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A broken economy

According to a new report, Time for Change published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), ‘The British economic model needs fundamental reform.’

It is no longer generating rising earnings for a majority of the population, and young people today are set to be poorer than their parents. Beneath its headlines figures, the economy is suffering from deep and longstanding weaknesses, which make it unfit to face the challenges of the 2020s.

The report by the IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice is an interim one, with the final report due in the latter part of next year. The commission was set up in 2016 and includes business leaders, such as the heads of John Lewis and Siemens, the TUC General Secretary, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leading figures.

Commenting on the interim report, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury said

Our economic model is broken. Britain stands at a watershed moment where we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need. We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising

The report found that wages have stagnated for the majority of the population since the financial crisis of 2007/8. Wage income has fallen as a proportion of national income, while the proportions going to income from profits and property have risen. Young people are poorer than previous generations of young people.

Despite low unemployment, many people are on zero-hour contracts, part-time contracts or employed on a casual basis. For many, their jobs are insecure and they have no bargaining power.

The UK for many years has had a lower rate of investment that other developed economies and productivity, in terms of output per hour, is the lowest of its major competitors. Productivity in Germany is 36% higher than in the UK; in France and the USA it is 29% higher. Although there are some internationally competitive UK firms with high productivity, the country has:

a longer ‘tail’ of low-productivity businesses, in which weak management and poor use of skills leads to ‘bad jobs’ and low wages.

There are many other challenges, including an ageing population, uncertainties from Brexit, a large current account deficit, increased competition from abroad and growth once more in private-sector debt, which means that consumption may cease to be the main driver of economic growth as people seek to curb their borrowing.

The report is also critical of fiscal policy, which with record low interest rates could have been used to finance infrastructure projects as well as supporting public services.

The report recommends three approaches:

The first is institutional reform to support investment.

The second is making the economy more competitive through a coherent industrial strategy, reform of the financial sector to support long-term investment, reform of corporate governance to promote business success and tackling the market dominance of companies such as Amazon and Google.

The third is to bring greater social justice and equality through encouraging more secure and better-paid jobs, strengthening trades unions and reforming the tax system to make it fairer and smarter.

Not surprisingly the government has defended its record of reducing debt, presiding over falling unemployment and reduced inequality as measured by a reduced Gini coefficient. However, there has only been a modest fall in the Gini coefficient, from 0.333 in 2009/10 to 0.315 in 2016/7, and this has largely been the result of the very rich seeing a decline in income from assets.

Articles
Britain’s economy is broken and failing to tackle inequality, says major new report Independent, Ben Chu (6/9/17)
UK’s economic model is broken, says Archbishop of Canterbury The Guardian, Phillip Inman (5/9/17)
Tax wealth or see the UK tear itself apart, Cable will warn Bloomberg, Alex Morales and Thomas Penny (6/9/17)
Archbishop of Canterbury calls for radical economic reform BBC News (5/9/17)
Archbishop warns economy is “broken” as report reveals longest period of wage stagnation for 150 years Huffington Post, Rachel Wearmouth (6/9/17)
Britain’s economy is broken. We desperately need new ideas The Guardian, Tom Kibasi (4/6/17)
Carney: Britain is in the ‘first lost decade since the 1860s’, Business Insider, Oscar Williams-Grut (6/12/16)
Our broken economy, in one simple chart New York Times, David Leonhardt (7/8/16)

Report
Time for Change: A new Vision for the British Economy IPPR Commission on Economic Justice (6/9/17)

Questions

  1. Why have wages for the majority of the UK population stagnated for the past 10 years?
  2. Why is productivity in the UK lower than in most other developed economies?
  3. Is it possible for poor people to become poorer and yet for the Gini coefficient to fall?
  4. What institutional reforms would you suggest to encourage greater investment?
  5. Explain the possible advantages and disadvantages of abandoning ‘austerity policy’ and adopting a more expansionist fiscal stance?
  6. Does it matter that Amazon and Google are dominant players in their respective markets? Explain.
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We need to talk about Capitalism

With the fall of communism in eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991, many hailed this as the victory of capitalism.

