No, bonfire night hasn’t been moved, but the 30th November could certainly be a day to remember. This day has been ‘selected’ by Unions for a nationwide day of action in response to government plans to increase workers’ pension contribution. The action would undoubtedly lead to massive disruption to public services across the UK and if an agreement is not reached with Ministers, we are likely to see further days of industrial action. In the words of the TUC boss, Brendan Barber, if no agreement is forthcoming, there will be ‘the biggest trade union mobilisation for a generation’.
The so-called pensions crisis has been an ongoing saga with seemingly no end in sight. As the UK population gets older, the strain on the state pension will continue to grow. The dependency ratio has increased – there are more and more pensioners being supported by fewer and fewer adults of working age. If the level of benefits is to be maintained, workers must either work for longer or make larger contributions to make up the deficit.
Plans are already in motion to increase the retirement age, but this in itself will not be sufficient. If pension contributions do increase, workers will undoubtedly find themselves worse off – a larger proportion of their gross income will be taken and hence net incomes will be lower. With less disposable income, consumer expenditure will fall, and given that consumption is the largest component of aggregate demand, the economy will take a hit. This is even more of a concern given the pay freezes we have already seen, together with rising inflation. People’s purses will get squeezed more and more, So, while raising pension contributions may help plug the pensions deficit, it could spell trouble for the economic prospects of the UK economy.
In addition to the potential longer term effects, there will also be a significant short term effect, namely, the loss of output on the day of the strike action. If workers are absent, the company will produce less than their potential and in some cases, the lost output can never be regained. If the postal workers go on strike, businesses may find packages go undelivered, customers experience delays, bills are not paid and so on. In all, strike action on the scale that is planned will have an impact on everyone, so it is in the interests of the economy for some sort of agreement to be reached. As Mr. Barber said:
‘If there’s no progress, then potentially we will see very widespread industrial action across the public services’
The following articles look at this conflict.
Unions plan ‘day of action’ over pensions Financial Times, Brian Groom (14/9/11)
TUC: ‘Strikes will be the biggest for a generation’ says Brendan Barber Telegraph (14/9/11)
Unions call for ‘national day of action’ over pensions BBC News (14/9/11)
Unions call collective day of strike action in November Guardian, Helene Mulholland and Dan Milmo (14/9/11)
Ed Miliband to warn trade unions that they must modernise Independent, Andrew Grice (13/9/11)
Trade unions plan day of action over pensions on Nov 30 Associated Press (14/9/11)
Are the trade unions about to save Britain? Telegraph, Mary Riddell (12/9/11)
Pension row unions in day of action The Press Association (14/9/11)
Unions set date for pensions strike as ‘unprecedented ballot begins’ Telegraph, Christopher Hope (14/9/11)
TUC to attack ministers over public sector pensions BBC News(14/9.11)
Secret plan for union strikes to cripple the country Telegraph, Christopher Hope(14/9/11)
- What are the main costs of strike action to (a) the individual going on strike (b) the firms which lose their workers (c) small businesses (d) the economy?
- What is meant by the dependency ratio? What action could be taken to reduce it? For each type of action, think about the costs and benefits.
- If pension contributions do increase, explain how workers will be affected. How will this affect each of the components of aggregate demand?
- Based on your answer to the above questions, what is likely to be the impact on the government’s macroeconomic objectives?
- What other action, besides striking, could unions take? Is it likely to be as effective? Do you think strikes are a good thing?
- Illustrate on a diagram the effect of a trade union entering an industry. How does it normally affect equilibrium wages and employment?
Despite better economic growth in the first quarter of 2011, confidence remains low and according to Halifax, this has contributed to a decline in house prices from March to April by 1.4% to give their lowest average price since July 2009. Halifax has blamed this steady decline on a lack of confidence and the uncertain economic climate. However, despite this latest decline, Halifax have suggested that the trend may be coming to an end. Martin Ellis, from Halifax had this to say:
“Signs of a modest tightening in housing market conditions, a relatively low burden of servicing mortgage debt and an increase in the number of people in employment are all likely to be providing support for house prices, curbing the pace of decline. There are signs that house sales are stabilising, albeit at a level lower than the historical average.”
