Showing posts with label services. Show all posts
Showing posts with label services. Show all posts

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The tables have turned in our economic dealings with the world

If you know your economic onions, you know that our economy has long run a deficit in trade with the rest of the world which, when you add our net payments of interest and dividends to foreigners, means we’ve long run a deficit on the current account of our balance of payments and, as a consequence, have a huge and growing foreign debt.

Except that this familiar story has been falling apart for the past five years, and is no longer true. In that time, our economic dealings with the rest of the world have been turned on their head.

Last week the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that we’d actually run a surplus on the current account of $8.4 billion in March quarter. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t because it was the fourth quarterly surplus in a row.

But that should surprise you because the first of those surpluses, for the June quarter last year, was the first surplus in 44 years. And now we’ve clocked up four in a row, that’s the first 12-month surplus we’ve run since 1973.

Of course, when the balance on a country’s current account turns from deficit to surplus, its net foreign liabilities to the rest of the world stop going up and start going down.

What’s brought about this remarkable transformation? Various factors, the greatest of which is our decade-long resources boom, which occurred because the rapid development of China’s economy led to hugely increased demand for our coal, natural gas and iron ore.

A massive rise in the world prices of those commodities, which began in 2004 and continued until 2011, prompted a boom in the construction of new mines and gas facilities which peaked in 2013. From then on, the volume of our exports of minerals and energy grew strongly as new mines came online.

But while our mining exports expanded greatly, the completion of the new mines and gas facilities meant a fall in our extensive imports of expensive mining equipment. As a consequence, our balance of trade in goods and services – which between 1980 and 2015 averaged a deficit equivalent to 1.25 per cent of gross domestic product – has been in surplus ever since.

The rise of China’s middle class gets much of the credit for another development that’s helped our trade balance: strong growth in our exports of services, particularly inbound tourism and the sale of education to overseas students.

When our country has gone since white settlement as a net importer of foreign financial capital – which has been necessary because our own savings haven’t been sufficient to fund all the physical investment needed to take full advantage of our country’s huge potential for economy development – it’s not surprising we have a lot of foreign investment in Australian businesses and have borrowed a lot of money from foreigners.

In which case, it’s not surprising that every quarter we have to pay foreigners a lot more in interest and dividends on their investments in our economy than they have to pay us on our investments in their economies.

This “net income deficit” – which is the other main component of the current account - has grown enormously since the breakdown of the post-World War II “Bretton Woods” system of fixed exchange rates prompted us to float our dollar in 1983 and started a revolution in banks and businesses in one country lending and investing in other countries, including the rise of multinational corporations.

That was when Australia’s net foreign debt started rising rapidly and the net income deficit began to dominate our current account. The net income deficit has averaged a massive 3.4 per cent of GDP since the late 1980s.

It hasn’t changed much since the tables started turning five years ago. Except for one thing. The rapid growth in our superannuation funds since the introduction of compulsory employee super in the early 1990s has seen so much Australian investment in the shares of foreign companies that, since 2013, the value of our “equity” investment in other countries’ companies has exceeded the value of more than two centuries of other countries’ investment in our companies.

At March 31, Australia had net foreign equity assets worth $338 billion. You’d expect this to have significantly reduced our quarterly net income deficit, but it hasn’t. Why not? Because the dividends we earn on our investments in foreign companies aren’t as great as the dividends foreigners earn on their ownership of our companies. Why not? Because our hugely profitable mining industry is three-quarters foreign-owned.

If you add our net foreign equity assets and our net foreign debt to get our net foreign liabilities, they’ve been falling as a percentage of GDP for the past decade. If you look at the absolute dollar amount, just since December 2018 it’s fallen by more than 20 per cent.

If all this sounds too good to be true, it’s certainly not as good as it looks. The final major factor helping to explain the improvement in our external position is the weakness in the economy over the 18 months before the arrival of the virus shock.

The alternative way to see what’s happening in our dealings with the rest of the world is to focus on what’s happening to national saving relative to national (physical) investment. That’s because the difference between how much the nation saves and how much it invests equals the balance on the current account.

Turns out that national investment has fallen in recent times (business investment is weak, home building has collapsed and government investment in infrastructure is falling back) while national saving has increased (households have been saving more, mining companies have been retaining much of their high profits, and governments have been increasing their operating surpluses).

So much so that the nation is now saving more than it’s investing, giving us a current account surplus. But this is a recipe for weaker not faster “jobs and growth”.
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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Services are taking over the economy – despite the politicians

One test of whether our political leaders are looking to the economy’s future or clinging to its past is whether they show an understanding that most of our future lies in the services economy.

Whether they hanker for an economy where most people earn their living by growing things, digging things out of the ground or making things.

Probably only the dearly departed Malcolm Turnbull passes this test, with his early enthusiasm for innovation and agility. Kevin Rudd said he didn’t want to be the leader of a country that didn’t make things. Scott Morrison took a lump of coal into the Parliament to show where his allegiances lay.

But as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reminds us in its latest report, the shift from producing goods to performing services is fundamental to the process of economic development.

Every country’s economy starts on the economic development journey with most people working on the land, and others in mines. That’s where we were in the 19th century. About a hundred years ago, the great migration from the country began, with more and more people moving to the city to work in factories.

By 1971, employment in manufacturing had reached 1.4 million workers. Manufacturing’s share of total employment in Australia reached 25.5 per cent a little earlier in 1966.

But from that period on, employment in manufacturing began to decline, both in absolute numbers and as a share of the total.

It – and employment in the other goods industries: agriculture and mining – declined as a share of the total simply because employment in the services sector grew much faster.

So, for at least for the past 50 years, it’s services that have been going up while goods industries have been going down. That’s true whether you look at shares of total employment or shares of total production (gross domestic product).

When you turn to the absolute numbers of workers, they’ve been declining in agriculture for more than a century. Today, just 325,000 people work on the land.

In manufacturing, they’ve been falling since 1971, to be down to 980,000 today.

Mining employment got a fillip from the resources boom, but even its job numbers have resumed their decline since 2013, and are now down to 245,000 – or just 2 per cent of our total employment of 12.6 million.

There’s nothing peculiarly Australian about this move from farming to manufacturing to services. You can see just the same progression in other rich economies and in “emerging” (that is, rapidly developing) economies.

It’s been unfolding before our eyes in China since it began opening its economy to the world in the late 1970s. It was all the people leaving its farms to work in city factories that, a few years ago, took the proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas to more than half.

Returning to Oz, don’t get me wrong. Some of us will always be working in the goods part of the economy. That’s particularly true of Australia because, though we’ve never been great shakes at manufacturing, we have had, and will continue to have, a comparative advantage in agriculture and mining, relative to other countries.

