’s such a huge term that can go across all these layers of human activity.

So, if your listeners, I’d encourage them to say well, what can you do to ensure you don’t have a net zero? Some of my students at Oxford are talking about an individual passport, so when you buy something you get to choose, you might go and the product actually has a little ESG rating like the heart smart or the energy rating you can go I’m choosing that loaf of bread because it has a lower carbon footprint. Yeah, and that goes onto my little smartwatch and I can show everyone that my carbon footprint, kind of gamify which the young people would like but we’re not there yet.

Gene Tunny  47:02

Just as long as this doesn’t end up going to some government agency…

…We’re going to have to start wrapping up. This is a good conversation.

Stephen Howell  47:29

Isn’t it the smallest garbage bin you’ve ever seen in your entire life, Gene?,

Rachel Baird  47:34

Does that makes you rethink? That’s the bin in our office.

Gene Tunny  47:37

It’s slightly bigger than a Rubik’s Cube.

Stephen Howell  47:46

That’s what I was thinking. It’s the size of a Rubik’s Cube.

Gene Tunny  47:49

Yeah, that’s tiny. I was just going to ask you about Wesfarmers; that owns, is it Coles? One of the major…

Rachel Baird  47:57

I think they’ve diverted from Coles, they did okay. Bunnings and Officeworks.

Gene Tunny  48:03

Right. Okay, so they’ve got some retail businesses in Australia.

Rachel Baird  48:07

And then, they got the chemicals part in their fertilizers partners, WesCEF.

Gene Tunny  48:12

I know that at least one of the major supermarket chains is trying to have it all of its energy, renewable energy, by some date, and I think they’ve signed some agreement with the clean energy company here in Queensland, if I remember correctly, I’ll try and find some information about that.

Rachel Baird  48:29

That’s really smart because you’re going to get customer loyalty. So, a lot of my friends who don’t work in law at all, but they ring me up and they say, oh, shop here, because that’s an environmentally friendly company. I don’t always take it on face value. I like to investigate and make sure they actually are. But it’s a great PR tool if you’re accurate. If you’re not accurate, you could be in front of the court.

Gene Tunny  48:52

That will cost you …I mean, if you’re making bold claims, like Volkswagen years ago, I mean, they got into trouble for what they were alleging about emissions, didn’t they? They were doctoring or they were manipulating their test results on the diesel engines, okay.

 I’ll just ask you finally, about this article that Stephen and I both found independently, it was published in the Financial Times, and then it was picked up by the Australian Financial Review; how ESG investing came to a reckoning. This is the sort of thing you expect to see in the Financial Times – very good paper. The term ESG is less than two decades old, but it may already be coming to the end of its useful life. Have you had a look at that article at all, Rachel? And any thoughts on that?

Rachel Baird  49:48

I did. Steven, do you want to start?

Stephen Howell  49:49

I think that’s just a way; what I read into that, Gene was that it was a way to, once again, highlight ESG, to say, it’s been around for a long time, we haven’t really sort of made too much of a movement. But really, we have. This what I read into it that it was a way to heighten the level of understanding of ESG. I don’t agree with that comment that it’s not going to be around, I think it’s going to be around for a long, long, long time. And it may even change shape in some way. But I think, from the way I look at it, Gene, from a governance perspective. And as a forensic accountant coming out in me, looking at the evidence and looking at the impact that ESG will have from a governance point of view, I just think it’s just that another level of good governance practice.

Gene Tunny  51:06

Okay.

Stephen Howell  51:07

That’s the way I’d describe it.

Gene Tunny  51:09

Yeah. I just thought I’d ask because this article is getting shared around a lot, and particularly by economists, who say, I’ve been saying this all along.

Rachel Baird  51:18

That’s interesting, because a couple of weeks ago, there was a Financial Times conference, where a very senior banker at a bank whose name escapes me, made a comment about how those hysteria carry on and it’s the same as like Y2K, and I think he got stood down, didn’t really test the waters. So, this might be the Financial Times way of saying, it’s a movement that’s come and gone. I think it’s not, there’s so much to do, like, we don’t even know what the implications are of lithium, like, is that actually going to be environmentally friendly? We don’t even know; there’s movements about green steel, we don’t know what the impacts are of all the cloud-based servers in the American desert. So, there’s so much more potential to understand what we’re doing. And every time we have a decision to reduce our impact, we don’t know what the trigger is for more impact.

This is not why we’re here and we’re aware. I mean, we can say that we’ve evolved as a species. And going back to my polar exploration, when mankind, because it was men first started exploring, they just left their rubbish in Antarctica, that didn’t take it back, right? So it’s taken years and years to clear those rubbish dumps from Antarctica, because it doesn’t degrade, right? There’s nothing to degrade it. So, we’ve just evolved as a species to understand that we can’t just keep polluting our environment, and keep abusing our people. That’s not going to go anywhere.

Gene Tunny  52:47

Yeah. And that’s why we have regulations and laws.

Stephen Howell  52:54

It’s like that concept, Gene, that I’ve been sort of, looking at closely recently about the consequences of decision making. And, the decisions that you make in respect to whatever the issue might be, what are the consequences? What are the likely consequences into the future? And so, we’re talking here about, ESG and environmental issues, what are the consequences, many decisions that we make in respect to our environment. The consequences of the decisions that we make in respect to the social impact within Australia and also corporate governance issues. I think you might be aware, I just said, there’s a fabulous book that I’m reading at the moment called Leadership by Algorithm.

Gene Tunny  53:45

Yes, my mother bought it for my birthday based on your recommendation.

Stephen Howell  53:57

It’s written by Professor David de Cremer. It’s all about artificial intelligence, but he does talk a lot about the consequences of your decision making. And he relates it to real life stories. It’s really interesting stuff.

