According to Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, the slow growth in global productivity is acting as a brake on the growth in potential income and is thus holding back the growth in living standards. In a recent speech in Washington she said that:
Over the past decade, there have been sharp slowdowns in measured output per worker and total factor productivity – which can be seen as a measure of innovation. In advanced economies, for example, productivity growth has dropped to 0.3 per cent, down from a pre-crisis average of about 1 per cent. This trend has also affected many emerging and developing countries, including China.
We estimate that, if total factor productivity growth had followed its pre-crisis trend, overall GDP in advanced economies would be about 5 percent higher today. That would be the equivalent of adding another Japan – and more – to the global economy.
So why has productivity growth slowed to well below pre-crisis rates? One reason is an ageing working population, with older workers acquiring new skills less quickly. A second is the slowdown in world trade and, with it, the competitive pressure for firms to invest in the latest technologies.
A third is the continuing effect of the financial crisis, with many highly indebted firms forced to make deep cuts in investment and many others being cautious about innovating. The crisis has dampened risk taking – a key component of innovation.
What is clear, said Lagarde, is that more innovation is needed to restore productivity growth. But markets alone cannot achieve this, as the benefits of invention and innovation are, to some extent, public goods. They have considerable positive externalities.
She thus called on governments to give high priority to stimulating productivity growth and unleashing entrepreneurial energy. There are several things governments can do. These include market-orientated supply-side policies, such as removing unnecessary barriers to competition, driving forward international free trade and cutting red tape. They also include direct intervention through greater investment in education and training, infrastructure and public-sector R&D. They also include giving subsidies and/or tax relief for private-sector R&D.
Banks too have a role in chanelling finance away from low-productivity firms and towards ‘young and vibrant companies’.
It is important to recognise, she concluded, that innovation and structural change can lead to some people losing out, with job losses, low wages and social deprivation. Support should be given to such people through better education, retraining and employment incentives.
IMF chief warns slowing productivity risks living standards drop Reuters, David Lawder (3/4/17)
Global productivity slowdown risks social turmoil, IMF warns Financial Times, Shawn Donnan (3/4/17)
Global productivity slowdown risks creating instability, warns IMF The Guardian, Katie Allen (3/4/17)
The Guardian view on productivity: Britain must solve the puzzle The Guardian (9/4/17)
Reinvigorating Productivity Growth IMF Speeches, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, IMF(3/4/17)
Gone with the Headwinds: Global Productivity IMF Staff Discussion Note, Gustavo Adler, Romain Duval, Davide Furceri, Sinem Kiliç Çelik, Ksenia Koloskova and Marcos Poplawski-Ribeiro (April 2017)
- What is the relationship between actual and potential economic growth?
- Distinguish between labour productivity and total factor productivity.
- Why has total factor productivity growth been considerably slower since the financial crisis than before?
- Is sustained productivity growth (a) a necessary and/or (b) a sufficient condition for a sustained growth in living standards?
- Give some examples of technological developments that could feed through into significant growth in productivity.
- What is the relationship between immigration and productivity growth?
- What policies would you advocate for increasing productivity? Explain why.
Lloyds Banking Group has announced that it plans to reduce its labour force by 9000. Some of this reduction may be achieved by not replacing staff that leave, but some may have to be achieved through redundancies.
The reasons given for the reduction in jobs are technological change and changes in customer practice. More banking services are available online and customers are making more use of these services and less use of branch banking. Also, the increasingly widespread availability of cash machines (ATMs) means that fewer people withdraw cash from branches.
And it’s not just outside branches that technological change is impacting on bank jobs. Much of the work previously done by humans is now done by software programs.
One result is that many bank branches have closed. Lloyds says that the latest planned changes will see 150 fewer branches – 6.7% of its network of 2250.
What’s happening in banking is happening much more widely across modern economies. Online shopping is reducing the need for physical shops. Computers in offices are reducing the need, in many cases, for office staff. More sophisticated machines, often controlled by increasingly sophisticated computers, are replacing jobs in manufacturing.
So is this bad news for employees? It is if you are in one of those industries cutting employment. But new jobs are being created as the economy expands. So if you have a good set of skills and are willing to retrain and possibly move home, it might be relatively easy to find a new, albeit different, job.
