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Podcast episode

China’s falling population & global population update   – EP174

The world’s population keeps growing and passed 8 billion in late 2022, but China’s population is now falling. There are concerns over what that means for its economy and the wider global economy. Is Paul Krugman right that a falling population means a weak Chinese economy? Show host Gene Tunny and his colleague Tim Hughes discuss the possible implications of a shrinking China, as well as global population projections out to 2100. The conversation touches on the environmental impact of a growing population and how well-placed we are to manage environmental challenges.    

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What’s covered in EP174

  • The world’s population is on the rise and passed 8 billion in November 2022 [4:24]
  • Why post-war population growth was so strong [7:43]
  • What does a declining Chinese population mean for the Chinese and global economies? [14:09]
  • The importance of immigration in Australia population growth [19:27]
  • How the world’s population will eventually level out toward the end of the century [23:35]
  • Can governments solve environmental challenges? Discussion of the hole in the ozone layer and the Montreal Protocol [30:09]
  • Paul Krugman vs Dean Baker on the future of China [42:07]
  • Tim asks how do you maintain a growth mindset in a declining population? How do you make it work? [47:25
  • Will demographics and a weaker economy bring down the Chinese administration? [53:06

Links relevant to the conversation

UN World Population Prospects 2022 data

https://population.un.org/wpp/

Paul Krugman’s article “The problem(s) with China’s population drop”

https://themarketherald.com.au/the-problems-with-chinas-population-drop-2023-01-19/

Dean Baker’s article “Paul Krugman, China’s Demographic Crisis, and the Which Way Is Up Problem in Economics”

https://cepr.net/paul-krugman-chinas-demographic-crisis-and-the-which-way-is-up-problem-in-economics/

China’s old-age dependency ratio

https://population.un.org/wpp/Graphs/Probabilistic/Ratios/OADR/65plus/15-64/156

Stanford Business School article “Baby Bust: Could Population Decline Spell the End of Economic Growth?” discussing Charles I Jones views on the link between population, innovation, and economic growth

https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/baby-bust-could-population-decline-spell-end-economic-growth

Transcript: China’s falling population & global population update   – EP174

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  00:07

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host, Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show. This episode, I discuss China’s falling population and other global population issues with my good friend, Tim Hughes, who helps me out in my business Adapt Economics from time to time. Tim is not an economist, but I always enjoy chatting with him and hearing his views. And I think he asked very good questions, please check out the show notes, relevant links and for some clarifications, for instance, I need to clarify that the fertility rate for Hispanic women in the US has fallen over the last decade, and is now lower than what I remember it being although it’s still higher than for non-Hispanic women. The general point I make about Hispanic fertility contributing to a higher than otherwise, total fertility rate for the US is correct. I think about doing a deeper dive on fertility rates and other demographic issues in a future episode. Please stick around to the end of my conversation with Tim for an afterword from me. Okay, let’s get into it. I hope you enjoy the show. Tim, he is good to have you back on the show in 2023. Good to be back gene. Yes, Tim. Lots to chat about this year for sure. And today, I thought we could talk about one of the big bits of news that’s already come out this year is the news about how China has had a falling population. The population started to fall for the first time. So that was over last year. Did you see that news?

Tim Hughes  02:01

I do. Yeah. And it’s sort of in line with previous conversations we’ve had about world population and declining growth in a lot of countries. But that’s been mainly in the Western countries. So I think it’s the first time we’ve seen this in China.

Gene Tunny  02:15

Yeah, and this is one of the big concerns for China that China could get old before it gets rich. So it’s got an ageing population. And now it’s got a falling population. And there’s concerns about what that means for its economy, its economic dynamism, its ability to look after the elderly people. So that’s one of the concerns, you know, there’s concerns over the dependency ratio and the number of people of working age to support those.

Tim Hughes  02:46

So that’s the same principles. Because I know we’ve talked about a lot of the Western countries have declining, population rates are declining growth rates. So there’ll be the same challenges that those countries face as well, then yeah.

Gene Tunny  03:01

To an extent, it’s much worse in China than in many Western countries, because China really shot itself in the foot, really, if you think about it with that one child policy. And it seemed like a good idea at the time, because at the time, we’re concerned about, well, how do we feed a billion people or so. And so there was a government policy, instituted late 70s, early 80s, that each family can only have one child. And that seemed like a good idea at the time, to help improve living standards, and help feed the population. But what it’s meant 40 years later, is that they’ve now got a declining population. And while they’ve relaxed that one child policy, what they’re finding is that Chinese couples, they’re quite happy with one child, because you know, that’s been the norm for four decades or so.

Tim Hughes  03:56

Yeah, because that was in place until 2016, I saw,

Gene Tunny  03:59

Yeah, around then I think. Yeah.

Tim Hughes  04:03

So I mean, it’s pretty radical, because I guess China is one of the few countries that could implement that – that kind of law. I can’t imagine many countries being able to do that. So it’s interesting seeing it pan out, because it’s interesting that Western countries have a declining growth rate anyway. So without that being put in place.

Gene Tunny  04:24

Yeah. And one of the other big challenges for China, which is less of a challenge for Australia, and for the US, for example. Immigration is a that helps us alleviate some of the challenges from an ageing population, not completely. We’ve got a really strong immigration programme here in Australia, the US gets a lot of immigrants from all around the world. And also because the US has got the benefit of having a large Hispanic population and the fertility rate among Hispanics. So people from Mexico or from South America or wherever Puerto Rico, it’s, I don’t know, it’s over 2.1 For sure, which is the replacement rate. And so what that means is that the US, their fertility rate is not as low as in other other economies. And so they’ve there not the pressure doesn’t come a lot from that source. I mean, in Australia, we’ll end up having that that natural increase turned to a natural decrease eventually. And then we will have to start relying on immigration for additional people at the moment, we’ve still got some natural increase, because we’ve got, because the baby boomer cohort was so big, and then their children, there was plenty of them. And so there are still more people being born in Australia than dying. You get a problem if you don’t have people being born and you got everyone die in, that’s when you know, you don’t have immigration. And that’s what’s happening with China.

Tim Hughes  05:56

immigration has been a big part of national growth for so many countries for since forever. Like, that’s always been the case. And so certainly, places like Australia has count on that massively. Zooming out to a macro level. We’ve been talking about the cause, I remember we had this conversation years ago, and I was open-minded at the time but I was wondering, like, what happens, you know, if world population gets out of control? And you mentioned at the time that the thinking was it was going to level off around 2050 at around 10 billion? I think that might have been raised?

Gene Tunny  06:33

Yeah, it’s been revised. So if we look, we might go to the World Population Prospects. So I’ll put a link in the show notes to this. This is the really authoritative set of projections from the UN. And I mean, they’re really good. They essentially, they were forecasting that China’s population would start declining around now. Yeah. And, you know, India’s, the mean, India’s population is going to overtake China pretty soon, if it hasn’t already overtaken China’s population that we chat about that a bit later. There are some good references I found on that. They’re on the 8 billion mark now. Yeah, I think we crossed 8 billion last year. If you look at the world population, Prospects report, they’re released last year. So the world’s population is projected to reach 8 billion on 15 November 2022. Can you remember what you’re doing that day, Tim?

Tim Hughes  07:24

No,

Gene Tunny  07:25

No. But that was back to the momentous day for the world. So you know, 8 billion amazing. I don’t know what it was, when I was born, it might have been in the 70s. It might have been put it in the shownotes. But I remember when I was at school, it was 5 billion or so

Tim Hughes  07:43

This is a thing that I saw, I remember at the time when we first had this conversation, because the rate of the doubling of the world’s population was so fast. I mean, the turn of the century around the First World War turn of the previous century, is around the 2 billion mark, I believe. And so to get where we are now is like a billion. I mean, that’s a huge growth. And this is the history of the universe, for instance, like for our species on this planet, any planet, you know, to be this money. So it’s a really, it’s a really fast growth.

Gene Tunny  08:19

So why that occurred? It’s because of improvements in agriculture is because of the fertiliser, the ability that’s that process the was invented by those German chemists.

Tim Hughes  08:33

Those German chemists, yes.

Gene Tunny  08:34

I’m not going to pronounce it. I’ll mispronounce it for sure. But there’s a there was a process that to artificially or create ammonium, I think for fertiliser, if I remember correctly, so there’s a something like that there’s a there’s a chemical process that was perfected in the early 20th century by some German chemists. And that meant that we were able to produce, you know, fertiliser artificially, and then that meant that our agriculture could be much more productive. And all of these, you know, we could support much larger populations in India and Bangladesh, and all over Asia, in Africa. So that’s a big part of it. And the other part of it, of course, is just improvements in public health and understanding of germs and bacteria and viruses and all of that eradication of smallpox, all sorts of things that have that mean that billions of people who wouldn’t have been born or wouldn’t have survived beyond infancy, are able to survive and now we’ve got 8 billion people. It’s just incredible. When you think about it.

Tim Hughes  09:42

Infant mortality at that time was terrible, like, it was very common for families to have any number of kids who didn’t make it through to adulthood. And that has definitely improved.

Gene Tunny  09:58

Well, just got any I mean, you got any cemetery and yeah, any older cemetery and you just see all the graves and memorials to infants. It’s incredible, isn’t it?

Tim Hughes  10:08

But go back to the conversation that started this? Well, certainly, as far as I was aware, because so I was of the mind, like, you know, what happens if we just get more and more and more, there’s a massive problem, and it just gets out of control. But you mentioned that this was actually foreseen that there will be a levelling off. So this extreme growth that we’ve seen from so taking that 2 billion mark around the 1900 mark, 2 billion to where we are now 8 billion. I mean, if, you know, I’m thinking, Well, what happens at the point where we can’t sustain any more people, but it was foreseen that we would have this levelling off around 2050. And then 2100, not much growth between 2050 and 2100. Is that still the case?

Gene Tunny  10:49

Yeah, yeah. So if I’m looking, I’m looking at the UN, the world population projections that were put out last year, the latest projections by the United Nations, suggests that the global population could grow to around eight and a half billion in 2039. 9.7 billion in 2050. And 10.4 billion in 2100.

Tim Hughes  11:12

So that’s a real that’s slowing down a hell of a lot from where we are now.

Gene Tunny  11:15

Yeah, yeah. And that’s because of that demographic transition they talk about. So I think we talked about that last time. How as economies get wealthier, as people get wealthier, public health improves, then they have fewer children.

Tim Hughes  11:30

That’s interesting to me, because you would think it’d be quite logical to think it would go the other way, that people would have more children under those circumstances. But there’s actually fewer.

Gene Tunny  11:39

Yeah, yeah because in poorer economies in poorer countries, children are in insurance policy. And they help look after their parents in old age. Yeah, So that’s, that’s how it works.

Tim Hughes  11:52

 I’m thinking that my kids, I might have to mention that to them.

Gene Tunny  11:58

Yeah, so that’s why. And historically, yet, so you’d have that have more children, of course, birth controls, and other another thing, too, right. So birth controls part of the story. But I think largely, it’s, it’s due to the fact that if you’re in a more if you’re in a poorer economy, then it’s probably more likely to be agrarian, or you have lots of people on the farm. And you know, having children’s that’s, that’s your workforce. Right. Okay. Yeah. So, I mean, that sounds harsh, but that’s what it is, right. So that’s  your workforce, it’s to help you out in the home, and it’s to look after you when you’re old. And so that’s why in poor economies, they have more children, and there tends to be this demographic transition, that’s well observed that countries really have this sharp or this big drop in fertility, as they get wealthier.

Tim Hughes  12:53

It’s a really interesting, I mean, I think it’s a good thing, like, you’d have to say, you know, I mean, I was, I was pleased and relieved, to see that that was going to level off, you know, because it’s obviously, you know, if we think of like, a parasitic kind of relationship, you know, and the planet, if we’re a parasite on this earth, and just gonna get too many of us, and potentially, like, trash it, which is still possible with 10 billion people. But it looks like everything’s turning around there to make better choices towards the future generations. So hopefully, that works out. But if the population was going to keep growing, that was certainly going to be a bigger issue. But hopefully, that will make it easier for us to manage the planet and our lives on it in some more sustainable way, you know, that we can sort of level out and do something. And I know, this then brought us to another question of, you know, sustainable growth being constant. Always more, always more. What would that sustainable contraction look like? Or D growth or flexible growth, that we’ve got a few different terms for it that we’ve come with for it. But it’s an interesting sort of concept of like, well, you know, not everything is going to grow, grow, grow. So how do we sort of like, manage that levelling out, you know, as humans on this planet?

Gene Tunny  14:09

Yeah. Well, this is one of the big questions about the Chinese economy and what that means for the global economy. Paul Krugman wrote a really provocative, I mean, really well written piece in The New York Times following that news, or might have been earlier actually a better check when he released it. We might cover that in a moment because there is a question about what a declining population in China or Japan what that means for the dynamism of the economy and your ability to keep everyone employed. So we might talk about that. Just wonder if we need to go back over those world population implication?

Tim Hughes  14:47

Yes. Because that’s in China, for instance. That’s what implications already hasn’t it with what’s going on there. So there’s a lot to unpack just with China, let alone the rest of the world.

Gene Tunny  15:00

Yeah, so these are the big takeaways from this World Population Prospects report. So population growth is caused in part by declining levels of mortality as reflected in increased levels of life expectancy at birth. So globally, life expectancy reached 72.8 years in 2019. So that 72.8 years, that’s a globally that’s not that’s across the whole world, right, not just in the wealthy countries an increase of almost nine years since 1990. So that’s a huge achievement. The other thing I think’s really interesting, in this UN report, this is this demographic transition we were talking about. In 2021, the average fertility of the world’s population stood at 2.3 births per woman over a lifetime. So that’s above the replacement rate of 2.1. Because you need that extra point one to account for the fact that some children won’t make it out of childhood. So that’s 2.3 births per woman over a lifetime having for having fallen from about five births per woman in 1950. Wow, that’s extraordinary, isn’t it? Global fertility is projected to decline further to 2.1 births per woman by 2050.

Tim Hughes  16:14

So was the baby boom, in 1950, yeah?

Gene Tunny  16:18

Yeah, I mean, a lot of that’s going to be in the reason, it was five births per woman. A lot of those births would be occurring in the developing economies in the emerging economies in India and China, because I think China had a big baby boom. And in Australian trying to remember what our fertility rate got up to, I think it peaked in the early 60s, because I remember looking at the data, because we will look when we were working on the intergenerational report in treasury, we were all over this data, I think, maybe got to three or three, between three and four. In Australia, which was pretty high for Australia. Now it’s under two. So it’s below replacement, if I remember correctly.

Tim Hughes  17:01

That reminds me because wasn’t it Peter Costello, who said, have one for each other and one for the country? Yes. So that was the opposite of what China were doing. So Australia was like popping out? Well.

Gene Tunny  17:11

Because we were determined that we need people. Yeah, so it’s interesting. So historically, we wanted to grow Australia’s population for defence reasons. I think Arthur Cornwall who was a minister under Chifley I think that was his he wanted and that’s why he encouraged migration. Isn’t that how you got over here?

Tim Hughes  17:33

Do not tell the authorities, will you. No, my mom’s Australian. So that is my connection.

Gene Tunny  17:42

Oh, that is right, I am just kidding. We encourage, we encourage migration after the war to try to build up the population, I guess, because we thought there’s a limit to how many you know how many how fast you can grow the population just relying on the fertility of, of the population.

Tim Hughes  17:59

I know there was a big like that there’s been a constant source of people from the UK anyway, like, the Ten Pound Poms and all of those guys who came over.

