INTHEBLACK December 2020 - Magazine - Page 26
// J I M S TA N F O R D
Left: Jim Stanford conducting a presentation on how to
build a new economic narrative, at the Alberta Federation
of Labour Convention 2019 in Calgary, Canada.
Above: Stanford (at far right) with Australia Institute
colleagues Richard Denniss and Ben Oquist.
OPEN VIDEO IN A NEW WINDOW
“Governments will need to take a leading role in hiring
people directly, initiating investment, directing resources
and finding ways to get the economic ball rolling.”
“I wanted to avoid endless math and technical terms, and
explain economics in clear English to relate it to people’s
lives,” he says of the book.
“When people think of the economy, they think of
the stock market, and frankly that is just a tiny piece,
often just a sideshow, of the real economy, which is
about people’s jobs and working to make goods and
services that are useful.”
That ability to condense and explain information is
important for all private and public leaders, Stanford argues.
“All professionals should be able to break concepts down
clearly for the average person,” he says.
“Otherwise they have absolutely no hope of [getting
In 2016, Stanford and his family moved to Sydney,
where he founded the Centre for Future Work at the
Australia Institute think tank.
These days, Stanford divides his time between
Vancouver – where his wife works as an academic –
and his work at the institute in Sydney.
His influential role at the Centre for Future Work
allows him free rein to research trends in work,
employment and labour markets.
“It allows me to think outside of the box, rather than
respond to the day-to-day needs of an organisation, which
is what I have done in previous roles,” he says.
Stanford is also a Harold Innis Industry Professor
(fractional appointment) at McMaster University in
Canada, and an honorary professor in the department
of political economy at the University of Sydney.
26 ITB December 2020
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT DEBT
Chief among Stanford’s interests is the role of
government in the free market.
The pandemic, he argues, has reminded us of the
essential role of government in facilitating a healthy
economy, which is easy to forget in times of plenty.
“There is this myth that the economy is some spontaneous,
private activity, and government just gets in the way,” he says.
“That is historically false and, in fact, the capitalist
economy has always relied on the central role of the
government in enabling it.”
In the wake of the pandemic, many economies were
boosted by national stimulus measures, and this will
be the key to global recovery for many years to come,
Stanford says. “We need to recognise that governments
will need to take a leading role in hiring people directly,
initiating investment, directing resources and finding
ways to get the economic ball rolling,” he says.
Many economic commentators are worried about the
amount of money governments are spending on boosting
economies, but Stanford believes the obsession with
achieving government surplus, particularly in Australia,
is based on a false understanding of economics.
“Debt is considered a normal part of the corporate
world,” he says.
“If you were a CEO of a major business, and you told
the AGM of shareholders that you were getting rid of
all of the debt of the corporation, then you would be out
the door, because shareholders know a good way to make
more money is to borrow money and invest it.”
CHANCE FOR CHANGE
Naturally, the pandemic has also exposed some longstanding faults in how we organise our work lives and
economies, and Stanford argues that we have a chance
for a meaningful re-design.
Research by the Australia Institute has revealed that
non-standard employment – casual, contractors, parttimers and marginal self-employment – accounts for
roughly half of all employment in Australia.
“Insecure work has cost lives [during COVID-19], and
one of the outcomes of the pandemic may be that it will
force us to start treating employees like human beings
rather than disposable, productive inputs,” Stanford says.
“It may force us to take better care of people such as
[ride-sharing] drivers, aged care workers and nurses on
In any case, the profit motive and a happy workforce
can – and must – go hand in hand.
“It’s important that business be embedded in a very clear
structure of rules, expectations and cultural norms, so that
business pursues profit in a way that is constructive,” he says.
Many workers are concerned about the impact of
technology on jobs, and while many of these fears are
misplaced, Stanford believes the solution lies in giving
workers a voice in how change is implemented.
“A way to counter those misconceptions, and a way to
ensure the benefits of technology are shared evenly, is to
give workers more say in how tech is implemented and
how things are automated,” Stanford says.
Finding new ways to redress the “unilateral decisionmaking power of employers” and provide a more
balanced and consultative approach to making decisions
in workplaces will serve us well, “not just in protecting
workers, but in building a more effective and inclusive
economy”, Stanford says.
W H AT W E C A N L E A R N
A strong local manufacturing sector
is important to staving off future
economic shocks, according to Jim
Stanford, and it must be a central
pillar of government policy.
“Local manufacturing will offer
more stability in a world that is
going to be more unstable for years
to come for many reasons,
including protectionism and trade
policy shifts globally, but also
environmental and technological
shifts,” he notes.
This, however, should not reflect
a rejection of globalisation.
“Essentially, you want to sell
specialised versions of products to
other countries and buy specialised
versions of other products from
other countries,” he says.
Stanford cites the example of
Singapore, which offers a strong
Singapore, he notes, devotes
public equity capital to industries
that will be “important to the
qualitative development of
Singapore’s economy, including
“Singapore uses more robots,
relative to their industrial workforce
size, than any other country,”
“They have embraced
modern, high-tech, exportoriented manufacturing as
critical to their success, and
I think Australia could learn
a lot from their model, frankly.”
In contrast, the development and
application of new technology by
Australian employers is slowing
down, not speeding up, according
to the Australia Institute’s 2020
report, The Robots are NOT
“The fact that investment in new
technology…has been historically
slow for most of the past decade
reflects a broader failure of the
Australian business sector to
innovate, accumulate capital, create
jobs and advance living standards,”
the report states.
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