Saturday Sanity Break, 24 December 2011
Date: Saturday, December 24, 2011
Author: Henry Thornton
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Do you remember those distant days when Joe Hockey and Kevin Rudd frolicked on a morning chat show?
They competed to win the battle of the one liners, gaining popularity (one presumes) at a cost to their reputations as hard, ruthless political operators.
This worked, for Kevin Rudd at least, but only for a time.
He was replaced by his disloyal deputy, Julia Gillard, in one of Australia's greatest acts of political bastardry.
He decided no more Mr Niceguy, and has since worked, as only Kevin can work, to return harder, meaner (but not leaner) and more effective.
Smokin' Joe Hockey seems to have got the message. Instead of clowning around he has apparently decided to show that he too is harder, meaner (though not leaner) and more effective. His latest idea comes from the Malcolm Fraser/US Tea Party playbook. The idea is to block supply, call a halt to the growth of Australia's debt, impose some serious austerity on all those recipients of Rudd-Gillard-Swan largesse.
Henry has just arrived in Boggabri (in northern NSW) to spend Christmas and the New Year with Mrs Thornton's elderly Father and various of her siblings and their families.
It was hard to get away. Jack the Collie had to be clipped and taken (very reluctantly) to summer camp. Ella the budgie, who we were minding for a friend, had to be handed off (a Rugby term) to an obviously reluctant third party. The house had to be cleaned up so the return would not be too gruesome. The fridge was making strange noises, but it was too late to do more than throw out the unused meat and hope for the best.
Dr John turns 90 in early January and there shall be a ceremony to mark this auspicious event.
Qantas from Melbourne was smooth and on time, and Henry and Mary-Rose had the 'Christmas treat' of an upgrade. The drive to Boggabri from Sydney airport was ok once we had found the road to Newcastle and driver Bert avoided the 24 wheelers driving at 115 kph notwithstanding the cyclonic rain. The country is very green asnd cattle have grass up to their a**ses, corrention, tummies.
A few good men
Gideon Haigh in Monday's Australian wrote about 'the hunt for a few good men'.
It provides a wonderful account of the life, times and philosophy of Australia's new cricket head selector, John Inverarity.
It is well worth a read as we prepare prepare to face the Indians in the first really big cricket contest of the summer.
Henry is not totally clear about the hunt referred to in the article's heading, but he has referred to the fighting spirit of the Mont Albert Fourths in discussing our cricket team's recent erratic performances.
Image of the year
Terror attacks in Paris
Date: Sunday, November 15, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
The Attacks in Paris
By THE NEW YORK TIMES NOV. 13, 2015
French television and news services reported that dozens of people were killed and many more wounded in multiple attacks across Paris on Friday night.
Saturday Sanity Break, 14 November 2015
Date: Saturday, November 14, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
Malcolm is off on an 11 day trip during which he shall meet 14 heads of state. Pictures of him with the Indonesian President were a welcome start to the trip. Choosing not to preach to Eurozone leaders about their refugee problems was another master stroke. We wish him a safe and productive trip, for his success is Australia’s success.
‘Nothing could more fully illustrate the fatuous idiocy of the United Nations than having North Korea, Iran and Egypt portentously criticising Australia’s human rights records we are sized up for whether as a nation we meet the lofty standards required for membership of the UN Human Rights Council’. Good on yer, Greg Sheridan, someone has to point out obvious idiocy.
And in concluding the same article: ‘For the moment, Turnbull has the style of Keating and the substance of Abbott. So far, it’s a winning formula. Turnbull is absolutely right to avoid being caught up in needless symbolic conflicts. But eventually the substance of things means that if he governs well the left will grow to hate him. That needn’t be debilitating. As John Howard showed, a good leader can live with that and a few twinkle toe pirouettes to avoid needless cultural polarisation early on is no more than good political management.
‘But as even Bob Hawke found, consensus in democratic politics is a chimera, a temporary fantasy at best. Politics is rightly about choices. And conflict’. Read on here.
More strong job figures and some improved confidence measures provide heart that the worst of Australia’s growth recession may soon be behind us. Service sector jobs are the key point, with tourism going like the clappers on the back of the lower Aussie dollar. The key to sustained recovery will be a strong increase in non-mining investment, so keep watching, dear readers.
Better statistics have increased the Aussie dollar slightly, but the start of the increase in US interest rates (from near-zero) is likely to have the opposite effect. Henry is still betting on the Aussie dollar hitting 60 cents US before it improves.