As far as total unemployment is concerned, more rapid changes in technology create a rise in frictional and structural unemployment. This can be minimised, however, or even reduced, if there is greater labour mobility. This can be achieved by better training, education and the development of transferable skills in a more adaptive labour force, where people see changing jobs as a ‘normal’ part of a career.
Lloyds Bank cuts 9,000 jobs – but what of the tech future? Channel 4 News, Symeon Brown (28/10/14)
Lloyds Bank confirms 9,000 job losses and branch closures BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (28/10/14)
Lloyds job cuts show the technology axe still swings for white collar workers The Guardian, Phillip Inman (28/10/14)
Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions Cabinet Office (July 2009)
Fair access to professional careers: a progress report Cabinet Office (30/5/12)
- Is a reduction in banking jobs inevitable? Explain.
- What could banks do to reduce the hardship to employees from a reduction in employment?
- What other industries are likely to see significant job losses resulting from technological progress?
- Distinguish between demand-deficient, real-wage, structural and frictional unemployment. Which of these are an example, or examples, of equilibrium unemployment?
- What policies could the government pursue to reduce (a) frictional unemployment; (b) structural unemployment?
- What types of industry are likely to see an increase in employment and in what areas of these industries?
Many people are attracted to work in the private sector, with expectations of greater opportunities for promotion, more variation in work and higher salaries. However, according to the Office for National Statistics, it may be that the oft-talked-of pay differential is actually in the opposite direction. Data from the ONS suggests that public sector workers are paid 14.5% more on average than those working in the private sector.
As is the case with the price of a good, the price of labour (that is, the wage rate) is determined by the forces of demand and supply. Many factors influence the wages that individuals are paid and traditional theory leads us to expect higher wages in sectors where there are many firms competing for labour. With the government acting as a monopsony employer, it has the power to force down wages below what we would expect to see in a perfectly competitive labour market. However, the ONS data suggests the opposite. What factors can explain this wage differential?
Jobs in the public sector, on average, require a higher degree of skills. There tend to be entry qualifications, such as possessing a university degree. While this is the case for many private-sector jobs as well, on average it is a greater requirement in the public sector. The skills required therefore help to push up the wages that public-sector workers can demand. Another explanation could be the size of public-sector employers, which allows them to offer higher wages. When the skills, location, job specifications etc. were taken into account, the 14.5% average hourly earnings differential declined to between just 2.2% and 3.1%, still in favour of public-sector workers. It then reversed to give private-sector workers the pay edge, once the size of the employer was taken out.
Further analysis of the data also showed that, while it may pay to be in the public sector when you’re starting out on your career, it pays to be in the private sector as you move up the career ladder. Workers in the bottom 5% of earners will do better in the public sector, while those in the top 5% of earners benefit from private-sector employment. The ONS said:
Looking at the top 5%, in the public sector earnings are greater than £31.49 per hour, while in the private sector, the top 5% earn more than £33.63 per hour… The top 1% of earners in the private sector, at more than £60.21 per hour, earns considerably more than the top 1% of earners in the public sector, at more than £49.65 per hour.
The data from the ONS thus suggest a reversal in the trend of average public-sector pay being higher than private sector pay, once all the relevant factors are taken into account.
This will naturally add to debates about living standards, which are likely to take on a stronger political slant as the next election approaches. It is obviously partly down to the public-sector pay freeze that we saw in 2010 and also to a reversal, at least in part, of the previous trend from 2008, where public-sector pay had been growing faster than private-sector pay. However, depending on the paper you read or the person you listen to, they will offer very different views as to who gets paid more. All you need to do in this case is look at the titles of the newspaper articles written by the Independent and The Telegraph! Whatever the explanation, these new data provide a wealth of information about relative prospects for pay for everyone.
