The shocking decline in Australian workers’ share of income

By Leith van Onselen

The Guardian’s Greg Jericho has penned an interesting piece today calling for policy makers to focus their efforts on better redistributing the wealth gained from globalisation to poorer workers made worse-off.

The article, which draws on a lecture from the World Bank’s former chief economist, Professor Kaushik Basu, includes the below charts showing the shocking decline of national income going to workers:

…for Basu, one of the most stark ways it [inequality] is manifested is the declining share of national income going to workers.

This decline is something that has occurred across most developed nations since the mid-1970s, but the drop in Australia is among the most marked.
In 1975 two thirds of our GDP was in the form of wages; in 2014 it was just 53%:

ScreenHunter_16360 Nov. 29 13.36

Not surprisingly such a shift has also seen real wages flatten, even while labour productivity improves:

ScreenHunter_16361 Nov. 29 13.37

…[Basu] argues the way to respond to the declining share of wages due to globalisation and automation is for both an open economy (which is good for GDP growth), but also that governments must “think of some form of redistribution so that workers get their income shored up”…

He also argues that this redistribution of income should also “take the form of better services likes health and education.”

For mine, this article does a far better job of explaining the underlying factors behind Brexit, Trumpism, and Hansonism than the “angry white men” rubbish spouted by Jessica Irvine yesterday.

It’s about the hollowing-out of the working/middle classes who have been largely left behind by the globalist agenda. And it’s happening here as well.

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Unconventional Economist


    • Think she thought of the 25 million to the Clinton Foundation and her afternoon tea party alone with Hilary photographs, then her job with the children afterwards.

  1. There goes the cognoscenti again! Framing the debate using a failed agenda. They just can’t help themselves. They cannot see that Trump voters are sick to death of redistribution, of seeing their taxes wasted, of supporting half the population by their hard work. And then you get trumped up self appointed experts telling these same deplorables they’d be better off with Sanders-like policies. Ffs.

    • The message isn’t transfer payments champ… the message is the corporate world need to understand macro economics better, otherwise it will cannablise itself.

      From a micro view, we look at it like this…

      P = R – W – e

      Where (P)rofit = (R)evenue, less (W)ages, less all other (e)xpenses … and from a micro perspective less wages is good for the individual company.

      However from a macro view, we can use…

      P = R – W – e …. however we should add W to both sides.

      P + W = R – e …..

      Swap sides…

      R – e = P + W

      Revenue less non human input = a return to Profit (share) and Wage (share) …. we call that the fruits of out society….

      And for the cycle to continue, monies from P + W continue to buy shit…. we call them customers… .and their spending generates the next iteration of “R”

      Now the flight of fancy that is called ‘trickle’ down is that an unfettered “P” will automatically equate to more “R”… they call that “business spend/investment”, and by default it becomes more “W”. Keynes showed this to be false, investment does not occur if their customers aren’t buying…

      Let’s say extrapolate this to Holden…..ship the production offshore, with the assumption that the price of a Commodore (“R”) doesn’t change

      R – e = P(increased profits) + W(less wages, paying to Thai’s)

      For “R” to be maintained at current levels, the receivers of (P)rofit share have to buy more Commodores, to make up the short-fall of less (W)age share earners… otherwise “R” decreases, and then the production of Commodores reduces… We’ve lost wealth… less product comes to market.

      Thai workers can’t afford Commodores on their wages, and you’ve undermined Australian workers to buy Commodores by taking their wages away. This has a propensity to approach zero, then at the end, there is no “P” or “W”.

      Capital has all the money it needs, and more, it is why it is paying ridiculously high prices for assets…

      The “W”age earner has supplemented their consumption shortfall with debt… until they have reached peak debt.

      Transfer payments have kept the consumption party ticking along. but it hasn’t been to the benefit of the consumer, it’s been to maintain consumption levels to return profit share.

      But, now, customers can’t buy more because they have no money. Corporations have a hoard of money, and aren’t spending it, and aren’t investing it, because there are no more latent customers considering the low wages (share) they are on.

      • Xo, and since Boeing went from paying decent wages, unionised, paying decent pensions to a modern corporate union bashing, cut wages, outsource everything outfit, it is now in the throes of disaster. Modern corporate management doesn’t seem to be able to build aircraft successfully. As for bridges, well modern corporate construction companies can’t seem to build anything unless it’s twice the cost of anywhere else in the world, even allowing for Australian costs. You’re on pretty shaky ground.

