Confounding the doomsayers again. The labour force figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for August have done it again — confounded the doomsayers with all three measures of unemployment edging down. The so-called wisdom of economic pundits was for the number of job seekers to rise.

Those prone to look on the gloomy side of life are already pointing to a fall in the participation rate from 65.2% to 65% as being responsible for the 0.1 of a percentage point in the decline of the headline unemployment rate. Perhaps they should look instead at the other key measure of joblessness that the ABS publishes quarterly. By that measure of labour under utilisation — that adds those who would like to have worked more to those without work at all when surveyed — dropped as well, down from May’s 12.6% rate to 12.4%

That declining ice. The big Arctic melt goes on. The National Snow and Ice Data center in the United States reported overnight that following the new record low recorded on August 26, Arctic sea ice extent continued to drop and is now below 4.00 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). Compared to September conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, this represents a 45% reduction in the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice. At least one more week likely remains in the melt season.

Professor Peter Wadhams has told BBC Newsnight that the loss of Arctic ice is effectively doubling mankind’s contribution to global warming. White ice reflects more sunlight than open water, acting like a parasol, Prof Wadhams explained. Melting of white Arctic ice, currently at its lowest level in recent history, is causing more absorption.

Prof Wadhams calculates that this increased absorption of the sun’s rays is “the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man”. He predicts that the Arctic ice cap is “heading for oblivion”. In 1980, the Arctic ice in summer made up some 2% of the Earth’s surface. But since then the ice has roughly halved in area, and the volume of ice has dropped to just a quarter of what it was.

How Australia ranks in the competitiveness stakes. The latest Global Competitiveness Report‘s competitiveness ranking compiled by the World Economic Forum has Australia continuing in 20th spot. Defining competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country, GCI scores are calculated by drawing together public and private data around 12 key categories — the pillars of competitiveness — that together make up a comprehensive picture of a country’s competitiveness.

The WEF reviewed Australia in this way:

After losing four positions to faster-improving economies last year, Australia retains its rank of 20th and score of 5.1, just behind Korea. Among the country’s most notable advantages is its efficient and well-developed financial system (8th), supported by a banking sector that counts as among the most stable and sound in the world, ranked 5th. The country earns very good marks in education, placing 15th in primary education and 11th in higher education and training.

Australia’s macroeconomic situation is satisfactory in the current context (26th). Despite repeated budget deficits, its public debt amounts to a low 23 percent of GDP, the third lowest ratio among the advanced economies, behind only Estonia and Luxembourg. The main area of concern for Australia is the rigidity of its labor market (42nd). Indeed, the business community cites the labor regulations as being the most problematic factor for doing business, ahead of red tape.

In addition, although the situation has improved since last year, transport infrastructure continues to suffer bottlenecks owing to the boom in commodity exports.

News and views noted along the way: