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Wage inequality is a bigger threat to workers than robots

20 November 2016 | David James

Machines in car factoryThe idea that machines will replace humans, transforming the work force, is far from new. As technology develops at an accelerating pace, there is growing concern that new social divisions are emerging. While there are signs of deepening social divisions between the rich and the rest of the working population, previous predictions of a collapse in employment have proven to be wrong. This is largely because a confusion arises from conflating production and transactions. They are not the same thing.

It will take more than a royal commission to tame the banks

09 October 2016 | David James

Banker as pig, cartoon by Fiona KatauskasThe strategy of the Big Four banks' appearance in parliament was clear enough. Blame the whole thing on a need to improve impersonal 'processes', imply that there have been a few bad apples but overall things are fine, and promise to do better in the future. The greatest challenge was probably to hide the smirks. A royal commission is being held up as an alternative, and no doubt it would be more effective. But a royal commission would not address the main issue.

Morality is back on the economic agenda

19 September 2016 | Andrew Hamilton

Scott Morrison on Sky NewsIt is a welcome change to see budgets spoken of in moral terms. The government recently insisted on a moral responsibility to future generations to fix the deficit. And the Australian Catholic bishops welcomed on moral grounds the compromise that saw dropped from the budget measures which would further disadvantage vulnerable people. The difference was that the government's argument was focused on the budget, whereas the bishops' focused on particular groups of people.

The bad business of privatisation

12 September 2016 | David James

Hand protruding from waterThe argument that putting government operations into private hands ensures that things will run better and society will benefit is not merely a stretch; it is in many respects patently false. The argument is based on the claim that the market always produces superior price signals. Yet one area where private enterprise definitely fails is long term stability. If there is an expectation that a privatised service should last in the long term, and usually there is, then selling it to business is a bad choice.

Beyond Brexit doomsday myths

27 June 2016 | David James

British poundHad Greece decided to exit the EU last year the consequences would have been far greater than Brexit, because Greece uses the euro, whereas Britain has the pound. British interest rates are not set in Brussels, they are set by the Bank of England. And it has an independent fiscal and budgetary system, to the extent that it is possible. The British government has been imposing 'austerity' measures because it subscribes to neoliberal orthodoxy, not because it is being told to do so by Brussels or Germany.

How financial markets are stymying climate action

14 June 2016 | David James

Emissions from power plantThere is little doubt that the means to dramatically reduce the amount of pollution produced by developed economies is already theoretically available. It is perfectly possible to redesign industrial systems so that they do not pollute and do not consume finite resources at a rate that is unsustainable. But it requires a radical shift - and the biggest barrier to that shift occurring, the financial markets, is barely even mentioned in discussions of the challenge.

Negative gearing is the end of the Australian Dream

27 April 2016 | Kate Galloway

Greg Foyster cartoon shows cross-stich house and motto Tax Break Sweet Tax BreakHistorically, having a largely home-owning population has ensured both the social benefit of housing, and an economic benefit through enforced saving with long-term growth. In contrast, the negative gearing push splits the cultural and economic meaning of home ownership, because it focuses on investment. Negative gearing promotes property ownership but not home ownership. Thus the social benefits of home ownership that we have come to expect give way to bare economic indicators.

Serfs sucked dry in the kingdom of banks

17 April 2016 | David James

Banker parasites sucking the world dry. By Chris JohnstonThree finance-related events are currently gaining great attention in the media. One is the so-called Panama Papers. Another is the proposal to have a royal commission into the banks. And a third is the furore over the unaffordability of homes and the debate over negative gearing. On the surface they would seem to be quite separate issues. But all three issues demonstrate yet again that banks are, if not the most malign organisations on the planet, then certainly among the most dangerous.

Labor's negative gearing heroics alone won't save us

25 February 2016 | David James

Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit, and Fixing Global Finance by Adair TurnerIt is not often that federal political parties exhibit courage. Labor's decision to change the rules on negative gearing is a rare instance. It targets what is most dangerous and unfair in our financial system. Expect howls of protests from powerful lobby groups if it ever looks like becoming policy. But these changes alone won't be enough to deal with the ills of the financial system. While they are designed to target the bias away from productive investment, they won't remove the attraction towards property.

Consequences loom for global debt binge

18 January 2016 | David James

Janet YellenLow interest rates tend to change the understanding of risk; having high debt seems to be less of a problem because the cost of servicing it is lower. This cavalier attitude has been especially evident in Australian households, which have racked up more debt relative to the size of the economy than any other country in the world. The massive appetite for debt has been replicated across the globe. The world may have survived the era of casino money - just - but it is now facing another crisis.

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