Note this: though the number of people working in the three parts of the goods sector has been falling, that doesn’t mean we’re growing less food or digging fewer minerals. Our annual production of food and minerals and energy is greater than ever. Even in manufacturing, our annual production has been falling only since 2008.

How can production go up while employment goes down? Easy. Increased productivity of labour caused by automation – technological advance. The use of more and better machines has made farming, mining and manufacturing more “capital-intensive” and so less “labour-intensive”.

That’s the thing about the goods side of the economy: it’s relatively easy to use machines to replace men (and women). And this isn’t bad, it’s good – for two reasons. First, it’s helped make goods cheaper, thus making us more prosperous.

Second, it’s much harder to use machines to replace workers delivering services. Robots will change this to an extent, but by not nearly as much as the alarmists claim.

And it’s not hard to think of more services we’d like other people to do for us. That’s why total employment is higher than it’s ever been. And why further growth in services’ share of total employment and production is inevitable and inexorable.

Where will the new jobs be coming from? That's where.

The OECD report tells us that, in 2014, the goods sector’s share of production was down to 17 per cent (agriculture 3 per cent, mining 6 per cent, manufacturing 8 per cent), with the services sector’s share up to 83 per cent – about average for the OECD.

Within services, the biggest industries are: business services, 14 per cent of GDP; wholesale and retail trade, 10 per cent; financial services, 9 per cent; construction, 8 per cent; health and aged care, 7 per cent; education 5 per cent and defence and public administration, 5 per cent.

A favourite argument the goods industries use to exaggerate their importance to the economy is to point to their higher share of exports (a widget sold to a foreigner is more virtuous than one sold to a local, they claim).

A third of all our agricultural production is exported. For manufacturing it’s more than a quarter (bet you didn’t know that) and for mining it’s more than 90 per cent. For services it’s a mere 11 per cent.

This means that, as usually measured, agriculture contributes 8 per cent of total exports; mining, 40 per cent, manufacturing 26 per cent, and services, 26 per cent.

Education of overseas students is now our third biggest export, after iron ore and coal. Tourism is the other big one.

But the OECD points out that the goods we export have inputs of services embedded within them. Allow for this and agriculture’s share of total export “value-added” drops to 5 per cent, mining’s to 30 per cent and manufacturing’s to 13 per cent, while services’ share rises to an amazing 52 per cent.

Services are taking over the economy. Live with it.
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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Jobs in the services sector have smartened up

So much for our ailing economy. Did you see that 264,000 additional jobs have been created in the first eight months of this year, with 88 per cent of them full-time?

That's a remarkable increase of 2.2 per cent in total employment, according to trend figures issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week.

Where did all those jobs come from? We won't know for certain for a week or two, but I can tell you now: not from agriculture, the production of goods (mining, manufacturing, utilities and construction) or the distribution of goods (transport, postal and warehousing; wholesale and retail trade), but from household and business services.

How can I be sure all the net increase in jobs will have come from the services sector? Because that's been the case for about the past 40 years.

This isn't all that surprising. As the Reserve Bank's head of economic analysis, Dr Alexandra Heath, observed in a speech last week, one of the most pronounced changes in the structure of our economy [and all advanced economies] has been its move away from a goods-producing economy towards a more services-oriented economy.

This isn't because we're producing fewer goods – we aren't – but because the growth in our production of services has been much faster.

"Australians are producing more services, consuming more services and trading more services with other economies than ever before," Heath says.

One reason for the shift to a services-based economy is that Australian households have experienced remarkable growth in their real incomes, she says.

We've had uninterrupted growth for more than 25 years, and real income per household has more than doubled since the early 1960s.

"As incomes rise," she says, "households typically spend more of their income on household services – such as health, education and restaurant meals – than on goods."

But demand for business services – that is, businesses providing services to other businesses - has seen its share of gross value-added grow from less than 20 per cent in the early 1990s to more than 25 per cent today.

The category includes professional and technical services; information, media and telecoms; rental, hiring and real estate; and financial and insurance services.

Part of this growth is just the reclassification of existing activity from goods to services as businesses that produce and distribute goods have increasingly outsourced non-core activities to specialist providers in the services sector.

The trend to outsourcing has been encouraged by technological advance that's lowered the cost of communication and logistics (moving things around) and meant that the scope and complexity of what can be outsourced have increased over time.

(Though, in my humble opinion, firms that outsource their telephone answering to overseas call centres where people you can't understand repeat scripted lines regardless of the context, and have little power to fix your problem because the firm back in Oz doesn't really trust them, will one day reap the customer revenge they so richly deserve.)

It should involve cost savings to outsourcing firms because specialist providers are able to achieve greater economies of scale and pass some of the benefits on to their customers.

So outsourcing is an example of one of the key building blocks of our modern prosperity: ever-greater specialisation and exchange, leading to ever-greater productivity. (This ought to be true when profit-driven businesses do it; it's not always true when governments do it badly or with ulterior motives.)

But outsourcing doesn't explain all the growth in business services. Some of those services are totally new.

And Heath says there's evidence that the nature of the work being done in the business services sector is generally changing faster than in other sectors. "This all suggest that business services are at the centre of how technological change is transforming the Australian economy," she says.

Traditional business services, such as accounting and legal, have been joined by management consulting, internet providers and computer system design.

The growth in outsourcing of business services, and the increasing integration of business services with other sectors of the economy, fit with evidence that "supply chains" are getting longer. That is, there's an increasing number of stages through which goods and services pass.

Not surprisingly, the goods production sector is the most fragmented – has the longest supply chain – because it uses the most "intermediate" inputs to produce its final products.

Research suggests that the reorganisation of production associated with the lengthening of supply chains has led to a shift towards more high-skilled labour, Heath says.

There's growing evidence that advances in computer technology have helped drive a shift from routine to non-routine jobs, creating new jobs as well as making others obsolete.

The share of people employed in the business services sector has almost doubled over the past 50 years, to be about 20 per cent of the workforce. Most of this growth has been in "non-routine cognitive" jobs, as you'd expect when computerisation is an important driver.

(Similar forces are working in the household services sector – all those extra doctors, teachers and academics – although it has also seen a significant increase in demand for non-routine manual jobs.)

If you look more directly at the types of skills and abilities required in the business services sector you see that, since the mid-1990s, there's been a shift towards occupations requiring higher-level cognitive skills such as systems analysis, persuasion, originality, written expression, complex problem solving and critical thinking.

Heath concludes that the business services sector "has played a key role in the way the economy has responded to technological progress.

"In the process, business services have become more important, more specialised and more integrated with other sectors. There is some evidence that this has been associated with higher productivity growth."

