- Money Morning Australia

Dismal Economists and Spruikers

Written on 15 March 2011 by Kris Sayce

“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

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56 Comments For This Post

  1. michael francis Says:

    I can’t wait for the crash. I can’t wait to see all those f#cking arsehole property spruikers standing at road intersections cleaning f#cking windscreens. I can’t wait to see their f#cking arshole kids put in government schools and have the sh#t beaten out of them.
    I can’t wait to see their f#cking botoxed wives with their Dow Corning tits dressed in trackie dacs and moccasins living in Doveton.
    Anyway-that’s my beef for the day. Back to the grumpy pills.

  2. Puntpal Says:

    Right with you MF…I hope it hurts the leaches in the FIRE economy. Once Japan is off the news people will start realizing we are in stage 1 of the great oz housing crash

  3. Janet Says:

    The spruikers still have a lot of learning to do, judging by the linked story.
    “PHILIP Lenehan could not believe his luck when he snapped up a beachfront…house at Forresters Beach …He and his wife Tiffany paid $810,000 ….He is not worried that prices of lifestyle properties may continue to fall .”.I intend to keep it as a family weekender for the long term”, he said…Lenehan, who manages properties under the Professional Real Estate banner, also owns several rental properties.”

  4. Adrian Burchall Says:

    I’m sorry to say I think you’re whistling in the wind. For my part I would love to see a general significant house price correction but it is simply not going to happen. It’s not happened in Canada and it won’t happen here. Holiday homes are discretionary items bought generally by the better off. A large majority of Australians don’t own one. The number of these houses relative to the size of all residential dwellings is small. Hence no matter how far prices fall in this market, suburban prices will be relatively unaffected. It may make some urban buyers a bit more cautious but to most people it will not be that relevant. People need houses relatively close to their places of work and there is very much more compulsion to buy in urban areas.
    The Federal Government will not allow the big Australian banks to get into trouble from their property lending and will do whatever it takes to put a floor under residential property. I’d even go so far as to say that besides foreign affairs and defence the health of the residential housing market is the Federal Government’s no.1 policy priority. A significant fall in values or prices for residential property would mean political oblivian for any political party. Therefore all three levels of government will ensure a maintenance of healthy prices.
    1. Local government can stop developments and thus create shortages. They don’t want to see adequate supply because they love the current high rateable values. Plus new development upsets the NIMBYs.
    2. State governments can do the same. They’re addicted to the high stamp duties (remember they promised to give them up in exchange for an assured stream of GST revenues back in 1999). Plus people feeling rich from the high value of their house makes them predisposed to spend on consumer items and keep state economies humming.
    3. The Federal Government likes high house prices for the same reason state governments do – it keeps the voters happy. We have a federal minister for housing but that is just a token gesture to make the Feds look as though they are doing something to create afordable supply.
    Even if the current housing shortage is a myth all three levels of government can easily turn the myth into a reality. It’s easy – simply shut down all new development and only allow refurbishment of existing dwellings. Plus stop all multi-story apartment building. As ‘The Economist’ said in its survey of housing last week there are a lot more votes to be lost from falling prices for existing homes than there are to be lost from closing down much of the housing development industry. These companies don’t have a vote.
    Plus, if the market looks shaky just allow in a lot more migrants – they’ve got to live somewhere and while the economy remains healthy they’ll be attracted by the jobs on offer from our low unemployment rate.
    Kris, while our terms of trade remain strong and China and India continue with the expansion of their middle classes we can afford the current level of house prices. I’m afraid to tell you that a significant drop in residential house prices is just wishful thinking on your part. It is not going to happen. Prices in the suburb of Magill, Adelaide, where I live are very healthy and soon after any allotment or house goes up for sale it is sold. Capital city prices in Australia compared to their counterparts in Europe and Asia are still very good value.
    Plus the housing market in Australia is more of a political market than an economic one. Julia Gillard will simply not tolerate generised house price falls during ‘her’ prime ministership.
    Nonetheless, I enjoy your newsletters and keep up the good work. I just think your wrong on this one.

