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

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

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

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

The Pirate Party’s economic policy platform w/ John August – EP138 + transcript

What does the economic policy platform of a Pirate Party look like? What does it say about intellectual property protection (i.e. copyright and patents), the Right to Repair, UBI, taxation, and business support? And what type of pirates are Pirate Parties inspired by exactly: Captain Jack Sparrow or Kim Dotcom? Pirate Party Australia Treasurer John August answers these questions in a conversation with Economics Explored host Gene Tunny in Episode 138 of the show.

You can listen to the conversation using the embedded player below or via Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher, among other podcast apps. A transcript and relevant links are also available below.

Here’s a clip from the video recording of the conversation in which John talks about the Pirate Party’s views on intellectual property.

About this episode’s guest – John August

John August is the Treasurer of the Pirate Party Australia and a Fusion Party candidate for the electorate of Bennelong in the 2022 Australia federal election. John does computer support work in retail and shareholder communication. He is passionate about justice and ethics in our world, particularly as it plays out in law generally and intellectual property in particular. He has stood on behalf of the Pirate Party in the Federal seat of Bennelong and also as a Councillor for Ryde City Council.

Along with technology and law John is also interested in spoken word and poetry. He broadcasts on community radio and hosts the program “Roving Spotlight” on Tuesdays from noon-2pm on Radio Skid Row Marrickville Sydney, and writes about his ideas on the website www.johnaugust.com.au. You can keep up to date with what John is up to via his Facebook page

Links relevant to the conversation

https://pirateparty.org.au/

https://www.fusionparty.org.au/

Land Value Uplift from Light Rail by Cameron Murray

On the persistence of the China shock by David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson

Termites in the Trading System by Jagdish Bhagwati

Transcript of EP138: The Pirate Party’s economic policy platform w/ John August

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.

John August  00:04

And there is the whole thing of, you know, patent trolls who have a bunch of patents sitting on the shelf, and all they do is run around with a mallet and whack people on the head who try to make that. And to my way of thinking that’s a complete abuse of what a patent should be.

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 138, on the economic policy platform of the Pirate Party, Australia, one of several Pirate Parties around the world. I’m joined this episode by John August, treasurer of the Pirate Party Australia, which is part of the Fusion Party Coalition. The Fusion Party brings together the Pirate, Secular, Science, and Climate Emergency parties. This episode was recorded in late April 2022 in the lead up to the 2022 Australian federal election. John is running as a Fusion Party candidate for the Sydney-based electorate of Bennelong. Please check out the show notes for relevant links, any clarifications and for details of how you can get in touch with any comments or suggestions. I’d love to hear from you. Righto. Now for my conversation with John August on the economic and policy platform of the Pirate Party. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts, for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. John August from the Pirate Party of Australia, welcome to the programme.

John August  01:35

Well, thank you, Gene. Great to be here.

Gene Tunny  01:38

Yes. Good to have you on the show. I’m keen to learn about the economic policy platform of the Pirate Party. So I’ve recently had some discussions with some members of the Pirate Party regarding UBI. I had one member reach out to me after they listened to my episode with Ben Phillips. And so I’ve been speaking with him about that. And I’d just like to make sure I understand this where the Pirate Party is coming from because you hear pirate party and instantly you think of Long John Silver, but I mean, that’s not quite the case is it? So I’d like to understand then where’s the Pirate Party coming from? So if you could take us through that, please, that’d be great.

John August  02:24

Okay, well, I guess you’ve got the right thing that if you actually look at our policies, you’ll find that we’re very much into individual freedom, at the same time as we’re also into social concern. And one of the things, I think this will come out in this discussion, is that every party claims to get that balance or claims to sort of put some effort into it. But you know, obviously, I’m not just saying this. Hopefully, it’ll come out in the discussion. But I think the Pirate Party does a better job of realising that duality than I think any other political party.

And you know, one of the things, yes, there’s this stuff about pirates, they have to understand that way back when, I guess computer games were in fact copying software and other things. And the industry was calling them pirates. And so they thought, well, hang on, if you’re going to call us pirates, we should embrace that and run with it. And along the way, I guess the pirate movement, you might say, they started to appreciate how business was actually flexing its muscles and abusing its position. And then you also had a certain concern about government. So the Pirate Party is, I guess, both concerned about corporate overreach, and also government overreach and government censorship. And we also believe in individual freedom.

But the thing is, along the way, you’re starting to think, look, we believe in individual freedom, we believe in personal initiative, and drive and enterprise and so on. But what does the good drive, the good initiative really look like? And I guess we saw in business, a lot of businesses abusing the situation, you know, rent seeking, abusing intellectual property, and similar. And I guess there’s also, you know, land ownership, you know, the Georges do actually talk about the land ownership monopoly. And we’re certainly informed by those sentiments. So we came from a point of view of saying, we want to celebrate real economic initiative, at the same time as we want to be compassionate and care for people and enable them. And again, no political party runs into government claiming they’re not going to do that and that the devil is in the details.

But like when it comes to social welfare, we do actually believe in the pirate universal basic income, which you might say, I guess it’s more a guaranteed minimum income because not everybody gets it. The idea being that if you make the nominal amount you neither pay tax, nor do you get a top up, but if you make less than that, you get A bit of a top up until finally at zero, you get a certain amount of money regardless. And that means that you provide people with the incentive to apply themselves, you save on bureaucracy, and obviously at the top end, I have to be careful, they’ll call it an incremental rate of taxation. Because obviously, in one sense, it’s a flat rate, but it’s not a flat rate, because it doesn’t, you know, intersect the origin. But certainly, if you are, I guess reasonably well off, you make a bit of money, and you will get a relatively fixed portion of that. Obviously, it’s mathematical, it’s, you know, the offset plus the gradient and this sort of thing.

So I suppose I guess you’re sort of more concerned about economic policy, but we certainly cherish individual freedom, freedom of speech, freedom from government intervention. And look, it’s not economic, but we’re certainly concerned about Witness K and Bernard Collaery and Julian Assange, and I guess the government surveillance laws to sort of eavesdrop on our mobile phones and make fiddles and change, it’s with them. And I guess you also have, you know, the corporations who are basically pulling large amounts of data and taking advantage of it.

So we basically are concerned about government and corporations in equal measure. But we do believe in freedom of speech, and we do believe in individual initiative. And as I say, No, I don’t think any political party claims to not believe in enterprise, or these various things. But I think our particular combination, is a result of this being targeted by both government and corporations. And that’s where we’ve ended up. And I think, as a result of the journey we’ve taken to get here, we actually have a, as I say, a much better point of like mixing the celebration of individuality and also looking after people as well.

Gene Tunny  06:58

Yeah. Okay. So is the Pirate Party explicitly Georgist? You mentioned Georgism, or the philosophy of the American economist Henry George from the 19th century. And I mean, you’re probably better placed to explain what his philosophy was. But I guess he was in favour of taxing land, wasn’t he? He talked a lot about the unearned rent from land, is that right?

John August  07:28

That is correct. Now, of our policy platform, if you look at it, we do say, look, land value taxation is a good thing, it would be good to sort of re-emphasise our tax system to do that. And like when you have the universal basic income, I guess there’s lots of people will chuck moral rocks at it, but one of the things we do try to do is say, look, how do we actually cost this in such a way we don’t need print money to actually give people this basic income. And okay, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent. But you know, one of the principles is, once you give people that basic income, without constraints, we reasonably expect, a lot of people will just work a few hours a week, because they don’t fall off a cliff and lose all their benefits. So you will immediately sort of enable that initiative.

But getting back to Henry George, yes, let’s just say I suppose one way of capturing this duality is that if you have a property, and the government does something that lowers the value of your land, you wouldn’t believe you know, the hew and cry, the number of letters to the editor, you know…to the local member. But let’s assume the government sets up a rail station, not so close that it’s polluting noise and making life inconvenient, but actually makes life very convenient for you. And the value of your land just shoots upwards. And I have yet to see a queue of guilt-ridden people at the tax office saying, wow, you’ve increased the property of my land enormously. I’ve got to give you some of that money back. So that’s sort of capturing what Georgism is about.

Now, the speculators will say, oh, by buying and selling land, we sort of contribute to the proper operation of the economy and society and so on. And okay, that’s its own rabbit hole. And I, broadly speaking, say that, to the extent that’s true, people are getting overly remunerated for that. But yeah, the thing is land is in scarce supply. And, you know, if you actually tax land, it’s a much better way of doing things, let’s say, going off on a bit of a tangent, but I think whether you want to have a right wing or left wing inclination, you know, everyone says you should get rid of payroll tax, and yet there was this idea we deal with GST, where supposedly the tax states were going to get rid of payroll tax and it didn’t happen. But the point is, if you actually tax on land, on the one hand, it’s fairer, and another hand it’s actually progressive in its way because if you’re wealthy, you’re more likely to own land. But the other thing is as society changes, and business can be conducted here or overseas, and people can telecommute, and so on, taxing labour when labour is so mobile, you know, I think it makes more sense to say, here’s a business, a business is set up in this location, and we tax it based on the operation there.

But yeah, the idea of the unearned increment, I mean, that is one of the things. With a lot of economic perspectives, I guess we all draw the difference between genuine work that yields an income and basically just sitting back and raking it in. And that’s, I guess, a moral distinction. And I think most, where there might be a hybrid of economic and other perspectives, they demarcate the good economic effort from the dodgy economic effort. And we do actually celebrate innovation, not Silicon Valley style innovation. But like, you sort of say, hey, you know, there could be a green grocer here, maybe I should set up a green grocer. That’s being creative. And that’s what we consider to be the real, worthwhile creativity of economics. But sitting back and speculating, we don’t see that as being so useful. And we think there’s an over-return for it.

