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18 June 2008

Supply - not Demand 2

To continue the discussion of "Supply - not Demand" (see original post here)...

The New Norm

As economic expansion becomes its own problem and the difficulties facing an economy with almost full employment become the new norm... more and more issues arise that ask the question:

"how do we increase supply, and not demand"

I was listening to Radio National this morning (details and podcast here). Professor Deborah Brennan was talking about the Rudd Government's new Child Care policies and the ways in which increasing the Child Care benefits will simply increase demand and not help the supply problem.

I agree with her - and I am sad to think that the Rudd Government has come up with policies as cynical and pointless as the "first home-owners grant".

It makes people feel better. It makes them feel as if the government is doing something... but in the end it simply increases demand, drives up prices, creates more "burn" in the tax benefit system and does nothing to actually make anyone's life easier.

Housing and R&D

It did set me to thinking, however, about how one might manage to improve the supply situation without increasing demand.

The answer, in a way, is simpler for houses. We have a whole industry based around the supply of houses - the construction industry, housing developers... there are people to whom we can give direct tax credits, simply for doing their job, in order to increase the supply of houses being built in the economy (more about this idea).

There is no equivalent for Child Care. There is no Child Care Centre construction industry.

But the concept of tax incentives based on particular activity within an industry is not a new one. Think of the generous tax incentives for R&D that have been implemented in some countries.

Yes, admittedly, there is always the problem of "what is R&D"... but that is for the tax department to work out. You know when you're doing it... and if you've got any queries, don't depend on the tax rebate until the department has made a ruling... it's simple really, and it's been done before, many times.

Finding the Answer

What we need is a 150% (or at least something 100%+) tax rebate on all the costs involved in the first year's set-up and running of a "new" child-care centre.

Yes, the tax department will need to define "new". Yes, it will need to clarify what can be included in the list of expenses. But the basic list is easy to come up with - the details can, as always, be worked out in the fullness of time.

The list includes, but is not limited to, the costs of:
  • building new premises intended for the purpose of housing a new Child Care centre, which is then used to house said Child Care centre for at least 12 months. (If premises has other purposes, as well, then a pro-rata calculation can be made)
  • Renting premises intended for the purpose of housing a new Child Care centre, which is then used to house said Child Care centre for at least 12 months.
  • All wages for staff involved in supporting and running a new child-care centre.
  • All office expenses, new materials etc. involved in supporting and running a new child-care centre.

Facing the Problems

There is then the problem of Child Care centres not being viable after the initial 12 month period. But the problem is a small one.

The point is, there is a lot of unmet demand out there. There are more children than places. If that isn't the case, we don't have a problem. Once a Child Care centre is up and running - it is unlikely to be torn down and replaced with something else, unless someone has made a very stupid business calculation and is now running a Centre where the prospect is truly unsustainable.

If this is the case, then the problem is with the business case, not the incentive scheme - and the Centre deserves to shut down, as per the laws of Supply and Demand that we are trying to utilise.


Would it be expensive?


Would it cost more than the current rebate extensions?
Possibly, depending on tax rebate levels

Would it help supply without increasing demand?

Can we afford it?

Would it help "working families" more than the current rebate, in the long run?
Most certianly, YES!

Let's stop just making people feel better, and help the whole economy.

The Reasons

Access to Child Care is an equality issue.

Increasing access helps new parents back into the workforce. It increases levels of participation. It helps single parents. It increases overall output and productivity.

It simply IS a good idea.

This isn't some "anti-market" strategy. It's a market shaping strategy... and a good one... one that works. Only the absolute free-market purists could argue against it... and, well, really... arguing against a purist of any persuasion is a bit pointless.

Questions, comments, further ideas and foreseen problems welcome. Let's work out the details and get this implemented.

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