Public and Private Sector Earnings Office for National Statistics (March 2014)
Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2013 Provisional Results Office for National Statistics (December 2013)
Austerity bites as private sector pay rises above the public sector for the first time since 2010 Independent, Ben Chu (10/3/14)
Public sector workers still better paid despite the cuts The Telegraph, John Bingham (10/3/14)
Public sector hourly pay outstrips private sector pay BBC News (10/3/14)
Public sector workers are biggest losers in UK’s post-recession earnings squeeze The Guardian, Larry Elliott (11/3/14)
New figures go against right-wing claims that public sector workers are grossly overpaid Independent, Ben Chu (10/3/14)
Public sector pay sees biggest shrink on 2010, figures suggest LocalGov, Thomas Bridge (11/3/14)
Public sector staff £2.12 an hour better off The Scotsman, David Maddox (11/3/14)
- Illustrate the way in which wages are determined in a perfectly competitive labour market.
- Why does monopsony power tend to push wages down?
- Why does working for a large company suggest that you will earn a higher wage on average?
- Using the concept of marginal revenue product of labour, explain the way in which higher skills help to push up wages.
- How significant are public-sector pay freezes in explaining the differential between public- and private-sector pay?
- Why is there a difference between the bottom and top 5% of earners? How does this impact on whether it is more profitable to work in the public or private sector?
Unemployment is a key macroeconomic objective for governments across the world. The unemployment rate for the UK now stands at 7.9% according to the ONS, which recorded 2.56 million people out of work. But why is unemployment of such importance? What are the costs?
The economy is already in a vulnerable state and with unemployment rising by 70,000 people between December and February 2013, the state of the economic recovery has been questioned. Indeed, following the news of the worsening unemployment data, the pound fell significantly against the dollar, suggesting a lack of confidence in the British economy.
Although the increase in the number of people out of work is concerning, perhaps of more concern should be the number of long-term unemployed. The ONS suggests that more than 900,000 have now been out of work for more than a year. Not only does this pose costs for the individual in terms of lost earnings and skills, but it also imposes costs on friends and family and the wider economy. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the first chart, which shows the percentage of unemployed people out for work longer than 12 months.)
The chief executive of the Prince’s Trust focused on the costs of youth unemployment in particular, saying:
Thousands of these young people are long-term unemployed, often facing further challenges such as poverty and homelessness. We must act now to support these young people into work and give them the chance of a better future.
(Click here for a PowerPoint of the second chart, which shows how much higher the unemployment rate is for young people aged 18 to 24 than it is for the working age population as a whole.)
Furthermore, with so many people unemployed, we are operating below full-employment and thus below our potential output. Furthermore, the longer people are out of work, the more likely it is that they will lose their skills and thus require re-training in the future or find that there are now fewer jobs available to them based on their lower skill level.
In addition to this there are monetary costs for the government through lower tax receipts, in terms of income tax, national insurance contributions and even VAT receipts. With more people unemployed, the numbers claiming various unemployment-related benefits will rise, thus imposing a further cost on the government and the taxpayer. Another cost to the government of this latest data is likely to be the expectations of the future course of the economy. Numerous factors affect business confidence and unemployment data is certainly one of them. The concern is that business confidence affects many other variables as well and until we receive more positive data, the economy recovery is likely to remain uncertain. The following articles consider this topic.
UK unemployment rise adds to pressure on Osborne’s austerity strategy The Guardian, Phillip Inman (18/4/13)
Unemployment figures are ‘worrying’, David Cameron’s spokesman says The Telegraph, Peter Dominiczak (17/4/13)
UK unemployment rises to 2.56 million BBC News (17/4/13)
Unemployment jumps to 7.9% as rise in the number of young people out of work takes figure ‘dangerously’ close to a million Mail Online, Leon Watson (17/4/13)
Unemployment up as stay-at-home mothers head back to the job-centre Independent, Ben Chu (17/4/13)
Jobs data points to finely balanced market Financial Times, Brian Groom (18/4/13)
Hugh’s review: making sense of the stats BBC News (19/4/13)
- How is unemployment measured?
- What are the costs to the individual of being unemployed?
- What are the wider non-monetary costs to society?
- Explain the main financial costs to the wider economy of a rising unemployment rate.
- Illustrate the problem of unemployment by using a production possibility frontier.
- Could there be a negative multiplier effect from a rise in unemployment?
On the 24th May the new collation government released details of its plan to make £6.2 billion of savings (see HM Treasury press release). As part of this package, The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – headed by Business Secretary, Vince Cable – will make savings of £836 million, equivalent to 3.9% of its budget. One of the areas identified by BIS for ‘savings’ is the higher education budget, which will lose £200 million. Also targeted are the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in England. These are the strategic drivers of economic development in the English regions. They will lose £74 million from BIS as well as a further £196 million from other government departments.