Big 4-page wrap on Innovation Thursday’s Oz. Headline says ‘Wyatt Roy says Israel offers lesson in how to encourage start-ups. Linked here.
The ‘Wrap’ has a lot of interesting views from prominent Australians who are, or should be, good at innovation. Henry’s co-incidental report of Israel’s stellar performance is available here, along with other, some playful, contributions.
On a recent trip to the Kimberly seeking interesting stories for Henry’s readers, (errrr, holiday) we met an old soldier. Despite being in his late 70s, he was the fittest bloke on the trip and, we discovered over dinner, is passionately committed to getting a better deal for veterans of Australia’s wars. He told his own story. Having led his team of Special Forces into Vietnam for three one-year tours of duty, he said he suffered post-traumatic stress that cost him his marriage and did great damage to friendship groups.
Terry ultimately woke up to his problem and did something about it. Now he is a far more normal bloke, good company at dinner and an acute observer and communicator while we were all in the bush hiking up gorges, looking at rock paintings, swimming in pools (with several keen eyed staff watching for crocodiles) and enjoying other offroad experiences. ‘It’s not just the soldiers’, Terry explained, ‘also police, ambos, victims of crime and others who suffer traumatic experiences need help’.
Since then Henry has detected several people speaking on this matter and now there is a film. Here is a review, and let’s hope this gets widespread exposure.
The Aussie batsmen have done it again, with Warner 244 not out after a day of fun in the sun on the WACA. This wicket was supposed to be fast and bouncy, like the WACA wickets of old, but sadly this was not to be. One felt very sad for the Black Caps, just as one grieved for the Aussie Rugby team in its doomed tilt at the Rugby World Cup.
[Postscrip. The Black Caps retailiated to great good effect and if the Aussie batters lose confidence the NZers can actually square the seties.]
Caaaarlton! has lost a bucket of green folding stuff to go with its last - 18th - place in the AFL competition this year. There is talk of a radical challenge to the incumbent board but ‘Caro’ in the Age advocates existing board members being given further time to fix the woeful fiscal and player performances. ‘Bring back Jack’ is the cry of the revolutionaries, or ‘Try (Jack’s son) Tom’, nearly as silly as trying Bill’s wife Hilary in the White house, or electing Trump the chump.
Meanwhile, Hawthorn has made a cool $3 M and seem set to sit atop the AFL table for a few years yet.
The clear evidence of Russkie overenthusiasm in athletic competition should lead to banning the pestiferous drug cheats from the next Olympics, along with their mates in the UN. Please remember Henry's solution, dear readers. The world needs three classes for sporting competitions - Amateur, Professional and Enhanced. Like Professional Wrestling, the Enhanced Olympics would capture the attention of young men everywhere, and would help with the redesign of of warfighters and bank traders. (NB. 'Enhanced' should include the genetically reengineered as well as those boosted by drugs.)
Lying half-asleep this morning, Henry heard a fine piece of advice to people who would like to be rich: 'How did your family become so rich?' a Rothschild was asked. 'By selling too soon' replied the wizened old mega-millionaire.
Image of the week
Courtesy The OZ
Saturday Sanity Break, 7 November 2015
Date: Saturday, November 07, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
We are told today that the Reserve Bank is confident that the economy is rebalancing away from mining towards services. Put another way, the economy is switching from high productivity mining production to low productivity services activity. As the press has amply illustrated, high penalty rates means it costs too much for some activities to take place on weekends and public holidays. This is surely one of the vital areas for reform.
The RBA also said that inflation is under control - in fact it is technically below the so-called 'target range' of 2 to 3 %. If further rate cuts are needed, the RBA will therefore be able to implement them without too much hand wringing. RBA Chief, Glenn Stevens, has of course reminded us all that there is only so much that can be done by varying monetary policy. The biggest policy challenge - well, equal to the need for serious IR reform - is to devise and then implement a credible and widely accepted fiscal policy to fix the budget.
The generally agreed fiscal package includes a 15% GST with far fewer exclusions, lower income tax rates, lower company tax rates and some 'reform' to superannuation programs. A separate current of opinion looks to lower taxes for all savings vehicles, clearly needed if Australia is to adopt Treasurer Scott Morrison's 'work, save and invest' mantra.
