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Articles for the ‘Economics 8e: Ch 22’ Category

Gloomy assessments of the global economic outlook

In two posts recently, we considered the pessimistic views of Robert Peston about the prospects for the global economy (see Cloudy skies ahead? and The end of growth in the West?). In this post we consider the views of Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Lord Adair Turner, the former head of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) (which was replaced in 2013 by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority).

Christine Lagarde was addressing an audience at Georgetown University in Washington DC. The first four links below are to webcasts of the full speech and subsequent interviews about the speech. She gives a more gloomy assessment of the global economy than six months ago, especially the eurozone economy and several emerging economies, such as China. There are short- to medium-term dangers for the world economy from political conflicts, such as that between Russia and the West over Ukraine. But there are long-term dangers too. These come from the effects of subdued private investment and low infrastructure spending by governments.

Her views are backed up by the six-monthly World Economic Outlook, published by the IMF on 7 October. There are links below to two webcasts from the IMF discussing the report and the accompanying datasets.

In the final webcast link below, Lord Turner argues that there is a “real danger of a simultaneous slowdown producing a big setback to growth expectations.” He is particularly worried about China, which is experiencing an asset price bubble and slowing economic growth. Other emerging economies too are suffering from slowing growth. This poses real problems for developed countries, such as Germany, which are heavily reliant on their export sector.

Webcasts
The Challenges Facing the Global Economy: New Momentum to Overcome a New Mediocre IMF Videos, Christine Lagarde (full speech) (2/10/14)
Christine Lagarde downbeat on global economy BBC News Canada, Christine Lagarde interviewed by Katy Kay (2/10/14)
IMF’s Lagarde on Global Economy, Central Banks Bloomberg TV, Christine Lagarde interviewed by Tom Keene (2/10/14)
Lagarde: Global economy weaker than envisioned 6 months ago, IMF to cut growth outlook CNBC (2/10/14)
IMF Says Uneven Global Growth Disappoints IMF Videos, Olivier Blanchard (7/10/14)
Time Is Right for an Infrastructure Push IMF Videos, Abdul Ablad (30/9/14)
China slowdown poses ‘biggest risk to global economy’ The Telegraph, Adair Turner (4/10/14)

Articles
Global Growth Disappoints, Pace of Recovery Uneven and Country-Specific IMF Survey Magazine (7/10/14)
Global economy risks becoming stuck in low growth trap The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (2/10/14)
American Exceptionalism Thrives Amid Struggling Global Economy Bloomberg, Rich Miller and Simon Kennedy (4/10/14)
World Bank cuts China growth forecast for next three years BBC News (6/10/14)
Beware a Chinese slowdown The Guardian, Kenneth Rogoff (6/10/14)
IMF says economic growth may never return to pre-crisis levels The Guardian, Larry Elliott (7/10/14)
IMF goes back to the future with gloomy talk of secular stagnation The Guardian, Larry Elliott (7/10/14)

Data
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (7/10/14)
World Economic Outlook IMF (October 2014)

Questions

  1. What are the particular ‘headwinds’ facing the global economy?
  2. Why is the outlook for the global economy more pessimistic now than six months ago?
  3. Why are increasing levels of debt and asset price rises a threat to Chinese economic growth?
  4. Why may China be more able to deal with high levels of debt than many other countries?
  5. In what ways are commodity prices an indicator of the confidence of investors about future economic growth?
  6. What are the determinants of long-term economic growth? Why are potential economic growth rates lower today than in the 2000s?
  7. How might governments today boost long-term economic growth?
  8. What are the arguments for and against governments engaging in large-scale public investment in infrastructure projects? What would be the supply-side and demand-side effects of such policies?
  9. If confidence is a major determinant of investment, how might bodies such as the IMF boost confidence?
  10. Why does the IMF caution against over-aggressive attempts to reduce budget deficits?
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Cloudy skies ahead?

Now here’s a gloomy article from Robert Peston. He’s been looking at investors’ views about the coming years and sees a general pessimism about the prospects for long-term economic growth. And that pessimism is becoming deeper.

