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Posts Tagged ‘hysteresis’

A lost decade (or more)

Twice a year, directly after the government’s Spring Budget and Autumn Statement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies gives its verdict on the performance of the economy and the government’s economic policies – past and planned. This year is no exception. After the Chancellor had delivered his Autumn Statement, the next day the IFS published its analysis. And what grim reading it makes.

• Real average (mean) incomes in 2011 will have fallen by 3%.
• Between 2009/10 and 2012/13, real median household incomes will have fallen by 7.4%
• Over the same period, real mean household income will have fallen by 4.7% – easily the biggest 3-year drop since records began in the mid 1950s.
• Real mean household incomes will be no higher in 2015/16 than in 2002/03.
• The poorest will be hardest hit by the measures announced in the Autumn Statement.
• Infrastructure spending of £4bn to £5bn will only go some way offsetting the effects of £17bn capital spending cuts over the Parliament.
• The economy will be 3.5% smaller in 2016 than thought in March.
• The structural budget deficit is 1.6% higher than thought in March.
• That will extend to 6 years the period over which total spending will have been cut year on year.

Referring to this last point, Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said in his Opening Remarks, “One begins to run out of superlatives for describing quite how unprecedented that is. Certainly there has been no period like it in the UK in the last 60 years.” Referring to the fall in real incomes, he said, “Again we are running out of superlatives to describe just how extraordinary are some of these changes.”

Commentators have referred to the “lost decade” where the average Briton will not have seen an increase in real income.

Articles
Autumn Statement 2011: Families face ‘lost decade’ as spending power suffers biggest fall since 1950s, says IFS The Telegraph, Matthew Holehouse (30/11/11)
Autumn Statement 2011: IFS talks down George Osborne’s growth plan The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (30/11/11)
Autumn statement study by IFS predicts lost decade for UK living standards Guardian, Katie Allen and Larry Elliott (30/11/11)
Britons Enduring 13-Year Squeeze on Living Standards, IFS Says Bloomberg Businessweek, Gonzalo Vina (30/11/11)
The UK now faces a ‘lost decade’ Financial Times, Martin Wolf (29/11/11)
Warning of seven-year squeeze Independent, James Tapsfield, Andrew Woodcock (30/11/11)
Osborne’s impact laid bare: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer Independent, Ben Chu, Oliver Wright (1/12/11)
Incomes to fall 7.4% in three years, says IFS BBC News (30/11/11)
No growth in income for 14 years, warns IFS BBC News, IFS director Paul Johnson (30/11/11)
UK economy: Third worst year since the war BBC Today Programme, IFS director Paul Johnson (29/11/11)

IFS Analysis
Autumn Statement 2011 and the OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook IFS (30/11/11)

Questions

  1. Why is it likely that the median real income will have fallen by more than the mean real income?
  2. Why is the structural deficit now estimated to be some 1.6 percentage points higher than was estimated by the OBR back in March 2011?
  3. How could the structural deficit be affected by a prolonged recession? Is this a case of hysteresis?
  4. What are the government’s fiscal rules?
  5. Is the IFS predicting that the rules will be met? What might adversely affect this prediction?
  6. If technological progress is allowing a continuous increase in potential real GDP, why will median real incomes have fallen over the 13 years between 2002/03 and 2015/16? What might have affected long-term aggregate supply adversely?
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Sticky wages in America

The recession caused a large rise in unemployment in many countries. In the USA the rise has been particularly steep, where unemployment now stands at 14.5 million, or 9.8% of the labour force. Unemployment has continued to rise despite renewed growth in the US economy, where the latest annual real GDP growth is 2.6% (measured in Q3 2010). The rise in unemployment has been blamed on ‘sticky wages’ – i.e. the reluctance of wage rates to fall.

But are wages genuinely sticky as far as the average worker is concerned? They may be in many specific jobs with specific employers, but many workers made redundant then find work in different jobs at lower rates of pay. For them, their wage has fallen, even if particular jobs are paying the same as before.