Gene Tunny  18:08

BJs. Yeah. And it’s so I guess we were relying on immigration quite a bit. And even with immigration, we will still have facing this ageing population challenge. And then Treasury crunched the numbers, and it looked like, Okay, this is going to be bad and 30 or 40 years time, because there are going to be fewer people of working age supporting the people of the elderly people also children in the dependency, like, I can’t recall the figures off the top my head, but you’d often see figures, which would suggest that whereas once there were five working people, for every dependents by, some data, there’d be two and a half or whatever, they’d be those sorts of scary statistics, and the budget deficit would end up being 5% of GDP if we didn’t correct this. And so then they the government of the day developed a strategy to try to boost population, or boost the fertility rate and the baby bonus and there’s a huge debate over whether it was effective, whether it was whether it made sense to spend that money, because a lot of people just got the whatever it was $5,000 baby bonus and went out and bought a plasma TV.

Tim Hughes  19:27

We had a baby at least one baby in that time, maybe two, we had three altogether, but I think two of them had a baby bonus. Yeah. So we’re very happy with that.

Gene Tunny  19:37

Yeah. Totally, but the fertility rate did increase over that period. And which, which meant that there was all this talk about Well, Peter Costello’s being the only minister in the Western world, has ever managed to increase the fertility rate or something like that. So we got a lot of praise over that. And there’s that famous photo of him with all the babies surrounding him. Yeah, so I guess we work tried to address our concerns about ageing about declining population, well, we don’t I mean, we’ve still got a growing population, we’ll end up where 26 million now, I think and we’ll end up at 40 million by 2050. Possibly.

Tim Hughes  20:16

So the reality of that is that that’s going to be mainly from immigration.

Gene Tunny  20:19

Yeah, there’s still they’ll still be some natural increase, but a lot of it will be immigration. That’s correct.

Tim Hughes  20:25

I think it’s a really good. I don’t think it’s widely known by everybody, of the importance of immigration, like it’s it, as far as like feeding that growth and like, supporting the ambitions of a country, immigration is essential to have that growth. You know, it’s a big part of it. I know, certainly, in the UK. I know, people from West Indies and, you know, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, you know, massive influx at different times to be invited over into work, you know, it. And, of course, then there were thriving communities of generations now of people who are British and add to the whole vibrancy and diversity in the country. And that’s part of I mean, I know, it’s a very controversial subject in many countries. You know, we’re not going to cover here. But the fact is that immigration is needed for that growth. Yeah.

Gene Tunny  21:18

Yeah, there’s one way that you can get around this, this challenge in particularly in the western economies, which are projected to have falling populations, you can take advantage of the fact that, well, the population is not falling in other parts of the world in the emerging economy. So there is that opportunity for migration. And we’ve got to look at better ways of allowing people to, to migrate, including on a temporary basis, a lot of the concerns about migration or about people migrating for work purposes, and then settling there permanently and bringing their families. So there’s a lot of concern that. So countries like Germany, which have had bad experiences with or they do them perceive the perceived that they’ve had bad experiences with guest workers in the past, that they’d want to make sure that any migration is temporary. So I think countries are looking at ways that they can have temporary workers schemes that I mean, we’ve got all sorts of visas for temporary workers now. And we’re getting people over from the Pacific where we were before COVID, to help pick fruit here in Australia. So that’s, that’s, yeah, I think migration, certainly part of the solution. At the same time, you want to make sure that it’s, it has community acceptance, and you’re not putting too much pressure on community services, you want to make sure you’ve got the infrastructure to support the population. Yeah, so a bit of a challenge there. Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

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Gene Tunny  23:27

Now back to the show. Let me just check that Australian population forecast Tim.

Tim Hughes  23:35

So I was gonna ask you Gene like, with that levelling out, frustrating gets around 40 million.

Gene Tunny  23:41

That’s what I wanted to check. Yeah. Right, because that’s the number I had in my head. But let me just check with that. That, but go ahead, keep going. 

Tim Hughes  23:48

Yeah, I was gonna say, I mean, I guess Western countries are already there, where they’re starting to level out and have a very slow rate of growth, or in decline. And so it’s just with infrastructure, and all those different things like at some point, you can imagine that people will still want to move around the world. So even with 10 billion, 11 billion, it might be a case of people leaving one area on mass to try and get into other areas, which happens all the time. I guess it’s certainly happening now. Yeah. And so a big part of that is just managing the amount of people that are on this planet, but with the sustainability sort of question, you know, it’s that up until now, everything’s been about growth, you know, population growth, and more, more and more, to getting back to the point I was talking about earlier, like, you know, it’s gonna get to the point where it’s like, well, this is we have to manage this the best way we can. And so yeah, it was going back to those areas of D growth or flexible growth, sustainable contraction.

Gene Tunny  24:45

Yeah, sure what you mean by that, Tim. And well.

Tim Hughes  24:47

I guess, I guess it’s the kind of thing because of, with that levelling out of the population, I mean, like I said, I think it’s a good thing, you know, because there are enough of us.

Gene Tunny  24:57

Yeah. If you’re concerned about the ability of the planet to support the population and there are plenty of people who are who are saying, Oh, well, we’re actually exceeding the planet’s carrying capacity at the moment, which I don’t believe because if we were, I mean, we wouldn’t be able to keep growing our population, and obviously, where we’re able to support the current population, just by the fact that we are supporting it, right,

Tim Hughes  25:20

I guess at some point as a planet, they’ll still be moving people moving around, like I mentioned, like, yeah, that’s understandable. But the growth mindset, as far as population goes, will have to change at some point, you know, like, you know, it’s not just going to be more and more, it’s a case of like, doing better with what we have. Does that make sense?

Gene Tunny  25:38

I think we should always be trying to do better with what we have. I mean, as an economist, as an economist, I think, yeah, I totally agree with that. We’ve got to be more efficient and do better and, and make sure we’re not we’re properly pricing our impact on the planet. So we’re talking with, we’re not polluting too much, or we’re managing the environment as best we can. Yeah,

Tim Hughes  26:02

yeah. I mean, I see good things coming from it. Like, I think it’s a good sort of place to be, because everything up until this point, like it’s, you know, from 2 billion in 1900, to a billion now to 10, or 11 billion. This is, I would imagine that things will have to change in the way that the world is looked at, as far as its population goes and said, Well, this is, this is, how many of us are going to be putting, you know, waste into landfill? How many of us are going to be, you know, how we deal with our own sewerage, and all that kind of stuff? You know, what I mean? Like, the stuff that ends up in the oceans, how we treat our soil, all of that, like as a global sort of, like management of, okay, how do we do this to the best of our abilities, so we can keep doing it indefinitely. And if we have if we had an exploding population that was getting forever, and that was going to be a scenario that would be potentially catastrophic. And so that’s, I guess, we’re looking at it’s like a macro sort of like view of the whole planet, it’s okay. Well, you know, what can we expect to do better? Where we’re not just constantly expanding? As far as like the population goes?

Gene Tunny  27:07

Yeah, I think why is this definitely an issue to manage? How do we deal with all of that, and greenhouse gas emissions? We’ve got to, we need to get them under control sometime, and then you can debate how quickly or not in the Greta Thunberg, we’re all going to die in 10 years, or there’s a climate catastrophe. I think we’re gonna I can’t say, well, basically,

Tim Hughes  27:36

I haven’t heard that.

Gene Tunny  27:39

Oh, yeah. I think so, I mean, we’ve had 30 years of blah, blah, blah, not doing anything, which is actually true, right? I mean, the government’s leaders around the world will talk about how they’re doing all of this, all of these great things to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get climate change under control. And meanwhile, global emissions keep rising. And so this is one of the points that are the conservative critics of Jacinda Ardern pointed out was, she’s very popular. She’s a progressive politician. She’s very popular among progressives worldwide. And yet, before COVID emissions were rising in New Zealand, according to these commentators, I probably should fact check that one. It’s a big challenge, because our whole industry of our industry, and our economies have been reliant on fossil fuels for so long. And it’s like turning the Queen Mary around. Right?

Tim Hughes  28:34

Yeah, because I know, we’ve talked about that with the energy sector changing massively, yeah, at the moment, and there are good things that potentially can come from it, it seems to be heading in the right direction, but it’s, you know, obviously, in a transition period, at the moment. And I wonder how much of that, you know, is down to having short term governments, who, you know, we’re expecting too much from governments, with a limited term of three or four years to be able to make these changes, you know, like, because obviously, this is a long term view that we need to take, I don’t know, 2050. Net Zero, are these sort of like goals that get put in? But sometimes I think with the longer goals, it’s easier for people to say, Yeah, we’re gonna do that. And then the action is less than what it needs to be.

Gene Tunny  29:15

Hmm. I think you’re right. I mean, the system we have the democratic system, the three or four year electoral cycle, yeah, I think that makes it harder. But I think it’s better than the alternative. I mean, we wouldn’t want to have a dictatorship was I mean, they could end up imposing, you know, a very rapid decarbonisation or that is incredibly costly on us if they thought that that was the right policy, like look what China was doing with the lock downs with the COVID zero until I realised that okay, we’re going to have a revolution on our hands if we don’t relax this policy. I think you’re right I mean, I think the democratic system we have this short term focus. Yeah, the fact that it is easy to always point to the cost the short term costs of any action. Yeah.

Tim Hughes  30:09

I mean, because I have to say like, you know, at times it seems that with governments, it’s hard to know how much difference they do make, or they can make, you know, even with the best intentions in a term, which goes very quickly.

Gene Tunny  30:21

Well, I think they can make a lot of difference. Look at problems we have solved, look at the Montreal Protocol, which meant that we eliminated the use of Chlorofluorocarbons. The ozone hole.

Tim Hughes  30:36

I saw that that was that had improved that that was a Yeah, a good improvement from what it had been.

Gene Tunny  30:42

So 1987. I think that was the Montreal Protocol. Where all the governments, particularly all the governments of the world agreed that yet we’ll phase these things out. Now. That’s different from the climate change challenge, because there were easy substitutes or substitutes, which weren’t too expensive for CFCs. Yeah, that we could replace them in the aerosols. But I think, yeah, I think governments can make a huge difference. The problem with the current mean, there are all sorts of problems is the issue of, well, for Australia. I mean, the view I’ve always had is there’s no point us doing, doing much of if China and India are still going to keep increasing their emissions, and also the states. I mean, we need ultimately, you need the major economies to be leading this. Otherwise, it’s not, it’s not really going to happen.

Tim Hughes  31:37

Well, it seems clear that innovation is going to drive it, you know, because and I get that, yeah, because it’s hard to put yourself at a disadvantage when everyone else is able to take advantage of that, you know, so that argument, for instance, here in Australia, where we’re smack fairly small country, but not necessarily been supporting too many of the netzero sort of ambitions around the world, you know, because of what you’re saying, like, let the big guys lead the way. But innovation, I think we’ll do that as soon as it gets to the point where the energy is cheaper than digging coal out of the ground. If there’s a clean way of producing that energy, then everyone will follow.

Gene Tunny  32:16

Oh, exactly. And that’s what we need. We need that technological innovation.

Tim Hughes  32:21

And the market, like from our discussions before with people in the energy sector, has been that the market is driving this. So we don’t have to, I mean, governments can help by making it easier and sort of greasing the path towards encouraging those changes to happen. But certainly the market is driving it and innovation is providing the opportunity for the market to take up those options with renewable energy.

Gene Tunny  32:42

Yeah, you’re thinking about that conversation we have with Josh. Yeah, yeah, that was interesting. Or he’s talking about the fact that the nature of this transition of any transition really is it’s going to be disorderly, it’s hard to get these things done in an orderly fashion.

Tim Hughes  32:58

I always manage to steer it back to this, don’t I Gene. It doesn’t matter what we talk about.

Gene Tunny  33:01

It’s important. If I’m thinking about, well, what’s the big potentially the big risk to I mean, other than nuclear war, I mean, it’s always a threat, particularly with what’s happening in Ukraine. Now I’m in the risk of that elevated, but the other big, potentially existential risk. I mean, you’ve got to put some probability on it. I’m not as concerned about it as some other people. I’ve got the Steve Koonin view of it, he used to work for Barack Obama, he was in the administration, I think it was in science, one of the I don’t know if he was in cabinet, or he had a, he had a senior position in the Obama administration is a scientist, he was at Cal Tech. And his view is that Yep, this is something we’re going to deal with. But we’ve got decades to deal with it. So what we’ve got to do is to start putting in place agree on some policies globally that are going to get us on this smooth transition path and, and also fund innovation trying, you know, it’d be great if we could find the cost effective solution, perhaps nuclear fusion, that there’s, there’s a lot of excitement about that. But then you got to deal with the nuclear waste. And what was that? What was actually, maybe there isn’t waste with nuclear fusion? Maybe that’s one of the advantages of it. Well, there’s less waste.

Tim Hughes  34:18

I still get my fusion and fission mixed up. So

Gene Tunny  34:21

Fusion is more powerful. Fusion is what the sun does.

Tim Hughes  34:26

Yes, right. Yeah. Fission is the separating of fusion is the joining. Yeah. Yeah. But so and with and there was a breakthrough with Fusion then yeah, just the other week, but it was still claimed that that could be decades away from it being useful for an energy source on a commercial scale. However, if it’s decades where that’s significant in the history of humans, however, with that, especially with that conversation with Josh, it was record notion that, you know, having a suite of different options for clean energy makes a lot of sense. You know, we don’t have to put all our eggs in one basket. And, you know, one choice so, and clearly those things are happening as we speak. And quite successfully. I mean, like the, you know, there’s still a lot of clean, renewable energy is getting more and more prolific.

Gene Tunny  35:22

Oh, no doubt about that. I mean, aren’t they turning the North Sea into a wind farm in? Have you seen that in? Because the North Sea is really good for the wind turbines. Well, it’s I mean, it’s not shallow, but it’s it’s not very deep the North Sea? Was there’s bits of the North Sea that are only a few 100 metres deep, I think, isn’t there?

Tim Hughes  35:48

I mean, obviously, it must be, you know, viable. But it seems odd to me that a wind farm in an ocean, you know. But, obviously, there’s, you know, there’s something in it. Yeah, yeah. It’s extraordinary. It’s a really interesting time. So because all of this is coinciding with this levelling out of the population. So it seems to be a, I don’t know, it feels like it’s a good place to take stock and see how we can sort of really manage this planet. Well, you know, and cleaning it up is the first way to do it, you know, so how we can keep the oceans cleaner than they currently are, like, clean them and stop polluting them and how we can manage our waste, you know, 10 billion, it’s a lot of foods.

Gene Tunny  36:30

Well, I guess this is what’s part of this is what’s motivated all of these measures or measures we’ve had in Australia to reduce plastic waste, and then I was growning about it when they initially announced it. But I guess you adapt. I mean, you can’t get the single use plastic bags any more at the supermarket.

Tim Hughes  36:48

You’re still hurt about that one.

Gene Tunny  36:51

You can’t get the single use plastic cutlery Well, anyway, we should get back to this population stuff. It is important. I do recognise the importance of what you’re talking about. The population of Australia is projected by the Treasury, this was last year, or this was 2021, I mean, who knows. But if they updated and they’ve got different migration projections, these numbers could be significantly different. But they were forecasting the population would grow from around 26 million, around 2021, up to 32 million in 2041, 36 million in around 2050-51 and then 39 million by 2060-61. I think I’ve seen previous, I think I hadn’t had in my head the idea that it’d be about 40 million by 2050. And yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to forecast. It depends on fertility, it depends on migration, and then all of that sort of thing. So and life expectancy. So quite a few moving parts there. Right. The other thing I want to talk about, Tim, if you still got time, yeah, it’s this issue of what does the declining population mean? So what is China’s declining population mean for its economy and therefore the global economy? One thing to keep in mind, of course, is that I think, what were we talking about a reduction of a population of 850,000 people. So that’s under 1 million, the Chinese population is 1.4 billion. So in percentage terms, we’re talking. What’s that less than point one of a percentage point? Yeah. Does that make sense?

