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A matter of “confidence”

Written By: - Date published: 11:43 am, January 21st, 2014 - 41 comments
Categories: capitalism, cost of living, economy, employment, greens, labour, news, poverty, same old national, spin - Tags: ,

Many MSM news outlets have been running National Party election promos, talking up the rising “confidence” in economic indicators.  I have heard it said that the economy often responds positively to a belief that it is working OK, while lack of public and “market” confidence can result i n some financial nose dives.  Apart from making economics looking more like astrology, and snake oil “power of positive thinking” promotions rather than a science, the question is , “Whose confidence is being heeded to?”

A press release and a “Business Desk” article on Scoop yesterday highlight that it is the confidence of the banks, “neoliberal” economists, corporates and middle income groups that tends to be highlighted most in the MSM and by those on the right wing of politics.

From the Scoop Business Desk, Suze Metherell’s article: ‘NZ employment confidence rises in 4Q, wary on wages‘ shows a division between confidence in “business growth” and confidence in employment conditions for workers:

While the latest index remains at the second highest level in the past two years, the reading remains subdued with on-going concern around labour market conditions and earnings growth, Westpac said.

She also reports on indicators that job seekers are finding it a little easier to find jobs. However, the increases tend to be in Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland, with job decline in many rural regions.  The real kicker is in the last line of the article:

The rise in confidence was focused in middle-income groups, those earning between $30,000 to $70,000. Confidence rose for those aged 30 to 50, while the under-30s felt pessimistic about future employment options.

A press release from Andrew Little of the NZ Labour Party is more circumspect, although it curiously accepts the faming of a “booming economy” with the headline, ‘Booming economy will test labour market‘: after all the “labour market” is part of the economy.  And I’d also question referring to workers as a “market”: this dehumanises their struggles for fair wages and working conditions.  Missing also from that headline is any reference to those unable to participate in paid employment.

However, the main content of the press release does move a bit away from such framing.

“But a survey released by Westpac today suggests less confidence amongst workers, however, with many feeling less job security and fewer expecting a pay rise.

“The economy isn’t just investors and business owners, it is working people too – whether they are on a wage or salary or a contract fee – and in a properly functioning economy they should also see decent pay rises and better incomes this year.

The press release goes on to criticise Bill English’s faux concerns for workers.

Bill English reviews the economy

In contrast the government’s changes to employment legislation during the last 6 years have made employment more precarious and less well paid.

“The real test of how fair our labour market rules are is the level of pay increases working New Zealanders will get this year, especially those not under a collective agreement.

On 17 January, Sue Moroney also questioned the way Paula Bennett has talked up the decrease in those on benefits, when people’s benefits are being cut whether or not they have paid jobs.

“We know that less than half of people coming of benefits each week are going into jobs. Unless the Minister can show that these 17,000 people have got decent jobs we have nothing to celebrate,” says Sue Moroney.“There are still 35,700  more people on benefits now than there were in December 2008, when Labour was the Government.”

Also on January 17, Green MP Jan Logie put the focus on another aspect of the economy that “rock star” reports ignore, the inequality gap.  She begins with a reference to a World Economic Forum’s risk assessment that cites income inequality as having the potential to cause serious damage globally during the next decade.

stop robbing poor to feast rich

Logie rightly blames right wing economic polices for the increase in the income gap in NZ between the mid 1980s and the mid 2000s. She argues that inequality is not a “natural state” but the result of choices made by politicians.  And the National government is doing nothing to decrease income inequalities.

New Zealand had a proud history of being an egalitarian and relatively equal country. However that has changed and we now have big income gaps which are now acting as a barrier to most New Zealanders getting ahead.

[…]
“The average New Zealand is not getting a fair return on improvements in the economy. The wealth is going to only a few, otherwise wage growth would be better.

As Logie says, a strong economy is not indicated because the benefits will go to the wealthiest, while wages are expected to rise only by 1%.

If an inclusive, relatively egalitarian and sustainable future for New Zealanders hangs on the “confidence” of banksters, corporates, mainstream economists, right wing politicians and the comfortable middle classes – well, not a lot to inspire the confidence of the large number of people on meagre incomes and in precarious circumstances.