Figures from the labour market "also support the idea that business services industries are at the heart of how technological change is transforming the structure of the economy".
Read more >>

Saturday, March 12, 2016

China still our advantage in a dismal world

We are living in an era of exceptionally weak growth in the world economy. We can now look back and see that era began after the global financial crisis in 2008. We can look forward and not see when the era will end. It could be years, for all we know.

Naturally, this continuing global weakness has its effect on us. So we shouldn't blame ourselves for our own weaker growth relative to our earlier performance. Rather, we should recognise that, relative to the other developed economies, we've been doing pretty well.

But we do need to remember that, compared with the others, we have a secret weapon: our strong economic links with China.

Nigel Ray, a deputy secretary of Treasury, spelt out the unusual features of the world we've entered in a speech this week. He notes that "global growth has struggled to regain sustained momentum post-global financial crisis, and global aggregate demand remains weak".

This is despite monetary policy (interest rate) settings in nearly all the major economies remaining "extraordinarily accommodative", and global public debt increasing since the crisis.

Official forecasters have continued to downgrade prospects for global growth, he says. The International Monetary Fund downgraded its forecast in its January update - the 17th downgrade in five years.

Now get this. Slower world growth has been accompanied by a number of trends that can be seen across the global economy: slower growth in international trade, weak business investment, slower productivity growth, slower population growth in the advanced economies, low inflation, and lower expectations about future inflation.

Wow. That's the sort of poor performance you expect to see briefly at the bottom of a world recession, not as a semi-permanent state.

We knew that slower growth in the working-age population as a result of population ageing would mean slower economic growth, but now official forecasters in other countries are also reconsidering their view of long-run "potential" growth in gross domestic product (just as we've done recently, cutting it from 3 per cent to 2.75 per cent).

For the other countries, "this partly reflects the ongoing legacy of the global financial crisis - such crises have long-lived effects on investment in productive capital and on labour markets, increasing structural unemployment and lowering labour force participation rates".

In other words, if business goes for some years under-investing in new and improved capital equipment, this diminishes the economy's production capacity. And when some workers go for years unable to find another job, they tend to lose their skills and the self-discipline that goes with having to turn up to work on time every day and do as you're told.

But it's not only the after effects of a protracted recession. Ray says recent estimates by IMF economists suggest that productivity growth was slowing in the advanced economies even before the GFC.

More recently, we've noticed that the "convergence" between the emerging and the advanced economies (as the emerging economies catch up by growing at a much faster rate than the advanced countries) that we've seen since the turn of the century is showing signs of stalling.

If that happens, it means slower global economic growth and could have other undesirable consequences.

It happened that Reserve Bank deputy governor Dr Philip Lowe gave a speech in Adelaide on the same day, adding to Ray's description of the strange state the world economy finds itself in.

Lowe noted that, although the official interest rate in the United States has been increased for the first time in nine years, the Bank of Japan has unexpectedly moved its rate into negative territory.

In doing so it joined the European Central Bank, the Swiss National Bank, the Swedish Riksbank and the Danish central bank with negative interest rates. And there's an expectation in various countries that yet further monetary easing will take place.

Lowe says that, in earlier decades, it was very rare for central banks to worry that inflation and inflation expectations were too low.

"Yet today we hear this concern quite often, and the 'unconventional' has almost become the conventional," he says.

But back to China and the special advantage it gives us in a dismal world. Ray says we have a higher proportion of our exports - about 32 per cent of our exports of goods - going to China than any other advanced economy does.

Twenty years ago, China's economy was less than a third of the size of America's. Today it's the largest economy in the world when you measure it according to "purchasing power parity" (as you should).

China's rate of growth may be slowing, but it remains one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

What many foreign observers don't seem to understand is that, just as we are "rebalancing" our economy from mining-driven to other sources of growth, so the Chinese are doing something similar, shifting from growth based on heavy industry, investment and exports, to growth based on service industries, consumer spending and imports.

It's possible the Chinese economy could falter as it makes this transition, but they'll get there in the end and this is why it's possible for us to shift from selling them mainly minerals to selling them the goods (fancy Western foodstuffs) and, particularly, the services their growing middle class demands.

We've been talking about this for years, but now it's actually happening. Ray says China is already our largest destination for services exports, taking about 14 per cent of them last financial year.

China is now our second largest source of overseas visitors, and their visitors spend far more than average. More than a million Chinese tourists arrived in 2015.

But get this: those million visits represented only about 1 per cent of China's overseas tourism market. They are so big relative to us that just a tiny share of their market is a big deal in helping us keep growing.
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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Where the jobs will come from

It's a question doubting customers have been asking me through the whole of my career: but where will all the jobs come from? We worry about jobs, convinced there's never enough of them.

Whenever we're in a recession, with unemployment high and rising, people simply can't see how we'll ever get it down again.

In the more recent resources boom, a lot of people got jobs in faraway places helping to build new mines and natural gas facilities, but we knew that wouldn't last.

Mining now accounts for about 10 per cent of the value of the nation's production – gross domestic product – but it still employs only about 2 per cent of the workforce.

When the three foreign car makers announced in 2013 that they'd be ending Australian production later this year or next, the familiar cry went up: where will the new jobs come from?

It was a question I used to find hard to answer, but now I don't. When I started in this job more than 40 years' ago, there were 5.8 million people in the workforce. By now it's more than doubled to 11.9 million.

So the jobs did come, despite 40 years of worrying that they wouldn't. Where did they come from? I could work out from the figures how many came in which particular industries, but I'll skip to the bottom line: virtually all the extra 6 million jobs came from the services sector.

Where will the jobs be coming from in the years ahead? Same place. Indeed, they already are.

Our most recent worry has been where our economic growth would come from now coal and iron ore prices are falling and no new mining construction projects are taking the place of completing projects.

But the evidence is coming in. We're experiencing strong expansion in parts of the vast services sector, which is generating lots of extra jobs.

Whereas mining – and farming and, these days, even manufacturing – are capital-intensive, and so provide few jobs, service industries are labour-intensive, and so provide lots of 'em.

From a job-creating perspective, the trouble with physical things – "goods" – is that it's been relatively easy to use machines to replace workers, whereas you still need a lot of people to provide services, even when those people are given better machines to help them.

The other trouble with goods industries is that there's a limit to how many things – clothes, cars, fridges, laptops – you want to own. Time has shown there's almost no limit to the number and kinds of services we'd like others to perform for us.

Did you know there's such an occupation as "lactation consultant"? There used not to be, but there is now.

These are the reasons why almost all the extra jobs being created are in the services sector.

Last year, total employment grew by a very healthy 300,000 jobs, more than half of them full-time.
Research by Professor Jeff Borland, of the University of Melbourne, has found that more than 90 per cent of these jobs occurred in the private sector.

