The NBN is all about productivity improvement – ask CSIRO

For those of you who are not aware, the CSIRO has an incredibly interesting podcast called CSIROPOD. It shows off the range and depth of Australia’s leading scientific research institution. For those of you excited by the possibilities of science, like me, to solve the world’s problems, it is just a treasure-trove. Most people do not realise, though, CSIRO is not only “hard science”. It has soft science areas like economics and social research.

One area which it has tackled recently is the area of Australia’s productivity. Apparently, if you take mining and agriculture out of the mix, Australia ranks about 33 out of 36 in the OECD productivity table. This is in stark contrast to almost every other social and economic indicator where Australia usually rates in the top 3 or 4. This is a disgrace.

This interview outlines the challenge, but also the solution:

http://www.csiro.au/en/Portals/Multimedia/CSIROpod/Uploading-the-economy.aspx

What it clearly explains is that there is a solution to this predicament, but it involves Australia as a nation committing to completing the roll out of the NBN fibre to the home, which the coalition are still holding the line about dismantling. This is crazy. Malcolm Turnbull has more than enough ammunition to fire at the ALP on this area of economic policy. He should not also prevent the solution from being arrived at. It is politics in its worst form.

I still think Turnbull is the best leader for Australia at the moment, but he is dead wrong on this one.

Overseas Graduates – yet another great chance for Australia

Everyone is aware of the devastation which the GFC and now the euro crisis (s) have brough on Europe. These are dramatically illustrated by the trends in youth unemployment across Europe, particularly since Lehmann’s collapse. In most European countries, graduates make up between 20-30% of youth unemployed. Similarly in the US. Unemployment amongst college graduates is the highest in half a century.

What does all this mean for Australia? It means yet another incredible opportunuity.

Australia, through its good fortune to be one of the strongest economies in the OECD, has an unprecendented opportunity to attract the best and the brightest graduates from countries with high education levels and high graduate unemployment rates ie countries like Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and the US. Without wishing these countries mis-fortune, the fact is they have some very smart young people bereft of opportunity and many will become “the lost generation”. Australia desperately needs skilled people to provide the energy and drive for the future. Although a properly structured program would be quite expensive, in the longer term it would pay off handsomely, and would be a sensible way to spend any future surplus to set the country up as a brain driven environment to drive innovation, creativity and wealth creation.

This plays to one of the over-riding but unstated tenents of our immigration policy post While Australia i.e. although the policy is non-discriminatory from race, religions and sexuality, it definitely favours the better educated on the basis it is education which is the biggest driver of assimilation and job security. In an environment where our universities are bursting at the seams, and we can’t get enough of graduates, particularly those related to the sciences, why wouldn’t we take the best and the brightest from abroad. Much cheaper than financing additional Phd places, although that should be done as well.

A related issue to this, it was dissappointing to see that there has been a considerable tightening up on criteria for entrepreneurs from abroad immigrating here. Somewhat short sighted I would have thought.

Europe – what a mess

In retrospect, it was a big mistake to think that the Euro could work across diverse economies, without fiscal and monetary union. But that in itself was impossible because of the very diverse ideas in Europe about economic responsible economic management and fiscal discipline. Indeed, the formation of the Eurozone encouraged all the member economies that they could have German style living standards, but without the disciplined, focussed and skilled German workforce and economy, and without the economic management which has charactarized the German government, at least for the last 10 years.

Many countries, led by the French, have believed they could run economies with very generous social benefits without the hard economic management and decision making which so charactarizes successful economies. For instance, when the last president of France hesitatingly tried to instigate mild economic reforms such as raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 there were howls of protest which forced him to back down. This does not even go near economic distorting policies like the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), exorbitant pension and social welfare provisions, industry subsidies, and unaffordable internal and external deficits. In spite of the fact that the IMF, ECB, World Bank, and Germany have been handing out enormous bail outs to many broke countries in southern Europe, nearly all of them have been unable to fully implement them because their electorates will simply not wear them.

The only way is for the market to force it on them ie leaving the euro zone and issue their sovereign currencies. How might this work? Take Greece. Greece in the current circumstances will never pay back its debts. It will be saddled with such stringent provisions that it could remain in recession for 20 years. Time for a change in direction.

If Greece, without warning, announced that henceforth the Greek currency would be in drachma, and all international debts would be written off,  then there would be short term pain, but eventually the market would kick in (probably 18 months to 2 years), and the Greek economy would begin to recover. There would undoubtedly be a 50% plus devaluation against the euro, which would make Greek exports cheaper, and imports more expensive. It would also allow the Greek central bank to recapitalise the Greek Banks by printing more Drachmas. This, though, would all end in disaster if it were not accompanied by drastic economic reforms to the social welfare system, collection of taxes and other charges, removal of distorting government subsidies of various kinds, reform of the legal system and a crackdown on the corruption which so distorts the efficient running of the Greek state.

Within five years, the Greek economy will recover, the debts will be written off, and the competitive advantages of Greece will start to kick in in a much more  growth friendly environment than before. The low growth, deficit cutting and low investment environment which ios the consequences of the European bailouts, will be delivered via a market mechanisms and will not therefore be the subject of the political vastitudes currently underway in Greece.

No-one though sees this as pain free. It is not. It will be very painful indeed, but in the medium term it will be less so than 20 years of recession, and it will give hope to a population sadly lacking in it, especially the young. It is somethingthe population and government can galvanise around, and on which it could build a prosperous future.

It is also something the other southern European governments such as Spain, Italy and Portugal would also likely copy once the benefits become apparent. The French, well they will remain French, and keep their heads buried in the sand, even though the economy distorting welfare state, government subsidies, the CAP, and unreformed labour, capital and distribution markets are worse than almost anywhere in the EU, and France’s economic performance reflects that. They should also take the economic medicine, and return to the Franc. But they won’t of course!

Zapatero’s Cuts

Comment on the Economist article (31 May 2010) “Zapatero’s Cuts”

There is a slow reality beginning to creep into the EuroZone. After years of bagging English speaking markets for their free market practices (which caused the GFC!!), and patronising them for their uncaring welfare free states, they have been forced down that track to survive as individual states, and as a Union.

Hopefully the crisis upon Europe will force long sought after reforms of labour markets, fiscal policies, and trade which will allow the world as a whole to operate much more efficiently and prosperously. Gone will be the days when a relatively few French and Belgium farmers can hold the whole world to ransom via the common agriculture policy ensuring (heaven forbid) that the world may at last get realism into the World Trade Talks.

Or am I living in a dream-world? Is this just another false start in Europe, and when a modicum of prosperity returns so will the same shonky practices? I very much hope not.