  5. andy dufresne Says:

    So ‘Banana’ Glen Stevens reckons we don’t have a problem. Not only does he have a loosening bias, he also has a bias towards short term memory.


  6. JB Says:



  7. Greg Says:

    The price of property has got too far ahead of INCOME for there to be anything other than a crash. When people can no longer “flip” properties easily, then they can no longer rely on buying an asset with the proceeds of the sale of another asset. This is when the merry-go-round stops and buying power is once again determined by INCOME. It’s a better formula too, because it’s bubble-proof.

  8. Manny Says:

    Kris I only half agree with you. I think your comment re Peter Switzer is a bit harsh. There is no doubt that rebuilding during and after wars etc helps to rebuild in times of loss and sometimes re establishes the economy for growth with new momentum.

    Of course there needs to be one other major factor to ensure you get growth and thats being at the end of a period of deleveraging when Debt to GDP is very low.

    Anyway my point being Peter was making a typical journo comment regarding the economy and yes although neo classical he is more open than most.

    Rather than point to Austrian Economists point to a brilliant Australian Economist who got voted by Peers worldwide as the #1 Economist who predicted the GFC. Now this guy simply makes sense AND has data and models to prove his analysis.

    A true genius in my opinion. So I take your point re picking stocks and subscribe etc but honestly unless you have models and are a working economist with all due respect I think I will stick with Steve Keen on the Economy and property (which of course seems to mirror your ideas or vice versa :)



  9. J.C. Says:

    Oh yes, the great planned economy of Australia with our omnipotent leaders; fail-safe financial institutions; and unified belief in our national superiority. With your entrenched faith and solidarity with middle Australia, what could possible go wrong?

  10. the rat Says:

    MF @ 1 – I couldn’t have put it more eloquently myself.

  11. JB Says:

    the rat @ 10

    Mate – howcome you’re talking sense???
    I thought that you has sh1t4brains?? at least that’s what i’ve heard…
    have you turned over a new leaf???

  12. digs Says:

    New cliche; “its the end of the 10 year cycle” where prices stop going up (but dont go down)
    I cant wait for the crash so i dont have to listen to blokes like Adrian talking out of their butts

  13. TONY Says:

    MF @ 1

    I personally don’t like foul language. I don’t even like movies with foul language in them, they’re so dumb.

    But what you say about those property morons, I LIKE, I LIKE.

  14. SG Says:

    michael francis +1

  15. md Says:

    JB @ 6 – lol

    Adrian – you need to open your eyes and take a look around.

    Selling holiday homes (and falling prices) is another sign the property hill has been reached and that we are going for a ride down the other side.

    How long and steep the ride will be – who knows – but a free wheeling we will go.

    Another sign;

    I met a guy last week who works in a call centre for one of the “big 4″ banks. He has been there many years and is getting out. Why?

    It’s not the abuse he receives from angry customers – thats fairly constant and he accepts that their anger is against the bank not him – don’t forget he has been there many years.

    It’s the increasing number of calls from people, men as well as women, who break down into tears with emotional stories of why they do not have the funds to pay their mortgage.

    He told me I would be staggered at the increased number of mortgages that are now 1-3 months behind in payments.

    Interest rate increases, Christmas, the cost of kids going back to school, rising cost of utilities, food, petrol – co-incidence. I think not.

    Ahead, falling share prices? Rising taxes? More jobs going offshore? (Hi Telstra, Caterpillar, Cadbury, Schweppes amongst others announced recently) Mmmm.

    Banks will not disclose this info as there is still equity in these mortgages and so are not considered a problem – at this stage. Some people will no doubt battle their way through while others will eventually be forced to sell.

    Read the part again in Kris’ article from the RBA’s own figures – a 33% increase in housing debt over 2 1/2 years – that is not sustainable.

    Me thinks the 2nd half of this year is going to be very interesting in the property sector.

  16. the rat Says:

    JB @ 11 – Circus rang, want their clowns back. Back to work girl.

  17. hey HORSHACK Says:

    “””””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!””””