Tim Hughes  38:37

Yeah, I mean, it’s. So it’s level that basically.

Gene Tunny  38:42

I guess that’s one way of looking at it is that it’s yeah, it’s hardly you’d have like, really noticed that on a chart, if you drew the population. The thing is, it’s a sign of things to come, because we all know that it’s expected that the Chinese population would, is going to start falling. And there are all sorts of projections as to where it could get to. By 2050-2100, I think I’ve seen an estimate somewhere that their population by 2100, could end up being, I don’t know, 700 million or so. Yeah, it’s a really big reduction because of that one child policy. I’ll put the actual figure in the show notes, but it’s quite dramatic. Just looking at what that impact of that one child policy, ultimately will be on their population in the future, because you’re not replacing your population. Right. So that’s, yeah.

Tim Hughes  39:42

So it’s funny actually, China is like a microcosm of the globe in a way, isn’t it? Because it sort of has fairly tight borders. And so the decline that that would be for China, would be an example of like, how do you manage that sustainably, how do you sustainably contract successfully from 1.4 billion to 700 million. And yeah, the thing is like, you know, China is extreme in many ways. They may manage it very well. Now, I’ve got no idea how but I think that’s a really interesting sort of point. I mean, they’ve had massive change. Was it 1962 to see the great leap forward? You know, I mean, certainly from 1980. They’ve made in the last 20 years, 25 years, they’ve made themselves this sort of, like, workshop of the world, you know, they’ve produced so much stuff. And they’ve become very wealthy in that time.

Gene Tunny  40:36

Well, the wealthier and some people have become very wealthy, their per capita income is still I don’t know, it’s under a third of what it is in the States. It’s gone. It has gone through big changes. I mean, yeah, considering that once but I mean, I don’t know when you were young and when I was young people were saying, well eat your food, because there are people starving in China. Right. I don’t know if maybe that’s an Australian thing. Yeah. I mean, yes. It was probably still true when I was when I was young. Right. But it’s not, I don’t think it’s true now. Or it’s only in small pockets. Right. Whereas famine used to be a huge problem. And you know, people were incredibly poor. And most people lived on the land. But now I’ve had all the shifts of hundreds of millions of people from the agricultural areas in China into the cities. And it’s just, it’s just amazing.

Tim Hughes  41:27

It is fascinating, because made in the 80s, like you couldn’t go to China, like it was closed off to I think it was around the mid 80s, that they sort of opened up or towards the end of the 80s. You know, and it was a new thing, like tourism in China was a new thing. And of course, it’s really well, I mean, COVID aside, you can travel there freely now. But it’s gone through massive change in a very short period of time. It’s really, you know, I don’t know, if they’ve come to a critical point in their sort of growth as, as this powerhouse of production. With a declining population, I guess that’s going to make a big impact.

Gene Tunny  42:07

Yeah. So a lot of the discussion that pundits and commentators and economists having at the moment is around well, what does this mean for their economy? What does it mean for their society? Paul Krugman had a great article. I’m not sure I entirely agree with it, because there’s a really excellent response from another American economist, Dean Baker, which I’ll link to in the show notes. But so Paul Krugman in the, in the New York Times the other day wrote, a declining population creates two major problems for economic management, these problems aren’t insoluble. But will China rise to the challenge? That’s far from clear, the first problem is the declining populations, also an ageing population. And so you’ve got this issue of the dependency ratio, paying for looking after those people. The other thing Krugman is worried about is that a society with a declining working age population tends other things equal to experience persistent economic weakness, Japan illustrates the point. Now there’s a debate about just how badly Japan’s fared relative to other countries, it certainly hasn’t grown as fast as the US or, or the Australia. But it hasn’t collapsed either. I mean, it’s managed to maintain reasonably low unemployment, it’s kept people employed. But at the same time, they’ve been the government’s had to try to prop up the economy, it’s accumulated a huge amounts of debt. So there are certainly challenges with Japan. And partly that is because it’s, it does have that declining population, as Krugman notes. So the point Krugman is making its a Keynesian point, in a way. What he’s saying is that if you’ve got a growing population, then that, from that, for what follows from that is the need for additional capital investment in your economy, additional spending that helps keep people employed. Yeah, so that’s the that’s the point he’s making, and that if you don’t have that growing population, then you’re at risk of what Japan experience with his last decade or so and potentially at risk of deflation. So I’ll put a link in the show notes here, because we’re getting up to near the time we set for ourselves. This might take a while. Yeah. It’s incredible. And so Krugman is concerned because he thinks that what this declining population could mean ultimately is that China has a period it ends up being economically weak. And there’s also some evidence or there’s an argument from this, this economist at Stanford School of Business, Charles Jones, he argues that we’ll get a declining population is problematic because then you’ve got fewer people to solve problems, it’s less likely you’ll get an Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, etc. So that’s one of the concerns. When who knows if that’s, I don’t know how valid that is. That’s enough. That’s a hypothesis. I mean, we’ve still got billions of people, right?

Tim Hughes  45:21

I mean, you can say those guys came around when there’s a far fewer people on the planet.

Gene Tunny  45:24

Exactly. So who knows if that’s actually a legitimate concern or not. But that’s quite a, that’s a, I should have him on the show just to talk through. It’s no Charles Jones, you know, and get him on the show rather than just say, I don’t agree with it, or maybe I haven’t done the the concept justice. But there’s certainly I can see the logic, but there are concerns that the dynamism of your economy would be at risk. If you have fewer people. There are concerns about well, how does your economy adjust to this in the short term as you’ve got declining population, and you’ve got less need for investment? We’ve got all of these buildings that have been, you know, what we don’t have as much need for new housing or new construction, which does help employ people? How do we how do we manage that? And that on the other hand, there’s this great critique of Paul Krugman by Dean Baker, who’s an economist and co founder of the Centre for Economic Policy Research, which is DC Think Tank, it’s a progressive Think Tank. I really thought this is a clever critique. And Dean Baker, apparently, his Wikipedia entry claims that he was one of the first people to have foreseen the subprime mortgage crisis in the States. So yeah, I think he’s, he’s got a good reputation. He makes the point that well, Japan’s not really as bad as you think. And then it hasn’t collapsed. They seem to manage to muddling through in some way. And then it’s not, obviously they’ve still got problems because of all the debt. But he’s saying look at something you can you can manage, and there are actually benefits from a declining population. He, he notes that Japan cities are less crowded than they would be if its population had continued to grow. This means less congestion and pollution, less time spent getting to and from work and less crowded beaches, parks and museums, these quality of life factors don’t get picked up in GDP. I’m actually not sure. Does Japan have many beaches? I mean, I understand his point.

Tim Hughes  47:25

Yeah, Echo Beach, yes that is in Japan. That’s one beach that I know.

Gene Tunny  47:32

I was just wondering, I don’t know, never haven’t been to Japan on an island. So I guess it’s yeah. Oh, of course, they have beaches. Yeah.

Tim Hughes  47:39

But that’s actually a really good way of putting, I guess one of the things that we’re talking about is like, you know, declining population doesn’t have to be bad news. I mean, I guess, you know, the, the challenge would be how do you keep maintain a growth mindset in a declining population where can you make it work to your advantage? Or, you know, how can you do the best, you know, with, because part of it would be in a declining population. Once that first surge of older people goes, then it should level out with the number of older people as opposed to the number of younger people, I guess, because as you’re peaking towards your peak population, you’d have the most amount of old people is that right? I’m sort of thinking out loud here. But I’m just wondering,

Gene Tunny  48:25

Tim, is a good question mate. I mean, you’re asking does the as if as your population declines, what happens to the age composition of the population? So I’m gonna have to take that on notice. I mean, I think that’s a hard one. I mean, there could be a point, there could be a time when both the dependency ratio gets worse and your population keeps falling? That’s a good question. I don’t know, let me put something in the afterword about that. I don’t know, conceptually, I can’t figure it out right now on the fly. That’s good question. 

Tim Hughes  49:00

But it’s that thing of like, I imagine, like the you know, because the challenge is this is to manage that. Well. Yeah. And like, so. I mean, one thought that comes to mind with that is, like, the whole thing of retiring at 65 has been around for a long time and around 65, whatever it is now.

Gene Tunny  49:16

67 in Australia now.

Tim Hughes  49:19

Y eah, this thing of like, it’s not necessary for people to stop doing what they do, you know, there’s so much wisdom and, you know, a good life experience that gets lost with that mindset of like, see you later at 67. You know, and I think opening up the opportunity for people to stay in a lower capacity timewise you know, because I think it’s important for people to wind down or do something different or start a new career, you know, like whatever it may be. So, I think maybe the way that you know, we approach ageing or the way we look at ageing, could be one of the factors that changes that declining population as to no right this could actually be looking at how do we manage a declining population better you know, maybe it’s our attitude towards all the roads that we can start with.

Gene Tunny  50:04

Yeah, I think it has to start changing because all the baby boomers are nearly retired, aren’t they? And then Generation X will start retiring.

Tim Hughes  50:13

But it’s that thing of like, you know, as we live longer, we can expect to have more good years, you know? Yeah, hopefully, yeah. And they can be, they can be good years to contribute back towards society as well. It doesn’t have to be just a retirement where you don’t pay any tax at all, because that’s part of the problem isn’t like we’re fewer people paying tax to support an ageing population. You know, so I guess and it’s not just making people work later unwillingly. You know, to give people the opportunity to have different options, different levels of engagement, you know, so they don’t have to do 40 hours a week, of course, but yeah, doing something different stimulating that, you know, people could enjoy doing for longer.

Gene Tunny  50:57

Podcasting.

Tim Hughes  50:58

Podcasting. Exactly. Everybody wants it to be a DJ, everyone was a DJ in the previous life.

Gene Tunny  51:05

Yeah, exactly. I don’t have the turntable, give it time, give it time and we can bring that into the show. Cable

Tim Hughes  51:13

Maybe that’s the way we merge the two.

Gene Tunny  51:17

See how we go. Okay, so I’ll put a link in the show notes to this, these articles by Paul Krugman and Dean Baker. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, some hours of the day I think Krugman is right, then I think I actually Dean Baker is making some great points. I’m still processing it all myself. So Dean Baker, I’ll put a link to this article. It’s on the Centre for Economic Policy Research website. One final point, I thought that well, I thought I should make that Dean Baker may not that was a good one is that? Well, actually, I mean, see it as an opportunity. I mean, China’s got a, it’s got an ageing population, still, while its population is starting to decline, you can put people to well, you’ve built all of that’s right. He’s saying one of the issues that Krugman identifies is that they were building all of this, all of these buildings that, that they may not need these ghost cities. Well, you could use them for aged care accommodation. Or, you know, I don’t know how feasible that is. But that was one of the points that he made. So I thought that was that’s potentially interesting. I mean, there will always be things people can do that the challenge is, can your economy adjust to employ them? So do you have a flexible economy? Gotta make sure you’ve got you’re not regulating business, there’s not the burden on businesses and to hire so that there can be that that adjustment, you don’t have rigid wages or rigid, rigid IR policies that prevent people moving into to new occupations? Yeah, so Dean Baker’s quite positive about what could happen in China. And I’ll encourage, if you’re listening, please read his article. I probably haven’t done it, done it justice. With that, that quick summary there. So yeah, I’d recommend reading that I thought that was really good. And Oh, one other thing we should talk about is that there’s one other concern with the declining population. And the issues with ageing population in China lack of dynamism and what it could mean for their economy, the stability of the whole country, right, the political issues. So Peter Zeihan, I think that’s how you pronounce it. He’s a academic over in the States, he’s come out with his controversial view that the Chinese system as it exists now, that Communist Party regime can only last another 10 years out.

Tim Hughes  53:44

And I mean, it’s been speculation, but it could be true.

Gene Tunny  53:47

If it turns out to be right, he would be held as a genius, the genius.So who knows.

Tim Hughes  53:52

Someone, somewhere will be making those calls.

Gene Tunny  53:54

I mean, my feelings is what I was talking about with Alan Morrison in this chat about enterprise China toward the end of last year. And I think ultimately, that there has to be a regime change in China. I think as economies get wealthier, then there’s naturally more support for democracy.

Tim Hughes  54:14

There seems to be a bit of a paradox with ideology in China at the moment. I mean, we’ve communism is the main ideology, of course, but they’ve embraced capitalism, to the point where individuals are getting mega wealthy, but then they’re sort of getting called into the headmaster’s office and sort of like, you know, put in detention for a bit to sort of keep them in line Jack Ma, from Alibaba, and different people who sort of like disappear off the, you know, public space or forums. And so there seems to be a bit of a tussle there going on, and you wonder how long that can go for. But yeah, there certainly, I think it’s fair to say that there would be an expectation of change coming sometime in the next 10 years. I mean, it’s really everywhere. I mean.

Gene Tunny  54:57

I guess change of some sort. I mean, let’s hope it’s a peaceful change. And there is, uh, you know, maybe the I mean, I don’t know whether they’re going to relinquish power will Xi Jinping I mean what what are the chances of him relinquishing power? I mean, given he set himself up as Emperor for life or whatever it was, I mean.

Tim Hughes  55:15

There’s only Jacinda Arden that I can think of this relinquish power. Yeah, it’s it’s pretty rare thing.

Gene Tunny  55:22

It is very rare because power is seductive, isn’t it?

Tim Hughes  55:27

So they say?

Gene Tunny  55:31

Tim, that’s been an amazing discussion. That’s been fun. Yeah, it’s been good. I’ve really enjoyed that. As always, we managed to go much longer than we expect to or prepared for. Any final thoughts?

Tim Hughes  55:45

No, I mean, it’s funny because it does crossover. I mean, I guess that’s why other things come into it, you know, because they’re all connected. And they, it’s a really fascinating time to be going through this. I mean, like, you know, we’re at a really interesting time, for anywhere in humanity’s history in our like, we’re at these sort of peaks that haven’t been reached before. So yeah, I’m really, and I personally enjoy the direction that things are going in for, you know, the environmental future of the planet, you know, like, I think it’s the right way to go. And I think that’s the overriding direction that it has to get when because otherwise, potentially, yeah, we’re gonna end up in a situation that’s going to be very difficult to reverse. And so seems to be heading that way, which I think is a really good thing. And hopefully, we’ll get there as quickly as we can. Safely.

Gene Tunny  56:39

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m optimistic. I think the biggest threat we’ve got is nuclear annihilation. So see how that goes.

Tim Hughes  56:49

It’s still it’s funny, isn’t it? Because that was those threats come and go. But I think our capacity to have our attention on it sort of comes and goes, I mean, it’s sorry, the threats always been there. But our focus on it sort of comes and goes with different things. It’s hard to live under that existential threat constantly.

Gene Tunny  57:09

Yeah, very true. Very true. Okay, Tim Hughes. Thanks so much for your time. I really enjoyed that conversation. I thought that was really he really enjoyed it. We got through a lot, and it was a good discussion to kick off the new year. So thanks so much. Yeah.

Tim Hughes  57:22

Thanks, Gene. You’re welcome.

