I recently watched the federal treasurer, Scott Morrison, proudly proclaim that Australia was in “surprisingly good shape”. Indeed, Australia has just snatched the world record from the Netherlands, achieving its 104th quarter of growth without a recession, making this achievement the longest streak for any OECD country since 1970.
Australian GDP growth has been trending down for over forty years
Source: Trading Economics, ABS
I was pretty shocked at the complacency, because after twenty six years of economic expansion, the country has very little to show for it.
A blog member has kindly produced a transcript of the off-the-cuff talk I gave at this forum. I’ve made minor corrections to the punctuation below, but the text is otherwise as delivered on the night without speaking notes–so there are some grammatical slips. For those who want to listen to this alone–without also listening to Bernie Fraser beforehand–here is a link to the MP3 of my talk.
“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is part of a phrase attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and popularised in the United States by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The statement refers to the persuasive power of numbers, the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions. (Wikipedia)
Two recent speeches by the RBA supported the contention that Australian house prices are no longer overvalued, that mortgage repayment costs have returned to historic averages, that Australia is suffering a housing shortage, and therefore that the Australian housing market should not experience the catastrophic falls that are now commonplace across the OECD–and especially in the USA.
“I do not know anyone who predicted this course of events. This should give us cause to reflect on how hard a job it is to make genuinely useful forecasts. What we have seen is truly a ‘tail’ outcome – the kind of outcome that the routine forecasting process never predicts. But it has occurred, it has implications, and so we must reflect on it.”
If things are really grim, it helps to have an indefatigable nature, and there’s no doubt that RBA Deputy Governor Ric Battellino has that in spades—at least in the speeches he makes at public conferences. Were I being crucified, I’d like to have Ric up there with me, singing “Cheer up Brian!…”, to take my mind off the nails.
But were I still in the Garden of Gethsemane, and actually trying to avoid the Romans (and an extended Pilates session the next day), I think I’d want someone else on lookout duty.
Just two years ago, Central Banks appeared triumphant. Inflation, the scourge of the 1970s and 80s, appeared dead, the financial crisis of the Tech Wreck had been contained, economies worldwide were booming, and stock markets and house prices were spiralling ever upwards.
Then along came the Subprime Crisis, and we received a rude reminder of why Central Banks were created in the first place: to ensure that the world would never again experience a Great Depression.
Late last year on SBS News, when Stan Grant asked me which way the RBA would move rates in 2008, I replied “Up, and then down”, Stan quipped “Spoken like a true economist–an even handed answer!”–to which I replied “More down than up”.
I expected the intial rate rises because of the RBA’s focus on the rate of inflation, and a subsequent fall, not because inflation would be heading down, but because the economy would be–and the RBA rate would be forced to follow it
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