Change Has to be in the Air (Part 1)

The financial crisis of 2008 bought the failings of the Capitalist System (as it currently operates) in to stark relief. The bastions of capitalism, the banks, had abused their market position to initially write loans to clients with doubtful ability to repay them, using valuations that were dubious at best and fraudulent at worst. The Banks then on-sold those mortgages to unsuspecting/careless brokers and second tier banks. When the inevitable happened and the borrowers were unable to repay their loans, the Banks coerced governments into supporting the Banks with the mantra “To big to fail”.

The end result was that the working poor and the middle class ended up paying for the Banks’ systemic failures through cuts in social services, losing their jobs and losing their homes. The worst  of it was that everybody other than the rich were the ones that felt the pain. Superannuants were hit by the falling stock market and the cuts in interest rates. Governments around the world instituted austerity programs, cutting pensions and raising taxes on ordinary people. Social services were curtailed and yet not one banker in the United States was prosecuted. When questioned about such outrageous schemes such as short selling (where you sell shares that you do not own at a discount in order to drive the price down so you can make a profit by forward selling the same shares at a later date for a higher price) the response was that its legal because we’re the players in the market and we make the rules. I’d like to see anyone else who sells property that they don’t own,  successfully argue to a judge that what they did wasn’t fraud.

But this was all just a sideshow in the market place. The recent research released in the United States showing that the wealthiest in society have increased their wealth in the last twenty years by 80% and that productivity per capita has shown a marked increase (although its slowing now) while at the same time real wages have dropped by almost 8%. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots start eating into employment rates in the developed world the days of full time employment are disappearing.

In Australia, the problem has already reached previously untouched rates of under-employment and part time employment. With housing costs in the major capital cities rising to heights that make home ownership much harder for ordinary workers attain and even rental rates beginning to verge on the unsustainable something has to give. Its this sort of exclusion from society that leads to anti-social behaviour and increased crime rates. Even as the unemployment rate falls, wages are not increasing. This stagnation in wages growth hurts the economy in several ways – reduced ability to spend means that GDP drops on a per capita basis (and the capitalist system relies on increased consumption to keep the wheels turning) and the tax take by governments is reduced. But there is a solution.

(In the next instalment we talk about one possible solution)

The Robots Are Coming

Zan and Dr Karl’s guest today  is Quantum Physics Professor Stephen Bartlett. While they discuss heady quantum mechanics  topics, it confirms that with the increase in computing power, especially when quantum mechanics can be fully utilised in computing, the robots are coming. ABC news have been running articles all week on the future workplace that includes robots. As noted in the article on the 7.00 PM News, 5/7/2017, it will not just be labouring jobs that will be lost or those doing repetitive tasks. There are already computer programs that can find case studies in law that means lees junior lawyers or law clerks doing research for court cases.

Time for a new societal structure – stay tuned.

You’ve Gotta be kidding me!

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has teamed up with the BHP CEO, Wesfarmers CEO, Qantas CEO and the boss of Energy Australia to demand that the Senate crossbench pass the company tax cuts. According to the BCA, the full company tax cuts should be left on the table because, wait for it, “it is the only plan  Australia has got to drive growth and investment”. You are joking right? The only hope, according to these clowns, is that multinational companies who currently spend most of their time dodging paying of their fair share of tax in Australia must get this tax cut because its the only thing that they have come up with to improve growth in Australia. I would suggest that these CEOs hand in their collective badges if that is the best that they can offer their shareholders. Where are the visionary plans, where is the investment in new sources of energy production, where are the plans for creating meaningful jobs, instead  a tax cut so that the rich can have an extra coffee on Sunday served by a part time worker on reduced penalty  rates. How about coming up with full time jobs for young Australians, not in shuffling paper and pretending to create wealth by shuffling said paper, but in real wealth creation jobs such as manufacturing or agriculture.

We all know that at best, by the Productivity Commissions own research, after 20 years the expected increase in GDP due to this tax cut is less than 4% OVER TWENTY YEARS. This is not a plan, this is simply the rich continuing to line their pockets while governments have to reduce their services in order to balance the books. If the rich want to see what happens when the poor say enough is enough, just continue on this path of greed and indifference to the plight of ordinary working Australians. Its appalling the way that young people are being treated at the moment with only casual work and/or part time work, house prices and rents getting further out of reach, employers using sham contracting to further cut wages… all of this is leading towards a dangerous situation.

