I've been busy and found it difficult to assign time to assessing the budget. Clearly the Labor Party has inherited a fabulously prosperous economy - that the terms of trade is due to increase by so much over the next year is astounding and should dominate our impressions of where the Australian economy is going.
The bugdet response has been to award miserly tax cuts to lower income groups and to defer them for higher income groups and to run a massive budget surplus. Much of the surplus is to end up in investment funds to be spent on infrastructure, health and education.
This budget is therefore a beginning not an outcome. The main issues are how these funds will be allocated and how they will be spent when the economy is close to full employment. Project costs will be high so there is the prospect that returns on these investments will be under pressure. There is the possibility Labor will use them to pork-barrell in 2010 but they may surprise and spend the money wisely. It is a beginning.
Longer term these surpluses belong to the citizens of Australia not to the Labor Party. It is unsatisafactory for tax rates to be set so high that the government runs massive surpluses.
The funds can only be spent with a continued commitment to Labor market reform that prevents cost push inflation from emerging. The economy should be able to reduce unemployment still further and guarantee longer term better wages if the link between wages and prices can be broken.
I was less-than-impressed by the response of the Coalition to the budget. Malcolm Turnbull's responses on alcopops taxation added a bit of comic relief however. His claim was that the tax could not seriously target youth drinking because revenue to the government was forecast to increase with the tax! This is incorrect since the demand for alcopos clearly will slope downwards. The tax can still yield additional revenue if the price-elasticity of demand for alcopos is low enough. If the price elasticity is high then the tax will substantially reduce consumption but (contrary to the expectations of Treasury) yield less tax.
Update: John Quiggin makes a scathing attack on Brendon Nelson who has apparently followed Malcolm Turnull in criticising the alcopops tax. As I publicly supported the Government in increasing this tax two weeks ago I've got to agree with John that the criticism of the increased tax is foolish politics that suggests foolish policy sense. Taxes on alcohol in Australia are approximately volumetric which makes sense if you believe (as I do) that alcohol is a neurotoxin - they are not quite right however as the alcohol in beer is taxed less heavily than that in spirits. I favour a hefty tax on alcopos because these drinks are directed at youth and at ensuring an ongoing dependence on booze.