So bringing it back to Georgism, taxing land makes a lot of sense. And, of course, the word tax has, you know, all these negative connotations. Some people get neurotic about tax. You could say, the charge on land is paying for the privilege that you have that monopoly. And I guess I’m going off on… You’re prompting me with other tangents. But if you’re aware, there’s some Georgists in Melbourne that actually did some analysis of apartment blocks, based on the water usage. And they figured out that a lot of these apartment blocks were actually owned, but vacant and unused. And I know, I’ve actually heard some commentators on your programme talking about supply and demand of housing. And believe it or not, in a limited sort of way, I do actually endorse the idea of supply being a factor, but what we identify is that people are doing land banking, rather than actually either living at their property themselves, or renting it or otherwise putting it into the market. And the incentives we have is such that it makes sense to just sit on property. But widening it out, we sort of say, if the economy was more based on actual innovation, and real economic activity, then people would have… Shall we say, the non-speculative part of the economy would be stronger, land would be easier to afford, and it’s a win-win situation. You know, basically, accommodation is cheaper, but the non-land non-speculative part of the economy is also more dynamic and stronger.

So but I think that story of the railway station setting up next your place, and the value shoots through the roof, and you know, just everyone just swallows up that and just sort of, oh, this is lovely, I think that captures a lot of what Georgism is about, the idea that maybe there’s some speculation, maybe there’s some useful speculation that lubricates the economy. But really, a lot of it is people, I guess, having unearned income. And that’s ethically problematic. But yet the Georgist perspective does actually fix that. Now, I emphasise, the Pirate Party is informed by Georgism, we emphasise land value taxation. But if you look at our policies, our economic policies, everything, it is a part of what we’re about.

Gene Tunny  13:43

Yeah. Did he advocate for a single tax on land? Was that correct?

John August  13:49

That is correct. I don’t think we would go so far as to say a single tax on land. You know, we are believing in this negative income tax. And we also believe in fiddling around with the other parts of the tax system in order that that guaranteed minimum income and negative tax of that package can be sustainable. And you can basically give people who earn no income a moderate amount of money, without breaking the bank, so to speak, and part of the picture to sort of beef up our tax intake would be landowner taxation. But equally as I say, as our economy changes as a global economy changes, I think it will actually make less sense to emphasise income as a source of taxation.

Gene Tunny  14:36

You mentioned the rail line and boosting property values. You may have seen it already but there was a good study that was done by a fellow Queenslander who’s attached to University of Sydney, Cameron Murray. I don’t know if you saw Cameron’s study of the Gold Coast Light Rail, and he estimated some percentage value uplift for land within, you know, several hundred metres of the Gold Coast Light Rail. So I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. But you may be interested in that study.

John August  15:08

I haven’t seen that. But I will sort of stick my oar in and say, we have actually had Cameron Murray in on a more general discussion of housing, within the auspices of the Pirate Party. And Cameron Murray has also written that book Game of Mates, which I’ve had a read of. And that Game of Mates book, I think that one of the origins of that was actually a paper, where he was talking about how there are all these increases in land value. And surprise, surprise, it seemed like the recipients of those improvements were often relatives or in some way related to people at Council. And that, you know, I guess, let’s say we don’t want to point fingers at anyone in particular, or name anyone, but call that grey corruption, and his sort of thing that he was talking about, was a taxation of the uplift. So if you have a zone change, and that increases the value of your property, then that improvement is taxed. I think it’s called a betterment tax was what it was called originally. And that’s one of the things that Cameron Murray is talking about. Now, obviously, a zoning change is obviously a windfall in its own way.

I guess, my story I started with was the railway station within moderate proximity to you. And that’s not really a zoning change, apart from I guess the fact that maybe they had to change the zoning in order to have a rail line there and a station there or whatever. But yeah, there’s different ways of increasing your property value. And one of them is, you know, the railway station. Another one is actually the shopping centre nearby, you know, or the swimming pool or whatever. And, you know, one argument is that if you’re just living there, and the world just changed around you, and it was your choice to live there, and that’s a bonus, well, fair enough. But if you’re essentially buying and selling and you’re actively in the market, and someone else does something, and you get the financial benefit from that, you can wonder how fair that is. But, you know, one of the things about economics, there’s all this hand wringing about what’s fair and unfair, and I recognise that’s part of the picture.

Gene Tunny  17:17

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

Female speaker  17:26

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  17:55

Now back to the show. You mentioned this negative income tax, so then a guaranteed minimum income, so you’re not necessarily going for a UBI. Is that right? You’ve got something –

John August  18:08

That’s right. Okay, yeah, I guess there’s a terminological issue here. I call it a pirate UBI. Technically, it’s a guaranteed minimum income. Now, your universal basic income is a wad of cash that you get regardless. I think in Alaska, they have this thing where they’ve re-allocated the money from them, their oil or their mineral reserves there. And everyone just gets a plunk of money every year, but in a sense, that is sharing the real wealth that’s created. So that’s fair enough, I guess. But yeah, your pirate UBI, or the guaranteed minimum income we are talking about, if you make the neutral amount of money, you pay no tax, nor do you get a top up. If you make less than that, you get a bit of a top up, so the government gives you a bit of money. And finally, if you’re making no money, then you get a wad of cash, which is our guaranteed minimum income. And notice, in a sense, it’s means tested. We’re not just giving people lots of money regardless, so we are trying to avoid the inflationary risk. And in fact, really do our best to make sure that the budget actually balances and we’re not actually printing money to pull this thing off.

If you there is a criticism of some forms of universal basic income, we’d say. If you just give everybody you know a wad of cash each year, regardless, that’s going to be inflationary risk. And we agree that our guaranteed minimum income is targeted. If you’re not making income by other means, you get this wad of cash. And if you’re making a little bit of money, you get a top up. And the thing about that whole slow incline is that you don’t have a poverty trap. You rarely will have a disincentive to sort of work or just work a little bit extra. Who knows there might be some benefits, some concessions or so on that you might lose. And that’s going to be a little bit of a disincentive, but not falling off the cliff like you do at the moment.

Gene Tunny  20:09

Right. And so it’s a negative income tax because below a certain amount of income, the tax office is actually giving you money. When you get up to that level of income, you start paying positive income tax. Okay.

John August  20:25

That’s correct. Yes. Yes, that’s right.

Gene Tunny  20:27

Good one. Okay. I think I chatted about that with Ben Phillips. I think he mentioned that was one of the models, because, you know, UBI, in practice, you know, that’s one of the ways you could do it. And, you know, there are all these sort of terminological issues about what’s UBI.

John August  20:45

I suppose with terminology, you have this broad thing called UBI, which is like the general, you know, we’re giving people some money. But UBI is universal basic income, is we give everybody a certain wad of cash, regardless. The guaranteed minimum income is that it’s to some degree means tested, we give people money, if they need it is a bit of a leg up.

Gene Tunny  21:08

Yeah. Okay. So what I found interesting, so far, and I didn’t realise was that influence from Henry George, I mean, he’s a major figure in economics. At different times he’s been very influential. I mean, there are a lot of, you know, still followers of Henry George. And, you know, he always gets written up in the histories of economic thought. And there’s also the thinking or the philosophy of the people in IT, in the tech sector. And it’s an interesting blend of that. I know that labels can be… They may not be suitable. But is it possible to describe the Pirate Party as a left Libertarian Party? Or am I on the wrong track there?

John August  21:57

I think left libertarian would be a good way of describing it. And we have had some limited overlap with I guess you’re right libertarian parties. I think one was the Liberty and Democracy Party. Some time ago, this is quite separate to economic policy. But they articulated a position about the civil marriage versus religious marriage. And what he had to say, yeah, you guys are on the mark there, you actually expressed it better than we could, though, certainly those right libertarian parties, they don’t believe in Medicare, public health. We actually believe in expanding public health to include dental care, and expanded support for mental health, you know, supporting the NDIS. But all the time, we want to be, I guess, financially responsible about doing that.

I mean, so much of social welfare, I think… Look, there are financial constraints, but the way it rolls out, it really does feel very penny pinching to the recipients. And I know some people who, yes, they got their NDIS, but the amount of reports and you know, turning up to doctors and, and getting XYZ certified, you know, you listen to their stories and go, well, alright, maybe one doctor to say, tick the box and say you really do have that condition, but there seems to be this overload of bureaucracy there. And like with the universal basic income, I mean, obviously, yes, we want to, we want the books to balance, but you do have a saving in bureaucracy, because at the moment, whole government departments have to figure out whether you really are unemployed, whether you have been trying to look for work, all these sorts of things, and you would get rid of those sorts of overheads in administering the system.

Gene Tunny  23:45

Yeah. Can I just ask about NDIS? So National Disability Insurance Scheme, if you’re listening internationally, this is a scheme we have in Australia to assist people and their families or their carers if they have a disability. And yeah, I mean, John, you rightly mentioned that for recipients, they see that it can be bureaucratic, and it can be hard to get the support that they need. At the same time, there is an incredible amount of money being spent on it. I mean, what is it? Is it going up to 30 to 40 billion or something, or there are projections of that? And it’s going to overtake Medicare. So our single payer health care system here in Australia, we’re going to be spending more on NDIS than that. And yeah, I mean, so what are your thoughts on that? I mean, how do we control that cost? Or how do we pay for that?

John August  24:44

Well, there are the various broad changes. We’ve been talking to the tax system, you know. I did mention you know, land value taxation. Another one is to properly tax religion. Now I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I know they were some people who analysed the value, I think it was Catholic church property in Victoria, and said it was comparable to the Westfield property holdings. And then there was a council in Bondi. This goes back to the 1980s. But they said that they had to double their rates to cover the cost of garbage collection, because they couldn’t charge the churches for garbage collection. So again, that’s the thing where sometimes the tax is a tax in the more pejorative sense. And sometimes it’s more a payment for services. And you know, those church properties get away without that.

But let’s see, then another one we’re talking about doing is doing capital gains tax if you use an asset to secure a loan. So there’s a whole gamut of tax changes we can make. And look, I acknowledge the thing about NDIS is you want to properly support things, but at the same time, you want to control the cost, and you want to have it that at least it doesn’t feel markedly bureaucratic to those participating in it. And let me just acknowledge that that is still a work in progress.

