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Articles for the ‘Essentials of Economics 6e: Ch 08’ Category

Should countries target GDP growth?

A key economic objective of governments around the world is economic growth, where economic growth is taken to mean growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This can be refined as growth in GDP per head or growth in Net National Income (NNY or NNI) – this takes account of depreciation and net flows of income to and from abroad. But is GDP (or NNY) an appropriate measure? There continues to be much debate about this and there is a lot of support for adopting an alternative measure – the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as a target for economic policy.

GDP measures the market value of production and is the value added at each stage of production. If the value of a nation’s production is what you want to measure or target, then GDP is quite a good indicator. Its main drawbacks are that it uses market prices, which may be distorted, and that much of production in the informal sector is not included.

But if GDP growth is taken to be a proxy for development or growth in wellbeing of the residents of a country, then it has serious shortcomings. This is not to say that GDP gives no indication of progress. Generally, countries with higher GDP per head have a better standard of living, but it is not necessarily the case that, if Country A has higher production in the formal sector than Country B, its residents will be happier, more fulfilled and have fewer economic or other problems.

GDP, by focusing on production, ignores many environmental and social costs of that production. Valuable but not tradable resources, such as clean air, rivers and oceans, may be sacrificed for the sake of extra production and this is recorded as a gain in GDP.

Similarly, unless GDP is specifically weighted by income groups, which virtually never happens, it does not take into account income distribution. Much of the growth in production in both rich and poor countries in recent decades has gone to the richest people. Take the case of the USA. In 1944 the share of income going to the top 1% share was 11.3%, while the bottom 90% were receiving 67.5%. Such levels remained roughly constant for the next three decades. But then things began to change.

Starting in the mid- to late 1970s, the uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall. The top 1% took heavy hits from the dot-com crash and the Great Recession but recovered fairly quickly: [preliminary estimates for 2012 by Emmanuel Saez] have that group receiving nearly 22.5% of all pre-tax income, while the bottom 90%’s share is below 50% for the first time ever (49.6%, to be precise).

So what does GPI measure and why may it be a better target for policy-makers than GDP or NNY? The answer is that it includes a number of important items that affect the well-being of a country, such as resource depletion, social activity and income distribution, that are not measured in GDP. So what would cause GPI to rise? According to The Guardian article below, examples would include:

Getting more energy from renewables; increased energy efficiency; reducing the income gap; putting more reliable, durable products on the market (have you heard of planned obsolescence?); volunteering more for your community; preserving wetlands, forests, and farmland; shorter commutes and transport routes. In fact, there are 26 ways the GPI can go up, all measured in dollars that boil down to a single number.

GPI is being increasingly adopted as a measure of progress. In the USA, it is officially used in Vermont and Maryland and is being considered in other states, such as Hawaii, Washington and Oregon.

And there are other alternatives. For example, since 1990, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has published an annual Human Development Index (HDI) As Box 27.1 in Economics, 8th edition states:

HDI is the average of three indices based on three sets of variables: (i) life expectancy at birth, (ii) education (a weighted average of (a) the mean years that a 25-year-old person or older has spent in school and (b) the number of years of schooling that a 5-year-old child is expected to have over their lifetime) and (iii) real GNY per capita, measured in US dollars at purchasing-power parity exchange rates.

The following articles look at the suitability of GDP and GPI and whether, by targeting growth in GDP, governments are guilty of downplaying the importance of other economic and social objectives.

Beyond GDP: US states have adopted genuine progress indicators The Guardian, Marta Ceroni (23/9/14)
Forget the GDP. Some States Have Found a Better Way to Measure Our Progress. New Republic, Lew Daly and Sean McElwee (3/2/14)
Gross domestic problem Aljazeera, Sean McElwee (6/6/14)
Creating the Circular Economy, Part II Environmental Leader, David Dornfeld (17/9/14)
Development: Time to leave GDP behind Nature, Robert Costanza, Ida Kubiszewski, Enrico Giovannini, Hunter Lovins, Jacqueline McGlade, Kate E. Pickett, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Debra Roberts, Roberto De Vogli and Richard Wilkinson (15/1/14)
The Problems With Using GPI Rather Than GDP Forbes, Tim Worstall (5/6/14)

Questions

  1. What does GDP measure?
  2. Does GDP of a country equate to the turnover of a firm?
  3. If growth in NNY is superior to growth in GDP as a measure of economic growth, why are GDP figures more generally used than NNY figures when assessing a country’s economic performance?
  4. How suitable is using GDP as a measure of a nation’s production?
  5. What does GPI measure?
  6. Is GPI superior to GDP as a measure of a nation’s level of development? Explain why or why not.
  7. Give some examples of where a growth in GDP might correspond to a decline in economic well-being.
  8. For what reasons could GPI measures be described as subjective?
  9. Would it be a good idea for a country to target growth in GPI/GDP? Explain your answer.
  10. In addition to real GNY per capita, the Human Development Index includes measures of education and life expectancy. For what other social objectives might education and life expectancy be useful proxies?
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The end of growth in the West?

