Jobs summit: Aren’t we capable of providing for ourselves?

ParliamentFlagpoleThe jobs summit next week will be all about skills and immigration and productivity. And nonsense.

The predominant cry is that there are skills shortages and we must import more skilled migrants. The follow-up is that immigration is good for the economy. There will be muttering about low wage growth, to which the bosses will respond that they can’t afford higher wages and besides: inflation!

Apparently people caught up in their talking points and economic models lose sight of simple things.

If the economy needs immigrants in order for us to prosper, this implies we who already live here are not capable of looking after ourselves. That is rubbish of course. There is plenty to do and there are plenty of us wanting to do things. If the economy is struggling it must be because we are not properly organised.

That would be right, because mainstream economists’ models of ‘the labour market’ are rubbish. So are the ideas of those who regard the present unemployment rate as a record low that can or ought to rise again.

Unemployment through the 1950s and 60s averaged 1.3%.

In those days the economy was managed for full employment, and it was booming: GDP growth was over 5% annually. Inflation was modest, around 3%, which is impossible according to more recent economic gobbledegook. Basic economic history that hardly anyone takes the trouble to know about.

The ‘skills shortage’ that we hear of incessantly reflects two things. One is that we have not been educating and training our young people properly. That would be because our TAFEs have been outsourced and wrecked and our universities gutted in the name of neoliberal market fundamentalism.

The second thing about the ‘skills shortage’ cry is that it is a thin cover for importing more workers in order to keep downward pressure on wages.

We could educate our young and set them up for good, productive careers, or we could import already-educated people, cut our youth loose and keep wages low for everyone. The bosses and right-wingers want the latter approach. Not only does it hurt our people, it hurts the bosses.

Suppose the bosses got their fondest wish and stopped paying their workers anything. Think of the profits! However the workers would have nothing to spend. The economy would collapse. The bosses would go broke and their children would go hungry.

If you keep pushing wages down, as we have been doing for decades now, this is what you are pushing towards: a slowing economy in which everyone struggles (except the financial parasites). Gee, I wonder why wages growth is stagnant and the economy is anaemic?

Of course you can’t push wages too high either. There is an optimum.

Coming back to the postwar decades, unions were strong. They demanded and got a bigger share of the pie. The economy prospered like never before, or since. Perhaps that was not coincidence. It was mild democratic socialism, Keynesianism, and it worked. The economy was not a basket case. Its faltering in the 1970s was more to do with the oil embargoes and inflation fuelled by US spending on its war in Vietnam. (Rather like today, actually: stagflation anyone?).

All of this is foreign to neoliberal, neoclassical economists, who should be sacked.
Immigration is not the panacea. Perhaps it is necessary for the short term until we recreate our wrecked education and training systems. So let’s see if Mr. Albanese uses the jobs summit to announce a major rejuvenation of continuing and higher education. Or not.

Besides, immigration does not fix a shortage of workers, because the immigrants’ presence increases demand for workers. Oh, you mean immigrants have to provide for themselves as well as us?

And immigration costs us about $500,000 per immigrant, according to a straightforward analysis by Dr. Jane O’Sullivan. The reason is we have to expand our ‘durable assets’, things like houses, shops, schools, hospitals, roads, trains and so on. Do the sums: 200,000 immigrants per year comes to $100 billion per year. High immigration imposes high costs on our economy and society. Again, mainstream economists don’t know what they are talking about.

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