        The reason being, of course, a mob of drones in the FIRE industry and markets acting as “helpers” to the economy, paying themselves at the expense of people doing real work.

      • Well, you’ll use the maths which most benefits your pay masters.

        If you aren’t paying workers sufficiently, who do you expect your customers to be?

      • I mean that in terms of structural integrity – and litttle wonder Australian projects are so expensive – we have some of the highest wages in the world!

      • Following from emess about corporations: A corporation could be viewed as a union for the owners of capital, and like any union, the union leaders make it all about them.

        One could also posit that the advent of superannuation as the major activity of many labour unions, and the lucrative post-politics gigs on offer to MPs, have meant those both possible countervailing forces have been thoroughly seduced by those who run the capital unions.

        Somehow, the free marketeers have forsaken the defence of markets for the much better paying gig of pimping for corporations.

      • How do you factor in economic rents? Your equations don’t appear to consider all that sand gunking up the gears of capitalism. If you can separate profit to show earned and unearned income your model will be a more accurate picture of the world.

      • I’m not denying thre are economic rents.

        I’d also say wage share places upward pressure as they are conduits for rent seekers capturing unearned wealth, such as the workers cost of shelter.

        But I would also assert that the real consumption capacity of workers is a material driver of the economy, and this capacity has been undermined. WOuld we see an aggregate demand issue if not for the marginal debt increases of the population?

        I would assert yes with great confidence.

        Profit share (including rents) has increased markedly, are they taking up consumption shortfall? Are they hoarding? Are they electing to pay for for the same item?

        I’d say no to the first, and say yes the the next two. If we had too high wages, we’d see that reflected in tradable product, too much money chasing to few goods.

      • Um, Xo. Didn’t you read the bit about wages shares going down? So, if infrastructure is going up in price, it’s not wages.

      • Emess, think construction average salaries $100-$150k. Teaching, seniors $100k. Nurses $80-$120k. Train drivers $145k. Public servants once on the managerial bands $120-750k.

        We are a nation of well-paid workers.

      • What is it about proportion do you fail to understand?

        Wages can remain static, other costs remain static and profits increase. This will be a loss of competitivenss, and it’s not th fault of wage earners.

        We may be a nation of ‘high wage earners’ in a nominal sense, but we’re much higher in terms of profit earners…. dividend recipients really are our leaners.

    • “They cannot see that Trump voters are sick to death of redistribution, of seeing their taxes wasted, of supporting half the population by their hard work. ” Just fix that for you –

      They cannot see that Trump voters are sick of redistribution to CAPITAL OWNERS, of seeing their taxes NOT PAID BY CAPITAL OWNERS, of supporting half the population by their hard work BECAUSE THERES NO JOBS ANY MORE AS THE OWNERS OF CAPITAL HAVE MADE OFF WITH ALL THE MONEY.

      See, wasn’t that hard was it? The idea of you claiming legitimacy for your rent-seeking antics from the rise of anti-elite politics is hilarious.

      • Xo, they cheered everything he said just because.

        Now I will grant you that many Americans grumble about paying taxes and misuse of that money by the govt. But they get even more pissed off about non-payment of taxes by corporates and offshoring of jobs. Which are all motivated by the same thing – more jam for execs, less for workers.

        There are some fundamentally mismatched positions between the anti-elitists and the Tea Party libertarian corporatists that are going to be fully exposed in due course (and of course were between Trump and the Rep establishment).

      • Trump boasted of being rich, very rich!!! Trump voters love that stuff.

        Yet here and elsewhere the Left attempts to frame the rise of Trump within the parameters of the pet causes of the Left itself – they are wrong wrong wrong.

        Inequity inequality capital yada yada. Trump voters don’t care. They want a slice of the action. Bigly.

    • Xo – do you think we have “selective immigration” in Australia now ?

      When 83% of the Permament residents grants are unskilled ? Nearly half go onto welfare & health care immediately? Arrive here to swell the ranks of the vast unassimilated racially aligned migrant slum enclaves that now spread across our two main cities ?

