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Profit? Yes! But Must be Clean

The Royal Commission Report into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry will be released to the public this afternoon (4 February 2019). The Commission had already published an Interim Report in September 2018.

The Interim Report had hardly anything good to say about the industry. Rather, the Commission used the word “greed” to describe the industry’s behaviour and how the industry largely treated the ordinary customers. Otherwise, how can one explain fees charged for services not provided? Fees charged to dead people?

The Australian banking industry had been politically very successful for decades. In the post-GFC years, the industry used the excuse of  ‘rising costs of funds’ in international markets for raising their interest rates asynchronous to the RBA’s rate decisions. Nobody raised an eyebrow when the major four banks reported record profits year after year while still crying poor about rising costs of funds. The crux of the matter is the banking industry fell into a culture of profit at any cost and bank executives’ remunerations were linked to profit and revenue.  Thus, the bank executives in Australia all they cared for was whether they were contributing to the bank’s revenue and profit. Bank leaders did not care enough whether their employees were doing the right thing for their customers. If the bank management were thinking that they were more focused on creating shareholder wealth, shareholders thought differently.   ANZ, NAB,  and Westpac – all received a ‘first strike’  2018 under Australia’s ‘two strikes’ rule.  CBA  received a ‘first strike’ in 2016.

So, the bottom line is: yes, we want our banks to be profitable and financially strong. Yes, we need strong banks for a strong economy. But the profit must be clean.

Reflections on a training programme for Indonesian policy-makers

The Australian government funds both short-term and long-term awards geared towards developing countries.  Usually, Australian tertiary institutions make competitive bids to implement these awards. The International Business Development Unit of Griffith University recently won a bid to mount a short-term training programme geared towards mid-ranking bureaucrats in Indonesia representing a diverse range of ministries. The theme of this programme is ‘labour market forecasting needs for education policy’ which falls under the rubric of ‘Australia Awards Indonesia (AAI).’

I have the pleasure and privilege of being appointed a ‘course leader’. The programme has three components: (1) a pre-course component in Jakarta (2) an in-course component in Australia (Brisbane, with short study tours to Adelaide and Canberra) (3) a post-course component in Jakarta. The programme started in February of this year and concludes in July.

I have been involved with many short-term training programmes, mainly on behalf of the ILO, and also participated for three years in a New Delhi-based programme that was supported by IDRC, Canada. This capacity building initiative was geared towards early career researchers in South Asia. If I use these programmes as benchmarks, I would rate the current training programme for Indonesian policy-makers highly. I particularly like its emphasis on requiring participants to build a feasible and readily usable project that they could implement once they return to work in the post-training phase. I am expecting some concrete outcomes, such as new estimates of the digital economy using raw data from the labour force surveys, and original estimates of ‘NEET’ (young persons ‘not in employment, education or training’) also drawing on raw data from multiple surveys. Some participants are keen to develop an Indonesian version of a regular series on ‘Employment Outlook’ using an adapted Australian template. While the participants will be professionally enriched from these exercises, the beneficiaries are expected to be both broad and diverse.

 

 

Australia: From the ‘lucky country’ to the ‘complacent’ country?

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd holds forth in a long, combative essay and develops his thesis of the ‘complacent country’. This is a self-conscious attempt to distinguish his ideas from Donald Horne’s memorable work on Australia as a ‘lucky’ country. ‘ The Rudd essay receives significant coverage in the Guardian.

Rudd takes the current Conservative government to task. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is dismissed as ‘Tony Abbot with manners’ (ouch!). The current Prime Minister Scott Morrison is vilified as someone whose cultivated image of ‘suburban mediocrity’  is merely a veneer to hide the true colours of a hard-right Pentecostal and Christian ideologue.

Rudd portrays himself as being part of the sensible, but lonely, ‘centre-left’ and lambasts both the ‘chic left’ and the ‘far right’.  He calls for Australia to recommit itself to a large-scale immigration programme and his vision of ‘Big Australia’. He warns the Labour Party that it must take seriously his view that it is ‘at war’  with the noxious ‘Murdoch press’.

It remains to be seen how his views will be received by the mainstream political parties in an election year. Rudd has a flawed personality, but he is shaping up to be a public intellectual whose ideas are worth reflecting on even if one disagrees with them.

India’s employment crisis

Is India in the grip of an employment crisis? This question has acquired a good deal of salience in the wake of media reports that the Indian government has tried to suppress an official report that shows that unemployment has reached historically unprecedented levels. The key findings of the report were leaked to a leading financial newspaper in India.

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Rethinking macroeconomics: from a neoliberal framework to a development perspective

I was invited by the Dhaka-based South Asian Network for Economic Modeling (SANEM) to deliver a keynote speech at its inaugural workshop on macroeconomics that was held on January 11, 2019. I was part of a panel that included Dr. Atiur Rahman, former governor of the Bangladesh Bank, Professor Shamsul Alam, member of the Planning Commission, and Professor Selim Raihan, Executive Director of SANEM. I reflected on the need to rethink macroeconomics that is more suited to developing country circumstances than the dominant neoliberal framework.

Read more here…