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Articles for the ‘Economics for Business 6e: Ch 31’ Category

A mini-stimulus for China

The growth of China over the past decade has been quite phenomenal, with figures recorded in double-digits. However, in the aftermath of the recession, growth has declined to around 7% – much higher than Western economies are used to, but significantly below the ‘norm’ for China. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The growth target for this year is 7.5%, but there appear to be some concerns about China’s ability to reach this figure and this has been emphasised by a recent Chinese policy.

A mini-stimulus package has been put in place, with the objective of meeting the 7.5% growth target. Government expenditure is a key component of aggregate demand and when other components of AD are lower than expected, boosting ‘G’ can be a solution. However, it’s not something that the Chinese government has had to do in recent years and the fact that this stimulus package has been put in place has brought doubts over China’s economic performance to the forefront , but has confirmed its commitment to growth. Mizuho economist, Shen Jianguang, said:

It’s very obvious that the leaders feel the need to stabilise growth…Overall, the 7.5 per cent growth target means that the government still cares a lot about economic growth.

Data suggest that growth in China is relatively weak and there are concerns that the growth target will be missed, hence the stimulus package. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, there was a large stimulus package in place in China. This latest investment by the government is in no way comparable to the size of the 2008 package, but instead will be on a smaller and more specific scale. Mark Williams of Capital Economics said:

It’s a bit of a rerun of what we saw last year – something less than a stimulus package and more of piecemeal measures to ensure they reach their growth target.

It is the construction of public housing and railways that will be the main areas of investment this time round. A sum of $120–180bn per year will be available for railway construction and $161bn for social housing, and tax breaks are being extended for small businesses.

The 2008 stimulus package saw debt increase to some 200% of GDP, which did cause growing concerns about the reliance on debt. However, this latest package will be financed through the issue of bonds, which is much more similar to how market economies finance spending.

The fact that the government has had to intervene with such a stimulus package is, however, causing growing concerns about the level of debt and the future of this fast growing economy, though the new method of financing is certainly seen as progress.

It should be noted that a decline in growth for China is not only concerning for China itself, but is also likely to have adverse consequences other countries. In the increasingly interdependent world that we live in, Western countries rely on foreign consumers purchasing their exports, and in recent years it has been Chinese consumers that have been a key component of demand. However, a decline in growth may also create some benefits – resources may not be used up as quickly and prices of raw materials and oil in particular may remain lower.

It is certainly too early for alarm bells, but the future of China’s growth is less certain than it was a decade ago. The following articles consider this issue.

China’s new mini-stimulus offers signs of worry and progress BBC News, Linda Yueh (3/4/14)
China puts railways and houses at hear of new stimulus measures The Guardian (3/4/14)
China unveils mini stimulus to to boost slowing economy The Telegraph (3/4/14)
China stimulus puts new focus on growth target Wall Street Journal, Bob Davis and Michael Arnold (3/4/14)
China embarks on ‘mini’ stimulus programme to kick-start economy Independent, Russell Lynch (3/4/14)
China takes first step to steady economic growth Reuters (2/4/14)
China unveils fresh stimulus The Autstralian (3/4/14)
China’s reformers can triumph again, if they follow the right route The Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz (2/4/14)

Questions

  1. How has Chinese growth reached double-digits? Which factors are responsible for such high growth?
  2. The BBC News article suggests that the stimulus package is cause for concerns but also shows progress. How can it do both?
  3. Using a diagram, illustrate how a stimulus package can boost economic growth.
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of high rates of growth for (a) China and (b) Western economies?
  5. Why does the method of financing growth matter?
  6. Railway and housing construction have been targeted to receive additional finance. Why do you think these sectors have been targeted?
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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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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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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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A balancing act

The UK economy is suffering from a lack of aggregate demand. Low spending in real terms is preventing the economy from growing. A simple solution would seem to be to stimulate aggregate demand through fiscal policy, backed up by even looser monetary policy. But this is easier said than done and could result in undesirable consequences in the medium term.

If increased borrowing were to be used to fund increased government expenditure and/or cuts in taxes, would any resulting growth be sufficient in the medium term to reduce the public-sector deficit below the initial level through automatic fiscal stabilisers? And would the growth be sustainable? The answer to this second question depends on what happens to the supply side of the economy. Would there be an increase in aggregate supply to match the increase in aggregate demand?

