Thursday, May 11, 2006

HLFS out

The latest Household Labour Force Survey has been released, and it shows that the economy is still banging along, despite the Reserve Bank's best efforts to strangle it. Employment, hours worked, and the labour force participation rate continued to grow, with record levels in all. On the down side, there was a slight uptick in unemployment, but not one we should be overly concerned about yet.

Predictably, the government is crowing about these results, and they have at least some reason to. People generally want to work, and increasing employment is one of the most basic solutions to social problems (at least, if the jobs are good - and interestingly, the growth this quarter has all been in full-time rather than part-time jobs), so high employment is something they'd welcome. And OTOH, as I've said before, from a preference-satisfaction viewpoint a high labour force participation rate isn't necessarily good news, in that it may represent people working who would really rather be doing something else. The goal of government in the labour market shouldn't be to kick people into work they don't want, but rather to ensure that everybody who wants a job can get one.

This is a particular concern with the government's long-term "economic transformation" agenda. According to Jordan Carter, this involves trying to raise labour force participation to "a Scandinavian rate of close to 80%". But people are far more than just work-units to be driven to the employment market to produce higher economic statistics for governments to gloat over; they have lives and other preferences as well, which will be significantly impacted by this goal. Shouldn't we at least be being asked first...?


hours worked

Is an increasing number of hours in the work week really an improvement?

I mean, it's nice to have money and all, but shouldn't people being forced to work longer hours be looked upon as a bad thing?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/11/2006 06:08:00 PM

work smarter not harder

On this issue, the various right-wing bloggers who complained about the latest Stats Dept labour productivity stats had it right.

Long term, growing the economy by raising labour participation is a losing strategy. Because long term you can't just keep on exponentially increasing the number of hours people work.

Long term growth comes from increasing productivity - ie, from getting done in less time. Labour productivity figures are not so good.

The problem is that increasing productivity is really, really hard. Relevant education helps, technology helps, but mostly productivity growth is very badly understood. The platitude about "work smarter not harder" is obviously right. But it's not clear what govt policies best encourage that or even whether the govt has much influence on it (the Bush and Clinton govt are doing very different things, and both preside over huge productivity gains).

Posted by Icehawk : 5/12/2006 10:02:00 AM

Icehawk: and unfortunately, we're hamstrung in this by a business culture of cheap, unskilled labour and hiring more warm bodies rather than investing in capital or training. Though hopefully this will change the longer the labour shortage goes on, simply becuse business won't have any other option.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/12/2006 10:07:00 AM