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Scapegoating Foreigners for Domestic Policy Failures in Housing

I have an op-ed in the SMH on foreign direct investment in the Australian housing market noting that foreigners are being used as scapegoats for what are really domestic policy failures. The House Economics Committee will now inquire into the issue:

According to committee chair Kelly O’Dwyer, the inquiry will consider whether the current restrictions on foreign investment in residential real estate serve to increase supply, as is their stated intention, or raise prices.

This is rather like asking whether foreign tourists increase the production of goods and services or raise consumer prices. The answer depends on how flexibly Australian producers can accommodate changes in foreign as well as local demand through increased output.

It is pointless blaming foreigners for inflexible elements on the supply-side of the Australian economy. For that, we should blame local politicians.

Ironically, the inquiry could result in a bringing forward of foreign demand in anticipation of increased controls on FDI in residential real estate. The inquiry should recommend the abolition of the existing controls on FDI in real estate. My guess is the Committee will instead recommend extra conditions be attached to FIRB approvals, along with some additional quantitative controls.

I am also quoted in this story in today’s AFR on anti-dumping measures on imported tomatoes.

posted on 20 March 2014 by skirchner in Economics, Foreign Investment, Free Trade & Protectionism

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Australian Retailers’ Misdirected Lobbying Efforts

I have an op-ed in the Business Spectator arguing that Australian retailers are mistaken in arguing for a lowering of the low value exemption threshold for GST and duty on imports. Instead, retailers need to focus on their own business models and lobby for policies that lower the tax and regulatory burden on business.

posted on 24 June 2013 by skirchner in Economics, Free Trade & Protectionism

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Time to Dump Australia’s Anti-Dumping System: My New Paper with CIS

The Centre for Independent Studies has released my new paper Time to Dump Australia’s Anti-Dumping System. The paper notes the multi-decade failure to have public interest considerations incorporated in the administration of anti-dumping in Australia:

The Productivity Commission argued that ‘the highest priority for reform of Australia’s anti-dumping system is to introduce consideration of the broader public interest.’  The commission (under its previous names) has been arguing for this position since at least 1985.  This multi-decade failure to incorporate public interest considerations into Australian anti-dumping and countervailing law suggests the system is unlikely ever to serve the public rather than private producer interests. The government’s rejection of the commission’s proposal for even a bounded public interest test ensures that Australia’s anti-dumping system will continue to serve the interests of a small number of Australian producers at the expense of other Australian businesses and consumers. The ‘reforms’ implemented by the federal government and supported by the federal opposition set the stage for creeping protectionism via anti-dumping actions that will impose growing costs on the Australian economy. This is part of a broader trend on the part of the federal government to extend assistance to Australian industry at the expense of consumers and taxpayers, and to stand in the way of a structural adjustment in the Australian economy.

The public interest will be best served by repealing the anti-dumping and countervailing provisions of Australian law and dismantling the associated bureaucracy within Customs. This was a recommendation of the 1989 Garnaut review that remains un-implemented nearly a quarter of a century later. Doing so would send a powerful signal to Australian industry that it must adapt to the structural changes in the world and domestic economies rather than going cap-in-hand to the federal government for assistance at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.

Australia can also set a powerful example on the world stage as a country that prospers because it has abandoned recourse to these protectionist measures.

posted on 04 June 2013 by skirchner in Economics, Free Trade & Protectionism

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Why We Should Welcome the Relative Decline of Manufacturing

I have a piece in The Conversation arguing that the relative decline of manufacturing is a sign of economic progress:

The manufacturing share of developed economies has been in decline for decades. But that does not mean that manufacturing output has been declining in an absolute sense. Far from it. In the United States and the United Kingdom, manufacturing output was at record levels prior to the onset of the financial crisis. Manufacturing employment has fared less well, but this is symptomatic of substantial long-term productivity gains in this sector, not declining absolute levels of output.

Manufacturing has also been declining steadily as a share of world GDP. This should not be surprising. It is driven by much the same process that saw a decline in the agricultural share of GDP during the 19th and 20th centuries with the onset of industrialisation. As incomes grew, the share of food and other agricultural goods in consumption and production declined. The same is now happening with manufactured goods, as a greater of share of rising incomes is allocated to services.

posted on 16 January 2012 by skirchner in Economics, Free Trade & Protectionism

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How to Respond to the Terms of Trade Boom

From this week’s Ideas@theCentre:

Listening to some commentators, you could be forgiven for thinking that the terms of trade boom was the worst thing that ever happened to the Australian economy.

