As expected, the government has announced a new round of fiscal stimulus, and the Reserve Bank has cut interest rates by a further 1 per cent, incidentally achieving a further devaluation of the dollar. All of that is likely to stimulate economic activity, but will it be enough and will it be in the right directions.
The magnitude of the package, $42 billion over 2 years, amounts to around 2 per cent of GDP per year, which is pretty modest given the scale of the crisis. But it follows the $10 billion package from late last years, and is virtually certain to be followed by more. I’d be surprised if the deficit is held under 5 per cent of GDP for 2009-10, and deficits are likely to continue for quite a few years. With fiscal stimulus of that magnitude and interest rates near zero, it ought to be possible to keep the inevitable recession to a relatively modest scale, assuming (a big one) that the international financial system is on the road to stabilisation.
The main concern I have with the package is that it continues a heavy focus on construction. That sector has been the first (apart from the finance sector itself) to take a big hit, but it won’t be the last. It’s great building schools, but we need to be hiring teachers, teachers aides and support staff to work in them. As I’ve mentioned before, human services are the most labor-intensive areas of the economy, and also an area that’s been constrained in the era of economic liberalism that is now coming to an end. Hopefully, we’ll see more action on this front, and on direct measures to help the unemployed in the Mark 3 package.
I also have some concerns about the idea of insulating homes. That’s great if it’s additional to the impact of the emissions trading scheme, but not so great if all it does is make it easier for electricity companies to meet their targets.