God dammit, He’s back again

The belligerent buffoon has returned. Fresh from showing his two-faced climate belief credentials in the lower house as he joked about coal fired power stations, the country was melting under severe weather with even more records being broken today. Still its good for a laugh to pass the lump of coal around while South Australian’s lost power again, not because of renewable generation but because power companies were playing the system to increase the wholesale price of electricity and refusing to take up the Regulator’s request to increase output. But, hey, we’re not in parliament to look after the people, we are in parliament to look after ourselves (just ask Senator Ian McDonald as he bleats about having his entitlements cut even after he has lived off the public purse for 30 years and currently earns, nay receives, around $200,000 per year)

Its one thing to play political point scoring, its quite another to dismiss offhand the problems that are facing Australians and the rest of the world. This is the same clown who thinks there is nothing wrong cutting the Newstart allowance to 22 and 23 year olds and paying them under the Youth Allowance instead. Apparently landlords don’t charge full rent for these people and supermarkets offer them a discount on their food – buggar me I hadn’t realised. But wait there’s more – not steak knives but how about giving companies a tax cut while cutting welfare payments, lining up the old and the disabled for the firing squad while allowing multimillionaires tax breaks using negative gearing which keeps pushing up house prices especially for first home owners. But Scott the Twot says it will improve the economy and increase wages. Its a miracle! Mind you his own modelling says that the increase in GDP will be in the vicinity of 3.5% AFTER 20 YEARS! I thought he was bad as Immigration Minister but as Treasurer he seems to have become totally blind to the needs of the poor, working families, and ordinary hard working Australians in small business, while being only to happy to accomodate the rich, multinational companies, many of whom are dodging paying their fair share of tax.

This has to stop, you cannot persist in this thoroughly disreputable theory of Trickle-down Economics. It hasn’t worked, the disparity between rich and poor continues to grow and the vast majority of us are feeling powerless hence the desperate moves to whacko right wing political parties. If you want to save Australia, if you want to save the western democratic system, this basic current tenet of capitalism has to change. We can no longer (as if we ever could) trust the market to self regulate. They won’t act fairly because they know they will not be punished by governments, quite the opposite. If they stuff up governments use the taxes of the poor to bail out the rich, greedy capitalists. The poor have no power in this unequal relationship. This why governments have to intervene. If there is no shift in the current positions of the major parties, they will fail within four terms of the parliament and we will end up with unstable coalitions of either right or left leaning parties and policy failures as illustrated in the United States of America in both the Presidency and Congress.

You have been warned.

Oxfam’s Rich List

Interesting/alarming news from Oxfam today with their annual richest in the world conference in London. The top eight billionaires in the world have a combined wealth greater than the poorest 50% of the worlds population. And Australia isn’t exempt from this inequality. I quote from Oxfam’s 2017 Inequality Report for Australia.

The latest data from Credit Suisse shows that wealth in Australia is concentrated in the hands of a few: the top 1% have over 22% of total Australian wealth.

And, the top 1% own more wealth than the bottom 70% of Australians combined.

The two richest billionaires in Australia, who are part of the top 1%, own more than US $16 billion between them, which is more than the combined wealth of the poorest 20% of the Australian population.

See https://www.oxfam.org.au/what-we-do/inequality/

Now I can see all those merchant bankers and land developers jumping to justify this inequality with grand, self promoting explanations how they work so hard and the structure of society expects, nay, demands that you have people like this earning vast sums, how else can society advance?

The reality is that a society that only values people by their wealth and that allows the aggregation of wealth by a select minority is not a society that is moving forward. Equally, we cannot fall back in to the extreme left’s utopian view. The reality is that there have to be incentives in the form of profits and wages in order for the system to function efficiently. The problem is that we’re not all on an equal footing. There are many examples of unjustified government interference in the market, just look at the incentives for planting grape vines, creating movies and, the latest, negative gearing on investment properties. Negative gearing is a classic example of government largesse being given to the wealthy (and before you start bleating about mum and dad investors, Scott Morrison, if you can afford a second mortgage for an investment property then you are wealthy. Banks won’t extend those services to poor people). Not only are you allowing wealthy people to reduce their tax liability (once again Scott, that’s why these people do it), but you are concentrating wealth into the hands of the wealthy again by making it harder for renters to purchase their own home by driving the prices of houses up. And this is a symptom of a greater problem. Governments have reduced their expenditure on social housing because they claim its more efficient for the private sector provide it. Their concession to the poor is to provide rental subsidies to those on welfare payments. So in effect the government takes a double hit – they have to pay welfare recipients a subsidy and they give the property owner the ability to write off more tax. I wonder if anyone in Treasury has ever bothered to do the sums? What is the total of rental subsidies and tax breaks costing the government? Add to this the increase subsidies given to first home buyers in an attempt to relieve the financial stress on them trying to buy their first home.

This ongoing inequity in society is starting to crack the fabric of society both here and abroad. The signs are there – Brexit, Trump’s success and the ongoing disillusionment with politicians in Australia, all signs of people feeling that they are missing out and that their voices are not being listened to. People will only take this crap for so long.

