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Articles for the ‘Economics 9e: Ch 20’ Category

What would Keynes say?

Here are two thought-provoking articles from The Guardian. They look at macroeconomic policy failures and at the likely consequences.

In first article, Larry Elliott, the Guardian’s Economics Editor, argues that Keynesian expansionary fiscal and monetary policy by the USA has allowed it to achieve much more rapid recovery than Europe, which, by contrast, has chosen to follow fiscal austerity policies and only recently mildly expansionary monetary policy through a belated QE programme.

In the UK, the recovery has been more significant than in the eurozone because of the expansionary monetary policies pursued by the Bank of England in its quantitative easing programme. ‘And when it came to fiscal policy, George Osborne quietly abandoned his original deficit reduction targets when the deleterious impact of an over-aggressive austerity strategy became apparent.’

So, according to Larry Elliott, Europe should ease up on austerity and governments should invest more though increased borrowing.

‘This is textbook Keynesian stuff. Unemployment is high, which means businesses are reluctant to invest. The lack of investment means that demand for new loans is weak. The weakness of demand for loans means that driving down the cost of borrowing through QE will have little impact. Therefore, it is up to the state to break into the vicious circle by investing itself, something it can do cheaply and – because there are so many people unemployed and businesses working well below full capacity – without the risk of inflation.’

In the second article, Paul Mason, the Economics Editor at Channel 4 News, points to the large increases in both public- and private- sector debt since 2007, despite the recession. Such debt, he argues, is becoming unsustainable and hence the world could be on the cusp of another crash.

Mason quotes from the Bank for International Settlements Quarterly Review September 2015 – media briefing. In this briefing, Claudio Borio,
Head of the Monetary & Economic Department, argues that:

‘Since at least 2009, domestic vulnerabilities have developed in several emerging market economies (EMEs), including some of the largest, and to a lesser extent even in some advanced economies, notably commodity exporters. In particular, these countries have exhibited signs of a build-up of financial imbalances, in the form of outsize credit booms alongside strong increases in asset prices, especially property prices, supported by unusually easy global liquidity conditions. It is the coincidence of the reversal of these booms with external vulnerabilities that should be watched most closely.’

We have already seen a fall in commodity prices, reflecting the underlying lack of demand, and large fluctuations in stock markets. The Chinese economy is slowing markedly, as are several other EMEs, and Europe and Japan are struggling to recover, despite their QE programmes. The USA is no longer engaging in QE and there are growing worries about a US slowdown as growth in the rest of the world slows. Mason, quoting the BIS briefing, states that:

‘In short, as the BIS economists put it, this is “a world in which debt levels are too high, productivity growth too weak and financial risks too threatening”. It’s impossible to extrapolate from all this the date the crash will happen, or the form it will take. All we know is there is a mismatch between rising credit, falling growth, trade and prices, and a febrile financial market, which, at present, keeps switchback riding as money flows from one sector, or geographic region, to another.’

So should there be more expansionary policy, or should rising debt levels be reduced by tighter monetary policy? Read the articles and then consider the questions.

I told you so. Obama right and Europe wrong about way out of Great Recession The Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/11/15)
Apocalypse now: has the next giant financial crash already begun? The Guardian, Paul Mason (1/11/15)

Questions

  1. To what extent do the two articles (a) agree and (b) disagree?
  2. How might a neo-liberal economist reply to the argument that what is needed is more expansionary fiscal and monetary policies?
  3. What is the transmission mechanism whereby quantitative easing affects real output? Is it a reliable mechanism for policymakers?
  4. What would make a financial crash less likely? Is this something that governments or central banks can influence?
  5. Why has productivity growth been so low in many countries? What would increase it?
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What do the USA, UK and Africa have in common?

Economic growth is vital to an economy: it helps to create jobs and is crucial in stimulating confidence, both for businesses and consumers. Growth comes from various sources, both domestic and external, and so for each individual country it’s not just its growth rate that is important, but the growth rates of other countries, in particular those it trades with.

Recent data suggest that the global economy could be on the downturn and here we consider three countries/continents.

The US economy has been doing relatively well and we saw discussion by the Federal Reserve as to whether the economy was in a position to be able to handle an increase in interest rates. Although rates didn’t rise, there was a general consensus that a rate rise would not significantly harm the economy. However, perhaps those opinions may now be changing with the latest information regarding US growth. In the second quarter of 2015, growth was recorded at 3.9%, but according to the Department of Commerce, it fell to 1.5% for the third quarter. Though it’s still a solid growth rate, especially compared to other economies, it does represent a significant fall from quarter to quarter.

