Monday, April 29, 2024

How Albanese can make Australia's future the smart way

Thank goodness we’ve finally got someone saying something sensible about Anthony Albanese’s Future Made in Australia. So far, it’s been a phoney war between the old fogeys from the Productivity Commission – all government subsidies are rent-seeking – and the Bring Back Manufacturing Brigade, pushing the notion that making goods is more economically virtuous than providing services and quoting bulldust measures of “economic complexity” to prove it.

The man talking sense – adroitly picking his way through the blind ideology, partisanship and rent-seeking to find the sound economics – is Rod Sims, former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and now chair of Professor Ross Garnaut’s brainchild, the Superpower Institute. Sims spoke to the Melbourne Economic Forum last week.

For reasons I’ll explain another day, the Productivity Commission old-timers are right to insist that the basic principles of economics haven’t changed. We must resist the false promise of self-sufficiency and stick to doing the things we’re particularly good at – our “comparative advantage” – which, throughout our history, has included exploiting our “natural endowment” of some of the most valuable deposits of minerals and fossil fuels in the world.

On the other hand, though the basic economic principles haven’t changed, the Back to Manufacturing Brigade is right – or half right – in saying that the circumstances in which the world economy now finds itself have changed radically.

This is not because, in its present period of craziness, the United States has turned protectionist, staging a trade war with China and subsidising various local industries. Others acting contrary to their own best interests – their comparative advantage – is not a sign that we should go crazy too.

No, the big change is the world’s grudging realisation that if we want to stop global warming, we must cease burning fossil fuels and switch to renewables. The move to net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 will surely be the biggest and fastest structural change the industrialised world has ever experienced.

The implications of this euphemistically named “transition” are huge for every economy, but for ours, they are monumental. Why? Because, as Sims points out, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and gas, combined.

What everyone knows but doesn’t seem to get is that, within a decade or two, our economy will have been hit by a meteor. The world will have stopped buying our fossil fuels. It will have taken a huge chunk of our natural endowment and declared it worthless.

So, our greatest comparative advantage is in the process of ceasing to exist. This is what Albanese lacked the courage to say in his happy-clappy speech about a Future Made in Australia.

This is what the generals busy fighting the last war don’t get. This is why their implication that the government should sit back and see how the market reacts to this sudden drop in our standard of living is bad economics.

What we must do is something we’ve never needed to do before: hunt around in our natural endowment to find something else offering us a new comparative advantage. This is why we’re so heavily indebted to Garnaut for being the first to realise and trumpet the news that, in a decarbonised world, all our sun and wind have suddenly gone from being of little value to hugely valuable.

Australia has much more sunlight than most other countries and as much wind as the best of them. What makes this so valuable is that it’s so expensive to turn renewable energy into a form that can be exported.

Sims demonstrates the value of our new comparative advantage with the example of iron metal. At present, we export iron ore, the metallurgical coal used to reduce the iron ore to iron metal, and both the thermal coal and gas, which can provide the heat to make the iron metal.

We export the ingredients and let others bake the cake because that’s what makes economic sense. In the coming zero-carbon world, however, it will make economic sense to produce green iron in Australia.

Green iron is likely to need green hydrogen in place of the coking coal that turns the ore into metal. However, making green hydrogen requires a massive amount of renewable energy to power the electrolysers that split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

So green iron should be made in Australia because the economics has been turned on its head. If it costs, say, $100 to mine a tonne of metallurgical coal in Australia, you can send it to China for just an extra $5 or $10. But if hydrogen costs $100 to make here in Oz, it will cost at least another $100 to ship it to China.

With hydrogen, you need to turn it into ammonia, at great expense, to be able to ship it, and then you need to turn it back into hydrogen at the other end. This is complex and will involve much leakage.

So renewable energy should be used close to where it’s produced. Sims says all overseas studies he’s seen suggest that Australia is likely to be the cheapest place in the world to make green iron. Those trying to make green iron by importing hydrogen will be uncompetitive.

It should be the same story for green aluminium, green fertiliser, green silicon and green aviation fuel. We will be able to export our masses of surplus renewable energy embedded within those many products.

So, yes, we can have a lot more manufacturing in our future. And the best place for this further processing will be close to the regional sources of sun and wind-produced electricity.

