Ultra low wage growth isn’t accidental. It is the intended outcome of government policies (updated)

That’s the headline for my latest piece in The Conversation, my contribution to a three-part series mini-symposium on Wages, Unemployment and Underemployment presented by The Conversation and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

Key quote

For more than forty years, both the architecture of labour market regulation and the discretionary choices of governments have been designed with the precise objective of holding wages down. These policies have been highly successful.

Update: Paul Krugman has a recent piece in the New York Times, also making the point that technological progress isn’t responsible for the falling wage share.

Coal, cronyism and corruption

The latest issue of Coalwire, a weekly newsletter covering the transition away from coal list three separate corruption cases involving coal: in Indonesia, South Africa and Bangladesh. These aren’t isolated instances: in just about every jurisdiction that isn’t moving away from coal at a rapid rate, the industry is associated with cronyism at best, and outright corruption at worst.

In Australia, for example, the push to develop the Galilee Basin is being driven by a set of politically connected billionaires (or pseudo-billionaires on the Trump model). In China, the move away from coal is being obstructed by provincial governments eager to keep the construction gravy train rolling. In India, there’s Coalgate. Crony capitalist governments like those of Trump in the US, Erdogan in Turkey and Law and Justice in Poland are among the leaders in resisting decarbonization.

The explanation is simple. Coal can’t survive in an open market environment, particularly one with a carbon price, nor under a coherently planned system. It’s only under the toxic mixture of markets and intervention represented by ‘business friendly’ government that money can still be made from destroying the global environment.

The Lower Darling: a government-made disaster

Federal Government last night released an independent interim assessment of the recent fish deaths. The report is damning, but you wouldn’t know that reading the press release from the relevant minister, David Littleproud.

Here’s my response, which I provided to the Australian Science Media Centre

The Report clearly describes the “antecedent conditions” which made the Lower Darling so vulnerable to large-scale fish deaths, all of which reflect policy failures of the current government: These include increased upstream extractive use of water, the decision to release water from Menindie Lakes in 2016 and the extreme climatic conditions which are the “new normal” as a result of climate change. The Minister’s statement ignores all of these factors, and focuses only on the immediate causes of the disaster.

The government has rejected water buybacks as a means of increasing flow, ignored environmental concerns in the management of the Menindie Lakes and rejected any action to mitigate climate change. This was a human-made disaster, for which the present government bears substantial responsibility.


Adani has been pretty quiet after the publication of a leaked memo from its newly hired law firm AJ & Co, named for its founder and managing partner, Andrew Johnson. AJ promised to act as an “attack dog” to silence opponents and sue them into bankruptcy, something Adani is already attempting in the case of indigenous leader Adrian Burragubba (I understand that funds have been raised to ensure that this doesn’t happen).

This is what is known= as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and is illegal in many US jurisdictions though not (AFAICT) in Australia. The Environmental Defender’s Office, one of the targets of Adani/AJ action, has a useful guide. This kind of thing used to be covered by the common law offence of barratry (Dante consigned barrators to the Eighth Circle of Hell), but this offence has either been abolished or fallen into disuse.

This and other actions by Adani seem to have finally pushed the Labor Party off the fence. A minority (including the CFMMEU, its longtime enemy Joe Ludwig and Townsville local member Cathy O’Toole) have come out in support of Adani, but the majority correctly see Adani as an enemy to be resisted and defeated.

The right remedy here is political rather than (primarily) legal. Adani and AJ have declared war on the environment and anyone who wants to save it, and should expect no quarter in return. Hopefully, they will suffer the same fate as the most famous (until now) exponent of the SLAPP suit, Gunns in Tasmania and its chairman John Gay.