In fact, only about one quarter of us report getting eight or more hours of sleep. That’s according to the huge annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey which now tracks more than 17,500 people in 9500 households.
We’ll hear today from Roger Wilkins, who runs the HILDA survey at University of Melbourne, on what exactly the survey found about how much and how well Australians sleep.
But first, you’ll hear from sleep expert Melinda Jackson, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University, about what the evidence shows about how we used to sleep in pre-industrial times, and what promising research is on the horizon. Here’s a taste:
Trust Me, I’m An Expert is a podcast where we ask academics to surprise, delight and inform us with their research. You can download previous episodes here.
And please, do check out other podcasts from The Conversation – including The Conversation US’ Heat and Light, about 1968 in the US, and The Anthill from The Conversation UK, as well as Media Files, a podcast all about the media. You can find all our podcasts over here.
The two segments in today’s podcast were recorded and edited by Dilpreet Kaur Taggar. Additional editing by Sunanda Creagh.
Vital Signs is a regular economic wrap from UNSW economics professor and Harvard PhD Richard Holden (@profholden). Vital Signs aims to contextualise weekly economic events and cut through the noise of the data affecting global economies.
This week: This risks of interest only loans that the RBA is ignoring and more revenue for the government ahead of the budget.
Australian taxpayers won’t face a rise in taxes now that Treasurer Scott Morrison announced the government will not increase the Medicare Levy by 0.5% as planned. This was to originally fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
This is on the back of strong company tax receipts stemming from companies using up carry-forward losses accumulated in the wake of the financial crisis.
The averted tax rise will be welcome news for Australian taxpayers. It also wedges the Labor opposition.
They have said that the NDIS was fully funded on their watch. So now they are proposing a 0.5% tax rise on all incomes over A$87,000. That’s pretty close to full-time male average weekly earnings and comes close to capturing half of Australian households.
The federal budget on May 8 will no doubt have further goodies for voters in the run-up to the net election, which will be either this year or relatively early next year. As usual, we will be reporting directly from the budget lockup.
One of the central economic puzzles of the last several years has been persistently low inflation in all advanced economies, despite general economic recovery and falling unemployment.
This week’s Australian consumer price inflation figures revealed a 0.4% increase for the March quarter, and 1.9% for the last 12 months. The March quarter figure was below market expectations of 0.5%, and also the previous (December quarter) figure of 0.6%. Education prices were up 2.6% on the quarter, and health prices up 2.2% (or 4.2% for the year to March 2018).
Numerous central banks around the world have a similar approach. The basic idea is that a central bank can build a reputation over time to commit to monetary policy such that inflation lies in the band.
Now there are pros and cons to this approach to monetary policy, and it has its critics. But that is another tale for another day.
Just assuming that inflation targeting is the correct objective, how is the RBA doing? Well, one small hitch in the plan is that inflation has been outside the band for a long time now (basically since 2014), as the RBA’s own figures show.
Given the level of unemployment in Australia, low wages growth, and stubbornly low inflation, the RBA probably should have cut rates further a fair while back. But they seem, probably rightly, terrified of further fuelling a potential housing bubble.
Meanwhile, the credibility of their commitment to the inflation target withers. If only the regulation of our banking and finance sector had been better for the last, say, decade or two.
It seems that the RBA “house view” on interest only loans is as follows. There could be a problem but the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) stepped in and the banks have voluntarily tightened lending standards recently. Also because the average household with an interest only loan has a buffer of savings, everything will be fine. Nothing to see here.
I hope the RBA’s conclusion is right, but I know for sure that the reasoning is not. It’s actually the marginal household’s financial position and behaviour that matters, not the average household.
The average United States borrower with an adjustable-rate mortgage did not default in 2007, 2008 or 2009. But these mortgages were a huge contributor to the financial crisis, along with subprime mortgages.
Kent dutifully laid out the risks from interest only loans, saying:
Because there’s no need to pay down principal initially, the required payments are lower during the interest-only period. But when that ends, there is a significant step-up in required payments (unless the interest-only loans are rolled over).
Indeed, unless they can be rolled over. Which they can’t now because of APRA and the banks finally doing something.
Now, prices (interest rates) on interest only loans have gone up as part of the bank response. This has led a bunch of folks to shift to amortising loans, where the principal of the loan is paid down over the life of the loan. So those borrowers who haven’t shifted to these loans already, really don’t want to.
Maybe they can’t afford to because of the increased repayments, that can jump 30% or more per month.
So what does happen? First Kent says many borrowers save ahead of time, expecting a rise in repayments. Yes, the prudent ones.
But how many non-prudent borrowers have there been in the Australian property market in recent years? Hint: a lot.
Kent also points to borrowers who seek to refinance their interest only loan. But banks don’t really want to, and APRA doesn’t want to let them. And who is going to be able to? The safer borrowers who did save and so don’t really need to avoid amortisation. The risky borrowers can’t refinance.
Kent says some borrowers will have to cut their spending. Chuckle, chuckle. And the final option is to sell their house.