The growth rates of the Western world have been somewhat volatile for the past decade, with negative growth sending economies into recession and then varying degrees of economic recovery. Growth rates elsewhere have been very high, in particular in countries such as China and India. The future of economic growth in the west is hotly debated and whether the western world has been forever changed by the credit crunch remains to be seen.

The article below from the BBC, written by Robert Peston, the Economics Editor, addresses the question of the future of the western world. Opinions differ as to whether the west is finally recovering from the recession and financial instability or if the credit crunch and subsequent recession is just the beginning of many years of economic stagnation. The article in particular focuses on the yield curve and the trends in government debt or gilts. This tends to be a key indicator of the expectations of the future of an economy and how confident investors are in its likely trajectory. Though technical in places, this article provides some interesting stances on what we might expect in the coming 2-3 decades for economic performance in the West.

Note that John also looks at this article in his blog Cloudy Skies Ahead?

The end of growth in the West? BBC News, Robert Peston (26/9/14)

Questions

  1. Which factors affect the economic growth of a nation?
  2. Confidence from consumers, firms and investors is always argued to be crucial to the future economic growth and in many cases, the recovery of an economy. Explain why this factor is so important.
  3. What is the yield curve and what does it show?
  4. How can the yield curve be used to offer predictions about the future strength of an economy?
  5. Why are governments seen as the safest place to lend?
  6. If Larry Summers is correct in saying that it is a negative equilibrium interest rate that is needed to generate full employment growth, what does this suggest about the future economic performance of the western world?
  7. In the article, there is a list of some of the key things that make investors anxious. Review each of these factors and explain why it is so important in generating anxiety.
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Oil prices fall below $100

One of the key prices in any economy is that of oil. Whenever oil prices change, it can have a knock-on effect on a range of other markets, as oil, or some variation, is used as an input into the production of countless products. The main products that consumers will see affected are energy prices and petrol prices..

Although on the supply-side, we see a large cartel in the form of OPEC, it is still the case that the forces of demand and supply directly affect the market price. Key things such as the demand for heating, economic growth, fears of war and disruption will change the demand and supply of oil. The possibility of militant strikes in oil producers, such as Syria, would normally reduce supply and push up the market price. However, we have actually seen oil prices drop much faster than we have in two years, dropping below $100 per barrel since September 5th. The slowdown of economic growth in Asia, together with the return of Libyan production at a level greater than expected have helped to push prices down and have offset the fears of global production.

The market forces pushing prices down, while good for consumers and firms that use crude oil or one of its by-products, are clearly bad for oil producers. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) Countries are urging OPEC to halt its production and thereby shift supply upwards to the left putting a stop to the downward oil price trend. Several countries are concerned about the impact of lower prices, and one country that may be significantly affected is Russia. Some are suggesting that the impact could be as big as 4% of Russia’s GDP, taking into account the ongoing political crisis with Ukraine.

The market for oil is highly susceptible to changes in both demand and supply-side factors. Microeconomic changes will have an impact, but at the same time any global macroeconomic factors can have significant effects on the global price. Expectations are crucial and as countries release information about the size of the oil stocks and inventories, it is adding to the downward pressure on prices. Some oil experts have predicted that prices could get as low as $80 per barrel before OPEC takes significant action, influenced heavily by countries like Saudi Arabia. The following articles consider this global market.