Many analysts suggest that this slowing is just a blip, partly the result of running down stocks, but it’s also a trend that has occurred in the UK. Although the fall in growth in the UK (see series IHYR) has been less than in the USA, it is still a fall. Annual growth was recorded at 2.7% in quarter 1, but fell to 2.4% in quarter 2 and to 2.3% in quarter 3 (with GDP in quarter 3 only 0.5% higher than in quarter 2). A big cause of this slowdown in growth has been a fall in manufacturing output and it is the service sector that prevented an even larger slowdown.

And it’s not just the West that is experiencing declining growth. The IMF has warned of a slowdown in economic growth in Africa. Although the absolute annual rate of growth at 3.75% is high compared to the UK, it does represent the slowest rate of growth in the past six years. One key factor has been the lower oil prices. Although this has helped to stimulate consumer spending in many countries, it has hit oil-producing countries.

With some of the big players experiencing slowdowns, world economic growth may be taking something of a dive. The Christmas period in many countries is when companies will make significant contributions to their annual sales, and this year these sales are going to be vital. The following articles consider the slowdowns in growth around the world.

Articles
US growth slows despite spending free Financial Times, Sam Fleming and Richard Blackden (29/10/15)
US economic growth slows in third quarter as businesses cut back The Guardian, Dominic Rushe (30/10/15)
US economic growth slows sharply BBC News (29/10/15)
US Q3 gross domestic product up 1.5% vs 1.6% growth expected CNBC, Reuters (29/10/15)
US growth cools in third quarter Wall Street Journal, Eric Morath (29/10/15)
UK economic growth slows to 0.5% in third quarter BBC News (27/10/15)
GDP growth in the UK slows more than expected to 0.5% The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (27/1015)
UK growth slows as construction and manufacturing output shrinks The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (27/10/15)
UK economy loses steam as GDP growth slows to 0.5% Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (27/10/15)
No UK growth without services BBC News, Robert Peston (27/10/15)
IMF warns of African economic slowdown BBC News (27/10/15)
African growth feels the strain from China’s slowdown Financial Times, Andrew England (27/10/15)
Tax credits: George Osborne ‘comfortable’ with ‘judgement call’ BBC News (22/10/15)
IMF revises down Sub-Saharan Africa 2015 growth Wall Street Journal, Matina Stevis (27/10/15)

WEO publications
World Economic Outlook, October 2015: Adjusting to Lower Commodity Prices IMF (6/10/15)
Global Growth Slows Further, IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook IMF Podcast, Maurice Obstfeld (6/10/15)
Transcript of the World Economic Outlook Press Conference IMF (6/10/15)
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (October 2015 edition)

Questions

  1. How do we measure economic growth?
  2. Using an AD/AS diagram, explain why economic growth has fallen in (a) the US, (b) the UK and (c) Africa.
  3. How have oil prices contributed towards recent growth data?
  4. Why has the IMF forecast slowing growth for Africa and how dependent is the African economy on growth in China?
  5. Which sectors are contributing towards slower growth in each of the 3 countries/continents considered? Can you explain the reason for the downturn in each sector?
  6. What do you think should be done regarding interest rates in the coming months?
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HSBC: stay or go?

HSBC is a familiar feature of many high streets in the UK and this is hardly surprising, given that it is the largest bank in Europe. But could this be about to change? With uncertainty surrounding the UK’s in-out vote on the EU, the future of the banking levy and HSBC’s desire to reduce the size of its operations, the UK high street might start to look quite different.

In the UK, 26,000 staff are employed in its retail banking sector, with 48,000 workers across the whole of its UK banking operations. HSBC has plans to downsize its business globally, with expected job losses in the UK of 8000 workers and a total of 25,000 jobs across the world. This would reduce its workforce by around 10%. This could have big implications for the UK economy. Although many of the job losses would not be enforced, given that HSBC does have a relatively high staff turnover, it is likely to mean some forced redundancies. With job creation being one of the big drivers of the UK economy in the last couple of years, this could put a dampner on the UK’s economic progress.

A further change we are likely to see will be the renaming of high street branches of HSBC, as new government rules are requiring HSBC to separate its investment and retail banking operations. Much of this stems from the aftermath of the financial crisis and governments trying to reign in the actions of the largest banks. Ring fencing has aimed to do this as a means of protecting the retail banking sector, should the investment banking part of the bank become problematic.

However, perhaps the biggest potential shock could be the possibility of HSBC leaving the UK and moving to a new base in Hong Kong. A list of 11 criteria has been released by HSBC, outlining the factors that will influence its decision on whether to stay or go.

