This year the Australian government will spend on average over $6,000 on welfare for every man, woman and child in the country.
Is the Australian labour market today in worse shape than it was during the Great Depression? There were about half a million unemployed people in 1932, at the height of the Depression, but around 730 000 unemployed in January this year. The second number is certainly larger than the first number, so does that mean we’re in sub-Depression territory? Of course it doesn’t. The population is about 4 times larger than it was back then and the labour force is about 4.7 times bigger, so comparing the number of unemployed people today and in 1932 doesn’t really tell you much about the relative health of today’s labour market. There’s a reason why people look at the unemployment rate rather than the number of unemployed people when they want to make comparisons over time.
I’ve written a new piece for Guardian Australia, in which I draw upon my own experiences to defend the Australian welfare state against its critics.
Part of the theme of the piece is the way that income support payments can help to promote social mobility. Without family payments and Youth Allowance, it would be much harder for kids from working class backgrounds to go to university, and so on.
This is part (but only part) of the reason I get so exasperated by the absurd “aspirationals” language that Mark Latham and others use. Aspirationals are, at least implicitly, contrasted against some other group, who presumably don’t aspire to much at all. Income support recipients can’t be ‘aspirational’, particularly not if they receive Newstart or Youth Allowance (FTB gets a pass). This is self-evidently piffle, and part of the aim of my piece was to show how income support can help people ‘climb the ladder of opportunity’ or however you wish to phrase it.
Anyway, please read the piece.
I appeared on a panel about a month ago at the Progressive Australia conference in Sydney, organised by the Chifley Research Centre. Although this wasn’t a stand-alone presentation (I was speaking in response to a keynote speech by Patrick Diamond), I thought my slides might be of interest.
Peter Martin has an interesting piece regarding the Commission of Audit in today’s Fairfax papers. He looks back at the 1996 Commission of Audit to draw some lessons for the current Commission. He notes that the 1996 Commission recommended scaling back tax expenditures to businesses and high-income households, reducing politicians’ entitlements, and changing the model of school funding.