But while green iron-making technology is proven, it’s not yet been done at scale, Sims says. Those who go first will inevitably make mistakes, from which others will learn. Those mistakes will be costly for the first mover but hugely beneficial to those who come after.

In other words, this learning by doing is a “positive externality” – a benefit to other businesses and the community generally for which the first business isn’t rewarded.

This is the hard-headed economic justification for temporary government grants to firms starting out in industries directly related to the exploitation of our new-found comparative advantage.

(The key “negative externality” relevant to the transition to renewable energy is the cost to the environment from the use of fossil fuels to make steel and many other things that the relevant businesses aren’t required to pay for, thus putting renewable energy producers at a price disadvantage – something the former Productivity Commission bosses keep forgetting to mention.)

But, Sims rightly warns, if all the Made in Australia talk means subsiding businesses making solar panels, wind farm components, batteries and electrolysers – in none of which we have a comparative advantage – then there’s no way we’ll become a superpower, and the extra manufacturing jobs will come at the expense of jobs in all other industries. Labor voters and the ACTU take note.


Friday, April 26, 2024

Sorry, it's not gallantry that wins wars, it's economic might

Welcome to the Anzac long weekend (sort of). This column is brought to you by your friendly economists, who want to get one thing straight: whatever their causes, wars are usually won by the side with the most economic resources.

This is just one of the many fascinating things you learn from a new book, The Shortest History of Economics, written by Dr Andrew Leigh, former economics professor turned minister in the Albanese government. (The book’s name is misleading. It’s really the shortest account of the part the economy has played in the world’s history. Well worth a read.)

Leigh says the first industrial-scale war following the Industrial Revolution was America’s Civil War during the first half of the 1860s.

“With the use of mass-produced weapons, railroads, steamships and telegraphs, the Civil War was industrial in its scale, and in its carnage,” he says. More than 600,000 combatants – one in five soldiers – lost their lives.

A striking thing about that war was the imbalance of resources between the two sides, strong support for the saying that God is usually on the side with the bigger battalions.

At the outset, the North had a population of 21 million – more than twice the South’s. The South was primarily an agricultural economy, with the North producing 90 per cent of the country’s manufactured goods, including 97 per cent of its firearms.

What’s surprising is that the South held out as long as it did. The war was prolonged by the North’s poor military tactics.

From an economic perspective, wars are often financed by printing money, with ultimate inflationary consequences. The South used this to fund 60 per cent of its costs, whereas the North needed only 13 per cent.

To economists, a significant effect of World War I was that it brought a hasty end to the world’s first experience of globalisation, with greatly increased trade and migration between Europe and the “new world”, fostered by the advent of steel-hulled steamships and the telegraph, and the absence of boring things like passports and visas.

Not until after the Great Depression and World War II did the barriers keeping countries apart begin falling back, thanks to advances in air travel, shipping, containerisation and telecommunications, plus reductions in import protection and banking regulations.

Today, many people believe that greater trade, tourism and other economic contact between countries reduce the likelihood of war. I think there’s truth to this, but the strong commercial ties between the combatants in World War I didn’t stop it happening.

Did you know that, at the outbreak of war in 1914, most of Germany’s shipping trade was insured by Lloyd’s of London?

The Allied powers (Britain, France, Russia and their allies) had far more resources than the Central powers (the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and their allies). The Allied powers had five times the population, 11 times the territory and three times the income, according to Leigh.

That the conflict took four years and claimed about 20 million lives reflects the ineptitude of the generals and the intransigence of the political leaders, he says. But the side with the larger economic base won.

Moving on to World War II, which started in 1939 and ran for six years, its outcome, too, could have been predicted from the economic fundamentals.

Compared with the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan and their allies), the Allied powers (Britain, France and their allies) had more than twice as many people, more than seven times as much territory, and a combined income that was 40 per cent higher, Leigh tells us.

Germany did well at first, thanks to the skill of its generals, such as Erwin Rommel, but the war proved primarily a contest of industrial production, Leigh says, and the Allied powers had more resources at their disposal.

This was true even midway through the war because, although Germany had annexed much of Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union had joined the conflict on the side of the Allies. In 1942, the Allied powers still retained a decisive advantage in people, territory and income, he says.

Consider aircraft carriers. Although Japan fully understood their great strategic value, the Allies built nine-tenths of the carriers produced during the war.

