Pushing the economy off a cliff

29/05/2020

New Zealand has achieved a new and most unwelcome record number of job losses:

Job numbers fell by a record 37,500 in April 2020, as COVID-19 effects and restricted trading began to impact on the economy, Stats NZ said today.

In seasonally adjusted terms, total filled jobs fell 1.7 percent in April 2020 compared with March 2020, when it was flat.

April’s fall is the largest in percentage terms and by number since the filled jobs series began more than 20 years ago, in 1999.

“With the country in lockdown throughout most of April 2020, the impact of COVID-19 is now being seen in falling job numbers,” economic statistics manager Sue Chapman said.

“Non-essential businesses closed during the lockdown, though some people were able to work from home.”

The government decreed what were essential businesses and permitted them to operate rather than allowing any that could operate safely to do so and this sharp number of job losses is the result.

Stats NZ calculates filled jobs by averaging weekly jobs paid during the month, based on tax data. Filled jobs include jobs paid by employers who are being subsidised by the COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme.

“While a fall in filled jobs does not necessarily mean employment has ceased in all cases, we saw a rise of over 30,000 people claiming the government’s Jobseeker Support benefit in April,” Ms Chapman said. . .

This month’s figures could be even worse with more than 6,500 job losses this week.

The record number of job losses adds credence to Adam Creighton, writing in The Australian, who says no national leader has been as feted as Jacinda Ardern during this pandemic. But while she might have popular support, the facts are she is pushing the NZ economy off a cliff.

New Zealand’s economy is in strife. Without major change, our constitutional cousin is in decline. Its public finances are in tatters, its biggest export, tourism, has been obliterated — Air New Zealand announced 4000 job losses this week — and New Zealand police now can enter people’s homes without a warrant.

“New Zealand is going backwards, falling behind the vast ­majority of our OECD partners in virtually every social and economic measure that matters,” said Roger Douglas, a former New Zealand Labour treasurer and the famed architect of Rogernomics.

New Zealand ranks fourth last in the OECD for labour productivity growth, and last for multi-factor productivity growth, according to economist Michael Reddell, based on OECD data. Health and education are gobbling up more of the budget as the population ages, with less and less to show for it.

That was happening anyway and has been exacerbated by the harder by the lockdown that used the arbitrary criteria of necessary rather than safe in deeming what we can and can’t do.

The country’s Massey University reckons economic activity will tank 16 per cent in the second quarter, while government forecasts pencil in a 4.6 per cent decline this year ahead of an 8.2 per cent rebound in 2022.

“I doubt the economy will bounce back as the government hopes; and the Treasury forecasts, as bad as they are, will prove optimistic,” former NZ Treasury secretary Graham Scott said.

In one year, New Zealand has blown 30 years of hard-fought ­fiscal rectitude. Its public debt will explode from the equivalent of 19 per cent of gross domestic product last year to 54 per cent by 2022, on the government’s own figures.

Successive governments have been criticised for the 30 years of hard-fought fiscal rectitude. How much worse the current situation would be had they not followed that path,

Scott said expanding the deficit, expected to blow out to 10 per cent this year, was the right thing to do. “But looking further out, comparisons with other countries, such as the US and UK, are no basis to justify our large debt ratios; we’re a small, open economy with vulnerable export industries,” he said, noting the share of exports in GDP had been falling steadily for nine years.

That makes Labour’s ban on oil and gas exploration all the more bizarre. With 0.3 per cent of global GDP, New Zealand can only shoot itself in the foot by shunning fossil fuels. The Prime Minister and Finance Minister, who have not worked in the private sector, spruik the totems of modern left governments — renewable energy, trees, higher tax, equality — but without much to show for it. Plans for a billion trees and 100,000 houses have come close to almost naught, and a capital-gains tax was dumped. Labour made a song and dance about reducing child poverty too, but on six out of nine measures tracked by Statistics New Zealand it is unchanged or worse since 2017, including the share of children living in “material hardship”, which has risen to 13.4 per cent. . .

This column had attracted 102 comments when I read it, a couple of days ago including this gem from Alfred:

The world doesn’t need more examples of the progressive social direction of NZ so we can learn from their utter failure sad as it is. She’s all hat and no cattle, just a charismatic executioner of her country’s future prospects. 

Jacinda Ardern has unprecedented praise from around the world for her response to crisis but before the Covid-19 response the government she leads had made little or no headway on its key policy planks.

She, and they, have taken the praise for dealing with the health crisis and must take responsibility for the economic one we now face.

But given they didn’t manage to deliver on their promises in normal times they can’t be trusted to come up with, and deliver on, policies to reverse the economic catastrophe for which their insistence on a harder and more prolonger lockdown are partially responsible.


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