The challenge of innovation
The most difficult challenge of all is to make Australia a more innovative nation. This is a topic that Henry has pursued for some time now. Here is a modest contribution. It is inspired by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who recently asked Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis why universities were so bad at helping companies innovate. As Henry understood the answer it was not especially focussed, which is itself a telling fact.
Of course, this is a hard question. 'National Complacency' is one answer - riding on the sheep's back or in a mining truck has been a relatively obvious path to prosperity. 'Poor tax arrangements for innovators' deserves consideration. 'The university culture of publish or perish' is part of the answer. 'Australia's national culture of aversion to risk and fear of failure', gets close to Henry's favourite answer.
A famous New York Times best seller, Start-up Nation. The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, provides a fascinating case study for one successful innovative nation.
The book begins with a discussion of a plan hatched in Israel to create a widely used electric car. As well as helping reduce global pollution, success of such a plan would make oil far less attractive as an energy source and greatly reduce the ability of terrorists to launch attacks on Israel, not to mention the rest of us. The electric car project is an unfinished story, and the opening chapter moves on to discuss Israel's mighty performance. In 2007-08 it lead the world by a vast margin in Venture Capital Investments per capita.In 2009, Israel beat Canada into second place, with other nations performance tiny, in listings of non-US companies on NASDAQ. And from 2000-2005 it was first ahead of Japan and the USA in Civilian R&D Expenditure as a share of GNP.
These compelling facts are all the more impressive given the history of Israel. For yours after its formation is was bedevilled by tiny size in a harsh climate, food rationing, frequent wars for survival, a highly heterogenous population and many other potential barriers to entrepreneurial flair. As authors Dan Senor and Saul singer say: '[This] is a story not just of talent but of tenacity, of insatiable questioning of authority, of determined informality, combined with a unique attitude to failure, teamwork, mission, risk, and cross-disciplinary creativity'.
Trade week has come and gone with Caaaarlton! flying well below the radar. Only clear result seems to be signing Jack Silvani - Grandson of Serge, Son of Stephen, both great stars for Caaaarlton! in times past.
The Rugby World Cup is best described as a triumph for the ANZAC tradition. The game was dominated by ANZAC teams,
and finally the All Black team won what was a moderately brutal encounter. A keen (Kiwi) supporter freely conceded that a clear forward pass leading to a try may have broken the Aussie spirit. He added that in a previous World Cup, NZ had been put out after the same referee 'missed' a clear forward pass by the Frenchies. Such is life, as Ned Kelly reportedly said just before they hung him.
Cricket is offering some better news with two highly talented youngsters starring with the bat and the two Mitchs (Starc and Johnston) plus youngster Josh Hazelwood demolishing the Black Cap's top order. As a selector might say ata prize giving ceremony in 2019: 'Always bet on yoof, lades and gennelmen'.
Experts plus the black box recorder say the Russian plane was downed as the result of a bomb. When the pestiferous Russkies reluctantly accept this, a more determined attack on ISIS should be the result.
Image of the week
(Long) Weekend Sanity Break,
Date: Sunday, November 01, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
It is time for Melbourne's quasi-religious racing weekend, long weekend if like many Melbournians you take Monday as a RDO (or, gasp!, a sickie) to be as fit for The Big Day as humanly possible. Henry's favourite journo, Paul Kelly, this weekend is discussing the geopolitical scene occasioned by America's brave visit to international waters claimed by China. Supposedly there was a full-scale battle group just over the horizon in case of fireworks, but good sense prevailed and World War III is not yet upon us.
Have you ever employed a builder, dear reader? Henry and Mrs T decided they needed a kitchen update and enlargement of an upstairs bedroom involving a new roof and a deck. We employed a builder previously used to great good effect. 'It'll cost about $40 K', said builder said. 'And I can start and finish the job quickly as I have found a team of carpenters I want to keep and it will fill in the schedule nicely'.
You got it, dear reader. After almost 6 months the kitchen is almost finished and the first 'progress payment' was a shade over $65 K. 'We found a bolthole in the roof that had let water in and the back wall was rotton' was the story. Apparently said builder mumbled something about the bolt hole to Mrs T, with the implication that it was a trivial matter. Naturally we insisted on a hard quote - one to be kept to - for the bedroom extension/deck, but a month later this work has not started, and the festive season is rapidly approaching. Gor Blimey, comrades, is there no builder in Australia who keeps his word, provides progress reports and springs no unhappy financial suprises?