41 comments on “A matter of “confidence””

  1. shorts 1

    “A confidence trick (synonyms include confidence scheme and scam) is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their confidence, in the classical sense of trust. A confidence artist (or con artist) is an individual, operating alone or in concert with others, who exploits characteristics of the human psyche such as dishonesty, honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, naïveté, or greed.” Wiki

    you nailed it at astrology – unfortunately many see these sorts of stories as indicators of good governance, rather than PR fluff pieces

  2. Skinny 2

    I heard Bill English talking to Garner recently. English said something along the lines that with a stronger preforming economy that we are now seeing, workers can expect reasonable pay rises this year. Ok Billy boy as Minister of Finance you start the ball rolling for the public & state sector workers. You walk the talk by not offending these workers with anything under 4%. a

    While your in such a upbeat mood for the welfare of workers incomes, how about you implement the living wage into these sectors, talking and then walking the talk in election year shouldn’t be that difficult even for a snake oil merchant such as yourself.

    • Ad 2.1

      Well said

    • MrSmith 2.2

      Fuck 4% because by the time they negotiate it down to 2% and then piss around working out a date for the rises it will all be gone, gobbled up by inflation, 20% sounds like a better starting point.

      Who came up with 4% ? Let me guess the employers and tories most likely, but if it came from Labour then you make up your own mind.

      Leading you down the garden path with the promise of an ice cream that’s melting in the sun.

    • David H 2.3

      Sorry. Billy boy’s got selective deafness.

  3. Armchair Critic 3

    The fact that a significant proportion of the population accept that either economics is a science or climate change is a religion, or both (when the evidence suggest the opposite is true) shows how far we have yet to go.

  4. Bill 4

    Apart from making economics looking more like astrology, and snake oil “power of positive thinking” promotions rather than a science, the question is , “Whose confidence is being heeded to?”

    erm..economics is basically astrology. Well, it has the same scientific foundation at any rate – ie, none.

    Better than that, given present day realities (AGW etc) seeking to apply classical economics (the discipline economists adhere to these days) is akin to trying to tackle/explain the field of quantum physics with newtonian physics. (So I’ve heard say)

    Still – all power to the astrologers. Where would we be without them? ;-)

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    As you have identified, the confidence of the corporate, financial oligarchic elite is the only confidence which matters. The “middle class” are only brought along to the extent necessary to engage their instincts of self interest and of course, their block vote. (In the US the middle class is already being roundly sacrificed however, as their votes are no longer important).

    S&P’s opinion of how well NZ treats foreign bondholders is seen as far more important to the political class and NZ’s deep state than the confidence of those million or more working class and precariat who are losing (or have lost) their jobs.

    This can be seen over and over again, and very obviously, in countries like Greece, Spain, and France. Where the “socialist” Hollande has said that state spending must be cut back even further.

    In fact, to win over the confidence of banksters and their ratings agencies, a country absolutely MUST suppress government spending, suppress wages, suppress employment, and suppress worker organisations.

    • Murray Olsen 5.1

      A lot of what is called the middle class in the US and A would be more accurately known as working class, e.g. autoworkers, plumbers, and teachers. They gained the name not by any change in their relationship to the means of production, but by being able to buy houses and cars, and by having pension funds. Now their mortgages have been foreclosed, their pension funds have been stolen, and I don’t know what has happened to their cars, but they were not really middle class. They were working class in a booming economy with Keynesian policies, albeit based on exploitation of most of the rest of the world.

      • Colonial Viper 5.1.1

        You point to the simple fact that almost everyone, from accountants to web developers to mechanics to chiropractors are more correctly considered working class, even if that’s not the way they see it themselves. They are primarily paid through the labour hours they put in during a day, and cannot depend on investment income from capital assets to live on and pay the bills.

        • Murray Olsen 5.1.1.1

          I like my facts simple, CV. It comes with being a physicist – we try to explain everything as simply as possible, unlike politicians, economists, and poets, who like to make everything far more complicated than necessary. With poets, at least, there is sometimes an aesthetic payoff.

          Or maybe I’m just thick.

      • karol 5.1.2

        Yes, exploitation of the rest of the world – offshoring the working clases that keep the US industries in profits. It remined me of this wikileaks, then withdrawn and leaked by others, about Obama working to suppress the minimum wage in Haiti. Obama was apparently bending to the will of some major multinationals, like Hanes and Levi Strauss, in doing this.

        I’m a little confused by the timing – the latest post/article on this from Jan 2014, makes it seem vlike a very recent leak – but it links to some articles about it in 2011.