There are many factors that contribute towards house prices: the number of properties on the market, the number of buyers, the availability of mortgages and finance, interest rates and the future economic climate. How these factors change will have a crucial influence on the future house price trend. The following articles consider the causes and likely consequences of this latest housing market data.
House prices fall at fastest rate in 18 months Telegraph (9/5/11)
House prices ‘fell by 1.4% in April’ the Halifax says BBC News (9/5/11)
House prices post biggest fall in 1-1 ½ years Reuters, Fiona Shaikh (9/5/11)
House prices dive to a two-year low Independent, Nicky Burridge (9/5/11)
UK housing market remains weak Wall Street Journal, Jason Douglas (9/5/11)
U.K April house prices fall most in seven months, Halifax says Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (9/5/11)
- What are the main causes behind this decline in house prices?
- The articles talk about the volatility of house prices over recent months. What is the explanation for this?
- If interest rates are increased by the MPC, is it more or less likely to cause house prices to decline further? Explain your answer.
- Why dies Martin Ellis, of Halifax, believe that the decline in house prices might reverse this year?
- How does the housing market affect the wider UK economy? Is these latest data likely to jeopardise the fragile recovery?
We’ve had numerous examples in recent years of the economic turmoil that natural disasters can have and unfortunately, we have another to add to the list: the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. As Japan tries to take stock of the damage and loss of life, the economic consequences of this disaster will also need considering. The previous Kobe earthquake cost the economy an estimated 2% of GDP, but this did hit a key industrial area. The economic consequences of the 2011 earthquake were originally not thought to be as bad, but the economy will undoubtedly suffer.
The Japanese economy, like the UK, shrank in the final quarter of 2010, but was expected to return to growth. The devastation of the earthquake and tsunami is now likely to delay this economic recovery. Many car companies are based in Japan and are expected to take some of the biggest hits. Nomura analysts suggested that annual operating profits of companies such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda would be dented by between 3% and 8%. You only have to look at some of the footage of the disaster to see why this is expected. Supply chains will undoubtedly be disrupted, many of whom are located in the exclusion zone and financial markets across the world have fallen, as the possibility of a nuclear disaster threatens. As Louise Armistead writes:
‘By lunchtime in Britain £32bn had been knocked off the value of the FTSE-100 dropped, which fell by more than 3pc in early trading but recovered later to close down 1.38pc at 5,695.28. Germany’s DAX plunged 3.19pc, recovering from a 4.8pc fall, and France’s CAC ended the day 3.9pc lower, while on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Index dropped 2pc shortly after opening.’
A key question will be whether Japanese reconstruction will push the economy out of its deflationary spiral or make it even worse.
GDP measures the value of output produced within the domestic economy, but it is by no means an accurate measure of a country’s standard of living. Whilst it will take into account new construction that will be required to rebuild the economy, it doesn’t take into account the initial destruction of it. As output and growth are expected to fall in the immediate aftermath, we may see a boost to growth, as reconstruction begins.
The problem of scarcity is becoming more and more apparent to many survivors, as they begin to run short of basic necessities, which has led to various rationing mechanisms being introduced. Despite the devastating conditions which survivors now find themselves in, when supplies are delivered, the efficiency of Japan is still very evident. As noted by BBC Radio 4 coverage, as soon as the supplies arrived, a line was in place to unload the van in minutes. Teams have been set up to help everyone get through the tragedy. Even in the most devastating of times, Japanese efficiency still shines through and undoubtedly this will be a massive aid in the huge re-construction projects that we will see over the coming months and even years. Analysts say that there will be short term pain, but that the investment in construction will boost the economy later in the year.
