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Fact Checking the WSJ

I don’t mind the WSJ running a puff piece on Australia and Prime Minister John Howard, but at least get the facts straight:

When he entered office in 1996, unemployment was 9%, interest rates hovered around 20%.

No, the unemployment rate was 7.6% and the official cash rate was 7.5%. 

Then there is this:

the debt is a puny 4 billion Aussie dollars.

True enough, but why stop with the current net debt figures.  In 2008-09, general government net debt is projected at -$56,389 million or -5.3% of GDP.  But I’m guessing that a negative net debt position would be a little too tricky for the WSJ to explain to its readers.

posted on 05 September 2005 by skirchner in Economics

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56 trillion…seems a little high…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/06  at  01:11 AM


Should of course be m not bn.  Thanks for fact checking IE!

Posted by skirchner  on  09/06  at  03:09 AM


“When he entered office in 1996, unemployment was 9%, interest rates hovered around 20%”

Actually according to the Liberal Party election campaign interest rates were 40% when Howard took office, and would instantly rise to 50% or more if you people are silly enough to elect that [L]atham character.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/06  at  04:56 AM


From Today’s Crikey:

16. The Wall Street Journal’s Australian ignorance

A former Labor staffer writes:

The Australian yesterday carried – apparently without any irony – the following “cut and paste editorial” from the Asian Wall Street Journal – truly a masterpiece for how many mistakes a besotted editor can get wrong in just a few pars:

When he [Howard] entered office in 1996, unemployment was 9 per cent, interest rates hovered around 20 per cent, the budget deficit was $10 billion and the national debt was a gigantic $100 billion ... The country had a reputation for being a Labor-controlled laggard that would never change. Today, unemployment is 5 per cent, the key interest rate is 5.5 per cent, there’s a surplus and the debt is a puny $4 billion. Partially privatising the giant telecom Telstra (a process that began in 1997 and is still ongoing) helped some. But it was cutting expenditure that effectively got rid of the debt. And that has gone a long way towards creating what some people dub “the strong man of Asia”. It also explains why people seem so happy ...

OK, now for some facts:

Unemployment in 1996 was actually 8.5% (not 9%)
Foreign debt was actually $180 billion (not $100 billion)
Interest rates for housing were 8% and the cash rate about 7% (not 20%)

Neither the foreign debt nor the budget deficit today is a “puny $4 billion” – foreign debt is actually $430 billion while the budget is in surplus.

As for the claim that in 1996 Australia was a “Labor controlled laggard that would never change,” not even John Howard makes that claim. Only the most fanatically right wing incompetent reporter could say this with a straight face.

The question remains – did Howard Government staffers tell the writer these lies, or did the Asian Wall Street Journal just make them up? And this is meant to be the most respected financial daily in the world.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/08  at  03:52 AM


I think there is a more innocent explanation, which is that the writer was just careless with his figures.  We don’t need to get into conspiracy theories.

Also, I think it is fairly clear that the writer was talking about government not foreign debt, so Crikey’s tipster is overplaying their hand.

Posted by skirchner  on  09/08  at  07:02 AM


Its obvious from the language used that the author wanted to depict Australia as badly mis-managed when Howard became PM.

e.g. “The country had a reputation for being a Labor-controlled laggard that would never change”

Of course, the Labor Party spin would be that Howard merely rode the coat-tails of the Hawke/Keating reforms to economic nirvana.  I don’t think either view is entirely accurate, but there’s little doubt the author of the WSJ article wanted to portray Howard in a favourable light.

Now, if the Howard government was a real conservative government it would have long ago used the large budget surplus to slash income taxes.  When?  Malcolm T for PM.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/08  at  07:18 AM


The story would have had more credibility with readers if it had attempted a balanced assessment and did not overstate its case.  Puff pieces don’t do anyone any favours, especially when they play fast and loose with the facts.

Posted by skirchner  on  09/08  at  10:22 AM



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