The combatant nations differed in how much of their economies they devoted to the war effort. Italy never devoted more than a quarter of its gross domestic product to the war, whereas, at its peak, Japan was devoting more than three-quarters. Britain and Russia managed to deliver more than half their national output to the war, while the US devoted two-fifths.

Together, this gave the Allies a substantial advantage. They produced at least twice as many rifles, tanks, aircraft, mortars and warships. According to Leigh, the Axis powers were literally outgunned.

The overall damage to economies done by World War II was more devastating than in World War I, largely because the technology of killing had advanced so much in the intervening years.

In the air, the first war’s biplanes and zeppelins played a relatively minor role, whereas the second war saw squadrons of bombers devastating cities with incendiary – and ultimately atomic – bombs.

All up, World War II claimed three times as many lives as World War I had done.

But let’s finish on a more positive note. Leigh says the peace that followed World War II was more enduring, partly because countries learnt the lessons of the previous conflict. Through the Marshall Plan, the US provided $US13 billion to Western Europe, equivalent to about 3 per cent of the region’s annual economic output.

In Germany and Japan, the occupying powers put great emphasis on restoration, with the result that both became major industrial powers within a generation.

And economists, including Keynes, played a central role in building international economic institutions – including the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the forerunner to the World Trade Organisation – that would sustain peace.


Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Buildings as batteries. For net zero, we need bright ideas like this

There’s a joke about the economist who thought he saw a $20 note on the ground but didn’t reach down for it because he knew that, if there had been such a note, someone else would have picked it up long ago. Sometimes we don’t see what’s there to be seen because we aren’t expecting to see anything.

Have you ever been in the city at night, looked up to see all the office blocks with lights ablaze, and wondered why they were wasting so much electricity? Perhaps it’s because people are working late, or the cleaners are busy. In any case, it’s not lighting that uses so much power: it’s heating and cooling.

But your instincts are right. All those office blocks have an important part to play in our efforts to limit further climate change. How? Keep reading.

As every sensible person knows, but prefers not to think about, the most important single challenge we face as a nation is to play our part in achieving the global goal of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.

This is far more important to our kids’ future than the housing calamity or the cost-of-living crisis, both which will pass soon enough.

And, as most people realise, the main strategy we’re pursuing to reduce emissions is to eliminate the use of coal and gas in the production of electricity, then use this clean power for as many of our energy needs as possible. The move to electric vehicles is a big part of this.

All of which is much easier said than done. We’re already getting much of our energy from renewable sources – solar and wind power – but we need a lot more of it. And we need it to be available before our ageing coal-fired power stations give up the ghost. We can use some gas to tide us over, but it too must go.

Another part of the problem is reconfiguring our huge system of “poles and wires” transmitting electricity around the country. We need high-voltage powerlines joining up the eastern states. Currently, powerlines mainly transmit from huge coal-fired power stations located near coal mines to the nearest big city.

Trouble is, the solar and wind farms replacing the old power stations are spread all over the place. And then there’s the need to link all the solar systems on people’s roofs into the network.

Further complicating the transition from fossil fuel to renewables is the problem all those looking for an excuse to do nothing love pointing to: what happens when the sun’s not shining and the wind’s not blowing?

The short answer is that we have to capture and store some of the free energy that’s coming while the sun is shining, so we can use it at times when it isn’t. Batteries are the obvious way to do this. But we can achieve the same effect by pumping a lot of water up a hill, then letting it run back down to power a generator at night. Or you can do something vaguely similar in an office block.

While we’re working on all this, however, climate change is making our summers hotter and increasing the demand for air conditioning. The way we see it at present, we have to increase the capacity of our electricity transmission network so we can cope with peak demand on a few very hot afternoons each year without blackouts.

But this extra capacity goes unused for all the other days of the year, which is wasteful. Surely there must be a cheaper way to avoid blackouts?

This is where Craig Roussac, founder of Buildings Alive, a company that helps commercial building managers to better manage their use of energy and so reduce their emissions, has had a bright idea, which he’s developed with Dr Richard Denniss, boss of the Australia Institute.

On hot summer days, building managers could turn their cooling a degree or so lower in the morning, then let the temperature rise slowly in the afternoon, while everyone else had their air conditioners going full blast.

Because the wholesale price of electricity jumps at times of peak demand, this would save the building owners money. Lower peaks being cheaper, this would reduce the average retail price being paid by the rest of us.