Articles
Iran urges OPEC to halt oil price slide Financial Times, Anjli Raval (26/9/14)
Oil overflow: as prices slump, producers grapple with a new reality The Globe and Mail, Shawn McCarthy and Jeff Lewis (27/9/14)
Weak demand, plentiful supply drive decline in oil prices International Distribution (26/9/14)
Oil prices plunging despite ISIS CNN Money, Paul R La Monica (25/9/14)
Oil prices fall on EIA report of big U.S. crude stocks build Reuters, Robert Gibbons (17/9/14)
Sanctions and weaker oil prices could cost Russia 4% of GDP – official RT (25/9/14)

Data
Spot oil prices Energy Information Administration
Weekly European Brent Spot Price Energy Information Administration (Note: you can also select daily, monthly or annual.)
Annual Statistical Bulletin OPEC

Questions

  1. What are the key factors on the microeconomic side that affect (a) demand and (b) supply of oil?
  2. Explain the key macroeconomic factors that are likely to have an impact on global demand and supply of oil.
  3. Militant action in some key oil producing countries has caused fears of oil disruption. Why is that oil prices don’t reflect these very big concerns?
  4. Use a demand and supply diagram to explain the answer you gave to question 3.
  5. What type of intervention could OPEC take to stabilise oil prices?
  6. Why is the Russian economy likely to be adversely affected by the trend in oil prices?
  7. Changes in the global macroeconomy will directly affect oil prices. Is there a way that changes in oil prices can also affect the state of the global economy?
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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The French economy is flatlining. It has just recorded the second quarter of zero economic growth, with growth averaging just 0.02% over the past 12 months. What is more, the budget deficit is rising, not falling. In April this year, the French finance minister said that the deficit would fall from 4.3% in 2013 to 3.8% in 2014 and to the eurozone ceiling of 3% in 2015. He is now predicting that it will rise this year to 4.4% and not reach the 3% target until 2017.

The deficit is rising because a flatlining economy is not generating sufficient tax revenues. What is more, expenditure on unemployment benefits and other social protection is rising as unemployment has risen, now standing at a record 10.3%.

And it is not just the current economic situation that is poor; the outlook is poor too. The confidence of French companies is low and falling, and investment plans are muted. President Hollande has pledged to cut payroll taxes to help firms, but so far this has not encouraged firms to invest more.

So what can the French government do? And what can the EU as a whole do to help revive not just the French economy but most of the rest of the eurozone, which is also suffering from zero, or near zero, growth?

There are two quite different sets of remedies being proposed.

The first comes from the German government and increasingly from the French government too. This is to stick to the austerity plans: to get the deficit down; to reduce the size of government in order to prevent crowding out; and to institute market-orientated supply-side policies that are business friendly, such as reducing business regulation. Business leaders in France, who generally back this approach, have called for reducing the number of public holidays and scrapping the maximum 35-hour working week. They are also seeking reduced business taxes, financed by reducing various benefits.

Increasingly President Hollande is moving towards a more business-friendly set of policies. Under his government’s ‘Responsibility Pact’, a €40 billion package of tax breaks for business will be financed through €50 billion of cuts in public spending. To carry through these policies he has appointed an ex-investment banker, Emmanuel Macron, as economy minister. He replaces Arnaud Montebourg, who roundly criticised government austerity policy and called for policies to boost aggregate demand.

This brings us to the alternative set of remedies. These focus on stimulating aggregate demand through greater infrastructure investment and cutting taxes more generally (not just for business). The central argument is that growth must come first and that this will then generate the tax revenues and reductions in unemployment that will then allow the deficit to be brought down. Only when economic growth is firmly established should measures be taken to cut government expenditure in an attempt to reduce the structural deficit.

There are also compromise policies being proposed from the centre. These include measures to stimulate aggregate demand, mainly through tax cuts, accompanied by supply-side policies, whether market orientated or interventionist.

As Europe continues to struggle to achieve recovery, so the debate is getting harsher. Monetary policy alone may not be sufficient to bring recovery. Although the ECB has taken a number of measures to stimulate demand, so far they have been to little avail. As long as business confidence remains low, making increased liquidity available to banks at interest rates close to zero will not make banks more willing to lend to business, or businesses more willing to borrow. Calls for an end, or at least a temporary halt, to austerity are thus getting louder. At the same time, calls for sticking to austerity and tackling excessive government spending are also getting louder.