It is true that both the UK and the USA have recorded reasonable growth rates in recent months and do seem, at least on the surface, to be recovering from recession. But, according to investor behaviour, they:

seem to be saying, in how they place their money, that the UK’s and USA’s current reasonably rapid growth will turn out to be a short-lived period of catch-up, following the deep recession of 2008-9.

So what is it about investor behaviour that implies a deep pessimism and are investors right to be pessimistic? The article explores these issues. It does also look at an alternative explanation that investors may merely be being cautious until a clearer picture emerges about long-term growth prospects – which may turn out to be better that many currently now predict.

The article finishes by looking at a possible solution to the problem (if you regard low or zero growth as a problem). That would be for the government to ‘throw money at investment in infrastructure – to generate both short-term growth and enhance long-term productive potential.’

Note that Elizabeth also looks at this article in her blog The end of growth in the west?.

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

Questions

  1. What is meant by the ’25-year yield curve for government bonds’? Why does this yield curve imply a deep level of business pessimism about the long-term prospects for UK economic growth?
  2. What are the determinants of long-term economic growth?
  3. Looking at these determinants, which ones suggest that long-term economic growth may be low?
  4. Are there any determinants which might suggest that economic growth will be maintained over the long term at historical levels of around 2.6%?
  5. Do demand-side policies affect potential GDP and, if so, how?
  6. What policies could government pursue to increase the rate of growth in potential GDP?
  7. What current ‘dramas’ affecting the world economy could have long-term implications for economic growth? How does uncertainty about the long-term implications for the global economy of such dramas itself affect economic growth?
  8. Is long-term growth in real GDP an appropriate indicator of (a) economic development and (b) long-term growth in general well-being?
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A full employment target

Unemployment and employment are concepts that are often talked about in the media. Indeed, the 7% unemployment target referred to by the Governor of the Bank of England has been a constant feature of recent headlines. However, rather than targeting an unemployment rate of 7%, George Osborne has now called for ‘full employment’ and believes that tax and welfare changes are key to meeting this objective.

Reducing the unemployment rate is a key macroeconomic objective and the costs of unemployment are well-documented. There are obviously big costs to the individual and his/her family, including lower income, dependency, stress and potential health effects. There are also costs to the government: lower income tax revenues, potentially lower revenues from VAT through reduced consumer expenditure and the possibility of higher benefit payments. There are other more ‘economic’ costs, namely an inefficient use of resources. Unemployment represents a cost to the economy, as we are operating below full capacity and we therefore see a waste of resources. It is for this reason that ‘full employment’ is being targeted.

Traditional economic theory suggests that there is a trade-off between unemployment and inflation, illustrated by the well-known Phillips curve. In the past, governments have been willing to sacrifice unemployment for the purpose of reducing inflation. There have also been attempts to boost the economy and create jobs through increased borrowing. However, George Osborne has said:

Unemployment is never a price worth paying, but artificial jobs paid for with borrowed money doesn’t work either.

A figure representing full employment hasn’t been mentioned, so it remains unclear what level of unemployment would be acceptable, as despite the name ‘full employment’, this doesn’t mean that everyone has a job. There are several definitions of full employment, in both an economic and political context. In the period of reconstruction after the Second World War, William Beveridge, architect of the welfare state, defined full employment as where 3% of people would be unemployed.

In more recent times, other definitions have been given. In the era of monetarism in the 1970s, the term ‘natural rate of unemployment’ was used to define the unemployment rate to which economies tend in the long run – after inflationary expectations have adjusted. Keynesians use the term the ‘non-accelerating-inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU)’, where unemployment is confined to equilibrium unemployment and where there is no excess or deficiency of aggregate demand. Both the natural rate and the NAIRU relate to the rate of unemployment at which the long-run Phillips curve is vertical.

In its Economic and Fiscal Outlook of March 2013, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the UK’s NAIRU to be 5.4%. George Osborne has not specified a particular rate. Rather, his speech refers to creating the ‘highest employment rate of any of the world’s leading economies’. He said the ambition was to make the UK:

…the best place in the world to create a job; to get a job; to keep a job; to be helped to look for another job if you lose one…A modern approach to full employment means backing business. It means cutting the tax on jobs and reforming welfare.