So what are the consequences of this? Does the willingness of workers to accept lower paid jobs mean that the labour market is flexible and that people will thus price themselves into work? If so, why is employment still rising? Or does a reduction in real wages for many people dampen spending and hence aggregate demand, thereby reducing the demand for labour? If so, why is GDP rising?

The following articles look at the apparent stickiness of wages and the implications for the labour market and the macroeconomy.

Articles
Downturn’s Ugly Trademark: Steep, Lasting Drop in Wages Wall Street Journal, Sudeep Reddy (11/1/11)
The Causes of Unemployment Seeking Alpha, Brad DeLong (13/1/11)
Sticky, sticky wages The Economist blogs: Free Exchange, R.A. (11/1/11)
The Causes of Unemployment New York Times blogs: Wonkish, Paul Krugman (16/1/11)
America’s union-bashing backlash Guardian, Paul Harris (5/1/11)

Data
Federal Reserve Economic Data: FRED Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (US macroeconomic datasets)
United States GDP Growth Rate Trading Economics
US unemployment statistics Bureau of Labor Statistics

Questions

  1. Why might nominal wages be sticky downwards in specific jobs in specific companies?
  2. Why might nominal average wages in the economy not be sticky downwards?
  3. Why is unemployment rising in the USA?
  4. Why might there be a problem of hysteresis in the USA that provides an explanation of the reluctance of unemployment to fall?
  5. Why might a fall in wages end up being contractionary?
  6. What lessons can be learned from the Great Depression about cures for unemployment?
  7. How might unemployment be brought down in the USA?
  8. Why may making wages somewhat more flexible, as opposed to perfectly flexible, not be a good thing?
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Searching for a new economic paradigm

Until the credit crunch and crash of 2008/9, there appeared to be a degree of consensus amongst economists about how economies worked. Agents were generally assumed to be rational and markets generally worked to balance demand and supply at both a micro and a macro level. Although economies were subject to fluctuations associated with the business cycle, these had become relatively mild given the role of central banks in targeting inflation and the general belief that we had seen the end of boom and bust.

True, markets were not perfect. There were problems of monopoly power and externalities. Also information was not perfect. But asymmetries of information were generally felt to be relatively unimportant in the information age with easy access to market data through the internet.

Then it all went wrong. With the exception of a few economists, people were caught unawares by the credit crunch. There was too little understanding of the complexities of securitisation and the leveraged risk in these pyramids of debt built on small foundations. And there was too little regard paid to the potentially destructive power of speculation and herd behaviour.

So how should economists model what has been happening over the past three years? Do we simply need to go back to Keynesian economics, which emphasised the importance of aggregate demand and the ability of economies to settle at a high unemployment equilibrium? Can the persistence of high unemployment in the USA and elsewhere be put down to a lack of demand or is the explanation to be found in hysteresis: the persistence of a problem after the initial cause has disappeared? Can failures of markets be incorporated into standard microeconomics?

Or do we need a new paradigm: one that emphasises the behaviour of economic agents and examines how people act when there are information asymmetries? These are the questions that are examined in the podcast below. It is an interview with Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz.

Podcast
Joseph Stiglitz: ‘Building blocks’ of a new economics BBC Today Programme (25/8/10)

Articles
Needed: a new economic paradigm Financial Times, Joseph Stiglitz (19/8/10)
Obama should get rid of Geithner, Summers Market Watch, Wall Street Journal, Darrell Delamaide (25/8/10)
This rebel’s heresy is not so earth-shaking Fund Strategy, Daniel Ben-Ami (23/8/10)

Questions

  1. What are Stiglitz’s criticisms of the economics profession in recent years?
  2. What, according to Stiglitz, should be the features of a new economic paradigm?
  3. Is such a paradigm new?
  4. Provide a critique of Stiglitz’s analysis.
  5. What do you understand by ‘behavioural economics’? Would a greater understanding of human behaviour by economists have helped avert the credit crunch and subsequent recession?
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Mixed messages on interest rates

What will happen to interest rates over the next two or three years? There is considerable disagreement between economists on this question at the moment.