Articles
Hollande entrusts French economy to ex-banker Macron Reuters, Ingrid Melander and Jean-Baptiste Vey (26/8/14)
France’s new Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron described by left-wingers as a ‘copy-and-paste Tony Blair’ Independent, John Lichfield (28/8/14)
Merkel praises France’s economic reform plans after Berlin talks with PM Valls Deutsche Welle (22/9/14)
French economy flat-lines as business activity falters Reuters, Leigh Thomas (23/9/14)
French public finances: Rétropédalage The Economist (13/9/14)
French employer group urges ‘shock therapy’ for economy Reuters (24/9/14)
Last chance to save France: loosen 35-hour week and cut public holidays, say bosses The Telegraph (24/9/14)
‘Sick’ France’s economy is stricken by unemployment ‘fever’ The Telegraph (17/9/14)
France’s economics ills worsen but all remedies appear unpalatable The Observer, Larry Elliott and Anne Penketh (31/8/14)
The Fall of France The New York Times, Paul Krugman (28/8/14)
Why Europe is terrified of deflation Salon, Paul Ames (20/9/14)
Europe’s Greater Depression is worse than the 1930s The Washington Post, Matt O’Brien (14/8/14)
Worse than the 1930s: Europe’s recession is really a depression The Washington Post, Matt O’Brien (20/8/14)
Eurozone business growth slows in September, PMI survey finds BBC News (23/9/14)
Europe must ‘boost demand’ to revive economy, US warns BBC News (21/9/14)
Valls says France would never ask Germany to solve its problems Reuters, Annika Breidthardt and Michelle Martin (23/9/14)
The euro-zone economy: Asset-backed indolence The Economist (11/9/14)

Data
Annual macro-economic database (AMECO) Economic and Financial Affairs DG, European Commission
Business and Consumer Surveys Times Series Economic and Financial Affairs DG, European Commission
StatExtracts OECD
Statistics database European Central Bank

Questions

  1. What types of supply-side reforms would be consistent with the German government’s vision of solving Europe’s low growth problem?
  2. How could a Keynesian policy of reflation be consistent with getting France’s deficit down to the 3% of GDP limit as specified in the Stability and Growth Pact (see)?
  3. What is meant by (a) financial crowding out and (b) resource crowding out? Would reflationary fiscal policy in France lead to either form of crowding out? How would it be affected by the monetary stance of the ECB?
  4. Give examples of market-orientated and interventionist supply-side policies.
  5. What is meant by the terms ‘cyclical budget deficit’ and ‘structural budget deficit’. Could demand-side policy affect the structural deficit?
  6. Using the European Commission’s Business and Consumer Surveys find our what has happened to business and consumer confidence in France over the past few months.
  7. How important is business and consumer confidence in determining economic growth in (a) the short term and (b) the long term?
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Keeping a Minsky-eye on credit

The instability of the economy was clearly demonstrated by the events of the late 2000s. Economists have devoted considerable energies to understanding the determinants of the business cycle. Increasing attention is focused on the role that credit cycles play in contributing to or exacerbating cycles. Therefore, data on lending by banks is followed keenly by policymakers who wish to avoid the repeat of the pace of growth in credit seen in the period preceding the financial crisis. Interestingly, the latest data from the Bank of England show that lending by financial institutions to households (net of repayments) rose in July to its highest level since November 2009.

The idea of credit cycles is not new. But, the financial crisis of the late 2000s has helped to reignite analysis and interest. Many economists have revisited the work of Hyman Minsky (1919–1996), a Belarus-born American economist, who argued that financial cycles are an inherent part of the economic cycle and contribute to fluctuations in real GDP. Notably, he argued that credit extended to households and businesses is pro-cyclical so that flows of credit extended by banks are larger when the growth of the economy’s output is stronger. Since credit flows are dependent on the phase of the business cycle, they are said to be endogenous to the path of output. The key point here is that there is an inherent mechanism within the economy which is potentially destabilising.

Banks, it is argued, may use the growth of the economy’s output as an indicator of the riskiness of its lending. Households and businesses may undertake a similar assessment. After a period of sustained growth banks and investors become more confident about the future path of the economy and, consequently, in the returns of assets. This means that there is a role for psychology in understanding the business cycle.

If we look at the chart, this period of heightened confidence may correspond with the period starting from the late 1990s. Between 1998 and 2007 the average monthly net flow of credit to private non-financial corporations and households was £9.4 billion. In other words, households and businesses were acquiring a staggering £9.4 billion of additional debt from banks each month. But, this was as high as £14.0 billion per month in 2007. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

What helped to fuel the impact of heightened confidence on credit provision was financial innovation. In particular, the bundling of assets, such as mortgages, to form financial instruments which could then be purchased by investors helped to provide financial institutions with further funds for lending. This is the process of securitisation. The result was that during the 2000s as households and businesses began to acquire larger debts their financial well-being became increasingly stretched. This was hastened by central banks raising interest rates. The intention was to dampen the rising rate of inflation, partly attributable to rising global commodity prices, such as oil. Suddenly, euphoria was replaced with pessimism.