  6. Jan 6

    As far as I have been able to understand it, the economic success is in large measure due to the Christchurch rebuild. In what parallel universe do we live when fixing up a horrible mess like that can be considered a positive – was the study of economics developed by martians?
    The huge problem the left faces in trying to establish a government which is more likely to create a just society is that what we may call ‘ordinary citizens’, the most vulnerable, are easily persuaded to vote against their own best interests. This article is very interesting on that subject, especially keeping in mind the current Colin Craig circus:
    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/05/why-working-class-people-vote-conservative

  7. greywarbler 7

    There has just been a spirited comment on Radionz about the need to change from the present sequestering of billions of tax free dollars by the few. There’s a meeting about this in Dohar or somewhere. Another excuse for the few to gather and act important and have some fine drinks and nibbles and entertainment, or make contact with other pharoahs so they can buy bits to decorate their pyramids, while they are still able.

    They should know said the Indian sounding speaker that the filthy rich are being hurt by their own behaviour depressing business, enterprise and earnings, as well as the poor being deprived of earnings giving enough money to buy their needs and so provide jobs.

    (Concerning the media there was a comment that the Bauer magazine vacuum machine is likely to buy the rights to NZ Listener and NZ Womans Weekly and will probably combine them. Sick making – I’m sick of inspecting women’s white teeth and round firm breasts or indeed their sagging ones – accompanied by fault-finding by the scurrilous women’s mags – on the front of mags available to the masses.)

    • Jan 7.1

      Hardly matters what happens to the Listener now anyway – it’s last decent days were when Finlay McDonald was editor – it’s been sneaking, not so subtly, to the right ever since. Now (see latest headlines) it has descended into pop-psychology American-style and articles by Richard Prebble and Josie Pagani – whoopee!

  8. greywarbler 8

    Jan +1 Whoopee! But I must note something worthy of gratitude. The help that Pamela Sitrling and the Listener gave Rebecca Macfie (excuse spelling?) in preparing her book on The Tragedy of Pike River. That was a sterling effort to a good end!

  9. alwyn 9

    I guess one could say, Karol, that you are calling John Maynard Keynes an astrologer and a snake oil salesman. Perhaps you are right but I don’t really think so.

    There are two groups actions one can look at when looking at “Confidence”

    It can be said, as a very, very potted version on Keyne’s economics, that because the future is basically unknown the people who are investing do so based on their confidence in the future.
    As Keynes put it “Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as a result of animal spirits – a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities”.
    This animal spirits is what investors, who are not the same as savers, see as the future prospects for what they are investing in. If their confidence is high they will invest. If it is low they will not. They cannot of course KNOW what the outcome will be.

    Confidence for workers operates in a different manner, although the results are similar. If they are confident that their employment is safe, and that their purchasing power will not drop they will consume more, rather than increase their savings.

    Thus, if these groups are confident about the future, output is likely to increase and people will become better off. If people, of either group, have their confidence destroyed they will withdraw from the market and jobs will be lost and firms be unable to sell their goods.

    It is people’s confidence that can, to a limited extent, be boosted by politicians. On the other hand it can, to a large extent, be destroyed by politicians. Would a company expand, and make investments, if they thought that the Government would destroy their business in the near future?

    There, a view of what Keynes said in 200 words. (Note Keynes not Keynesian)

    • karol 9.1

      Thanks, alwyn. This then.

      Animal spirits is the term John Maynard Keynes used in his 1936 book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money to describe the instincts, proclivities and emotions that ostensibly influence and guide human behavior, and which can be measured in terms of, for example, consumer confidence. It has since been argued that trust is also included in or produced by “animal spirits”.

      Well, the whole “animal spirits” thing does sound very subjective to me and open to interpretation – kind of like astrology.

      And the “consumer confidence” these days tends to be measured by amount of spending people do – even though there may be little evidence of why people are spending. e.g. a spending boom during the sales last December/January may not be an indication of confidence, but just the opposite – getting some bargains when they are available because there’s no certainty re- the future.

      • alwyn 9.1.1

        Blimey, reading that does make one think of it as Astrology.

        Keynes did think that the future, in any detail, was essentially unpredictable. Thus he was at odds with what became known as Keynesian economics which had its genesis in John Hicks’ work. Hicks’s approach was more that the future was uncertain, rather than that is was largely unknowable.

        There is little evidence, at least that that I can remember, that would support the view in your last column that spending shows a lack of confidence. Studies have certainly shown that people on the same level of income spend a greater proportion of it the longer they have been receiving it. That is they spend a greater proportion as their confidence that they will continue to get it increases.

        Incidentally if you have never read Keynes, and in particular “The General Theory” as it is often abbreviated you should do so. He was a wonderful writer. If you have no Economics background just ignore any of the (few) formula and anywhere where he gets a bit too technical.