The UK’s decision on Europe is likely to be a key determinant, but other key factors against remaining in the UK are ‘the tax system and government policy in support of [the] growth and development of [the] financial services sector’. HSBC pays a large banking levy, as it is based not just on UK operations, but on its whole balance sheet.

HSBC’s Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, has said that the discussion on the potential move to Hong Kong is based on the changing world.

“We recognise that the world has changed and we need to change with it. That is why we are outlining the following… strategic actions that will further transform our organisation… Asia [is] expected to show high growth and become the centre of global trade over the next decade… Our actions will allow us to capture expected future growth opportunities.”

Leaving the EU will have big effects on consumers and businesses, given that it is the UK’s largest market, trading partner and investor. Whether or not decisions of key businesses such as HSBC will have an impact on the referendum’s outcome will only be known as we get closer to the day of the vote (which is still some way off!). It will, however, be interesting to see if other companies raise similar issues in the coming year, as the referendum on the EU draws nearer. We should also look out for any potential change in the UK’s banking levy and what impact, if any, this has on HSBC’s decision to stay or go and on the future of any other banks.

Has HSBC already decided to leave the UK? The Telegraph, Ben Wright (10/6/15)
HSBC plans to cut 8,000 jobs in the UK in savings drive BBC News (9/6/15)
The Guaridan view on HSBC: a bank beyond shame The Guardian (10/6/15)
HSBC brand to vanish from UK high streets Financial Times, Emma Dunkley (9/6/15)
HSBC job cuts should come as little surprise Sky News, Ian King (9/6/15)
HSBC in charts: Where the bank plans to generate growth Financial Times, Jeremy Grant (9/6/15)
HSBC’s local rethink can’t shore up global act Wall Street Journal, Paul Davies (9/6/15)
Can George Osborne persuade HSBC to stay in the UK? BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (9/6/15)

Questions

  1. What is the UK’s banking levy and why does it affect a company like HSBC disproportionately?
  2. Look at the list of 11 criteria that HSBC have produced about staying in the UK or moving to Hong Kong. With each criterion, would you place it in favour of the UK or Hong Kong?
  3. Why is the banking sector ‘not a fan’ of the government policy of ring fencing?
  4. What impact would the loss of 8000 UK jobs have on the UK economy?
  5. Why does it matter to a bank such as HSBC if the UK is a member of the EU?
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The state of the labour market in the UK

Figures for employment and unemployment give an incomplete picture of the state of the labour market. Just because a person is employed, that does not mean that they are working the number of hours they would like.

Some people would like to work more hours, either by working more hours in their current job, or by switching to an alternative job with more hours or by taking on an additional part-time job. Such people are classed as ‘underemployed’. On average, underemployed workers wanted to work an additional 11.3 hours per week in 2014 Q2. Underemployment is a measure of slack in the labour market, but it is not picked up in the unemployment statistics.

Other people would like to work fewer hours (at the same hourly rate), but feel they have no choice – usually because their employer demands that they work long hours. Some, however, would like to change to another job with fewer hours even if it involved less pay. People willing to sacrifice pay in order to work fewer hours are classed as ‘overemployed’.

Statistics released by the Office for National Statistics show that, in April to June 2014, 9.9%, or 3.0 million, workers in the UK were underemployed; and 9.7%, or 2.9 million, were overemployed.

The figures for underemployment vary between different groups:

11.0% of female workers 8.9% of male workers
19.6% of 16-24 year olds 9.9% of all workers
21.1% of people in elementary occupations (e.g. cleaners, shop assistants and security guards) 5.4% of people in professional occupations (e.g. doctors, teachers and accountants)
11.5% of people in the North East of England (in 2013) 9.2% of people in the East of England (in 2013)
22.1% of part-time workers 5.4% of full-time workers

As far as the overemployed are concerned, professional people and older people are more likely want shorter hours

The ONS data also show how under- and overemployment have changed over time: see chart (click here for a PowerPoint). Before the financial crisis and recession, overemployment exceeded underemployment. After the crisis, the position reversed: underemployment rose from 6.8% in 2007 to a peak of 10.8% in mid-2012; while overemployment fell from 10.5% in 2007 to a trough of 8.8% in early 2013.

More recently, as the economy has grown more strongly, underemployment has fallen back to 9.9% (in 2014 Q2) and overemployment has risen to 9.7%, virtually closing the gap between the two.

The fact that there is still significant underemployment suggests that there is still considerable slack in the labour market and that this may be acting as a brake on wage increases. On the other hand, the large numbers of people who consider themselves overemployed, especially among the professions and older workers, suggests that many people feel that they have not got the right work–life balance and many may be suffering consequent high levels of stress.