Some argue that a Minsky moment had occurred. Many countries then witnessed a balance sheet recession. As individual households and businesses try and improve their own financial well-being they collectively contribute to its worsening. For instance, large-scale attempts to sell assets, such as shares or property, only help to cause their value to decline.

A global response to the events of the financial crisis has been for policy-makers to pay more attention to the aggregate level of credit provision. The chart shows that lending in 2014 is more robust than it has been form some time. Across the first seven months of 2014 the average monthly net flow of credit extended by banks to households and businesses (private non-financial corporations) has been £2.2 billion.

However, the 2014-rebound of credit is wholly attributable to lending to households. Net lending to households has averaged £2.7 billion per month while businesses have been repaying credit to banks to the tune of £437 million per month – something that businesses have collectively done in each year from 2009. While net lending to households remains considerably lower than pre-financial crisis levels, it will be something that policymakers will be watching very closely. This, in turn, means that they will be paying particular interest to the housing and mortgage markets.

Articles
Appetite for loans picks up again, say major banks BBC News (23/9/14)
Business lending by UK banks is down by £941m Herald Scotland, Ian McConnell (27/8/14)
How bank lending fell by £365 BILLION in five years… much to the delight of controversial payday loan firms Mail, Louise Eccles (7/09/14)
U.K.’s Big Banks Cut Lending by $595 Billion, KPMG Says Bloomberg, Richard Partington (8/9/14)
UK banks’ home loan approvals fall to 12-month low – BBA Reuters, Andy Bruce and Tom Heneghan (23/9/14)

Data
Bankstats (Monetary and Financial Statistics) – Latest Tables Bank of England
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England

Questions

  1. What is meant by the term the business cycle?
  2. What does it mean for the determinants of the business cycle to be endogenous? What about if they are exogenous?
  3. Outline the ways in which the financial system can impact on the spending behaviour of households. Repeat the exercise for businesses.
  4. How might uncertainty affect spending and saving by households and businesses?
  5. What does it mean if bank lending is pro-cyclical?
  6. Why might lending be pro-cyclical?
  7. How might the differential between borrowing and saving interest rates vary over the business cycle?
  8. Explain what you understand by net lending to households or firms. How does net lending affect their stock of debt?
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Eurozone becalmed in the doldrums

The eurozone recorded 0.0% growth in the second quarter of 2014. While the UK and USA are now experiencing relatively buoyant economic growth, the eurozone as a whole is stagnating. Some of the 18 eurozone countries, it is true, are now growing, including Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the Netherlands. But the German and Italian economies contracted in the three months to the end of June, while France experienced zero growth.

This will put growing pressure on the ECB to introduce quantitative easing (QE) through the direct purchase of government bonds or other assets. Although this has been a key policy of many central banks, including the Bank of England, the Fed and the Bank of Japan, up to now the ECB has focused mainly on providing cheap funds to banks to encourage them to lend and keeping interest rates very low.

In June, the ECB did announce that it would explore the possibility of QE. It would also introduce €400 billion worth of targeted long-term lending to banks (targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs)), and would cease sterilising the extra liquidity injected through the Securities Markets Programme, which involved the purchase of existing bonds on the secondary market.

These plans and their implications are examined in the blog post, The ECB: tackling the threat of deflation.

But even if it does eventually introduce QE, this is unlikely before 2015. However, the first €200 billion of TLTROs will be introduced in September and the remaining €200 billion in December. The ECB hopes that these measures in the pipeline will give a sufficient stimulus to rekindle economic growth. But increasingly there are calls for something more dramatic to be done to prevent the eurozone as a whole slipping back into recession.

Articles
Eurozone economy grinds to halt even before Russia sanctions bite Reuters, Michelle Martin and Martin Santa (14/8/14)
ECB under pressure to boost growth, analysts say BBC News (14/8/14)
Eurozone growth at zero as Germany slumps, France stagnates Deutsche Welle (14/8/14)
Eurozone crisis: The grim economic reality BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (14/8/14)
Eurozone growth splutters to a halt as crisis enters new phase The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
Eurozone can learn from George Osborne and Bank of England stimulus The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
Broken Europe: economic growth grinds to a standstill The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (14/8/14)
One-in-three chance the ECB conducts quantitative easing next year – Reuters Poll Reuters, Sumanta Dey (13/8/14)
Eurozone’s Unravelling Recovery: What’s Going Wrong Across Troubled Currency Bloc International Business Times, Finbarr Bermingham (14/8/14)
France calls on ECB to act as eurozone growth grinds to a halt The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
That sinking feeling (again) The Economist (30/8/14)

