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Articles for the ‘Essential Economics for Business 4e: Ch 11’ Category

A growing debt burden

The linked article below from The Guardian paints a disturbing picture of the long-term problem of servicing both private-sector and public-sector debts.

With interest rates at historical lows, the problem has been masked for the time being. But with interest rates set to rise within a few months, and significantly over the coming years, the burden of debt servicing is likely to become severe. This could have profound effects both on long-term economic growth and on the distribution of income.

As the author, Phillip Inman states:

The funding gap is growing and with deficits on so many fronts, it is hard to see how promises to pensioners and health service users can be met without a dash for growth that is unsustainable, a switch to dramatic cost-cutting in other areas or higher taxes on those who came through the recession relatively unscathed.

You are probably facing the problem of growing debt yourself. How long, if ever, will it take you to repay your student loans? What impact will this have on your ability to spend and to have a ‘decent’ standard of living? Will you be able to afford a mortgage large enough to buy a reasonable house or flat? Will you be able to afford to do a masters degree or PhD without support from your parents or relatives or without a scholarship? And even if you manage to secure a well-paid job, will you be able to afford a reasonable pension for when you eventually retire?

The article looks at the nature of the problem and its causes. It concludes by saying:

Britain has become expert at putting off decisions and hoping for something to turn up. Without a return to ultra-cheap commodities, another technological/productivity revolution, or a return to more modest living and delayed gratification, it’s a plan that is running out of time.

Article
Trouble in store: the grave future of British public and private debt The Guardian, Phillip Inman (20/7/14)

Report
Fiscal sustainability report Office for Budget Responsibility (10/7/14)
Fiscal sustainability report – Executive summary Office for Budget Responsibility (10/7/14)
Fiscal sustainability report – Supplementary data series Office for Budget Responsibility (10/7/14)

Questions

  1. Why is public-sector debt likely to continue rising significantly over the coming years unless there is a concerted policy to make cuts in public expenditure?
  2. What factors are likely to lead to a rise in private-sector debt over the coming years?
  3. What factors have caused a redistribution from the younger to the older generation?
  4. How have ultra low interest rates affected the distribution of income?
  5. What is likely to happen to the gap in wages between ‘graduate’ jobs and ‘non-graduate’ jobs? Identify the factors likely to influence this gap?
  6. What is meant by ‘hire purchase’? Are leasing schemes for car purchase a form of ‘hire purchase? Are there similar schemes in the housing market?
  7. Does it matter if a country’s debts rise (either public or private) if the creditors are in the same country? Explain.
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How to cool the London housing market?

House prices have been rising strongly in London. According to the Halifax House Price index, house prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 15.5% higher than a year ago. This compares with 8.7% for the UK as a whole, 1.3% for the North of England and –1.5% for Scotland. CPI inflation was just 1.6% for the same 12-month period.

The London housing market has been stoked by rising incomes in the capital, by speculation that house prices will rise further and by easy access to mortgages, fuelled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which allows people to put down a deposit of as little as 5%. House prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 5.3 times the average income of new mortgage holders, up from 3.5 times in the last quarter of 2007, just before the financial crisis.

Concerns have been growing about increasing levels of indebtedness, which could leave people in severe financial difficulties if interest rates were to rise significantly. There are also concerns that an increasing proportion of people are being priced out of the housing market and are being forced to remain in the rental sector, where rents are also rising strongly.

But how can the housing market in London be dampened without dampening the housing market in other parts of the country where prices are barely rising, and without putting a break on the still relatively fragile recovery in the economy generally?

The Governor of the Bank of England has just announced two new measures specific to the housing market and which would apply particularly in London.

The first is to require banks to impose stricter affordability tests to new borrowers. Customers should be able demonstrate their ability to continue making their mortgage payments if interest rates were 3 percentage points higher than now.

The second is that mortgage lenders should restrict their lending to 4½ times people’s income for at least 85% of their lending.