Gene Tunny  57:25

Okay, I hope you found that informative and enjoyable. In my view, the main takeaway is that China’s declining population is a big challenge to the Chinese economy. And by implication, the global economy, it will be difficult for the Chinese regime to manage this declining population. And indeed, it could even contribute to the end of Communist Party rule, if the declining population actually does lead to a weaker economy and hence an erosion of support for the party. Arguably, one thing that Chinese administration could do to help partly offset the problem of a falling population is to have a more liberal immigration policy. Of course, the administration may worry that bringing in too many foreigners may create political instability which could cost at power. I’d note that for countries which are more open to immigration, and also which didn’t have as bigger collapse in the fertility rate as China did, I’m talking about countries such as the US and Australia, those countries are much better able to cope with demographic challenges. And indeed, they’re actually projected to grow over the future decades. For example, the UN projects that the US will have a population of 375 million in 2050. And between 390 and 400 million in 2100. That’s up from 335 million or so today. Before I go, I better respond to a question that Tim had in the episode. Paraphrasing, Tim asked a question about what happens to China’s old age dependency ratio as the population peaks and starts falling? To answer this question in the shownotes. I’ll put a link to a chart from the UN showing the projected old age dependency ratio for China. That is the ratio of the number of people aged 65. And over to the number aged 15 to 64. The chart shows the old age dependency ratio in China will keep rising for several decades, probably into the 2080s. So in China, we’ve got a falling population, and we’ve got rising old age dependency. So that ratio will increase from around 20 People age 65 and over per 100 working age people. So that’s today it will increase from 20 to 90 people aged 65 and over per 100 working age people in the 2080s. It’s expected China will eventually have almost as many old age people as working age people. That’s the median projection from the UN and everything depends on how closely reality complies with the UN’s assumptions of course, that said there’s no doubt The dependency ratio is increasing and China has a big problem. China’s one child policy has meant that too few people have been born in the last few decades, nowhere near enough to keep the population growing and to look after an increasingly elderly population. Many of the Chinese born are the big cohorts after the 1949 revolution, and before the one child policy was introduced in 1980. They’re still alive and they’re ageing. Right? Oh, I must confess that population dynamics are complicated. And I might try to get a demographer under the show and a future episode for a deep dive. If that’s something you’d be interested in, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Okay, thanks for listening. rato thanks for listening to this episode of Economics Explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via contact@economicsexplored.com Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if you’re podcasting outlets, you then place router review and later writing. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.

1:01:30

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Podcast episode

Structural budget deficits – EP164

he governments of many countries have structural budget deficits, so even as their economies recover from the COVID-recession they are still running deficits. In many countries, the fundamental structure of the budget is bad. There is too much spending relative to revenue, even in normal or good times, not just in recession. In this episode we explore how economists can calculate structural budget balances. We look specifically at what the Australian Treasury does, given that a new Australian Budget came out last week.

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored

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

Links relevant to the conversation

Australian structural budget balance indicators available here:

https://budget.gov.au/2022-23-october/content/bp1/download/bp1_bs-3.pdf

Australian Treasury methodology for estimating structural budget balances:

https://treasury.gov.au/publication/economic-roundup-issue-3-2010/economic-roundup-issue-3-2010/estimating-the-structural-budget-balance-of-the-australian-government

IMF Fiscal Monitor which contains cyclically-adjusted budget balances (Tables A3 and A4):

https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/FM

Media coverage of Australian budget:

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/jim-chalmers-takes-forensic-approach-to-tax-concessions/news-story/25c4e1be826abb87f27c918532a69614

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/bill-shorten-admits-push-to-curb-ndis-cost-growth/news-story/8a15cb3daabd55961e35df957f206bcf

IFS analysis of UK mini budget:

https://ifs.org.uk/articles/mini-budget-response

Transcript: Structural budget deficits – EP164

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

Gene Tunny  00:00

Coming up on Economics Explored. 

So I think this is a really neat methodology that the treasurer is trying to break down the different influences on the budget to see what’s really going on. And what it reveals is that there’s this structural problem with the budget. 

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny broadcasting from Brisbane, Australia. This is episode 164 on structural budget balances, government budgets around the world was smashed by COVID-19. With countries recording huge deficits and big increases in debt. The governments of many countries have structural budget deficits. So even as their economies recover, they are still running deficits. In many countries, the fundamental structure of the budget is bad. There is too much spending relative to revenue, even in normal times, not just in recession. For example, the IMF estimates the United States will have a structural or cyclically adjusted government budget deficit of five to 7% of GDP over 2023 to 2027. In this episode, we explore how economists can calculate structural budget balances, we consider the different components of budgets, the structural, cyclical and temporary. We look specifically at what the Australian Treasury does, given that a new Australian budget came out last week. Joining me for the conversation is my Adept Economics colleague, Arturo Espinoza. Please check out the show notes relevant links and clarifications and for details where he can get in touch with any questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you. Righto, now for my conversation with Arturo on structural budget balances, thanks for my audio engineer Josh Crotts assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Arturo, good to be with you again.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  01:49

Hi Gene. My pleasure to be here.

Gene Tunny  01:51

Excellent. Arturo, so I thought today we could have a good chat about this concept of a structural budget balance. So we had our federal budget, the Australian government budget was released last week. So for 2023, the financial year. And this was because we have a new government. So there was an election in May. And there was a change of government, we now have a Labour government. So a more left wing government than the previous government, which was the Liberal National Government, the coalition government, and in Australia, a Liberal government is actually a conservative government. It’s all very confusing. Right, so we had a change of government and there was some improvement in the current year budget balance because of higher commodity prices, which flow through to, to earnings to and to tax revenue, that the federal government pulls in, particularly from the big mining companies. So there was an improvement in that underlying what they call the underlying cash balance. But this federal government is still running quite significant deficits. So it’s still running a deficit of some $37 billion, this financial year, the previous government did its budget back in May, I think they were projecting that up around must have been nearly 80 billion, I can’t remember exactly. But it was an improvement on that. But it’s still one and a half percent of GDP at $37 billion. And then over what they call the forward estimates, which is out to 25-26. We’ve still got deficits in the range of 40 to $50 billion, approximately, and, you know, up to 2% of GDP is in 24-25. So we’ve still got significant deficits. And the problem that we’re seeing in Australia, and this is similar to in other countries, too, is that governments are just spending much more than they’re bringing in in revenue. I mean, I guess that’s what a deficit is, right? I mean, that’s, but but there’s a problem that, that because of politics, because no one wants to pay taxes, politicians don’t want to put up taxes, and they want to deliver the goodies, they want to fund a high level of services for the population, and that helps them get elected. And so we’ve got this, this problem, this imbalance between what they’re spending and what they’re bringing in in taxes. And this is where I think this structural budget balance concept is of great use. And I just want to talk about that. So does that make sense Arturo, what we’re going to cover today?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  04:45

Yeah, that makes sense. It also is a very interesting topic related to government debts and this structural budget.

Gene Tunny  04:58

Yeah, yeah. So It’s always a concept that’s fascinated me. So I used to work in the Treasury in the budget policy area. And when I was there, we didn’t produce this structural budget balance estimate, and there was a big debate about whether Australia should have one and whether it’s feasible to develop one because as we’ll discover, you have to make all sorts of assumptions to generate it. It’s it, there’s a there’s a bit of, you know, there’s there, there’s a bit of number crunching that goes into it. And you have to make all sorts of assumptions regarding, well, what’s the normal state of affairs, because one way of thinking about this structural budget balance is that it’s what the budget would be if you took away the cyclical or cyclical factors. So if you if you’re able to abstract or control for the business cycle, so whether the economy is booming, or whether it’s slumping, then it gives you the budget balance that you would get in that situation, because one of the problems with the standard budget balance as a, as a measure of how the gut of the government is performing in a fiscal sense is that it is what economists call endogenous, it’s determined, partly, it’s determined or largely as determined by the state of the economy is determined within the system, it’s endogenous. It’s not something that the government can, can totally set, exogenously or it doesn’t have full control over it. Because your level of taxes depend on the state of the economy and commodity prices in Australia, if the iron ore prices is really high, or the coal price is high, then BHP, Rio Tinto, et cetera, the big mining companies, they’re only more profits and the federal government, it gets a share that it gets about 30% of their profits. So yeah, that can have a, you know, that can mean billions of dollars to the budget bottom line. And so that’s why we see the budget balance, it’s, it moves with the economic cycle, and so your government could be running a deficit. But that could be understandable, given the state of the economy. And so the underlying budget is okay, the structural part of the budget is okay, that’s not the case with Australia, but I’m just using that as an illustration. So it may be useful. Well, I think it is very useful to adjust for those cyclical factors. And that’s what the Australian Treasury has done in what I think is one of the most useful charts in the budget, which is in their statement on the fiscal outlook chart 320, the structural budget balance. And that really tells a story, it tells a story about how within the federal budget, because of this, this gap between what the government is spending money on and what we’re paying in taxes. So if government spending is at a level of around 26% of GDP. And revenue is under 24% of GDP. Or maybe it’s 25. And 23. It’s sort of that sort of order of magnitude, or it’s those are approximate figures, I’ll put the right figures in the show notes, we’ve got this gap. And this is a permanent gap. It’s a structural gap. And this is what this chart shows of two percentage points of, or 2% of GDP. And this is baked into the budget. And this is what this structural budget balance chart shows. So what they’ve, what they’ve done is the they’ve worked out that structural factors, leading to a deficit of about 2% of GDP, cyclical factors, so the state of the economy, the state of commodity prices, the fact that the iron ore price is super high, the fact that the economy has been booming. What that’s doing is pushing up, or that’s improving the budget balance by looks like 1.8 or 1.9%. If you look at the chart, and what that is telling me and what that is, this is for the current financial year 22-23. What it’s telling me is that, well, if we didn’t have that, that structural problem in the budget where we’re just spending more than we’re, we’re bringing in, and that’s the case and that would be the case in a normal year, in an average year. If we just control the economic cycle. If we didn’t have that structural problem. And if we looked at what the strength of the economy is commodity prices, and the government should be running a budget surplus of nearly 2% of GDP, and in actual fact, it’s running a budget, a budget deficit of what is it, one and a half percent of GDP. So there’s this big, there’s this big gap, which, in a way, represents the additional demand that the government is generating in the economy that isn’t warranted, given the economic circumstances. So the government budget is highly stimulatory to the economy and that is arguably a problem for Well, I think it is a problem, it’s contributing to the inflationary situation that we have in the Australian economy at the moment. And likewise, governments around the world that are running large budget deficits, such as the US government, such as the UK Government are contributing to the inflationary situations in in those countries, because if you looked at what the budget should be, given the state of the economy, it should be in a lot better state than than it is now than then those budgets are now and that’s what this cyclically adjusted budget balance or structural budget balances is approximating. Okay, one of the other fascinating things in that chart, I should note, the Treasurer is prepared on the structural budget balance for Australia, is that in 22-23, there’s still a sizable impact over 1% of GDP coming from temporary fiscal measures. So these are things that are related to COVID 19, to the pandemic response. So even though, I mean, look, I know that COVID COVID is still around, and apparently we’ve got another wave coming. I mean, the worst part of the pandemic is over, but still there is a, we do have these temporary fiscal measures occurring. And so what that means is, yeah, so that’s, that’s something that’s contributing to the, the deficit here in Australia. So what that chart is telling us is that, look, the structural budget, the structural problem in the budget is around two percentage points, or 2% of GDP. The cyclical, the benefit to the budget from the improvement in the economic cycle and higher commodity prices is, is just under 2% of GDP. So what that would suggest is that, that would mean we’d have a budget deficit of just a fraction of GDP, like maybe point one or point 2% of GDP. But then we’ve got these. Actually, it might be point three or point four, I’ll have to check the numbers that don’t put the exact numbers in the charts. I’m just trying to eyeball and I’m not wearing my glasses. But then we’ve got this temporary fiscal measures, which is, which is worsening the budget by over 1% of GDP. And how these all sort of add up is that we end up with a budget deficit in 22-23. Of what was it, one and a half percent. So I think this is a really neat methodology that the treasurer is trying to break down the different influences on the budget to see what’s really going on. And what it reveals is that there’s this structural problem with the budget. And, you know, this is something that all treasuries and finance ministers should do, in my opinion. There are some IMF estimates for other countries we’ll talk about later, the Australian Treasury seems to be doing a really good job at its estimates, and it’s discovered this structural problem, this big hole in the budget. Okay, so does that all make sense Arturo?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  14:01

Yeah, that makes sense. That was very clear. This is incredible how Australia is spending around this, because you, you mentioned around two or 3% is spending more than what they receive in terms of revenue. But let’s explore what are the main components of that structure, structural deficit?