The US Fed is trembling on the brink of a rate hike but cannot quite summon the gorm to put us all out of our mistery and begin the long and difficult task of returning the global economy to normal. The key factor holding the Fed back is, it seems, fear of deflation.
The economic story is taken up today by Henry's recalcitrant retired geologist, Louis Hissink. He delivers a wonderful explanation for apparent deflation. And on the Fed's dithering about interest rates, please see today's Image of the Week below.
'It seems the ECB, and hence I presume other central banks as well, thinks there isn't enough inflation and that it needs to be increased by monetary easing. Not enough inflation? Not as measured by government it seems but a couple of days ago I came across an interesting phenomenon of the economic kind, the way in which sellers of manufactured goods can adjust their product to cope with inflation'.
Read on here. You will learn a lot about Socialism. Capitalism and Fascism, along with the fallacies of the Monetarists. Then if you remain unsatisfied, cop this 43 year-old article by Australia's living national treasure and Henry's editor. After being rejected 5 times all those years ago, it is about to be published in a book about Lord Keynes.
Only two more AGMs to go, dear reader, and Henry can begin winding down for Christmas, after what has been a Keating of a year. But before then we have ... the Rugby World Cup final, which began at 3 AM today. The All Blacks are fearsome favourites but Australia's coach, Michael Cheika, has sharpened and focussed the Wallabies beyond imagination and we are just about guaranteed a fierce struggle with neither side guaranteed to win.
In the event, Australia was dealt a big dose of shock and awe in the first half and in the first monents of the second half. The good news is that they refused to curl up and surrender but staged a wonderful fightback.
The Kiwis deserved to win and did so comfortably 34-17 in the end. It was a great game and Cheika's Wallabies will be number one in the world before long.
The World cup of Rugby has ended just in time for our attention to turn unhindered to the Melbourne cup.
Henry's choice is Red Cadeaux, an elderly (10 years) horse that just keeps coming and would be a deeply popular winner. But there are plenty of younger, possibly faster horses so do not back Henry's romantic choice without consulting a real horse guru, like Henry's TP Mahar.
Soon the cricket test will provide Australia with a chance for revenge against a team from the land of the long white cloud. Trouble is, Henry has not heard of most of our team's batters so lacks confidence in the outcome. The good news is that there is a great chance for a young bloke to make his name.
On with the show, and before long Santa comes then footy will be underway again.
Global recession, new Chief Scientist
Date: Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
'China will keep growing at double-digit rates for the forseeable future'. This was the confident assertion of Australia's China-watchers until recently, when China began its 'pivot' to consumerism. Like Australia trying to transform its economy from mining to services - education, tourism, accounting, law - this was never going to be easy, but the difficulty was never understood or predicted by Australia's most prominant economists, those in Treasury, the RBA and the better universities.
Commodity prices just keep falling and that is slicing great chunks off Australia's national income and from the incomes of many individual Australians.
Now we learn that 'global worries lengthen odds of Fed rate rise'. The US economy is sliding into recession, the Eurozone remains stuck in the mud and bedevilled by a flood of refugees that defies imagination, Japan's exports are declining and the world may be slipping into recession, certainly a growth recession.
Malcolm Turnbull has focussed on the opportunities provided by the current global turmoil. Good on him, this is perhaps better than Tony Abbott's Churchillian vision of Australia surrounded by enemies and with enemies within - including Islamist sympathisers and nasty, rapacious unions. But there is a long way to go to fix Australia's budget deficit, restore business and household confidence and encourage growth by removing obstacles including excessive and overbearing business regulation and especially industrial regulation.
New Chief Scientist
Australia has a new Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel. He is a neuroscientist who went to the so-called 'Dark side' to commercialise high level technology and made a success of what is one of Australia's most difficult challenges. Turning science into business is something Australia does especially badly - ranking 29th (last) behind Mexico in one authoratitive survey - and Dr Finkel is ideally placed to do something about this. He was described as 'a scientist and an entrepreneur; an innovator; a communicator' by Prime minister Turnbull.
One of the articles about this appointment said that the word 'innovation' had been banned by the previous minister for industry and science. What it failed to add that in Ian Macfarlane's view it had been replaced by 'competitiveness'. Emphasis on Australia's ability to compete is an even more general description of what we need to do than 'innovation' (or 'turning science into business'). But both words will be used to describe any highly successful economy, and we wish Dr Finkel well as he focusses on what will be his greatest professional challenge.
