Federal

Aug 2, 2011

Stutchbury, Quiggin and the fallout from the ‘recession of 2009’

Economists in glass houses ought to be careful when accusing others of bias ...

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The Australian’s Economics editor Michael Stutchbury has used an award to John Quiggin by the University of Queensland to launch an extraordinary personal attack on the economist. In a piece today, Stutchbury accused Quiggin -- an "unedited blogger" -- of "Green Left Weekly polemics" and, while being careful to say Quiggin "no doubt deserves his distinguished fellowship for his theoretical work", suggested it was a "puzzle" that the Economics Society chose to award him a distinguished fellowship. Quiggin responded briefly on his blog, including noting that Stutchbury had told him he had been directed to write the piece. Joshua Gans weighed in against Stutchbury at his blog. What appears to stick in the News Ltd craw is that Quiggin has been vocal in pointing out its partisan and deceitful coverage of public policy on issues such as climate change. "The Australian supports putting a price on carbon over Tony Abbott's direct action," claimed Stutchbury. "But the journalistic default should include some scepticism over whether scientists can accurately predict the climate decades ahead." This is the too-cute-for-words figleaf employed to cover The Australian’s long war on climate science and its systematic promotion of climate denialism and rent-seeker media releases. And then there’s stimulus spending. "The budget stimulus contained some of the worst government spending programs in the nation's history," opined Stutchbury. In fact The Australian’s hysterical BER coverage has been repeatedly discredited as independent inquiries by the ANAO and the Orgill Review endorsed the program as having negligible complaints, supporting tens of thousands of jobs (albeit in the construction industry, routinely vilified by The Australian) and delivering much-needed infrastructure. But since Stutchbury raised stimulus, let’s examine his own performance on the GFC (out of good taste, we won’t cover one of the more alarming moments in his earlier editorial career). "Get over it. The Australian economy is in recession right now, even if all the statistical dots are yet to be joined up. The question now is how deep and how long," he declared in March 2009. "The answer is that the economy will contract further over 2009 and probably won’t get properly off the floor until 2010." This "recession of 2009" as he termed it was only a few months after Stutchbury had actually urged Australians to save their stimulus handouts rather than spend them. But having declared Australia was in for a long recession -- "the Rudd government’s quick efforts to pump-prime the economy with budget handouts and the Reserve Bank’s rapid interest rate cuts had no hope of resisting the full impact of the global crisis" -- just a few weeks later, in July 2009, he was demanding that the government wind back its stimulus. How did Stutchbury address that particular contradiction? Well, he claimed, it was all because exports to China had saved our bacon, and had nothing to do with stimulus – which people had spent rather put in the bank like Stutchbury wanted. Alas, Stutchbury’s claims were in the process of being disproved even as he was writing -- the GDP figures for that quarter later showed exports making a trivial contribution to economic growth. In any event, the mining industry was laying off people in the thousands over the course of 2009. But by that stage Stutchbury was all aboard the Coalition’s "wind back the stimulus" campaign on the basis that it had been too successful, rather than having no hope of resisting the full impact of the GFC. Plainly, Stutchbury, even if he was directed to prepare an attack on Quiggin (the now-standard self-defence for News Ltd journalists writing rubbish), is proud of working for an "agenda-setting newspaper". The newspaper's agenda happens to be one of rank partisanship against the party in office. In launching an attack on Quiggin's credibility, Stutchbury has brought a water pistol to a gunfight.

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