Critics are claiming that these measures are likely to be insufficient. Indeed, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has argued for a limit of 3½ times people’s income. Also banks are already typically applying a ‘stress test’ that requires people to be able to afford mortgage payments if interest rates rose to 7% (not dissimilar to the Bank of England’s new affordability test).

The videos and articles look at the measures and consider their adequacy in dealing with what is becoming for many living in London a serious problem of being able to afford a place to live. They also look at other measures that could have been taken.

Webcasts and Podcasts
The Bank of England announces plans for a new affordability test BBC News (26/6/14)
Bank of England moves to avert housing boom BBC News, Simon Jack (26/6/14)
Bank of England to act on house prices in south-east BBC News, Robert Peston (25/6/14)
Bank of England measures ‘insure against housing boom’ BBC News, Robert Peston (26/6/14)
Carney: There is a ‘new normal’ for interest rates BBC Today Programme, Mark Carney (27/6/14)

Articles
Bank of England imposes first limits on size of UK mortgages Reuters, Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Huw Jones (26/6/14)
Stability Report – Mark Carney caps mortgages to cool housing market: as it happened June 26, 2014 The Telegraph, Martin Strydom (26/6/14)
Bank of England cracks down on mortgages The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (26/6/14)
Mortgage cap ‘insures against housing boom’ BBC News (26/6/14)
Viewpoints: Is the UK housing market broken? BBC News (26/6/14)
How can UK regulators cool house prices? Reuters (25/6/14)
Bank will not act on house prices yet, says Carney The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Mark Carney’s housing pill needs time to let economy digest it The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Bank Of England Admits Plans To Cool Housing Market Will Have ‘Minimal’ Impact Huffington Post, Asa Bennett (26/6/14)
Carney Surprises Are Confounding Markets as U.K. Central Bank Manages Guidance Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Emma Charlton (26/6/14)
House prices: stop meddling, Mark Carney, and bite the bullet on interest rates The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (27/6/14)
Mark Carney’s Central Bank Mission Creep Bloomberg, Mark Gilbert (26/6/14)

Consultation paper
Implementing the Financial Policy Committee’s Recommendation on loan to income ratios in mortgage lending Bank of England (26/6/14)
Bank of England consults on implementation of loan-to-income ratio limit for mortgage lending Bank of England News Release (26/6/14)

Data
Links to sites with data on UK house prices Economic Data freely available online, The Economics Network

Questions

  1. Identify the main factors on the demand and supply sides that could cause a rise in the price of houses. How does the price elasticity of demand and supply affect the magnitude of the rise?
  2. What other measures could have been taken by the Bank of England? What effect would they have had on the economy generally?
  3. What suggests that the Bank of England is not worried about the current situation but rather is taking the measures as insurance against greater-than-anticipated house price inflation in the future?
  4. Why are UK households currently in a ‘vulnerable position’?
  5. What factors are likely to determine the future trend of house prices in London?
  6. Is house price inflation in London likely to stay significantly above that in other parts of the UK, or is the difference likely to narrow or even disappear?
  7. Should the Bank of England be given the benefit of the doubt in being rather cautious in its approach to dampening the London housing market?
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The ECB: tackling the threat of deflation

The spectre of deflation haunts the eurozone economy. Inflation in the 12 months to May 2014 was 0.5%, down from 0.7% to April and well below the target of 2% (see). Price deflation can result in deflation of the whole economy. With the prospect of falling prices, many consumers put off spending, hoping to buy things later at a lower price. This delay in spending deflates aggregate demand and can result in a decline in growth or even negative growth: hardly a welcome prospect as the eurozone still struggles to recover from the long period of recession or sluggish growth that followed the 2007–8 financial crisis.