Articles
Rise in number of UK workers who want to cut back hours, ONS says The Guardian, Phillip Inman (25/11/14)
Data reveal slack and stretch in UK workforce Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor (25/11/14)
Will you graduate into underemployment? The Guardian, Jade Grassby (30/9/14)
Three million people would take pay cut to work shorter hours: Number who say they feel overworked rises by 10 per cent in one year Mail Online, Louise Eccles (26/11/14)
ONS: Rate of under-employment in Scotland lower than UK average Daily Record, Scott McCulloch (25/11/14)

ONS Release
Underemployment and Overemployment in the UK, 2014 ONS (25/11/14)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between unemployment (labour force survey (LFS) measure), unemployment (claimant count measure), underemployment (UK measure), underemployment (Eurostat measure) and disguised unemployment.
  2. Why is underemployment much higher amongst part-time workers than full-time workers?
  3. How do (a) underemployment and (b) overemployment vary according to the type of occupation? What explanations are there for the differences?
  4. Is the percentage of underemployment a good indicator of the degree of slack in the economy? Explain.
  5. How is the rise in zero hours contracts likely to have affected underemployment?
  6. How could the problem of overemployment be tackled? Would it be a good idea to pass a law setting a maximum number of hours per week that people can be required to do in a job?
  7. Would flexible working rights be a good idea?
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Deflation danger

The articles linked below look at the dangers of deflation and policies of central banks to counter it.

Deflation in economics has three meanings. The first is falling prices: i.e. negative inflation. The second, more traditional meaning, is a fall in real aggregate demand, resulting in lower output, higher unemployment and lower inflation – and quite possibly an actual fall in the price level. These first two definitions describe what is generally seen as an undesirable situation. The third is a slowing down in the growth of real aggregate demand, perhaps as a result of a deliberate act of fiscal and/or monetary policy. This third meaning could describe a desirable situation, where unsustainable growth is reduced and inflation is reduced from an above-target level.

Here we focus on the first definition. The first two articles look at the dangers of a fall in the price level. The chart below shows falling inflation, although not actually deflation, in China, France, Germany and the UK (click here for a PowerPoint). Several European countries, however, are experiencing actual deflation. These include: Greece, Spain, Hungary, Poland and Sweden. Inflation in the eurozone for 2014 is expected to be a mere 0.5%.

The most obvious danger of deflation (or expected deflation) is that people will delay spending on durable goods, such as cars, furniture and equipment, hoping to buy the items cheaper later. The result could be a fall in aggregate demand and a fall in output and employment.

For retailers, this is all spelling Christmas doom. Already the runup to the most crucial time of the year for shops is being characterised by a game of chicken. Shoppers are wondering how long they can leave their festive buying in the hope of late bargains.

Interest rates may be low, but for people with debts, this is being offset by the fact that inflation is no longer reducing the real value of that debt. For people with credit card debt, personal loans and most mortgages, the interest rate they pay is significantly above the rate of inflation. In other words, the real interest rate on their debt is still significantly positive. This may well discourage people from borrowing and spending, further dampening aggregate demand. And, with a Bank Rate of just 0.5%, there is virtually no scope for lowering the official interest rate further.

At least in the UK, economic growth is now positive – for the time being at any rate. The danger is becoming more serious, however, in many eurozone countries, which are already back in recession or close to being so. The ECB, despite its tentative steps to ease credit conditions, it moving closer to the day when it announces full-blown quantitative easing and buys sovereign bonds of eurozone countries. The Bank of Japan has already announced that it is stepping up it QE programme – a vital ingredient in getting Abenomics back on track and pulling Japan out of its latest recession.

In the USA, by contrast, there is little danger of deflation, as the US economy continues to grow strongly. The downside of this, has been a large rise in consumer debt (but not mortgages) – the ingredients of a possible future bubble and even a new financial crisis.

Forget what central bankers say: deflation is the real monster The Observer, Katie Allen (23/11/14)
Why Deflation Is Such A Big Worry For Europe NPR, Jim Zarroli (31/10/14)
Exclusive: China ready to cut rates again on fears of deflation – sources Reuters, Kevin Yao (23/11/14)
Central Banks in New Push to Prime Pump Wall Street Journal Jon Hilsenrath, Brian Blackstone and Lingling Wei (21/11/14)
Are Central Banks Panicking? Seeking Alpha, Leo Kolivakis (21/11/14)

Questions

  1. What are (a) the desirable and (b) the undesirable consequences of deflation? Does the answer depend on how deflation is defined?
  2. What is meant by a ‘deflationary gap’? In what sense is ‘deflationary’ being used in this term?
  3. Why have oil prices been falling? How desirable are these falls for the global economy?
  4. Is there an optimal rate of inflation? If so, how would this rate be determined?
  5. The chart shows that inflation in Japan is likely to have risen in 2014. This in large part is the result to a rise in the sales tax earlier this year. If there is no further rise in the sales tax, which there will probably not be if Mr Abe’s party wins the recently called election, what is likely to be the effect of the 2014 tax rise on inflation in 2015?
  6. If the Bank Rate is below the rate of inflation, why are people facing a positive real rate of interest? Does this apply equally to borrowers and savers?
  7. In what sense is there a cultural revolution at the Bank of England?
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Indebted to the bank? You are not alone!