Gene Tunny  14:33

Yes, well, a big component, or one of the major contributors to it in recent years, has been the National Disability Insurance Scheme. So it’s this expansion of the welfare state. Now I’m not making any judgement about whether that’s a good idea or not, because it’s very popular, and it’s well intentioned and there are clearly a lot of people out there in need. One of the challenges with it, though, is that it is growing at a very high rate. So it’s not the total structural deficit, because it’s at the moment, I think it’s around $30 billion. So it’s not just the NDIS. It’s other things. And then we have, we’ve had various tax cuts in the past, there’s a stage three tax cut that’s programmed in. So there’s going to be a tax cut in 2024-25, which aims to get rid of one of the tax brackets and to flatten the progressivity of the tax system. And that’s going to cost the budget revenue. So it’s a combination of spending new spending programmes and spending programmes that are costing more money than were expected. Also, we’ve got rising interest, a rising interest bill at the moment because of higher interest rates. And then people on the left of politics would argue, Well, look, the the problem is, we’re just not raising enough in taxation, if you’re going to spend this and that, look, that’s one legitimate perspective. If the government is going to spend this much on a permanent basis, if we are committed to an NDIS, National Disability Insurance Scheme, then we will have to have higher taxes to make the budget sustainable in the long term. I mean, personally, I’d prefer that we’d have lower taxes, we would, we would, we would get spending under control. But look, if we can’t get spending under control, then we may have to, we may have to put up with that. So because ultimately, we do need a sustainable budget, we’ve got to keep that debt to GDP ratio under control. At the moment, the projections are that for Australia, it’s not looking catastrophic yet, luckily, I mean, it’s on the current budget projections, it’s going to get up to around 48% of GDP. So it’s going to plateau around that, by the What is it 2030 to 2033. There’s another chart where they’re projecting that in how that’s going to perform. So this is the debt to GDP, which is one of the critical ratios that commentators, economists, ratings agencies, like S&P and Fitch and Moody’s, what they look at. And I mean, Australia’s lucky we started off with so what we started off with no debt to begin with, in 2008, we had, we had negative net debt, and we only had $50 billion of bonds on issue. So we’re in a good position to start with, so we’re at, we’re only gonna get up to about 50% of GDP at the moment compared with you look at the states, which is the US it’s over. We had a look the other day, didn’t we? I mean, it’s up 120 to 130% of GDP or something. Yeah. Okay. It’s very high if you look at projections for actual data and projections for the US. So we’re, we’re nowhere near that what’s happening is that the outlook is worsening. So if you look at that Treasury chart and the budget, compared with where we were back in May, or back in April, when the government released its last budget, that’s right before the election, and then the Treasury put out the pre election, fiscal, economic and fiscal outlook, the instead of the gross debt to GDP ratio, peaking around 24-25 and then falling as the economy grows, and the debt doesn’t, doesn’t grow as fast, which was what they were previously forecasting back in April. And they had the gross debt to GDP ratio going to 40%. Instead, it’s going to continue to grow over this decade, and then start to flatten out around 2032 to 33 at around 48%. And I mean, who knows that could get worse. I mean, this out. So much depends on what happens with interest rates and a big part of this change, why things are worse now than they were back in April is one, it’s because this NDIS is growing, the cost of that is growing faster than expected. And also because of the higher interest burden. I think that’s really shocked people and this is something I’ve been calling out for a while I’ve been identifying for a while that this as interest rates rise, that’s going to have a big impact on the budget, because we’ve got so much debt already not as much as other countries but still more than we’ve had in the past. So well in the last few decades, okay, so does that answer your question Arturo? You’re asking about where’s it come from? And yeah, where’s that structural deficit come from? And look, it’s a, it’s a variety of things. It’s just our willingness to bear the taxes. It’s either you can either look at it as our unwillingness to pay the taxes that we need to to fund the level of services. That’s one perspective. That’s the perspective of people like The Australia Institute, they would argue that all these things we’re spending money on. So from a left wing perspective, I’m not making any judgments at the moment about, I mean, I’ve got my own personal judgement, but I’ll just present both sides of the story, they would argue we’re not, we’re not raising revenue. And then the people on the other side, they would like the IPA or whoever the right, they would argue, well, we’re actually spending too much relative to what we’re paying in taxes, the level of taxation is fine or should be cut even further, let’s cut expenditure. And the government itself is very conscious it, it doesn’t want to raise taxes, right, because raising taxes is politically unpopular. No one wants to buy any more tax. So it looks like the government itself recognises that it will have to cut spending. I mean, maybe it’ll try and tweaks and tax policy settings or, or cuts in tax concessions. Jim Chalmers, the Treasurer here who he’s talking about taking a forensic approach to tax concessions. There was a story in the Australian today, so it looks like they’re gonna have a look at some of those tax concessions, so who knows they could look at tax concessions for superannuation, and they could look at our concessional taxation of capital gains, things like that. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens there. But look in the IRS is the one that they really need to look at because it’s just growing at a very high rate. So let me try to illustrate that with some figures. So last week’s federal budget so I’m quoting from a report in the Australian day today revealed the NDIS which will cost the federal and state governments $35.5 billion this financial year is on track to hit 52 billion by 2025 26, dwarfing the costs of both Medicare and aged care. So long term Treasury forecasts suggests the federal government’s contribution to the scheme will grow by almost 14% a year for the next decade, with total scheme costs approaching 100 billion by 2030 to 33. It became operational in 2013. It currently has 555,000 participants. Its annual financial sustainability reports suggest numbers will reach almost 860,000 by 2030. More young people with diagnoses of autism and psychosocial disorders are entering the scheme. Almost a third of current participants have an autism diagnosis. And four and 10 are age 14 and under. So this is an illustration of one of the challenges of public services. I think because there is a lot of need out there are a lot of people who are doing it tough or there’s a lot of need in the community. And as soon as the government gets involved, there are a lot of pressures on the government to expand the level of service to increase the level of service. This is a great challenge for the government. I remember when I was in workplace health and safety here in Queensland, it’s nearly 20 years ago now. I remember the policy discussions around the need to look after people who are catastrophically injured. This NDIS has come out of a need to at least look after people who fell through the cracks of the previous system. What happened years ago was if you were catastrophically injured say you had a diving accident. And it was recreational diving. You weren’t covered by any insurance. Okay, there’s, it’s it wasn’t a motor vehicle accident. It wasn’t a workplace accident. And there would be very high costs of care if you were made quadriplegic, for example, but there’s no insurance to cover you. And so there was this concern that there are these people who are missing out. And so there’s clearly some sort of there was a need definitely to do something to help those people out. And this whole NDIS from what I can tell grew out of that conversation that was occurring around the early 2000s because I remember being part of the conversation at the Queensland Government level and some of the policy development there and then it came out of this 2008, the 2020 summit that Kevin Rudd organised his ideas fest that they had in the talk fest that they had at Parliament House and, and they invited 1000 of the best and brightest from around Australia. And this was one of the ideas that was advanced at the summit. And, this was one of the ones that progressed and then the Gilad government introduced that I think in 2013. And look, it’s a really valid thing. There is certainly cases, people that needed assistance. The problem is where do you draw the line, and this is a problem that governments often have. And here, the line has become, the circle has expanded even more. And I mean, people or families with autism, and with developmental delay, certainly need assistance. And I’m on the board of a non-for-profit that advocates for families where a child has a developmental delay, so I fully understand the concerns. And the need. The issue is that there’s a big cost to the budget from having this expansive definition. And the government is currently I mean, we’ll have to wait and see what it what it does about it all. Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  26:23

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Gene Tunny  26:52

Now back to the show. So any questions or any thoughts on that Arturo?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  27:01

No, at the moment..

Gene Tunny  27:02

Good. So yeah, that’s essentially where we’ve got this structural budget balance problem coming from Australia. And I thought it might be good just to go over quickly, what the different sources or the different ways that they adjust for the state of the economy. And what it comes down to is coming up with estimates of how the economy would have performed, what it would do in the absence of a business cycle. So you have to work out what a trend level of GDP is. So the if you think about macro economics, one way of thinking about how the economy evolves over time is a cycle and trend. There’s the economy. Over time, we know that the economy expands. So the economy today is much larger than it was 10 years ago, it’s much larger than it was 20 years ago, 30 years ago. So over time it grows, there’s trend growth, it’s on an upward trajectory. But it will cycle around that trend. So you can have periods where you’re well above that trend when the economy’s booming. And then you can have periods when you’re, you’re well below you’re in a recession, for example. And so what these structural budget balance estimates, what they do, is they will they based on an estimate of what that trend level of GDP would be. And so what they will do, what the Treasury will do, if they will look at, well, what’s the underlying population growing at? What’s productivity, on average growing at? And are there any trends in labour force participation that we need to take into account? And this is this supply side model, underpinning these trend GDP estimates? So these are what you would expect in the absence of a business cycle. And so that’s one of the core parts of it, they’re trying to control the business cycle. And then they also have to control commodity prices. So they’ll look at well, how much higher than we normally are commodity prices, the iron ore price or coal price, how much higher are they than we normally expect them to be? And let’s discount that, let’s, let’s, let’s assume that they’re not so high. And so the Treasury will have these parameters. They’ll have these sensitivities of different types of these revenue, items of income tax and company income tax, two different commodity prices they’ll have, and they’ll have an estimate of how sensitive the unemployment benefits that are paid are to the state of the economy to where GDP is relative to its trend. And I think that’s the one item that the Treasury adjusts. So it tweaks it adjust revenue on the revenue side and adjusts income tax and company tax. And I think capital gains tax, if I remember correctly on the expenditure side, it just adjusts unemployment benefits. We know that unemployment benefit payments are going to be higher if the economy’s in recession, lower if it’s, if it’s booming. And so there’s an adjustment that’s made there. And there’s a whole bunch of assumptions that go into these estimates. Does that all make sense Arturo?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  30:39

Yes, it’s all clear.

Gene Tunny  30:42

Okay, so what I’ll do is I’ll put a link in the show notes to a paper estimating the structural budget balance of the Australian government that was by three of my old colleagues. So Tony McDonald, Yong Hong Yan, who I don’t know, Blake Ford and David Stephan, I worked with Tony, Blake and David. So all good people. So that’s a great paper. I’ll link to that in the show notes. And I’ve noticed that the IMF also produces some estimates of these structural budget balances, although they call them, they use the other, the other name for them cyclically adjusted balance, and you can find these at the back of what’s called the IMF fiscal monitor. And I’m looking at the one from October 2022. So check that out. There’s a whole range of interesting estimates there. So if for example, you look at table A3 for advanced economies, general governments cyclically adjusted balance 2013, to 27. So it’s got historical data, it’s got forecasts in it. For Australia, they’ve got their own estimates of what the structural budget deficit is, they’ve got estimates that go from around, or three and a half percent in 2022. So that’s a calendar year 3.1%, deficit and 2324 to 2.6%. And it gets down to about .7%, deficit in 2027. So not as bad as the Australian Treasury’s estimates, which are, which have the structural deficit maintaining around 2%. There are reasons why the IMF figures are different from the Australian Government’s because the IMF, the IMF doesn’t take into account as many factors. It’s on a calendar year basis, the Treasury and I think in one of its papers, it goes through why it’s estimates are different from say, the IMF or the OECD, I think for Australia, the Treasury are probably doing a better job at it just because the IMF and and the other agency, international agencies, they have to do it for all the countries and they’re not experts in any particular country. I think the Australian Treasury’s estimates are probably better for getting a sense of the structural problem in the budget, the Treasury has got access to, to much better info, much better data on Australia, then the IMF, it’s got much better insights, I should say, into what’s going on. And its model for the structural budget balance for Australia is much more precise. It goes into more detail than the IMF. So all I’m saying is I think the, I think the Australian Treasury numbers are better than what the IMF is, is estimating there. And I tend to agree that there is that structural budget balance of, of 2% of GDP, which is a challenge for this current government, and will probably be a challenge for future governments. And it’s going to require either large cuts in spending. So getting the NDIS under control, which is going to be hugely unpopular, because it’s a very popular programme and well intentioned. And I know people are benefiting from it. And you know, it’s, it’s, it’s giving people a sense of dignity and improving people’s quality of life. So look, who knows, I mean, this government, because it’s a government from the sort of left wing I mean, it’s not as left wing as some other governments you’d see around the world. It’s not left if you think about what left, left wing governments are in South America, for example. But it’s not. It’s going to find it difficult because it is more left wing than right wing. So the Liberal National Government is going to find it difficult to cut something like NDIS or cut welfare benefits, and hence maybe it does have to look at some tax measures. Maybe it does have to cut it tax concessions heavily. Maybe it does have to adjust that stage three tax cut that’s programmed in, maybe not give us much of much, maybe not have such a big tax cut. We’ll have to wait and see. Okay. Anything else Arturo, that we should cover before we wrap up?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  35:21

Yes, I think I wanted to highlight that it should be a good discussion was a good topic to see which of those programmes social programmes are working? Good in terms of indicators. So in terms of the results on population, you’re in to see if there is any problem there. But because we know that not all the things are all the social programmes are working well. Perhaps that will be a good topic to discuss, to discuss in other episodes.

Gene Tunny  36:04

Yeah, look, I think you’re right there. And what this is highlighting I think, Arturo is yes, the need to, to really delve into whether these programmes are working or not, because we’ve got these programmes that are well intentioned, that governments they hope to do some good to achieve outcomes, but how do we know that they are actually achieving outcomes? Are they doing it in the most cost effective way? And that’s why something like this evaluate a general concept could be so valuable. This is an idea that the first person I remember proposing it was Nicolas Gruen. And so Nick’s been on the show before, well known Australian economist, CEO of lateral economics, I do some work with Nick from time to time. And, you know, he’s been involved in public policy for decades, he was involved with the button car plan back in the 80s. He was involved with your work for the treasurer in the 90s, very lateral thinker, and he came up with this idea of the evaluator general, which would have a, it would have a brief of going across the Australian Government and figuring out which programmes work, which don’t, are there other ways we do things, other innovative ways we can do things to, to solve problems. And it looks like this government is going to go ahead with some sort of evaluator general. So Jim Chalmers has pledged to put in place an effective and rigorous evaluator general and new offers based within treasury and flagged by Labour before the 2019 election, which could work with other departments to access to assess the effectiveness of government programmes. Okay, great stuff. So this is in an article by Joe Kelly in the Australian, I’ll put a link in the show notes that I was quoting from there. I think one of the issues Nick has with that proposal, though, is that it’s located within the Treasury, I think he would prefer that it has its own life, it’s outside of the Treasury. It’s a statutory authority, it has some degree of independence granted by the parliament. So yeah, I don’t think Nick’s actually I can’t speak for him. I should have him on the show to talk about that. But I’m guessing he’s probably thinks that that’s not exactly what we need. But look, I should let him. Let him speak about that in the future. So that’s the evaluator general. So I think that’s the sort of thing you’re driving at is it Arturo? That we, because we need to evaluate these programmes. The evaluator General’s one way of doing that. Exactly. So one thing I thought I should cover before we wrap up, is just what happened with the UK earlier. When was it last month? Or remember, they had their mini budget, maybe it was in September now? They had the mini budget, Liz Truss the new PM, no longer PM, shortest reigning PM in British history. And the chancellor Kwasi kwarteng, I think it was, and they released that mini budget with a big tax cut, and the markets just absolutely went nuts. The pound crashed. We had yields on UK bonds spike, because everyone there and this is the recognition that there was a structural problem already with the UK budget, the UK couldn’t afford to have a tax cut, who was going to spend, go on spending what it was spending, and it’s just quite extraordinary the way that the Institute of Fiscal Studies describe that and I’ll put a link to this in the show notes, I think it’s a great note and some really good take on it. The way they describe that mini budget, which has been reversed because the current, there’s a recognition that it was unsustainable, so we’ve got a new PM now and a new chancellor, and they’re, and they’re, they’ve reversed that. I think Liz truss, had even reversed it. And she had sacked her Chancellor, but okay, so it’s gone. But for a short time it was in place and the markets absolutely freaked out. And yeah, this is the IFS take, which I think is great, which was made at the time the chancellor announced the biggest package of tax cuts in 50 years without even a semblance of an effort to make the public finance numbers add up. That is just brutal. Goes to show just how important it is to actually care about this stuff. And I mean, I’ve been saying this for years, I used to work in the Treasury in the budget area, and I know how important it is to get this stuff right and not to go and do silly things. And so I understand where IFS is coming from and understand why the markets really just hated that mini budget. And there’s a great, there’s a great chart and that IFS analysis, which showed that if you look at what was happening to the, to the national debt or the the UK public debt, if you compare that mini budget, what would have happened with the mini budget was what was expected before so instead of the debt as a percent of national income, staying in the range from 80 to 85%, of GDP going down gradually, over the next five years, from around 85 to 80. Instead, it was going to end up going from a bit under 85% to nearly 95%. So it’s just a really bad policy. So understandably, that mini budget was absolutely. Yeah, I mean, the markets just reacted very badly and essentially brought down the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, just because, yeah, it was just very irresponsible fiscal policy. And that’s what we’ve always got to guard against now. We’re not there yet in Australia because we started off in such a good position, debt to GDP is still relatively low compared with other countries. We’ve got a bit of room, still we’ve got time, we’ve got time to turn it around. But we’ve got to start doing something because we just can’t be in a situation where we keep accumulating debt. And we know, we know there’ll be another crisis of some kind, there’ll be a downturn, hopefully, we don’t have another pandemic, but there’s going to be another crisis, there’ll be a period when we end up adding lots of debt in a short period of time or a few years. And that will mean a higher interest burden, these projections of our debt to GDP, starting to flatten out around 2032 to 33 at 48% of GDP. Okay, that could give us some comfort, but we just don’t know what’s coming down the track. My worry is that interest rates could go higher. There could be another downturn or a crisis and then we add more debt on and then that gross debt to GDP, instead of flattening out it goes on an upward trajectory. That’s a risk I worry about and why it’s so important to get the budget under control. Okay. Final thoughts, Arturo?

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  43:39

No, thank you for all your explanation Gene.

Gene Tunny  43:43

Very good. Well, it’s been great chatting with you, Arturo. And I’ll look forward to chatting again. And if you’re listening in the audience, if you want to look at any of these, these articles I’ve mentioned, I’ll put links in the show notes. Please get in touch with any questions or comments. Let me know whether you agree or disagree. Let me know if they’re things you want to know more about, and I’ll do my best to cover them in a future episode. So thanks for listening. And Arturo, thanks for joining me.