I’ll be a little bit political here and say, if you look at the current government, you know, lifters and leaners, the age and entitlement is over, all this sort of rhetoric, and, you know, sort of suddenly saying that, you know, the unemployed aren’t working hard. And, you know, if you look at, say, the Illawarra, that’s a region to the south of Sydney, that over five or 10 years, their rate of unemployment suddenly shot up. And it doesn’t make any sense to say that suddenly, over five or 10 years, all these people suddenly became lazy and couldn’t be bothered working. And yet, that’s sort of the rhetoric of the government going around. So I would say, look, who knows, maybe occasionally, the government does actually have some good ideas that are, shall we say, morally neutral or morally good. But it’s in the context of then having form in terms of saying all these narky petty things, and implementing all these narky petty things, like say, there’s Robodebt. I guess I’m being a bit political there. But what I’m saying is, look, you can have good ideas for economic reform. But if the rest of your story is dodgy, no one will believe you. Now somehow, John Howard managed to implement GST and get away with it, which was a bold thing in its way, but for a government to credibly make grand changes, and do it credibly, and be believable, you know, I think that’s hard.

But anyway, getting back, I’ve gone off on a bit of a sidetrack, but let’s just say, Yes, coping with NDIS and not having the cost blowout, while trying to sustain it, and not have it heavily bureaucratic in the rollout, that is one thing there. But the other thing I would try to… I mean, I haven’t looked into in detail, but I would like to think that if you can run NDIS properly, support people properly, you will then give them the opportunity to participate in the economy. And as it were, bring some of that investment back. And, you know, people, I guess maybe that’s happening already, and we haven’t really identified that benefit. Or maybe we need to target our schemes better. You know, there may be ways of trying to reduce, shall we say the overall financial impact of NDIS while still will be money coming out of the government at some level. So anyway, I’m not sure I’ve answered your question properly. But let’s just say yes, it is a challenge…

Gene Tunny  28:32

Yeah. Yeah. Just occurred to me when you mentioned NDIS, so that I/d bring that up, on the taxation of religion, it’d be good to see some of religious organisations, which are largely, I think that they’re exempt from tax, aren’t they? It’d be good to see some estimates of that, what that could bring in. I haven’t seen them. But yeah, it could be it could be substantial.

One thing I was surprised by, and you probably know this already, but I went to a friend’s birthday party, they held it at the Presbyterian Church, their head office here in Brisbane city, on Ann Street. And I never realised but back in the 19th century, the state governments of the day granted land to the various churches. There was some authority under a New South Wales Act of Parliament, to provide grants of land to churches, and so Catholic Church and the Anglican Church and Presbyterian Church and various others. And so in part, that’s why they have these inner city properties. So that’s why they’ve held on to them, I guess, and they had some extra land that was surplus to requirements and they’ve redeveloped that land. So, you know, that’s helped them out immensely. It’s related to an initial grant of land they had from state governments back in the day, which I found quite interesting. I don’t know if you’re aware of that at all, John.

John August  29:59

In Sydney there’s a suburb called Glebe. And it’s called Glebe because it was originally attached to a church. And I think over time, you know, the church only had its only tiny little part of Glebe. But Glebe is called Glebe because it was originally a church allotment. So I’m sort of aware of that.

But yeah, it is the broader issue that churches have a lot of privilege. And they excuse it, because of the good things they do. But at the same time, it’s not very transparent, and you just have to take their word for it. And I think also, our government in the past has like, basically thrown a lot of money at churches for services that I don’t think were efficiently thought through or efficiently allocated. So I guess it is pointing a finger at the church and saying that they are the equivalent of a feather bedded monopoly, I suppose, you know, would be one way of looking at it.

 Now, sure, the churches do have some community stuff to do. But you know, that community stuff should be supported by the people in it. I mean, you could say, look, there’s only a certain number of people who are Catholics, but taxpayers at large pay for that privilege. You know, so there’s some things that are really out of whack there. But I know, there’s the book The Purple Economy, was written quite some time ago.

And, look, it’s great that you’re asking these questions. The sad thing is, I was a bit more up on these things 10 or 15 years ago, and it has been a topic of debate on the fringes, but it’s never really hit the mainstream. And, you know, look, if the government is struggling to pay for, you know, XYZ, you know, they play silly buggers, they screw over us with taxation, councils are obliged to jack up their parking fines rather than charge the council’s rates. But, you know, the government never thinks laterally and says, Well, hang on, let’s take a good look at this religious privilege, and maybe we can reform things and basically get a bit of extra money to spend on these things we want to do. But like, I just see just how creative government is at sort of shaking trees and finding money in high logs, but they never look in that direction though.

Gene Tunny  32:12

Just with the taxation of religion, you mentioned, it was something you were more up on 10 or 15 years ago. And you’re right, it hasn’t really been a prominent issue. The only time I remember it becoming an issue in say the last 10 years was when Jim Sorley, the former Lord Mayor of Brisbane, who was a preacher at one stage in his life, he brought it up and suggested that given that, you know, many religious organisations are doing very well, they probably should, or they’ve got substantial assets. I don’t know how well they’re doing day to day. Then, you know, they could actually pay some or make a greater contribution, or they could make a taxation contribution. So I thought that was interesting.

John August  32:55

Makes a lot of sense, because occasionally, you do get your secular religious types. And, you know, obviously New South Wales, and one of the contrasts I make is that Gillard was an atheist, but she had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do, you know, inquiry into churches and child abuse.  Kristina Keneally was an Australian Catholic, and in New South Wales, she was the premier that oversaw the introduction of ethics education in schools, of non-religious education in schools. But yeah, at times, you get religious people who really are quite considerate. And if you look at a lot of elements of the Uniting Church are actually quite secular in the way that they relate to things. Obviously, yes, they get a bit of religious privilege, but it’s not something they covet, if you know what I mean. And at times, they will even push back against it. So you know, it does vary. And obviously there was this particular person you’re saying that was was sort of saying, hang on, maybe the churches should pay tax.

Now, if you go back far enough way, way back in the depths of time, before there were the Greens, before there was the Democrats, there was actually a political movement called defence of government schools. And they were very concerned about the way the government was feeding so much money into religious schools and was trying to say that it was against the Constitution. Now, I’m no constitutional lawyer. But I’ve read the commentaries, when people were writing the constitution of Australia. And I think based on what they were saying about the Constitution at the time, we never really should have given all this money to religious schools. Obviously, yes, I’m not a lawyer, and it was the High Court judges who get to make these calls. But yeah, if you go back decades, there was the defence of government schools movement. It was such a strident political force before the Greens or the Democrats. And it really had a lot of energy to it before my time, and I read about and think, wow, this is amazing. And the sad thing is, that was decided in the High Court when it was in Melbourne. So then the High Court moved to Canberra and it basically fell off the radar of the High Court because the High Court loves to sort of parade all the controversial decisions that were made within its halls, even if the public didn’t like them, or the controversial or whatever. They couldn’t get [inaudible] decisions made in Melbourne before they moved to Canberra. There you go.

Gene Tunny  35:20

Right. Okay, I’ll have to look into that. I mean, it’s a big issue, the division between church and state and therefore, what governments can do to assist religious organisations or schools. I mean, I guess the issue in Australia was that, at the time, didn’t we have some Catholic schools that were struggling financially because they charged relatively low fees, and they couldn’t afford to install the science blocks. This was during the Cold War, and there was a push to educate people in maths and science. And so therefore, you could argue there was some public policy rationale for it.

John August  35:57

There was a bunch of schools in Canberra, Catholic schools that went on strike because they weren’t getting the money together for that. And details of that story are not sort of close to hand. But I do know, during the Cold War, even though the US was very religious, and you even had some fist-waving creationists, when the Russians put Sputnik into orbit, they all thought, oh, shit, we better roll out the science education in our schools. And, you know, that’s my understanding, that that was why creationism took a backseat until the Cold War sort of thawed out, and there was no longer that pressure. So I do believe that’s not got a lot to do with economics, of course, but I do believe that’s some of the history there.

And look, it’s not at my fingertips, but there has been this whole thing of charities and the definition of charities. And I certainly would say that churches have a lot of privilege when it comes to charities, but my narky observation about the government is they really want to reduce the charitable status of any group that might criticise government. And, you know, of course, you know, there’s the whole freedom of speech thing, yada yada yada, but yeah. Let’s say yes, historically, this whole thing of what is a charity, we should have a charities commission and so on, that was bubbling away at the side. And again, I was more familiar with this 10 or 15 years ago, and then I got serenaded by intellectual property and the Pirate Party, I suppose.

Gene Tunny  37:25

Okay, well, yeah, we want to get on to IP, because that’s fascinating too. Just with religion for listeners internationally, I should know that when I mentioned Jim Sorley, he was a former Lord Mayor of Brisbane here, so well-known figure in one of the political parties, in the Labour Party. And yes, he was also at one time a Catholic priest. So that’s why it made news when he came out and said that the churches should pay tax.

John August  37:52

Yes, well, it is one of the things that a secular Australia I should say, that the minority seat of secular Australia do actually say that Gough Whitlam made a deal with the Catholics to get into power. So that’s the one narky thing that secularists will actually say increased criticism of Gough Whitlam. I don’t want to get embroiled in the whole bog mire of Gough Whitlam. That’s one observation I’d make.

Gene Tunny  38:17

Okay. Okay. Well, we might move on to IP and then we’ll finish off with a discussion of business support or crony capitalism, or however you want to describe it. The Game of Mates, you might like to describe it. You mentioned Cameron and Paul Frijters’s book before. What’s your position on IP? I mean, is it complete no protection of IP, something extreme like that? Or is there some protection to encourage innovation?

John August  38:46

We do believe in some protection for IP. But there’s a whole heap of reforms and changes. Like, as far as copyright’s concerned, we’d have a whole heap of like, what is it, fair use exemptions. Now, one of the things we get into is like, the right to repair, say. It is actually bubbling. And I think it’s sort of starting to get to the mainstream. But you know, the cliche is, you’ve got this farmer in Western Australia. They’re so damn far from civilization. They’ve got this farming equipment. Their harvest season runs a few weeks, and if one of their bits of equipment is out of action, and they’ve got to wait a few weeks for some guy from Perth to travel all the bloody way. Oh, okay, we need this spare part ordered. That will be a week away. That sort of makes no sense. And, you know, there is the idea of the right to repair.