The spectre of debt has awoken many of us in the night. Indebtedness is a key economic issue in the 2010s. Economists are devoting ever increasing amounts of research time trying to understand its impact on economic behaviour. This will not surprise you when you learn that the debt owed by the UK non-bank private sector to banks stood at £2.17 trillion at the end of September. This is the equivalent to 150% of annual GDP.

Chart 1 shows the stock of outstanding lending by Monetary Financial Institutions (banks and building societies) to the non-bank private sector bank since 1979. Back then the non-bank private sector had bank debt to the tune of around £70 billion or 10 per cent of GDP. Today’s figure is nearly 3000 per cent higher! Of this debt, around about 55 per cent is currently held by the household sector, 27 per cent by Other Financial Corporations (such as insurance companies and pension funds) and 18 per cent by private non-financial corporations. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

Chart 2 shows the stocks of debt as percentages of annual GDP. We can infer from it that there are waves of growth in bank debt. Two notable periods are during the 1980s and again from the late 1990s up to the financial crisis of the late 2000s. During the early and mid 1990s the relative size of debt stocks tended to stabilise while in the early 2010s the actual stocks of debt, as well as relative to GDP, declined. A credit binge seems to be followed by a period of consolidation. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

It is important that we understand the drivers of the growth of debt. The impact of debt on the balance sheets of the non-bank private sector and on banks themselves has implications for economic behaviour. In the early 2010s this has been to markedly slow the pace of growth through its impact on aggregate demand. Economic agents have, in general, looked to consolidate. There is no doubt that this partly reflects a precautionary motive. An important means by which debt and the balance sheets on which it is recorded affect behaviour is through a precautionary mechanism. This is difficult to accurately quantify because it represents a psychological influence on spending. Furthermore, it is affected by the prevailing circumstances of the time.

In looking to understand the factors that affect the growth of debt we may, as a result, learn more about the framework within which we may want banks and their customers to operate. Consequently, we may be in a better position to ensure sustainable longer-term growth and development. If there are cycles in credit it is important that we understand why they arise and whether, as some have suggested, they are an inherent part of the financialised economy in which we live. If they are, can we mitigate their potentially destabilising effects?

Articles
Retail shares facing nightmare before Christmas The Telegraph, John Ficenec (9/11/14)
Growing wealth inequality in the UK is a ticking timebomb The Guardian, Danny Dorling (15/10/14)
Richest 10% of Britons now control more than half the country’s wealth: Nation is only member of G7 where inequality between rich and poor has increased this century Mail Online, Mark Duell and Corey Charlton, (15/11/14)
Household debt is growing as families struggle Yorkshire Evening Post (31/10/14)
Consumer spending forecast to be the highest for four years The Telegraph, Ashley Armstrong (10/11/14)

Data
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England
Quarterly National Accounts, Q2 2014 Dataset Office for National Statistics

Questions

  1. What is the non-bank private sector?
  2. What factors might affect the rate at which non-bank private sector debt stocks grow?
  3. How might we go about assessing whether the aggregate level of lending by financial institutions to the non-bank private sector is sustainable?
  4. How might we go about assessing whether the level of lending by individual financial institutions to the non-bank private sector is sustainable?
  5. What information is conveyed in the balance sheets of economic agents, such as households and private non-financial corporations
  6. What is meant by precautionary saving?
  7. Can precautionary saving occur when the economy is growing strongly?
  8. What are the mechanisms by which non-bank private sector debt could impact on economic behaviour?
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Job losses and labour mobility

Lloyds Banking Group has announced that it plans to reduce its labour force by 9000. Some of this reduction may be achieved by not replacing staff that leave, but some may have to be achieved through redundancies.

The reasons given for the reduction in jobs are technological change and changes in customer practice. More banking services are available online and customers are making more use of these services and less use of branch banking. Also, the increasingly widespread availability of cash machines (ATMs) means that fewer people withdraw cash from branches.