The ECB is well aware of the problem. Its President, Mario Draghi, has stated on several occasions that the central bank will do whatever it takes to ward off deflation and stimulate recovery. At its monthly meeting on 5 June, the ECB Council acted. It took the following measures (see Mario Draghi’s press conference and the press release):

• The main refinancing rate it charges banks on reverse repos (when using open-market operations) was cut from 0.25% to 0.15%.
• The rate it pays banks for depositing money in the ECB was cut from 0% to –0.1%. In other words, banks would be charged for ‘parking’ money with the ECB rather than lending it.
• It will provide targeted lending to banks (targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs)), initially of 7% of the total amount of each banks’ loans to the non-financial private sector within the eurozone. This will be provided in two equal amounts, in September and December 2014. These extra loans will be for bank lending to businesses and households (other than for house purchase). The total amount will be some €400 billion. Substantial additional lending will be made available quarterly from March 2016 to June 2016.
• It will make preparations for an asset purchase scheme. Unlike that in the UK, which involves the purchase of government bonds, this will involve the purchase of assets which involve claims on private-sector (non-financial) institutions. Depending on financing arrangements, this could amount to quantitative easing.
• It will suspend sterilising the extra liquidity that has been injected under the Securities Markets Programme (operated from May 2010 to September 2012), which involved purchasing eurozone countries’ existing bonds on the secondary market. In other words it will stop preventing the securities that have been purchased from increasing money supply. This therefore, for the first time, represents a genuine form of quantitative easing.

The question is whether the measures will be enough to stimulate the eurozone economy, prevent deflation and bring inflation back to around 2%. The measures are potentially significant, especially the prospect of quantitative easing – a policy pursued by other main central banks, such as the Fed, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan. A lot depends on what the ECB does over the coming months.

The following articles consider the ECB’s policy. The first ones were published before the announcement and look at alternatives open to the ECB. The others look at the actual decisions and assess how successful they are likely to be.

Articles published before the announcement
Mario Draghi faces moment of truth as man with power to steady eurozone The Observer, Larry Elliott (1/6/14)
What the ECB will do in June? Draghi spells it out The Economist (26/5/14)
Draghi as Committed as a Central Banker Gets, as Economists Await ECB Stimulus Bloomberg, Alessandro Speciale and Andre Tartar (19/5/14)
ECB’s credit and credibility test BBC News, Robert Peston (2/6/14)
90 ECB decamps to debate monetary fixes Financial Times, Claire Jones (25/5/14)

Speech
Monetary policy in a prolonged period of low inflation ECB, Mario Draghi (26/5/14)

Articles published after the announcement
ECB launches €400bn scheme, seeks to force bank lending Irish Independent (5/6/14)
The ECB’s toolbox BBC News, Linda Yueh (5/6/14)
ECB’s justified action will help but is no panacea for eurozone deflationary ills The Guardian, Larry Elliott (5/6/14)
Why Negative Rates Won’t Work In The Eurozone Forbes, Frances Coppola (4/6/14)
Germany’s fear of QE is what’s stopping us from cracking open the Cava The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (8/6/14)

Data
Euro area economic and financial data ECB

Questions

  1. Why has the eurozone experienced falling inflation and a growing prospect of negative inflation?
  2. Explain how the Securities Markets Programme (SMP) worked (check it out on the ECB site). What countries’ bonds were purchased and why?
  3. What is meant by sterilisation? Why did the ECB sterilise the effects of the assets purchased under the SMP?
  4. If it is practical for the ECB to set a negative interest rate on the deposit facility for banks, would it be practical to set a negative interest rate for the main refinancing operations or the marginal lending facility? Explain.
  5. Why has the ECB, up to now, been unwilling to engage in quantitative easing? What has changed?
  6. Why may the introduction of a negative interest rate on bank deposits in the ECB have only a very small effect on bank lending?
  7. How much is broad money supply growing in the eurozone? Is this enough or too much? Explain.
  8. What else could the ECB have done to ward off deflation? Should the ECB have adopted these measures?
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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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Life expectancy, how much information is too much information?

Life expectancy is increasing across the world and the latest set of figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in the UK it has passed 79 for boys born in 2010–12, and 82 for girls born then. In fact the prediction is that over a third of babies born in 2013 will live to more than 100. The data throws up some interesting questions. How well prepared are we for lives that last this long? And how evenly distributed is this increase in life expectancy? Pensions’ minister, Steve Webb, has called for better information on life expectancy to be shared. How would this impact on our decision making?