Tax relief for innovation is being talked about. It is worth noting that the reform of the tax treatment of shares or options issued in lieu of cash for start-ups has already removed one blocker to successful innovation, and further moves in that direction will also be worthwhile. Less red tape in programs like the highly successful Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) program would also make life easier for small companies to receive infusions of useful new technologies. Go for it, Christopher Pyne.
Dr Finkal's enthusiastic advocacy of the nuclear option for cheap, clean future energy supply is also very welcome. This was also a dream for Prime minister Hawke, and for a country with a sizeable chunk of the world's known supplies of uranium this is a completely natural development. The idea will get the Greens going, and generally split the environmental lobby. Go for it, Alan Finkel.
Henry's contributions on the nuclear option include:
Saturday Sanity Break, 24 October 2015
Date: Saturday, October 24, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
Much ado about Malcolm today. The Smage says Malcolm is 'set for big spend' on 'roads, transport and other infrastructure', financed by borrowings.I do not believe this is simple crude Keynesian thinking. Rather than an attempted 'sugar hit', this is a strategy that seeks to improve productivity, which is a much needed challenge for Australia. Of course, such spending has to be financed by borrowing, and each project should be justified by rigorous benefit-cost calculations.
Commentators have brought the line that Malcolm's government is 'strictly business', benefit-cost studies are the businesslike approach, and shareholders (ie the punters, aka voters) should be given the chance to scrutinise the relevant studies. Malcolm's point that hating corrodes the personality of the hater is powerful magic, and needs to be heeded by every aspiring leader. Joe Hockey's statesmanlike farewell speech set high standards in this matter.
Other features of the weekend commentary on Malcolm's government are the attempted collegiality (aka taking his colleagues into the decision-making process), attempting to restore dignity and good order to parliament and making some much needed changes to Australia's IR framework.
On the policy front, the fact that broad-based tax reform is also allowed to be discussed, including (gasp!) widening the GST and/or raising its rate, is a great relief to economists everywhere. There is some brutal arithmetic at play here. Spending decisions already taken are incredibly hard to roll back. Tax reform whose main effects are to improve the budget bottom line, while also increasing incentives to 'work, save and invest', are needed to provide the quickest and fairest return to overall budget balance.
There is also Malcolm's point that there is a lot of luck in business or indeed in life generally. As fair-minded people recognise, this provides a cast-iron case to tax more heavily incomes or assets of the well-to-do. Success is also due to powerful focus and hard work, so redistribution must be limited to an extent that most people, including well-to-do people, accept. Australia's current tax and welfare system is by no means the worst in the world, but Australia needs to establish a more sensible balance of equity and efficiency.
Labor is trapped by this approach and also by the fact that many of its supporters believe Malcolm is a better Prime Minister than Labor's Bill Shorten is ever likely to be. Will there be a Bill-spill? The ALP's new rules would seem to make this impossible, and there is also Joe Hockey's point that the revolving door should be jammed for a bit.
It seems that Malcolm's government has accepted that growth will be slower and that budgeting will therefore be more realistic. Predicted budget deficits will also be larger and there remains an urgent need to bring a better balance between spending and raising revenue. How this is achieved is one of Malcolm's greatest challenges. If the rebalancing merely blunts incentives further, it will fail. If tax and welfare reform improves the budget balance that is good news for the Australian economy but if it does so while improving the efficiency of the tax and welfare system it will be a great success, especially if most Australians accept the need for necessary reform.
The housing market is apparently cooling off in the hot-spots of Sydney and Melbourne. Casual observation shows massive blocks of new flats everywhere in Melbourne, so there will probably be significent rental savings available before long. But the overall price structure for houses has shifted up to really difficult levels, so trouble remains for many young people, who are also struggling to find decent jobs.
Rugby football is Henry's main focus this weekend and possibly next. He assumes the All Blacks will beat South Efrica in their semi-final, but hopes the men from the veld give the men from the land of the long white cloud a terrific pounding. Australia, from the land of drought and flooding rain, take on the men from the Pampas and national insolvency. The Argies have been playing sublime Rugby and look good in comparison to Australia's relative poor victory over the canny and committed Scotsmen last weekend. Henry will watching the latter game at 2 AM Monday, so do not expect too much good sense later at the start of the week of work.
Our cricket team is lacking practice and grappling with different color balls. 'What a balls-up' is all that can be said, and we wish well the newbies, including new Captain Smith, that make up our next test team.