And it’s not just outside branches that technological change is impacting on bank jobs. Much of the work previously done by humans is now done by software programs.

One result is that many bank branches have closed. Lloyds says that the latest planned changes will see 150 fewer branches – 6.7% of its network of 2250.

What’s happening in banking is happening much more widely across modern economies. Online shopping is reducing the need for physical shops. Computers in offices are reducing the need, in many cases, for office staff. More sophisticated machines, often controlled by increasingly sophisticated computers, are replacing jobs in manufacturing.

So is this bad news for employees? It is if you are in one of those industries cutting employment. But new jobs are being created as the economy expands. So if you have a good set of skills and are willing to retrain and possibly move home, it might be relatively easy to find a new, albeit different, job.

As far as total unemployment is concerned, more rapid changes in technology create a rise in frictional and structural unemployment. This can be minimised, however, or even reduced, if there is greater labour mobility. This can be achieved by better training, education and the development of transferable skills in a more adaptive labour force, where people see changing jobs as a ‘normal’ part of a career.

Webcasts
Lloyds Bank cuts 9,000 jobs – but what of the tech future? Channel 4 News, Symeon Brown (28/10/14)
Lloyds Bank confirms 9,000 job losses and branch closures BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (28/10/14)

Article
Lloyds job cuts show the technology axe still swings for white collar workers The Guardian, Phillip Inman (28/10/14)

Reports
Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions Cabinet Office (July 2009)
Fair access to professional careers: a progress report Cabinet Office (30/5/12)

Questions

  1. Is a reduction in banking jobs inevitable? Explain.
  2. What could banks do to reduce the hardship to employees from a reduction in employment?
  3. What other industries are likely to see significant job losses resulting from technological progress?
  4. Distinguish between demand-deficient, real-wage, structural and frictional unemployment. Which of these are an example, or examples, of equilibrium unemployment?
  5. What policies could the government pursue to reduce (a) frictional unemployment; (b) structural unemployment?
  6. What types of industry are likely to see an increase in employment and in what areas of these industries?
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Economic shocks and the Ukrainian crisis

One of the reasons why it is so hard to forecast economic growth and other macroeconomic indicators is that economies can be affected by economic shocks. Sometimes the effects of shocks are large. The problem with shocks is that, by their very nature, they are unpredictable or hard to predict.

A case in point is the current crisis in Ukraine. First there was the uprising in Kiev, the ousting of President Yanukovich and the formation of a new government. Then there was the seizing of the Crimean parliament by gunmen loyal to Russia. The next day, Saturday March 1, President Putin won parliamentary approval to invade Ukraine and Russian forces took control of the Crimea.

On Monday 3 March, stock markets fell around the world. The biggest falls were in Russia (see chart). In other stock markets, the size of the falls was directly related to the closeness of trade ties with Russia. The next day, with a degree of calm descending on the Crimea and no imminent invasion by Russia of other eastern parts of Ukraine, stock markets rallied.

What will happen to countries’ economies depends on what happens as the events unfold. There could be a continuing uneasy peace, with the West effectively accepting, despite protests, the Russian control of the Crimea. But what if Russia invades eastern Ukraine and tries to annex it to Russia or promote its being run as a separate country? What if the West reacted strongly by sending in troops? What if the reaction were simply sanctions? That, of course would depend on the nature of those sanctions.

Some of the possibilities could have serious effects on the world economy and especially the Russian economy and the economies of those with strong economic ties to Russia, such as those European countries relying heavily on gas and oil imports from Russia through the pipeline network.

Economists are often criticised for poor forecasts. But when economic shocks can have large effects and when they are hard to predict by anyone, not just economists, then it is hardly surprising that economic forecasts are sometimes highly inaccurate.

What Wall Street is watching in Ukraine crisis USA Today (3/3/14)
Ukraine’s economic shock waves – magnitude uncertain Just Auto, Dave Leggett (7/3/14)
Ukraine: The end of the beginning? The Economist (8/3/14)
Russia will bow to economic pressure over Ukraine, so the EU must impose it The Guardian, Guy Verhofstadt (6/3/14)
Russia paying price for Ukraine crisis CNN Money, Mark Thompson (6/3/14)
Ukraine Crimea: Russia’s economic fears BBC News, Nikolay Petrov (7/3/14)
How Russia’s conflict with Ukraine threatens vital European trade links The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (8/3/14)
Will a Russian invasion of Ukraine push the west into an economic war? Channel 4 News, Paul Mason (2/3/14)
Who loses from punishing Russia? BBC News, Robert Peston (4/3/14)
Should Crimea be leased to Russia? BBC News, Robert Peston (7/3/14)
The Ukraine Economic Crisis Counter Punch, Jack Rasmus (7-9/3/14)
UK price rise exposes failure to prepare for food and fuel shocks The Guardian, Phillip Inman (2/3/14)