It seems reasonable to think that increasing life expectancy must be good news. And of course, for individuals it can be. In 1951 the average man retiring at 65, in England and Wales, could expect to live and draw a pension for another 12.1 years. By 2014 this had risen to 22 years.

But while we can look forward to longer life, for the government, it presents some challenges The first is that we just don’t save enough for our old age. This seems to be partly because we find it hard to make decisions that will have an impact so far in the future. There are a number of measures that have been put in place to encourage us to save more, including auto-enrolment into company pension schemes. This is being rolled out across businesses over the next three years. In the 2014 Budget, the Chancellor announced that people reaching retirement age will be able to draw all their pension as a cash lump sum, rather than having to take it as a regular income.

Another concern for government is the variations that we find in life expectancy across the UK. The 2014 ONS data identified that life expectancy for men born in Glasgow in 2012 is 72.6, in East Dorset it is 82.9. 25% of those in Glasgow are not expected to live to 65. The gap in years of good health is even greater. This presents governments with a long-term problem. How do they achieve greater equality in this instance? Do they focus resources on the areas that need it most? Do they legislate to address behaviour? Or do they rely on the provision of good advice – on diet, exercise and other factors?

Information has a role to play in both areas identified above. In April 2014, Steve Webb, suggested that in order to make good decisions at the point of retirement, people need to understand more about what lies ahead. He said:

People tend to underestimate how long they’re likely to live, so we’re talking about averages, something very broad-brush. Based on your gender, based on your age, perhaps asking one or two basic questions, like whether you’ve smoked or not, you can tell somebody that they might, on average, live for another 20 years or so.

This suggestion has led to some concerns being expressed at what appears to be an over-simplistic approach. Estimates can only be based on a mix of averages modified by individual information. Would the projections be shared with pension providers? What would you do if you exceeded your forecast life expectancy – by a long way – and had spent all your money? Could you sue someone?

Will your pension pot last as long as you will? The Telegraph, Dan Hyde and Richard Dyson (23/4/2014)
Scientists invent death test that will tell us how long we have to live Metro (11/8/13)
Games host Glasgow has worst life expectancy in the UK The Guardian, Caroline Davies (16/4/2014)
Pensioners could get life expectancy guidance BBC News Politics (17/4/14)
ONS reveals gaps in life expectancy across the UK FT Adviser Pensions, Kevin White (23/4/14)
Health care aid for developing countries boosts life expectancy Health Canal, Ruth Ann Richter (22/4/14)
A third of babies born this year will live to 100 This is Money.co.uk, Adam Uren (11/12/13)

Questions

  1. Thinking about the UK, what are the factors that might explain variations in life expectancy across different regions? How might the government address these differences? Why would they want to do so?
  2. Do the same factors explain variations between countries? Who can address these differences? Who would want to do so?
  3. If you could have a reasonable prediction of your life expectancy at 65, would you want it? How would your behaviour change if you were predicted a longer than average life expectancy? How would it change if you were predicted a shorter than average life expectancy?
  4. If you could have an accurate prediction of your life expectancy at 18, how would your answers differ? If this were possible, would it present any problems?
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Inflation is up: good news?

Rising inflation: not normally a cause for celebration, but that’s not the case for Japan. Having been subject to the spectre of deflation for many years, the 22-year high for the CPI at 2.7% is a welcome figure, even it is slightly lower than expected. This surge in prices is partly the result of a growth in domestic demand and a sign, therefore, that output will expand in response to the rise in demand.

The Japanese economy has experienced largely stagnant growth for two decades and a key cause has been falling prices. Although consumers like bargains, this has been problematic for this large economy. Deflation creates continuously falling prices and this means consumers hold back from purchasing durable goods, preferring to wait until prices have fallen further.

In the blog, Japan’s recovery, we looked at inflation data showing Japanese consumer prices growing at a faster rate than expected. This ‘positive’ trend has continued.