Even China, which is still governed by the Chinese Communist Party, has embraced the market and accepted growing levels of private ownership of capital. It is only one or two countries, such as North Korea and Cuba, that could be described as communist in the way the term was used to describe the centrally planned economies of eastern Europe before 1990.

But whilst market capitalism seemed to have emerged as the superior system in the 1990s, may are now questioning whether the market capitalism we have today is fit for the 21st century. Today much of the world’s capital in the hands of big business, with financial institutions holding a large proportion of shares in such companies. And the gap between rich and poor is ever widening

The market system of today, is very different from that of 100 years ago. In fact, as John Kay agues in his article “Let’s talk about the market economy” below, it would be wrong to describe it as ‘capitalism’ in the sense the term was used in the debates of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nonetheless, the term is still used and generally refers to the market system we now have. And it is a market system that many see as failing and unfit for purpose. It is a system that coincided with the bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s, the credit crunch of 2007–9 and the recession of 2008/9, now seeming to return as a double-dip recession

With the political and business leaders of the world meeting at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland on 25–29 January 2012, a central theme of the forum has been the future of capitalism and whether it’s fit for the 21st century.

Is there a fairer and more compassionate capitalism that can be fostered? This has been a stated objective of all three political parties in the UK recently. Can we avoid another crisis of capitalism as seen in the late 2000s and which still continues today? What is the role of government in regulating the market system? Does the whole capitalist system need restructuring?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to talk about capitalism. The following webcasts and articles do just that.

Webcasts and podcasts
Davos 2012 – TIME Davos Debate on Capitalism< World Economic Forum (25/01/12)
Can capitalism be ‘responsible’? BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (19/01/12)
Capitalism ‘nothing to do with responsibility’ BBC Newsnight, Eric Hobsbawm (19/01/12)
Are there alternatives to capitalism? BBC Newsnight, Danny Finkelstein, Tristram Hunt and Julie Meyer (19/01/12)
America Beyond Capitalism The Real News on YouTube, Gar Alperovitz (27/12/11)
The future of capitalism CNBC, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates (12/11/09)
Capitalism Hits the Fan (excerpt) YouTube, Richard Wolff (2/1/12)
Panel Discussion “20 years after – Future of capitalism in CEE” Erste Group on YouTube, Andreas Treichl, Janusz Kulik, Jacques Chauvet, and media Adrian Sarbu (24/2/11)
The Future of Capitalism: Constructive Competition or Chaos? YouTube, Nathan Goetting, Tony Nelson, Craig Meurlin and Judd Bruce Bettinghaus (24/1/11)
Capitalism in Crisis Financial Times, Various videos (24/1/11)
Bill Gates: Capitalism a ‘phenomenal system’ BBC Today Programme, Bill Gates talks to Evan Davis (25/1/12)
Capitalism (See also) BBC The Bottom Line, Evan Davis and guests (28/1/12)

Articles
Meddle with the market at your peril Financial Times, Alan Greenspan (25/1/12)
The world’s hunger for public goods Financial Times, Martin Wolf (24/1/12)
When capitalism and corporate self-interest collide JohnKay.com, John Kay (25/1/12)
Let’s talk about the market economy JohnKay.com, John Kay (11/1/12)
A real market economy ensures that greed is good JohnKay.com, John Kay (18/1/12)
Seven ways to fix the system’s flaws Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/1/12)
To the barricades, British defenders of open markets! The Economist, Bagehot’s Notebook (26/1/12)
Community reaction to doubts about capitalism in Davos CBC News (26/1/12)
Capitalism saw off USSR, now it needs to change or die The National (UAE), Frank Kane (26/1/12)
Words won’t change capitalism. So be daring and do something Observer, Will Hutton (22/1/12)
A political economy fit for purpose: what the UK could learn from Germany Our Kingdom, Alex Keynes (20/1/12)
Debate on State Capitalism The Economist (24/1/12)

