Joe Stiglitz made some important observations in a talk on July 26 at the University of Queensland. Here are the first few paragraphs from an article on the University's website:
Inadequate taxes on mining means the people of Australia are being cheated and the economy is getting poorer, a Nobel Prize-winning economist told a crowd of 1400 people at The University of Queensland last night.
Professor Joseph Stiglitz shared his thoughts on the proposed mining tax in response to a question from an audience member during the seventh UQ Centenary oration.
“Natural resources lead to an appreciation of the currency and that leads to an imbalanced economy because it's hard for any other sector to do well, competing with imports or exporting,” Professor Stiglitz said.
“You're selling off your assets and in many cases you're selling them off at a very low price.
“If you are taking resources out of the country and you are not reinvesting those resources in one way or another – a stablisation fund, human capital, infrastructure – then your economy is getting poorer, not richer, and a good accounting framework can show that,” he says.
“When you're taking out natural resources from an economy you ought to have a subtraction from GDP - a firm that held a resource and was selling it off would take off depreciation and that would show up in its books as depreciation.”
A bit of searching returned another account of that same evening:
Professor Stiglitz told a packed UQ Centre that Australia's economic stimulus package was the best designed in the world.
AND he said natural resources - coal, iron ore - should be properly valued at market just like the electromagnetic spectrum.
The government auctions the spectrum to the highest bidders who want to operate mobile phone networks, cable companies, television and radio stations.
Basically, a country - like Australia - will end up poor if doesn't get the best price for its assets - and natural assets are not renewable, once they are gone they are gone. If the proceeds from the sale of these assets are not invested in infrastructure to support and grow other sectors the economy (manufacturing and value-adding, goods creation) then a country and it's people will not prosper - HELLO! HELLO! Drowning not waving.
"It should be subtracted from Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," he said. "You are selling off assets at a very low price if you don't have adequate taxes on mining - you are being cheated," he said to audience applause.
He thinks resources should be auctioned off to the highest bidder - the free market at work. Of course, the mining industry will make all kinds of threats.
To everyone's amusement he joked about how mining companies bamboozled, threatened and bribed governments of developing, fragile nations.
"I assume that's not the case in Australia," he mused.
To prosper, a country needs to set up a stabilization fund (from a mining tax, if not a resources auction) for nation building.
This is what he calls an investment fund for building infrastructure and to grow value-adding industries, maintain education, job creation.
Not only that but the sell-off of natural resources should appear on a country's accounts as a kind of depreciation of assets - otherwise the accounts are not accurate. ...
He made these comments at the end of the oration after he explained the difference between the financial sector and the economy - the economy is not the financial sector.
The financial sector (the banks and regulators) are the culprits behind the global financial crisis which has crippled the global economy. Apparently, moneylenders have been skimming 40 percent of the profits from companies that actually make and produce things. His big point was that this is not really the role of the financial sector. The financial sector's job is to support economic growth, not cripple it.
"Finance is a means to an end," he said. "The lack of balance between the financial sector and the economic sector was actually the real problem in this economic crisis (NOT the real estate bubble)."
The second account concludes with:
And as for Climate Change and the price of carbon and waiting for the rest of the world before we do anything?
Economies are not restructuring because there is no carbon price. The western world worries about the growing and changing consumption patterns of China and India.
Professor Stiglitz doesn't believe the West should begrudge them at all.
It's not consumption that's evil - it's profligacy. WASTE! Now, I wonder who wastes more the West or countries raising people out of poverty?
India and China will follow the wasteful ways of the West if the world fails to set a carbon price and force everyone to consume less to save the planet - the planet will force us to change in the end (*he says).
"If we had agreed to have a price on carbon at Copenhagen that would have been the answer," he said. "It would have provided an increase in global aggregate demand (global economic spending) as firms all over the world needed to retrofit (their business to meet pollution standards)."
So why is the US not hearing this advice? There is a lot here that speaks to issues which Americans would be wise to attend to. Alaska pays for a large portion of its costs by taxing its natural resources, and also provides an annual income to every permanent resident, of any age, from the proceeds of investing oil revenue into a broadly diversified portfolio, through the Alaska Permanent Fund. We have sacrificed many American lives in Iraq, but not produced a situation in which Iraq's oil revenue gets used either to finance infrastructure and government-provided services OR to provide an income to every citizen.
Re-read these excerpts with Iraq in mind, and then thinking of Afghanistan, and then of America.
Postscript: see also Karl Fitzgerald's account of Stiglitz's 7/30 talk.