Plenty of 'Stuff' around, including the flood of refugees from the Middle East into Europe. For some reason Henry's favourite magazine, The Economist, was unable to be delivered to a boat travelling from Broome to Darwin, so Henry is playing catch-up. It seems the Eurozone's credo of compassion has been stretched to the limit and The Economist said two weeks ago even the compassionate Germans have reached thier limits.
'On the night of September 4th Angela Merkel made the most dramatic decision of her decade as German chancellor: to suspend European asylum rules and allow tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary to enter Germany via Austria. It was a moral gesture that fitted the mood of the moment. ...
'In Germany, however, that altruistic embrace has caused a backlash that could weaken a chancellor so far considered all but invincible. Using uncharacteristically missionary language, Mrs Merkel said repeatedly that the right to asylum has “no upper limit”. But Joachim Gauck, who as president is expected to keep out of workaday politics, responded that “our reception capacity is limited even when it has not yet been worked out where these limits lie.” As though on cue, the political tone turned against Mrs Merkel'.
Thirtieth anniversary of Uluru's return to indigenous custody. All's well and the Great Rock remains in superb form.
Image of the week - The Spirit of the Rock
Booby traps ahead
Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
There is a strange disconnect in the Australian economy and discussion of it. The government, lead by two excellent communicators Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, emphasise the opportunities facing Australia. Official agencies, like the RBA and Treasury articulate a 'glass half full' view of slower growth, the need for greater competitiveness via a lower exchange rate and the desirability of fixing the budget. Some business leaders support fixing the budget by cutting spending (Treasurer Morrison's preferred approach).
Others think wholesale tax reform is the preferred approach and a wider GST at a higher rate the key to allow lower company tax and removal of Australia's notorious 'fiscal drag' with special focus on income tax. A significant minority of commentators see lower rates of income tax the best way to encourage 'Work, Save and Invest' as Treasurer Morrison puts it so eloquently.
Lefties want capital gains to again be taxed at recipients' marginal rates of tax and some even want to tax the family house, a sure remedy for a permanant spot in the opposition ranks for any party that embraces it. Some of this lot want to tax superannuation balances (or self-funded pensions) of 'rich' people - those with balances above $2.5 million. Politicians who want to stay in government will think very carefully about grandfathering arrangements currently in place, including for politicians and officials which have hardly even been mentioned in debate so far.
The good news is that debate is joined and one can only hope that good sense eventually allows a sensible new set of inventives and disincentives, encouragement of 'Work, Save and Invest' for young workers, lack of fear for those whose working days are over, or all but over, and an acceptably fair treatment for current welfare recipients who cannot turn overnight into workers in the services sectors, or for that matter doctors, lawyers, nurses, staff of old person's homes and so on - the list is endless. Of course, the rapidly growing aging of the population emphasises the need for reform including stronger government spending in relevant sectors.
Debate and discussion is frequent and often intense. Henry's circle of friends and acquaintences have never in living memory showed so much interest in economic issues and their questions often begin by saying Australia's economy is in deep trouble. This group is is not entirely made up of rich old people. Parents and grandparents in Melbourne's leafy Eastern suburbs mostly discuss the difficulty of later generation's attempts to find jobs. Plus the near-impossible prospects of younger people getting set in the housing market. When one hears about new technologies to save jobs, their gloom deepens.
The strength of debate is, of course, a good sign. The new government is proving far better at handling Labor and Senator cross-bench members than Mr Abbott's confrontational approach. But 'This is the best time ever to be alive' is fine if one is by nature and experience qualified for success in the fast-moving world of the twenty-first century. But one feature of modern capitalism is the increasing disparity of winners and losers in the economic game, which is one reason for so-called 'progressive' systems of taxation. That's fair and reasonable, comrades, but too much punative taxation, too many intrusive and overbearing industrial laws and an increasingly weak system of teriary education system not focussing on preparing student for real jobs, together add up to gloom for many people.
Then there are the external shocks, well-summarised by Ashok Jacob in the Oz today. 'Ashok Jacob calls 2015 the “year of the booby trap".
' “I have never seen more unexpected things at a major level come out of the woodwork than this year", he told The Australian yesterday, referring to the Swiss franc devaluation, the collapse of the oil price, the Volkswagen scandal and, most importantly, the devaluation of the Chinese currency'. One could add to this list. What happens to asset markets when the US Fed finally begins to restore a sensible monetary policy? Is the Chinese economy merely coasting at the 'official' rate of 7% or is it a far greater slowdown? Is global pollution choking the environment and destroying species at an Olympic rate? How will the European migration flood be emeliorated?