Data
GDP stable in the euro area and up by 0.2% in the EU28 eurostat euroindicators (14/8/14)
Statistics Pocket Book ECB
European Economy: links to data sources Economics Network
Euro area economic and financial data ECB

Questions

  1. Explain how quantitative easing works.
  2. Why has the ECB been reluctant to introduce QE?
  3. What is meant by sterilisation? Why did the ECB sterilise the effects of the assets purchased under the Securities Markets Programme? Why did it cease doing this in June?
  4. How have events in Ukraine and political reactions to them influenced the eurozone economy?
  5. Should QE be ‘fast tracked’? Would there be any dangers in this?
  6. What is the ‘Funding for Lending’ scheme in the UK? Is the planned introduction of TLTROs similar to Funding for Lending?
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Sex and drugs add to GDP

The most commonly used measure of economic performance is GDP and while there is agreement that it is an important and useful measure, there is also agreement that there are some big problems with it. Does it measure welfare or quality of life? What is and isn’t included? Do some things add to GDP which actually make us worse off?

One criticism often levelled at GDP is that there are many aspects that go unmeasured – often known as the underground economy. Some areas are typical everyday things – DIY, looking after your own children rather than paying someone to do it, or even giving yourself a haircut. But, there are other activities, often illegal, which go unrecorded, such as the selling and distribution of drugs and prostitution. In countries like the Netherlands, their GDP figures get a boost, as some drugs and prostitution are legal. In other countries, such data is not recorded and as such, the contribution of these markets is under-estimated or even completely omitted.

However, this aspect of the calculation of GDP statistics is changing across Europe, which will allow much easier and more meaningful comparisons of relative GDP across countries. This extra production will therefore offer a positive contribution towards our GDP and perhaps suggest to the untrained eye that the British economy is growing, which can only be good news. But, for the trained economist, we are looking at extra data being added, which will boost total output and the question will be does it really indicate that the economy is better off? The following articles consider this change to GDP.

Small data: The way drugs and prostitution boost the economy BBC News (4/4/14)
Small data: Calculating the sex and drugs economy BBC News (2/6/14)
UK economic output to be revised up after ONS updates BBC News, Anthony Reuben (10/6/14)
UK economic output will get near 5 percent boost from data changes Reuters (10/6/14)
Accounting for drugs and prostitution to help push UK economy up by £65bn The Guardian, Katie Allen (10/6/14)

Questions

  1. What does GDP measure? Is it good at measuring it?
  2. Explain the pros and cons of using GDP to measure the welfare of an economy.
  3. Why are there problems using GDP to compare output between countries?
  4. Is it a good idea to include markets such as sex and drugs in calculating a nation’s output?
  5. What other measures of welfare do we have?
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Japan’s CPI: An Update

At the end of January 2014, we looked at the problem of deflation and in particular at the fortunes of Japan, as its CPI was rising. As the blog explained, the Japanese economy, rather than being plagued by high inflation has been plagued by deflation and many suggest this is even worse.

In December 2013, Japan’s core consumer prices were growing faster than expected. The data gave the economy a much needed boost, following increases in government spending aimed at stimulating aggregate demand. This in turn pushed up prices, such that they achieved their fastest rate of growth in 5 years. Now, more recent date from May 2014 shows that the trend has continued. Prices in Japan have now increase at their fastest rate in 23 years, rising 3.2% and beating the forecasts of 3.1%. This means that prices have no risen in Japan for 11 consecutive months. Numerous policies have contributed towards this impressive trend for an economy plagued by deflation for 2 decades. Boosts in the money supply, increases in government spending, a rise in sales tax are just some of the contributing factors.

Although the economy is certainly over the problem of deflation, some are now concerned that such price rises may reduce consumer spending. An ironic twist, given that barely a year ago the concern about low consumer spending was due to deflation. The next 12 months will be a key indicator of how consumers will respond to this unusual inflation data – after all inflation and high prices have been pretty uncommon. The following articles consider the update on the Japanese economy.