Arturo Espinoza Bocangel  44:14

Thank you for having me, Gene. Bye.

Gene Tunny  44:17

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

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

Please consider signing up to receive our email updates and to access our e-book Top Ten Insights from Economics at www.economicsexplored.com. Also, please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

Categories
Podcast episode

Slouching Towards Utopia w/ Brad DeLong – EP163

Slouching Towards Utopia is the new book from Brad DeLong, Professor of Economics at University of California, Berkeley. Professor DeLong joins show host Gene Tunny to discuss the long twentieth century from 1870 to 2010. The conversation considers the three factors which came together to massively raise living standards post-1870, and how nonetheless we’ve struggled to achieve the Utopia that once appeared possible. The “neoliberal turn” beginning in the 1970s and 1980s is considered, and DeLong explains why he writes that “Hayek and his followers were not only Dr. Jekyll–side geniuses but also Mr. Hyde–side idiots.”

You can buy Slouching Towards Utopia via this link and help support the show:

https://amzn.to/3TK4evm

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

Highlights

  • The big story after 1870: technological progress becomes rapid, the technological competence of the human race globally doubles every generation. [6:50]
  • The importance of industrial research labs in the big story since 1870 [16:35]
  • The role of the modern corporation [18:23]
  • Globalization in the late nineteenth century and pre WWI [23:25]
  • How bad governance can make a country very poor very quickly [29:09]
  • The neoliberal turn [35:56]
  • Prof. DeLong thinks the big lesson of history is that trying to maintain social and economic systems past their sell-by date doesn’t work [58:28]

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

About this episode’s guest: Brad DeLong

Brad DeLong is a professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a weblogger at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and a fellow of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. He received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1982 and 1987. He joined UC Berkeley as an associate professor in 1993 and became a full professor in 1997.

Professor DeLong also served in the U.S. government as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy from 1993 to 1995. He worked on the Clinton Administration’s 1993 budget, on the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, on the North American Free Trade Agreement, on macroeconomic policy, and on the unsuccessful health care reform effort.

Before joining the Treasury Department, Professor DeLong was Danziger Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. He has also been a John M. Olin Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Boston University, and a Lecturer in the Department of Economics at M.I.T.

Links relevant to the conversation

Brad DeLong’s substack:

https://braddelong.substack.com/

DeLong on Hobsbawm’s short 20th century (1914 to 1989) compared with his long 20th century:

https://www.bradford-delong.com/2016/12/the-short-vs-the-long-twentieth-century.html

Re. Yegor Gaidar’s analysis of the collapse of the Soviet Union:

https://sites.dartmouth.edu/asamwick/2007/06/08/the-soviet-collapse-grain-and-oil/

Lant Pritchett’s book Let Their People Come: Breaking the Gridlock on Global Labor Mobility:

https://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/9781933286105-Pritchett-let-their-people-come.pdf

Transcript: Slouching Towards Utopia w/ Brad DeLong – EP163

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

Gene Tunny  00:00

Coming up on Economics Explored.

Brad DeLong  00:02

2008 you seemed to see the engine of technological progress itself drop into a lower gear slow down by half or more. Starting in 2012-2013, we see the rise of anti democratic movements all over the world.

Gene Tunny  00:23

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 163, on Slouching Towards Utopia, the new book from the renowned US economist, Brad DeLong. He joins me this episode. Brad DeLong, is professor of economics at the University of California Berkeley. From 1993 to 95. He was deputy assistant secretary of the US Treasury for economic policy, and slashing towards utopia. Professor DeLonge explores why, despite the incredible increase in our productivity since 1870, we have failed to achieve a utopia. DeLong argues that what he calls the long 20th century began in 1870 mended by 2010, after which a productivity slowdown and stagnant wages have contributed to political discontent around the world. Please check out the show notes, relevant links and details of how you can get in touch with any comments or suggestions. I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to buy Professor Long’s book, very grateful if you could do so via the Amazon page link in the show notes. By doing so you’ll help support the show. Right oh, now it’s my conversation with Professor Brad DeLong on Slouching Towards Utopia. Thanks to Nicholas Gruen for connecting us and to my audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Professor Brad DeLong thanks for appearing on the programme.

Brad DeLong  02:02

It’s wonderful for me to be here. Right. Might help me sell some books. Excellent. Something I’m very, very interested in right now.

Gene Tunny  02:09

Excellent. Yes, yes. I hope to help you do that. And hopefully if people in the audience if they enjoy the conversation, and I’m sure they will, I’ll put a link in the show notes for sure for to your book. So I’ve been I’ve been reading your book and enjoying it.

Brad DeLong  02:20

Thank you very much. 

Gene Tunny  02:23

Yes, I’m the Kindle. Nicholas Gruen put me on to it. So Nick’s a big fan, too.

Brad DeLong  02:33

Yes. Yeah. So I’m very grateful to him for spreading the word.

Gene Tunny  02:37

Yes, yes. And it’s Slouching Towards Utopia in economic history of the 20th century. Brad, I’d like to kick off by asking, What motivated you to write the book? And what message are you trying to convey with the title, please?

Brad DeLong  02:53

Well, I suppose I started. I guess it really was reading Eric Hobsbawm’s, Age of Extremes, you know, back in 1994. And thinking that the story he was telling wasn’t the big story, that what he was telling was only a relatively small part of the big story. And that someone should write a book that told the other big story of history after 1870. And so I grossed about that for a couple of years. And in 1998, I thought, since no one else was writing it, maybe I should write the big story. And so I wrote a chapter to kind of put a stake in the ground and started showing it around, but you didn’t do anything else. And then maybe a decade, a decade and a half later, an editor from basic Tim Sullivan came around and said, You know, someone should write this, that someone should be you, you’re clearly not, why don’t we put you under contract. So I can call you once a year and yell at you about where the manuscript is. Um, and, you know, he did that. And to get into that once a year, that was a call and so forth. And then eventually, I just kind of buckled down and wrote the thing. Then, after writing the first draft, I had to take the chainsaw to it, because it was twice as big as the book that was published. And then after that, we had to polish it, and was out there in the world, you know, spiffy and polished and shrunken down considerably from the project I originally attempted. But it’s out there in the world. And I’m, I actually like it a lot, which I didn’t expect to at this point. At this point. I expected to be sick of it and thinking there was a lot wrong with it, then I find but I’m not thinking that way.

Gene Tunny  04:45

Okay. Yes. Well, that’s good. I mean, I think it’s, I think it’s terrific. And, I mean, it’s still a big book, it’s still 600 pages or so. So it’s still very, very meaty. I was impressed by all of the examples. In history, I didn’t know things that I found fascinating. So thank you. Yes. One thing I didn’t appreciate until I read your book. And maybe I’ve just missed this in other places, but the role of the Saudis in ending the Soviet Union, I didn’t appreciate how much when they increased oil output in the 80s. I think that’s the story, isn’t it? That meant the Russians or the Soviets weren’t earning as much income from their own production and that effect. Yeah. Yeah. I thought that was.

Brad DeLong  05:32

This was this was what the late Yegor Gaidar always insisted on, you know, that as long as the Soviet Union could trade oil for grain, the fact that the system was so sclerotic, they were unable to figure out a way to grow more grain at all was, you know, a problem, but not a crisis. But then the price of oil falls by two thirds and 1986, you know, as the Saudis react to with current, what’s currently going on in the Iran, Iraq War, and other things, and all of a sudden, the Soviet Union has to start borrowing if it wants to import its grain, and it starts borrowing from banks. And then the banks begin to say no. And then it goes and starts borrowing, starts asking for loan guarantees from Western governments. And then the demands come for well, we’ll guarantee these loans, but we want you to kind of be cooperative and open with respect to politics and democracy and things. And then the whole system simply collapses. It’s really quite an interesting story. Yegor Gaidar, Gaidar has a short speech he gave, I think, at the American Enterprise Institute called something like grain and oil. It’s very much worth reading,

Gene Tunny  06:50

RIght. Okay. Well, that’s good. I’ll see if I can track it down and put a link in the show notes. I mean, that’s one of many examples of, of good stories in the book, I look, I’d like to go back to what you mentioned about Eric Hobsbawm, who’s a Marxist historian, if I remember correctly, and you’re saying that you think he got the he missed the big story of what happened after 1870? Could you please explain what was he saying? And how is what you’re saying? What what do you think the big story is, please,

Brad DeLong  07:19

Eric’s big story is that you know once upon a time, there was Vladimir Lenin, there was the Bolshevik Revolution. And it created world communism, which was the world’s only hope for utopia. And in the end, world communism was betrayed by exterior enemies outside it, and by interior enemies inside of it, and it expired. But before it expired, I managed to defeat the worst tyranny in human history, the Nazis, because without the Soviet Union, the Nazis would probably still be ruling Europe. And when it expired, that brought the end of human hopes for a really good society. And, you know, from my perspective, this is a story. It’s kind of the story of the Soviet Union as tragic hero betrayed internally and externally is, you know, it’s a story that is, in some ways, simply total bonkers. Unless you’re a strong believer in world communism, as it was formed in the middle of the 20th century, you know, and Eric was right, Eric was, you know, a young Jewish teenager in Berlin in the early 1930s. You’re watching The Nazis marched past calling for the immediate death of himself and all of his family in a time when everyone else was pussyfooting with the Nazis. And you know, only the Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party, Soviet led German Communist Party was willing to say, these are horrible people, we need to fight them. And so he made that political commitment as a teenager and you know, was never really able to outgrow it. I’m told that even at the end of his life, if you got a couple of drinks into him, you could get him to say that, you know, Stalin had been too harshly judged by history. And a very smart guy, you know, very learned historian, desperately trying to get it right. Yeah. And the fact that someone like me thinks he could still get it so wrong is very much a cautionary tale about how I should not be proud. And be aware that other people are likely to judge me in the future the way I judge Eric.

Gene Tunny  09:30

Right. And so what do you think is the big story after 1870? So you’ve got to, you’ve got a more optimistic view of history, obviously.

Brad DeLong  09:39

Yeah. Yeah. Well, maybe that 1870 really is the hinge of history. Right. But, you know, before 1870, your technological progress is slow. And you know about infant mortality is extremely high. You’re going to see half your babies die before you’re five. And do something like 1/3 of women are going to wind up without surviving sons, should they be lucky enough to reach 50? themselves? And do you know when the pre 1870 high patriarchy world you reach 50 without a surviving son, you have no social power whatsoever, you know, you have absolutely no account, you have no one to advocate for you. And so before 1870, pretty much whenever there was an improvement in human technology, the response was, oh, great, now I can try to have more kids and raise the chances I’ll have surviving sons above two thirds. And so you’ll from minus 6000, BC, on up to 1870. There is a lot of improvement in technology. Yes, and the upper class lives better, yes. But for most people, you know, you simply have 100, and you simply have a farm size only 102 50th as large potentially at 1870, as your ancestors had back in minus 6000. And you know, you’re still living at something like $3 a day, you’re spending 60% of your income on just getting your 2000 calories plus essential nutrients. And there are a lot of days when you can’t think about much other than you’re very hungry. And that’s the state of the world before 1870. And that means that unless you’re in an extremely lucky place, or like Australia, or an extremely lucky class, that life is going to be kind of brutal, short, and without very many options, which means that in most times in most places, governance is going to be how does an elite figure out how to grab enough for itself and maintain its rule over society. And after 1870, everything changes, technological progress becomes rapid. The technological competence of the human race globally doubles every generation, you quickly get a world in which people are kind of rich enough that infant mortality falls substantially. And with that falling infant mortality, and with the erosion of patriarchy, all of a sudden, you don’t have to concentrate a lot of effort on having children, to be confident that if you reach the age of 50, you’ll still be able to run your own life. And so you’ll we get the demographic transition, now headed toward a stable world population of 9 billion. So for the first time after 1870, technology wins the race with human fertility. And we begin to look forward to a time when humanity will be able to bake a sufficiently large economic pie so that everyone can have enough. And you know, people back in 1870, and before, you know, they thought most of the problems of society came because incomes were low, and technology was underdeveloped. And you had this elite running a kind of domination and exploitation game on everyone. And once you can bake a sufficiently large economic pie for everyone to have enough, those things should fall away. And the problems of properly slicing and tasting the economic pie, right? Have equitably distributing it and then utilising it so that people can feel safe and secure and live lives in which they’re healthy and happy. Yep, those should be relatively straightforward to solve. And so we today at least we today in the rich countries should be living in a utopia, which we are manifestly not. And so the story of history after 1870 is how we’re well on the way to solving the problem of baking a sufficiently large economic pie. While the problems of slicing and tasting of distributing and utilising it continues to flummoxed us.

Gene Tunny  13:57

So with 1870, that’s several decades after what is traditionally thought of as the start of the Industrial Revolution, is it and in there are a few things that come together. Around that time, would you be able to explain that please?

Brad DeLong  14:13

Well, I’d say that the industrial revolution itself, you know, that steam power and metallurgy and early engineering, you know, they were really really weren’t quite enough that they get the average rate at which technology improves along the world up to about half a percent per year. And of that maybe, maybe a third comes from the fact that you’re concentrating on that you can cut that you’re suddenly concentrating all the manufacturing of the world in the districts, most of them in England where manufacturing is most efficient. And you know, 1/3 of it comes from the underlying engine of science and discovery and engineering. And 1/3 of it comes because we were lucky enough that the last round of glaciers, that they scraped all the rock off of the coal around a huge chunk of Northwest Europe, which left you with a lot of coal at sea level that you could just pick up off the ground and ship it out. But come 1870 you’ve concentrated all the manufacturing and you know, you’re pretty much mining out the really easy coal and you have to go deeper, which is more expensive. But the possibility was that, you know, the industrial revolution would be not completely but largely over, except that in 1870, we got the development of the industrial research labs to rationalise and routinized the discovery and development of new technologies. And then the modern corporation, the modern corporate form to rationalise scrutinise, the development and deployment of technologies plus full globalisation, which provides us enormous incentives to deploy and diffuse technologies. And so all of a sudden, instead of half a percent per year, you had a 2% per year rate of global technological change. And while it was possible for human humanity to be fertile enough to kind of offset the half a percent per year technology growth before 1870 with greater fertility and a population explosion, after 1870, even the population explosion could not keep us poor. Yeah. And then we go through the demographic transition and the population explosion reaches its end.

Gene Tunny  16:35

Yeah. So this is the industrial research lab. So you’re talking about Thomas Edison in Menlo Park. 

Brad DeLong  16:41

Yeah, Menlo Park and others. You know, I like Nikola Tesla. Because, you know, Nikola Tesla was, I suppose today, we’d call him neurologically divergent. He’s definitely not neurotypical. Which means that unless you can slot him in exactly the right place, you know, where he has lots of people surrounding him who will tolerate him being in A-hole, and pickup which of the crazy ideas he has that might actually be useful unless you have George Westinghouse to build an industrial research lab, to surround him with and then the Westinghouse corporation to deploy his technologies. While Edison is General Electric, and others are frantically trying to keep up because, you know, Tesla knew how to make electrons get up and dance in the way that nobody else did. Without that Nikola Tesla would have been no use to humanity at all, as it was he personally pushed the entire electrical sector forward in time by a decade. And that’s a wonderful set of things. That’s a wonderful set of meta inventions. You know, that turns the process of technological development from being a difficult one in which you have an idea, but then you need to be a human resource department and a executive, a marketer and impresario, an advertiser you know, a well as an engineer, in order to get anything done to one in which engineers can engineer and find people who are good at the other things, to kind of surround them and do all the things you need to do to actually deploy a technology and make it useful. And that really only falls into place around 1870.

