ESA National Economic Panel Polls
| Author's Name: Julie Toth|
Date: Tue 12 Feb 2019
Julie is Chief Economist at PEXA (Australia’s central property and mortgage transactions exchange). She is an active participant in Australia’s national business, industry and economic policy conversations. Julie has worked across Australia’s public, private and non-profit sectors over the past three decades, including senior research roles at Nous Group, the Australian Industry Group, the ANZ Bank and the Productivity Commission.
Julie is currently an advisory board member at Swinburne University’s Centre for Transformative Innovation and a panel member of the Melbourne Economic Forum, hosted by the University of Melbourne and Victoria University.
Julie holds a Master of Industrial Relations and Labour Economics (Monash University), a Bachelor of Economics (Honours) (University of Melbourne) and a Bachelor of Arts (University of Melbourne).
Subject Area Expertise
Macroeconomics, labour economics, demographics, industry & regulatory policy.
Leading economists back Federal Government action to curb rising gas and electricity prices
Australia’s top economists have overwhelmingly endorsed intervention to restrain gas and electricity prices, with only three of the 47 leading economists surveyed believing the best thing the government can do is to leave things to the market.
Photo credit: Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
Increase taxation of resource rents for gas producers and use proceeds to reduce electricity and gas
Government has several policy levers available right now. It must use them. A high and consistent resources rent tax should be enforced. It would provide fiscal benefits to the government and would help to address peak pricing if part of the proceeds were redistributed to energy retailers and customers. Domestic gas reservations, retail pricing caps and targeted consumer subsidies should also be employed, to complement a national permanent resources rent tax.
Is education or immigration the answer to our skills shortage? We asked 50 economists
Investing in Australians’ education is far more important than immigration in resolving the nation’s skills shortages, according to leading economists surveyed in the lead-up to this week’s jobs and skills summit.
The 50 top Australian economists polled by the Economic Society of Australia and The Conversation are recognised by their peers as leaders in their fields, including economic modelling, labour markets and public policy.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
Workforce participation Broader reforms to promote productivity Equal opportunities and pay for women Digital jobs
Broader reforms to promote productivity Reforms that promote genuine productivity improvements are the key to growing living standards & prosperity for us all. We need to think more broadly and creatively about how to lift our collective outputs and/or reduce our required inputs across a range of industries, occupations and tasks, rather than simply calling for more people to do them. For example . reduce the time required for repetitive administrative and reporting tasks for professionals in health, education, aged care and other large industries . enable more retail and hospitality businesses to implement automated checkout, payment and meal ordering systems, by ensuring that all locations have adequate digital services and telecoms network coverage. Including in regional locations . enable a greater range of financial, property and government transactions to be automated and conducted online, with nationally consistent and accessible digital platforms . shift our national and state governments' traditional policy focus away from 'creating local jobs' and towards 'boosting productivity' wherever possible. We should be aiming to reduce the need for lower-skill and lower-value tasks and jobs, rather than simply seeking more bodies to do them. The same applies to purely transactional and administrative tasks that exist mainly to meet regulatory, reporting, consultative and security objectives. Can we do these tasks in a smarter, more efficient way? Can they be automated or consolidated?
Promoting vaccination uptake in Australia
"What measures should Australian governments adopt to promote demand for vaccination once supply is no longer a constraint?"
Photo credit "Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND"
Vaccine passports for higher-risk settings (eg. flights, restaurants, major events);National advertising campaigns;Mandatory vaccination for higher risk occupations
Vaccine 'hesitancy' receives far too much attention in the media. Vaccine frustration is a bigger problem. That is, the frustration of wanting vaccination but unable to get it. when vaccines are genuinely available to everyone (easily and rapidly) and if Government information is provided clearly and directly, we are very likely to see vaccination rates rise to required levels. Even after vaccinations rise, COVID will be with us for many years and so vaccinations will probably become mandatory over time for certain occupations and activities (e.g. aged care workers and for international air travel), just as they are for other common diseases.
Policies to deliver higher wage growth
Our panellists were asked
"Higher wages growth is now a top priority of the RBA in its efforts to sustain stronger economic growth. Please identify the three of these government policies you think would best help deliver higher wages growth".
Photo credit "Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND"
Measures to boost productivity growth;Measures to boost business investment;Reforming industrial rel
Stronger growth in wages needs to be real and not just nominal, if it is to support a genuine lift in incomes and living standards for Australians. This means wage growth must be underpinned by productivity growth. Without it, we risk triggering a nominal wage-inflation spiral that benefits nobody.