      And when 93% of the 2.4 million temporary (1.9 million + 85k overstayers) and illegally working tourist visa (400k of 8 million ‘visitors’ almost all third world migrant guest workers who are totally unskilled, many illiterate in their own language ?
      Mostly Asian & Indian rural poor or slum clearance, bar girls & vice workers or unskilled unemployable misfits who are sent here on a visa alibi to work, and then repatriate tens of billions of often illegally gained untaxed underground / blackmarket income ~ back to their criminal loan agent procurers & families ?
      Importing vice crime rackets and non contributing ‘ steal or take everything ~ but never give anything back ‘ attitudes in their morality ahd values ?
      Destroying Australian jobs, wages, housing, public infrastructure, education and our standards of living?

      Do you think this is good ‘selective’ immigration ?

  2. This might explain the rise of Trumpism and Hansonism, but can someone please explain to me how Hanson provides any solutions.

    • She dosnt provide any solutions. She just regurgitates the “feelings” people have on what they think is right and what they think would fix the problem. At the moment however some of the stuff she is saying would help this country. Like cutting immigration and 457 visas. But thats only a co-incidence, not because she has a clue. So one nation is the beneficiary of the huge untapped protest vote becasue people are jacked off by the major parties and the greens are a bunch of self righteous wankers.

    • She doesn’t.
      She’s just the easiest brick to throw, as was Trump. At the last election there were lots of lovely projectiles on the ballot paper, but most didn’t think about what they wanted to smash, or how they wanted to smash it. So they went for the One Nation branded brick. We’re that kind of country.


    For fucks sake.

    Time to drop another 2 hours off the working week or add another week of annual leave or something like that.

    • But then you’ll lose some of those productivity gains that shareholders crave. We can’t have that happening.

    • Truth.

      I think when it comes down to it, the main reason for the shrinkage of employment across big companies is the expansion of existing jobs to ever more responsibilities and workload. The recipients of this either slog their guts out or figure out its not worth it and drop any non-urgent tasks. Which would be a good thing EXCEPT that it results in the org completely neglecting any longer term activities which they are anyway not rewarded for by the stockmarket which cant see past the next few months.

      IT and automation is only part of the story. Reality is that companies have become extremely lean. To create employment growth again we’re going to have to find ways to get them to expand their horizons.

      • Also note that due to the obsession with importing allegedly skilled workers from overseas, whether by 457 visa or otherwise, training hours have been slashed, reducing workloads for both trainees and trainers.

        When the cheap developing world labour well runs dry, hours in this category will expand again.

  4. governments must “think of some form of redistribution so that workers get their income shored up”

    Either that, or they must make life cheaper for workers. Stop those with capital from making life shit for workers, ie. make speculation in the essentials (food, clothing, housing) unprofitable/impossible.

    Or, they could just do what they current mob/s is/are doing, and sit around twiddling their thumbs, thereby guaranteeing the next revolution.

  5. perhaps if workers also rebated half their salaries back to big business, trickle-down would become a torrent from a growing pie (to mix metaphors). I think what I am trying to say that all this deregulation has a touch of a failed, 3rd world state about it.
    Further, it is not just the full-time worker that has felt the pinch. The part-time, the casualised, the unemployed and the unemployable have been impoverished and made to feel like crap.

  6. Layer house prices over chart #2
    As predicted the RBA have orchestrated a massive wealth transfer from the working poor to property speculators.
    Job well done Glenn.

  7. The current formula for real wages are anything but real. Relative to wages many major costs (housing, healthcare, education) have gone backwards.

    For the love of whatever god you believe in, please come up with a “real” formula which actually reflects “reality”.

  8. All sex is not rape, but most poverty is.

    I reckon you could go the extra step and say all poverty is………….

    The identity politics charade HnH refers to above goes further in a key way – it’s a distraction from the main game and has been played out as a vehicle for fragmenting the left.

    The only way to achieve socio economic progress is reform. All reform is the outcome of a negotiation. All negotiation is the identification and acknowledgement of ‘facts’ and the ordering of those into a narrative which leads to outcomes.