Solving the issues mentioned in the questions will provide wonderful jobs for gifted and well educated global citizens. We must with Malcolm Turnbull and his team every good piece of luck. They will do well indeed to return Australia to its natural place as a 'lucky country'.
Saturday Sanity Break, 17 October 2015
Date: Saturday, October 17, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
Housing market to cool, says RBA. Great news, as lots of young people battling to find jobs are also wondering if they will ever be able to buy a house. There looks like being a real glut of apartments, so at least rentals will be cheaper and some young folk will be able to at least get a foot into the property market.
Serious drought gets increasingly more likely as a dry spring dashes hopes for good wheat crops and limits the extent to which beef farmers can benefit from prices in the stratosphere. Some interest rate gurus say this will give the RBA the excuse to cute rates further. Cutting rates here just when the USA Fed is dithering about raising rates there will also encourage the Aussie dollar to fall again, after a few weeks of partial and unhelpful recovery.
Mr Turnbull is not rushing to fix Australia's weak budget situation and indeed most of his comments lean on the expansive side of neutral. This will help support activity for a while, but with the US economy looking toppy, and forecasts of global growth still being revised down, risks of a Banana Republic debacle are rising.
One hopes that Treasury's fine economists are thinking hard about this issue. Housing off the boil, farm production being dried as we watch, the much feared recession looks increasingly likely. As Henry's Raff Report has recently pointed out, with large budget deficits everywhere and interest rates low, there is little room for finance ministers and central bankers to move.
The Oz today features some serious analysis of the style of the new government. The theme is that Malcolm Turnbull will pull the Liberal Party toward the centre, and to be safe in the leadership he will need to carry the conservative wing of the party with him. Paul Kelly claims to detect a global swing toward the centralist direction; think Cameron in the UK, Key in NZ and Harper in Canada and looking electorally vulnerable.
Hawthorn blitzed the AFL grand final while Henry was out of range of a TV, and from all accounts it was all over bar the groaning by quarter time, and some say the first 10 minutes. With their fabled Threepeat under their belts, the Hawks are letting go some older players and replacing them with good young blokes, including another Rioli from Tiwi.
Caaaarlton!, however, seems not to be recruiting and sending Lachie Henderson to Geelong, (or is it Brisbane?), and Yarran to Richmond, to continue a player-selling debacle that has lasted for well over a decade now. Henry is beginning to wonder if he will last long enough to see another flag hoisted at Princess Park, or is it Jelly bean Oval or some similar sponsor's haven these days? Perhaps the once mighty blues need a funeral chain as a sponsor. 'White Lady will bury your loved ones faster than Carlton can bury a season of footy' could be the catch cry, with a 10 % discount for season ticket holders.
Meanwhile Henry is following the Rugby, where the home team seems capable of pulling off an unexpected trophy. The effort to beat Wales with players sin-binned or injured, was prodigous. Scotland will provide another stern test but if our boys survive monday morning's game the real fun might commence, with an aging All Black team to face in the final.
Cricket is also underway. Here the test team will be just about all new (I exaggerate only a bit) and will face the dangers of a pink ball with almost no game time. Still, all should be well if Smithy is in good form, and the battle for places is real - as it seems to be in Michael Cheika's Wallabies. Here is more on the super-coach's career.
US rate hikes; politics of envy
Date: Friday, October 16, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
The Raff has been enjoying a serious conversation with a former Canadian, now an Aussie. Here is his concluding paragraph: ''Governments have made such a mess of most economies that all degrees of freedom have been exhausted. Interest rates can’t be lowered or expenditures increased by any significant degree. Any contrary ideas to those enshrined as religion are howled down, debased and whenever possible are hidden from headlines.
If you were surprised by the US Fed's failure to raise rates, and now the gurus' views this might not now occur this year, you must have missed Henry's last but one Raff Report: 'Although a hike in rates would be more beneficial than not, to the Raff’s knowledge rates have never been lifted at the peak of the business cycle. It is perfectly normal for interest rates to rise as the next cycle takes off, perhaps mid-2016. There is a desperate need for developed countries to raise taxes or increase borrowings. We might ponder at what stage various central banks “crowd the market out”, increasing interest rates at an ever increasing pace to sell government paper!'
The AFR has poured scorn on Labor's attack on Malcolm Turnbull's financial success.