This private sector growth was concentrated in NSW and Victoria, whereas the growth in public sector employment was concentrated in Queensland and South Australia.

But where did the additional jobs come from? Fully a third – 100,000 – were in (the mainly private sector parts of) healthcare. Then came 75,000 in businesses providing professional and technical services, almost 50,000 in retailing, more than 40,000 in financial services and more than 30,000 in administrative and support services.

The thing to note about that list is that while some of those jobs would have been low-skilled, many – particularly those in professional services and healthcare – would have been high-skilled, well-paid and intellectually satisfying. But even the lesser-paid jobs would have been clean and safe.

So don't turn up your nose at services sector jobs.

And get this: the extra jobs went disproportionately to older workers. Although people aged 45 and above account for only 31 per cent of the overall workforce, they accounted for 57 per cent of the growth in jobs.

But wait, there's more. Though we keep hearing about the growth in the quantity of our mineral exports as the new mines come on line, we've heard far less about the growth in the quantity of our exports of services, particularly education and tourism. (We "export" services when foreigners come to Oz to receive them.)

Our services exports have benefited greatly from the fall in our dollar, which has made them cheaper to foreigners.

Last year, spending by international students on course fees, accommodation, living expenses and recreation grew by 13 per cent to more than $19 billion. Spending by foreign tourists in Australia rose by 11 per cent to almost $16 billion.

What's more, our lower dollar has encouraged many Aussies to take their holidays at home rather than abroad. We now have more tourism money coming in than going out.

You well know it was exports to China that did most to fuel the resources boom. What nobody's bothered to tell you is that it's China and its growing middle class that's doing most to boost our exports of education and tourism services.

Don't underestimate the contribution services are making to "growth and jobs".
Read more >>

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lower dollar boosts services exports

Did you know that when the value of our dollar falls, imports become dearer? When the Business Bible learnt this last week, it got so excited it led the paper with the news.

Every smarty knows that the economic turmoil in Greece and China must spell bad news for us, so when the turmoil caused the Aussie dollar to fall below US75¢, this was obviously the start of the badness.

Apparently, it means the "global purchasing power" of Australian households has fallen. Who knew?

Immediately, our ever-vigilant media sprang into action to determine which purchases were likely to be more expensive. Don't you love the way the media can find the downside in any piece of economic news?

The fact that for months the nation's macro-economists and many of our business people have had their tongues hanging out, thirsting after a lower exchange rate, was something no one considered worth mentioning.

Nor that Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens' wish to see the dollar fall to US75¢ had finally come true.

It's true that if you view the position solely from the perspective of consumers, a higher dollar is good news and a lower dollar is bad.

However, from the perspective of Australia's trade-exposed industries and their employees, it's the other way around.

A high dollar means you get fewer Aussie dollars for anything you export, whereas the imports you compete against in the local market are now cheaper than they were.

So a higher dollar means Australian tradeable industries suffer a loss of international price competitiveness, which almost always leads to them reducing their production and their job opportunities.

In other words, a higher dollar has a contractionary effect on economic activity (which at least has the advantage of reducing inflation pressure). And that's been our story since the mining boom caused the Aussie to appreciate so strongly.

However, with mineral commodity prices having been falling since mid-2011 and mining construction projects winding up since the end of 2012, the dollar finally began falling back; though, thanks to the advanced economies' resort to "quantitative easing" (creating money), not by as much as the fall in commodity prices implied should happen.

It follows that a lower dollar has an expansionary effect on economic activity. Since our exporters now get more Aussie cents for each US dollar they earn, they're able to export more. And, since imports are now more expensive to their domestic customers, they're able to recapture a larger share of the local market.

The consequence is that our tradeable industries increase their production and the job opportunities they provide.

In our attempts to explain why relatively strong growth in employment – particularly since the start of this year – has caused the official unemployment rate to stay steady at 6 per cent, you'd have to give the lower dollar a fair bit of the credit.

That's particularly evident in the strong growth in employment in the services sector and in exports of services. Historically, services were regarded as non-tradeable, but globalisation and advances in transportation, telecommunications and digitisation are making that less true every year.

The tradeable services sector's improved price competitiveness comes at a time when Asia's middle-class is growing in size and income, with its consumption preferences shifting towards Western goods, services and destinations.

No service industry better demonstrates the lower dollar's beneficial effect on production and jobs than tourism: an industry where import replacement is just as important as exporting. The lower dollar not only attracts more foreigner visitors, it encourages Australians to holiday at home rather than abroad.

Estimates from Paul Bloxham, of HSBC bank, show spending on tourism accounts for about 3 per cent of gross domestic product, with about a third of this coming from foreign tourists.
The industry employs more than 500,000 people.

Overall, the value of tourism exports reached $14 billion in 2014, up 8 per cent. Tourist arrivals from China over the year to May were up 21 per cent on the previous year, Bloxham says. Chinese visits to Oz have increased to 920,000 over the past year, up from 370,000 five years ago.

Turning to education exports, Bloxham says international student enrolments reached a new high of almost 147,000 at the start of this year. Last year, the value of education exports reached $17 billion, surpassing the previous record in 2009.

And Joe Hockey has reminded us that the value of all services exports over the year to March was up 8 per cent, their fastest growth since 2007.

So if the fallout from the present international turmoil involves further falls in the Aussie, don't let anyone tell you it's a bad thing.
Read more >>

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The good news about ageing

Politicians and economists have been banging on about the ageing of the population for ages, but how much do we actually know about the likely economic consequences? Not much - until now.

We've been told incessantly that ageing spells bad news for the budget - greatly increased spending on pensions and healthcare - with ageing used to help justify the harsh spending cuts proposed in this year's budget.

In truth, it has suited the powers-that-be to exaggerate ageing's effect on the budget. And oldies are right to resent the way ageing has been presented as nothing but a terrible problem. If the fact that we're living longer, healthier lives is a "problem", it's the best kind of problem to have.

So let's ignore the budget and focus on ageing's other economic consequences, some of which are good. We'll do so with help from a speech given last week by Dr Christopher Kent, an assistant governor of the Reserve Bank.

Kent says population ageing is driven by three factors: the boom in babies in the early years after World War II (1945 to 1960), the subsequent sharp drop in fertility rates that created a baby-boomer bulge, plus rising longevity thanks to decades of prosperity and advances in medical science.

The authorities have been warning about the coming consequences of ageing for so long - and how bad it will be by 2040 - that I suspect many people have given up waiting for it to start.

Well, get this: although it's got a long way to go, it's already started. The baby boomers have been retiring since the turn of the century, thus reducing the share of the population that's of usual working age (15 to 64).