Therefore, while it appears that there is no target figure for unemployment, it seems that a new Conservative objective will be to focus on sustainable job creation and eliminate disequilibrium unemployment. This represents a move very much into Labour territory. Meeting the objective will be no easy task, given the past few years and such high levels of youth unemployment, as Labour were quick to point out, but the unemployment figures are certainly moving in the right direction. The following articles consider the objective of full employment.

Britain’s Osborne changes tone on economy with “full employment” target Reuters, William James (31/3/14)
George Osborne commits to ‘fight for full employment’ BBC News (including video) (1/4/14)
What does full employment mean? The Guardian (1/4/14)
What is full employment? The Telegraph, Peter Dominiczak (31/3/14)
’Jobs matter’, says George Osborne as he aims for full employment Independent, Andrew Grice (31/3/14)
Liam Bynre: Labour would aim for ‘full employment’ BBC News (17/5/13)
Osborne pledges full employment for UK Sky News (31/3/14)
Osborne commits to full employment as election looms Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (31/3/14)
Whatever happened to full employment? BBC News, Tom de Castella and Caroline McClatchey (13/10/11)

Questions

  1. What is meant by full employment?
  2. Is it a good idea to target zero unemployment?
  3. Using a diagram, illustrate the difference between disequilibrium and equilibrium unemployment?
  4. How can full employment be achieved?
  5. What are the costs of unemployment?
  6. Use a diagram to illustrate the natural rate of unemployment and explain what it means in terms of the relationship between unemployment and inflation.
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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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Japan’s three arrows

Since coming to office in December 2012, Shinzo Abe’s government has been determined to revive the Japanese economy. For the past 20 years, Japan’s growth has averaged only 0.8% per annum. This compares with 1.3% for Germany, 2.3% for the UK, 2.6% for the USA, 4.9% for South Korea and 10.4% for China.

Japanese real GDP per capita was only 14.5% higher in 2012 than 20 years earlier. This compares with figures for Germany, the UK, the USA, South Korea and China of 27%, 45%, 34%, 126% and 497% respectively.

So what has the Japanese government done to boost both short-term and long-term growth after years of stagnation? There are ‘three arrows’ to the policy, targeted at reviving and sustaining economic growth.

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.

The following videos and articles look at the three arrows of Abenomics and the effects they are having on confidence and attitudes as well as on expenditure, output and the exchange rate. They also look at the crucial third arrow: at whether supply-side reforms will be enough to achieve a sustained increase in economic growth.

Videos
Abenomics an uncertain future for most Financial Times on YouTube, Ben McLannahan (30/5/13)
Assessing Abenomics NHK World (3/6/13)
Adam Posen on Abenomics NHK World (30/5/13)
Japanese concerned over ‘Abenomics’ AlJazeera on YouTube (30/5/13)
Abenomics – the cure for deflation? BBC News, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (10/5/13)
Japan PM’s economic speech ‘short on detail’ BBC News, Rupert Wingfield Hayes (5/6/13)
Pretty Positive on Abenomics Bloomberg, Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs (5/6/13)
Why Abenomics is Bonkers: Pro CNBC, Graeme Maxton, (27/5/13)
‘Abe’nomics Not About BOJ Printing Money Bloomberg, Derek Halpenny (31/5/13)
Abenomics Aims `Third Arrow’ at Business Rules Bloomberg, Willie Pesek (5/6/13)
Analysis on Abe’s Growth Plan NHK World (5/6/13)

