Policy Snapshots


This week's picks:

Special snapshot of current American economic issues

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has produced this paper tracking rising inequality in the US since 1980. ‘The growth of inequality in the US is widely acknowledged in policy debates,' writes Baker. Here he identifies the causes of the upward redistribution of wealth, arguing that a series of deliberate policy choices are to blame. Trade and immigration policies have put downward pressure on the wages of non-college graduates, while protecting highly educated workers. The Fed's determination to control inflation rates has also disproportionately affected less-educated workers. Reagan's virulent strain of anti-unionism has infected the body politic; the unionised share of the private sector workforce fell from over 20 per cent in 1980 to less than 8 per cent in 2005. The real value of the minimum wage has dived over the period and health care costs have also blown out. Baker's stress on policy choices is instructive – an unequal society is not inevitable, it is arrived at by design.

In this more detailed report Baker predicts that the US economy will enter a recession next year (a prediction remarkably similar to that made by Steve Keen in the Centre for Policy Development today [LINK:]. According to this report, the housing bubble, which fuelled the 2001 recovery, is almost over. Construction and home sales are slowing. Baker speculates that borrowing against home equity, which has been fuelling consumption, ‘will plummet as many homeowners lack any further equity to borrow against'. The evidence suggests that, unable to borrow against their homes, people are already turning to credit cards.

This report, gives us a glimpse of American family life, as it is experienced at the bottom. Authored by Arloc Sherman at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, ‘African American and Latino Families Face High Rates of Hardship' compares the kinds of everyday insecurities and difficulties experienced by African American families, families headed by a Latino citizen, and families headed by a Latino non-citizen – the distinction between the last two categories proves to be an important one. Sherman notes that regardless of race or ethnicity (and despite the black welfare queen stereotype, we might add) most able-bodied families in poverty work. Work, however, does not protect families from hardship. This report lacks texture, but the statistics do provide valuable insights. The report's warning that the Census Bureau's ‘Survey of Income and Program Participation', which generated this data, might soon by terminated, is alarming.

The Demos Network for Ideas and Action has produced a young adult economics series examining the situation for those who came of age just as the social and economic policies described above matured. The first report states that ‘In today's knowledge-based economy, a college degree is a necessary qualification for entry to the middle class'. The life chances of those with or without post-high schooling diverge markedly. However, subsequent reports note that insecurity is a constant for college graduates too, and that debt is a generation-defining characteristic of today's young adults. If that ain't enough, rent is hard to afford; large, risky mortgages are out of reach or result in financial over-extension; and family and childcare policies are urgently needed.

We realise it's a bleak snapshot so far. But read here about a coalition that has come together to restore workers' freedom to unionise, via the Employee Free Choice Act.

What's in a word? Multiculturalism, citizenship and migration trends

When the PM tells us that ‘multiculturalism' has passed its use-by-date and ‘integration' is flavour of the month, he echoes a global shift away from the multicultural model and towards citizenship tests. The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has produced its second annual list of top ten migration stories here. Their lead story surveys Europe's incremental shifts of emphasis since the late 1990s. MPI note, ‘The UK, which didn't require a citizenship test until 2005, fully implemented the test this year, Germany's regional governments introduced tests on top of the 600-hour, federally mandated language courses [and] the Netherlands has taken the hardest line.' Soon, ‘prospective immigrants from nearly every country … must take and pass a ‘civic integration exam' before they can be issued a visa.' This discussion puts the proposed Australian citizenship test into context, along with recent news that the US is toughening its citizenship test questions . While invocations of the White Australia Policy's dictation test are perhaps inevitable, the global comparisons are perhaps more instructive. MPI also summarises 2006's significant population displacements in Darfur and Lebanon. Another important story shows that the significance of regional people flows – east to west migration within the EU and inter-Asian migration – is under-reported.

Holiday reading: four parliamentary committee reports released

The report on the inquiry into health funding is available here. The report is entitled ‘The Blame Game' and the committee recommends that ‘the fragmented Commonwealth-state responsibilities for health financing and service delivery' be rationalized, based on the most cost-effective service delivery arrangements: a ‘national health agenda' is called for. Other recommendations address: the accessibility of dental services; health professional shortages; and standards of health care in rural and regional areas.

‘Balancing Work and Family', the report on the inquiry of the same name, featured on Snapshots earlier this year, is available here. The dissenting report by Labor committee members is available from the same site — they say ‘the report fails to get to the heart of the issue' and that the committee relies ‘on WorkChoices Legislation and [the] Welfare to Work Program as a panacea to the needs for flexibility and family friendly workplaces'. These two government initiatives have been accompanied by extensive television ‘education' campaigns. ‘Balancing Work and Family' calls for another outlay on ads – to educate woman about the impact of age on fertility. See Eva Cox's article in today's the Centre for Policy Development [LINK:] for an analysis of the report's recommendations on childcare.

The Senate committee report into Indigenous stolen wages is available here. Under the state-specific protection acts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Indigenous people's lives were intensely regulated by legislative regimes. The control of, and corrupt as well as legal misappropriation of Aboriginal wages varied over time and across places. For estimates of the number of Queensland Aboriginal workers affected see this ANTaR fact sheet. The report recommends urgent action be taken including further research, acknowledgement and reparations.

The high price of petrol prompted this Senate inquiry and report, which considers the many complex factors that come to bear on the cost of fuel. The federal government will be pleased to hear that it cannot influence the price of fuel in country Australia. Barnaby Joyce's dissenting report is also available – Joyce says that ‘oil will become unaffordable long before it becomes unavailable' and chastens the committee for ‘its failure to consider the impacts of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel on fuel prices, climate change and liquid transport energy security, despite much of the public hearings being taken up with evidence of the potential positive price impacts of alternative non-fossil fuels.'


Last week the Centre for Policy Development released its draft media policy discussion paper by Emma Dawson and Miriam Lyons, which outlined the basic principles that should underpin our public broadcasting policy. Here, Friends of the ABC outlines the principles that they take to underpin public broadcasting. Friends of the ABC calls for a merit-based ABC Board appointment procedure; an ABC focussed on delivering quality rather than delivering audiences to advertisers; a funded ABC; and an ABC with guts. A public broadcaster with all this would ideally foster ‘an informed public, an inquiring public, an adventurous public' and a diverse public.

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