This second question has led many economists to argue that we need to see a rebalancing of the economy. What is needed is an increase in investment and exports, rather than an increase in just consumer expenditure funded by private borrowing and government current expenditure funded by public borrowing.

But how will exports and investment be stimulated? As far as exports are concerned, it was hoped that the depreciation of the pound since 2008 would give UK exporters a competitive advantage. Also domestic producers would gain a competitive advantage in the UK from imports becoming more expensive. But the current account deficit has actually deteriorated. According to the EU’s AMECO database, in 2008 the current account deficit was 1% of GDP; in 2012 it was 3.7%. It would seem that UK producers are not taking sufficient advantage of the pound’s depreciation, whether for exports or import substitutes.

As far as investment is concerned, there are two major problems. The first is the ability to invest. This depends on financing and things such as available land and planning regulations. The second is the confidence to invest. With not little or no growth in consumer demand, there is little opportunity for the accelerator to work. And with forecasts of sluggish growth and austerity measures continuing for some years, there is little confidence in a resurgence in consumer demand in the future. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the above chart. Note that the 2013 plots are based on AMECO forecasts.)

So hope of a rebalancing is faint at the current time. Hence the arguments for an increase in government capital expenditure that we looked at in the last blog post (The political dynamite of calm economic reflection). The problem and the options for government are considered in the following articles.

Articles
Budget 2013: Chancellor’s rebalancing act BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/3/13)
Why George Osborne is failing to rebalance the economy The Guardian, Larry Elliott (17/3/13)
Economy fails to ‘rebalance’ Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor (27/2/13)
Analysis – Long haul ahead for Britain’s struggling economy Reuters, William Schomberg (3/3/13)
Can banks be forced to lend more? BBC News, Robert Peston (12/3/13)
Budget 2013: What the commentators are saying BBC News (13/3/13)

Data
UK Trade, January 2013 (ONS) (12/3/13)
Business investment, Q4 2012 ONS (27/2/13)

Questions

  1. Draw a diagram to illustrate the effects of a successful policy to increase both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. What will determine the effect on the output gap?
  2. For what reasons has the UK’s current account deteriorated over the past few years while those of the USA and the eurozone have not?
  3. Using ONS data, find out what has happened to the UK’s balance of trade in (a) goods and (b) services over the past few years and explain your findings.
  4. Why are firms reluctant to invest at the moment? What policy measures could the government adopt to increase investment?
  5. With interest rates so low, why don’t consumers borrow and spend more, thereby aiding the recovery?
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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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A new economic road for Japan?

Japan’s general election on 16 December was won by the centre-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Shinzo Abe. It gained a two-thirds majority in the lower house. It returns to power after losing to the Democratic Party in 2009. Previously it had been in office for most of the time since 1955.

The LDP has promised to revive the flagging Japanese economy, which has been suffering from years of little or no growth and returned to recession last quarter. Economic confidence has been damaged by a dispute with China about the sovereignty over some small islands in the East China Sea. The economy, whose exports make up some 13% of GDP, has suffered from the global slowdown and a high yen. The yen has appreciated against the dollar by around 40% since 2007.

The economy has also suffered from the shutdown of all its nuclear reactors following the earthquake and tsunami last year. Nuclear power accounted for over 30% of the country’s electricity generation.

Mr Abe promises to revive the economy through fiscal and monetary policies. He plans a fiscal stimulus package in early 2013, with increased government expenditure on infrastructure and other public-works. He also wants the Bank of Japan to increase its inflation target from 1% to 3% and to achieve this through various forms of monetary easing.

The initial reactions of markets to the election result were favourable. The stock market rose and the yen fell.

However, as the following articles discuss, there are dangers associated with Mr Abe’s policies. The expansionary fiscal policy will lead to a rise in the country’s general-government debt, which, at some 240% of GDP, is by far the largest in the developed world. This could lead to a loss of confidence in Japanese debt and a fall in the price of bonds on the secondary markets and a rise in government borrowing costs. Also, a depreciation of the yen, while welcomed by exporters, would increase the price of imports, including food and raw materials.