It would also reduce the need for new investment in transmission capacity – the cost of which is passed on to electricity users. Above all, it would immediately reduce emissions, at zero extra cost.

But if it’s such a smart idea, why aren’t people doing it already? Mainly because the electricity industry makes its living by selling more of the stuff, not less. But also because the energy efficiency ratings awarded to buildings don’t encourage businesses to change the timing of their demand.

Now, obviously, sorting out our office buildings would make only a small contribution towards achieving net zero. But the idea of changing the timing of our demand during peak periods could be spread to other classes of buildings, including apartment blocks and even detached houses.


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

ATTENTION ECONOMICS TEACHERS: change in the mechanics of controlling the cash rate

 You need to read this very clear explanation by Isaac Gross of Monash:

Copy and paste: 


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

My speech at Sydney University's Great Hall

I’m too old to suffer from impostor syndrome, but the thought has occurred to me that, had the University of Sydney’s officials taken a look at my academic transcript at Newcastle University, and seen how much trouble I had persuading that uni to give me a pass degree, we’d be holding this gathering down at Ralph’s cafe in the women’s gym.

The truth is that I had a lot of trouble passing a subject called economics, which I couldn’t make any sense of – perhaps because it didn’t interest me greatly. I failed a subject called international economics but, since it was the last subject I had to go, my lecturer was prevailed upon to give me a conceded pass.

So I have to tell you I’m a bit bemused by a university, of all institutions, making such a fuss about me and my job. I’ve spent much of my time urging the people I’ve helped to hire and train as economic journalists not to write like an academic. Keep it simple, I’d say. Don’t try to impress people with big words. Try to be understood, not to mystify. Now, obviously, that’s not the right advice to be giving an academic.

In my job, I’m paid to have an opinion on everything. And I’m paid to give free advice to everyone, from the prime minister down. And I’m now so much older than my boss I’m allowed to give him – and sometimes her – free advice. She or he, of course, is paid to pretend she greatly values that advice.

So while I’m here in this hallowed hall of learning, let me give the academics two bits of free advice. Some years ago, the federal government’s chief scientist paid good money to get one of those now-infamous four firms of accountants-turned-consultants to fudge up a dollar figure for the value of science to the economy. One of my proteges, filling in for me while I was on holidays, Gareth Hutchens, these days a columnist at the ABC, wrote a piece saying the chief scientist had to be kidding. Anyone who wasn’t smart enough to know that our material prosperity was built on technological advance, and that technological advance rested on a bed of pure science, wasn’t someone who’d be impressed by any magic number. Gareth was right, of course.

The point is, academics should never yield to intimidation by those who can see no further than immediate income. Academics must never be ashamed to proclaim their belief in the value of knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge doesn’t have to have a monetary value to be of value. Humans are an inquisitive species. We’d like to know whether the universe is expanding for no better reason than that we’d like to know. And thanks to the material prosperity science has brought us, we can afford to pay some scientist to find out for us.

My second bit of free advice is that universities should never be ashamed of their preoccupation with theory rather than practice. Every profession needs its theory. We develop theories to help us make some order, some meaning, out of the seeming chaos we see around us.

If you look at what I write about the economy, I think you’ll find I write about economic theory a lot more than other economic commentators do. Why? Because I think theory is important. Academic economists will complain that I’m often very critical of economic theory. Why? Because I think theory is important. The great sin in academic economics is to stop seeking the truth because you think you’ve already found it.

I want to talk now about the little-discussed paradox of the commercial news media. On one hand, most news outlets are in the business of selling their news to make a profit, just like all businesses. On the other, the commercial news media play a vital role in our democracy, informing citizens about the actions of governments and holding governments to account. We rarely think about this paradox, but the truth is, it was ever thus. We had newspapers before we had democracy.

Today we talk about public-interest journalism, but I like to think of it as the commercial media’s “higher purpose”. Making enough profit to keep our shareholders happy is the obvious part, but we must keep our eyes focused on the more important part, our self-appointed duty to ensure our readers are kept fully informed about all the things our governments are doing – and not doing.

