Big business influence wanes as public rejects ‘bizonomics’

In this article in the Fairfax media on 24 July 2017, ROSS GITTINS refers to the debate in Pearls and irritations about neoliberal economics.  John Menadue

The collapse of the “neoliberal consensus” is as apparent in Oz as it is in Trump’s America and Brexitting Britain, but our big-business people are taking a while to twig that their power to influence government policy has waned.  

Their trouble is the way the era of micro-economic reform initiated by the Hawke-Keating government in the 1980s eventually degenerated into “bizonomics” – the pseudo-economic belief that what’s good for big business is good for the economy.

Part of this is the belief that when you privatise a government-owned business, or outsource the delivery of government services to for-profit providers – when you move economic assets and activity from the “public” column to the “private” column – you’ve self-evidently raised economic efficiency and wellbeing.

Provoking an engrossing debate between economists, Dr  Mike Keating, a top economic adviser in the (no relation) Keating era, used a post and a rejoinder on John Menadue’s blogsite to claim the early reformers believed that who owned a business wasn’t as important as whether privatising it would make its industry more competitive or less.

True, Mike. Trouble is, the advisers and ministers who followed the Keating² era weren’t so discerning, nor so scrupulous.

In those days, the goal of making industries more “competitive” meant turning up the competition from imports, or removing government regulation designed to inhibit competition between local players.

These days, following the degeneration to bizonomics, making industry more competitive means granting concessions to make chief executives’ lives easier.

I remember when part of the Keatings’ motive for dismantling protection against imports was to cure Australia’s lazy business people of their predilection for running to Canberra for help whenever times got tough.

No more rent-seeking, was the cry. But the degeneration from economics to bizonomics amounted to wholesale rent-seeking by business. Is productivity improvement weak? Obviously, that’s the government’s fault for not pressing on with economic reform.

What reform? Cutting tax on companies and high income-earners and increasing the tax on consumers. Shifting the legislative power balance between employers and their workers even further in favour of employers.

Sorry, but as has been well demonstrated by Malcolm Turnbull’s refusal to increase the goods and services tax, his inability to cut the company tax rate for big business, and the public’s overwhelming disapproval of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut Sunday penalty rates (complete with the Coalition’s attempt to deny paternity of the bastard child), those days are ending.

These days, it’s not just leftie troublemakers who doubt that benefits going direct to big business will trickle down to the rest of us, it’s every punter in the street.

These days, it’s not just leftie troublemakers who doubt that benefits going direct to big business will trickle down to the rest of us, it’s every punter in the street.

Another element of bizonomics is governments in many anglophone countries maintaining the facade, but not the substance, of business regulation.

They tell the public it’s protected by laws governing treatment of consumers, employees, shareholders, taxpayers and others, but then rob the regulatory agencies – in our case the ACCC, Fair Work Ombudsman, ASIC and the Tax Office – of the resources they need to adequately enforce the laws they administer.

In this game of nudging and winking, it didn’t take long for business to realise that, its chances of apprehension being tiny, obeying any law it found standing in the way of higher profits was now optional.

And that, though they could never admit it, this was the way governments of both colours secretly wanted it to be.

This is what explains the plethora of business law-breaking being uncovered by Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson and other investigative journalists. What’s notable is the way the business lobby groups have failed to condemn corporate lawbreaking.

A few decades of bizonomics have left our big business chiefs with the assurance they possess a God-given right to have their every demand accommodated by governments.

Sorry guys, apart from the lack of evidence that allowing you to aggrandise yourselves leaves the rest of us better off, democracies don’t work that way.

In the end, power derives from voting punters, not corporations making generous donations to party coffers. The donations work only as long as the pollies can use them to amass enough votes for a government trying to swing it for biz business.

That’s what’s no longer happening, and the sooner you wake up to it, the sooner you can move to profit-making Plan B: find it within your business, not by lobbying Canberra.

The pollies have already got the punters’ message. That’s why the Coalition is becoming less willing to do your bidding and Labor has realised getting tough with business has more upside than down.

If this means you stop donating to either side, so much the better.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.

print
This entry was posted in Economy, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Big business influence wanes as public rejects ‘bizonomics’

  1. Colin Cook says:

    But we are still in need of a national ‘corruption watchdog’; the ballot box is only effective every three or four years.
    Democracy in Australia is still a very delicate flower.
    See http://cooksourdough.blogspot.com.au/2017/

  2. Dog's breakfast says:

    Thanks Ross. Yes, moving to profit-making Plan B, would require actual managerial and entrepreneurial talent, and Australia doesn’t seem to have much of that, and we keep importing foreign CEO’s who take up the rent-seeking business model as ducks do to water.

    But why move to plan B when plan A has been the model for company profit growth in Australia for so long now?

Comments are closed.