Questions

  1. What sanctions could the West realistically impose on Russia?
  2. How would sanctions against Russia affect (a) the Russian economy and (b) the economies of those applying the sanctions?
  3. Which industries would be most affected by sanctions against Russia?
  4. Is Russia likely to bow to economic pressure from the West?
  5. Should Crimea be leased to Russia?
  6. Is the behaviour of stock markets a good indication of people’s expectations about the real economy?
  7. Identify some other economic shocks (positive and negative) and their impact.
  8. Could the financial crisis of 2007/8 be described as an economic shock? Explain.
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Effects of raising the minimum wage

Conservative Party leaders are considering the benefits of an above-inflation rise in the minimum wage. This policy has been advocated by both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats as a means of helping the lowest paid workers. From 2008 to 2013, minimum wage rates fell 5.2% in real terms: in other words, nominal increases were less than the increase in both the RPI and CPI (see UK minimum wage: a history in numbers).

Advocates of a real rise in the minimum wage argue that not only would it help low-paid workers, many of whom are in severe financial difficulties, but it would benefit the Treasury. According to Policy Exchange, a free-market think tank closely aligned to the Conservative Party, increasing the minimum wage by 50p would save the Government an estimated £750m a year through higher tax revenues and lower benefit payments.

But even such a rise to £6.81 would still leave the minimum wage substantially below the living wage of £8.80 in London and £7.65 in the rest of the UK, as estimated by the Living Wage Foundation (see The cost of a living wage). Although many businesses are now paying at least the living wage, many others, especially small businesses, argue that a rise in the minimum wage above the rate of inflation would force them to consider cutting the number of employees or reducing hours for part-time workers.

Meanwhile, in the USA 13 states have raised their minimum wage rates from the 1st January 2014 (see). Some of the rises, however, were tiny: as little as 15 cents. In a couple of cases, the rise is $1. Currently 21 states and DC have minimum wage rates above the Federal level of $7.25 (approx. £4.40); 20 states have rates the same as the Federal level; 4 states have rates below the Federal level. At $9.32 per hour, Washington State has the highest state minimum wage; the lowest rates ($5.15) are in Georgia and Wyoming. In 5 states there is no minimum wage at all. As the ABC article below states:

The piecemeal increases at the local level are occurring amidst a national debate over low wages and income inequality. Fast food and retail workers have been staging protests and walking off work for more than a year, calling for better pay and more hours. Currently, fast food workers nationally earn an average of about $9 per hour.

Workers from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and other fast food joints are calling for $15 per hour. Wal-Mart workers organizing as part of the union-backed OUR Walmart aren’t asking for a specific dollar amount increase, but they say it’s impossible to live on the wages they currently receive.

President Obama has been throwing his weight behind the issue. Earlier this month, the President said in a speech that it’s “well past the time to raise the minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.” But such legislation has a bleaker outlook if it reaches the Republican-led House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has said that raising the minimum wage leads to a pullback in hiring.

So what are the costs and benefits of a significant real rise is the minimum wage on either side of the Atlantic? The articles explore the issues.

Articles: UK
Lib Dems accuse Tories of ‘stealing’ their policy as George Osborne prepares to approve above-inflation rise in minimum wage Independent, Andrew Grice (7/1/14)
Lib Dems accuse Tories of ‘nicking’ party’s policy on low wages The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (7/1/14)
Cut housing benefit? A higher minimum wage would help The Guardian, Patrick Collinson (6/1/14)
Miliband prepares to wage war The Scotsman, Andrew Whitaker (8/1/14)
Increasing the minimum wage is only a half answer to poverty New Statesman, Helen Barnard (8/1/14)
Raise the bar: Economically and socially, Britain needs higher wages Independent (7/1/14)
Another Tory says there’s a ‘strong case’ for raising the minimum wage The Spectator, Isabel Hardman (8/1/14)
Fairness and the minimum wage Financial Times (7/1/14)
Osborne wants above-inflation minimum wage rise BBC News (16/1/14)
George Osborne backs minimum wage rise to £7 an hour The Guardian, Nicholas Watt, (16/1/14)
Minimum wage: in his efforts to defeat Labour, Osborne risks mimicking them The Telegraph, Benedict Brogan (16/1/14)
Minimum wage announcement is not just good economics The Guardian, Larry Elliott (16/1/14)

