Labor's economic statement
The Labor Party left was on the right track with its call last week for increased public spending to create employment in the coming February 26 economic statement. A delegation consisting of Senator Bruce Childs and MPs Andrew Theophanous and Stewart West put the proposal to Prime Minister Paul Keating on February 6. Their proposed $3 billion package would not be enough to eliminate unemployment, but it would be a step in the right direction.
No other option presently before the government offers any prospect of serious improvement in the employment situation. It is particularly grotesque to see Keating and other Labor government leaders trooping around the country consulting with big business in the lead-up to the economic statement. What do they expect to hear that they haven't been hearing for the past decade? Internationally and in this country, big business had a free run through the '80s, and it created the present situation. It's well past time for a new direction.
The Labor left's proposal has some weaknesses, such as incentives for exporters. The business attitude to incentives is to take the money and run; anyone who can't see that today must have lived through the past decade in a paper bag (or Parliament House, which is close enough to the same thing). Business does only what's good for business, and the present situation makes it clear that's not what's good for the rest of us.
The recession/depression is not just the creation of a few boom and bust speculators such as Alan Bond and Christopher Skase. It is an inevitable part of the capitalist economic cycle. Those who accept the present economic system must also accept the periodic mass unemployment and hardship that it creates.
While the Labor left's proposal falls well short of a vision for a sustainable new direction, it is a start. At least it marks a departure from the superstitious theory that the capitalist market is some sort of magical entity capable of regulating all human activity. If this country is to be lifted out of recession by deliberate economic decisions and not simply left to wait it out until the recession/depression hits bottom, massive spending on socially useful, environmentally benign public works is a necessary first step.