Questions

  1. How has the nature of capitalism changed over recent decades?
  2. Can capitalism be made more ‘caring’ and, if so, how?
  3. What do you understand by the term a ‘fair allocation of resources’? Is capitalism fair? Can it be made fairer and, if so, what are the costs of making it so?
  4. Can greed ever be good?
  5. How does the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model of capitalism differ from the European model?
  6. What do you understand by the term ‘crony capitalism’? Is crony capitalism on the increase?
  7. John Kay states that “Modern titans derive their authority and influence from their position in a hierarchy, not their ownership of capital.” Explain what this means and what its implications are for making capitalism meet social goals.
  8. In what ways can governments control markets? Have these instruments and their effectiveness changed in effectiveness over time?
  9. What are the costs and benefits to society of the increasing globalisation of capital?
  10. To what extent was the financial crisis and credit crunch the result of a flawed capitalist system and to what extent was it a failure of government intervention?
  11. Why is it important for the success of capitalism that companies should be allowed to fail? Consider whether this should also apply to banks. How is the concept of moral hazard relevant to your answer?
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To pay or not to pay: that is the question

Life must be very hard for bankers in the UK. Not only are they being partly blamed for the current financial crisis, but they may now have to survive on just their salary. Imagine trying to have a happy Christmas when you’ve only earned £200,000 over the past year: it really will be a cold and hard Christmas for them. Unless of course, the government does call the bluff of the RBS directors who have threatened to quit if an estimated £1.5bn bonus pool for staff at the investment arm of the bank is blocked. Let’s not forget that RBS is largely owned by the public: 70% or an investment of £53.5bn. It’s our taxes that will be used to pay these bonuses giving 20,000 RBS bankers a salary that is at least 3 times greater than the national average.

RBS directors have threatened a mass walkout if the government does withhold the ‘competitive bonus package’. Given that many blame bank directors for plunging us into the credit crunch, some may laugh at their argument that if the bonus package is withheld, then ‘top talent will leave the bank’. However, it is a serious threat: pay out or we leave and you’ll see the profitability of the bank decline, making it less likely that taxpayers will see a ‘return’ on their investment. RBS needs to make profits to repay the taxpayer, but is the taxpayer willing to pay out? RBS directors argue that if its bankers do not receive bonuses, then RBS will lose out in recruiting the best talent. Why would a banker choose to work for a bank that doesn’t pay out bonuses?

Lord Mandelson said: “I understand the point that RBS directors are expressing – they say they have to remain competitive in the market in recruiting senior executives, and this is why it’s important that all the banks are equally restrained, and RBS is not singled out.” One solution here would be a one-off windfall tax on bonuses, or even a permanently higher rate of tax (a ‘supertax’) on bonuses.

Over the past year or so, not a day has gone by when banks are not in the news and the next few days look to be no exception. This is another issue that affects everyone, so read the articles below and make up your mind! The government has an important decision to make, especially given than it’s the taxpayers who will decide on the next government.

‘Bankers need to join the real world’ minister says BBC News (3/12/09)
UK seeks to calm fears of RBS walk-out over bonuses Reuters, (3/12/09)
RBS chief Stephen Hester set to walkout over bonus row Scotsman, Nathalie Thomas (3/12/09)
RBS directors threaten to quit over bonuses Big On News (3/12/09)
Thousands of Bankers paid £1m in bonuses Sky News (3/11/09)
Barclays bankers to get 150pc pay rise Telegraph, Jonathan Sibun and Philip Aldrick (3/12/09)
PM reacts to RBS Director’s threat ITN (3/12/09)
Banks criticise plans for windfall tax on bonuses BBC News (7/12/09)
Will biffing bankers also biff Britain? BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (3/12/09)
Roger Bootle: Bank reform hasn’t gone far enough (video) BBC News (25/12/09)

Questions

  1. How are wages determined in the labour market? Use a diagram to illustrate this.
  2. Why do bankers receive such a high salary? (Think about elasticity.)
  3. What are the main arguments for paying out bonuses to bankers?
  4. If bonuses were blocked, and the RBS directors did walk out, what do you think would be the likely repercussions? Who would suffer?
  5. One argument for paying bonuses is that bankers need an incentive. Excluding monetary benefits, are there any other methods that could be used to increase their productivity?
  6. When we consider the labour market, we look at economic power. Who do you think has the power in this case and what do you think will be the outcome?
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