Australia’s economy seemed to be repairing itself, right?
Unemployment was finally falling.
Job ads were rising.
Growth was out of the doldrums.
Corporate profits were rising and the stockmarket too.
So how come the Budget forecasts the unemployment rate to worsen?
The documents released by Joe Hockey last night forecast unemployment rising from 5.8 per cent up to 6.25 per cent by 2014-15. That would represent around 50,000 people out of work.
It makes this forecast despite expecting a fall in labour force participation and a rise in growth in our “major trading partners,” from 4.6 per cent to 4.75 per cent.
There’s been plenty of good news recently. I thought unemployment forecasts might go the other way. In fact unemployment forecasts haven’t improved since MYEFO, despite this:
“Since MYEFO, the near-term outlook for the household sector has improved. Leading indicators of dwelling investment are consistent with rising activity, while household consumption and retail trade outcomes have improved recently, consistent with gains in household wealth.”
No change since MYEFO? That surprised me. Unemployment forecasts often change between a MYEFO and a Budget. For example, 18 months ago, that MYEFO tipped unemployment of 5.5 per cent in 2013-14. Twelve months ago – at the following Budget – the world looked worse and the forecast was 5.75 per cent.
This time, all the good news since MYEFO seems to be nullified by the government’s surplus rush.
The qualification in this sentence is perhaps important:
“The timing and composition of the new policy decisions mean that the faster pace of consolidation in this Budget does not have a material impact on economic growth over the forecast period, relative to the 2013-14 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).”
You could read that like this: ‘All the good news on the economy in the last six months is about to be wiped out by austerity.’
The Budget talks a lot about lower investment in the resources sector. It notes in passing that non-mining businesses are waiting to see what happens. It doesn’t note that a slashing budget might frighten them out of investing. (There are exceptions of course: a business selling new work outfits to School chaplains would be wise to get a new warehouse, ASAP.)
The Budget’s unemployment forecasts are higher than the consensus economics forecast (see chart at right). Perhaps because they wouldn’t cut so hard at the moment the economic recovery is gaining momentum.
All spending helps short-run growth, whether that’s government or private. That’s Keynesianism for you in a nutshell.
The government is apparently allergic to Keynesian concepts of economics. They rail against the spending that flowed during the global financial crisis: cheques for $900, funding for insulation, school halls. All they see is the years of deficits. They can’t see a counter factual where Australia’s economy hit the skids.
But this allergy is now apparently inflaming the ranks of unemployed.
This budget is austere:
“The headline annual pace of consolidation is 0.7 per cent of GDP over the forward estimates. Abstracting from the one‑off nature of the Reserve Bank of Australia transaction, the pace of consolidation is 0.6 per cent of GDP.”
If you’re thinking, “I’m okay because I have a job,” consider this:
“Subdued wage growth is expected to continue until the spare capacity in the labour market is absorbed. The wage price index is forecast to grow by a still subdued 3 per cent through the year to the June quarters of both 2015 and 2016.”
Also know that your taxes will pay more unemployment benefits. Despite cuts to access to the dole, total spending on it is forecast to rise because of the change in the unemployment rate.
Essentially the budget is pushing more people into a position where they need the dole, but then compensating by – for some – whisking it out of their grasp.