    For the most part (there are exceptions but they are rare) the right owns the means of production (and the creation of wealth) they own the legislature, and regulatory sub units, and the courts. For the most part they will assume that the ‘facts’ and the narrative will lead where they determine. Generally they will outline that narrative for the left as a fait accompli – that if the facts are not acknowledged and recognised (and usually the narrative presented by them agreed with – though sometimes the right will leave some scope for change in this, often overtly to allow something for the left to cling to as an outcome) then there will be some form of pain visited on the left (or some portion of the interests the left would claim to be representing).

    It does not matter if the level of the negotiation is the workplace – see recruitment, performance management, salary and conditions negotiations, or economic policy – see taxation settings and deductions, redistributive outlays, social welfare, or even international policy – the funding decisions of the world bank, the actions by the IMF & EC vis Greece, or mandates to enforce the privatisations of social services and infrastructure. The message of the right, the owners of the capital (or those who think they do), is backed by threat.

    Look at when the great socio economic reforms have occurred – has there ever been significant welfare or progressive economic reform without there being a crisis of capital, sufficient to threaten it, or an overtly stated intention to threaten it, and without the socio economic reform being delivered as a trade-off, where capital has accepted the trade off as worthwhile in exchange for what it is getting.

    It is simply not in the nature of the right (or capital) to ‘give’ what it is not forced to give, because anything of value to it is assumed to be its by right (and of its discretion for allocation) until there is a legally enforceable right to that value by something else. It only ever ‘gives’ when it is forced to give. The age of managerialism may well espouse mantras like ‘win-win’ but you can be 100% sure that the right will always be keen to talk up ‘wins’ for those with whom it negotiates which cost it nothing, and will always see its own wins as something which someone else is paying for or a cost which capital may conceivably be paying which it manages to avoid.

    The left always plays from behind scratch when attempting to negotiate because, as has been noted by plenty of others here, the left by definition has a broad (and often barely tangible) focus, whereas the right is always focused on the here and now and the allocation of costs within a contractually enforceable future. A standard play is for the right to give away something intangible in exchange for something tangible.

    The great fear of the right is that labour could potentially organise – because labour is a cost for capital. That is not the same as the left could potentially organise (because the left will represent a range of interests which are marginal to any given unit of labour). To the extent that it can get the left focused on non labour issues the right will generally be perfectly comfortable with a left seeking outcomes which are marginal to labour – and as has been the case for more than a generation where the political left in the developed world gains power it has generally delivered the rights agenda (particularly freeing up capital flows, deregulation, tax cuts, looking the other way on corruption, immigration) the right will take these as a free riding bonus. Not at any point would they take those policy settings and think that they should ‘give’ something to the society giving those policies to them. It simply is not in their mindset, and would not occur to them (though it may prompt some additional marketing or PR outlays).

    The identity politics HnH refers to plays into this perfectly. It leads to outcomes which are meaningless or marginal for the right (or sometimes baubles for right wing fellow travellers such as the fruitcake religious set [and their hatred of gays/education/science etc]) and disperses the left with these, while detracting the attention to the main game – economic and social reform and the redistribution of economic power imbalances (which the right – owning capital – sees as requiring them to pay, unless the reform grows the pie sufficiently for them to be able to offset that they would otherwise pay).

    This is where the global left has gone. Whether it is the idolizing of the Kennedies, or the looking the other way on the interpersonal shortcomings of Bill Clinton, or the excuses for the lack of reform under Obama, or the excuse making for Tony Blair’s foreign adventurism, or even the ‘gee whiz – our first female PM’ (or even ‘Gee whiz – our first deranged psychopath PM’) style of the ALP, it has put in the short steps on addressing the balance of power between labour and capital for a generation, while telling capital it is just as good as the right at supporting capital, and while selling those wanting meaningful reform an array of meaningless baubles.

    Over that same era the once credible narrative verification abilities of the media have been coughed up to provide infotainment and 95 cous cous or polenta recipes, a rundown on who’s tweet has gone viral, and a day in the life of a royal or a movie star. It has gone from performing a social service to euthanizing focus on issues – virtually eliminating ‘news’ and running anything in its place.

