Australian Bureau of Statistics: GDP growth moderates as dwelling investment and exports detract from growth

Australian Bureau of Statistics

GDP growth moderates as dwelling investment and exports detract from growth‘ (Media release, 7 June 2017)

Growth actually slowed in the March quarter (0.3 per cent) and the ABS presser was ‘just the facts’ but those with an eye for economic history – and lots of other people, including media outlets wanting a brief brief from terror alarms – noted that 103 successive quarters of growth broke a world record, previously held ages ago by the Netherlands. There was a bit more embellishment in the Guardian report and elsewhere in the mainstream media, though Triple M found it all a bit boring.

We, however, took more notice of the remarks of two respected economic commentators, Greg Jericho and Saul Eslake, that the GDP growth record was not really such a big deal. Eslake questioned whether a record actually had fallen and whether the GDP growth number was even a useful statistic. For good measure, he noted a couple of ups and downs in productivity, gross domestic income, and unemployment, which are all more important numbers anyway. Jericho made similar points and threw in a few more statistics (consumption, wages, capital expenditure) which had jumped around rather alarmingly over time.

There’s also the point that, while growth has chugged along for 26 years, inequality has been growing: see our collection under the ‘Inequality’ thumbnail and the chapters by Stuart Macintyre and Carmen Lawrence in The Honest History Book. Lawrence’s final paragraph should put a dampener on celebrations:

The key test is whether the public policy choices we make reflect a genuine commitment to equality of opportunity: do we give it more than token weight or do we subordinate it to other economic and social goals? Are we really the nation of a “fair go” or are we kidding ourselves? In reality, it seems that our comforting and comfortable egalitarian myth, passed down to us in stories of brothers in the bush and mates in the trenches, is blinding us to the growing divide in our society and the need to do something about it.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was this from a 14-year-old on the ABC’s QandA show last Monday night:

Good evening. I’m 14 years old, in Year 9 and live in Sydney. The median house price in my area is $1.75 million. In my Commerce class, we calculated how long it would take to save for a deposit and pay for a mortgage. It would take me roughly 18 years to save for a deposit and if interest rates stay at the current rates, the principal and interest on the entire life of the loan would be $3.25 million. At current income tax rates, it would take me approximately 165 years to pay for this mortgage.

Simplistic, single number records don’t really cut it.

See also: Tim Colebatch in Inside Story a couple of days later. And the same author again about wages’ falling share of the economy. On the same track, Gareth Hutchens in Guardian Australia points out that the household share of the national economic pie is at lowest level for 50 years and this is not good by international standards. By such trends inequality becomes pathological and permanent.

David Stephens

7 June 2017 updated



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