Japan inflation rate hits 23 year high (including video) BBC News (30/5/14)
Japan April core CPI rises to 23-year high after sales tax rise Reuters (29/5/14)
Japan inflation accelerates Wall Street Journal, Takashi Nakamichi (30/5/14)
Japan’s consumer inflation set to reach five year high The Guardian (18/4/14)
Japan’s inflation at highest rate for 23 years The Telegraph, Rebecca Clancy (30/5/14)
Japan inflation quickens to fastest since 1991 Bloomberg, Toru Fujioka (30/5/14)
Japaense inflation rises at fastest pace in over five years at 1.3% in December 2013 Independent, Russel Lynch (31/1/14)

Questions

  1. Why is deflation a problem?
  2. Using an AD/AS diagram, illustrate the problem of expectations and how this contributes to stagnant growth.
  3. Japanese policies have helped create a rise in the CPI. Which policies have been effective in creating rising prices?
  4. Explain how the sales tax has contributed towards higher prices.
  5. With prices rising, there are now concerned that consumer spending may decline. Using a diagram, explain why this may be the case.
  6. In the previous blog, we analysed the Indian economy and said that high inflation was something that was contributing towards lower growth. How is that low inflation or deflation can also contribute towards low growth?
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Indian growth: sub-5% again

The expansion of the BRIC economies has both advantages and disadvantages for Western countries. Their consistently high growth rates have created a much wider market place for Western firms and a much needed additional source of consumer demand, especially in times of recession. Countries such as China have had double digit growth rates, with others like India experiencing growth rates of just under 10%. But are these impressive growth rates now beginning to fall?

For the last 2 years, the growth rate in the Indian economy has been sub-5%, with growth in the 2013-14 financial year at 4.7%. Though some sectors, including agriculture have experienced buoyant growth, it is other sectors that have been holding this economy back. Manufacturing contracted at an annualised rate of 1.4% over the quarter, while mining contracted by 0.4%. With a growth rate of just under 5%, one might think that this was good – after all many Western economies have only recently entered positive growth. However, the Indian economy has a rapidly growing population and it is estimated that 10 million additional jobs each year must be created. It is this figure that requires such a high growth rate – estimated at around 8%. Thus, the sub-5% growth recorded for 2 years is insufficient to sustain the required job creation.

There are many factors that appear to be holding growth back. High inflation has been a problem for some years and the Indian currency has been relatively weak and volatile. Together, these issues have created an environment of uncertainty and if there’s one thing that investors don’t like, it’s uncertainty. This has therefore led to a lack of investment in the economy, which is a key component of aggregate demand and hence a key source of economic growth. Furthermore, interest rates rose last year, thereby pushing up the cost of borrowing and the rate of credit growth has also slowed. These factors collectively have led to lower foreign investment, domestic investment and spending, which have all contributed towards more subdued growth than in the past. Glenn Levine, a senior economist at Moody’s said:

India’s economy continues to grow well below potential as a combination of supply‐side constraints and the adverse effects of an underperforming government weigh on capital expenditure and hiring … It will be a while before the Indian economy is expanding above 6% again.

However, many economists remain optimistic about the prospects of Asia’s third-largest economy. Inflation appears to be under control and the currency has gained strength. Many believe that more investment supporting government policies will be the kick start the economy needs and this will in turn encourage firms to begin investment. It may be the new leader of this country, Narendra Modo, that will jump start the economy. The Prime Minister is expected to back policies to stimulate growth, who will direct more spending at infrastructure, simplify taxes and introduce policies to attract foreign investment. Adi Godrej, Chairman of the Godrej group said:

As soon as investors see the first signals of growth-supportive policies, you will see a definite turnaround on the ground.

The coming months will be crucial in determining how quickly the Indian economy is likely to see a return to near double digit growth. The new government has indeed promised policies to boost the economy, but the annual budget will confirm whether this promise is likely to be kept. Given the dependence of Indian jobs on a fast growth rate and the dependence of the Western world on the continued growth of the BRICs in creating a wider market for our exports, the fortunes of India are extremely important. The following articles consider this economy.

Indian economy grew at 4.7% in 2013-14 The Times of India (30/5/14)
India’s economic growth disappoints BBC News (30/5/14)
India’s GDP grows 4.7% in fiscal year, missing government forecast Wall Street Journal, Anant Vijay Kala (30/5/14)
India’s economy expands 4.7pct in fiscal year 2013/14 Reuters (30/5/14)
India’s economy still underwhelms CNN Money, Charles Riley, Alanna Petroff (30/5/14)
FY14 GDP growth at 4.7%; India sees worst slowdown in 25 years The Economic Times (30/5/14)
India growth below 5% adds pressure on Modi to spur investment Bloomberg, Unni Krishnan (30/5/14)
Jim Armitage: ‘Modinomics’ in India has helped growth, but not for all Independent, Jim Armitage (17/5/14)

