Dismal Economists and Spruikers


“One final point, the reconstruction of Japan will economically help the country and provide more demand for resources. You can see why economics is described as the dismal science.” – Peter Switzer, switzer.com.au

We’re not quite sure what point Mr. Switzer is making.

Is he saying the tsunami and earthquake in Japan are good for the economy?

Or is he saying it’s crazy to think the tsunami and earthquake are good for the Japanese economy?

We don’t know for sure.  And we don’t want to put words into someone’s mouth.  So, we can only guess.

We think he’s saying that it’s economically good for Japan because money will be spent on construction and buying new things.  And that economics is sometimes a bit topsy-turvy.  But all up, bad things end up being good… economically.

As you know, the argument is nonsense.  And to simply blame it on economics is just as bad.

Let’s get one thing straight: economics isn’t a “dismal science”.  It’s not econo-mics claiming that destruction leads to a booming economy.  It’s the econo-mists who make that claim.

So rather than economics being a dismal science, it’s the 95% of economists who believe that sort of rubbish who are dismal.

In other words, don’t blame the science, blame the scientists.

If you study real economics, not the mumbo-jumbo variety, then everything makes perfect sense.  In reality economics is nothing more than sound common sense.

It’s about understanding an economy is made up of individuals who interact with each other.

Economics isn’t about placing bets on whether the unemployment rate will be 5.1% or 5.2%.  Economics isn’t about stiff-necked central bankers raising or dropping interest rates, or deciding how much new money to print.

And it isn’t about spreadsheets and ratios.

Once you figure that out, you’ll realise economics isn’t as hard as most will have you believe… then you’ll agree with me that economics isn’t a dismal science at all.

It you want proof, I suggest you check out the videos and information at the Mises Institute.  You’ll be enlightened by economics from the Austrian School.

If you’re not familiar with the Austrian School that’s not surprising.  It’s a school of economics that believes in free markets.  It believes in the evil of central bankers.  And it believes that governments can only ever hinder and distort an economy.

That’s why you may not have heard of it.  Because it opposes everything the mainstream believes in – government intervention and central bank omnipotence.

But check it out for yourself and make up your own mind.

Now, we won’t cover old ground again by explaining how the destruction of property and lives isn’t good for an economy.  I’d wager you’ve gotten the message on that by now.  So for today, we’ll look back at comments from our old pal, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) governor, Glenn Stevens…

He’s a bit of a wag you know is Glenn Stevens.

Answering questions from analysts in London, the RBA guv’nor said:

“I don’t think we have huge [house price] rises going on.  We don’t have a gearing up going on now.  We’ve got quite modest growth in housing credit now for the past year or more.  That all seems to me to be consistent with a household sector that’s being more careful.”

Your honour, could the witness please refer to chart ‘b02’ from the RBA.  The chart details total residential household loans made by Australians from 2000 until January 2011:

Source: RBA

You’ll note your honour, Australians have a cause for celebration.

During the month of January, in the year of our Lord 2011, the great people of Australia (otherwise known as the Children of the Lucky Country) amassed for the first time in history a total of $1,004,896,371,000 in residential housing debt with Australian banks.

Or to put it another way M’Lud, ONE TRILLION DOLLARS!

Not only that, but during the time of the supposed Great Deleveraging, household residential debt increased from $750 billion in September 2008 to over $1 trillion today.

That’s right it increased.  It went up.

Plus, during the time Mr. Stevens claims there has only been a modest growth in housing credit, the rate of increase quickened.

To the extent that housing credit has climbed 33%… in just two-and-a-half years!

And if we take all household debt – including unincorporated businesses such as sole traders, and personal loans – the total amount of household debt is nearly $1.5 trillion:

Source: RBA

Pardon us for mentioning it, but we fail to see any modest growth.  Over the period from late 2008 to September 2010, total household debt increased nearly 15%.  That’s 7.5% per year.

Including a 33% increase in housing debt.

Obviously your editor and Mr. Stevens have different ideas about what modest means.

So in the face of what the numbers show, Mr. Stevens insists there’s no housing bubble, and no credit-driven bubble.  Everything is fine with Australian house prices… there’s no need to panic.

Well, he may care to take a look at an article that appeared in The Australian over the weekend.  It’s titled “No Shore Thing”.

There’s only one word to describe the article – Amazing!

It’s the biggest, most bearish and most honest article on Australian housing we’ve ever seen in the Australian mainstream press.

In fact it’s so good I could easily quote the whole thing here.  But I won’t.  Instead I suggest you read it in full for yourself.

It’ll give you an idea of what can happen when property goes bad.  The great thing about it is that it’s describing people and properties in Australia.  Not in Detroit or Bristol or Phoenix or Liverpool… these are examples of prime Australian properties being sold at 30%, 50% and even 70% discounts!

Let me give you one cracking quote from the article:

“‘A couple of magnificent estates that would have fetched $8m to $10m during the good days were recently sold for $4.7m.’  He says apartments in the Peninsula Apartment complex near the Abel Point Marina, which originally cost more than $2m, including fittings, have been recently sold for less than $900,000.”


Now, I know what the property bulls will say.  They’ll say these are holiday homes.  And holiday homes are different to city homes.

Our reply is this – and how do you think those holiday homes were financed?  That’s right, withdrawing so-called equity from the city home to buy the weekender.