'Today, encouraging enterprising Australians into technology start-ups necessarily brings with it the possibility of similar great individual fortune. But, as Paul Keating has bemoaned, Labor created an aspirational class, then failed to move with them. The Hawke-Keating Labor legacy means few Australians can say that not a cent of their super goes through fund managers with some connection with the Cayman Islands. And like Mr Turnbull, the better they do, the more they pay what's due to the Australian Tax Office'.
Also, 'it is reassuring that even Labor-aligned pollsters reckon that this attack on aspiration no longer resonates in a nation that simply wants to give its children more of a chance to succeed through their own initiative and enterprise'. Read on here.
Yesterday we learned that the Turnbull government has indicated it is not beyond taxing pensions. Fair enough, comrades, so long as pensions of politicians and public officials are taxed at the same rate. The socialists among us say that someone with a super fund of $2.5 million is 'rich'. Work out the implied asset backing of a head of the RBA, or Treasury, or the PM and you will see who is 'rich'. Not a poor sod with a self-managed super fund with $2.5 million. This could in a heart beat be 1.25 million if the US Fed buggers up the return to 'normal' monetary policy, meaning a pension of exactly one half of what it was. The pensions of Heads of Treasury, the RBA or the PM (and more junior examples of similar beasts) will be unchanged.
Is there an acturary in Australia willing to comment on this largely hidden rort of those on defined benefit pensions? Henry advises readers not to hold your breath.
Saturday Sanity Break, 10 October 2015
Date: Saturday, October 10, 2015
Author: Henry Thornton
Henry is in the midst of catching up with the news as he waits with Mrs T to catch the 12.45 AM plane to Sydney and then on to Melbourne.
Niki Savva said last week that Malcolm Turnbull has made a good start. That is a common view, as reflected in the published opinion polls. But, as one wise old owl said to Henry recently: 'The optics are far better, but will the officials have the grunt to make Turnbull's far more expansive approach work?
Henry's chief political writer, Gary Scarrabelotti, reports from the Ukraine. He says Tony Abbott should not rush to decide his future.
'Australian political life has become fragile, uncertain, and crisis prone. My hunch is that there will be opportunities ahead, as future governments break down, and as political leaders crack up under the weight of our common flawed humanity, the empty promises of our ideologies, and the deluge of events.
'One day, maybe not so far away, Australia will need a leader of determination, courage and wisdom.
Abbott has the determination and the courage. May he now set about the getting of wisdom'.
And proponants of serious economic reform, especially IR reform, should read and ponder Grace Collier's column today.
On the economy, we need go not further than the latest Raff Report. The Raff has three key messages:
* 'NEVER INVEST IN MINING SHARES AT THE PEAK OF THE US DURABLE GOODS CYCLE'.
* 'US IP will be lower in nine months after the peak in orders, adding to downward pressure on many commodity prices. This is economics 101 something not understood by pretty well all the commentators on the ABC and Macquarie Radio.
* 'The other key aspect not understood is the excess capacity that haunts almost every manufacture and mine'.
Do not miss Julian McCrann's trenchant comments below the Raff's contribution. Or Julian's dad's column in the Weekend Oz. Here is a quote.
'If the Fed does take us into 2016 without lifting its rate, we are headed into extremely dangerous and turbulant times'.
The RBA kept interest rates unchanged this week and continues to say the economy is travelling well. The strong jobs performance is certainly to be welcomed but is largely in the non-traded service industries. One big question is whether this will help fix what is a very large current account deficit. Such a deficit was the main reason for Paul Keating's Banana Republic call to arms. Then there was strong remedial action, including a swing from budget deficit to budget surplus, but even so the remediation was only temporary. Remember the recession we had to have?
Lending for housing is going at a powerful clip - 12.5 % annual in one source - and one suspects that the new direct controls (by changing asset ratios) over the housing market are already failing. More on this issue from Alan Kohler today.
Out and about
Henry's visit to the great North-west frontier has come to an end at Darwin Airport. Last Saturday's Sanity Break summarised time at Broome International (sic?) Airport followed by some snippets from life on a wonderful cruise ship that carried Henry and Mrs T from Broome to Darwin.
Previous experiences on the Gibb River Road and return via the Great Northern Highway are available as follows.
Henry's editor's postmodern paintings - all with an economic theme - are available here. Two of them will be displayed (and offered for sale) in the forthcoming Toorak Art Show featuring many art works distributed in the shops of Toorak.