Transition to electric cars
This month, our panellists were asked whether Australia should take action to speed the transition to electric cars.
"As part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Australian governments should take action to accelerate the take up, or take no action to accelerate the take up of electric cars"
Photo credit "Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND"
Remove the luxury car tax from all-electric cars, Subsidise public charging points for electric cars, Make charging points compulsory in new homes and new carparks
The costs, performance and benefits of electric vehicles (buses trucks bikes and cars) relative to petrol/diesel vehicles are improving rapidly. The charging infrastructure that is required to support them is currently a key stumbling block that is almost impossible for individuals and smaller businesses to overcome, no matter how willing. Charging points and systems must be assisted by government nationwide. Governments all around Australia can also encourage & enable electric vehicle adoption by getting more active with phasing in all-electric public buses and government vehicle fleets.
The legislated increases in compulsory super contributions should...
"The legislated increases in compulsory super contributions, which are set to climb from 9.5% of wages to 12% over the next five years should...."
Photo Credit: Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
The current economic crisis is extraordinary in every way. Its effects will be long-lasting and complex. The scheduled increase to compulsory superannuation contributions must be reviewed.
Government Debt during the COVID19 Crisis
"Governments should provide ongoing fiscal support to boost aggregate demand during the economic crisis and recovery, even if it means a substantial increase in public debt"
Photo Credit: Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
Government spending must be increased to match the scale of this crisis.
Wage freeze for economic recovery
"A freeze in the minimum wage will support Australia's economic recovery"
Photo credit: Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
"A temporary freeze in the minimum wage is not as unusual or drastic as it sounds. The precursor to the Fair Work Commission froze the minimum wage (and award increases flowing from it) in 2009, in response to the disruptions of the global financial crisis. It compensated for this with larger increases in 2010. The current crisis should easily meet the legal criteria for ‘exceptional circumstances’ under the terms of the Fair Work Act, which allows for a delay in deciding and/or paying an increase. This would be appropriate because: 1. Jobkeeper and other emergency measures implemented by Government are aimed squarely at reducing the cost of keeping people employed and therefore reducing the risk of unemployment. This Government support is crucial to the private sector right now. The ABS estimates that as of 22 May, 72% of all Australian businesses have experienced reduced revenue, 53% have cut their work hours and 24% have cut their staff numbers. Three quarters of businesses are already accessing government support, including wage subsidies (55%) and/or other supports (38%). 20% of all workers told the ABS they are eligible for Jobkeeper. An increase in the minimum wage in the short term would run counter to these widespread emergency policies and weaken their effectiveness. 2. Even with this emergency support, unemployment and underemployment are high and rising. The RBA and Treasury expect the unemployment rate to rise to 10% in coming months. Raising the minimum wage in these circumstances could push even more people into unemployment and underemployment, if employers respond to the rise by cutting paid work hours further in order to pay for it. With 72% of businesses experiencing falling revenue, there is little ability for businesses to cover a pay rise in any other way. In these circumstances, other policy tools are a better fit for assisting people who have lost their income and are falling through the cracks. 3. Headline and underlying inflation are extremely weak at present. Indeed, the RBA and Treasury are expecting inflation to turn negative in Q2 of 2020, due to weak demand and falling oil prices. This means that a temporary wage freeze is not especially terrible, in real income terms. 4. The flat-rate pay structure of Jobkeeper ($1,500 per fortnight or $750 per week per employee, regardless of actual work hours or wage level) means that people who have kept their jobs, who are eligible for JobKeeper, and who earn less than $1,500 per fortnight are receiving an income boost for at least 6 months. Australia’s minimum wage is currently $19.49 per hour, or $740.80 for a full-time adult employee working 38 hours per week. This means that all full-time minimum wage workers who are eligible for JobKeeper are receiving an income rise of $9.20 per week (1.2%) until September, regardless of the hours they are currently actually working. For those who normally work part-time on low wages (e.g. students in part-time retail and hospitality jobs), the temporary income boost from Jobkeeper can be substantial; for example a person who normally works for 20 hours per week at minimum rates ($389.80 before tax and adjustments) will receive $750 per week until September, regardless of the hours actually worked. "
Social Distancing Measures, May 2020
"The benefits to Australian society of maintaining social distancing measures sufficient to keep R<1 for COVID-19 are likely to exceed the costs"
The horrendous human and economic toll in other countries shows us that Australia has escaped this global crisis relatively well, so far. The measures taken appear to be working, so far. Even though this virus appears to be deadliest for older people, the Economist reports that each COVID-19 death in Italy and the UK has lost an average of 11 life years. Many more people are gravely ill for extended periods. These losses represent huge personal, social and economic costs. The situation in developing countries is even worse. We won't know exactly how much Australia's activity restrictions will cost in total until well after this crisis has abated. Judging from current international events, it is difficult to imagine Australia's avoidance costs being greater than the cost of the devastation that we have avoided. The economic disruption is large, either way. It is worth the effort we are all taking to minimise this new risk to human health and wellbeing.