And this is another thing about individual freedom. There’s some people who run repair cafes, they talk about the dignity of risk, okay, and you know, it is one of those things that I guess a slightly libertarian sense is, you know, cotton wool drawers and that sort of thing. And, you know, my own personal view is look, companies have a legitimate concern that, you know, you don’t mess with their thing, injure yourself and get sued. Okay? We do think there needs to be some sort of way of saying, look, I’m going to mess with this. I’m taking the responsibility onto myself. If I injure myself, it’s my own problem. But I do think a lot of firms run around saying, oh, we can’t let the consumers do blah, blah, blah, because they might hurt themselves. And that’s actually an excuse for them to flex their muscles in terms of intellectual property.

Gene Tunny  40:39

Yeah. So John, just for clarity, what do they do that prevents you from repairing it? They void the warranty? They say the warranty is voided if you do any work on it, if you actually open it up?

John August  40:49

There’s a few things. One is the warranty is voided. The other one is software that basically logs the fact that you’ve opened the case or tried to tamper with it. And worst case, you have software that basically self destructs if you meddle with something. That’s getting even more serious. I mean, there was a story of I think, Sony put a dodgy thing on CDs, that actually put a programme in your laptop that stops you from doing further copying of CDs. That caused quite a kerfuffle in the IT world. Whether it got to the outside world, I don’t know. But there’s some dodgy stuff that goes on there.

But anyway, so fair use exemptions for copyright. Okay. And obviously, that sort of spilled into the copyright of bits and pieces and of right to repair rather. And certainly, I think the Australian Government does have something that if you sold a car and you stopped selling it, you gotta keep selling the fit spares five or 10 years. Well, we also think that once a car is no longer really properly supported, it should be a free for all for people to make knockoffs and you know, run their 3D printers, bananas, whatever. So I think they should be thresholds where, okay, until this point, people could can claim a bit of copyright and this sort of thing. But beyond this point, come on, let people rip in.

But as far as patents go, for sure, our view is a few things. One is that that basically patents should only be used to protect stuff that’s actually being bought and sold in the market. And if you go back far enough, in our patent legislation, but there was a previous thing saying that if you have a patent, you have to serve the market. There was actually an obligation in legislation. In other words, it was saying, if you’ve got a patent, you should be making stuff and flogging it. Our position is that if you have a patent, then you should be making it. You shouldn’t be using that patent defensively and stopping others from doing it. And there is the whole thing of you know, patent trolls who have a bunch of patents sitting on the shelf, and all they do is run around with a mallet and whack people on the head to try to make that. To my way of thinking, that’s a complete abuse of what a patent should be. And we also have actual schemes where you actually declare the value of your patent. And if you’re not declaring it properly, someone can just put up their hand and buy the patent off you. So you have to value it publicly in a way that that sort of is sustainable.

And I suppose there is a whole thing of copyright that it shouldn’t be, you know, death of the author plus 50 years or 70 years, which is ridiculous. Now, the US kept trying to extend the copyright of Mickey Mouse to keep them. And so that was to my way of thinking, clear abuse of the patent process. So you’ve got patent trolls. You’ve got so-called evergreening of patents where a medicine is used for one use, and then they figure out an alternate use and get an extended patent on it. But it still gets a bit grey as to whether you could use it for the use to sort of run out a patent.

And I suppose a broader thing would be, it would be lovely, my vision is that, you know, an arm of the UN farms out grants the universities for basic research. And if some particular university then comes up with a idea, then the free market can get that idea for a nominal licence fee, and then rip in and sell it. And that’s re-pivoting the whole way corporations relate to medical patents. So notice we’re not totally against patents for medicine, but you know, these medical firms, I think there’s something like, oh, look, they spend a bucketload on R&D, and they spend even more on marketing. I think that’s telling us look, there’s something wrong with this picture.

And there was a story goes back… Unfortunately, I’m not up on these things recently. But going back about 10 or 20 years ago, there was a bunch of researchers in the UK that made this variant on interferon and that actually evaded the then existing patents and then they hired some Indian chemical firms to crank this stuff out. And it was what you might call an open-source pharmaceutical metaphorically. Those sorts of models I think are much better. But then there’s the fact that in the US, like me clicking on a button, software patents, to my way of thinking…

Look, this is going into the technical details of patent law. But I know a lot of commentators who said that like, way back when 100 years ago, in the UK, a patent was something that you basically bribe someone to do good things in the community, for the general good of society. In other words, yes, you were making a profit. But it should be articulated that not only were you making a profit, but society as a whole was benefiting. And that was the way the Brits articulated patent law 100-odd years ago. And it’s my view that that got morphed into the US, and the US much more was worried about coveting assets, you know, people own this, and we’ve got to protect the people who own it. And then the lawyers got in and defined all these things around it. So the emphasis changed. And along the way, the idea of the inventive step got watered down. And it used to be that was a very strong thing. This had to be really creative, you’ve done something big here. And then that’s been diluted in US patent law to think, oh, you’ve run this algorithm that anyone could have dreamed up, you clicked over here, oh yeah, we’ll give you a patent for that.

And, again, going back in patent law, there was, I think, a manufacturer of, goodness me ,of airline engines, of engines for aircraft, and they actually came up with this way, you can operate this engine in a certain way and reduce noise, and they wanted to get a patent on it. And the judge at the time said, look, these people piloting these planes responsible for hundreds of lives. And you want to add to their cognitive load that they can have to actually figure out whether they’re licenced to operate this bit of equipment in this way, or not, based on how they’re licenced. And that particular judge said, go away, that’s nonsense. And then, you know, there’s obviously the more recent excesses like the EpiPen. Someone was sort of making a gadget to check for COVID. And someone else wanted to do a patent injunction against them. I mean, even if they have a bit of a case, the best that the legal system should do is say, this is something of merit for society. Let’s let these people make the COVID equipment. And you can do a court case and extract profits from them after the event if it really is relevant. But so there’s a whole lot of messiness to do with intellectual property.

And what’s a few other things I can point out? That like, with Hollywood, I don’t know if you’ve heard the term Hollywood accounting, there was a guy who wrote the novel… Goodness me, what was it called? Forrest Gump, I think it was. And the first movie didn’t make a profit and they wanted to make a sequel. And he’s saying, Why the hell do you want to make a sequel if the first movie didn’t make any money? And so I think there’s this moral duplicity, where Hollywood gets very resentful about people copying their movies, but has no problem with dibbling their creative partner partners on their end of the fence. So there’s some dodgy stuff going on in the copyright industry there.

And there’s various cases of, you know, bands in Australia getting done by overseas copyright claims on music in their tracks and, you know, I think the band Men at Work was dragged through the courts. So there’s a whole lot of dodgy shit going on with intellectual property. What’s another story? I think Mattel had the Barbie doll and they had a copyright on the Barbie doll. And someone wanted to do a book on anorexia that had Barbie in the title. They said, no, you can’t do that. So again, copyright, trademarks, defamation, you had all these things into mix. Sure, you shouldn’t be able to sell a knockoff doll and call it Barbie and make money out of it. Okay, maybe. But, you know, protecting your trademark and stopping people from doing derivative creative works. I mean, come on.

Oh, yes. Okay. There’s one more thing I will say, which is, I think, a bit of a sideline to do with Trump. Now, you might remember, Trump was pushing back against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he obviously managed to win an election. And it’s my suspicion that a lot of people in the Rust Belt saw all of these trade treaties, and what those trade treaties meant was that, you know, overseas countries would sell stuff in the US, in exchange for them recognising US intellectual property laws.

And look, let’s just say, look, you’re the economist, and I’m sure we will agree that on paper, you have international trade and parties benefit, and the net wealth is increased. But under the hood, what happened in the US was there was a net transfer of wealth from people who made stuff with their hands to people who owned ideas. And it’s my suspicion that that might have been one of the factors in the Rust Belt of people going, hang on, there’s all these lovely trade treaties, which are supposed to be so beneficial, and we see ourselves losing our jobs. So that’s sort of, I guess, less to do with intellectual property directly. But I think it’s one of the things going on in in global trade and global politics. Look, I can I can say more about intellectual property. You got me started, but maybe I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

Gene Tunny  50:54

I’ll make a few comments on that. John, very good points. With the Rust Belt, look, yep, absolutely. And economists have studied that. And they have concluded that there certainly has been an impact on some of those regions. Some regions have been disadvantaged, jobs have been lost, and they haven’t come back. Metropolitan areas have prospered. They’ve done well. Their consumers are getting cheaper products. But then there are some Americans in some states, in rural areas or in the Rust Belt, as you call it, that have been disadvantaged. I’m trying to remember the study. It might have been by David Autor. I can put a link in the show notes. He looked at I think he called it the China shock.

That point about trade agreements, there is actually a debate in economics about these preferential trade agreements, free trade agreements. They’re not necessarily welfare enhancing for countries. I mean, the best thing you can do is actually to lower tariffs for all countries selling to you. So there are issues with these preferential trade agreements. In particular, if we sign up to some of these IP provisions that mean that we have to pay the American producers more, as you mentioned.

What’s the other point? Oh, I think you’re on strong ground on the IP stuff, because, yeah, economists generally think that… At least my impression is that economists are very much against just this, you know, these excessive IP, these copyright terms. So you know, what is it, 70 years you mentioned. And I remember when I was in Treasury, in Canberra, we had a visit once from David Levine, I think it’s Levine, from Berkeley. He’s a professor of economics at University of California, Berkeley. And he was arguing that, look, I mean, that as an economist, what you want is you want people to be incentivized to innovate, and to create new works. But you actually don’t need a lot of copyright protection to do that, right? I mean, you might need 5, 10, 20 years at the most. Beyond that, that would discount any sort of benefits beyond that practically to zero. And I mean, they’re not really going to care what their heirs… I mean, maybe some of them do, but they’re not really going to care about what their grandchildren are going to be earning from their creative works. That is not what is motivating them to be innovative. And I thought that was a good argument. So I don’t know if you’re aware of his work.

John August  53:29

Certainly, I mean, the echo there is, a long time ago, Walt Disney came up with the Mickey Mouse character. Did he think, wow, this is lovely, 70 years after my death, my estate will still be making money from this. So this is a bloody good move on my part to come up with this lovely looking mouse. And that’s sort of echoing your sentiment. And I suppose further to the point that we’re making before is that I think particularly in the US, they are artificially by legal means extending the life of assets to benefit the person who owns that asset, but not in any meaningful way contributing to the economy at large. And, as I say, my feeling is that in the US, they really got behind, oh, you own that thing, oh, we need to protect you. And that sort of just went a bit crazy in the US as compared to the origins of intellectual property in the UK, which were a bit more restrained and sensible.