Sure, no problem, unless lots of folks want to do that all at once. Then it’s a fire sale that detonates the housing market.
I really do hope we escape the interest only debacle unscathed. But if we do it will be pure, dumb luck, not a consequence of good design or sound regulation.
It definitely doesn’t justify the RBA’s house view in Kent’s concluding remarks that:
The substantial transition away from interest-only loans over the past year has been relatively smooth overall, and is likely to remain so. Nevertheless, it is something that we will continue to monitor closely.
Perhaps a there should have been a little more monitoring before interest only loans got to be 40% of all loans and more than half of the loan book of one of our biggest banks.
Although you’d have to have at least two Bitcoins to buy a Tesla Model 3 Roadster, but as Tesla is not yet ready to deliver this model in Australia, you may want to wait until you only need one Bitcoin.
Self-checkouts in supermarkets are increasing as businesses battle to reduce costs and increase service efficiency. But looking at the numbers, it isn’t clear that self-service is an easy win for businesses.
Self-checkouts aren’t necessarily faster than other checkouts, don’t result in lower staff numbers, and there are indirect costs such as theft, reduced customer satisfaction and loyalty.
There are a couple of intertwining trends that explain the rise of self checkouts.
We now visit our supermarkets more frequently than ever before, two to three times per week in fact. This means our basket contains fewer items and being able to wander up to a self-checkout, with little to no wait time, has been an expedient way to shop. Most shoppers consider self-checkouts both fast and easy to use. Although this varies with age – 90% of shoppers aged 18-39 found self-service checkouts easy to use, only 50% of those over 60 years said the same.
But from a business perspective, moving from “staffed” checkouts to self-serve machines isn’t cheap. A typical setup costs around US$125,000. On top of that there are the costs of integrating the machines into the technology already in place – the software and other systems used to track inventory and sales, and the ongoing costs – to cover breakdowns and maintenance.
But the biggest direct cost to retailers of adopting self-service checkouts is theft. Retail crime in Australia costs the industry over A$4.5 billion each year.
There is reason to believe that rates of theft are higher on self-service machines than regular checkouts. A study of 1 million transactions in the United Kingdom found losses incurred through self-service technology payment systems totalled 3.97% of stock, compared to just 1.47% otherwise. Research shows that one of the drivers of this discrepancy is that everyday customers – those who would not normally steal by any other means – disproportionately steal at self checkouts.
Studies also show that having a human presence around – in this case employees in the self-checkout area, increases the perceived risk of being caught, which reduces “consumer deviance”. This is why retailers have been adding staff to monitor customers, absorbing the additional losses, or passing them on to customers in an “honesty tax”.
Making self-checkouts work
As you can see in this graph, preliminary work by researchers Kate Letheren and Paula Dootson suggests people are less likely to steal from a human employee than an inanimate object. Not only because they will get caught, but because they feel bad about it.
On the other hand, consumers have plenty of justifications to excuse self-checkout theft, which is leading to its normalisation.
To combat this, researcher Paula Dootson is trying to use design to combat deviance. One of the ways is through extreme-personalisation of service to reduce customer anonymity. Anonymity is an undesirable outcome of removing employees and replacing them with technology.
Self-service technology reduces front line staffing costs and increases efficiency by re-distributing displaced staff into other service dominant areas of the business, but it creates unintended costs. These business costs can be direct, in the form of theft, but also indirect costs, like reduce customer satisfaction and loyalty. Something that some supermarkets are focusing on today.
Now that the first stage of a cut to the corporate tax rate has been passed by the Senate it’s clear the benefits are more political than economic. The cut may signal to the world that Australia wants to be competitive on corporate tax, but it won’t make much of a difference to our largest businesses and multinationals.
Company tax cuts have been on the government’s agenda since the 2016 budget, when the cuts were announced. Ultimately, the plan was to reduce the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25% by the 2026-27 financial year for all companies.
The government has secured a cut to businesses with a turnover of under A$50 million, with companies with a turnover of less than A$10 million receiving a reduction in their tax rate (to 27.5%) this financial year. But the second stage of the tax cut is still to be passed, that would give a cut to businesses with a turnover of A$100 million in 2019-20.
The impact is all in Australia’s image
Arms of multinational companies often pay a much lower effective tax rate when compared to their parent company. Until politicians across the globe can agree how to ensure companies pay tax on local earnings, which appears unlikely in the near future, tax rates will remain a signal to multinationals on where to base their business.
The tax cuts have been strongly supported by big companies and even more so by the Business Council of Australia. A major reason put forward by the business community is the need to stay competitive in a global environment.
Our major trading partners such as the United Kingdom and United States are planning to drastically reduce their corporate tax rates and countries such as Ireland (12.5% on corporate trading profit) and Singapore (by 2018 20% capped at $20,000) already have very low corporate tax rates in place. Multinational corporations have the ability to profit shift to lower taxing jurisdictions.
