Paul Sheahan wrote something rather interesting today…
Well, that’s incorrect. He wrote something that caught my eye. And I’m trying to work out whether the man suffers from memory problems or is simply lying. He wrote:
“In politics, the Rudd Labor government went berserk on deficit spending to remain popular.”
Now, I’m happy for someone to debate whether the Rudd government’s policies were effective, or whether they just postponed the inevitable recession. I’m happy for someone to debate whether the money could have been better spent. I’m even happy for them to debate whether or not the pink batts problems were caused by socialism or unchecked capitalism.
But to suggest that the deficit spending was all about “being popular” just strikes me as a total rewriting of history. Even at the time, much of the spending wasn’t popular. The Liberals were telling us that Labor had gone too hard, too early and there’d be no money left when we were actually in recession – which they assured us was unavoidable.. Many asserted that the $900 would be wasted on alcohol and pokies.
(On a side note, isn’t it interesting that when Labor tried to introduce a voluntary pre-commitment amount for pokies, the Liberals teamed up the Clubs and screamed “nanny state”, but the Ceduna trial of a welfare card which can’t be spent on alcohol or gambling is just fine and dandy.)
Anyway, Paul Sheahan thinks that all the Rudd government’s spending was only to make his government “popular”. And I’d like to point out that he does specifically say the “Rudd Labor government”, so he is talking about the spending that was done at the height of the GFC. This not about things like the NBN or the National Disability Scheme.
Sheahan is one of people who like to remind us of that factoid that there’s a limited amount of money. (Note the use of the word “factoid” which, as I pointed out when Christopher Pyne used the word in parliament, means something that’s repeated often enough for people to take it as fact.)
The problem when we discuss “money” is that many people take it as synonymous with “cash” of which there is a limited amount at any given moment. “Money”, on the other hand, is a measure rather than being a thing in itself. Money tells you how much of the limited resources of the world you can access should you convert your money into something else. Of course, should everyone decide to convert their money into things at the same time, then we’d have inflation. And if they all decided to convert their money into the same thing – such as tulips – we’d have a bubble. (See Dutch Tulip Bubble.) We have people telling us that bubbles are inevitable and just part of the capitalist system.
As banks and governments can create money with the stroke of a computer key. money is infinite. Of course, if they do create an excessive amount of extra money, then the existing values of the “money” will diminish. There are a limited amount of tulips and if there’s suddenly an extra trillion dollars in the tulip market that million dollars for a bulb is going to look like a bargain.
Perhaps a good way to look at it is to use a sporting analogy. Money is the score and while sometimes scoring is hard, that’s only because there’s a team that keeps taking the ball of us and trying to score themselves. In the unusual event that we all decide that we’d rather see a good fast, high-scoring game and we start kicking for the same end, scoring becomes a lot easier. Of course, in real life, this doesn’t happen very often, and many people who are scoring like it’s a basketball game, wonder why the soccer players are finding it so hard to score and conclude that it’s because they’re lazy.
So when people start talking about there being a limited amount of money, what they actually mean is that there are a limited amount of resources. However, if governments can use money to reorganise the economy so that more “resources” are being created then it can actually add to the wealth of the country. If a person is working instead of being unemployed or underemployed, then that adds to the overall pool of “resources”.
The question is not whether such things can be done. Of course they can. The question is what is the most effective and worthwhile way to do it. Will reducing unemployment by two percent create a wages breakout? And a tulip bubble which leads to problems down the track? Will increasing unemployment by one percent mean that we have a tulip glut on our hands? Or is it better to have a regulated tulip market and stop all this speculation.
Creating more money was more or less what the Rudd Labor government did in the early days of the GFC. It was about economic management. Given that we were in danger of recession, there was little prospect of inflation.
So the idea that it was about popularity is another one of those little factoids that certain columnists are so fond of helping to create.