Gene Tunny  54:26

So on the trade agreements, I might put a link in the show notes, there’s a book that I’ve read recently that I can highly recommend, Termites in the Trading System, by Jagdish Bhagwati, one of the great Indian American economists. He’s based at Columbia. He’s a professor there. So very good book and he’s been very critical of all of these trade agreements, for reasons including what we’ve talked about there, that they’re not necessarily welfare enhancing, just the way that they’re rolled out. Okay. Finally, John, it’d be good to chat about business support. Do you have a blanket ban? Or are you against business support? So all of the subsidies, the what you might call crony capitalism, what’s your position on that?

John August  55:21

Well, in broad terms, yes, I’m very much against crony capitalism, against support for business. Now, look, there are some exceptions for very well-defined social outcomes. Now, this is going off on quite a tangent, but you know, the whole thing of like, childcare, and like, you know, subsidies to consumers of childcare. And, you know, I guess it’s more a personal position that’s informed by other, not that I’m an economist, but other economists in the Pirate Party. And we talk about subsidising supply. So it may make sense to have grants to businesses to either establish childcare facilities, expand childcare facilities, and maybe have a hex discount for people who are trying to qualify themselves to work in childcare. And notice, that would be a corporate subsidy for a very well-defined social need that needs to be properly articulated and costed, and yada yada yada yada.

But in broad terms, I think a lot of the subsidies we get, like, I guess the whole cliche is, you know, the government expands this port, spends bucketloads of money on it, then these firms sort of ship the gas off overseas, and we end up paying more for the gas as a result of the cabinet investing in the port works, you know what I mean. There’s a lot of dodgy stuff like that, that you can point to. So certainly against that. And I suppose we have a broader position against bureaucracy and rent seeking broadly defined. So that’s certainly the case. But to get into the nuts and bolts of that, I have to admit, I’m going to struggle to get into…

Gene Tunny  57:00

That’s okay. Well, I mean, it’s probably a good time to wrap up. I’ve had you for nearly an hour, and we’ve had a really good discussion of IP and before that on Georgism. I thought that was really interesting. Also the negative income and the taxation of churches. So something that I’ve been interested in in the past, particularly when –

John August  57:21

I can but say, yes, go back 10 or 15 years ago. And look, there are a moderate number of like, shall we say, economically qualified people on the secular side of the fence, who are all going, look, look, look, and no one’s paying attention. So in a sense, it’s lovely that your programme, which you might say, as it’s starting to approach the mainstream is actually putting a bit of light on this sort of issue. And that is actually quite wonderful, I have to say.

Gene Tunny  57:45

Yeah, well, I’m trying to be frank and fearless. And as someone who was in, I worked in the treasury, and I’ve worked in around policy, I think we really should approach these issues rationally, and not have these… I guess a lot of people probably think, oh, we can’t do that, or we’ll upset these people. And if you look at these things rationally, that a lot more policies become, or changes become, you know, something that should be discussed and debated. So that’s what I’m trying to do with this show.

John August  58:16

Well, I will put in a bit of a plug for the Pirate Party. Look, I’m not saying we’re not were the only innovative party out there. But as a small party, we can actually talk some very creative and innovative things. And as I say, look, who knows, maybe the Liberal Party will have the odd good idea. But for them to do it, and have people believe that they’re honest and honestly inclined, you know, they have such a track record, where a party who can say, look, there’s some economic realities we should consider here and let’s think about XYZ. And if the Liberal Party did something like that, people would just shake their heads and go, Yeah, another one, you know. So there are some opportunities that small parties have to put innovative ideas out there.

And yeah, as I say, I won’t claim that pirate party is the… I should say Fusion. Oops, I think we’re finally got to this point, I should emphasise the Pirate Party is a part of the Fusion amalgam. And so that does actually include the Science Party, the Secular Party, the Pirate Party, and Climate Emergency. So they are the different branches of Fusion. And while what you were saying, certainly, there are degrees of development of policy within the Pirate Party, and like we have our basic original form of the Pirate UBI that you can look at, and that’s all very good, and we’re continuing to develop our ideas, and obviously, that’s within the Pirate realm or the Pirate branch of Fusion. And obviously, the Fusion has sort of more universal policies that everybody adopts. But you know that that’s a limited subset of what we’ve been talking about.

Gene Tunny  59:59

Yeah. Okay. John, this has been great. I’ll put links to your social media channels. And you’ve got your own radio show. Is that right?

John August  1:00:11

Yes, I have a radio show broadcasting out of Marrickville in Sydney on Radio Skid Row. So there’s some links to that. You can check out some old episodes. There’s also my own website, johnaugust.com.au. But, you know, hopefully, you’ll put that amongst the links there. And I will also mention, there’s a gentleman, Quinton Fernandez, Professor Quinton Fernandez of University of New South Wales. And he’s actually been saying that, like, the UK was abusing the free trade situation when they were the top dogs. And he’s also got his own views on intellectual property, like value global value chains, and just how much intellectual property is a part of the fact that like, things are a token amount coming out of Taiwan. And then the price goes up by 10 times because of, you know, intellectual property and branding. And it’s quite staggering when you listen to the picture that he paints.

Gene Tunny  1:01:11

Okay, I’ll, I’ll have a look at his work and might see if I can get him on the show sometime in the future. Okay, John August, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciated learning about the Pirate Party platform, and just the discussion of the economic issues because you raised some very good ones there. And it was great to be reminded of the work of Henry George, because it’s one of those fascinating ideas that economics has come up with over the centuries. I remember what I learned about him in the history of economic thought, I thought, that’s a fascinating perspective. Yeah. So very good. So, again, thanks so much for your time.

John August  1:01:58

Well, there is a lot of merit in what Henry George says, but I don’t believe in the single tax. And I do think that his philosophy was 90% correct. There will be some little sort of rejoinders I’ll make to what you said, but you know, it’s certainly 90% got the full picture.

Gene Tunny  1:02:15

Yeah, that’s an important thing to note. I might try and find a guest to cover Henry George in a future episode, just to go through some of the intricacies of it. Righto. Okay. John, thanks so much for your time, and all the best. And, yeah, hopefully I’ll chat with you again soon. Thank you.

John August  1:02:39

Oh, well, I do look forward to that. Thank you very much for the opportunity. I think the Pirate Party has been saying some interesting stuff. It would be lovely for that to be more broadly recognised, and it’s lovely that you’ve obviously taken the interest in interviewing me, so very much appreciate that.

Gene Tunny  1:02:54

Okay. Very good. Thanks, John.

John August  1:02:56

Okay, thanks, Gene. Bye.

Gene Tunny  1:02:59 Okay, that’s the end of this episode of Economics Explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact@economicsexplored.com And we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Until next week, goodbye.

Credits

Big thanks to EP138 guest John August and to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode. 

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

Categories
Podcast episode

Transcript of EP125 on price controls w/ Larry Reed, FEE

This post contains a transcript of EP125 on price controls, infrastructure, and other topics with President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education Lawrence W. Reed. Also, note we’ve published a new video clip from the interview, featuring Larry talking about his article Why I wish we could put Chester Arthur and Joe Biden in a room together to talk infrastructure spending.

Transcript of EP125 w/ Larry Reed, FEE

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.

Gene Tunny 00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored.

Larry Reed 00:04

When government comes in and says, “We don’t like prices rising as fast as they are. We’re going to impose controls to prevent that from happening.” First of all, it is treating a symptom of something else. It’s not dealing fundamentally with the issue at hand that produced the rising prices in the first place. It’s a political diversion.

Gene Tunny 00:25

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 125 on price controls, which some commentators are suggesting could be used to reduce inflation. We also explore some other topics, such as whether Jesus was a socialist, why Joe Biden arguably should look back to the 21st president Chester Arthur, and why the separation of bank and state is so important.

My guest this episode is Lawrence W. Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education, a leading pro-free market educational nonprofit headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Larry has authored nearly 2000 newspaper columns and articles and dozens of articles in magazines and journals in the United States and abroad. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, The Epoch Times, and The Washington Examiner among many other places. Larry is frequently interviewed on radio talk shows and TV, including on Fox Business News.

Please check out the show notes for the links to materials mentioned in this episode and for any clarifications. You’ll find the show notes via your podcasting app or at our website, economicsexplored.com. If you sign up as an email subscriber, you’ll be able to download my new eBook, Top 10 Insights from Economics, so please consider getting on the mailing list. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please either record them in a message via SpeakPipe. See the link in the show notes or email them to me via our contact at economicsexplored.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Now, for my conversation with Larry Reed from the Foundation for Economic Education. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it.

Lawrence W. Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education, welcome to the programme.

Larry Reed 02:45

Thank you very much, Gene. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Gene Tunny 02:47

It’s great to have you on, Larry. I have been reading a lot of your writings lately. You’ve started off the year very well and coming on important issues, crazy proposals such as price controls. We might chat about that a bit later. But first, I’d like to ask you about the Foundation for Economic Education. Could you tell us a bit about what its role is and the type of activities it engages in place?

Larry Reed 03:16

Your listeners and viewers can learn a great deal more by visiting its website, which is FEE.org. The foundation was created in 1946 by a great man named Leonard Read. He was no relation to me. He spelled his name R-E-A-D. But after World War Two, he looked around and realised that there was no organisation in the world that was full-time devoting itself to explaining and defending how free enterprise, the profit motive, private property, how that system works. He created the foundation for the purpose of spreading those ideas.

Over the years, our message and our principles have not changed. But the focus of our message and principles has somewhat changed. It’s become a bit more focused on young people, specifically high school and college age. We do that through programmes in-person all over the country, in the US, and abroad, as well as the website videos, on the website courses, you name it. All designed to explain how freedom and free markets work.

Gene Tunny 04:31

You mentioned Leonard Read? Did he write that famous essay, “I, Pencil”?

Larry Reed 04:37

Yes, he did in December of 1958. That has had a remarkable impact on people all over the globe.

