I will tell it to you, straight… No sugar-coating.
In an election campaign battle that has all the drama and power of tough kiddy tae kwon do (have a look, very funny video), Rudd and Abbott have finally found something to agree upon.
And they’re both wrong.
Amazingly, both Rudd and Abbot are singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to the mining boom. And they’re both way off key.
For Rudd, the mining boom is about to end, plunging Australia into economic calamity, because China is powering down. Our best customer is taking a breather.
For Abbott, the mining boom is about to end, plunging Australia into economic calamity, because Labor’s carbon tax killed the mining boom.
Both arguments are simplistic, stupid…
… and wrong.
What’s the deal, why are both the PM and the PM-in-waiting talking down the Aussie economy and the mining boom?
For Rudd’s part, he’s trying to draw out Abbott’s small target strategy. Abbott’s main line of offence so far seems to be leveraging of the public conception that any pack of monkeys could do better than Labor, and hey, we’re those monkeys.
So Rudd’s trying to scare people. China is powering down, the mining boom is over, and you need a government with actual plans.
For Abbott’s part, he trying to focus attention of Labor’s most unpopular policy, and make it guilty of a sin it could never be capable of. The carbon tax and the MRRT were pretty ineffective. Everyone agrees on that. But they can’t be both ineffective and devastating at the same time. You can’t have it both ways.
And so Abbott is simply trying to scare people – Look at the mess they’ve made already. Imagine what other havoc they might wreak if we gave them another term. Nobody’s safe.
It’s all the politics of fear.
The psychology of fear is interesting. We’re hardwired to pay more attention to threats than to opportunities. A monkey who loses sight of the tigers for the berries, isn’t a monkey for long.
So the parties pay lip service to actual policies and the things they will do for you, but they know the messages that will sell are the messages of fear.
Labor’s campaign slogan is classic. “If he wins, you lose.” Be afraid. Very afraid.
And so the election boils down to both parties trying to present themselves as the least scary option.
As investors, it’s important to be aware of this human “threat attention” bias, and the structures that are built upon it. The entire media and newstertainment industry is an example. Good news never made a paper sell.
And so the media will sell us the bad news stories we want to buy. Drive-by shootings in suburbs you’ve never heard of. Disease pandemics in small countries you can’t pronounce. A rout in shares you don’t own. On and on it goes.
The economy is collapsing. The property bubble is bursting. Aliens have infiltrated the White House. The mining boom is over.
As investors, we need to see through this bias in the media and get a read of what is actually going on.
Trouble is though, there are feedback loops. If a story gets repeated enough times in the media, people start to accept it as fact. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
And that’s what worries me about all this fear-mongering from both sides of politics right now. Repeat a lie enough times it becomes the truth.
Call me foolish, but I’m worried that people might actually start listening to our politicians. And what will they hear?
“The mining boom is over, China is slowing.”
“The mining boom is over, it was Labor’s fault.”
Suddenly there’s a consensus that the mining boom is over. The public accepts it as fact. But it’s just plain wrong.
Oh woe is us! Isn’t there someone we can rely on to tell it to us straight? Who will save us in this darkest of hours?
Enter Glenn ‘Gunslinger’ Stevens, a junior economist on each arm.
Glenn’s been going out of his way to keep us on the straight and narrow, and protect the name and honour of fair Miss Truth.
According to Glenn, the mining boom’s not over, it’s just “changing gear.” It’s just going through a “phase shift”.
The prices boom has passed, and commodity prices are down from their peak in 2011. Our terms of trade are down around 18 percent, but Stevens (and most economists) reckon that even when the slide is over, it will still be higher than it was when the mining boom started – leaving us all better off.
The investment phase also now looks like it has passed its peak, but investment is still expanding. It’s not going backwards. BHP is not pulling down mines. It’s still growing, just at a slower pace than before. And it was a mind-blowing pace before.
But the key here, as Stevens points out, is that the next phase, the production and export phase, has barely started. He reckons volumes of iron ore are rising by about 15 per cent a year. Shipments of natural gas won’t start increasing strongly until 2015, and will probably have several years of very strong growth, and then remain high for years and years.
The boom is far from over. No economic calamity. Just an orderly phase shift. No tigers. Just marginally smaller berries.
But that won’t stop the pollies from trying to tell you that the world is ending.
Whatever. Shift happens.