Questions

  1. Using a diagram, explain how economic growth can be created through (a) demand-side measures and (b) supply-side measures.
  2. Why would higher interest rates reduce growth?
  3. Why does high inflation create uncertainty and what impact does this have on business investment?
  4. India has experienced a weak and volatile currency and this has contributed towards a lack of foreign investment and low growth. Using a diagram, explain why this could be the case.
  5. What sort of government policies would you recommend for the Indian economy if you had become the new Prime Minister and your primary objective was to boost economic growth?
  6. Why is the expansion of the BRIC economies, of which India is one, so important for Western economies?
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UK growth update

The latest preliminary GDP estimates for 2014 Q1 suggest that the economy’s output (real GDP) expanded by 0.8 per cent following on the back of a 0.7 per cent increase in 2013 Q4. Growth was observed in three of the four main industrial sectors: 0.9% in services, 0.8% in production and 0.3% in construction. In contrast, output decreased by 0.7% in agriculture. The total output of the economy is now just 0.6 per cent below its 2008 Q1 peak with the output of the service sector now 2.0 per cent higher.

Data on growth need to be set in the context of the inherent volatility of economies and in this case in the context of 2008/9 recession. Then, output fall by some 7.2 per cent. UK output peaked in 2008 Q1 (£392.786 billion at 2010 prices). There then followed 6 quarters during which output declined.

Output declined again in 2010 Q4 (-0.2% growth), in 2011 Q4 (-0.1% growth), in 2012 Q2 (-0.4%) and in 2012 Q4 (-0.2%). A double-dip recession was only narrowly avoided with growth recorded at zero on 2012 Q1. The latest ONS numbers show the economy grew by 0.8 per cent in 2013 Q2 (to £381.318 billion at 2010 prices), by 0.8 per cent in 2013 Q3 (to £384.533 billion at 2010 prices), by 0.7 per cent in 2013 Q4 (to £387.138 billion at 2010 prices) and by 0.8 per cent in 2014 Q1 (to £390.235 billion at 2010 prices). Compared with 2013 Q1, the output of the UK economy in 2014 Q1 is 3.1 per cent higher.

Chart 1 helps to put the recent growth numbers into an historical context. It shows the quarterly change in real GDP since the 1980s. We can see the 5-quarter recession that commenced in 1980 Q1 when output shrunk by 4.6 per cent, the 5-quarter recession that commenced in 1990 Q3 when output shrank by 2.4 per cent and the 6-quarter recession that commenced in 2008 Q2 when output shrank by 7.2 per cent. (Click here to download the chart to PowerPoint.)

Chart 2 scratches a little below the surface by looking at output by the 4 principal industrial types. The interesting finding is that the output of the service sector has now risen above its 2008 Q1 peak. In 2014 Q1, service sector output was 2.0 per cent higher than 2008 Q1. The fact that total output remains 0.6 per cent lower can be explained by the lop-sided industrial recovery. Output in agriculture, forestry and fisheries remains 7.1 per cent lower, production (including manufacturing) 11.5 per cent lower and construction 12.2 per cent lower. (Click here to dowload the chart to Powerpoint.)

Data
Preliminary Estimate of GDP – Time Series Dataset Q1 2014 Office for National Statistics
Gross Domestic Product Preliminary Estimate, Q1 2014 Office for National Statistics

Articles
UK GDP ‘close to pre-crisis level’ says NIESR BBC News (9/5/14)
UK ‘great recession’ almost over, says thinktank Guardian, Katie Allen (9/5/14)
UK economy tops its pre-crash high point, says NIESR Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (9/5/14)
UK economy grew by 0.8% in first three months of 2014 Guardian, Katie Allen and Angela Monaghan (29/4/14)
Manufacturing is GDP star performer BBC News, Robert Peston (29/4/14).

Questions

  1. What is the difference between nominal and real GDP? Which of these helps to track changes in economic output?
  2. Looking at Chart 1 above, summarise the key patterns in real GDP since the 1980s.
  3. What is a recession? What is a double-dip recession?
  4. What are some of the problems with the traditional definition of a recession?
  5. Can a recession occur if nominal GDP is actually rising? Explain your answer.
  6. What factors lead to economic growth being so variable?
  7. What factors might explain the very different patterns seen since the late 2000s in the volume of output of the 4 main industrial sectors?
  8. Produce a short briefing paper exploring the prospects for economic growth in the UK over the next 12 to 18 months.
  9. Explain the arguments for and against using GDP as a measure of a country’s economic well-being.
  10. Analyse the role that the financial system might play in contributing to or alleviating the business cycle.
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