Kent says that, taken by itself, ageing is estimated to have subtracted from the labour force participation rate by between 0.1 and 0.2 percentage points a year over the past decade and a half. This effect has increased a little in recent years as baby boomers have begun reaching 65.

Point is, ageing's biggest and most obvious effect is not on the budget, it's on the labour market. Everyone alive contributes to the demand for labour, but only those of us willing and able to work contribute to its supply.

So ageing constitutes a reduction in the supply of labour relative to the demand. That suggests we can expect it to cause unemployment to be lower than otherwise (which is not to say it won't continue to go up and down with the business cycle).

Since Australians have worried that there aren't enough jobs to go around ever since the middle of Gough Whitlam's reign, that sounds like good news to me. We're in the process of switching from not enough jobs to not enough workers.

(What I wonder is how long it will take for our mentality to shift. The perception that there's never enough jobs is now so deeply ingrained that any shyster with a profit-making scheme he claims will "create jobs" is greeted as a hero and demands that he be showered with subsidies.)

And with demand for labour stronger than supply, this implies upward pressure on wages. Again, sounds like good news to me. Kent adds that the converse of higher wage rates is lower returns to capital.

Kent points out that the pressure on labour supply will be felt most by industries that rely more heavily on labour, mainly service industries. Prominent among those industries will be aged care and healthcare, of course.

But, Kent adds, there's likely to be scope for labour to be reallocated among service industries, with a lower proportion of young people meaning we'll require fewer workers to care for and educate children.

There'll also be relatively less demand for workers to produce goods. That's for several reasons. First, because older people tend to devote less of their spending to goods and more services.

Second, because all of us tend to spend an increasing share of our rising incomes on services. There are limits to our consumption of food, wearing of clothes and how many TVs, fridges and cars we can cram into our house.

Third, because of its greater reliance on machines, the production of goods is more amenable to continuous improvement in labour productivity than is the production of services. As one economist famously observed, you can't improve the productivity of a quartet by reducing the number of players.

All this implies the prices of services are likely to rise relative to those of goods.

But now, gentle reader, if I've trained you well enough you'll have noticed a weakness in my argument so far. I've described only the immediate effects of ageing - what economists call the "first-round effects".

That's where most people's analysis stops, but economic analysis keeps going. One of the most important questions economists ask is: "And then what happens?" It's the second-round and subsequent effects economics is supposed to illuminate.

Seen from an economist's mindset, what I've described is a change in relative prices: the price of (or return on) labour relative to the price of (or return on) capital. The prices of services relative to the prices of goods.

Kent says it's important that these relative price changes not be prevented from occurring. Why? So market forces can go to work on them, adapting to them, modifying them and, to some extent, reversing them.

The higher relative price of labour should encourage more middle-aged people to take jobs and more oldies to delay their full retirement, thus reducing the upward pressure on wages a bit. The higher relative prices of services should encourage more people to acquire the education and training needed to work in the services sector.

And greater longevity should encourage workers to save more for their longer time in retirement.

That's what happens in market economies: things adjust.
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Your guide to business entitlement

With the Abbott government's close relations with big business, we're still to see whether its reign will be one of greater or less rent-seeking by particular industries. So far we have evidence going both ways.

We've seen knockbacks for the car makers, fruit canners and Qantas, but wins for farmers opposing the foreign takeover of GrainCorp and seeking more drought assistance, as well as a stay on the big banks' attempt to water down consumer protection on financial advice.

The next test will be the budget. Will the end of the Age of Entitlement apply just to welfare recipients (especially the politically weak, e.g. the unemployed and sole parents, rather than politically powerful age pensioners) or will it extend to "business welfare"?

With Joe Hockey searching for all the budget savings he can find, there's a lot of business welfare or, euphemistically, "industry assistance" to look at. The Productivity Commission measures it every year in its Trade and Assistance Review.

Government assistance to industry is provided in four main ways: through tariffs (restrictions on imports), government spending, tax concessions and regulatory restrictions on competition. Although much rent-seeking takes the form of persuading governments to regulate markets in ways that advantage your industry, the benefit you gain is hard to measure, so it's not included in the commission's figuring.

Assistance through tariffs is far less than in the bad old days before micro-economic reform, but there's still some left. However, its cost is borne directly by consumers in the form of higher prices. So it's not relevant to Hockey's search for budget savings. Even so, I'll give you a quick tour.

The commission estimates that, in 2011-12, tariffs allowed manufacturing industries (plus the odd rural industry) to sell their goods for $7.9 billion a year more than they otherwise would have.

In the process, however, this forced up the cost of goods used by manufacturers and other industries as inputs to their production of goods and services by $6.8 billion a year. About 30 per cent of this cost to inputs was borne by the manufacturers themselves, leaving about 70 per cent borne by other industries, largely the service industries.

(This, by the way, shows why import protection doesn't help employment as non-economists imagine it does. It may prop up manufacturing jobs, but it's at the expense of jobs everywhere else in the economy.)

So now we get to budgetary assistance to industry. On the spending side of the budget it can take the form of direct subsidies, grants, bounties, loans at concessional interest rates, loan guarantees, insurance arrangements or even equity (capital) injections.

On the revenue side of the budget it can take the form of concessional tax deductions, rebates or exemptions, preferential tax rates or the deferral of taxation. In 2011-12, the total value of budgetary assistance was $9.4 billion, with just over half that coming from spending and the rest from tax concessions.

Often people will virtuously assure you their outfit doesn't receive a cent of subsidy from the government, but omit to mention the special tax breaks they're entitled to. Think-tanks that rail against government intervention and the Nanny State, hate admitting they're sucking at the teat because the donations they receive are tax deductible (causing them to be higher than otherwise, but at a cost to other taxpayers).

This is why economists call tax concessions "tax expenditures" - to recognise that, from the perspective of the budget balance and of other taxpayers, it doesn't matter much whether the assistance comes via a cheque from the government or via the right to pay less tax than you otherwise would.

Of the total budgetary assistance in 2011-12 of $9.4 billion, 15 per cent went to agriculture, 7 per cent to mining, 19 per cent to manufacturing and 45 per cent to the services sector (leaving 14 per cent that can't be allocated to particular industries).

To put that in context, remember that agriculture's share of gross domestic product (value-added) is about 3 per cent, mining's is 10 per cent and manufacturing's is 8 per cent, leaving services contributing about 79 per cent.

Within manufacturing, the recipients of the most business welfare are motor vehicles and parts, $620 million, metal and metal fabrication, $270 million, petroleum and chemicals, $220 million, and food and beverage processors, $110 million.

Within services, the big ones are finance and insurance, $910 million, property and professional services, $610 million, and arts and recreation, $350 million.

