October 19th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Greta Thunberg: she's not doing it all on her own

EDITORIAL Time for Australia to rethink the neo-liberal experiment

RURAL AFFAIRS Queensland Labor punishes farmers to placate UNESCO

CANBERRA OBSERVED Morrison's 'positive' globalism has resonance

NSW ABORTION ACT Amendments annul some of the Act's worst excesses

GENDER POLITICS Doctors call for inquiry into childhood gender dysphoria

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong's 'software' may be key to its survival

GENDER POLITICS Pornography and the transgender agenda

RIGHTS & FREEDOMS Transgenderism poses biggest threat to religious freedom

OPINION When Maggie (Sanger) met Mickie (Mann)

PHILOSOPHY The element of justice in economic practice, Part 2 of two parts

POPULATION Lifestyles and policies ensure population peril ahead

HUMOUR If atheism is the answer, what was the question?

MUSIC Good, better, Bach: The composer who consistently outdid himself

CINEMA Joker: From a heart in darkness

BOOK REVIEW Hope, more than economics, drives Trump voters

BOOK REVIEW A pushback against visceral unreason


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Time for Australia to rethink the neo-liberal experiment

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, October 19, 2019

The ongoing migration boost to Australia’s population has masked troubling social indicators – a marked decline in marriage, family formation and fertility.

There was an 18 per cent decline in women getting married in their prime child-bearing years (20-34) in the 10 years to 2016; the median age of women marrying increased from around 22 in the 1980s to 30.1 years in 2017; and the birth rate has continued its long decline to a low of 1.74 children per woman in 2017.

In part, the decline in marriage follows the decline in religion. In 1902, 96.5 per cent of weddings were in a church, but today 78 per cent are conducted by civil celebrants.

The problem is also economic. A 2004 Australian Family Association-commis­sioned study by sociologist Dr Bob Birrell showed how families need a firm economic foundation. The study found from 1988, 1996 and 2001 census data that the condition for marriage is the husband having a full-time job, to the point where “single low-income males need positive assistance with permanent jobs, new skills and more income to take up their willingness to commit to marriage and families”.

New policies to generate secure jobs are needed because the long, post-World War II period of full employment, that gave stability to the baby boomer families, eroded after the 1980s. As The Australian’s economics editor, Adam Creighton, has pointed out, when today’s underemployed (those who cannot find enough paid work) and those only marginally attached to the labour force are added to the unemployed, it comes to over 3.37 million, or 23 per cent of working-age Australians.

While historically young people have always had shorter job tenure, McCrindle research shows that current trends indicate that on average young people will have 17 changes of job and five career changes by the time they are 75. “What is unique today,” McCrindle adds, “is that the bulk of the workforce is following the lead of young people, with more retraining, career changing, home moving, and shifting from employment to self-employment (and back!) than ever before.”

For some people, online recruitment and jobs search apps assist their preference for greater work flexibility and advancement. But for many others the experience of being forced to move between jobs and career because of the loss of traditional job opportunities in vanished industries and of labour market deregulation – the shift to temporary staff, short-term contracts and part-time work – is highly stressful and inhibits their ability to have a normal family life.

This is made worse because job insecurity severely limits their ability to get a housing loan in Australia’s inflated housing market. Historically, affordable housing prices averaged three times median household incomes, but the latest Demographia housing affordability survey rated the Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane markets as severely unaffordable at 6.9 times median household incomes. Two-thirds of Australians live in these cities, where increasingly people live in units too small to raise a family.

These problems flow from the neo-liberal, or radical free-market, economic experiment that began with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Successive Australia governments embraced this experiment through deregulation, privatisation and radical free-trade policies. These policies sacrificed domestic manufacturing industries that are often capital intensive, employing skilled workers on high wages. These policies damaged agricultural industries, resulting in stressed regional areas losing population to the cities.

The claim was that these “old” industries would be replaced by new service industries. But today, many service jobs are being replaced by smart machines or outsourced to lower-wage economies.

At its heart, neo-liberalism involved a switch from governments taking responsibility for achieving full employment to letting markets set the unemployment rate.

This switch ignored the lessons of history. “The private sector, beset by uncertainty, could not continuously deliver full employment,” says Robert Skidelsky, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University and a member of the British House of Lords.

Consequently, as Skidelsky points out, “between 1980 and 2008, average unemployment increased from its ‘golden age’ average of 1.6 per cent to 7.4 per cent in the UK, from 3.1 per cent to 7.5 per cent in Germany, and from 4.8 per cent to 6.1 per cent in the United States. Underemployment – people forced to work fewer hours than they wanted – was rising, poverty and inequality increased, and economic growth slowed.”

Employment conditions worsened with the 2008 Great Recession. Many countries have failed to recover to pre-recession levels.

The consequences are not just measured in lost wages, slowed wealth accumulation and lost economic output, but in the inability of frustrated and angry young people to partner, marry and live normal family lives. The reaction of voters has been to elect Donald Trump in the United States, to support Brexit in the Britain, and to see a quarter of Australians no longer give their first-preference vote to a major party.

While around the world the search is under way for a new toolbox of policies to achieve full employment and overcome poverty and associated social evils, how long will Australia’s policymakers remain dogmatically committed to the deeply flawed neo-liberal experiment?

Patrick J. Byrne is national president of the National Civic Council.

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