Kiwiblog appears to be pro the Job Summit – the complete opposite of the position we have taken.
However, so far David Farrar has given more detail as to why he feels like he does. As a result, we really need to discuss things a little bit more.
Now David mentions the main “potential policies” to come out of the summit were:
- A nine day working fortnight, with the Government paying (but at leass than full wages) for training on the 10th day.
- A $50 million cycleway from Cape Reinga to Bluff, employing 4,000 people (not sure for how long).
- A multi-million or billion equity investment fund, with the Government and banks, designed to let companies access capital to grow.
- A $60 million private-public fund to boost Tourism
Ok, so let me talk about them a little.
Nine day working fortnight with training.
Now that I have more detail about it I can see why the government has to legislate the nine days – it is because they will be paying for a tenth day.
Ignore the training for now – the reason the government may want to do this is because they know the marginal product of employees has fallen. By cutting them back for a day they reduce the cost to employers – thereby reducing the number of people that will get fired.
Now, what I don’t understand is why the “tenth day” is being used as “training” instead of as actual work. The fact is, if we cut down the amount people work for a day we are reducing output – plain and simple. Value doesn’t magically get created from the air.
The view may be that training is more valuable – but who the hell is going to make courses that only go for one day a fortnight? If they do create these course will they actually add any value (one-day a fortnight is not much).
If part of “training” could be “doing your job” then we end up in the initial situation I suggested. So if we think the whole of society paying a tenth of the firms wage bill temporary is a good idea then this could work.
Given that the fear is a “surplus” in the labour market, reducing the cost of labour could make sense. However, it should be focused on industries where we think the market failure is happening.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that this makes sense only if the shock is “temporary”. If Bill English is right that this is all a permanent shock, then keeping wages artifically inflated through government subsidies (which is what this is) is a terrible policy.
As a result, give me more detail. I can see a small range of circumstances where this might make sense – just not in the current NZ context.
The cycle way
Ok, so the $50m is for the construction of the cycleway – immediately notice that it will need maintence and it will need to be upgraded for any change in saftey laws. As a result, the cost will be much greater.
Now on the benefit side. Assume for simplicity that it doesn’t change the spending of current tourists – we lose some revenue as they spend time on the free cycle way instead of Rotorua, however we might gain some from happier European tourists 😉
In this case the key is its impact to attract tourists. Do we believe that this is going to attract enough tourists to exceeds the rate of return on the same investment elsewhere?
No way in hell is it going to make that sort of return by increasing tourist numbers. I just do not believe it. I would love to be proved wrong here – but hell we would need to attract a large stream of tourists to make this one work …
If we believe that firms in NZ are liquidity constrained then this makes sense.
If we believe that firms in NZ are moaning about liquidity to get easier, cheaper, credit then this doesn’t make sense.
I would note that firms always want less red tape and cheaper credit – the fact is that government isn’t supposed to be doing what firms want, but maximising social happiness. There is a difference – and where this difference is expected to be is really the driver of the left-right divide
Most firms in NZ aren’t liquidity constrained. As long as this is the case, this policy is nonsensical.
However, given the credit constraints experienced overseas, I can understand why government would want to set up the framework now – just in case.
A private-public fund for tourism
Why? Why is the government going to provdie $60m to tourism. Why?
I don’t know what the hang this is supposed to do – especially during a time when global demand for tourists has collapsed.
I don’t want the government to do any of the things suggested here – I think they will, in the current environment, make matters worse.
Should we start facing binding credit constraints (where there are firms that want to borrow, and lenders that would be willing to take on the risk in normal circumstances, but it can’t happen) then the third option is a possibility.
Otherwise, I’m intensely underwhelmed. I don’t expect policy to save the day – I’m just disappointed the the quality of policy here. I would like to be convinced otherwise
Note: The goal isn’t to “save jobs” it is to make sure that “economic activity” does not collapse as strongly. If activity fell by half and everyone kept their jobs, then we are facing a situation where everyone has lost half their income.
Government should definitely help those who suffer most from a recession (namely the unemployed, and people stranded with obsolete skills) – but focusing on jobs, instead of looking at the overall economic activity picture, illustrates a misinterpretation of the situation we are facing …