Responding to the Economic Emergency

The scale and scope of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 will be unprecedented in our lifetimes. Mainstream economists have belatedly realised the pandemic will cause an economic downturn, but they are not yet appreciating the size of that downturn, nor the unconventional responses that will be required. Simply calling for government "stimulus" is sadly inadequate, given the complete shut-down of work and production that is occurring in many sectors of the economy. The task is no longer supporting markets with incremental "pump-priming." What's needed is a war-like effort, led by government, to mobilise every possible resource to protect Australians' health and livelihoods. Money is not an object - and this epic effort should not be held back by normal acquiescence to private-sector priorities and decisions.

That's the core message of new analysis by Centre for Future Work Director Dr. Jim Stanford, published today by the Australian journal New Matilda.

Stanford's article outlines the immediate economic measures needed to both confront the health emergency and prevent households and firms from collapsing:

  • Immediate mobilization of resources to protect health: including more staff at health facilities, quick deployment of off-site and mobile testing capacities, home support for people quarantined or recovering, and quick expansion of equipment and facilities where possible.
  • Income protection for workers: including for casuals, self-employed, gig-workers, and many part-timers who don’t have effective access to sick pay. Incomes must be protected for all workers (regardless of employment status), through mandated special payments (as proposed by the ACTU).
  • Other direct income supplements: similar to the one-time payments distributed in 2009, as well as more targeted aid (like higher Newstart).
  • Debt relief and business assistance: emergency financing will be needed to keep firms viable in many industries (including airlines, other transportation, tourism, and hospitality). Other parts of society also need protection from creditors; foreclosures and evictions should be prohibited, and other personal and credit card debts deferred.

But Stanford also discusses the longer-run challenge that will face the Australian economy: the pandemic is imposing a shock that is far too powerful and all-encompassing for private market players to autonomously recover from. The economy will need unprecedented and lasting investments by government to repair and expand public infrastructure and services, and directly put Australians back to work:

"There is enormous need for urgent rebuilding required in our economy and our communities. Repairing and strengthening health care infrastructure comes first, but other priorities, too, are urgent: like sustainable transit, green energy, non-market housing, aged care and early child education. The case for mobilising resources under the leadership of governments and public institutions, and employing millions of Australians to do that work, is compelling. We can repair the damage of this crisis (and better prepare for the next one), deliver valuable services, and create millions of jobs. All we need is the willingness to imagine a different model of organizing and leading economic activity."

Please read the full article, We Need Wage Guarantees And Radical Restructure, Not More ‘Stimulus’, published by New Matilda.


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