Gene Tunny  18:23

Right, okay, yep. And what about this modern corporation or the modern corporate form? So corporations have existed in some form since well, the first few centuries? I mean, the East India Company, the Dutch East Indies Indies Company, yes, yeah.

Brad DeLong  18:40

No, no, but still, they were relatively, they were relatively small things and they were tight have very special the fact that anyone could kind of organise a form in which us have a special royal charter as well. And the idea that anyone could set up a framework which would be a a large, internal, centrally planned division of labour, which could expand and copy itself, but also which had all of these interfaces with the market economy so that it was focused on producing the things that people wanted or at least that people with money wanted. This is something that allows once you have a good idea, and once you’ve built it in one factory, you know, it’s then very natural for the corporation to say, Okay, let’s build it over in the next town. And let’s expand the factory, let’s licence it, let’s move it to another country. You know, all of that only happens to all of what you know, management. The Business School professor Herbert Simon used to call these red islands of central planning, you know, in mesh to connected with the green lines of market exchange. Those are very characteristic of the modern economy. And we really need to have those islands in there and working very well, you know, in order to be even nearly as productive as we are.

Gene Tunny  20:09

Right, and what would be the exemplars of that modern corporate form Brad, are you thinking of General Electric or DuPont of those sort of companies

Brad DeLong  20:18

In the early days, in the early days, it was things like the great farm machinery producers. Were I think the first because, you know, once you figure out how to make a Reaper or a harvester, or later on a combine, you know, demand for it is absolutely huge. And so you don’t want to have one small workshop, you know, one small workshop in some small town in Illinois or something, you know, making a Reaper when the Reaper can be put into use from the Murray Darling River Valley all the way to Argentina and up there. Yeah. Later on, it was Ford Motor Company and General Motors that were the classics. And now of course, I think it is, you know, Apple Computer, which is simultaneously the most to market economy and capitalist driven thing in the world, but also the orchestrator of this enormously complicated, and centrally planned division of labour all over the world with all of its suppliers, in which a relatively small number of people in Cupertino, California, can conduct an economic division of labour, that dwarfs that of the centrally planned Soviet Union at its most prosperous, in terms of how much money and resources are moved around in a way in which in response to commands and to requests issued by Cupertino, to produce the more than a billion iPhones that currently populate the world.

Gene Tunny  22:01

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s extraordinary for sure.

Brad DeLong  22:04

And, you know, we haven’t even gotten into its role as the pusher forward of electronics technology of modern semiconductor, whereby your Apple Computer pays the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation $30 billion each year, which it then turns around and uses to invest in pushing semiconductor technology forward to make circuits smaller and chips faster and bigger, which it then sells to Apple, which then puts into iPhones so it can earn the $30 billion it needs for the next round.

Gene Tunny  22:40

Yeah, yeah, for sure. And I mean, Apple is still innovating even though Steve Jobs is no longer around.

Brad DeLong  22:47

Jobs is gone. Yeah, yes.

Gene Tunny  22:51

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

Female speaker  22:56

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

Gene Tunny  23:25

Now back to the show. Can I ask you about full globalisation? You talk about that? And then you talk about what happened later in the 90s with what you call re globalisation, I think and then there’s hyperglobalisation. What I think what your book reminded me of was just those the large flows of people, and also capital that occurred in the late 19th century and before World War One, and that’s something I think Polanyi wrote about, could you talk about that please Brad?

Brad DeLong  23:54

Oh, well, one thing is to say that, that kind of from 1870 to 1914, 50 million people leave Europe and also 50 million people leave Asia. The people who leave Europe by and large go to you know, Argentina, Chile, southern Brazil, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. They go there they bring European biotechnology crops and animals and so forth. In Australia, they find at least before the great drought of the 1890s that there is not a better place for European sheep than Australia. And so Australia before the drought of the 1890s becomes the place with by far the highest standard of living in the world. As you know the equivalent of the equivalent of OPEC instead of oil. It’s sheep. And instead of shipping petroleum and container ships, they ship out wool in steam powered ocean going ships and they produce the you know an amazingly rich and prosperous middle class civilization of its day, something that I don’t see know very much about. Except for the things I see are the backgrounds I see on Mrs. Fisher’s murder Mr. Rene Fisher’s Murder Mystery Show, which my wife says the clothes the clothes at does extremely well. And then Australia with its large middle class, you’ll powers the demand for Australian factories and Australia industrialising and becomes and remains an extremely rich and prosperous country. Brazil might have seen the been on the same trajectory. You know, Australia has land that’s wonderful for sheep. You know, Brazil in the second half of the 19th century was the best place for rubber. It was the place rubber came from. And so you know, you have the rubber tappers of Brazil making a good living, you have the growth of the Brazilian economy, you have the construction that European singers like Enrico Caruso or Jenny Lind, when they went on world tours, they would go up to Amazon to Manassas and performing them in Manassas Opera House and things worked very, very well, except that the British arrived and they grabbed some rubber plants from Brazil and they carried them back to Kew Gardens. And then the Belgians got a hold of them and they took them down to the Congo and then King Leopold began cutting off the hands of people who didn’t bring in enough rubber from the villages. And in Malaysia, the British Empire brought down workers from China combined it who were desperate to get out of China, given how small farm sizes were and how poor China was, combined it with British capital, and this Brazilian biotechnologies, so that Malaysia, Malaysia, the Malay Peninsula becomes the world’s biggest rubber producing centre in the world by 1914. And the enormous crash, and the enormous crash of the Brazilian rubber industry as well, because the rubber plant had left all its pests and parasites behind in Brazil. And so it grew like a weed on the Malay Peninsula. And, you know, the Chinese plantation workers brought down from the Pearl River Delta, were extremely happy that the British could pay them a quarter of what the Brazilian rubber tappers were used to getting. And they would still say we’re much better off than they would be back in China. That is, and this transfer of all kinds of tropical goods and plants around the world, right that Yemen finds itself suddenly faced with enormous competition from coffee grown in Indonesia, and in kind of Costa Rica as well. Which means that if you were in the tropics between 1870 and indeed, up until 1950, you’d find that whatever you export, its price was dropping like a stone because there was all of this extra competition from all of these extra sites for production opened up by this Asian migration. Well, the rich first world countries did quite well and did quite well in large part because immigrants from India and China were by and large kept out of Australia and the United States. And so wage levels in Australia and Australia and the United States stayed very high. And they got the middle classes in the middle class demand needed to provide the demand so that they could industrialise you know, while Brazil or Malaysia or Congo really didn’t have a chance to industrialise because, you know, no middle class large enough to buy the manufactured goods and no ability to export given how cheap and how good at manufacturing Britain was back then and how eager Britain was to export. 

Gene Tunny  29:09

The story we tell ourselves is that it’s, it’s all about it was all about good governance as well. I mean, in good institutions.

Brad DeLong  29:17

Yeah, no bad governance can make something very country very poor very quickly. That and indeed, Arthur W. Economist, Arthur Lewis, you know, all those used to say, look, Australia and New Zealand are not just cousins of Canada and the United States, but also of Argentina and Chile, and in some ways South Africa. And, indeed, come 1914, Buenos Aires looks a lot like Melbourne. But then governance falls apart in the 1920s and 1930s. And even more so after World War Two. And now, you know, no one thinks of Argentina as being a country that is kind of on the same level of development of the Earth, Australia or Canada, because it simply is not. And yet, it certainly has the land, it certainly had the resources that had the education in 1914 it had the technology base, but bad governance can do terrible things. You know, you see this most with respect to communist, right that when the Iron Curtain failed in 1990, we could actually look, and we could see that those countries that had been ruled by the Communists were only 1/5, as rich as the countries immediately outside, immediately across the border. And you know, where that border was, was principally determined by where the Red Army had managed to march in 1945. Yeah, what’s the difference between Czechoslovakia and Austria? Yeah, yeah. Or Yugoslavia and Italy?

Gene Tunny  30:59

Yeah, very good point. I’d like to ask now about the what you call the is it the long 20th century? You talk about this period from 1870 to 2010? And is that the period where we were Slouching Towards Utopia?

Brad DeLong  31:15

Yeah, where every generation, we were doubling humanity’s technological competence. And it was really clear that we were solving the problem of baking a sufficiently large economic pie. And we were trying to figure out how to slice and tastes how to distribute and utilise it. And that was kind of flummoxed more sometimes than others. And people were trying various things. Some of them reasonable, and some of them absolutely horrible and genocidally destructive. Yeah, yeah. I’d say that’s what gives 1870 to 2010 its unit, you know, that we’re solving the what people thought was the big problem, but not at all solving what people thought were, but people back before 1870 had thought would be smaller problems.

Gene Tunny  32:03

Okay, and so 2010, that’s in the aftermath of the financial crisis. So that’s a pivotal event, in your view.

Brad DeLong  32:13

Except it’s not really a pivotal event, okay. It’s more like a pivotal 20 years. Maybe it starts on September 11 2001, when all of a sudden, a willingness to kill people because they worship God differently that we thought was over in 1648, at the end of the 30 Years War in Central Europe, after which people said, let’s not do that, again. We’re back. Maybe it continues in 2003, you know, when the United States stops acting like a relatively cooperative leader of the world, and instead says, We’re another great power, and we’re going to act like great powers do, maybe it’s 2007, when it becomes very clear that in the attack that an ideological attachment to the view that I’m rich, because the market has rewarded me, therefore the market must be a good thing. Had that that idea had hobbled the regulation of finance, and then come 2010 It’s clear, that same idea keeps people from responding to the Great Recession, by saying we need to get back to full employment rapidly instead, all over the globe, people are saying, well, you know, the market is a good thing. And the market has been doing this for a reason. And so you know, we shouldn’t artificially we shouldn’t artificially stimulate the economy. 2008, seemed to see the engine of technological progress itself to drop into a lower gear slow down by half or more. Starting in 2012-2013, we see the rise of anti democratic movements all over the world from you know, Modi’s version of national Hinduism to Viktor Orban and many, many others. And last, I’d say, come 2022, we have the return of major power war. Right, the idea that big wars rather than wars that are kind of a civil war component are a way to solve things. You know, even though if I wanted to convince the Ukrainians that they weren’t a separate nation, but only a Russian ethnicity, you know, I would send the Bolshoi Ballet and I would send orchestras to play the works of Tchaikovsky and I would send poets to read the poems of Pushkin in the general streets of Ukraine. I would not say send killer robots flying overboard to drop overhead to drop bombs and kill but you know the return of a major power war. Add to that global warming is now We’ll go not a distant threat. But lots of people were underwater in Pakistan early this summer and lots of people saying, Why is the Yangtze River five metres below where it’s supposed to be? It’s now a thing. And a thing for the three and a half billion people of Asia who live in the great river valleys and the monsoons and some with the coming of global warming. We have a different and more complicated and I don’t think we yet understand what the post 2010 story is. But it isn’t the technological progress is pulling ahead extraordinarily rapidly making us potentially all prosperous, and we only need to figure out how to distribute and utilise our wealth. Instead, the world faces other and probably bigger problems, and certainly more of them. So that’s why I bring it to an end in 2010.

Gene Tunny  35:56

Okay, okay. I’d like to ask you about what you call the I think it’s the neoliberal turn in your book. So you talk about how we changed or the philosophy the I don’t know, the dominant philosophy and government and politics change from social this, we’re talking about advanced economies change from social democratic, or whatever you want to call it to, starting in the 70s, and 80s, with Thatcher and Reagan. And we also had a variant of it here in Australia. You call it this neoliberal turn and would you be able to be good if you could explain what you mean by that? And also, I’d like to ask you about your this is great, one of my favourite quotes in your book, you wrote that Hyack. So Frederick Hayek, the Austrian economist Hayek, and his followers were not only Dr. Jekyll, side geniuses, but also Mr. Hyde side idiots, I love that. So if you could explain what you’re driving out there, please, that’d be great.

Brad DeLong  36:56

1945 to 1975 or so are absolutely wonderful years. peace, prosperity, the most rapid growth, at least in the Global North that has ever been seen before. Middle class society, everything seems to be going right. But come and after 1975, you know, there’s inflation, which leads to the general consensus that there’s something wrong with social democracy, that it’s handing out too many tickets to things more tickets to things than the economy and society can produce. And when you hand out more tickets, and there are seats, the result is going to be the tickets get the value that is also going to be inflation. And so social democracy needs to get a grip, and become, you know, more responsible and less willing to simply hand out tickets to anyone who asks, add to that the idea that it’s greatly over bureaucratized that the government is doing too much, and there are too many forms to fill out. Add to that, the idea that too many people have taken advantage of the social democratic system, you know, to grab benefits to which there were not in title. I remember in the late 1970s, as a young teenager, there were people who would come around with maps of where the people in Australia drawing unemployment benefits were. And the claim was that they were on the beaches. Yeah, you know, that you get unemployment benefit. And you say, Okay, I won’t look for another job for two months, I’ll go to the beach for two months, and then I’ll look for a job. That all kinds of things in which too many people were saying too many union members and welfare recipients were getting away with too much and not working hard enough. Yeah, that benefits for the slackers were too great than the taxes on the actual productive members of society were too high. And that the tax system was greatly discouraging investment. And thus, economic growth. And thus, the inflation and the slowdown of economic growth that we saw in the late 1970s. Were a result of the fact that social democracy had tapped out and it needed very much to be a rethink. And the rethink takes the form of Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Reagan in the United States. You know, the idea that taxes need to be lower, that the job creators need to be properly incentivized that, you know, the non rich need to be a little bit poor, so they’re a little bit hungrier and work harder. That sources of rent seeking, you know, people who have claims to income but who are not productive, need to have those claims erased , especially if they’re welfare recipients on the one hand, who haven’t been able to maintain a stable family, or if they happen to have lucked into a particular union that manages to have its kind of hands around the throat of some important part of the distribution system. You know, Ronald Reagan’s saying, I’m going to destroy the, Jimmy Carter in fact, Jimmy Carter was, in fact, launched the Airline deregulation effort in the 1970s. One big purpose of which was to make the lives of airline pilots a little less cushy. And Ronald Reagan followed that up by breaking the strike of the air traffic controllers. It was Jimmy Carter, who by deregulating trucking in the United States, you know, applied the same medicine to the then powerful teamsters union, saying, once deregulated trucking, you’re going to be exposed to all kinds of rail and non union competition as well, you know, in your ability to extract an extremely cushy life go. And the ability of the collected organised crime gangs of the United States to draw on the teamsters pension fund is going to be sufficiently reduced. So you have this great wheel around 1980. So much so that in 1994, Bill, Bill Clinton, who really is a Social Democrat at heart, wants to win another term, he feels he has to go out there and say that the era of big government is over. That just as Dwight Eisenhower, a very conservative person could only govern in the 1950s. By saying the New Deal, social democracy is a good thing, but I’m going to be a much better manager. Because I can say no to interest groups that are demanding too much while the Democrats are relying on those interest groups to turn out the vote. So you should elect me to be the president to run the new deal rather than let a Democrat. Yeah, so Bill Clinton was having to say that I’m going to be because I understand how valuable government can be, I’m actually the one who will do the best job of cutting it. So it’s so to do the most good. And that kind of lasted that kind of era in which neoliberal, this neoliberal view, that the market should be doing more, and the government should be doing less? You know, it really lasted up until the great recession since then, since then, we’ve had a time of confusion.

Gene Tunny  42:28

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, for sure. I’m just interested. I’m interested in your thoughts on the that neoliberal term? Because I mean, you’re someone you’ve got, you know, people who are very prominent in our time, and you worked with Larry Summers you’ve written and you’ve done research with, with Larry Summers, who was US Treasury secretary. I mean, how do you feel about all because Would you say there was some benefits to it? Because, I mean, Airline Deregulation, and I mean, that was good for consumers. How do you think about it now?

