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Issue No. 310 09 June 2006  

I'm No Economist, But ….
I'm no economist, but there a few things about the national economic debate right now that I don't quite get.


Interview: Rock Solid
Bill Shorten gives the inside story on the Australian Workers Union's involvement in the Beaconsfield rescue.

Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Phil Oswald bought up his kids to believe in their rights; so when his 16-year old daughter was told to cop a pay cut she was never going to take it quietly.

Politics: The Johnnie Code
WorkChoices is encrypted deep in the PM's political DNA, writes Evan Jones

Energy: Fission Fantasies
Adam Ma’anit looks at the big business push behind the 'clean nuclear' debate that is sweeping the globe.

History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
The WorkChoices Penal Powers are the latest in a long line of penal sanctions against trade unions, writes Neale Towart

International: Closer to Home
If Australia can forgive its debt to Iraq, why not to Indonesia and the Philippines, write Luke Fletcher and Karen Iles

Economics: Taking the Fizz
While the Treasurer has been popping the post-Budget champers, Frank Stilwell gives a more sober assessment.

Unions: Stronger Together
Amanada Tattersall looks at the possibilities of strengthening alliances between unions, environmental and community organisations

Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Tommy Lee Jones directs and stars in a film about racism and retribution, writes James Gallaway.

Poetry: Fair Go Gone
Employers in the land rejoice, for we are girt by greed.


 Grandmother Fights Fabrication Company

 Bog Standards, Hanssen Exposed

 Foxtel Channels Contracts

 Telstra Dials Up A Shocker

 Viva La Resolution

 Smirk Boss Loses Control

 Iemma Told To Change At Central

 On The Tiles

 APHEDA Offices Attacked

 Vanstone Sits On Wages

 PM Slap for Battered Women

 "Spineless" Andrews Apologises

 Howard Lags “Best Practice”

 Harper's Bizarre Theories

 Process Abused - Call Peter McIlwain

 Activists What's On!


The Soapbox
The Beaconsfield Declaration
As the Prime Minister feted Brant Webb and Todd Russell, their colleagues were outside with a message to the rest of Australia.

The Locker Room
Run Like You Stole Something
Phil Doyle observes that there are some tough bastards out there.

The Westie Wing
That fun-loving friend of the workers, Ian West, reports from the red leather of the Bear Pit.

Class Action
Phil Bradley draws the lines between education funding and the current skills crisis.

 Her Honour Judge Judith Scheindler
 Greens Are Good For You
 Calling All Micks!
 Coming Up Swinging
 Belly's Bit
 Mining For Gold
 Blood Spangled Banner
 Never To Be Repeated Offer
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I'm No Economist, But ….

I'm no economist, but there a few things about the national economic debate right now that I don't quite get.

Take employment. We are this week celebrating unemployment falling below five per cent for the first time in the memory. Praise the lords of deregulation!

But if the federal government keeps changing the definition of employed to push more people off welfare by reducing to just one hour a week the time an employed person needs to be in work to classify as 'employed' does this represent anything more than smoke and mirrors?

And, if we boast the second highest level of casualisation in the developed world, are these jobs as valuable as the full time ones that may have employed a larger proportion of the workforce in the past, giving them the security to buy homes, raise families, have a life outside the workplace?

If we are so short of skilled local that we need to scour the globe for migrant workers to meet labour supply, don't we need to be looking at our labour market's ability to plug the gaps - not just to get bums on seats?

In short, if economists are so smart, why can't we compare the quality of these jobs, the social value of the jobs, or is a raw head count all they are capable of?

Here's another thing that I don't get. If we are indeed, awash in employment and we have more jobs than we can fill then why do need to take unpopular economic measures like cutting workers rights, privatising state assets and sacking public servants in the name of creating more jobs?

I mean, if everyone has work as the economists tell us, then why do we need to keep taking nasty economic medicine to create more jobs that we need to go offshore to fill? Something doesn't make sense.

As for wages, I do get the logic behind the argument that if you push wages down, an employer can hire more workers.

But isn't that the same argument they used to argue to get rid of tariffs? That if T-shirts were cheaper, we could by more? And why is it now that T-shorts are so cheap, the quality is so crap - so that I need to buy a lot more of them? And does the same logic apply to workers?

And I don't get how lower wages make business more productive. Isn't productivity about getting more output from your labour, not making it cheaper?

The other thing I don't get about wages is executive pay - if the theory on workers holds true and we benchmark wages with Beijing and Bombay - why do we keep benchmarking executive salaries with London and New York?

I don't quite get budgets either. Economists are flagellating the NSW Government for going into a deficit of less than half of one per cent of their operating budget for a single year - before going back into surplus again.

I don't get how we can have a federal government with so much cash they get dizzy wasting it, while basic services fail at a state level - and economists think one mob are brilliant and the other mugs, rather than questioning whether we are distributing our taxes effectively.

And I don't who get dictates the solution to a short-term shortfall, is not to borrow a bit, but to sell of public assets like Snowy Hydro or sack the people who keep the system working.

It's the political equivalent of selling off the house and moving into a trailer park, because at least I'll be able to fully fund the caravan and washroom fees out of my weekly pay packet.

And the economic markets stand over our government's like a dominatrix at the wrong time of month, while turning a blind eye to the real economic crisis - the massive, growing national current account deficit.

This is the one that came to fame in John Howard's debt truck before the 1996 election - - these days the figure stands at a grand $ 494 billion - that's about $25,000 debt for every man woman and child.

Why is this sort of debt OK, when a few lazy billion spent by government for such frivolous enterprises as, oh, building schools, hospitals, roads, rail, maybe even a bit of investment in that renewable energy (that has been placed in the too hard basket), deemed to be so evil?

Is it maybe, that the government pays its own debts off - while the people's debt is outsourced to the global banks through credit cards and mortgages - the same banks that employ most of the economists who set the global ground rules?

I'm no economist, but when the world is reduced to a beautiful set of numbers, it seems to me that the people get forgotten and mad ideas like WorkChoices can actually seem logical.

Thank God that people, not economists determine elections. Otherwise we'd have no hope but a Utopia carefully modelled by the economists for the economists, where the only prosperity would exist on paper.

Peter Lewis



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