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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/

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

About this episode’s guests

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

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

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

Summers stumbles – John Quiggin

Woke Capitalism Is a Monopoly Game | Mises Wire

Joe Biden appears to insult Fox News reporter over inflation question

The implications of removing refundable franking credits – Grattan Institute

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

Charts

US CPI inflation rate, through-the-year

US Producer Prices inflation rate, through-the-year

US inflation expectations – University of Michigan estimates

Clarifications

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

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

Abbreviations

CPI Consumer Price Index

PPI Producer Price Index

Credits

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Podcast episode

EP119: What Tony Makin taught us about macroeconomics

The late Professor Tony Makin was a leading Australian economist who made major contributions to the economic policy debate in Australia on the balance of payments and the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus, of which Tony was highly sceptical. In Economics Explored EP119, Former Ambassador to the OECD for Australia Dr Alex Robson, now an Associate Partner at EY, reflects on Tony’s contributions to open economy macroeconomics and the policy debate.  

About this episode’s guest – Dr Alex Robson

Dr Alex Robson is Associate Partner at EY. He has previously been Professor of Economics at Griffith University, Australian Ambassador to the OECD, Chief Economist for the Australian Prime Minister, a lecturer at ANU, and Director at Deloitte Access Economics. He is the author of Law and Markets, and has consulted to ASX 200 companies, Australian and NZ Government Departments and the OECD. Alex has a PhD and Masters in Economics from University of California, Irvine, USA.

Celebrating the Life of Anthony John Makin

Gene’s Economics Explored conversation with Tony: A Fiscal Vaccine for COVID-19 with Tony Makin – new podcast episode

Tony’s critique of the 2008-09 Australian Government fiscal stimulus: Did Australia’s Fiscal Stimulus Counter Recession?: Evidence from the National Accounts

Tony’s paper for the Minerals Council of Australia which prompted a critical response from the Australian Treasury: Australia’s Competitiveness: Reversing the Slide

Australian Treasury’s 2014 Response to Professor Tony Makin’s Minerals Council of Australia Monograph – ‘Australia’s Competitiveness: Reversing the Slide’

Tony’s 2016 paper prepared for the Treasury reiterating the arguments he previously made about the ineffectiveness of fiscal stimulus: The Effectiveness of Federal Fiscal Policy: A Review 

Alex’s papers with Tony (NB full articles behind paywalls): Missing money found causing Australia’s inflation, The Welfare Costs of Capital Immobility and Capital Controls 

Gene’s paper with Tony: The MMT Hoax

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.

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Economics Explored Live

US inflation and Aussie jobs data – 15 October 21 livestream

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other links relevant to the livestream include:

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

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

Vaccination numbers and statistics

ABS: New data shows lockdown impacts on business turnover

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

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Podcast episode

EP97 – BS jobs critique + CBDC thoughts from Dr Nicholas Gruen

David Graeber’s BS jobs thesis (previously covered in EP95) lacks microeconomic foundations, according to Dr Nicholas Gruen. In EP97, Economics Explored host Gene Tunny speaks with Nicholas about BS jobs and also about Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). Nicholas is a big believer in the potential of CBDC, which he has written about in the Financial Times.

About Dr Nicholas Gruen

Dr Nicholas Gruen is a policy economist, entrepreneur and commentator on our economy, society and innovation. He is CEO of Lateral Economics, Visiting Professor at Kings College London Policy Institute and Adjunct Professor at UTS Business School.

He was a Chairman of the Open Knowledge Foundation (Australia) (ending 2020), Chairman of international aged care management software provider Health Metrics (ending 2019), Council Member of the National Library of Australia (ending 2016), chaired the Federal Government’s Innovation Australia (ending 2014) and chaired the Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) (ending 2016). He was the founding chair of Kaggle which was sold to Google and is an investor in numerous other Australian and international start-ups. He was also founding chair of HealthKit (now Halaxy). He has advised Cabinet Ministers, sat on Australia’s Productivity Commission and founded Lateral Economics and Peach Financial in 2000.

Links relevant to the conversation

Re. BS jobs:

https://queenslandeconomywatch.com/2021/07/10/people-escaping-bs-jobs-covered-in-my-latest-podcast-episode-and-going-into-business-for-themselves/#comments

https://www.griffithreview.com/articles/trust-competition-delusion-gruen/

Re: CBDCs:

https://clubtroppo.com.au/2021/05/19/central-banks-get-serious-on-digital-currencies-2/

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/central-bank-digital-currency-cbdc.asp

https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/quarterly-bulletin/2014/q1/money-creation-in-the-modern-economy

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

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Podcast episode

EP68 – COVID and Wartime: Comparison of economic impacts

Economics Explored episode 68 COVID and Wartime features a conversation on whether COVID can be compared to wartime, which considers the different scales and scopes of the shocks, and what it all means for prospects for economic recovery. Economics Explored host Gene Tunny, an Australian professional economist and former Treasury official, speaks with businessman Tim Hughes, also based in Brisbane, Australia.

Gene and Tim conclude that a comparison of COVID to wartime isn’t valid. One reason is that World War II required a complete reorganisation of the economy to maximise production for the war effort, while COVID has involved restrictions that have reduced economic activity. 

Links relevant to the conversation include:

Comparing COVID-19 to past world war efforts is premature — and presumptuous

US Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder on The National Debt Dilemma

Brookings on What’s the Fed doing in response to the COVID-19 crisis? What more could it do?

Australia’s Boldest Experiment (excellent book on Australia’s wartime economy)

Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth (outstanding book by a leading US economist containing a great discussion of America’s wartime economy)

Aussies over-confident after being over-compensated by Gov’t for COVID-recession

Mint security lapse amazes judge (story about theft from the Australian Mint in early-to-mid 2000s)

Finally, the word Gene got stuck on at 6:55, irredentist, means, “a person advocating the restoration to their country of any territory formerly belonging to it”, according to Oxford Languages.

If you’d like to ask a question for Gene to answer in a future episode or if you’d like to make a comment or suggestion, please get in touch via the website. Thanks for listening.

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Podcast episode

EP66 – Money and Cryptocurrency

When I recorded the latest episode of my Economics Explored podcast last Friday afternoon, the price of one Bitcoin was a bit above US$18,000 after having failed to get beyond US$20,000 in the previous weeks. In my chat with my friend Tim Hughes, I said who knew what it would end up at when the episode was finally released. Well, it turns out that the price of one Bitcoin has finally gone beyond US$20,000 (check out this Coindesk report).

The US$20,000 Bitcoin price is the latest illustration of the Greater Fool Theory. If you’re buying Bitcoin at this price you’re speculating/gambling you’ll find a greater fool who’ll buy it at a higher price. Coindesk suggests there could be a lot of greater fools out there:

Breaking above $20,000, which represented a significant hurdle in the mindset of most traders, is entirely new ground for bitcoin and opens the doors for a climb to $100,000 over the course of 2021, according to some.

As I discussed with Tim, and in my Queensland Economy Watch post from Saturday, Huge swings in Bitcoin value make it hard to believe it will ever replace traditional currencies, I’m very sceptical about the value of Bitcoin. But, hey, it’s 2020, and Bitcoin’s insane valuation is just another marker of this extraordinary year.

Please feel free to comment below. Alternatively, please send and comments, suggestions, or questions to contact@economicsexplored.com