Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Glenn Stevens' predicament: He wants us to believe interest rates are heading up without actually putting them up

I imagine it is a tough job being the nation's central banker. But the recent television interview with Glenn Stevens, RBA Governor, has made it quite clear the predicament he currently faces.

Stevens warned that property speculation is not the path to riches (the Real Estate Institute of Australia was apparently surprised by this statement). Obviously he is very worried about the stability of Australia's massive residential property market.  But to achieve the desired outcome, he needs to fool us all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is it all about GDP and growth?

(Guest post from Christian)

So if you believe the numbers, in the recent downturn, Australia managed to avoid 2 consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth and therefore had no recession.  This is an often proudly quoted fact by various Australian politicians and economists as a sign of the strength and resilience of Australia's economy and its wise management.  But what exactly does it all mean for the people of Australia?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday quick links

1. Most findings of statistical research are false, and can be easily demonstrated to be so.  If I haven't convinced you to scrutinise statistics carefully, then this may. Warning: the linked paper is a little nerdy and mathematical.

2. Is prescribing a placebo a good idea?

3. One laptop per child and a computer on every student's desk - some evidence that computers help children learn computer skills, but detract from their learning of other more basic skills such as maths and English. 

4. My interest rate bet looks shaky - straight from the horse's mouth.

5. Moral self-licensing is when doing something good in one part of your life helps you justify doing something bad in another part.  This 'green' consumer experiment is a classic - ..green shoppers, however, earned on average 36¢ more, showing that they had lied to boost their income.

I must say that in moments of raw self-reflection I can see myself issuing a subconscious (sometimes conscious) moral licence.  'I've been good for a while, now I can justifiably do something bad" 

Maybe it has something to do with our upbringing.  I know that I often reward my son with otherwise 'bad' foods (he loves Jatz crackers) when he has behaved well.  It would be nice to conduct a cross-cultural comparison on this topic. 

It is also a example of actively reverting to the mean.  People think they are at the extremes of socially normal behaviour, so they do something that is at the other end of the spectrum to keep themselves in line with others.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Affordable housing supply from a market crash

It seems that no matter what the objective market conditions are like, the same lobby groups (the Housing Industry Association and the Property Council of Australia for example) and property spruikers continue to trot out the housing shortage claim in an appeal for government assistance.

If you truly believed there is a housing shortage and hence an affordability crisis, a market crash (price declines >20%) is the best solution. I will outline my reasoning by referring to the appropriate economic models – the same models misused by those who believe that government intervention is causing supply constraints.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book review: Embracing the Wide Sky

Autistic savant Daniel Tammet wrote this gem, and yes that means he has ‘rainman' like mental skills.  In fact, he learnt Icelandic (his 11th language) in the week prior to being interviewed for an Icelandic television program. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why the next interest rate move is down

Most economists predict another rate hike by the RBA. I am not like most economists and predict the next move will be down. My reasoning is founded on the unfortunate necessity to maintain housing values in order to avoid serious disruption to our financial system. The RBA will move strongly to reduce the interest burden on debt should they see evidence of a fall in house prices (aka values). The following snippets are therefore worrying for the RBA:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Random externalities

A complete reiteration of my arguments against exceptional circumstances provisions for farmers can be found on today on Business Spectator courtesy of David Leyonhjelm.  Simply, we fear a non-existent negative externality of diminished food production should farm businesses fail.   

As a parent I also found this article on the externalities of public advertising quite intriguing.  It seems that movies (private consumption decisions) need to be classified to prepare the viewer for their level of violence and sexuality, yet advertising in public spaces seems to be M rated even when Parental Guidance is not possible.  To avoid this negative externality on children and parents could we not adopt the G rating standard from the film and television industry as the standard for public advertising?

Those who are a fan of the movie Pay it Forward will ba happy to see that acts of kindness can spread through society very easily.  Just another bit of evidence for how culture can change behaviour and how our preferences, expressed through our behaviour, are not fixed at all (as economists would have us believe).  Given this is an example of a positive externality, economic theory would suggest we will face a constant battle to ensure a socially optimal level of kind acts.  Luckily the research suggests that once we adopt a strategy of kindness we don't go back to selfishness very easily.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Newsflash: Property Council of Australia makes a reasonable point

The Property Council of Australia is a powerful lobby group known for ignoring truth and reason in its appeals for support from all levels of government.  The PCA’s latest battle surrounds the proposed amendment to the Valuation of Land Act 1944 (the Act), which will clarify a number of definitions for determining the ‘unimproved’ value of commercial buildings – a value upon which land tax liabilities and local government rates are calculated.

(As a strong proponent of land taxes I should be paying particular attention to the necessary practicality of  valuing unimproved land.)

The property lobby sees this Bill as a tax grab due to the likelihood of higher land valuations, and they have mustered plenty of support from other industry associations to stop it getting passed.

What follows is a brief analysis that suggests the Bill is quite unworkable, that the PCA has actually raised real issues with the practicality of the Bill, and also suggests extreme incompetence by the Queensland government.

Proposed changes to Section 3 of the Valuation of Land Act 1944

Words removed are struck through, and inserted words are in red. 

(1) For the purposes of this Act—
unimproved value of land means—
(a) in relation to unimproved land—the capital sum which the fee simple of the land might be expected to realise if offered for sale on such reasonable terms and conditions as a bona fide seller would require negotiated as a bona fide sale; and
b) in relation to improved land—the capital sum which the fee simple of the land might be expected to realise if offered for sale on such reasonable terms and conditions as a bona fide seller would require, assuming that, at the time as at which the value is required to be ascertained for the purposes of this Act, the improvements did not exist. negotiated as a bona fide sale, assuming the improvements did not exist.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thinking like an economist

This article is the first I have come across that compares housing prices and costs to hours worked, which is the ultimate measure for comparing housing affordability across countries or over time (although hours worked for average rent would also be a good measure).

According to the CommSec analysis it now takes 19,374 working hours to pay for an average house at the average hourly rate of pay, compared to just 7,500 hours in 1960.  That's ten years of full time work in 2010 versus 3.9 years in 1960.  I admit the data may be a little skewed if it is truly generated using averages (means), rather than medians, however there seems to be a strong message coming through.

It also supports my claim about the leisure dilemma, and the ability of others to bid up prices if they choose to work more hours.