Japanese earthquake: Markets shed £1trillion amid nuclear fears Telegraph, Louise Armistead (16/3/11)
Panic over Japan triggers market turmoil Independent, Nikhil Kumar (16/3/11)
Japan quake: Economy ‘to rebound’ after short term pain BBC News (14/3/11)
Japan disaster: The cost of a crisis Guardian (16/3/11)
Global stock markets tumble in ‘perfect storm’ amid fears of nuclear disaster Mail Online, Hugo Duncan (16/3/11)
Japan’s earthquake will cause a global financial aftershock Guardian, Peter Hadfield (15/3/11)
Economists’ estimate of Japan quake impact Reuters (16/3/11)
Fukishima factor adds pressure to economic fallout from Japan’s crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott (15/3/11)
- What is the likely impact on Japan’s GDP?
- Why is the potential disruption to the supply chain important for a firm?
- How and why will this catastrophe affect global financial markets?
- What are some of the main problems of using GDP as a measurement for growth? Think about the impact on GDP of Japan’s destruction and their future re-construction.
- What types of production methods etc have Japan implemented to allow them to become so efficient in production?
- What are the arguments to suggest that this disaster might help the Japanese economy recover from its deflationary spiral? What are the arguments to suggest that it might make it worse?
- What are some other examples of natural disasters or human errors that have also had economic consequences?
The final debate between the three party leaders was mainly on the economy. A key issue under debate was how each party would cut the huge budget deficit and how households and businesses would be affected. Something that we may see in the future is a banking levy and possibly new powers given to the Bank of England to ‘ration credit in boom years’. Spending cuts and tax rises are inevitable, but there were differences between the parties as to the extent of these changes and when they are likely to occur. The articles below consider these important issues, as the election entered the final 72 hours.
The broadcast debate
Prime Ministerial Debate: The Economy BBC Election 2010
Articles and podcasts
Economic debate: Banks and a balanced economy BBC News, Peston’s Picks (29/4/10)
General Election 2010: a fact checker for the leaders’ debate on the economy Telegraph (29/4/10)
Tim Harford on the truth behind leaders’ claims BBC Today Programme (30/4/10)
- It is not unusual for countries to have a budget deficit, so why is the UK’s receiving so much attention in the election?
- What is the difference between retail and investment banking?
- What do you think David Cameron meant by giving the Bank of England power ‘to call time on debt in the economy’?
- What is the difference between the budget deficit and national debt?
- What are the arguments for and against cutting the budget deficit now, as the Conservatives want to do and cutting it in the next financial year, as Labour is suggesting?
Everybody relies on post, whether it is bills, cards or packages, and everyone is annoyed when something goes missing, which has becoming an increasingly common occurrence. Over the past few weeks, a country already suffering from the economic downturn has also been suffering from a lack of post, as workers throughout the Royal Mail have been striking over pay and job cuts. Postal workers are now to vote on a national strike, although the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has said they will call it off if the Royal Mail agrees to stop all redundancies.
And it’s not just individuals who are suffering. Businesses have also been affected, as packages go missing and costs begin to rise. However, there is good news for one firm, the DX Group. DX Mail is the only independent mail operator in the UK which doesn’t rely on the Royal Mail for any part of its service. If the disputes continue, it could see a significant boost to its sales.
Consider the following articles and think about the effect this strike may have on businesses and the economy and then have a go at the questions.
Postal workers to vote on strike BBC News (17/9/09)
The DX: Keeping Business Mail moving during strike Hellmail (30/8/09)
Mail Privatisation to ‘go ahead’ BBC News (11/6/09)
Threat of strikes underlines TUC warning over spending cuts Times Online (14/9/09)
Postal strikes drive customers to Royal Mail’s rivals Guardian (18/9/09)
Postal workers strike in Swindon BBC News (16/9/09)
Royal Mail denies mail backlog BBC News (11/9/09)
Postal strike over job cutbacks The Herald (Plymouth) (5/9/09)
Managers and unions fail to sort out Royal Mail modernisation Guardian (17/9/09)
- In what ways is a postal strike likely to cost businesses?
- What other options are there for postal workers apart from strikes? Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.
- How does a trade union affect wages and employment when an industry becomes unionised? What happens if a trade union is facing a monopsonist employer of labour?
- What is this dispute about and what do you think is the best way to resolve it for all concerned?
- Why in pay negotiations is a trade union more effective than each individual asking for higher pay?