Australia in no Position to Lecture on Trade, Innovation and Investment

Australia High Resolution Economy Concept

There’s nothing like a G20 meeting to give you a good old chuckle. This is where assorted windbags from the largest 20 economies in the world get together and emit enough hot air to get Phileas Fogg around the world.

The latest meeting is taking place in Chengdu, China. The Financial Review reports on the hilarity:

Global policymakers must “double-down” against the threat of Brexit — or Trump-style isolationism by shunning the cheap sugar hit of more monetary or fiscal stimulus and deliver a fresh focus on trade, investment and innovation, says Treasurer Scott Morrison.’

What the…?

Don’t you love it when politicians talk about what others ‘must’ do, even though they don’t have any intention of doing it themselves?

Yes, governments around the world should focus on long term structural reform, rather than sitting back and demanding an easy hit from monetary policy, or thinking they should direct the economy via fiscal policy.

Australia is in no position to lecture on this front. Successive governments have sat back and allowed the RBA to do the heavy lifting. Lowering interest rates simply exacerbates a flawed economic structure. It does nothing to improve long term economic wellbeing. In fact, as you’ll see in a moment, it does long term damage, both socially and economically.

But let’s have a look at Australia first. Here’s the Treasurer saying we need to focus on trade, innovation and investment to stop socially divisive events like Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.

It’s true. We do need to focus on those things. But does Morrison practice what he preaches? Spending up on an ad campaign and calling it the ‘ideas boom’ is not a substitute for innovation. Having an iPad is not a sign of an innovative society.

How Australia’s Economy Stacks Up

As far as investment goes, much of that comes down to tax policy. Australia is a high taxing and high spending government. It’s bad under the Coalition, and would have been even worse under Labor.

The incentives encoded in Australia’s taxation laws don’t encourage innovation. They encourage capital to flow into land at the expense of nearly everything else.

Firstly, that’s because we tax labour (wages, payroll tax) and capital (company profits, capital gains), while we pretty much leave land alone. You can sit on a piece of land for years and watch its value increase, for example, by the provision of public transport nearby, provided by the State at no cost to you.

It’s a sweet deal for landholders, and that’s why Aussies are so desperate to get their piece of land. It’s protected by governments, and probably always will be.

The government had a chance to go to the polls with decent reforms around this area, but it chose not to do so. Labor promised negative gearing reform, which would have taken some incentives away from property investment, but it couldn’t sell the idea to a nervous public.

But that doesn’t mean the current government should sit back and do nothing because the electorate doesn’t like change. The world is changing before our eyes. It’s becoming darker. Unless we change too, all of a sudden we’ll wake up one day and realise the world has moved on without us.

Iron ore will no longer be in great demand, and foreign creditors will only buy our assets if the dollar is substantially lower (which is why you should read this).

That will drive inflation higher, and the RBA won’t be able to magically push the interest rate stimulus button. And then the government will really have to walk the walk. But it will be too late…

The problem with Scott Morrison’s ‘should do this’ comments is that they are so spot on, yet will be completely ignored. The reliance on monetary policy to fix every one of the world’s apparent ailments is creating so many more.

When you cheapen money, you cheapen a society’s values and morals. You fix one problem and create 10 others. Easy money favours the lucky few, at the expense of the many. Eventually, the ‘many’ get fed up and revolt. This happens in complex and varied ways.

Mark MacKinnon, writing in The Globe and Mail, sums it up nicely:

Rarely, it seems, has the world spun so rapidly, have events felt so out of control.

The headlines blur into one another, feeding the sense of a world in chaos. The war in Syria bleeds into the refugee crisis. The refugees’ march into Europe boosts politicians on the nationalist right. The truck attack in France is followed by the shooting of police in Louisiana. Then it’s a man with an axe on a train in Germany. On Friday, it was a shooting at a mall in Munich. “Brexit” in the United Kingdom is knocked from the top of the news by a putsch attempt in Turkey.

They seem like disconnected events. But what links the British who voted to quit the European Union with the Turks who gathered in a public square on Wednesday to cheer the imposition of a state of emergency is their anger at how the system has worked until now.

As I mentioned earlier, the world is becoming darker. There is a lot of hate around…and fear and anxiety. The system is no longer working for the majority.

Until our politicians, and the unelected global elite, see this, and try to change the structure of the global economy (which will change how the economic pie is sliced), we’ll continue heading down this path of violence.

My fear is that we’re already too far down the rabbit hole. Turning around from here would require too much faith in the global elites to give up their vested interests for the greater good. The history of the world (or the history of human nature) says that is just not going to happen.


Greg Canavan,
For The Daily Reckoning

Greg Canavan
Greg Canavan is the Managing Editor of The Daily Reckoning and is the foremost authority for retail investors on value investing in Australia. He is a former head of Australasian Research for an Australian asset-management group and has been a regular guest on CNBC, Sky Business’s The Perrett Report and Lateline Business. Greg is also the editor of Crisis & Opportunity, an investment publication designed to help investors profit from companies and stocks that are undervalued on the market. To follow Greg's financial world view more closely you can subscribe to The Daily Reckoning for free here. If you’re already a Daily Reckoning subscriber, then we recommend you also join him on Google+. It's where he shares investment research, commentary and ideas that he can't always fit into his regular Daily Reckoning emails. For more on Greg go here.

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of

Letters will be edited for clarity, punctuation, spelling and length. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be posted. We will not post all comments.
If you would prefer to email the editor, you can do so by sending an email to