Brad DeLong  42:58

As they say, you know, in some ways Friedrich von Hayek really was Dr. Jekyll. Yeah, in that if you have a, you know, if you have a command and control system, you know, there’s somebody at the top, who’s issuing orders and everyone else is kind of not really using their mind that they’re kind of robots doing what the person at the top orders. And, you know, if you’ve ever worked in any large organisation, you know that the person at the top has very little idea of what’s actually going on down at the bottom. And will often be issuing commands about what you should do next that are best nonsensical, and that are worst highly destructive. You try to have a committee solve that problem of central command by establishing it by writing a rulebook. And then you have a bureaucracy because God knows the rulebook only covers about a third of the cases, it’s simply not possible for any small group to think about. But um, assign people private property and let them trade and exchange in a market. And all of a sudden, the people who are actually on the ground in the situation, you’ll have the ability to do things because the property is theirs. And also, as long as market prices are in accord with social values, they have a very strong personal incentive to do the right thing. Or at least the thing that makes money and then there’s the well, but our market price is in accord with social values problem, but if you can solve that problem, then a properly tuned market economy with private property is the best possible anti bureaucratic, you know, anti authoritarian crowdsourcing mechanism for helping people to organise themselves in order to do what is needed for the common good. Did you know much better to impose a carbon tax and say, you know, gas filling up your car was going to be expensive. Then too, as Jimmy Carter said to say, if your licence plate ends in an even digit, you can only fill your car with gas on even days and with an odd digit, you can only fill your gas on odd days. Friedrich von Hayek was a Dr. Jekyll positive genius and seeing this and seeing this very clearly. But as I say, he also was on Mr. Hyde style idiot. Because you’ll Hayek, having grasped on to this value of the market, he couldn’t think of anything else. And so he reached his position, which is the market economy will take modern science and technology and make us all prosperous, full stop, we need to be happy with that. We should not ask for anything else, we should not ask for an equitable income distribution or any form of social justice. Because if we do, we’ll find ourselves monkeying with the system. And when we monkey with the system, we will destroy the ability of the market to actually be productive and to make us rich. And ultimately, we’ll wind up on the road to serfdom. We won’t get social justice, and we will be at our we will make ourselves poor. And so the one thing we definitely need to do is whenever anyone starts talking about social justice, or income distribution or their rights to something that isn’t, that aren’t property rights, we need to tell them to shut up, you know that the only rights that matter are property rights, and that’s how it should be, you know, and yes, this is not social justice. You know, the market gives most things, not the people who deserved them, but instead of the people who are lucky enough to own the valuable pieces of property. But if you can’t accept that you don’t have any business doing politics or speaking in the public square. Yeah. And, you know, that’s profoundly unhealthy. That’s profoundly unhealthy in actually figuring out how we should utilise and distribute our wealth, but you know, Hayek stuck to that to the end. So much so that he was an enthusiastic supporter of Augusto Pinochet. Believing at some level that you know, Pinochet would reform Chile. And then once Marxism and Social Democracy had been stamped out, then you know, he could retire and the Chilean people could be allowed to go back to electing their governors again. But in the meantime, you definitely need it. You know, he called it the Lycurgan moment. And the myth of the semi mythical dictator, yeah, even though not a king of Sparta had established what people said was the Spartan system of government and war back in the Classical Age.

Gene Tunny  48:03

Yeah, I was shocked by that. Brad, when I read that in your book, I’ll have to go back and look at where Hayet wrote that because I mean, it’s quite shocking to think that someone who is a champion of liberty, and I mean, he’s inspired there’s a think tank in Australia, the Centre for Independent Studies, which I have a bit to do with which is inspired by Hyack. And so I mean, I’ve read Road to Serfdom, but I don’t remember anything like that, but I’ll definitely go back and look.

Brad DeLong  48:31

He gets cranky, he gets cranky or as he gets older. That, you know, in 1944, when writing the Road to Serfdom, he’s chiefly interested in trying to persuade a future British Labour Party government not to be really stupid with respect to nationalising everything in sight. But you know, he ages and as my father says when you get older, you discover that you are more like yourself and it’s not necessarily a good person. That back when you were younger and had to pretend not to be yourself and weren’t quite as much as yourself, maybe we’re better off right, Yeah. Yeah. There is a letter from Maggie Thatcher back to Hayet saying thanking him for one of his and indeed saying but you are recommending the use some Chilean and methods and do those are unacceptable given our constitutional traditions, and I haven’t been able to find out what this is in response to.

Gene Tunny  49:29

Right, okay

Brad DeLong  49:32

In the context of a world that is drifting towards Central planning and very heavy bureaucracy, it’s more understandable than as account. You know, Hayet’s, crankier parts are more understandable and useful as a counterweight than they are as you know, an accelerator, an accelerant for a kind of neoliberal era.

Gene Tunny  49:56

Yeah, I think you definitely make some I mean, a lot of what you’ve you’ve written I think is great. And I mean, I’ve been thinking about this myself, I think we’ve I feel it in Australia, we’ve probably managed things better than in the States. I mean, there’s definitely. And then the way I’ve thought about it is that some of the neoliberal policies we’ve enacted, I think, have been good for consumers, we cut tariffs, I mean, we used to have this very high tariff wall. So I think it was as late as 1988, or 89, we had a 57% tariff on motor vehicles. And so cars were, in real terms, much more expensive. So they benefited a lot. But there has been dislocation, but we seem to have manage that, because we’ve had a Social Security system and a public health care system. And I look at the states. And I mean, I mean, I think Americans, I think the US is a great country. But the lack of a public health care system, and the lack of a social security system, I think, is making things very difficult. And that’s meaning the politics becomes very, I mean, it’s just, it looks awful at the moment from over here. So yeah, that’s just a comment. But if you have any reflections, that’d be great.

Brad DeLong  51:09

Things are never as awful as they look on YouTube. Still, it’s still strong and rich, and you know the sense of a very, very strong sense of one nation, and we should all be pulling for each other. Which you won’t see if you go on YouTube or Twitter where it is indeed, the politics of you know, Ezra Klein says you get clicks only if you make enemies. And that’s really not how most people normally live their lives. But yeah, there’s a great book that’s getting some considerable play now by Elizabeth Berman called Thinking Like an Economist, you know, how efficiency replaced equality in the US public policy, which I think definitely could use a dose of the good Dr. Jekyll Hyatt, right. That says that demanding equality, demanding one size fits all rather than letting people crowdsource solutions on an individual level, is something that we should value greatly. And yet Elizabeth Popp Berman doesn’t value it at all.

Gene Tunny  52:21

Right. Okay. Okay. I’ll have to check that out. I might have to wrap up soon. But the final final question i’ve good is just referencing one of your quotes in your book where you talk about the power of some individuals, and you talk about the power of Keynes and FDR? Yeah. How do you think they would want to know it’s almost an impossible question, but how would they be diagnosing where we are today? And what needs to be done? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Brad DeLong  52:53

With respect to the Great Recession, Keynes would certainly say, I told you so. And with glory in it, because he was at some level of British upper class twit of the early 20th century. With respect to the rest, he would say that, by and large on my number with the predictions he made in a 1930 speech, he gave on economic possibilities for our grandchildren to have indeed come true. And that at least the global north is approaching the stage in which we do indeed have enough. And then our problems are that we’re kind of hag written by ideas and ideologies that were useful and essential in past poor age, you know, avarice, usery, and precaution. And that we’re also facing the prominent problem of the human race, which is how to take your wealth and resources and live life wisely and well. And he would say that he had hoped that we would have made more progress on learning how to live life wisely, and well than we have, and would have hoped that we were less hag written by you know, avarice, usury and precaution. By kind of not realising how wealthy we are. And you know, how broad open our possibilities should be, but being instead do to mean and ungenerous to ourselves and to others.

Gene Tunny  54:17

Yes, yeah. Okay. And what do you think? I mean, what would you have any thoughts on? I mean, what’s, what’s to be done, particularly in the US or in other? What other advanced economies? I mean, I mean, one of the challenges we’ve got here in Australia is how we pay for this National Disability Insurance Scheme. So we’ve got this permanent structural deficit in our budget now of about 2% of GDP. And the current government when it was in opposition committed to these what we call over here, these stage three tax cuts that are kicking in in a few years, where there’s, they’re more geared well, because the wealthier pay more tax just because of the way the system is set up. And the way these tax cuts work is that the bulk of the benefits go to the upper end. And there’s a big debate about whether it’s appropriate or not to have those tax cuts at the moment in Australia, but what are the levers? Is that you see, is it around? Is it taxation? Is that one of the levers for redistribution? Or is it regulation? What what do you see as the levers?

Brad DeLong  55:22

Well, you know, I think, I think the biggest and the best lever and in fact, the one in which the United States and Australia have historically been most successful, you know, is immigration, right. That over time, we have been very, very good at taking in people from elsewhere whose parents were not Americans, Australians, and making them into, you know, Americans and Australians. Like, I remember Maine Senator George Mitchell, you know, the guy who negotiated the Good Friday Accords in Ireland. And, you know, he looks like one of my great uncle’s, someone all of whose ancestors had been in Maine since 1750. And, you know, talked with an extremely strong accent, you know, um, and so actually, he’s simply a second generation immigrant, he’s half Irish, half Lebanese. He just looks and sounds exactly like my great uncles with their eight generations of, you know, hardscrabble time in the soil. But, um, we have enormously powerful and strong cultures, ideologies, and forms of Nash forms of national unity, that are actually not based on us all really being the descendants of our founders, and both countries willingness to take in large numbers of people from elsewhere. You know, Australia, taking in an enormous number of refugees after World War Two have been huge sources of national strength. And we are still largely empty countries, and you can move someone from Mexico to the United States, you know, from Malaysia to Australia. And you know, you are going to triple their productivity just by doing that alone. And that will generate a huge amount of potential wealth from a well we grow by immigration. Otherwise, the problem is that, you know, we had a steam power economy in 1870. And, you know, an electricity and diesel and chemical economy in 1900, and a mass production economy in 1940, and you know, a global value chain economy in 1990. And now we’re headed for info biotech economy and whatever worked in the sense of, you know, politics, economics and sociology, 30 years ago, back when the technological foundations of the economy are different, it’s probably not going to work well now. So anyone who says we need to go back to X is probably going to wind up unhappy. And so we should try to move forward into the future rather than trying to pick up models from the past. Although what those forward and the future models are, you know, that’s beyond me.

Gene Tunny  58:19

Okay. Okay. You’re telling the economic history story, the policy and then that’s, that’s for someone else.

Brad DeLong  58:28

But the big lesson of history is that trying to maintain social and economic systems past their sell by date as the technology changes underneath it just doesn’t work.

Gene Tunny  58:39

Right. Yeah. Yeah. Interesting point about immigration. We one of the one of the challenges in Australia we have is that, I mean, everyone wants to live in one of the big the three major capital cities. I mean, I’m in one of them, I’m in Brisbane, and Nick’s down in Melbourne, then Sydney is the, you know, the biggest, but the concern is that everyone wants to live in those cities. And there’s just not enough housing. I mean, we’ve got, I mean, I guess, it’s around. It’s in other advanced economies, too. But there’s a housing crisis and property prices have surged, although they are falling out, because the of the dynamics of the lending and what’s happened with the monetary policy, but they’re still very high rents are going up. So we’ve got concerns about housing availability. And in the short term, I think, if we’re bringing immigration back, I think that’s going to cause a lot of pressure. So we’ve got to manage that better and harder. No, there’s the environmental issues about allowing development. So I think, yeah, I agree with you about immigration providing benefits. So just see that in the short term. There are a lot of these absorption issues that we have to deal with.

Brad DeLong  59:48

A lot of people who think they have rights that things need to stay as they are. Yes, yes. And do you know to this, there’s a great Italian novel called I think Lampedusa, no written by Lampedusa, called Gattopardo, called The Leopard about Sicily in the 1860s, in which at one point, the young guy yells at his uncle, the count of Selena, you don’t understand in order for everything to stay the same. Everything has to change. Yeah, yeah. As the young guy goes off to join Garibaldi in the Italian revolution. And so I do think we need to look much more at the things that need to change. He says, sitting in a house built in 1897, we think, at a time, but it was surrounded by pear orchards. And now when it is half a mile or two thirds of a mile south of the university campus and two thirds of a mile north of the subway line. And so is a, that something so close to so many extremely desirable places, should house only three people right now. Rather than have been turned into a 10 storey apartment building is in some sense, an offence against land planning.

Gene Tunny  1:01:08

Yeah, well, I think we’ve got to find a better balance. I mean, who knows. That’s, that’s an issue for another episode, I think.

Brad DeLong  1:01:17

It is, you know, and we did actually build a cottage on our lot as soon as we were allowed to do so. But still. Yeah, so we did add to Berkeley’s housing stock. Yep. Still, you know,, the San Francisco Bay Area has seven and a half million people and looking back at the past 450 years of history, it’s easy to say how if we’d had a 1800s view toward development, we now have 20 million people, you know, we the size of Los Angeles in population. And it would probably be a better world I must say, because those other 12 and a half million people who aren’t here are in other places that are kind of less great to live in, and where they are likely to be less productive than they would be if they were here.

Gene Tunny  1:02:14

And just just finally, probably, you know, you’ve I don’t want to take too much of your time. But have one more question is, in your view, what are the most what’s the most important factor there is the governance, it always the agglomeration effects when they move countries because I know that Lant Pritchards crunched the numbers on this, and there’s this huge gain from moving people around the world. What’s the benefit? Where does it come from? Do you have thoughts on that?

Brad DeLong  1:02:38

A lot of it is agglomeration, thick market agglomeration effects that we don’t really understand that appear to be extremely large. And, but that also can very quickly turn into pollution and crowding effects if the local government is not competent at handling the process.

Gene Tunny  1:02:59

Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that makes sense.

Brad DeLong  1:03:03

And a lot more is that, you know, it is, throughout history, it’s always proven much, much easier to move people that where institutions are good, and where they can be productive than to somehow move institutions to where the people are, that attempts to build prosperity or build democracy in places where it does not seem to be strongly established, that those rarely go very well. And I would say, I do not really understand why that is the case. And I used to have a guru, a classmate of mine, who I went to about that, Alberto Alesina, to teach me. But alas, he dropped dead of a heart attack a few years. And I haven’t found another guru who I trust.

Gene Tunny  1:03:48

Okay, I might try and cover that in a future podcast episode. It’s a fascinating question. It just occurred to me then.

Brad DeLong  1:03:57

I love what Lant has to say about his numbers actually why his numbers are what they are.

Gene Tunny  1:04:05

Yes, yes. Yeah. I’ll put a link in the show notes to some of that work. Okay. Very good. Okay.

Gene Tunny  1:04:11

Well, I’m Professor Brad DeLong. It’s been a real pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you very much about your book and I’ll put a link in the show notes. And so if you’re listening in the audience, and please, I’d suggest getting a copy. Yeah. I’ve got it on Kindle. But I mean, it’ll be in bookstores and major bookstores in Australia I’m very sure. And yeah, Professor DeLong. Any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Brad DeLong  1:04:38

Just thank you very much. And I think be hopeful right that even though individually, each of us is just a jumped up East African plains ape who often forgets where he left his keys yesterday. Together, there are 8 billion of us and if we talk to each other together, we can be a very smart anthologie intelligence.

Gene Tunny  1:05:02

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

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

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