Articles
Will three arrows find their target? On Line Opinion, Andrew Leigh (6/6/13)
Japan Fires ‘Third Arrow,’ but Will It Work? CNBC, Dhara Ranasinghe (5/6/13)
Japan’s ’3 Arrows’ May Run Into German Wall CNBC, Michael Ivanovitch (19/5/13)
Japan’s recovery – the power of Abe’s three arrows Commonwealth Bank, Australia, Melanie Timbrell (31/5/13)
So Far, the Battery Charger Is Working in Japan The New York Times, Jeff Sommer (18/5/13)
Abenomics Could Light A Fire Under The Japan Trade Again Business Insider, Matthew Boesler (4/6/13)
Japan’s New Prime Minister Unveils The ‘Most Important’ Plank Of Abenomics Business Insider (5/6/13)
Japan PM pledges to boost incomes by 30% Channel NewsAsia (5/6/13)
Abe’s growth strategy disappoints economists, investors The Asahi Shimbun (6/6/13)
Abenomics Won’t Be ’Magic Bullet’ for Japan, Says Johnson of MIT Bloomberg, Cordell Eddings (5/6/13)
Too soon to call time on Abenomics BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (19/6/13)
Abenomics: The objectives and the risks BBC News, Puneet Pal Singh (19/7/13)

Data
World Economic Outlook Database IMF
Bank of Japan Statistics Bank of Japan
Economic Outlook Annex Tables OECD
Country statistical profile: Japan 2013 OECD

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. What will determine the effectiveness of the first two arrows in boosting short-term economic growth?
  3. Would you characterise the policies of the third arrow as interventionist or market-orientated, or as a mixture? Explain.
  4. What are the dangers in ‘Abenomics’?
  5. Find out what has been happening to Japanese bond rates. What are the implications of this for monetary policy?
  6. What are the ‘markets telling Abe’?
  7. In what ways will expectations influence the effectiveness of Abenomics?
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0.3% confimed – good or bad news?

In the blog The global economy we considered the economic performance of countries across the globe, including the UK. In the first estimate of UK economic growth for the first quarter of 2013, the economy grew at 0.3%, thus avoiding a triple-dip recession. This first estimate is always subject to change, but in this case, the data was confirmed.

The April 2013 figure provided by the ONS of 0.3% growth has been confirmed, once again indicating the slow recovery of the UK economy. Despite these more positive signs for the economy, the IMF has raised concerns of the weak performance of the UK and has urged the government to invest more in projects to stimulate growth. Although the economy has started to grow, economic growth has continued to remain weak since the onset of the financial crisis and recession. Martin Beck, an economist at Capital Economics said:

With employment and average earnings both dropping in the first quarter on their level in the previous quarter, the foundations for a sustained recovery, even one driven by consumers, still look pretty rickety.

Initial estimates by the ONS are always updated and there is still time for the 0.3% growth figure to be changed, as more data becomes available. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) This latest figure, although unchanged, has given a more concrete indication of where the UK economy is continuing to struggle. Consumer spending increased by only 0.1%, investment and exports declined, but in further signs of a weak economy, the building up of stocks by companies was a big contributor to the UK economic growth – a contribution of 0.4 percentage points. The service sector continued to growth with a 0.6 percentage point contribution to GDP.

So, what does the future look like for the UK? Although the estimate of 0.3% figure did prevent a triple-dip recession and the IMF did comment on the ‘improving health’ of the economy, signs of recovery remain weak.

Crucial to the recovery will be government spending, but more than this, the government spending must be in key growth industries. Data suggests that the UK invests less than other G8 countries as a percentage of GDP and this is perhaps one of the key factors that has prevented the UK recovery from gathering pace. The future of the UK economy remains uncertain and government policy will be crucial in determining this future course. The following articles consider the latest growth data.

Signs of weakness mar UK economic growth Reuters, Olesya Dmitracova and William Schomberg (23/5/13)
UK first quarter growth unchanged BBC News (23/5/13)
Concerns over underlying health of UK economy as 0.3% growth confirmed The Guardian, Philip Inman (23/5/13)
Statisticians confirm 0.3% UK growth for first quarter of 2013 Financial Times, Claire Jones and Sarah O’Connor (23/5/13)
UK GDP: concerns about underlying economy as 0.3pc growth confirmed The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (23/5/13)
Britsh economy returns to growth in first quarter The Economic Times (23/5/13)
U.K. households not loosening purse strings Wall Street Journal, Ainsley Thomson and Ilona Bllington (23/5/13)
IMF: UK should push for economic growth BBC News (22/5/13)