    ONE TRILLION DOLLARS -:- 22 million peoples =$50,000 PER head average debt ,, thats alot of debt

  18. hey HORSHACK Says:

    “No Shore Thing”

    “””””””””The family now spends almost every weekend driving about 90 minutes from Sydney to their weekend retreat.

    He is not worried that prices of lifestyle properties may continue to fall given the sluggish property market. “I am not sure if prices would go down further but I am not a seller, so I am not worried. I intend to keep it as a family weekender for the long term,” he says.But there is ONE BIG DISENCENTIVE ; he has just received a $9000 land tax bill for the property.””””””””””

    NICE LITTLE CARBON FOOTPRINT aye ? & now he whinges $9000 tax bill which he cant afford on his newly acquired CHEAP $810 k prop .

    yeah right give me a break BOOO HHOOOOO

  19. Bob Ahrens Says:

    Sounds like things are as crazy down there as up here in Canada! One must wonder when it will end, Australia and Canada can’t be islands insulated from the rest of the world.

  20. Peter Fraser Says:

    Adrian – what you have said makes a lot of sense, but your logic isn’t popular here.

    We are certainly having a correction, but why would it be anywhere near the savage correction that some of the posters here expect?

  21. bb Says:

    PF. Emotive terms such as ‘savage correction’ have no metrics attached to them. Your use of the term ‘correction’ as a narrative for a slight reversal of an unsustainable trend is similarly used. Both demonstrate two things we can be certain of. 1.Property price is an extremely emotive issue. 2. Property prices in Australia are decreasing. Adrian didn’t expouse logic. Just his opinions which, like yours, is likely biased toward property investment. Others interpret things differently.

  22. Peter Fraser Says:

    bb – fair points. In the end the market will make it’s own move regardless of what we all think.

  23. andy dufresne Says:

    Further evidence of the complete and utter waste associated with first home owner grants, by Saul Eslake.


  24. Peter Fraser Says:

    Hi andy – I thought for some time we should do away with the FHOG, and buyers stamp duties. The latter can be replaced with a broad based universal land tax.

    Not that any mention of another tax is well accepted on this forum.

  25. JB Says:

    That’s right PF because tax is theft – plain and simple!

  26. Fly Me to The Moon Says:

    PF @ 24

    “..Not that any mention of another tax is well accepted on this forum…”

    Thats because there is no justification for the government taking money from tax payers to finance their profligate attitude towards spending other peoples money. But what do you care as long as joe soap is still borrowing money.

  27. Peter Fraser Says:

    JB – OK then – what is your alternative. How do we get roads, bridges, schools, and all of the infrastructure that governments of different levels provide.

    I’m sure it could be done more efficiently, and I’m sure there could be more private sector involvement, but if all tax is theft, then how do we provide the basics, an army for our defence, and a myriad of other necessary services.

    Would we simply be replacing one tax system with a host of tolls and other fees?

  28. Fly Me to The Moon Says:

    PF @ 27

    You start by having total transparency of government spending. So that we can all see how much of our taxes are spent paying interest to the RBA on money they print. Money that is printed to finance election-time promises made by career politcians. Far too much money is NOT spent on “…army for our defence, and a myriad of other necessary services….” – as you put it.

    But hey, why would they change the system, it serves them so well.

    Its up to us to replace these incompetant fools with real libertarians.

  29. JB Says:

    As i’ve said before, the government footprint can and should be drastically reduced.

    It needs to be involved with national defence, policing, infrastucture for the justice system and basic infrastructure such as roads.
    Apart from that – it should get the hell out of our lives.

    While all tax collected through coercion is theft, there are certain types which are more despicable than the rest – of these – CGT and so-called “land taxes” have to be among the worst!

    I believe our country could function quite efficiently and effectively with a voluntary tax system for individuals and small businesses. There are countries who already operate on this system – most notably in the Middle East and certain island tax havens.

    Australia could massively reduce the government footprint and be more than adequately funded through modest corporate taxes.

  30. Peter Fraser Says:

    JB – I am not convinced that everyone would be honourable under that system of collecting taxation.