Articles: USA
13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers USA Today, Paul Davidson (30/12/13)
Minimum wage increase: Wage to rise in 13 states on Jan. 1 ABC15 (30/12/13)
NJ minimum wage sees $1 bump on Jan. 1 Bloomberg Businessweek, Angela Delli Santi (31/12/13)
Minimum wage hike a job killer ctpost, Rick Torres (7/1/14)
A Business Owners Case For Raising The Minimum Wage Grundy Country Herald, David Bolotsky (7/1/14)
Raising the Minimum Wage Isn’t Just Good Politics. It’s Good Economics, Too. New Republic, Noam Scheiber (31/12/13)
Minimum wage rises across 13 US states Financial Times, James Politi (1/1/14)

Information
National Minimum Wage rates GOV.UK
UK minimum wage: a history in numbers Guardian Datablog
List of minimum wages by country Wikipedia

Questions

  1. Draw two diagrams to demonstrate the direct microeconomic effect of a rise in the minimum wage for two employers, both currently paying the minimum wage, where the first is operating in an otherwise competitive labour market and the other is a monopsonist.
  2. What is meant by the term ‘efficiency wage rate’? How is the concept relevant to the debate about the effects of raising the minimum wage rate?
  3. What are the likely macroeconomic effects of raising the minimum wage rate?
  4. What is the likely impact of raising the minimum wage rate on public finances?
  5. Is raising the minimum wage rate the best means of tackling poverty? Explain your answer.
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Abenomics – one year on

It is one year since the election of Shinzo Abe in Japan. He immediately embarked on a radical economic policy to stimulate the Japanese economy, which had suffered from years of stagnation. There have been three parts (or three arrows) to his policy: fiscal policy and monetary policy to stimulate aggregate demand and supply-side policy to increase productivity.

As the previous post explains:

“The first arrow is monetary policy. The Bank of Japan has engaged in extensive quantitative easing through bond purchases in order to drive down the exchange rate (see A J-curve for Japan?), stimulate expenditure and increase the rate of inflation. A target inflation rate of 2% has been set by the Bank of Japan. Part of the problem for the Japanese economy over the years has been stagnant or falling prices. Japanese consumers have got used to waiting to spend in the hope of being able to buy at lower prices. Similarly, Japanese businesses have often delayed stock purchase. By committing to bond purchases of whatever amount is necessary to achieve the 2% inflation target, the central bank hopes to break this cycle and encourage people to buy now rather than later.

The second arrow is fiscal policy. Despite having the highest debt to GDP ratio in the developed world, Japan is embarking on a large-scale programme of infrastructure investment and other public works. The package is worth over $100bn. The expansionary fiscal policy is accompanied by a longer-term plan for fiscal consolidation as economic growth picks up. In the short term, Japan should have no difficulty in financing the higher deficit, given that most of the borrowing is internal and denominated in yen.

The third arrow is supply-side policy. On 5 June, Shinzo Abe unveiled a series of goals his government would like to achieve in order to boost capacity and productivity. These include increasing private-sector investment (both domestic and inward), infrastructure expenditure (both private and public), increasing farmland, encouraging more women to work by improving day-care facilities for children, and deregulation of both goods, capital and labour markets. The prime minister, however, did not give details of the measures that would be introduced to achieve these objectives. More details will be announced in mid-June.”

In the webcast and article below, Linda Yueh, the BBC’s Chief Business Correspondent, considers how effective the policies are proving and the challenges that remain.

Webcast
Has Abenomics fixed Japan’s economic fortunes? BBC News, Linda Yueh (16/12/13)

Articles
Why Abenomics holds lessons for the West BBC News, Linda Yueh (13/12/13)
Japanese business confidence hits six-year high, Tankan survey shows The Guardian (16/12/13)

Data
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (Oct 2013)
Bank of Japan Statistics Bank of Japan
Economic Outlook Annex Tables OECD
Country statistical profile: Japan 2013 OECD (15/11/13)

Questions

  1. Demonstrate on (a) an aggregate demand and supply diagram and (b) a Keynesian 45° line diagram the effects of the three arrows (assuming they are successful) in meeting their objectives.
  2. Why has Japan found it so hard to achieve economic growth over the past 20 years?
  3. How has the Japanese economy performed over the past 12 months?
  4. What lessons can be learnt by the UK and eurozone countries from Japan’s three arrows?
  5. Why is the second arrow problematic, given the size of Japan’s general government debt? Does the proportion of Japanese debt owed overseas affect the argument?
  6. In what ways do the three arrows (a) support each other; (b) conflict with each other?
  7. Why is the structure of the labour market in Japan acting as a break on economic growth? What policies are being, or could be, pursued to tackle these structural problems?
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