Relative to what we pay for our imports, Australia now gets higher prices for its exports than at any time since at least 1870. This was illustrated by Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens’ observation that ‘five years ago, a ship load of iron ore was worth about the same as about 2,200 flat screen television sets. Today it is worth about 22,000 flat-screen TV sets.’

This increased international purchasing power is attributable not only to rising commodity prices, but also lower prices for imports, not least manufactured goods. The flip side of Australia’s terms of trade boom is the collapse in the terms of trade for countries like Japan.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the 1950s, economists Raúl Prebisch and Hans Singer argued that manufactured goods prices would enjoy a secular rise relative to commodity prices and that developing countries should engage in activist industrial policy and import substitution to avoid a declining terms of trade. The same argument has long been made in Australia, but would have had disastrous consequences if its policy prescriptions had been followed in response to previous terms of trade slumps.

Julian Simon would certainly agree with the proposition that real commodity prices should decline in secular terms, but he also noted the broader gains in real purchasing power from increased productivity and declining real prices for manufactured goods. It is fair to say that Simon would have been agnostic on any trend in their relative prices.

The terms of trade boom came about in part because it was unexpected, not least by the mining industry itself. It underinvested in the 1990s, partly because of implicit acceptance of the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis on the part of many investors. Historical experience highlights the danger of conditioning public policy on assumptions about the future direction of relative prices for traded goods.

Our best response to the terms of trade boom is to become even more open to inflows of foreign labour and capital and to reduce the government’s command over resources so that the mining industry can expand with less pressure on other sectors. While the non-mining sectors will contract relative to mining, they can still expand in absolute terms if we continue to remove government-imposed resource constraints to overall economic growth.

posted on 02 September 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Foreign Investment, Free Trade & Protectionism, Population & Migration

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Anti-Dumping Actions as Protection Racket

American manufacturers extort protection money from Chinese firms:

The only Americans getting more work as a result of the tariffs are Washington lawyers, who have been hired by both U.S. and Chinese companies. Their work includes haggling each year over private “settlement” payments that Chinese manufacturers denounce as a “protection racket.”

Fearful of having their tariff rates jacked up, many Chinese furniture makers pay cash to their American competitors, who have the right to ask the Commerce Department to review the duties of individual companies. Those who cough up get dropped from the review list.

posted on 25 May 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Free Trade & Protectionism

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Wayne Swan at Home and Abroad

Wayne Swan before the G20 summit in South Korea:

“As we go forward we have to ensure that we don’t see a return to protectionism in new guises,” Mr. Swan said, citing the G-20’s success in staving off protectionist measures in the past two years as one of the global gathering’s “great achievements.”

Wayne Swan before federal cabinet:

Sources confirmed yesterday that Trade Minister Craig Emerson won approval for the shift with the backing of Ms Gillard, but only after her deputy, Wayne Swan, attacked the policy as lacking a political constituency. The sources said that, although the Treasurer, who has a long record of advocacy for trade liberalisation, did not attack the principles of the policy, he questioned the political wisdom of proceeding with the change at a time when the government was already fighting for reform on a range of other fronts, including the carbon tax.

posted on 15 April 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Free Trade & Protectionism

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Time to Dump Australia’s Anti-Dumping Laws

I have an op-ed in today’s Australian arguing against the campaign by the Australian Workers’ Union and the federal opposition to strengthen Australia’s anti-dumping regime:

The AWU has dressed up its anti-dumping campaign in the language of free trade and adherence to World Trade Organisation rules. But there is nothing in the WTO rules that prohibits dumping and WTO members are not required to maintain an anti-dumping system…

It is far more likely that Australian consumers and producers will end up paying more because of misplaced fears about foreign predation than due to the acquisition of international monopoly power by foreign producers. Anti-dumping measures bring about the very outcome they are designed to prevent.

The Productivity Commission has recommended the introduction of a public interest test, which would improve the operation of our anti-dumping system by allowing greater consideration of the economy-wide implications of dumping.

But a simpler reform that would have greater benefits for Australian consumers and the majority of producers would be for Australia to dump its anti-dumping system. This was one of the recommendations of the 1989 Garnaut Report. It shows just how little progress has been made in this area that we have still not acted on Garnaut’s recommendation two decades later.

posted on 02 March 2011 by skirchner in Economics, Free Trade & Protectionism

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Free Trade Snitch

Dob-in a protectionist.  You know you want to.

posted on 11 June 2009 by skirchner in Economics, Free Trade & Protectionism

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