So what is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills charged with doing? Well, according to the BIS website it is charged with
…building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by: creating the conditions for business success; promoting innovation, enterprise and science; and giving everyone the skills and opportunities to succeed. To achieve this it will foster world-class universities and promote an open global economy.
In describing what BIS does, BIS states that it
…brings all of the levers of the economy together in one place. Our policy areas – from skills and higher education to innovation and science to business and trade – can all help to drive growth.
In other words, the BIS is intended to be a key player in affecting the UK’s long-term rate of economic growth. Since 1948 the average annual rate of growth of the UK economy, as measured by constant-price GDP (real GDP), is 2.4%. Of course, a key question is how we might do better. But, there is a significant disagreement amongst economists about the role that government should play in advancing long-term economic growth. This debate largely centres both on how activist a government should be and on the types of policy that a government should pursue.
The ’case for industrial activism’ is made in the leading article of The Independent on 25 May. It nicely encapsulates some of the policy issues surrounding long-term growth and, in reflecting on the cuts to BIS, identifies the role it believes BIS should play.
…we need to think clearly about the proper role for the state in the private sector. There is no future in a return to the heavy-handed statism of the 1970s or the discredited policy of trying to “pick winners”. The guiding principle as far as industrial policy is concerned is that government should do what the free market will not, or cannot. The function of the DBIS should be to increase Britain’s long-term growth potential.
This means supporting industries that cannot get funding from the capital markets and funding important research that would otherwise go unperformed. Most of all, it means education. Britain cannot compete successfully with the rising economic powers of China and India, which have access to a vast pool of cheap workers, on labour costs. Our only hope for advantage lies in our human capital. That makes the case for intensive vocational and advanced skills training.
Therefore, industrial activism, as envisaged by The Independent is about correcting for market failures and ensuring that there is sufficient investment in education and training.
The Confederation of British Industry, which describes itself as the ‘UK’s top business lobbying organisation’, in its press release of 19 May identified the following as ‘essential’ for delivering growth:
• Establishing competitive business taxes
• Developing a strong banking system
• Skilling students for the future and strengthening apprenticeships
• Attracting and cultivating enterprise and industry
• Prioritising energy security
• Working towards a low-carbon economy
• Developing the infrastructure for economic growth
The CBI too identifies the significance of skills. But, it believes that in the previous decade growth was driven too much by government spending (as well as by unsustainable growth in the financial sector). It argues that the private sector, along with trade, needs to be ‘the growth engine for the future’.
What is interesting about the proposed cuts to BIS is that they very visibly draw attention to the differences that exist among commentators, industrialists and economists as to industrial policy. In particular, they ignite the debate about the most effective role that a government can play in promoting long-term growth. Don’t expect too much agreement any time soon!
Government announces £6.2 billion of savings in 2010-11 HM Treasury (24/5/10)
Private sector growth and public sector reform needed to restore economy CBI (19/5/10)
The case for industrial activism Independent (25/5/10)
Public sector deficit cuts: Higher education and RDAs hit hard in BIS efficiency savings plan eGov Monitor (25/5/10)
George Osborne outlines details of £6.2 billion spending cuts BBC News (24/5/10)
Government axes £836 billion from business budget Growing Business (24/5/10)
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills hit hard by spending cuts Training Journal, Martin Kornacki (24/5/10)
Business department hammered as Osborne swings the axe Management Today (24/5/10)
Big cuts signal end to activism Financial Times, Jean Eaglesham, Andrew Bounds and Clive Cookson (24/5/10)
Businesses take a pounding as coalition cuts hit home London Evening Standard, Hugo Duncan (24/5/10)
Vince Cable explains spending cuts u-turn Newsnight (24/5/10)
- What do you understand by long-term growth? How does this differ from short-run growth?
- Evaluate the argument advanced by The Independent for industrial activism? What sort of policies might fall under this description?
- In considering the CBI’s list of influences on long-term economic growth outline what role you think government could play and what policies it could enact.
- Do you think the savings being made by BIS signal a new policy approach to delivering long-term economic growth in the UK?