Gene Tunny 04:45

Absolutely. I think it shows how complex even products that we think of as simple are and there’s no way any central authority and this is what we discovered with the Eastern European socialist economies with the Soviet Union. You can’t plan this sort of thing. You need to rely on the market mechanism to be able to produce even something that we might think as mundane as a pencil. I’ll put a link in the show notes to that essay because I think it’s brilliant. I think Milton Friedman quotes from it in Free to Choose, if I remember correctly.

Larry Reed 05:23

After someone reads it, they are well-armed to take on a central planner type. Every time I run into somebody that thinks that he knows enough that he can plan an economy of millions of people, I always say, “Wait a minute. You don’t even know how to make a pencil, let alone an entire economy.”

Gene Tunny 05:44

That’s right. You got to think about it. You’ve got to get the timber, you’ve got to cut it, you’ve got to get the graphite, etc., combine them all together. A great essay. Is Hazlitt associated with the foundation? He wrote that book, is it “Economics in One Lesson”? Is that one of the books that you promote?

Larry Reed 06:07

Yes, it is one of the more popular offerings from FEE in the last 70 years. Henry Hazlitt was long associated with FEE. He was one of the charter members of its board of trustees, a good friend of our founder, Leonard Read, and was on the board for decades. I’m happy to say that I knew him personally for the last decade of his life.

Gene Tunny 06:33

That book has had a big impact too. He must have been pleased with how that was received.

Larry Reed 06:40

Yes.

Gene Tunny 06:42

Very good. We might get on to some of the topical issues. The big economic issue at the moment is inflation. We’re seeing accelerating inflation in advanced economies. In a way, this probably should have been expected, given the big expansion in the supply of money that we’ve seen in United States, United Kingdom, Australia, to a lesser extent, but still a substantial increase.

Now, we’re starting to see that in inflation. Some people are saying it’s temporary. There could be some temporary element, there’s a supply-chain disruption. Who knows? My view is that it is something we’ve got to worry about. People are starting to talk about, “What do we do about it?” There’s a monetary policy response. But there are people who are thinking, “Let’s be careful because we don’t want to constrain economic growth and cost jobs. Why don’t we look at price controls?” You’ve written a great article, “Price Controls: Killing the Messenger If You Don’t Like the Message”, could you talk about what you mean by that please?

Larry Reed 07:51

Yes, I’d be happy to. We should think of prices as conveying immense amounts of information. Prices result from the free interplay of supply and demand, which in turn reflect the individual choices, ambitions, opportunities, tastes, and you name it of endless consumers in the marketplace. Prices don’t accidentally arise. The notion that you can fiddle with them by government decree with no consequences is ridiculous. It’s anti-science. It’s anti-economics. Prices are what they are in free markets for good reason because they’re reflecting conditions of supply and demand and people’s preferences and tastes and so forth.

When government comes in and says, “We don’t like prices rising as fast as they are. We’re going to impose controls to prevent that from happening.” First of all, it is treating a symptom of something else, it’s not dealing fundamentally with the issue at hand that produced the rising prices in the first place. It’s a political diversion. It’s politicians, who on the one hand, have got their hand on the printing press cranking out easy money at low interest, easy credit, and pumping up prices. At the other hand, they got a club in their fist and they want to beat people for responding the way you would.

If at any time you massively increase the quantity of something, it will affect the value of every single unit and they’ve been expanding the money supply immensely. If they put on price controls to prevent prices from being at some higher level, all that does by treating a symptom not the cause, is to create economic problems of their own. It creates shortages, for instance, if the market price of something would be $10. But government says, “No, you can’t charge any more than $7.” What happens is at $7, more people want the stuff and fewer suppliers will provide it. That would be the case at $10. You got a double whammy. You got less of the stuff coming on the market and more people wanting it at that artificial price. Bingo! Long lines at stores and shortages. People who propose price controls are ultimately anti-economic science and oblivious to the effects that we have seen historically, literally for centuries with no exception.

Gene Tunny 10:22

One thing about this issue, it seems to be something that the vast majority economists seem to be in agreement on which is good. You quoted in your article, there was an Op-Ed in The Guardian. The title was, “We have a powerful weapon to fight inflation price controls, it’s time we consider it” and Paul Krugman responded, “I am not a free market zealot. But this is truly stupid.” Absolutely. You’ve had experience in the US in living memory of price controls? Was it in the 70s that Nixon’s Whip Inflation Now and then Carter, perhaps with their controls on the price of gasoline that did lead to these big lines at gas stations in the States?

Larry Reed 11:21

The Whip Inflation Now thing actually was Gerald Ford. That was a campaign to get people to wear buttons that said, “whip inflation now” as if that would somehow whip it. Before him, it was Richard Nixon, who actually imposed wage and price controls. First, in the form of a 90-day freeze on virtually all wages and prices and then followed by government directed prices that limited by how much they could rise.

Every economist worth his salt knows that that produced disaster. That was no solution to anything. It gave us long lines at the gas pump and empty shelves in the stores. It was ridiculous. I used to know a man, he’s deceased now, but he was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Paul McCracken, great economist. He cautioned Nixon not to do this. He said it’s never worked in 4000 years, don’t even think of it. Nixon went ahead anyway and shortly thereafter, McCracken resigned.

We’ve had lots of experiences. Lots of countries have had experiences with it. Revolutionary France in the 1790s, the government imposed the so-called Law of the Maximum, which said that government will fix the maximum price of things and the penalty for violating that will be death. They guillotined a lot of people for that and it did not make anybody produce more of anything.

Gene Tunny 12:55

That’s a negative supply shock too, isn’t it? Killing your producers? Terrible. That’s some good stuff there. I take it your view would be that inflation is a monetary phenomenon. Therefore, the key to controlling it is to get your monetary policy, right? This isn’t about monetary policy, but I’m guessing that’s where you’re coming from. There’s a big debate about what that means and role of the Fed, etc. But would that be your view?

Larry Reed 13:33

Inflation, Milton Friedman famously said, “is anywhere and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” I’m sympathetic to that but I also point out that there’s another dimension here. Prices ultimately reflect, to a great extent, what’s going on in people’s minds. There are extraordinary circumstances, but there are occasions when you could have soaring prices without an increase in the money supply. One of the examples I like to point to is the Philippines.

During World War Two, when the Japanese had occupied it, they imposed their currency on the Philippines. General MacArthur was attempting to ultimately take the Philippines and he was jumping from island to island, getting closer and closer. The Japanese weren’t dumping any more of their paper money into the Philippines and yet, prices would leap every time word came that MacArthur was now a few hundred miles closer. That’s because people’s estimate of the value of that money declined because they knew if he gets here and takes the Philippines back, the Japanese currency will be completely worthless. Given that prospect, we’re happy to pay any price to get anything now while it’s worth something. That’s a rare occasion.

We’re not facing that circumstance today. We do have to fall back on the fact that today’s inflation that we’re witnessing is not a Philippine-style rise in prices. It is a monetary phenomenon, reflecting the massive increase in money and credit that our Federal Reserve in the US has manufactured. Many central banks around the Western world have done as well.

Gene Tunny 15:21

That’s a great story about the Philippines. I’ll have to look that up. MacArthur is a great hero to many of us in Australia because there’s a view that he essentially saved Australia. He based himself in Australia after he fled from the Philippines and he had an office a little bit down the road from where I am here in Brisbane in the ANP Building during World War Two. That was one of the locations from which he waged the war in the Pacific. Great story. Very good. That’s a good discussion of price controls, Larry.

I’d also like to ask you; you’ve also written about whether Jesus was a socialist. I’d like to ask you about that. Also, I don’t know if you saw the recent controversy around Dave Ramsey’s comments. Dave Ramsey, the esteemed financial commentator in the US.

Larry Reed 16:21

Yes. Although I may not be aware of recent comments that you’re bringing up.

Gene Tunny 16:26

Essentially, someone asked him a question, “As a Christian, should I feel bad if I raise the rent on my properties to the market rent, and then that means that some of my tenants can’t afford to live in those properties anymore. It causes them financial hardship.” Dave Ramsey’s comments weren’t received by many, particularly on the progressive side of politics because he said, “There’s no problem with doing that because it’s not me that is evicting you. It’s actually the market.” He was appealing to the market. I’d like to ask you about that. If you haven’t seen his comments, and it’s probably worthwhile considering the whole context of them, feel free not to comment on that.

But I would like to ask you about your work on, was Jesus a socialist? Could you take us through what your analysis of that question has revealed, please, Larry?

Larry Reed 17:29

I’d be happy to, Gene. In fact, the best way to begin that is to tell the story from the New Testament that answers your first question. Along the lines of what Dave Ramsey apparently said. Jesus Himself told nearly 40 parables and most of them deal with things like eschatology and salvation and so forth. But at least three of them have very strong economic content.

One of them that’s relevant to what you’ve just raised is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. This is about a man who apparently owns a substantial vineyard and he needs to bring the grapes in, it’s harvest time. Jesus tells a story of how he gets a group of workers together first thing in the morning and he says, “I’ll give you each a denarius for a full day’s work.” They say, “Okay.” They go out and they start picking grapes.

Around noon time, the owner realises, “I’ve got to get even more out there.” He gets another group together, and he says, “Look, I know that the day’s half-gone, but if you’ll go out for the rest of the day and pick grapes, I’ll give you each a denarius.” Finally, at the end of the day, with maybe an hour before a dark and he still has grapes that have to come in, he calls another group of workers and says, “If you’ll take time out, go out for an hour and pick some grapes, I’ll give you a denarius.”

Later, according to the story, the owner gathers all these three groups of workers together to pay them. The first group is very angry, because they’re saying, “We worked a full day and you’re giving us the same as those guys who showed up at the later, even the ones that only worked for an hour.” You would think that if Jesus were a socialist, he would have the vineyard owner saying, “You’re right, this is unfair. I’m sorry about that.” But instead, Jesus has the vineyard owner say to these guys, “It’s my money. You signed the contract. I’m giving you what I promised. Now, take it and get out of here.”

That’s Jesus basically saying, private property, voluntary contract, keeping your word, honest dealings, and I think supply and demand all defend what the vineyard owner is saying. Presumably, he had to pay that last group of workers a hefty premium to get them. They probably worked for somebody else all day and now, they’re being asked to go for yet another hour, he has to pay them a premium to do that to bring the grapes in.