Motherhood, caring and the careers of Australian women - April 2019
Proposition 1: "Without changes to existing public policy or private sector practice in Australia, motherhood will always negatively affect a woman's career."
Proposition 2: "In Australia, fathers are more restricted than mothers in fulfilling a caring role while in employment."
Part 1 - Strongly agree
Public policy and workplace practices affect our experiences of parenthood in a myriad of ways including: childcare provision, school systems, welfare entitlements, employment laws, cultural norms and more. Too many of the relevant areas of policy, practice and attitude are still very strongly gendered.
Part 2 - Strongly agree
Professional Accreditation of Economists - March 2019
Proposition 1: "Professional accreditation for the economics profession would attract more people to economics as a career."
Proposition 2: "The benefits of professional accreditation for current and prospective economists would exceed any possible costs"
Part 1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)
Part 2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)
I have very high confidence that I am entirely undecided on the costs and benefits of professional accreditation for economists. Economics in the workplace is a methodological toolbox rather than a job description. For policy and problem-solving purposes, it is often more powerful when combined with insights borrowed from other disciplines. Outside of academia and a handful of public sector agencies, there are many jobs that use elements of economics, but there are relatively few 'pure economist' jobs (i.e. jobs that require economics training only and entirely). Some of the best 'economics' organisations and teams are multi-disciplinary. And some of the best developments in economics do not come from narrowly trained economists (e.g. behavioural economics). As an aside, I rather like some of the alternative titles and descriptions that pop up online and at conferences. e.g futurist, thought leader, dream weaver, trend spotter, megatrend analyst, macro wonk, policy sherpa.
US corporate tax cuts - March 2018
"The recent US corporate tax cuts will have no impact on investments in and capital flows into Australia."
Changes to US corporate taxation arrangements are intended to encourage US multinationals to repatriate profits earned overseas back to the US and to pay tax on those profits in the US instead of elsewhere. US companies will also be strongly encouraged to increase their investments inside the US, instead of investing in Australia or elsewhere. The aggregate impact on US investment into Australia is likely to be small (relative to total Australian investment and/or total US international investment) but it will not be zero.
Australian Federal Budget 2018 - Reduce government debt or provide tax cuts? - April 2018
Proposition 1: "Slowing the growth in the debt to GDP ratio should be a priority for Australian governments."
Proposition 2: "Slowing the growth in the debt to GDP ratio is a higher priority than income or corporate tax cuts."
1 - Agree
2 - Disagree
1 - Achieving an operating surplus so as to reduce Government debt is a long-term objective. It is not a first-order priority that must be pursued over and above all other Government priorities and objectives. Government debt is not as pressing a problem when the cost of capital is low (such as now).
2 - This dichotomy is not a reasonable policy choice. Both are necessary Budget objectives. Australia sorely needs tax reform that is long-term, evidence-based, holistic and bi-partisan. The Henry tax review, the OECD, the WEF and pretty much everyone else agrees that Australia's tax mix is too heavily reliant on income/production taxes instead of consumption taxes. And it is unnecessarily complex. Tax reform is urgently needed.
Will building more homes make housing cheaper? - May 2018
"A sustained increase in the number of new homes constructed each year, all else equal, will make housing cheaper than otherwise."
'All else equal' is the key. If housing supply rises, and there is no increase in demand at all, for any reason whatsoever, then prices should, theoretically, fall. In practice, there are far too many distortions in the housing market on both the supply and demand sides, so it is not easy to tease out the effects of any single factor.
Electric vehicles and road-use pricing - June 2018
"Pricing of road-use for electric vehicles should be the same as fossil fuel-powered vehicles."
Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)
This is yet another example of old taxes and charges that are no longer fit for purpose and no longer meet good policy objectives. Ideally, a radical overhaul would be better than more tinkering. e.g. replace all of these vehicle & fuel taxes/charges with usage, congestion or emissions taxes/charges that directly target the various negative externalities associated with powered vehicles of all types. This would effectively 'price' vehicles differently, but it would be based on their actual externalities, not the fuel or tech used.
Waste Policy - August 2018
"There are clear net benefits for Australians from (further) increasing the diversion of waste from Australian landfills."
Increasing our genuine recycling rate is a no-brainer. It will increase the utility we gain from our resources, increase our national productivity and decrease the negative externalities of landfill. Maximum benefit requires maximum efficiency and efficacy in the recycling process. We also need to reduce the volume of waste created in the first place.
Banking Royal Commission and the Credit Crunch - October 2018
Proposition 1: "There is a significant risk that, either as a result of the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry or as a result of the financial institutions' response to those findings, credit will become less readily available to Australian households or businesses."
Proposition 2: "Assuming credit becomes less readily available to Australian households or businesses, this will in turn have adverse consequences for the performance of the Australian economy."
1 - Agree
2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)
1 - Credit costs and availability are already changing due to global credit market machinations and rising US Fed rates etc. Changes to bank policies and practices in Australia as a result of the royal commission will affect credit costs and/or availability, in addition and concurrent to these background trends. In practice, it is likely to be difficult to untangle exactly why any individual credit arrangement changes, unless the bank in question explicitly says that it is in response to the royal commission.
2 - I am very confident that I don't agree or disagree on this one! Availability, conditions and cost of credit change frequently, in response to many variables (e.g. perceived risk, cost of capital, asset price trends, bankers' bonus arrangements, regulatory requirements). Reduced availability of credit is not necessarily always a negative influence on economic performance. The effect on households and businesses depends on when/why/how credit tightening is happening. And whether or not the availability of credit is a constraint on investment or output.
Gig economy and worker welfare - February 2018
"The wages and conditions of Australian workers providing services in sectors affected by the rapid growth of digital on-demand subcontracting platforms will, on average, be expected to fall without further government intervention."
New technologies change the nature of work, workplaces and societies in a myriad of ways. Individuals and society as a whole generally benefit from new technologies, from resulting productivity improvements and from new/improved/cheaper goods and services. The transition from one technology to another can be disruptive (and even redistributional) however, as demand for some skills and resources falls but demand for others rises. This is the dynamic process of 'creative destruction' at work. The technologies themselves are neutral. It is up to each community to adopt, adapt and regulate technological and human activity in order to maximise the benefits of change and to minimise any transitional or unintended costs.
Journalism as a public good - January 2018
Proposition 1: "The modern phenomena of information overload and social-media-fuelled 'fake news' bring into focus the value of quality journalism. Quality journalism has a public-good dimension that warrants public support."
Proposition 2: "The Australian government presently provides funding for the ABC and SBS, Australia's independent public broadcasters. The Australian government should increase its financial support of quality journalism."
1 - Agree
2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)
1 - Information deficits and/or assymetry are well-recognised sources of market failure. Affects economy, society, politics etc. Open-access public information from government, media and other sources helps to address these gaps.
2 - Public-funded broadcasting is highly valued by many (most?) people in Australia but appropriate funding levels are open to debate. There are many other ways government can support and promote public information (e.g. legal protections and regulations).
Same sex marriage - November 2017
"Assuming that the law will be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry in Australia, this will generate net economic benefits for the nation as a whole over the next 10 years."
Equality? YES! Benefits? YES! Cherelle Murphy at ANZ estimates the direct economic benefit of this single decision to be at least $650mn.
Robots, artificial intelligence and the 'future of work' - October 2017
Question A: "Holding labor market institutions and job training fixed, rising use of robots and artificial intelligence is likely to increase substantially the number of workers in Australia who are unemployed for long periods."
Question B: "Rising use of robots and artificial intelligence in Australia is likely to create benefits large enough that they could be used to compensate those workers who are substantially negatively affected for their lost wages."