There are those who argue that recovery in the UK, the USA and Europe is faltering. With much tighter fiscal policy being adopted as countries attempt to claw down their deficits, there is a growing fear of a double-dip recession. In these circumstances central banks are likely to keep interest rates at their historically low levels for the foreseeable future and could well embark on a further round of quantitative easing (see Easy money from the Fed?). But what about inflation? With demand still expanding in developing countries and commodity prices rising, won’t cost pressures on inflation continue? Those who forecast that interest rates will stay low, argue that the pressure on commodity prices will ease as global demand slows. Also, in the UK, now that sterling is no longer depreciating, this will remove a key ingredient of higher inflation.

These views are not shared by other economists. They argue that interest rates could soar over the next two years. In fact, one economist, Andrew Lilico, the Chief Economist at Policy Exchange argues that interest rates in the UK will reach 8% by 2012. Central to their argument is the role of the money supply. The monetary base has been expanded enormously through programmes of quantitative easing. And yet, consumer credit has fallen. When the economy does eventually start to recover strongly, Lilico and others argue that there is a danger that consumer credit and broad money will expand rapidly, thereby fuelling inflation. But won’t the spare capacity that has built up during the recession allow the increase in aggregate demand to be met by a corresponding increase in output, thereby keeping inflation low. No, say these economists. A lot of capacity has been lost and output cannot easily expand to meet a rise in demand.

It’s not uncommon for economists to disagree! See, by reading the articles below, if you can unpick the arguments and establish where the disagreements lie and whose case is the strongest.

Articles
America’s century is over, but it will fight on Guardian, Larry Elliott (23/8/10)
Rates to remain low for foreseeable future Interactive Investor, Rhian Nicholson (18/8/10)
BoE gets benefit of doubt on inflation – for now Reuters, Christina Fincher (19/8/10)
BGilts reflect continued uncertainty AXA Elevate, Tomas Hirst (23/8/10)
A bull market in pessimism The Economist (19/8/10)
Interest rates ‘may hit 8%’ by 2012 says think tank BBC News (22/8/10)
Interest rates ‘may hit 8pc’ in two years Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (21/8/10)
Bernanke Must Raise Benchmark Rate 2 Points, Rajan Says Bloomberg, Scott Lanman and Simon Kennedy (23/8/10)
Inflation, not deflation, Mr. Bernanke Market Watch, Andy Xie (22/8/10)
Inflation comes through the door and wisdom flies out of the window Telegraph, Liam Halligan (21/8/10)

Data
British Government Securities, Yields Bank of England
Bankstats: Data on UK money and lending Bank of England

Questions

  1. Summarise the arguments of those who believe that interest rates will stay low for the foreseeable future.
  2. Summarise the arguments of those who believe that interest rates will be significantly higher by 2010.
  3. What factors will be the most significant in determining which of the two positions is correct?
  4. Why are the yields on long-term bonds a good indicator of people’s expectations about future inflation and monetary policy?
  5. Why has consumer credit fallen? Why might it rise again?
  6. Why may unemployment not fall rapidly as the economy recovers? Is this an example of hysteresis?
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A cool look at the Budget

After each Budget, the Institute for Fiscal Studies analyses its effects. Given the highly charged political environment, with an election looming and the prospects of considerable public expenditure cuts to come, dispassionate analyses of the Budget are hard to find. The IFS’s analysis is a major exception.

The IFS summarises the Budget as being largely neutral. As Robert Chote, Director of the IFS, says in the opening remarks to the Post Budget Briefing:

In a Pre-Election Budget, perhaps the most that we can expect of any Chancellor is that he should observe the key tenet of the Hippocratic Oath and “above all, do no harm”. Judged against that modest yardstick, the broadly neutral stance of this Budget passes the test.