When it comes to inflation, expectations are crucial. If people think prices will rise in the future, they are more likely to buy now to get the lower price. This can therefore help to stimulate aggregate demand and it is this that has been the target for Japan. Part of the growth in the CPI is down to the sales tax rise from 5% to 8%. This was the first time in 17 years that the sales tax had increased. Further increases in it are expected in 2015. There were concerns about the impact of this rise, based on the depression that followed the last rise back in 1997, but so far the signs seem good.

Monetary easing was a key component in ending the downward trajectory of the Japanese economy and, following the sales tax rise, many believe that another round of monetary easing may be needed to counter the effects and create further growth in the economy and in the CPI. As the Bank of Japan Governor said:

There are various ways to adjust policy. We will decide what among these measures is appropriate depending on economic and price developments at the time … For now, we can say Japan is making steady progress toward achieving 2 per cent inflation.

One of the ‘three arrows‘ of the government’s policy has been to boost government spending, which should directly increase aggregate demand. Furthermore, with signs of the CPI rising, consumers may be encouraged to spend more, giving a much needed boost to consumption. The economy is certainly not out of the woods, but appears to be on the right path. The following articles consider the Japanese economy.

Japan CPI rises less than expected Wall Street Journal, Takashi Nakamichi (25/4/14)
Japan inflation may beat BOJ forecast Reuters, Leika Kihara (22/4/14)
Tokyo consumer price growth at 22-year high BBC News (25/4/14)
Japan inflation quickens to over 5-year high, output rebounds Reuters, Leika Kihara and Stanley White (31/1/14)
Japan’s consumer inflation set to reach five-year high Guardian (18/4/14)
Tokyo inflation hits 22-year high, inching toward BOJ goal Reuters, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Leika Kihara (25/4/14)
Tokyo’s core CPI got 2.7% lift in April from tax hike The Japan Times (25/4/14)
Is Japan winning the war against deflation? CNBC, Ansuya Harjani (25/4/14)

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. Use the same diagram to explain how expectations of rising prices can help to boost AD.
  4. Why is the sales tax expected to reduce growth?
  5. Why is another round of monetary easing expected?
  6. What government policies would you recommend to a government faced with stagnant growth and falling prices?
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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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How can the ECB ease monetary policy?

In August 2012, the ECB president, Mario Draghi, said that the ECB would ‘do whatever it takes‘ to hold the single currency together and support the weaker economies, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. At the same time, he announced the introduction of outright monetary purchases (OMTs), which would involve purchasing eurozone countries’ bonds in the secondary markets. There were no limits specified to such purchases, but they would be sterilised by the sale of other assets. In other words, they would not increase the eurozone money supply. But despite the fanfare when OMTs were announced, they have never been used.

Today, the eurozone economy is struggling to grow. The average annual growth rate across the eurozone is a mere 0.5%, albeit up from the negative rates up to 2013 Q3. GDP is still over 2% below the peak in 2008. Inflation is currently standing at 0.8%, well below the 2% target. The ECB’s interest rate (‘main refinancing operations rate’) is 0.25%.

The recovery is hindered by a strong euro. As the chart shows, the euro has been appreciating against the dollar. The euro exchange rate index has also been rising. This has made it harder for the eurozone countries to export.

So what can the ECB do to stimulate the eurozone economy? Other central banks, such as the Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have all had substantial programmes of quantitative easing. The ECB has not. Perhaps OMTs could be used without sterilisation. The problem here is that there are no eurozone bonds issued by the ECB and hence none that could be purchased, only the bonds of individual member countries. Buying bonds of weaker countries in the eurozone would be seen as favouring these countries and might create a moral hazard.

Reducing interest rates is hardly an option given that they are at virtually zero already. And expansionary fiscal policy in the weaker countries has been ruled out by having to stick to the bailout conditions for these countries, which require the pursuit of austerity policies.

One possibility would be to intervene in the foreign currency market by buying US and other countries’ bonds. This would drive down the euro and provide a stimulus to exports. This option is considered in the Jeffrey Frankel article.