Questions

  1. Why are numerous estimates of GDP made by the ONS?
  2. How is GDP measured? Is it an accurate measure of economic growth? What about economic development?
  3. Why does 0.3% growth in the first quarter of GDP not necessarily imply that the UK economy is recovering?
  4. Why have certain aspects of the UK economy performed better or worse than others?
  5. What areas should the government invest in, according to the IMF?
  6. Why would government spending in investment create economic growth? Is this likely to be short term or long term?
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Margaret Thatcher: seeking a calm assessment

Much has been written on Margaret Thatcher following her death at the age of 87 on April 8. But getting a calm assessment of both her time in office and her legacy is not easy. And it’s clear why: she created both stronger loyalty and stronger opposition than any other UK Prime Minister.

As economists, however, we should try to be as dispassionate as possible in assessing the effects of policies. There is always a normative question of the relative desirability of different economic outcomes – and you will have your own views on the relative importance of objectives such as economic growth, greater equality and greater social cohesion – but to determine cause and effect, or at least correlation, requires a careful examination of the evidence. Also, drawing lessons for future policy requires a careful modelling of the economy and the effects of changing economic variables.

The following articles have been selected from the hundreds that have appeared in the press in the past few days. Whilst they cannot be claimed to be totally ‘objective’, taken together they give a good overview of her economic policies and her economic legacy.

You may well have been surprised by the amount of coverage of her death and at the fervour of her supporters and critics. But this bears witness to the huge effect she had on both the political scene and on the UK economy – for good or bad.

Articles
Margaret Thatcher’s timeline: From Grantham to the House of Lords, via Arthur Scargill and the Falklands War Independent (8/4/13)
Overhauls Are Still Felt, Debated Decades Later Wall Street Journal, Charles Forelle (9/4/13)
Margaret Thatcher’s Four Ages of Monetary Policy EconoMonitor, David Smith (10/4/13)
How Mrs Thatcher smashed the Keynesian consensus The Economist (9/4/13)
Margaret Thatcher: The economy now and then BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (10/4/13)
Did Margaret Thatcher transform Britain’s economy for better or worse? The Guardian, Larry Elliott (8/4/13)
A look back at Margaret Thatcher’s economic record Washington Post, Dylan Matthews (8/4/13)
Margaret Thatcher’s legacy for business and economics—the world weighs in Quartz, Gwynn Guilford (8/4/13)

Data
Economic Data freely available online The Economics Network, see especially sites 1, 2, 3, 6 and 9

Questions

  1. Summarise the macroeconomic policies followed by the Thatcher government from 1979 to 1990.
  2. Chart economic growth, unemployment and inflation over Margaret Thatcher’s time in office. How does the performance of each of these indicators compare with the period from 1990 to 2007 and from 2008 to the present day?
  3. What is meant by ‘monetarism’? Did the Thatcher government follow pure monetarist policies?
  4. What is meant by the ‘Big Bang’ as applied to the financial sector in 1986? Assess the long-term consequences of the Big Bang.
  5. What elements of ‘Thatcherism’ were retained by the Labour government from 1997 to 2010?
  6. To what extent can the current Coalition government be described as ‘Thatcherite’?
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The political dynamite of calm economic reflection

In a carefully argued article in the New Statesman, the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, considers the slow recovery in the economy and whether additional measures should be adopted. He sums up the current state of the economy as follows:

The British economy is still operating at levels around or below those before the 2008 financial crisis and roughly 15 per cent below an albeit unsustainable pre-crisis trend. There was next to no growth during 2012 and the prospect for 2013 is of very modest recovery.

Unsurprisingly there is vigorous debate as to what has gone wrong. And also what has gone right; unemployment has fallen as a result of a million (net) new jobs in the private sector and there is vigorous growth of new enterprises. Optimistic official growth forecasts and prophets of mass unemployment have both been confounded.

