I don’t want my blog to just be a forum for rebutting claims made in The Australian, but it can be difficult to resist.

For example, this quote from Stephen Matchett in today’s Oz [paywalled], regarding the slowdown in productivity growth, riled me enough that I couldn’t let it through to the keeper.

So what went wrong?

The ACTU says nothing, that productivity was always a con. The economy did not speed up because we rowed smarter but because we were lashed into rowing faster. We wage slaves slump exhausted over the economy’s oars now the economic trireme is drifting.

Well, that’s news to me. I don’t recall seeing any statements from the ACTU that suggested that productivity was “always a con”. In fact, the ACTU issued a discussion paper less than two weeks ago on this very topic and nothing in it could be taken as a claim that “productivity was always a con”.

Here are a couple of quotes:

Increasing productivity is, in the long run, the main way that societies can improve their material standards of living. Productivity growth is the main driver of real economic growth, with workforce participation and population changes playing much smaller roles. True productivity growth is in the interests of workers.

Productivity growth is a necessary component of any social-democratic agenda for improving the lives of working people. Unions support productivity growth, but it is important that the concept and its relationship to public policy are properly understood.

Over the long-run, the trend rate of growth in Australian labour productivity is around 2 per cent. Australia experienced a productivity slump in the mid-1980s, growing well below trend, and a surge in the mid-1990s. The rate of growth in productivity has been falling since that time.

So far, so reasonable, I’d like to hope. But calm analysis like that doesn’t fit the ‘unions are the enemies of productivity growth’ argument that Matchett was evidently keen to advance. The solution? Just make something up. Claim that “the ACTU says… that productivity was always a con”. I gather that Matchett’s column is supposed to be vaguely humorous, so a certain degree of latitude should be granted, but I don’t think that should extend to completely misrepresenting an organisation’s position on such an important and prominent issue.

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