Peter Smith

Sharing the “pride”

Labour force figures for November came out and so did Wayne Swan: “all Australians can be very, very proud” of the employment figures. I admit to having struggled with this. I couldn’t seem to get a sense of ownership. I haven’t personally employed anyone. I didn’t vote for the Labor Party and therefore can’t even claim credit for the extravagant pink batt and BER stimulus spending that ‘saved us’. I haven’t been out there recklessly spending my own money, which apparently is another way to help the economy. I felt left out, just like all of those Americans who should obviously be ashamed of their unemployment rate. Nothing to be proud of there and ditto for all of those citizens in countries with poor employment records over the recent past. 

Maybe, I thought, the answer lies in how we managed in Australia to generate 402,000 jobs during the year and 55,000 of those in November. I may have helped without knowing it. I turned to Michael Stutchbury the economics editor of the Australian. He gave credit to a “huge income surge from our China boom”. I have no Chinese relatives and, in fact, have never visited mainland China. However, I have bought the odd Chinese utensil. Was this it? Of course, I have being doing my bit after all. I started to get that burst of pride that Mr Swan talked about. 

On the other hand, Mr Stutchbury talks about “the post crisis deleveraging of two decades of excess borrowing” detracting from growth. Consumers are spending a lesser proportion of their household income than they were prior to the financial crisis. They are saving much more. (Saving has increased from an average of around zero per cent of household disposal income in the five years leading up to the financial crisis to 10 per cent now.) I have already confessed to being part of this frugal culture and therefore am part of this drag on growth. I couldn’t get any pride from that. 

Then I remembered. I am not a Keynesian. I actually think that saving money helps the economy. It frees resources that companies and entrepreneurs can use to build productive physical capital to make us all more prosperous in the future. I finally appreciated what Mr Swan was talking about, even if he doesn’t. I now feel ‘very, very proud’. Some of what little I spend goes to China and what I don’t spend helps Australian industry. 

Pride in achievement brings forth generosity. In that spirit some credit must go to Americans. They are feeling down; ashamed of their own employment performance. They should remember that they buy more Chinese goods than anyone else. We spend little compared with them. In fact, when you think about it, the Americans should feel proud about Australia’s employment performance. Mr Swan should acknowledge this in the spirit of the longstanding special relationship between Australia and the United States. 

It is a small consolation; I know when unemployment is close to 10 per cent, to be congratulated for helping another smaller country achieve strong employment growth. But it is something to cling onto. It may encourage Americans to put themselves into more hock and buy more Chinese quality goods – solar panels and windmill parts would be a good start to help the environment. To paraphrase the wartime Winston, Mr Swan could say to America: ‘give us your consumption of Chinese goods and we will finish the job with our exports of coal and iron’. He could add, ‘we will all, Australians and Americans alike, take shared pride in Australia’s employment performance’.

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