Changing of guard in Japan as PM concedes vote CNN, Yoko Wakatsuki, Brian Walker, and Hilary Whiteman (17/12/12)
LDP Win Clears Pipes for Japan Fiscal Spigot Bloomberg Businessweek, Toru Fujioka (17/12/12)
Economic implications of Japan’s election Huffington Post (16/12/12)
Japan economy contracts again Taipei Times (11/12/12)
Japan elections: Shares rise and yen weakens on Abe win BBC News (17/12/12)
Shinzo Abe’s challenges in reviving Japan’s economy BBC News, Puneet Pal Singh (17/12/12)
Can Shinzo Abe Save Japan? Slate, Matthew Yglesias (30/11/12)
Deflation only natural when politicians refuse to fix oversupplied Japan Japan Times, Teruhiko Mano (17/12/12)
New Year messages from Japan BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (18/12/12)
Japan – Muddling On Or Growing Stronger? Seeking Alpha, Anthony Harrington (12/12/12)
Japanese government unveils £138bn stimulus package The Guardian (11/1/13)

Questions

  1. Using macroeconomic data from sources such as sites 6, 7 and 9 in the Economics Network’s Economic Data freely available online, describe Japan’s macroeconomic situation over the past 10 years.
  2. Why has the Japanese yen appreciated so much in recent years?
  3. What forms could monetary easing take in Japan?
  4. Why might it prove difficult to stimulate the Japanese economy through fiscal and monetary policies?
  5. What undesirable side-effects might result from expansionary fiscal and monetary policies?
  6. What structural weaknesses are there in the Japanese economy that have hindered economic growth? What policies might the new Japanese government pursue in tackling these structural weaknesses?
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Is the UK economy ready for recovery?

If aggregate demand were to expand, would there be sufficient spare capacity to allow aggregate supply to expand to meet the additional demand? This is the question addressed by the podcast and article below.

If there is plenty of spare capacity, policies to increase aggregate demand could help to take up the slack and thereby achieve economic growth – at least as long as spare capacity remains. In other words, in the short run the aggregate supply curve may be horizontal or only gently upward sloping at the current point of intersection with the aggregate demand curve. This is illustrated by point a in the diagram. A rightward shift in the aggregate demand curve would cause a movement along the aggregate supply curve to a new higher level of real national income (Y).

If, however, there is little or no spare capacity, an increase in nominal aggregate demand is likely to be purely inflationary, or virtually so. This would the case at point b in the diagram. Real national income cannot expand beyond the full-capacity level, YFC. Under such circumstances, any attempt by the government to stimulate economic growth should focus on the supply side and attempt to shift the aggregate supply curve to the right. Examples of supply-side policy include incentives to encourage research and development, incentives for the private sector to invest in new capacity and direct public investment in infrastructure.

Unemployment is not just caused by a lack of aggregate demand relative to aggregate supply. It may be the result of a mismatching of labour supply with the demand for labour. People may have the wrong qualifications or not be where the jobs are. Unemployment may co-exist with quite high levels of vacancies. There may be vacancies for highly qualified scientists, technicians or craftspeople and unemployment of people with low skills or skills no longer in high demand. The same may apply to capital equipment. There may be a shortage of high-tech equipment or equipment to produce goods in high demand and redundant older equipment or equipment in areas of declining demand.

Part of a comprehensive set of policies to tackle unemployment and achieve economic growth would be to focus on the whole balance of the economy and the matching of the demand and supply of inputs.

Podcast
Is there ‘spare capacity’ in the economy? BBC Today Programme, Evan Davis and Andrew Sentance (4/12/12)

Article
OBR’s supply pessimism could be the ruin of this government The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (25/11/12)

Data
Claimant count and vacancies dataset ONS (14/11/12)
Labour Market Statistics, November 2012 ONS (14/11/12)
Actual weekly hours worked ONS (14/11/12)
Usual weekly hours worked ONS (14/11/12)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between ‘unemployment’, ‘underemployment’ and ‘disguised unemployment’?
  2. To what extent does the level of unemployment provide a good measure of spare capacity?
  3. Is the UK economy suffering from a deflationary gap? If so, how would you measure the size of that gap?
  4. If there is substantial spare capacity, is expansionary fiscal policy the best means of achieving economic growth?
  5. What policies are likely to have both a positive supply-side effect and a positive demand-side effect?
  6. What constraints does the government face in attempting to boost aggregate demand?
  7. Why might policies designed to stimulate aggregate demand also increase supply capacity?
  8. What policies would you recommend for tackling the mismatching of the demand and supply of inputs?
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