There’s an old saying in journalism: news is anything somebody somewhere doesn’t want you to know about. Governments have a lot of things they do want the public to know about what they’re doing. And their spin doctors are always trying to induce the news media to help them get the good news out to the voters. Governments have a near monopoly on news about their own doings. When they want something known, they can just put out a press release. Or, maybe a better idea would be for me to leak it to you exclusively – provided you give it a lot of prominence, and provided you run it uncritically. Why would the media agree to such a restriction on their freedom to fully inform their readers? Because if I play along today, you might give me another leak tomorrow. And that will make me look a lot more successful than my competitors.

Small problem: what about the reader? Is this the way to keep them fully informed and ensure they’re never misinformed? What if I’m so busy trying to be the best at extracting from the government news the government wants our readers to know about that I neglect my duty to dig out all the news the government doesn’t want our readers to know about?

Now, let me be clear. In saying this critical stuff, I don’t want you thinking I’m having a go at my own masthead. I’m giving my free advice to all mastheads. The mastheads formerly known as Fairfax aren’t perfect. No one knows that better than I do. But there are other outlets that have strayed a lot further from perfection than we have. Naturally, I won’t name those other Australian news outlets.

The digital revolution has hugely changed the news media. Once I’m retired, I’ll give in to the thought that it was all much better in my day. But while my day is still the present day, I can see the things that are better than they were. These days, the mastheads our envious competitors like to dismiss as “the Nine newspapers” devote more resources to investigative journalism than we ever have. Maybe because of the digital world we now inhabit, generating your own news makes more commercial sense. What I’d add is that we need to make all our ordinary news more investigative. More questioning of all the messages some interest group or another wants us to pass on to our readers.

Another thing that’s better than it used to be – one close to my heart – is much greater emphasis on explanatory journalism. The internet has hugely increased the blizzard of news that we must fight our way through each day. Our readers don’t need more news, they need more help figuring out what on earth it all means. This, of course, is a big part of what I’ve always seen as my role.

With the advent of the internet, social media, the greater scope for the spread of misinformation and disinformation, and now AI, it’s easy see all this as a huge threat to what’s now called the MSM – the mainstream media, of which the SMH is a prime example. We live in a media world where people are finding it harder and harder to know whose news to believe. Who to trust.

What I want to say is that, for the mainstream media, and the quality end of the MSM, all the extra doubt and uncertainty about who to believe is playing into our hands. We are still more trusted by our customers than other, less reputable sources of information. Provided we retain our readers’ trust, work to regain what trust we have lost, and make retaining the trust of our readers our highest priority, I think we’ll survive – maybe even prosper – in a world teeming with misinformation.

We must never knowingly mislead our readers. We must see quickly correcting any errors we’ve made inadvertently, not as an admission of failure, but as badge of honour. Proof that we can be trusted. It means no more “I’m not sure it’s true, but it’s a great yarn and the punters will love it” stories. No more dubious stories published to oblige a powerful source – usually a government – and keep it supplying us with exclusives. It means telling our readers what they need to know, not what they want to hear. It means being a good read the hard way, not the easy way.

I’m confident that, if we get the trust right, enough money will follow. I’m hoping to stay around doing my bit for a few years yet.

This is an edited version of the speech Ross Gittins gave at the event honouring his 50th anniversary at The Sydney Morning Herald. Held in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney and staged in partnership with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.


Monday, April 1, 2024

When funding healthcare, don't forget the caring bit

 It’s Easter, and we’ve got the day off. So let’s think about something different. As a community, we spend a fortune each year on health, mainly through governments. What has economics got to tell us about healthcare? And, since it’s Easter, what light has Christianity got to shed on how we fund healthcare?

One man who’s thought deeply on these questions is Dr Stephen Duckett, Australia’s leading health economist, whose career has included academia, running government health departments, and the Grattan Institute think tank. He’s now back in academia, at the University of Melbourne.

Duckett has long been a lay reader in the Anglican Church. He’s recently completed a doctorate in theology, awarded by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He’s turned his thesis into a book, Healthcare Funding and Christian Ethics, published by Cambridge University Press.

One way to run a hospital is to let the doctors and nurses do as they see fit until the money runs out but, for several decades, health economists’ advice has reshaped the health system, helping to ensure that the money available is spent in ways that do the most good to patients.

One definition of economics is that it’s the study of scarcity. We have infinite wants, but limited resources of land, labour and physical capital to achieve those wants. So we must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of the many things we’d like, so we end up choosing the particular combination of things that yields us the greatest “utility” (benefit) available.