Its time for at least one of the parties to listen, and my guess it will have to be the Labor Party. Its time to end government subsidies to the wealthy in the form of tax write-offs. No more negative gearing, no more tax schemes that allow the wealthy to use the public purse to top up their wealth. No more exemptions on superannuation for people with extreme wealth. We have the answers, we just need people to listen.

Are We Going Down the Path to Oblivion?

Australia is not immune to Trumpitus, as is illustrated in the recent successes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation at the last federal election. Once again, someone with no practical policies, playing to the disgruntled, largely white, working class – never correcting misleading beliefs regarding asylum seekers and their entitlements. Never acknowledging that global trade has increased the wealth of all Australians by providing low cost consumables and decreasing the cost of living but quick to bemoan the loss of Australian jobs. Of course job losses in Australia are an anathema to all fair minded people. The loss of jobs leads to decreased  income for workers at the lower end of the education spectrum and a reduction in cash flowing though the economy. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence systems, even jobs previously immune to automation are slowly coming under threat. Sadly the Liberal Party is facing this looming crisis by lurching to the right, intent on saving the bacon of its dominant financial base. Most Australian voters still do not understand that the Liberal Party (or rather, the economic dries of the party) are chasing that false American dream of small government. False because in reality, the wealthy are in fact fleeing taxes and that reduction in the tax base means that government programs have to be cut. Yet someone like Trump says there is a need for infrastructure investment – according to the economic dries, if infrastructure really needed to be upgraded then the private sector would step in and do it as part of the market at work. Tony Abbot has been fond of saying no-one has taxed their way to prosperity but that simplistic view of economics belies the truth that State and Federal Governments in the first eighty years of federation, especially in the post war period, built the infrastructure to create the conditions for a vibrant economy. The reality is that the private sector didn’t get involved with large infrastructure projects until Jeff Kennet’s reign in Victoria allowed them to take effective ownership of public property at bargain prices to underpin the creation of new Public/Private Partnerships (PPP). Indeed, many people still question how these PPPs are cost effective for the taxpayer. Surely if a private company is going to rake in ten billion dollars over the life of a project, the state should receive some of the benefit.

We need to be vigilant and call out people and parties that make outrageous claims against immigrants, or who express that tax cuts for the rich are vital for the economy, that companies can’t survive without massive corporate tax cuts.

Australia wake up, the future is in danger!

GST Increase to Fund Income Tax Cuts

The Turnbull Government has suggested that everything is on the table when it comes to tax reform. Turnbull himself has said that it would be possible to increase either the rate of GST or the spread of GST as long as the was compensation for the less fortunate. The thinking apparently being that income tax rates are unfair so the GST increase could be used to fund reductions in income tax. My question is why?

We are constantly being told that the government is facing a problem where expenditure is exceeding income. The future projections for expenditure on health and pensions appear to show that extreme pressure will be placed on the federal budget. So why would you collect more tax in the form of increased GST revenues but offset that by reductions in income tax. Don’t we need to have a net increase in the tax take? Or would it make more sense to limit the tax deductions that are available in various parts of the economy?

According to recent figures, removing the generous tax concessions for superannuation would save the same amount that is currently being expended on the aged pension. When you consider that these tax breaks are mainly used by the wealthy, there would be no need to pay compensation to the people in lower income brackets. The GST is a regressive tax, it penalises consumption but it is consumption that grows the economy. Income tax, on the other hand, increases with your capacity to pay. I must admit I am sick and tired of hearing commentators saying that the top end of town pay 49 cents in the dollar tax. That is patently incorrect – the top tax rate is only paid on the top end of the scale, i.e. when your weekly income exceeds $3461. I’m sorry, but I think if you are earning that much you can afford to pay the extra tax. In any case most don’t pay that rate as they minimise tax through superannuation arrangements and negative gearing arrangements for investment properties – both of which are of questionable benefit to Australia’s economy.

The Myth Expounded by Big Business

Off we go again. Big business and the Australian Federal Government are describing our current level of Company Tax as making us uncompetitive in this global economy. May I ask how? I ran my own business for twenty-five years. At at no stage did I weep into my pillow complaining that the company tax rate was making my life hell because I couldn’t compete against my opposition. Company Tax is not an expense of running the business, it is a levy that imposed on the profits from running a business. As such it occurs after the business has carried out its fundamental role.

I know I, like most other people, would have loved to keep that extra money in my pocket but we live in a society where not all people are equal which is what governments are there to help with. Now consider this when you listen to the Treasurer and the big business lobby groups, if the company tax rate is so unhealthily high why is it that the extremely wealthy love to convert their directly earned income into so called company income by forming questionable private companies? Simple, its the ability to claim almost anything as a legitimate cost of doing business, thereby reducing your taxable income substantially. My partner used to get upset with me because I refused to follow that lead. I held onto one main principle when it comes to paying tax – if we all pay our fair share then the tax burden would be able to be reduced on us all. Sadly, the wealthy are the one’s that have the government’s ear.