He argues that supply-side policies involving “a major and sustained commitment to skills, innovation and infrastructure investment” are essential if more rapid long-term growth is to be achieved. This is relatively uncontroversial.

But he also considers the claim that austerity has kept the economy from recovering and whether policies to tackle the negative output gap should be adopted, even if this means a short-term increase in government borrowing.

But crude Keynesian policies of expanding aggregate demand are both difficult to implement and may not take into account the particular circumstance of the current extended recession – or depression – in the UK and in many eurozone countries. World aggregate demand, however, is not deficient. In fact it is expanding quite rapidly, and with the sterling exchange rate index some 20% lower than before the financial crisis, this should give plenty of opportunity for UK exporters.

Yet expanding UK aggregate demand is proving difficult to achieve. Consumers, worried about falling real wages and large debts accumulated in the years of expansion, are reluctant to increase consumption and take on more debts, despite low interest rates. In the light of dampened consumer demand, firms are reluctant to invest. This makes monetary policy particularly ineffective, especially when banks have become more risk averse and wish to hold higher reserves, and indeed are under pressure to do so.

So what can be done? He argues that there is “some scope for more demand to boost output, particularly if the stimulus is targeted on supply bottlenecks such as infrastructure and skills.” In other words, he advocates policies that will simultaneously increase both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. Monetary policy, involving negative real interest rates and quantitative easing, has helped to prevent a larger fall in real aggregate demand and a deeper dive into recession, but the dampened demand for money and the desire by banks to build their reserves has meant a massive fall in the money multiplier. Perhaps monetary policy needs to be more aggressive still (see the blog post, Doves from above), but this may not be sufficient.

Which brings Dr Cable to the political dynamite! He advocates an increase in public investment on infrastructure (schools and colleges, hospitals, road and rail projects and housing, and considers whether this should be financed, not by switching government expenditure away from current spending, but by borrowing more.

Such a strategy does not undermine the central objective of reducing the structural deficit, and may assist it by reviving growth. It may complicate the secondary objective of reducing government debt relative to GDP because it entails more state borrowing; but in a weak economy, more public investment increases the numerator and the denominator.

He raises the question of whether the balance of risks has changed: away from the risk of increased short-term borrowing causing a collapse of confidence to the risk of lack of growth causing a deterioration in public finances and this causing a fall in confidence. As we saw in the blog post Moody Blues, the lack of growth has already caused one ratings agency (Moody’s) to downgrade the UK’s credit rating. The other two major agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch may well follow suit.

The day after Dr Cable’s article was published, David Cameron gave a speech saying that the government would stick to its plan of deficit reduction. Not surprisingly commentators interpreted this as a split in the Coalition. Carefully argued economics from Dr Cable it might have been, but political analysts have seen it as a hand grenade, as you will see from some of the articles below.

When the facts change, should I change my mind? New Statesman, Vince Cable (6/3/13)
Keynes would be on our side New Statesman, Vince Cable (12/1/11)
Exclusive: Vince Cable calls on Osborne to change direction New Statesman, George Eaton (67/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News (7/3/13)
Vince Cable makes direct challenge to Cameron over economic programme The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (7/3/13)
Vince Cable Says George Osborne Must Change Course And Borrow More To Revive Growth Huffington Post, Ned Simons (6/3/13)
David Cameron and Vince Cable at war over route to recovery Independent, Andrew Grice (6/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News, James Landale (6/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
Clegg Backs Cable Over Controversial Economy Comments LBC Radio, Nick Clegg (7/3/13)
It’s plain what George Osborne needs to do – so just get on and do it The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (6/3/13)
Vince Cable’s plan B: a “matter of judgement” BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/3/13)
George Osborne needs to turn on the spending taps The Guardian, Phillip Inman (12/3/13)