But, the Budget avoided giving details of the cuts which are planned for the future. None of the political parties are saying just how they will achieve the necessary reductions to the deficit, although the Liberal Democrats have given some details.

Judged against the more testing yardstick of providing a detailed picture to voters and financial market participants of the fiscal repair job in prospect beyond the election, the Budget will have fallen short of many people’s hopes. There are an awful lot of judgements still to be made, or revealed, notably with regards public spending over the next parliament. This greater-than-necessary vagueness allows the opposition to be vaguer than necessary too.

The articles below look at the Budget and at the IFS’s assessment of it. There are also links to the sections of the IFS report. It is worth reading them if you are to be able to make the ‘cool’ judgements that economists can provide – even if they do not always agree!

Articles
Budget leaves questions unanswered – IFS Reuters (25/3/10)
Budget 2010: IFS warns transport and housing spending has to be cut Guardian, Phillip Inman (25/3/10)
Labour ‘has cost the rich £25,000 every year’ Independent, Sean O’Grady (26/3/10)
The pain to come The Economist (25/3/10)
Chancellor’s ‘difficult balancing act’ BBC Today Programme (24/3/10)
Pain deferred until the polls close Financial Times, Chris Giles (25/3/10)

IFS Report: Budget 2010
Links to the various supporting articles and the opening remarks can be found here.

Details of the Budget
See references in Darling and a case of fiscal drag? for details of the Budget measures.

Questions

  1. What do you understand by the ‘structrual’ deficit and the ‘cyclical’ deficit?
  2. Why do cyclical deficits rise during a recession?
  3. Why has the structural deficit risen during this recession? Is this an example of hysteresis? (Explain.)
  4. What is the Fiscal Responsibility Act and why does the government now expect to over-achieve the requirements of the Act?
  5. What elements of government spending are likely to be cut most? Is this a wise distribution of cuts?
  6. Use the links to the PowerPoint presentations from the IFS Budget Report site to (a) analyse the state of the public finances; (b) summarise the main tax changes in the Budget.
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Minding the gap

The output gap is defined as ‘the difference between actual and potential output.’ When actual output exceeds potential output, the gap is positive. When actual output is less than potential output, the gap is negative. The size of the output gap traces the course of the business cycle. In the current recession, the output gap is negative in all major economies. The worry in recent months has been that a persistent large negative gap could lead to a downward deflationary spiral. Evidence is emerging, however, that the recession may be bottoming out and the danger of deflation easing. But just how big is the current negative output gap? As the article below from The Economist states, “Estimating how big the output gap is, and how much of a deflationary threat it still poses, is not easy.”

So how is the output gap measured in practice? How do we measure ‘potential output’? The two articles consider this issue of measurement and the relationship between the output gap and the rate of inflation. The last two links are to data sources giving estimates of the output gap. The first is from the European Commission and the second is from the OECD. As you will see, there are differences in their estimates.

Put out: Uncertainty over the size of the output gap complicates the task of central banks The Economist (2/7/09)
How big is the output gap? FRBSF Economic Letter (12/6/09)

See also:
Box 1.3.2 on page 31 and Table 13 on page 140 of European Economy: Economic Forecast, Spring 2009 European Commission, Economic and Financial Affairs (From the above link, click on the little ‘en’ symbol.)

and: Table 10 from OECD Economic Outlook No. 85, June 2009 OECD (From the above link, click on ‘Demand and output’. The first 10 tables then download as an Excel file.)

Questions

  1. Why is it difficult to measure potential output? (See both The Economist article and Box 1.3.2 from the European Economy: Economic Forecast, Spring 2009.)
  2. What is meant by the ‘NAIRU’? Why may it have risen during the recession? How would you set about estimating the value of the NAIRU?
  3. How might you infer the size of the output gap from the behaviour of inflation?
  4. Plot the output gap for two countries of your choice using data from both the European Economy and the OECD Economic Outlook for the years 2004 to 2010. Discuss the differences between (a) the two plots for each country and (b) the two countries.
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