But if you combine tariff and budgetary assistance, then compare it with the industry's value-added (share of GDP), you get a different perspective on which industries' snouts are deepest in the trough. The "effective rate of combined assistance" is 9.4 per cent for motor vehicles and parts, 7.3 per cent for textiles, clothing and footwear, and 4.7 per cent for metal and metal fabrication.

Get this: outside manufacturing, the most heavily assisted goods industry relative to the size of its contribution to the economy is forestry and logging on 7.2 per cent. We pay a huge price to destroy our native forests.

Within services, the most heavily assisted industry is the one where incomes are so much higher than anywhere else: financial services. Virtually all the assistance picked up in the commission's calculations comes via special tax breaks, such as the tax concession for offshore banking units and the reduced withholding tax on foreigners receiving distributions from managed investment trusts.

But that ain't the half of it. These calculations don't pick up two big free kicks: the benefit to the industry because the government forces almost all workers to hand over 9.25 per cent of their pay to be "managed" by it, and the benefit it gains from having one of its main products, superannuation, so heavily subsidised by other taxpayers.

Cut these fat cats? Naah, screwing people on the dole would be much easier.
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Saturday, March 3, 2012

All work creates wealth

You'll find this hard to believe but not every reader of my columns agrees with everything I write. And when I wrote recently that jobs lost in manufacturing would be offset by jobs gained in other parts of the economy, one reader emailed to say he could see a gaping hole in my argument.

My point was that the high dollar wouldn't destroy jobs so much as "displace" them: shift them from contracting industries to expanding industries.

This would happen because the high dollar was the market economy's way of helping us restructure our economy to take full advantage of the marked and long-lasting change in what the rest of the world wants to buy from us at higher prices (primary commodities) and sell to us at lower prices (manufactures and tradeable services such as tourism).

So employment would fall in manufacturing and tourism but would increase in mining and construction, as well as in the services sector.

(This is not to imply that all the workers losing their jobs in manufacturing would move simply and easily to jobs in the expanding industries. Some may encounter difficulty making the switch, which is why governments should help them retrain and relocate. Some older workers will never make the transition. And some of the new jobs will go to people from outside manufacturing.)

People are often vague about which industries are included in the services sector, so I offered some examples of those likely to expand: "health, education and training, public administration, the science professions and arts and recreation".

Ah, said my reader, gotcha. "Surely the funding for many of the job types identified comes from the public purse, that money being generated by taxes on employees, companies, profits from investment in local manufacturing and [from] the businesses, secondary and tertiary, generated from manufacturing," he wrote.

"Where is your viable break-even point here between job creation and taxes/wealth creation sufficient to create those [public sector] jobs?"

See his argument? You have manufacturing and the rest of the private sector it supports, which creates the wealth and the jobs and pays the taxes governments use to finance all their activities, creating public sector jobs in the process.

If you allow the manufacturing sector to contract, you erode the economy's wealth- and job-creating capacity, thus reducing the tax governments are able to collect and use to create jobs in the public sector.

So there must be some point below which you can't allow the private sector to fall, otherwise you also destroy jobs in the public sector.

Convinced? I'm not. The reader's riposte is built on two related misconceptions.

One is that the private sector is productive - it generates the wealth and creates the jobs - whereas the public sector is essentially parasitic: it appropriates some of the private sector-created wealth via taxation and redistributes it to presumably worthy causes, employing public servants in the process.

Sorry, not true. What is this "wealth" that's being created? It's more accurately described as income: the income that's generated when employers and employees produce all the goods and services that make up the nation's gross domestic product.

So "wealth" is generated when people go to work and their employer provides them with the equipment and direction to do what they do. The workers receive income in return for their work. They pay some of that income in direct and indirect taxes but most of the rest they spend on the goods and services they need, which generates continuing demand for all the stuff that they and other workers have produced.

If you think this description of the economy is circular, you're right: supply (production) creates demand (spending) and demand leads to supply. Point is, there's no important distinction between goods and services produced in the private sector and those produced in the public sector. Nor between goods and services paid for in the marketplace and those paid for via taxation.

To imagine otherwise is to imply that someone working on a production line producing cans of beans is productive (generating "wealth") but doctors and nurses who fix broken legs and save lives, or people who teach our children to read and write, are unproductive (generating no wealth).

Many doctors are self-employed and there are plenty of private hospitals; many teachers work for non-government schools. We're being asked to believe that those in the private sector are productive wealth-generators but those in the public sector are unproductive wealth-appropriators.

We could, if we wished, leave the whole of healthcare and education to the private sector. Would that make the economy vastly more productive? Hardly. (What it would mean is a lot of people being unable to afford education or healthcare.)

The reader's argument also implies that only people working in the private sector pay tax and contribute to the cost of publicly-provided goods and services. Rubbish. Everyone who works is productive and everyone who earns and spends income pays taxes, regardless of their sector.

The second misconception is that economies are built like the pharaohs built the pyramids: one level on top of another. You start with a base of primary industry (farming and mining), then put secondary industry (manufacturing) on top of that and tertiary industry (services) on top of that.

Take away one of the lower building blocks and you lose the basis on which to build the levels above it. If you had no manufacturing sector, for instance, how could you have a services sector?

If you were building a closed economy - one that didn't trade with other economies - that's the way you'd do it. But, like all economies, we have considerable trade with other countries. Why? Because it makes us wealthier.

We specialise in producing things we're relatively good at, they specialise in producing what they're relatively good at, and we trade. That leaves both sides better off and means you don't have to do everything to have a viable economy. Indeed, the more you insist on doing things you're not good at, the more you forgo wealth.

These days, the rich countries of Europe have little mining and waste taxes propping up their inefficient farmers when they could buy from us more cheaply. Our natural endowment (plus 200 years of experience) makes us highly-efficient producers of rural and mineral commodities, which are now in great demand as poor countries develop. The workforces in the rich countries are too highly skilled and expensive for them to be used to make things in factories, so manufacturing in these countries is shifting to Asia.

So where are the jobs being created in the rich economies? In the services sector. The range of simple to sophisticated services we can perform for other people in our country - or for foreigners - is infinite.

And everyone with a job that involves "doing things" is generating wealth.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Facts count, because what's mined is yours

By far the biggest development in the economy in recent years is the mining boom, and it's likely to roll on for at least the rest of this decade. But Australians are having a lot of trouble getting their minds around the boom's implications. The area abounds with worries and misperceptions.

Economists keep banging on about the mining boom because it's the biggest factor driving the economy's growth. We've had a surge in export income because the world is paying such high prices for our coal and iron ore. And we're also getting huge spending on the construction of new mines and natural gas facilities.