        Who could not enjoy such gems as
        “The game of professional investment is intolerably boring and over-exacting to anyone who is entirely exempt from the gambling instinct; whilst he who has it must pay to this propensity the appropriate toll”.

        There is a sample chapter at
        http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/general-theory/ch12.htm
        for anyone who is curious.

        For Bill, whose commment follows I would have to say that I think that Economics has vastly more to offer than Astrology. Mumbo jumbo by the high priests of economics indeed!

        • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1.1

          Incidentally if you have never read Keynes, and in particular “The General Theory” as it is often abbreviated you should do so. He was a wonderful writer.

          Gah, I haven’t managed the first chapter because his writing style is too flowery. IMO, It’s actually worse than reading the dust dry Capital.

          I’ve actually been looking for his 1937 essay which he wrote after he realised that everyone had actually misinterpreted what he’d said. It explains the whole thing in far simpler terms. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find it and have only heard it mentioned by a few economists such as Steve Keen.

          I would have to say that I think that Economics has vastly more to offer than Astrology.

          Well, it would have if the present theory was based in reality and explained economics rather than being based upon delusion (assumptions that aren’t even close to reality and the idea that you can always get more out if it than you put in) and is nothing more than a justification for capitalism.

          • Macro 9.1.1.1.1

            Well, it would have if the present theory was based in reality and explained economics rather than being based upon delusion (assumptions that aren’t even close to reality and the idea that you can always get more out if it than you put in) and is nothing more than a justification for capitalism.

            Yep! QFTT

          • Macro 9.1.1.1.2

            Well, it would have if the present theory was based in reality and explained economics rather than being based upon delusion (assumptions that aren’t even close to reality and the idea that you can always get more out if it than you put in) and is nothing more than a justification for capitalism.

            Yep! QFTT

          • alwyn 9.1.1.1.3

            The Cambridge University Press published the complete works of Keynes and if you are near a University they may have a set in their library. I thought about buying a set once but it is in 30 volumes. I forget what it cost then but it is about 550 pounds sterling these days.
            I read Marx in an edition that was published in a USSR Government subsidised edition. As you say it was dry as dust.
            I consider you have insulted “The Master”. A duel throwing sets of GDP figures at a range of 10 metres is called for.

    • Bill 9.2

      So okay, outside of scientific predictions, the future is basically unpredictable.

      But confidence in terms of economics would seem to be more about boosting belief in the integrity of the entire facade, rather than in individual events/trajectories (though sure, there is an element of that – thinking dutch tulips)

      I could have confidence in astrology and be encouraged to have confidence in astrology. That individual events didn’t always materialise as predicted wouldn’t necessarily mean that I lost confidence in the entire system of astrology. I could comfort myself by believing that some things within the field were unpredictable or subject to external factors while retaining an overall belief in the efficacy or predictive nature of the thing.

      Which would be delusional – madness.

      In economics, just the same as in astrology, patterns are discernible. The only difference is that most of us order our lives according to the mumbo-jumbo about patterns and cycles spouted by the high priests of economics, while far fewer of us do likewise in light of the comparable mumbo-jumbo spouted by astrologers.

      Strange creatures, we are.

      • Stuart Munro 9.2.1

        The problem is not in our stars but in our current accounts deficit.

        • Bill 9.2.1.1

          And what is the ‘current account deficit’ without the belief that sustains the economic jiggery pokery that produces such ‘crises’ as ‘current account deficits’ in the first place?

          Put another way – the problem of me having no money left in my pocket is less to do with ‘Number 34′ not coming up on the wheel, then on my continued belief that roulette is ‘the way to go’.

  10. Will@Welly 10

    Sadly, we have no one but ourselves to blame, myself included. When Labour lurched to the right, many of us were spell-bound by Lange, or else did not want to appear divided, so we let many of the “reforms” happen until we realized too late, that these were not just simply reforms, but the wholesale destruction of the New Zealand way of life.
    John Key, et al, are just continuing the path that Ruth Richardson/Jim Bolger carried on after the Langer/Douglas partnership terminated.
    The question that has to be asked of the left, and it has to be re-iterated time and again till they get the message, are they prepared to undo many of these so-called reforms that has seen New Zealand be transformed into one of the most unequal societies in the western world?

    • Colonial Viper 10.1

      The question that has to be asked of the left, and it has to be re-iterated time and again till they get the message, are they prepared to undo many of these so-called reforms that has seen New Zealand be transformed into one of the most unequal societies in the western world?