Since there’s never enough money to spend on healthcare, hard decisions have to be made about what can be done and what can’t, what drugs should be subsidised and what can’t, who should be helped and who turned away.

Health economists analyse the cost-effectiveness of the various options to help governments and hospitals make their choices, working out the number of “quality-adjusted life years” each option would add.

The Scotsman called the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, saw it as a moral science but, as economists have striven to be more “rigorous” (which mainly means more mathematical) this touchy-feely stuff has fallen away.

Most economists see economics as amoral, that is, neither moral nor immoral; having nothing to say about moral issues. When it comes to means and ends, economists see themselves as sticking to means.

They’re saying: tell me what you want to do, and I’ll tell you the best way to achieve it. That’s what they say; it’s not always what they do.

Economics is based on utilitarianism: seeking the greatest good for the greatest number. But this ignores the question of “equity”: how fairly the benefits are shared. Are some getting a lot while others miss out?

Duckett says: “Economics’ assumption that humans are simply individual units, de-emphasising community, and [economics’] ubiquitous use in policymaking, comes at a cost, as Homo economicus [the self-interested, rational calculator that economists assume us to be] crowds out other manifestations of what it is to be human.”

Economists often say they have no expertise on equity and the community, so they leave that to others – such as the politicians. Economists often claim that economics is “objective” and “value-free”.

But Duckett says it’s not simple. By ignoring issues you’re implying that they don’t matter. And you’re making implicit assumptions that are value-laden.

For instance, if a cost-effectiveness study does not explicitly highlight the distribution of costs and benefits [how unequally they are shared between people], it is implicitly conveying the message that the distribution is not a relevant issue.

If nursing home funding allows money ostensibly allocated for care to be leached out as extra returns to the owners, then quality is assumed to be not a concern of those doing the funding.

If a system design places a higher monetary reward on cosmetic surgery intended solely to improve appearance compared to the monetary reward for caring for older patients and people with mental illness, this sends a signal about the value placed on care for the marginalised.

Duckett says that, because decisions about public policy inherently involve value choices, health economics becomes a “moral science” whether economists like it or not. What’s true, however, is that economics is not well-equipped to determine issues such as what should be society’s priorities, what value should be place on unfettered choice, and the value to place on ensuring no one is left behind.

This is where Christian ethics has a contribution to make, a contribution that, except on matters of sexual morality, doesn’t differ much from the views of the aggressively secular philosopher Professor Peter Singer and, no doubt, many other Western ethicists.

Duckett offers a “theology of healthcare funding” based on Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. As I hope you remember, a man was travelling to Jericho when he was set upon by robbers, who left him naked and bleeding by the road.

Two separate religious figures passed by him on the road without stopping to help. But a Samaritan saw him and “was moved with pity”. He bandaged his wounds, put him on his donkey and took him to an inn, where he paid the innkeeper in advance to look after him, promising to come back and pay for any extra expense.

From this parable Duckett derives three principles that should guide health economists in the advice they give on healthcare funding.

The three are: compassion (shown by the behaviour of the Samaritan), social justice (everyone included and treated equally; shown by the identity of the Samaritan, a race despised by the Jews) and stewardship (shown by the innkeeper, who was trusted to care for the traveller and to spend the Samaritan’s money wisely).

Compassion must involve feeling leading to doing. It must involve helping people other than yourself. So health economics must be less impersonal, remembering the flesh and blood behind the statistics and calculations. Any funding arrangement must allow time for workers to care for patients in a compassionate way.

The Christian ethic is that social justice is not simply about fairness for atomised individuals, but also the person as part of a community, something economists tend to forget. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said “a person is a person through other people . . . I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.”

“Christian contributions to the public square need to challenge policy ‘solutions’ that rely on individuals pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, victim-blaming approaches, and a narrow definition of [who is my] ‘neighbour’,” Duckett says.

As for stewardship, it’s the easy bit. It’s the Christian word for what economists already know about: making sure that other people’s money is spent carefully, and their property is looked after. It’s being efficient.

But the Christian contribution to what health economists do is to make sure stewardship is kept in tension with the other two principles. “Austerity does not mean that compassion and social justice can be ignored, or distributional consequences [for the rich and the poor] can be erased from consideration.