Jesus does not say, “Let’s be compassionate and give this group the same as that group or in proportion to their time.” Instead, he says, “Each man is getting what he was promised when he agreed to by contract.”

I think Dave Ramsey is essentially right. There is no obligation, moral or otherwise, for someone to endure a loss or to get less than he could for property that’s his when market conditions suggests that a higher rent is worth it. It’s the higher rent that will likely bring more housing units into the marketplace, which will solve the problem in the long run anyway.

Gene Tunny 20:47

By inducing more supply, more investment in rental properties. That’s a good point. I’ll put a link to the article on Dave Ramsey. I thought it was a fascinating discussion. Also, I’ll find something to link to that. Was it a parable?

Larry Reed 21:12

The parable of the workers in the vineyard. I discuss that in more detail in my book, “Was Jesus a Socialist?” if anybody cares to look at it from that perspective.

Gene Tunny 21:25

It’s an interesting question. I must say, I’m surprised that it is something that’s up for debate. Is this because a lot of people on the left side of politics have appealed to Christianity as a way to support what policy positions they’re advocating for?

Larry Reed 21:51

I think so. I don’t give the left much credit for their economics, but I do give them credit for their marketing, because they’re always out there saying, “Go with us because our way of thinking will produce more for people. We’re going to take care of people. We’re going to give them stuff. It won’t cost them anything, they won’t have to worry about where it’s coming from.” The rhetoric is always very promising, but the results and the outcomes are pretty dismal and miserable.

A lot of people come to this mistaken conclusion that Jesus may have been a socialist because He talks so much about helping the poor. But I think in capitalist countries, where more wealth is produced, you have more giving and more caring and more philanthropy than you have in socialist countries. In fact, even government-to-government foreign aid is primarily from the predominantly capitalist countries to the predominantly socialist recipients.

If Jesus came back today and spoke to a large audience of people and said, “I was interested in the poor. Tell me what you all did for the poor?” If you raised your hand and said, “I voted for all the politicians who said they’d take care of that.” I don’t think He’d be impressed. I think He would say, “You’ve resorted to theft? I told you not to steal and I told you furthermore that the poor are folks that you, from the generosity of your hearts and your own resources, ought to help. I never told you you could pass it off to politicians. If they solved the problem, it’ll be at 10 times the price.”

Gene Tunny 23:33

Yes, that’s a good point. I’ll have to come back to this in a future episode and looking at what are the best ways to reduce poverty of it if we’ve actually figured that out? Clearly, the welfare state that we’ve got in countries like Australia, the UK, to a lesser extent, the US, you could argue it has relieved some absolute poverty. But at the same time, it does, arguably, traps many people in poverty in a way.

Larry Reed 24:07

To make a long story short, you can’t solve poverty if the pie is shrinking. You have to make a bigger pie and there is no known system in the history of mankind that makes a bigger pie faster than the system of freedom and free markets.

Gene Tunny 24:24

Absolutely. We’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker 24:33

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 www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny 25:03

Now, back to the show. The other things I wanted to chat with you about before we wrap up are some recent articles of yours. There was a piece, “Why I Wish We Could Put Chester Arthur and Joe Biden in a Room Together to Talk Infrastructure Spending”. I’d love to hear about that, particularly about Chester Arthur, because he’s one of the lesser-known US presidents.

Larry Reed 25:34

Yes, he is one of the lesser-known ones. He served less than one full term. He took office as vice president, became president when James Garfield was assassinated in the middle of 1881. He served about three and a half years, the rest of Garfield’s term. He’s often written off as sort of—he was tied to the corrupt Tammany Hall machine in New York and so forth. On the good side, historians will remember that he did support civil service reform and made the federal government a little less corrupt. That was a good thing.

But he also understood the Constitution and appreciated it more than Joe Biden does. I wrote that article pointing out what Arthur’s view on infrastructure spending was compared to Joe Biden’s in America. We recently went through a national discussion, a bill passed, supposedly bipartisan. It was a massive, almost $2 trillion in infrastructure spending.

An equivalent bill was called a Rivers and Harbors Act and Arthur vetoed it. In his veto, he raised some great objections, all of which are applied to the bill that Biden recently signed. He said, “This is way too much. There’s no way that a government of our size can know where all this money’s going to go. It looks like a small portion of it is even earmarked for infrastructure. There’s a lot of pork barrel stuff in here. Quit doing this, loading our bills and all this other nonsense.”

That’s what Joe Biden should have said about the recent infrastructure bill. But he was all for it from the start. I think about 10% was aimed at infrastructure, the rest is pork barrel and progressive agenda stuff. I would like to put Joe Biden and Chester Arthur in the same room and say, “Chester, go at it. Tell this guy what infrastructure is and why it’s wasteful to spend so much on.”

Gene Tunny 27:46

At the same time, would you say that there is an issue with infrastructure in the US with the quality of infrastructure? This is something I’ve chatted with Darren Nelson about in a previous episode and Darren’s view was, “We need to get the private sector more involved in public-private partnerships, perhaps.” Do you have any thoughts on that, Larry? What is the quality of infrastructure like? Is there a problem to solve and how would you go about it?

Larry Reed 28:19

With infrastructure, I think there has always been some measure of problem, because government has assumed from the start that this is a legitimate profits of government. Once you do that, you have to at least expect that they’ll keep it up and do it right and keep an eye it to prepare for when it falls apart. But politicians come and go and they’re more interested in the flash in the pan. They show up to cut the ribbon at the start of a bridge that’s being built. But once it’s built, it’s no longer politically sexy to stand around and keep an eye on it in case it collapses because they figure, “If that happens, it’ll be a long after I’m gone. Why should I care?”

You do end up with politicians putting more focus on the construction of the stuff and less on its repair and maintenance. That’s where you can get a bigger bang for your dollars or if you will, by writing contracts with the private sector that require ongoing maintenance and inspection and so forth. I wouldn’t want the government with its own employees and its own infrastructure monopoly becoming a bridge builder. They don’t know about bridges. That’s best done by the private sector. They should be contracting with private sector providers to do it and monitor the contracts. Put all the provisions in those contracts that would require proper maintenance.

Gene Tunny 29:52

That’s a good point. It’s one of those great challenges, how do you get the infrastructure that you need cost-effectively? In Australia, one of the problems we’ve got, there’s a lot of government investment going into infrastructure at the moment that it seems to be at very inflated prices all over the country. There’s a powerful construction union, which is allied with the government in the state that I am, Queensland, which has ended up inflating the cost of any infrastructure project by 30% or 40%. It’s quite extraordinary and taxpayers end up wearing that.

Larry Reed 30:43

I wouldn’t be surprised if you have some of the same kind of history in Australia, as we do in the US. But there’s a lot of history in America of government spending on infrastructure that produced disaster, because it dangled subsidies in front of private contractors, who then went after the subsidies and cared little about how well the infrastructure itself was actually built. The best example is America’s transcontinental railroads.

There were five of them built across the country. Four of them got extensive federal government land grants and subsidies. Not only land grants, but they got subsidies on a per mile basis. Four of them threw down tracks just to get the goodies. And in fact, the two famous ones that met at Promontory Point, Utah, as they were getting closer, they were crossing over to the other companies’ territory and blowing up the tracks because they wanted to get more subsidies by laying more track down. There was only one transcontinental that got no government subsidies. That was James J. Hill’s’ Great Northern. It was not by coincidence the only transcontinental that never went bankrupt because they had to put down tracks when it made economic sense, not because the government was throwing money at them,

Gene Tunny 32:06

Another good example I’ll have to investigate. This is the last question; I’d like to ask about some of your other writings and it looks like you have been prolific or regular traveller. Obviously, COVID cut back on all of our travels, but you’ve written some great pieces. You’ve made observations on what we can learn from other countries around the world and in some places that you generally don’t hear about. One of your articles is, “The World’s Oldest Republic Reveals the Secret to Peace and Prosperity”.

Larry Reed 32:46

Yes.

Gene Tunny 32:48

You’ve also drawn lessons from economic history in Italy. I think it was in Italy, your article, “Why the Separation of Bank and State is Important”. Would you be able to explain what is that secret to peace and prosperity? How that’s revealed by the world’s oldest republic and also the point about the separation of bank and state, please.

Larry Reed 33:13

Both of these articles, you can at FEE.org and you can find them also on where I blog on lawrencewreed.com. With regard to the oldest constitutional republic, we published that last Sunday, it’s about the tiny country of San Marino. It’s the fifth smallest country in the world. It’s entirely enveloped by Italy. It’s in the northeast of the Italian peninsula. Right in its middle is this big rock called Mount Titan.

It’s the oldest Republic in the world, dating back to the early fourth century when that chunk of territory was gifted from its private owner, a woman in Rimini, now part of Italy. She gifted it to a Christian stonemason who had fled there to avoid the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. She said, “You can have this property.” He, in effect, declared the first, and now the oldest constitutional republic.

Only twice in its history has it been invaded. In both cases, within a matter of months, the pope ordered the invaders out, lest they be attacked by papal forces. They maintained their independence all these years. They have a GDP per capita that’s a shade below that of the United States. The secret is that they have kept themselves economically free.

Freedom House is non-profit that rates countries as to their degree of economic freedom and they rate San Marino as the 12th freest country in the world. Its capital gains tax is only 5%, which is a third of what ours is in the US. It’s much lower than it is in the European community. A great little success story in that quiet little enclave in the Apennine Mountains.

The other example or article that you’re referring to comes from Genoa, on the other side of northwest Italy. Genoa was, for hundreds of years, an Italian city state, much as Pisa and Venice and Gaeta and some others were. The secret to its success, more than any other single entity, was a private bank that was so private, it was in effect, a country within a country. It was called the Bank of St. George.

When it was chartered in 1407, the separation between the bank and the government of Genoa was as complete as it could get. It basically said, “We’re not paying any attention to you and you don’t have to pay any attention to us but you need us.” Because the bank consistently bailed out the state when it got in trouble. But the bank was very firmly on a gold standard, it had a policy of not issuing any paper for which you did not have gold coin on deposit. It was reliable, it was honest, and for hundreds of years, until Napoleon invaded and shut the bank down, it was a rock of stability and a big reason that Genoa became a maritime trading giant in the Mediterranean.