A - Disagree
B - Agree
To paraphrase a paraphrase*, change is the only constant. Every new technology fosters creative destruction to a greater or lesser degree (or in modern business-babble, disruptive innovation). Smashing the Spinning Jenny (or the smart-phone/smart-car/smart-telly) can only delay its adoption, not avert it entirely. It is up to all of us how we manage these transitions, and for whom. (* apologies to every famous economist who has ever commented on the aggregate benefits of tech change, which is probably all of them)
Public borrowing for infrastructure investment - September 2017
"As interest rates are at low levels by historical standards, federal and state governments, despite their public debt levels, should be borrowing more than they currently are to invest in infrastructure"
Government borrowing for infrastructure projects is not the same as borrowing to meet deficits in the operating budget. It does not have the same (mostly negative) implications for Government finances and credit ratings. This is sometimes over-simplified into 'good debt' vs 'bad debt' but it is nevertheless a reasonable rule of thumb to follow. Infrastructure can of course be funded in a variety of ways. Direct government funding is just one of several options. All infrastructure projects, regardless of their method of funding, must pass full and independent governance and planning criteria (e.g. assessed and recommended by Infrastructure Australia or a State Gov equivalent) in order to avoid pork-barreling. Wrong infrastructure is a waste of everyone's time and money, regardless of how it is funded.
The Finkel Review - August 2017
"The Finkel Review has recommended a mandatory certificate scheme that obliges electricity retailers to purchase a certain proportion of the electricity they sell from sources of electricity whose emission intensity is below a defined level. This is preferable to conventional approaches to the pricing of externalities, such as an emission tax or cap and trade scheme."
The Finkel Review is to be highly commended and strongly supported. It made strong recommendations in the face of a difficult political environment. Finkel's recommendation of a technology-neutral 'clean energy target' is a pragmatic and openly 'second-best' policy response. It was necessary because the 'first-best' policies (an emissions tax or emissions trading system) are not possible in the current political environment. Finkel's recommendation is preferable to doing nothing but it is not preferable to an emissions tax or emissions trading system.
Does privatisation of human services hurt outcomes? - July 2017
"For-profit provision of human services like health and education leads to poor client outcomes and high costs to government."
Australia has a long history of health, welfare and education services being provided by non-government entities, including for-profit businesses and non-profit organisations (e.g. religious groups). Australia generally scores very well in international comparisons of health, welfare and education outcomes (e.g. OECD ranking tables). I am not convinced that for-profit service providers would/should/could perform any worse than non-profit providers or direct government providers of these services, particularly in light of the many serious revelations and allegations arising from various royal commissions and inquiries into these services. The design, delivery and oversight of service delivery arrangements are more important than the identity of the provider.
Gender diversity in the workplace - role of government? - June 2017
"The recent Parliamentary Inquiry into "Gender segregation in the workplace and its impact on women's economic equality" was asked to examine measures to encourage women?s participation in male-dominated occupations and industries. Although there is growing awareness of the productivity gains of gender diversity, the private market alone is unlikely to steer the Australian labour market toward gender equality in male-dominated industries. Breaking down gender segregation in the labour market can only be achieved with some degree of government intervention."
Gender segregation starts in our schools and social networks (particularly in well-established single-sex 'old school tie' and private club networks), extends into our universities and spreads into our workplaces. Equal access is vital for all students. Our teaching of STEM must improve for all students. Government education policy should actively encourage males into 'female' study areas and occupations (especially nursing and education), not just encourage females into 'male' study areas and occupations (e.g. building engineering banking). The last vestiges of IR law that contribute to gender segregation must be removed (e.g. industry awards that preclude part-time work hours).
Australian Federal Budget 2017 - Outsourcing Economic Forecasting - May 2017
"Given the Commonwealth Treasury?s ongoing difficulty in making accurate forecasts of some of the key economic variables underpinning the Budget ? in particular nominal GDP growth ? the Government should ?outsource? the economic forecasts used in framing the Budget to an independent agency (such as the Parliamentary Budget Office), as now happens in the United Kingdom."
There are several reasons why one might wish to 'outsource' macroeconomic parameter forecasting for Fed Budget purposes. e.g. :1. quality of the forecasts. No forecasts are ever perfect. Treasury is not worse than other Australian public or private sector forecasters. Treasury's own analysis of its previous forecasts has found no evidence systemic or quality-related bias. There is a very limited pool of people in Australia with the right skills & experience for this type of work, so the proposition that it could be done better elsewhere is questionable. Outsourcing is unlikely to improve the quality or accuracy.2. independence of the forecasts. If the political independence of Treasury's macroeconomic forecasting is genuinely of concern, then this problem should be identified and rectified within Treasury, not through a 'second-best' outsourcing arrangement.3. cost of providing forecasts. staff costs for an appropriate level of skill & experience are unlikely to be lower outside Treasury than inside it, given the tiny pool of people available in Australia who can do this type of work at the level required.