The other reason economists get so excited about the topic is that this is hardly the first commodities boom Australia has experienced (the first was the gold rush) and most of our previous booms have ended in tears. We've quickly spent all the extra money coming our way, but that's led to rapidly rising prices. The authorities' efforts to stamp out inflation have ended up causing a recession and rising unemployment.

The present managers of the economy are determined to ensure that doesn't happen this time by keeping spending and inflation under control. This explains why, until recently, the Reserve Bank was always thinking about putting up interest rates, and why the Gillard government has been so keen to get its budget back into surplus.

But all the fuss people like me have been making about the boom has left many Australians with a quite exaggerated impression of the size of our mining sector. According to a poll conducted by the Australia Institute, on average people imagine mining accounts for 35 per cent of the goods and services the nation produces (gross domestic product).

But while mining's share of national production has increased significantly in recent years, it's still up to only 10 per cent.

Many of us see the main pay-off from an expanding industry as all the jobs it generates. So what proportion of the workforce is employed in mining? According to the Australia Institute's polling, our average answer is 16 per cent.

The truth? Even after all that expansion, less than 2 per cent. How could an industry responsible for 10 per cent of our production account for just 2 per cent of employment? By being intensely ''capital-intensive'' - by using a lot of machines and not many workers.

So, does that mean mining isn't really worth all the fuss? A lot of its industrial rivals will tell you so, but it ain't true. The true test of the worth of an industry is not how many people it employs but how much income it generates. And, particularly at present, mining is generating huge income. Do you realise it accounts for more than half the nation's export income?

The reason income trumps employment is that as income is spent it generates jobs. When you spend a dollar it percolates through the economy, supporting and creating jobs as it goes. So if mining creates 10 per cent of national income but only 2 per cent of national employment directly, that just means it supports another 8 per cent of national employment indirectly, in other (labour-intensive) industries.

Which other industries? For the most part, service industries. How can I be sure? Because after you allow for the 2 per cent of Australians employed in mining, the 3 per cent in agriculture and the 9 per cent in manufacturing, the remaining 86 per cent are employed in the many service industries: wholesaling and retailing (15 per cent), healthcare (11 per cent), construction (9 per cent), education and training (8 per cent), the professions (8 per cent), hospitality (7 per cent), public administration (6 per cent), financial and business services (6 per cent), transport (5 per cent) and many more.

Another reason I can be sure most of the jobs created indirectly by mining are in the services sector is that, for at least the past 40 years, all the net increase in national employment has come from the services sector.
Am I touching a nerve here? A lot of people are uncomfortable about the mining boom because they see it as temporary and they see digging stuff out of the ground as a pretty unsophisticated way to make a living. What do we do when it's over and what else do we do to make a buck?

It's true the sky-high prices we're getting at present won't last, but nor will they crash back to what we used to get. And we'll have a much bigger mining industry selling a lot more of the stuff than we used to. They may be non-renewable resources, but we've got a mighty lot of 'em.

What else can we do? What most of us have always done: sell services to one another and to foreigners. In these days of the information and communication revolution, most of the highly skilled, highly paid jobs are in the services sector. Those who find this intangibility discomforting are hankering after a bygone century.

It is true, however, that we must ensure we end up with something to show for this boom and that too much of the huge profit being made doesn't just end up in the hands of the mining industry's owners (about 80 per cent of whom are foreign). After all, the minerals they're mining are owned by all Australians, not the miners.

That's why it's good to see Julia Gillard's profit-based mining tax finally being passed by the House of Representatives, even though Tony Abbott's mindless opposition to it allowed the three big foreign mining companies to butcher the tax.


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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Retail despair as consumers spurn goods for services

There's a bumper sticker that says: if you think money doesn't buy happiness, you don't know where to shop. It's just a joke. But there's actually a bit of science in it. Research by psychologists says buying stuff doesn't bring us as much satisfaction as buying experiences - such as a holiday or even a restaurant meal.

Experiences are more satisfying than goods because they leave us with memories to think over (which we often enhance by forgetting the bad or boring bits) and give us something to talk about with our friends. And, after all, what are we but the sum of our experiences?

Experiences are services rather than goods and it's possible Australians are taking the psychologists' findings to heart because, as Dr Philip Lowe of the Reserve Bank pointed out in a speech to the Australian Economic Forum this week, consumers have been switching their spending towards services and away from goods.

The Bureau of Statistics' household expenditure survey shows that, over the quarter century since 1984, the proportion of household spending devoted to food felLby more than 3 percentage points to just 16.5 per cent.

The proportion devoted to clothing, footwear, household furniture and appliances fell from about 14 per cent to just over 8 per cent. Similarly, the share going to spending on alcohol and tobacco dropped by almost 1.5 percentage points to less than 4 per cent.

Over that period we're also spending smaller proportions of our budgets on cars and petrol and - get this - fuel and power, the latter of which now accounts for less than 3 per cent of the average household's budget.

But if we're devoting smaller shares to all those things, what things are getting bigger shares? Top of the list is housing, which is up from less than 13 per cent to 18 per cent. That includes people who are renting as well as people with mortgages and people who've paid off their mortgages.

We're also devoting higher proportions to spending on healthcare, education, household services (including childcare, cleaning, lawn mowing and gardening) and recreation (including audiovisual equipment, toys, sporting goods, pets and holidays).

As you see clearly from all that, we're devoting less of the consumer dollar to goods and more to services. While our politicians are giving speeches about the need for Australia to ''make things,'' we're busy making it a place that ''does things''.

This trend's been running for many moons but why? Long story. The first thing to remember is that just because we're devoting a smaller share of our budgets to food, clothing and footwear doesn't mean we're starving ourselves and running round barefoot and naked. It's not that we're spending any less on goods, it's that our spending on services has been growing faster than our spending on goods, thereby reducing goods' proportion of the total.

Part of the reason services' share is up is that the prices of services are rising faster than the prices of goods. That's because it's easier to increase the productivity of labour in the production of goods. People keep inventing ever-better labour-saving equipment, which allows the prices of manufactured goods to stay fairly stable or, in some cases, actually fall.

Many of the manufactured goods we buy are imported and the prices of imported manufactures are being kept low by various factors over the years: by increased competition from China and other Asian developing countries putting downward pressure on the world prices of many manufactures, by the phasing down of protection for domestic producers of clothing, footwear and cars, and lately by the higher dollar.

In marked contrast, services tend to be more labour-intensive, with less scope for better machines to increase the productivity of labour. Even so, real wage rates in the services sector tend to keep pace with the improvement in economy-wide productivity (most of which comes from the other sectors).