Questions

  1. Why has monetary policy proved ineffective in achieving a rapid recovery from recession?
  2. Distinguish between discretionary fiscal policy and automatic fiscal stabilisers.
  3. Why has the existence of automatic fiscal stabilisers meant that the public-sector deficit has been difficult to bring down?
  4. In what ways has the balance of risks in using discretionary fiscal policy changed over the past three years?
  5. In what ways is the depression of the late 2000s/early 2010s (a) similar to and (b) different from the Great Depression of the early 1930s?
  6. In what ways is the structure of public-sector debt in the UK different from that in many countries in the eurozone? Why does this give the government more scope for expansionary fiscal policy?
  7. Why does the Office of Budget Responsibility’s estimates of the tax and government expenditure multipliers suggest that “if fiscal policy is to work in a Keynesian manner, it needs to be targeted carefully, concentrating on capital projects”?
  8. Why did Keynes argue that monetary policy is ineffective at the zero bound (to use Dr Cable’s terminology)? Are we currently at the zero bound? If so what can be done?
  9. Has fiscal tightening more than offset loose monetary policy?
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Losing the productivity race

Recent figures from the ONS suggest that the UK lags well behind its competitors in terms of labour productivity. In terms of output per hour worked, Germany produces 22% more than the UK, France produces 26% more, the USA produces 27% more, the Netherlands 31% more and Ireland 43% more. The first chart illustrates some of these figures.

(Click here for a PowerPoint of this chart.)

And in the past few years the problem has been getting worse. This is shown in the second chart. This, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until 2006, the gap was narrowing, but since then it has widened. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the second chart.)

What has caused this widening of the gap? Part of the problem is a historical lack of investment in the UK. Between 2005 and 2012, the UK invested on average 15.7% of GDP. The USA invested 16.5%, Germany 17.9% and France 20.1%. And part of the problem has been the cut back in private-sector investment in response to the recession (which has been deeper in the UK) and in public-sector investment as part of the government’s austerity measures.

Part of the problem has been lower levels of inward investment. Inward direct investment to the UK in 2011 was only 24 per cent of that in 2007. In France, Germany, Italy and the USA, the figures were 43, 50, 66 and 105 per cent respectively.

Part of the problem has been the size of the financial sector in the UK. This is considerably larger as a proportion of the economy than in most the UK’s major competitors. And it was this sector most hard hit by the crisis of 2007/8.

With this poor productivity performance, you might expect unemployment to have soared. In fact, the UK has one of the lowest unemployment rates of the developed countries and in recent months it has been falling while other countries have seen their unemployment rates rise.

In fact, low productivity and high employment are compatible. If people produce less than their counterparts abroad, then more people will be needed to produce the same level of output. The problem, of course, is that this only works if wages are kept down. Indeed, wages have fallen in real terms and now stand at the level of 10 years ago.

The problem of falling real wages is that this translates into a lack of demand – especially when people are trying to reduce their debts. Not only does this result in a lack of economic growth, it discourages firms from investing – and investment is one of the prime drivers of future productivity growth!

The following articles explore the problem of low productivity and its relationship with employment and with both short-term and long-term economic growth.

Articles
UK has widest productivity gap since 1993 City A.M., Ben Southwood (14/2/13)
Productivity ‘key to UK’s economic future’ SnowdropKCS (7/2/13)
Low wages and lack of investment – why UK’s productivity has slumped Wales Online, David Williamson (2/3/13)
Recovery in jobs gives a fillip before the news on growth Independent, Russell Lynch (23/1/13)
U.K. Triple-Dipping as Productivity Falls Slate, Matthew Yglesias (25/1/13)
UK productivity puzzle baffles economists BBC News, By Andrew Walker (18/10/12)
Is low productivity a structural problem in the UK? BBC Today Programme, Bridget Rosewell and Andrew Sentance (4/1/13)
We Need to Talk About the Middle Huffington Post, Stewart Wood (14/2/13)
UK Wages Slump to Lowest Level in a Decade – ONS International Business Times, Shane Croucher (13/2/13)
Britain’s low-wage economy serves as a bind on the country The Guardian, Philip Inman (13/2/13)
Real wages fall back to 2003 levels in UK The Guardian, Hilary Osborne (13/2/13)

Data
International Comparisons of Productivity – Final Estimates for 2011 ONS (13/2/13)
International Comparisons of Productivity, datasets ONS (13/2/13)
Changes in real earnings in the UK and London, 2002 to 2012 ONS (13/2/13)