Owners who are forced to sell these overpriced trinkets by the sea will now find themselves having to withdraw even more equity from their city home to pay off the negative equity on the weekender.

And they’ll be in competition to sell with those who just want to get out while they can.

That’s not all.  It’s a mistake to believe holiday homes are isolated from city homes.  That negative price action won’t impact the prices in metropolitan areas.

The fact is it will have a flow-on effect.

Already we can see the spruikers squirming.  Now they’ve got to change their argument.  The walls are closing in on them.

No longer can they say Australian house prices don’t fall, because here’s the proof.  The house price Armageddon from the US and Europe has finally touched Australian shores.

But onward they’ll go.  They’ll now claim that city house prices can’t and won’t fall – even though we know that’s happening already.  But when prices start falling in the suburbs, the next claim will be that they can’t and won’t fall in the inner-city areas…

So they’ll change their argument again.

It’ll be CBD properties that can’t and won’t fall… eventually they’ll have nowhere to go.  Except to admit they got it wrong – real wrong.

It’s quite sad really.  Why can’t they just admit prices can and will fall?  You know the answer to that, we explained it last week – Aussie housing is built on leverage and the belief prices always rise.

Take away that belief and you get the other side of leverage’s double edged sword… and that’s the bad side.  The side that’ll cut the market in half and make the debt position of over-leveraged Australians even worse.

Until then, keep saving.  Cheap, discounted property is coming to a suburb near you soon.

It seems it’s not just 95% of economists who are dismal, but 95% of property spruikers too.


Kris Sayce
For Money Morning Australia

Kris Sayce

Kris Sayce

Publisher and Investment Director at Money Morning Australia

Kris is never one to pull punches when discussing market developments and economic events that can affect your wealth. He’ll take anyone to task — banks, governments, big business — if he thinks they’re trying to pull a fast one with your money. Kris is also the editor of Tactical Wealth, and Microcap Trader — where he reveals the best opportunities he’s discovered in the markets. If you’d like to more about Kris’ financial world view and investing philosophy then join him on Google+. It’s where he shares investment insight, commentary and ideas that he can’t always fit into his regular Money Morning essays.

Kris Sayce is the Publisher and Investment Director of Australia’s biggest circulation daily financial email, Money Morning Australia.

Kris is a fully accredited advisor in shares, options, warrants and foreign-exchange investments.

Kris has close to twenty years’ experience in analysing stocks. He began his career in the biggest wasp’s nest in the financial world — the city of London — as a finance broker back in 1995.

It’s there where he got his ‘baptism of fire’ into the financial markets, specialising in small-cap stock analysis on London’s Alternative Investment Market. This covered everything from Kazakhstani gold miners to toy train companies.

After moving to Australia, Kris spent several years at a leading Australian wealth-management company. However he began to realise the finance and brokerage industry was more interested in lining its own pockets with fat fees, commissions and perks —rather than genuinely helping out the private investors they were supposed to be ‘working’ for.

So in 2005 Kris started writing for Port Phillip Publishing — a company which was more attuned to his investment outlook.

Initially he began writing for the Daily Reckoning Australia— but eventually, took over Money Morning. It’s now read by over 55,000 subscribers each day.

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56 Responses to “Dismal Economists and Spruikers”

  1. Peter Fraser

    SG – thanks, that info is interesting.

  2. SV

    JB, PF – although completely voluntary tax system appears an overstretch, I daresay reducing the tax rate to 20% flat will go a long way towards voluntary compliance.
    Currently, people at the top bracket are taxed at marginal rate of 60% = 50% tax/medicare + 10%gst. This is a lot. Who wouldn’t go to some lengths to reduce that? hence an army of tax professionals, who don’t actually contribute to economy, hence negative gearing, offshore assets, and other vices.
    In Hong Kong, Singapore etc they have 20% tax. This means almost voluntary compliance. Disputes with the tax authorities are rare as the potential savings rarely justify the expense of a court case.
    Perhaps this helps people to spend more of their time producing, rather than tax avoidance, legal or otherwise.
    Of course, on 20% income tax, the government needs to be half the size it is now in Australia.

  3. JB


    I agree. The system we have here in Australia is completely unacceptable.

  4. Peter Fraser

    SV – I have no doubt that we can do better with our tax system. But we all know that a “voluntary system” is doomed to fail – no one would pay at all.

    I’m completely open to any ideas to restructure to a fairer and lower tax regime.

  5. JB

    The vote should be linked to the tax system – one vote for each dollar of voluntary tax paid.

    That way – those that contribute have the say as to what should be done with the money.

    Currently its almost the opposite – those contributing nothing have a disproportionately large say.

  6. hey HORSHACK

    2-3 billion MORE people thats what we need ..of course all in the name of money ,money ,,money money money
    flippin houses to each other

    perfect example in japan all that population & the japs actually invented the word TSUNAMI & built a NUCLEAR PLANT it right on the waters edge,,how stupid??????????

    with 7 BILLION people on this world we are phuuuccing it up bigtime,,beyond recourse
    but like zombie drones keep going on breeding like a big germ on a carcass
    i dont see any hope for humanity even in the short term,, not whilst this corruption ,profit,greed ,wars & avarice is in complete control


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