Articles
Why the European Central Bank should buy American The Guardian, Jeffrey Frankel (13/3/14)
Draghi holds course in face of deflation threat Reuters, Paul Carrel and Leika Kihara (13/3/14)
ECB’s Draghi: Strong Euro Pulling Down Euro Zone Inflation Wall Street Journal, Christopher Lawton and Todd Buell (13/3/14)
Draghi Bolstering Guidance Seen as Convincing on Rates Bloomberg, Jeff Black and Andre Tartar (13/3/14)
ECB president Mario Draghi counters euro upswing Financial Times, Claire Jones (13/3/14)
Turning Japanese? Euro zone exporters must hope not Reuters, Neal Kimberley (14/3/14)
Prospect of ECB QE drives eurozone bond rally Financial Times, Laurence Mutkin (12/3/14)

Data
Statistical Data Warehouse ECB
Winter forecast 2014 – EU economy: recovery gaining ground European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs DG
AMECO online European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs DG

Questions

  1. Why is the ECB generally opposed to quantitative easing of the type used by other central banks?
  2. What is meant by ‘sterilisation’? Why does sterilisation prevent OMTs being classed as a form of quantitative easing?
  3. Would it be possible for OMTs to be used without sterilisation in such as way as to avoid a moral hazard for the highly indebted eurozone countries?
  4. Is the eurozone in danger of experiencing deflation?
  5. What are the dangers of deflation?
  6. Why does the ECB not cut its main refinancing rate below zero?
  7. If the ECB buys US bonds, what effect would this have on the euro/dollar exchange rate?
  8. Would purchasing US bonds affect the eurozone money supply? Explain.
  9. What other means are there of the ECB stimulating the eurozone economy? How effective would they be likely to be?
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The London magnet

While much of the UK is struggling to recover from recession, the London economy is growing strongly. This is reflected in strong investment, a growth in jobs and rapidly rising house prices.

There are considerable external economies of scale for businesses locating in London. There is a pool of trained labour and complementary companies providing inputs and services are located in close proximity. Firms create positive externalities to the benefit of other firms in the same industry or allied industries.

London is a magnet for entrepreneurs and highly qualified people. Innovative ideas and business opportunities flow from both business dealings and social interactions. As Boris Johnson says in the podcast, “It’s like a cyclotron on bright people… People who meet each other and spark off each other, and that’s when you get the explosion of innovation.”

Then there is a regional multiplier effect. As the London economy grows, so people move to London, thereby increasing consumption and stimulating further production and further employment. Firms may choose to relocate to London to take advantage of its buoyant economy. There is also an accelerator effect as a booming London encourages increased investment in the capital, further stimulating economic growth.

But the movement of labour and capital to London can dampen recovery in other parts of the economy and create a growing divide between London and other parts of the UK, such as the north of England.

The podcast examines ‘agglomeration‘ in London and how company success breeds success of other companies. It also looks at some of the downsides.

Podcast
Boris Johnson: London is cyclotron on bright people BBC Today Programme, Evan Davis (3/3/14)

Articles
London will always win over the rest of the UK The Telegraph, Alwyn Turner (2/3/14)
Evan Davis’s Mind The Gap – the view from Manchester The Guardian, Helen Pidd (4/3/14)
London incubating a new economy London Evening Standard, Phil Cooper (Founder of Kippsy.com) (10/2/14)

Reports and data
London Analysis, Small and Large Firms in London, 2001 to 2012 ONS (8/8/13)
Regional Labour Market Statistics, February 2014 ONS (19/2/14)
London Indicators from Labour Market Statistics (11 Excel worksheets) ONS (19/2/14)
Annual Business Survey, 2011 Regional Results ONS (25/7/13)
Economies of agglomeration Wikipedia

Questions

  1. Distinguish between internal and external economies of scale.
  2. Why is London such an attractive location for companies?
  3. Are there any external diseconomies of scale from locating in London?
  4. In what ways does the expansion of London (a) help and (b) hinder growth in the rest of the UK?
  5. Examine the labour statistics (in the links above) for London and the rest of the UK and describe and explain the differences.
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