For instance, a multinational can employ tax accountants to structure ownership of intellectual property in a low taxing jurisdiction and reduce gross income by license fees, or via debt loading to a parent company. Tax avoidance is often siphoned through a non-reporting subsidiary, so these accounting tricks occur without the glare of public scrutiny. In other instances multinationals have been able to completely bypass Australian tax by booking revenues overseas.
How it will affect accounting for Australian companies
When you look at what a tax cut might mean to Australian companies, it’s not hard to envisage how a tax cut tied to a specific revenue level creates incentives for accountants and lawyers to exploit new thresholds.
Accounting research from the United States shows companies do take into account tax when considering how to report their profits. For example, a typical strategy is to delay recognising an expense that belongs in the current year, until the next year.
This is usually to make it seem like the company has increased its profits, making it appear better to shareholders. However there have been no studies specifically relating to how companies might do this in relation to revenue (what the Australian government is considering for the tax cut).
At any rate, the net rate of tax on Australian company profits is considerably lower than the current 30% (or the new 27.5%) company tax rate. According to our calculations it should be around 11.3%. This is lower than the company tax rate in other similar economies.
There’s also something unique to Australia which means private companies pay less tax and that’s dividend imputation. This is designed to eliminate the double taxation of dividends in the hands of Australian shareholders.
Since it’s introduction in 1987, dividend imputation has provided strong incentives for firms to pay the full statutory tax rate on all reported profits. The tax paid on dividends flowing to Australian shareholders of Australian companies is reduced by an amount equal to the tax already paid by the corporation, this is known as imputation credits. A shareholder’s marginal tax rate, and the tax rate for the company issuing the dividend, both affect how much tax an individual shareholder owes on what is called a fully franked dividend.
The average effective tax rate of Australia’s largest private companies are much lower than that of the largest public companies (most of which pay fully franked dividends). You can see this in the table below which shows the effective tax rates calculated by two separate studies.
One of the studies by the union United Voice looked at the ASX200 companies and the otherby lobby group GetUp examined the largest private companies operated by foreign multinationals.
The corporate tax rate does figure in investment decisions of Australian companies and foreign companies wanting to do business in Australia. However, the rate of corporate tax is at best a second order effect in influencing the decisions of foreign companies. Therefore, the gains from the government win in the Senate appear to be more political than economic.
At best the tax cut may somewhat reduce the burden on smaller Australian companies, albeit at a significant cost to the budget, without impacting the largest Australian and foreign multinationals. Although prospects for further tax cuts for the big end of town (which has a greater impact on the economy) are unlikely in the next five to 10 years without Senate crossbencher support.
More than a thousand attendees are expected to gather for a four-day conference to celebrate John Calvin’s 500th birthday, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.
As America prepares to celebrate Independence Day this July 4, Vision Forum Ministries will be hosting the national celebration to honor the 500th birthday of John Calvin, a man who many scholars recognize as America’s “Founding Father.”
The event — The Reformation 500 Celebration — will take place July 1-4 at the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown Boston, according to a media release about the event.
“Long before America declared its independence, John Calvin declared and defended principles that birthed liberty in the modern world,” noted Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum Ministries.
“Scholars both critical and sympathetic of the life and theology of Calvin agree on one thing: that this reformer from Geneva was the father of modern liberty as well as the intellectual founding father of America,” he said.
Phillips pointed out: “Jean Jacques Rousseau, a fellow Genevan who was no friend to Christianity, observed: ‘Those who consider Calvin only as a theologian fail to recognize the breadth of his genius. The editing of our wise laws, in which he had a large share, does him as much credit as his Institutes. . . . [S]o long as the love of country and liberty is not extinct amongst us, the memory of this great man will be held in reverence.'”
He continued: “German historian Leopold von Ranke observed that ‘Calvin was virtually the founder of America.’ Harvard historian George Bancroft was no less direct with this remark: ‘He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.’
“John Adams, America’s second president, agreed with this sentiment and issued this pointed charge: ‘Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect.’
“As we celebrate America’s Independence this July 4, we would do well to heed John Adams’ admonition and show due respect to the memory of John Calvin whose 500th birthday fall six days later,” Phillips stated.
Calvin, a convert to Reformation Christianity born in Noyon, France, on July 10, 1509, is best known for his influence on the city of Geneva, the media release explains.
“It was there that he modeled many of the principles of liberty later embraced by America’s Founders, including anti-statism, the belief in transcendent principles of law as the foundation of an ethical legal system, free market economics, decentralized authority, an educated citizenry as a safeguard against tyranny, and republican representative government which was accountable to the people and a higher law,” the release states.
The Reformation 500 Celebration will honor Calvin’s legacy, along with other key Protestant reformers, and will feature more than thirty history messages on the impact of the Reformation, Faith & Freedom mini-tours of historic Boston, and a Children’s Parade.
The festivities will climax on America’s Independence Day as attendees join thousands of others for the world-renowned music and fireworks celebration on the Esplanade with the Boston Pops Orchestra.