But though it's true we're spending more on services because their prices are rising faster, it's also true the quantity of services we're buying is rising faster than the quantity of goods we're buying. As real household income increases over time we have to spend the extra income on something, but there's a limit to how much more we can eat, how many clothes we can wear and cars and fridges we can use. By contrast, we're well short of the limit on the things we'd like to pay other people to do for us as we get more able to afford it. Enterprising businesses keep thinking of new things to do for people.

A ''superior good'' is one to which we devote a higher proportion of our spending as our income grows. And most superior goods are, in fact, services. Healthcare and education are superior goods, as is recreation and ''meals out'', as the bureau calls them.

But the glaring case in recent times is housing. Its share of our budgets has risen by more than 5 percentage points, with most of that occurring in the past decade. The reason is not higher mortgage interest rates - they go up and down - but higher house prices and bigger mortgages, thus leading to higher interest payments.

As an individual, you may think you had little choice but to pay the higher house prices. But what's true for the individual isn't true for the whole. House prices have risen so much because all of us bid them up in our (largely futile) efforts to use our higher disposable incomes to buy better housing.

That explains the long-term trend towards services and away from goods. But, as Lowe pointed out, over just the past year, the trend's become supercharged. According to the national accounts, real consumer spending over the year to June rose by 1.75 per cent for goods, but about 4 per cent for services.

Consumer spending on education services was up by 5 per cent, on hotels, cafes and restaurants by more than 6 per cent, on recreation and culture by 7 per cent, and on ''transportation services'' by 16 per cent. This last is mainly people taking cheap overseas holidays. (Other research shows that even people on lower incomes are spending more on holidays.)

So now you know why the retailers - who sell goods, not services - are doing it so tough but, despite widespread misapprehension, overall consumer spending is growing fine.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

At your service, our economy's a work in progress

THE structure of our economy is set to change over the 2010s, creating winners and losers and plenty of complaints. So it's worth remembering the economy's structure has been changing continuously since the gold rush.

An article by Ellis Connolly and Christine Lewis of the Reserve Bank reminds us that, over the past 80 years or so, the economy has been transformed from one centred on the production of primary products to an urbanised economy mainly producing services.

In the 19th century, agriculture accounted for about a third of our total output of goods and services (gross domestic product), but from about the 1930s its share started declining and today is down to a mere 3 per cent.

Why? Well, not because we're producing less agricultural stuff. We're producing more than ever. No, it's just because other parts of the economy have grown a lot faster than agriculture, thus reducing its share of the total.

While we've been producing more rural stuff we've been doing it using progressively more machinery, with fewer, bigger farms to capture the machines' potential economies of scale. So agriculture has become steadily more "capital intensive", releasing workers, who've moved to the city.

As agriculture's share started to decline, the manufacturing industry's started to increase. At the beginning of last century it accounted for roughly 15 per cent of total output, but by the 1960s it had reached a peak of 25 per cent.

From that point its share began to decline, halving to about 12 per cent today, even though it too is producing more than ever. And it, too, has become more capital intensive and less labour-intensive over the years.

This brings us to the sector that was growing much faster than agriculture and manufacturing and thus reducing their shares of the economy: services. Even in the 19th century, service industries accounted for about half the economy. By the 1960s the services sector accounted for 60 per cent of output and today it's up to 80 per cent.

I have to say that, particularly among older Australians, the growing share of the services sector - something that's happened in every country - is a bit of a worry. Agriculture and manufacturing produce physical goods - goods that can be exported or used to replace imports. Can Australians really make a living performing services for each other?

Yes we can - and we do. Quite a good living. "Services" may sound ephemeral, even servile, but they're not. Do you regard the work of doctors, nurses, carpenters, plumbers, journalists and TV stars, truck drivers, bank managers, firemen, teachers, professors and prime ministers as insubstantial or inconsequential?

A lot of people aren't quite sure what "services" includes, so let me give you the list (deep breath): construction; distribution services and utilities (electricity, gas and water, wholesale and retail trade, transport, postal and warehousing, information media and telecommunications); business services (financial and insurance, rental, hiring and real estate, professional, scientific and technical, administrative); social services (public administration and safety, education and training, health care and social assistance); and personal services (accommodation and food, arts and recreation).

By their nature, service industries are generally labour-intensive rather than capital-intensive, meaning they account for a larger share of total employment - 85 per cent -

than of output.

All these are old trends. The big news is the mining industry's growing share of output: it has gone from 2 per cent in the 1960s to 8 per cent today. And since mining's share of business investment spending has shot up to 19 per cent, we can be sure its output share will go higher.

Mining is the ultimate capital-intensive industry, so its share of total employment is just 1 per cent. But if it creates so few jobs, what's the point of it? It earns lots of income, and when that income is spent, jobs are created. Where? Mainly in service industries.

Another thing that has changed with the structure of industry is the composition of our exports. In the 1960s, agriculture accounted for 62 per cent of total exports of goods and services. Today it's 18 per cent.

Then, mining's share was 15 per cent; today it's 42 per cent - meaning primary commodities account for 60 per cent of our exports. We're a commodity-exporting economy and there's no getting round it. Always have been; probably always will be.

Manufacturing's share of total exports has increased by 8 percentage points to 17 per cent and services' share has gone from 14 per cent to 23 per cent. What services do we send abroad? We don't, really. Foreigners come here to buy tourism and education.

Why does the structure of the economy keep evolving? Connolly and Lewis identify four main drivers. First is the rising demand for services. As our real incomes grow over time there's a limit to how much more we can eat, wear, drive and watch - our demand for goods, in other words.

But there's no limit on the services we demand. We're spending ever more on health, education, recreation and financial services. Since 1960, the proportion of consumer spending going on services has increased from 40 per cent to more than 60 per cent.

Second is the industrialisation of east Asia. Over the past 50 years, Asia has exploited its low cost of labour to become a big global producer and exporter of manufactures (with the main location of that production slowly migrating from Japan to South Korea and Taiwan to China, as labour costs have risen with economic success).

The Asians have needed primary commodities as raw materials for their manufacturing, and we've been nearby. Their "comparative advantage" and ours have been a great fit.

Third is economic reform.

Reductions in trade protection of manufacturing contributed to its declining share, whereas deregulation has help to increase the share of various service industries, particularly banking and finance.

The final driver of structural change is technological advance. Computerisation has made primary and secondary industries more capital-intensive while increasing the size of computer-related service industries.

Improvements in business practices (including just-in-time production and out-sourcing) have contributed to the service industries' rising share of total output and employment.

The main thing to remember is that 200 years of efforts to increase productivity by means of "labour-saving" technology haven't led to ever-rising unemployment, as people always fear it will.

That's because higher productivity leads to increased real income and as that income is spent new jobs are created elsewhere in the (services) economy.
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