Gene Tunny  54:16

I’m going to read it. It does look great. And I’ll see if I can get him on the program.

Stephen Howell  54:26

I think it’d be great to; he told a fabulous; I went to a conference that he spoke at, he related that to a to a decision that was made by the Singapore government, in respect to the COVID app.

Gene Tunny  54:49

Yeah.

Stephen Howell  54:52

And the COVID app in respect to identifying where people might be at any point at the time, so that they could be tested, etc. And then what happened there in Singapore is that the Singapore government then decided to go one step further and use the information for law enforcement. I am sure it happens in other jurisdictions as well. But it was only the Singapore government got caught. I’m sure we got closer in Australia, there might be something similar. It’s interesting, isn’t it? We think that okay, the government is going to do this for us, to help us, but we had no idea that we’re going to move further and use it for war enforcement purposes.

Gene Tunny  55:44

Yeah, okay. I just thought I’d bring up that FT article, because it has been shared around a lot. And I’ll put a link in the show notes, unfortunately, as paywalled, though, but anyway, I’d recommend getting a subscription to the FT if you don’t already have one, if you’re if you’re listening. I just what I did want to point out was that, one of the factors is this war in Ukraine, which is arguably making it more difficult for companies to meet ESG goals. I’ll just read this out before we wrap up.

On top of the allegations of greenwashing at the industry’s highest levels, there is the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is forcing companies investors and governments to wrestle with developments that at times appear to pit, the E, the S and the G against one another. For example, governments in Europe are reneging on environmental goals by turning to fossil fuels to reduce dependence on Russian gas in order to fulfil ethical goals because they don’t want to buy it from the Russians. They’ve got someone who’s a managing partner at Lombard od air is it? I probably mispronounced that.

The war in Ukraine is an incredible challenge for the world of ESG says Hubert Keller. This conflict is forcing the questions; what is ESG investing? Does it really work? And can we afford it? And that’s what we’ve been talking about today, Rachel.

Rachel Baird  57:07

I know; what it goes to that whole social issue, if you really want to take the high moral ground and the UN’s involved, and we’re not political. I’m not being political. But if you’re saying what Russia is doing in Ukraine is hugely immoral socially, because of the civilian casualties? Then that’s highlighting a failing of the whole international community to try and do something for social good. And I mean, I know you can’t just stop the war because you can’t take action against Russia, because then you’d have world war three. But you can see how ESG can just apply to any conversation, right? So don’t think it’s failing. I think it’s just showing how complex it is. Because there’s so many levers and there’s so much human interaction.

Gene Tunny  57:50

Exactly. And there are tradeoffs. And I mean, this is what economists would say. And ultimately, the companies have to be sustainable financially, so they can keep people employed, they can keep operating, and so if you can do these other things, and then that’s great, but fundamentally, that’s what they need to do. They need to produce products that people want to consume.

Rachel, we should wrap up. Any final words, I mean, anything you’d like to say anything you’d like to push back on anything? If you want to push back on anything I’ve said? Or if you’ve got other points you did want to make that haven’t been made, then please make them now.

Rachel Baird  58:27

No, I think what I’d like to; if your listeners if there’s anyone out there go, where do we start on this ESG journey? Is to just get the right advice from the right people who actually have the right credentials. Because there is a lot of; there’s a vacuum, we need skills on ESG, and the vacuum has been filled, and it’s not being filled equally, if you know what I mean. So, if you want to start embarking on this journey, or you want to have a critical conversation on ESG, do some reading yourself first, but then really test the credentials of the people that you’re talking to. Because you can’t afford to make a misstep on this now that we’ve got the heightened scrutiny by regulators and also stakeholders, which are not just shareholders on what you’re doing. So, I guess, I get a bit cynical that there’s the people who suddenly go, Hey, I’m an ESG expert, and I’m going, yesterday, you were, like a corporate lawyer. You can’t just be an ESG expert overnight. So, people please, look for someone who knows what they are.

Gene Tunny  59:26

So, you need the experience?

Rachel Baird 

I think you do.

Gene Tunny 

Do you need specific training?

Rachel Baird  59:30

Not necessarily. I’m talking to some people at the moment who are experts in greenhouse gas emissions measurements, right. So, it’s a huge ecosystem of talent from environmental scientists to accountants, who are forensic accountants to lawyers to bankers, so pick the person for the problem you’ve got at the time. So, it’s not particularly credentials, just matching. So don’t think you’re going to get one person to solve your whole ESG problem. It won’t happen

Gene Tunny  59:59

Okay.

Stephen Howell  1:00:02

That’s why we have an expert in Rachel.

Gene Tunny  1:00:06

I’ll put links to effective governance out of the hub good Ganon. Lawyers here in headquartered in Brisbane, but you work or live in Australia, you probably work internationally as well.

Rachel Baird  1:00:19

Yeah. I’ve practiced in most, a lot of different states in Australia, because we have environmental law, is state based, is Commonwealth based, it’s international. Again, you’ve got to understand how they operate. It’s quite complex.

Gene Tunny  1:00:35

I have to come back to environmental law. There’s so much of our law that’s driven by these international agreements and rams are and all of that, but that’s a topic for another time.

Okay. Rachel Baird and Steven Howell from Effective Governance; I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Thanks so much for your time and your great insights. Really appreciate it.

Stephen Howell  1:00:59

Always great to be with you.

Gene Tunny  1:01:01

Thanks, Stephen.

Rachel Baird  1:01:03

Thanks, I really appreciate the chance to talk about something that I’m passionate about.

Gene Tunny  1:01:08 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 EP145 guests Rachel Baird and Stephen Howell, 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.