Questions

  1. Which is a better measure of productivity – output per worker or output per hour worked? Why, do you think, does the USA produce 39% more per worker, but only 27% more per hour worked?
  2. What policies should the government adopt in order to encourage a growth in productivity?
  3. If productivity growth increased, what would be the likely effect on employment? Explain.
  4. Why has unemployment not risen in recent months?
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Asia’s moderate boom

Many developing Asian countries have experienced rapid and yet relatively stable economic growth over a number of years. In other words, this has not been a short-term unsustainable boom associated with the expansionary phase of the business cycle – with aggregate demand expanding more rapidly than aggregate supply. Rather it is the result of a rapid growth in aggregate supply.

Over the period from 2000 to 2011, several Asian countries experienced average annual growth rates of over 4% and some, such as China and India, much more than that, as the following table shows. The table also shows forecasts for the period from 2012 to 2017. The high forecast growth rates are based on a continuing rapid growth in aggregate supply as the countries invest in infrastructure and adopt technologies, many of which have already been developed elsewhere.

Average annual economic growth rates

2000–11 2012–17
China 10.2 8.4
India 7.2 6.3
Lao 7.1 7.9
Vietnam 7.1 6.5
Indonesia 5.2 6.5
Malaysia 5.0 4.9
Philippines 4.7 4.9
Thailand 4.0 5.1

Source: World Economic Outlook Database IMF (October 2012)

But for aggregate supply to continue growing rapidly there must also be a stable growth in aggregate demand. With the recession in the developed world, some of the more open economies of Asia, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore themselves suffered a slowdown or recession as demand for their exports fell. The Malaysian economy, for example, contracted by 1.5% in 2009.

Given the continuing macroeconomic problems in the developed world, many Asian countries are seeing the need to rebalance their economies away from a heavy reliance on exports. China, for example, is putting more emphasis on domestic-led demand growth. Others, such as Indonesia, have already embarked on this route. As The Economist article states:

Household consumption contributed half of the growth of just over 6% Indonesia enjoyed in the year to the third quarter (its eighth consecutive quarter of growth at that pace). Exports have fallen from about 35% of GDP ten years ago to less than a quarter in 2011. Developing Asia’s combined current-account surplus, which reflects its dependence on foreign demand, more than halved from 2008 to 2011 and is expected to fall further this year.

The continuing success story of many developing Asian economies thus lies in a balance of supply-side policies that foster continuing rapid investment and demand-side policies that create a stable monetary and fiscal environment. A crucial question here is whether they can emulate the ‘Great Moderation’ experienced by the Western economies from the mid-1990s to 2007, without creating the conditions for a crash in a few years time – a crash caused by excessive credit and an excessively deregulated financial system that was building up greater and greater systemic risk.

Articles
Asia’s great moderation The Economist (10/11/12)
Asia Seen Nearing End of Slowdown on China Recovery: Economy Bloomberg, Karl Lester M. Yap and Michael J. Munoz (15/11/12)
An Insider’s China M&A Notes: What Economic Slowdown? CFO Innovation, Peter Hall and Yuan Peng, The Valence Group (31/10/12)
Building a stronger Asia The Star (Malaysia), Cecilia Kok (24/11/12)

Data and reports
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (October 2012)
OECD: south-east Asian economic outlook to return to pre-crisis levels Guardian datablog, Nick Mead (18/11/12)
Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013, Executive Summary OECD (18/11/12)
Asia Economic Outlook BBVA Research (Q3 2012)

Questions

  1. Why have developing Asian countries experienced much more rapid rates of economic growth than developed countries?
  2. In what ways are the structures of developing Asian economies likely to change in the coming years?
  3. What factors would support their continuing to achieve both rapid and stable economic growth in the coming years?
  4. What factors might prevent them from achieving both rapid and stable economic growth in the coming years?
  5. What structural policies are likely to enhance productivity?
  6. What is the Asean Economic Community? How will this benefit its member countries?
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