    Thank you for expanding on your thoughts.

  31. Peter Fraser Says:

    JB – which countries operate on voluntary tax now – I couldn’t find any.

  32. J.C. Says:

    I would think these grants have helped the banks more than anyone else. Eslake doesn’t have the kahunas to address that simple glaring fact.

  33. Peter Fraser Says:

    Fly Me to the Moon @ 26 and 28 – I also pay tax, so I am certainly behind your call for a more efficient use of our taxpayers money.

    We are in complete agreement on that.

  34. Peter Fraser Says:

    JC – I believe Saul Eslake has opposed the FHOG for some time. It is nota sudden change.

    In fact here is an article from 2008 that you should read –

    No doubt in that article that Saul was never a supporter of the Grant.

  35. J.C. Says:

    Read again. He may oppose grants in general but he doesn’t address the fact that these grants benefit the banks more than anyone else. He’s writing for the mainstream press so it would be no doubt scandalous to suggest as such. However, it’s beyond dispute.

  36. Peter Fraser Says:

    JC at that time he was chief economist for the ANZ bank so I think he had plenty of Kahunas saying what he did.

    Much bigger than yours…

  37. JB Says:

    PF @ 31:
    Well the United Arab Emirates comes up as an obvious example, and so too Saudi Arabia. I know this for a fact as i have friends and family working there and they have confirmed to me that there is no forced payroll tax as there is here.

  38. Peter Fraser Says:

    Ah well – all we have to do is discover the largest oil reserves in the world like the Saudi’s, and we also won’t have any taxes.

    That’s a bit like having a lottery ticket as your financial plan. The Saudi’s won the lottery and we didn’t. Now we need plan “B”

    Do you have any examples of working economies with a voluntary tax system?

  39. JB Says:

    Actually our resources sector is quite large enough.

    The problem is just the nanny state mentality we have here of big government. Get it though your head – the government needs to shrink substantially!!!

  40. Gavin R. Putland Says:

    Housing is a Sell or a Hold, but definitely not a Buy: http://is.gd/FNiegF .

  41. J.C. Says:

    Wow, an economist who speaks his mind instead of parading as puppet. How utterly brave of him to say something that may upset his master. I would think the magnitude of my cowardice is only matched by the scale of your chutzpah.

  42. Beauner Says:

    There wont be a housing crash…..where do you think all those Japanese and Americans and others with money are going to go to escape the Nuclear fallout?

    Dont bet the farm just yet!

  43. Peter Fraser Says:

    No JC your cowardice is much bigger than that.

    don’t underestimate yourself interest.

  44. Beauner Says:


  45. Peter Fraser Says:

    JC – I should add that I am very happy to see that you have not been harmed in the earthquake and Tsunami.

    Take care.

  46. J.C. Says:

    Yes PF, I am a coward and no match for the bravery of Saul Eslake and the omnipotence of the Australian banking system.

  47. SG Says:

    PF & JB – your answer to low tax modern economy – Hong Kong before 1997 – Taxes 15% and were levied only on salaries. The rich paid no higher than the middle classes, Regulations were few. If the middle classes wont housing, they could pay for it themselves, If businessmen thought a cross harbor tunnel was such a good idea, let them build it. As a result Hong Kong Boomed.

  48. SG Says:

    And curiously it was not a democracy at the time

  49. JB Says:

    Democracy is no guarentee to prosperity. especially not in the modern form we know, where the majority select to steal from the minority

  50. SG Says:

    And a modern financed economy’s response is to grease all its part’s …..I use this as reference only…….”It is not Yen that Japan now finds itself short of, but potable water, medical supplies, bridging materials, constructional steel, and electric power. The BOJ cannot help deliver these more readily or more efficiently by debauching the currency via its attempt to divorce financial asset prices from the diminished earning potential they incorporate.”

  51. Peter Fraser Says:

    SG – thanks, that info is interesting.

  52. SV Says:

    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.

  53. JB Says:


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

  54. Peter Fraser Says:

    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.

  55. JB Says:

    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.

  56. hey HORSHACK Says:

    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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