      Good question: h/t to SHG (not CV)

      http://www.kiwipolitico.com/2014/01/nothing-left/

  11. blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 11

    Thanks [again] Karol for another brilliant article – highlighting the casuistry of the term ‘confidence’ – a term which I am starting to despise and shudder when I hear it – for the reasons you articulate.

    I do wish to note that Andrew Little’s press release was not ‘curiously circumspect’ in my view.

    He was highlighting the issue of distribution of wealth – a major problem – how the economy may be said to be ‘booming’ however there is a problem with ‘state of economy’ ratings having no connection to the conditions or prosperity of New Zealanders – prosperity is not being shared. The wealth or poverty of the country as a whole makes no difference to large swathes of New Zealanders.

    Note the first line of the media release “If recent economic forecasts of a “rock star” New Zealand economy are correct “ – he is not even stating that our economy is ‘rock star-like’ -[ sigh]- just making the point that if it is then we still have a major problem that requires addressing.

    • karol 11.1

      bl, thanks,

      I think Little is being kind of diplomatic, and giving some credence to the “booming economy” headlines, using booming in his headline without quote marks.

      In an earlier draft of the post, I did make the same point about “rock star” being in quote marks, meaning he was less accepting of it – “circumspect” is this conflict in meanings, plus being a little diplomatic in saying “if these reports are true”… kind of thing. – but the post was getting too long so I deleted the “rock star” bit.

      But in the guts of the statement, Little is more directly critical of the “rock star” reports, the inequalities, and the lack of confidence among workers, etc.

  12. fambo 12

    Popped through Palmerston North a couple of weekends ago and it certainly wasn’t looking/feeling as prosperous as it has in the past.

    Make your opinion “the norm” and then paint those who disagree with you as being “negative”

  13. bad12 13

    ‘Rockstar economy’???, only if you consider it a two hit wonder, take out the Christchurch rebuild and the Auckland house price inflation, both areas of economy which will soon prove to be merely transient anomalies and the ‘real’ growth figures will be shown to be 1-2.5%,

    One of those extolling this rubbish,(a bank economist on National Radio this morning),gushed over unemployment coming down from 6 to 5%,(a victory of the pathetic), i had to wonder listening to such gushing, if this is an indicator of rock-star status for the economy would this have made the previous Clark Government’s economy with far lower unemployment a ‘super-nova’…

  14. tricledrown 14

    I have talked to a lot of business
    People and they are saying its no where near pre 2008 levels of economic activity this is a beat up by a few elite.

  15. Macro 15

    What’s all this bullshit about a “rock star” economy! According to the latest set of statistics our 1% ers are back in 8th place in gaining control of the world’s wealth – this is NOT good enough!
    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world
    More incentives are required!

  16. MrSmith 16

    “New Zealand will be the “rock star” economy of 2014, says a leading global bank.
    HSBC chief economist for Australia and New Zealand Paul Bloxham says New Zealand’s growth is set to outpace most of its developed markets peers, American news channel CNBC reported .”

    Should we trust HSBC? No we bloody well shouldn’t, but don’t take my word for it.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/hsbc-case-senators-prosecution-free-zone-big-banks/story?id=18678686
    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/may/23/hsbc-court-threat-money-laundering-charges
    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/dec/11/hsbc-fine-prosecution-money-laundering
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/08/08/hsbcs-1-9-billion-money-laundering-fine-and-the-somalian-cost-of-bank-regulation/
    http://sevenpillarsinstitute.org/case-studies/hsbc-money-laundering-case-too-big-to-fail-does-not-mean-too-big-to-jail

  17. dave 17

    yeah man bullshit bills super book cooking house of cards full speed ahead straight off the cliff.

  18. Tracey 18

    Is the gfc and the crash of the 80’s evidence of a failure of socialism or capitalism?

    • karol 18.1

      Maybe the failure of corporatism?

      • Colonial Viper 18.1.1

        Not a failure at all, in fact a very successful rouse to suck trillions out of governments into private hands. They are great at turning crisis into capitalist triumph. Which the big banks have deftly done.

  19. philj 19

    If Labour are serious, they must get serious with the banks. Kiwibank has a major role to play. Why do we put up with billions going out of NZ to Ozzy banks in profits. Sure, The BNZ was an utter fiasco, that was never clearly explained to the masses. Time for a major change in our financing. They are rorting NZ, big time.

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