Gene Tunny 36:37

This wasn’t something positive Napoleon brought then. That’s interesting, I have to read more about it. How does it illustrate that the separation of bank and state is important? How does it illustrate that?

Larry Reed 36:52

The Bank of St. George exerted an anti-inflationary pressure on the government of Genoa. Governments love to inflate, and the moment they get in charge of banking, that’s what they do. They print the stuff and makes it easier for them to pay their bills and to run deficits and so forth. The Bank of St. George did not abide by that. They wouldn’t have recognised any coin or paper from the city of Genoa if it hadn’t been sound. Their example spoke volumes to the people of Genoa and across Europe. Here’s a bank that’s in great shape. It has to bail out the government of the region every now and then because they’re profligate, but the bank is not.

I think the separation of bank and state is an issue I wish we spent a lot more time on these days. We’ve assumed that government should be orchestrating the banking system, but the history of government and banking is not a positive one. They take over banking whenever they can because it’s their avenue to depreciating and debauching currency.

Gene Tunny 38:06

I think it’s a big concern when governments set up these banks or shadow banks to promote particular policy objectives. I remember, back in the late 2000s, there was a lot of talk about an infrastructure bank that was something the Obama administration was looking at but didn’t go through with. There were similar moves here in Australia that didn’t amount to anything because it reminded people of what happened in the 80s with the state banks of South Australia and Victoria, the Tricontinental merchant banking arm and they got heavily involved in speculative property development, if I remember correctly, and ended up going bust and costing taxpayers billions of dollars. People still remember that. There’s a risk if governments get involved in banking and financial shenanigans.

Larry Reed 39:06

Too often anyway, we judge government by the stated intentions rather than by actual outcomes and results. If a government came to me and said, “What do you think about us getting into the banking business?” I would probably say to them, “Aren’t you in the post office business already? Aren’t people complaining about that? Why don’t you get that right before you go into banking?” In US, everybody complains about the post office. What makes you think the same entity can manage a nation’s banking system?

Gene Tunny 39:38

Exactly, very good. Larry, any final words? Anything you think we should be thinking about or looking out for?

Larry Reed 39:48

I would say this thing that people everywhere should be thinking more than they are about the importance of individual liberty. We take it for granted in places where we’ve had a lot of it. But there’s nothing about it that’s either automatic or guaranteed, and it can disappear with bad ideas almost overnight. And yet, life without liberty, in my estimation, is unthinkable. We better think about it. I can’t imagine a life in which you aren’t living yours. You’re not making your choices, somebody else is imposing their choices on you. They’re living their lives through you.

I can’t imagine living in that environment as they, to a great extent, do in places like North Korea or Cuba. Liberty is precious, it’s rare in history. It’s never guaranteed and it deserves the conscious deliberation, and sometimes sacrifice of everyone wants to be a free person.

Gene Tunny 40:50

Absolutely. It just occurred to me, we probably should have touched on the pandemic. Feel free to respond to this if you like. Otherwise, we can wrap up. In Australia, we’ve had quite severe restrictions relating to COVID at times and they’ve raised eyebrows around the world. People have thought, “What’s going on there in Australia?” But what a lot of people in Australia say is that’s necessary for the public good.

You may bang on about civil liberties and I have, at times, think some of these restrictions have been excessive. But you get a lot of pushback and people say, “You think you’ve got the rights to do that but you don’t have the right to spread a deadly virus and spread the disease.” That’s how they push back. I agree, I think we’ve lost the original commitment, a strong love of liberty that we’ve had. I think we’ve lost that. People are terrified of this virus and they push back with that line, “You don’t have the right to spread the virus.” I don’t know how to win those arguments, to be honest.

Larry Reed 42:12

There’s something to be said for this and that is that this circumstance was unprecedented and it’s not over yet. That the jury may not yet be completely in with all irrelevant verdicts. I have a sense though, that the more we learn, the more of this we go through, the more experience we have with it, the more we’re likely to look back and say, “Those lockdowns were counterproductive. The mask mandates went on far longer than they should have, if they ever should have been in existence in the first place.” I think a lot of the tools that government employed will come under more scrutiny and questions.

If you’re a cheerleader for them now, I would say, “Why don’t you hold off because you may be embarrassed in the not-too-distant future?” But what concerns me the most is that all of this totalitarian impulse sets dangerous precedents because people who love power, who want it to be concentrated in government and think that the right people will do the right things, they don’t stop with the power that they get. They usually say, “It’s necessary now, I’ll hold on to it.”

In the long run, if we allow this COVID experience to set the new norm for government intervention, radical intervention in our lives across a broad front, we may look back and say, “We would have been a lot better off if we simply endured COVID.” Because one of the worst things that people can do is to consign their lives to politicians. There are a lot of things they end up regretting whenever they do that.

Gene Tunny 43:51

I think that’s a good point, Larry. We might end there. Thanks so much for your time. I enjoyed that conversation. Some great points and excellent historical examples that I’m going to have to look up and add to my arsenal of historical examples that I can bring up. Very good. Lawrence W. Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. Really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you so much.

Larry Reed 44:20

My pleasure. Thank you, Gene.

Gene Tunny 44:22

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 economicsexplored.com and we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Until next week, goodbye.

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

Categories
Podcast episode

Price controls to fight inflation a bad idea + infrastructure lessons from POTUS 21 – EP125

Price controls are being suggested by some commentators as a way to fight inflation. But price controls would be a really bad idea, as Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), explains in Economics Explored EP125. Larry also chats with show host Gene Tunny about whether Jesus was a socialist, why banks and the state should be kept separate, and why President Biden would benefit from lessons on infrastructure from the 21st President Chester A. Arthur. You can listen via podcast apps including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher or via the player below.

Here’s a video clip of Larry discussing the Parable of Vineyard Workers and whether Jesus was a socialist:

About this episode’s guest – Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became President of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s. He previously served for 21 years as President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan (1987-2008). He also taught economics full-time from 1977 to 1984 at Northwood University in Michigan and chaired its department of economics from 1982 to 1984.

In May 2019, he retired to the role of President Emeritus at FEE and assumed the titles of Humphreys Family Senior Fellow, and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. 

He holds a B.A. in economics from Grove City College (1975) and an M.A. degree in history from Slippery Rock State University (1978), both in Pennsylvania. He holds two honorary doctorates, one from Central Michigan University (public administration, 1993) and Northwood University (laws, 2008).

Reed has authored nearly 2,000 columns and articles in newspapers, magazines and journals in the United States and abroad. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Examiner, Christian Science Monitor, Intellectual Takeout, USA Today, Baltimore Sun, The Epoch Times, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, among many others. He has authored or coauthored eight books, the most recent being  Was Jesus a Socialist? (a major expansion in 2020 of an earlier essay) and Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.  Additionally, he co-authored and edited five e-Books. See the “Books” section of this web site for more info. He is frequently interviewed on radio talk shows and has appeared as a guest on numerous television programs.

Larry’s article “Price controls: killing the messenger”:

Larry’s article “Why I wish we could put Chester Arthur and Joe Biden in a room together to talk infrastructure spending”:

https://fee.org/articles/why-i-wish-we-could-put-chester-arthur-and-joe-biden-in-a-room-together-to-talk-infrastructure-spending/

Larry’s article “The World’s Oldest Republic Reveals the Secret to Peace and Prosperity”:

https://fee.org/articles/the-world-s-oldest-republic-reveals-the-secret-to-peace-and-prosperity/

Larry’s article “Why the Separation of Bank and State Is so Important”:

https://fee.org/articles/why-the-separation-of-bank-and-state-is-so-important/

Leonard E. Read’s article “I, Pencil”:

https://fee.org/resources/i-pencil/

Article on “Is It Wrong for Christians to Raise Rent on Tenants? Dave Ramsey Sparks Controversy With His Answer”:

The parable of the vineyard workers:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zd76rj6/revision/5

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

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

Categories
Podcast episode

Dan Mitchell on the global tax cartel and California’s economic suicide – EP122

136 countries have agreed to implement a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15%. Renowned US public policy economist Dr Dan Mitchell explains why he thinks this “global tax cartel” is bad news. In episode 122 of Economics Explored, Dan also explains to show host Gene Tunny how California is committing “economic suicide”, and why entrepreneurs are moving to Texas, Nevada, and Florida, among other low tax states. 

Here’s a clip from the conversation that Dan has shared on YouTube:

About this episode’s guest – Dr Dan Mitchell

Dan Mitchell is Chairman of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a pro-market public policy organization he founded in 2000. His major research interests include tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. Having also worked at the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute, he has decades of experience writing editorials, working with the public policy community, and presenting the free-market viewpoint to media sources. He holds a PhD in economics from George Mason University.

Relevant posts on Dan’s International Liberty blog:

Other relevant material:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/11/global-minimum-tax-rate-deal-signed-countries/

https://ministers.treasury.gov.au/ministers/josh-frydenberg-2018/media-releases/g20-endorses-global-minimum-tax-rate

https://www.reuters.com/business/ireland-backs-global-tax-deal-gives-up-prized-125-rate-2021-10-07/

Information on incidence of corporate taxation 

In his textbook Public Finance and Public Policy (6th edition, p. 748), MIT’s Jonathan Gruber wrote:

Suarez Serrato and Zidar (2016) estimate that 35% of corporate taxes are shifted to wages, 25% is shifted to land owners (through general equilibrium effects), and 40% is borne by corporate owners. 

The study Gruber cites was published in vol 106, no. 9 of the American Economic Review:

Who Benefits from State Corporate Tax Cuts? A Local Labor Markets Approach with Heterogeneous Firms

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

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

Categories
Podcast episode

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

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

About this episode’s guest – Senator Matt Canavan

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

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

Links relevant to the conversation

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

Global Coal Plant Tracker

EP110 – COP26 Dissenting Voices Part 1 – Dr Alan Moran

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

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

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

Categories
Podcast episode

EP110 – COP26 Dissenting Voices Part 1: Dr Alan Moran

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

About this episode’s guest – Dr Alan Moran

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

Links relevant to the conversation

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

Australia’s Obscene Green Subsidy Machine – Quadrant Online

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

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

Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET)

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

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

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