    It is time for the left to start standing up and representing working people and their interests. Not telling them that things haven’t become expensive because they can all take out more debt to pay for it, not telling them that their jobs aren’t under threat because they can all train up to become baristas, Not telling them that their tax cut is a great outcome when it leads to diminished public services, and not telling them their children will have a better educated future when it is pushing their kids into meaningless vocational certificates or creaming them blind for the chance to go and do something meaningful at university – and certainly not that they are getting a better educational funding regime when they are providing more funding per student to private schools than public. But most of all they need to stop telling those actually in jobs that when management needs additional ‘flexibility’ then they are the ones who will be sacrificed to provide it every time.

    To have any credibility in doing that they need to start being quite overt on their expectations of the minions of the right – of companies and the owners of capital – that they will hold them accountable for their revenues and they will require them to account for where they don’t pay tax, that they will develop an overt methodology for identifying a net budget position for every individual, that employees get paid first when companies go under, and that board members will be charged and held accountable for decisions they make, as well as ensuring executives are accountable. Let left parties come out and openly state that welfare is for people who don’t have enough and that for those who do have enough it isn’t available. Even better let them state openly that where immigration occurs it is to achieve a particular policy aim, and let that immigration be held accountable against that aim.

    And when that sort of sentiment is openly scoffed at, as surely it will be, then let that left put a head on a stick.

    It will only be when I see that sort of commitment that I would be inclined to vote for the mainstream left.

    Currently for a man who would love a leftist agenda steak, all I see on the menu is loads of alfalfa with a steak sauce (and watery at that)

    posted yesterday in response to 3d1k, but fits fine here. The media can roll out Jessica to pin the blame on angry white men but they wont go near touching a generations worth of increased take by the 1% crowd and the1%ers ability to shape the game to suit themselves…..

    Entertaining banter dudes. Well done.
    I’m still on the fence as to whether the zeitgeist is anti-globalisation or anti-immigration, the key driver. I lean toward the latter. South Park is never wrong

    I actually think the Zeitgeist at its core has almost nothing to do with either anti-globalisation or anti-immigration in the first instance, though I am quite sure the mainstream body politic, and the corporate and 1% elites, as well as their class of sociopathic managercrats, wants us to think it is. At its core the issues are those which are easily portrayed to us through the narrative of immigration and globalisation and keeping the focus on the interplay between those issues serves the interests of the 1%ers. I am also quite sure they would like us to think there is something of a binary choice between immigration or globalisation. Because at the end of the day I don’t think the developed world will actually be able to do much about immigration or about globalisation, and the one percenters actually get that.

    They know that if they can craft a narrative of a binary choice, and have the commentariat (and public) buy the idea that the core issue is between immigration and globalisation, then in the long run they will have as much immigration as they like, and the world will be an ever globalised place regardless, where the publics who currently rail against immigration and globalisation will ultimately give up in the face of the sheer enormity of it. The 1%ers and their, and their elite servants will also know they will be easily able to play a medium term game of supporting globalisation and immigration where there is a ready and popular case for them, and that in many cases the world has developed a taste for globalisation and immigration, which have brought many good things to the developed world, and that the odds would be in their favour to get another chance to drive the pro globalisation and immigration impulse. Sort of like a trader playing a pullback and taking cash before going long again.

    I think at its core the impulse which has carried Brexit and which Trump has (in part) harnessed en route to the White House revolves around two sides of the one issue, which the 1%ers certainly don’t want the commentariat and public thinking about because they think they will need to pay for it. One of these is fairly obvious and does get some discussion, though without its implications being thought through. The other gets an airing every now and then but is generally smoothed over without too much attention, or smothered in dollops of bullshit in order to deflect.

    The first aspect of the issue at the core (IMO) of what has carried Brexit and Trump is the status and remuneration of jobs for those members of the developed world who have been cultivated to believe that the success or failure of their families – and of the opportunities and aspirations of their children – depends on their ability to bring home a solid enough pay packet to support the access to the material goods and services to help their families access those aspirations .

    The second aspect of the issue at the core (IMO) of what has carried Brexit and Trump is the ability of the elites to avoid taxation, and their ability to take an ever increasing (over the last generation) and historically high share of the economic pie .

    I see the two as essentially facets of the one overarching issue of economic policy and the economic model , and it is obvious that immigration and globalisation issues also feed into economic policy and the economic model . I would however posit that the distribution characteristics of the economic policy and the economic model (with the take of the 1%ers and the ability of those part of the model essentially being ‘distribution characteristics’) are more core to discussion of it than ‘volumes processed’ by the economic policy and the economic model . I would also note that the the ‘real’ core issue which the 1%ers really don’t want remotely looked at is the ability of the elites and 1%ers, and their sociopath corporate bureaucrats to determine economic policy and the economic model to suit themselves first and foremost, and everyone else second, which in the circumstances applicable to the working and middle classes of the developed world has essentially meant a deterioration of quality of life – usually masked by debt – for a generation, while observing a far greater take by the elites – who have used the tools of ‘globalisation’ and ‘immigration’ against a backdrop of their increased ability to determine and impose economic policy and economic model coupled with their ability to obfuscate discussion of economic policy and control information about economic performance . It is the latter which is at the core of the disgruntlement leading to a rejection of immigration and globalisation. In short, they feel they have been bullshitted by the elites for a very long time, and although they may be only generally aware of how they have been bullshitted, that they have been bullshitted is, to them, perfectly obvious.

    The 1%ers and elites and their sociopath corporate bureaucrats are keen to ensure that there is as little discussion of the overall economic policy and economic model as possible, and preferably no discussion at all of the distribution characteristics of that model (the take going to working and middle classes, or the take being taken by the elites and 1%ers and their sociopathic corporate bureaucrats – and most certainly no discussion of the ability of the elites to shape economic policy to suit themselves) – and if the price for that is a debate on immigration and globalisation then they will accept that. The debate needs to go to the core.

    The zeitgeist is the role of the 1%. Anything less is just talking about the tools they use to get their way

    • Thanks Gunna Fair comment. I’m not too sure that it helps a lot to simplistically attribute the problem to the “1%” The economic structure is surely at the core of the problem but it is not just the 1% core who have altered all that. We’ve made a few choices ourselves along the way in terms of what we are prepared to do. Pogo was very perspicacious in my opinion.

  9. Strewth! This is a shallow brainless post. Then it got the predictable shallow non reasoning responses. There are about a bazillion questions to be asked as to the changing economic structures over that time. That leaves out the really essential question of how is productivity being measured. I’m not sure what is measured in wages either.
    The prime idiocy is that therefore we should pay more wages across the board or tax ‘capital’ to redistribute to whom? The fact this might destroy productive industries that are already squeezed by the very same processes that result in this redistribution of the income doesn’t even enter anyone’s head?
    Sorry but it is just so typical of this whole non-thinking economic universe! In summary this is just simplistic crap. Sure there is a reduction in share of wages going to workers in these countries and the problem is probably larger than is indicated by those graphs. But the presentation of a few graphs doesn’t contribute anything to a solution.

    • Solution is :
      The government elected by the citizens must fight for cheapest basic human needs. Real productive jobs will come as a result of that with a little help from the education system and consensus that we all live in the society.

      • karloo
        My point is that is exactly what is not going to work in response to this. The fundamental problem lies in financialisation of everything together with equating debt with production. Unless you reverse this current economic nonsense your government action will just drive out actual production and we will be even more ‘financialised’.

  10. Those graphs say it all. But don’t aim for redistribution via the tax and welfare state, better that the workers get their fair share through direct negs with corporations through better support via unions or government. Maybe we have a shift to more and more co-op, or worker owned institutions, plenty of successful examples out there. But change on a big scale may need things to really go tits up first.

    • lachlan
      You have to change your economic basis. We have to stop equating debt with production and, in particular, foreign debt with production. This requires a whole rethink of modern economics back to something that is a lot more reliant on good sense than artificial contrivances.
      Nothing will be achieved by creating more artificial contrivances.

      • I agree with the idea of equating debt and production being a problem. Although I would say that Co-ops and employee owned enterprises, Mutuals etc aren’t artificial contrivances. Plenty of historical evidence for them, and would argue that they can make good sense, particularly now with much easier connectivity between people.

    • Lachlan

      Yes I agree re the mutual ownership. It was all part of my more idealistic youth – then life took over. I was thinking about these things a bit these past few days. I think my staff would say i probably haven’t changed all that much from those days. Funny as soon as I argue with Skippy he shouts “neoliberal” as if that automatically wins the argument. That is so far off the mark. If I was going to be called anything other than “common sense economics” it ought probably be agrarian socialist!!! 🙂 Cheers