Productivity has been a bit of a problem for the UK economy for a number of years. Earlier posts from 2015 have discussed the trend in Tackling the UK’s poor productivity and The UK’s poor productivity record. Although the so-called ‘productivity gap’ has been targeted by the government, with George Osborne promising to take steps to encourage more long-term investment in infrastructure and create better incentives for businesses to improve productivity, the latest data suggest that the problem remains.
The ONS has found that the UK continues to lag behind the other members of the G7, but perhaps more concerning is that the gap has grown to its biggest since 1991. The data showed that output per hour worked was 20 percentage points lower in the UK than the average for the other G7 countries. The economic downturn did cause falls in productivity, but the UK has not recovered as much as other advanced nations. One of the reasons, according to the Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight is that it ‘had been held back since the financial crisis by the creation of lots of low-skilled, low-paid jobs’. These are the jobs where productivity is lowest and this may be causing the productivity gap to expand. Other cited reasons include the lack of investment which Osborne is attempting to address, fewer innovations and problems of finance.
Despite these rather dis-heartening data, there are some signs that things have begun to turn around. In the first quarter of 2015, output per hour worked did increase at the fastest annual growth rate in 3 years and Howard Archer confirmed that this did show ‘clear sign that UK productivity is now seeing much-needed improvement.’ There are other signs that we should be optimistic, delivered by the Bank of England. Sir John Cunliffe, Deputy Governor for financial stability said:
“firms have a greater incentive to find efficiency gains and to switch away from more labour-intensive forms of production. This should boost productivity.”
The reason given for this optimism is the increase in the real cost of labour relative to the cost of investment. So, a bit of a mixed picture here. UK productivity remains a cause for concern and given its importance in improving living standards, the Conservative government will be keen to demonstrate that its policies are closing the productivity gap. The latest data is more promising, but that still leaves a long way to go. The following articles consider this data and news.
UK productivity shortfall at record high Financial Times, Emily Cadman (18/9/15)
UK productivity lags behind rest of 7 BBC News (17/9/15)
UK’s poor productivity figures show challenge for the government The Guardian, Katie Allen (18/9/15)
UK productivity lags G7 peers in 2014-ONS Reuters (18/9/15)
UK productivity second lowest in G7 Fresh Business Thinking, Jonathan Davies (18/9/15)
UK is 33% less productive than Germany Economia (18/9/15)
UK productivity is in the G7 ‘slow lane’ Sky News (18/9/15)
AMECO Database European Commission, Economic and Financial Affairs
Labour Productivity, Q1 2015 ONS (1/7/15)
International Comparisons of Productivity, 2014 – First Estimates ONS (18/9/15)
- How could we measure productivity?
- Why should we be optimistic about productivity if the real cost of labour is rising?
- If jobs are being created at slower rate and the economy is still expanding, why does this suggest that productivity is rising? What does it suggest about pay?
- Why is a rise in productivity needed to improve living standards?
At the G7 conference in Bavaria on 7 and 8 June 2015, it was agreed to phase out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century. But despite this significant objective, there were no short-term measures put in place to start on the process of achieving this goal. Nevertheless, the agreement contained commitments to further developments in carbon markets, elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, incentives for the development of green energy and support for developing countries in reducing hydrofluorocarbons.
The agreement also sent a strong message to the 21st United Nations International Climate Change conference scheduled to meet in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. The G7 communiqué states that binding rules would be required if the target was to be met.
The agreement should enhance transparency and accountability including through binding rules at its core to track progress towards achieving targets, which should promote increased ambition over time. This should enable all countries to follow a low-carbon and resilient development pathway in line with the global goal to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C.
But many environmentalists argue that a more fundamental approach is needed. This requires a change in the way the environment is perceived – by both individuals and politicians. The simple selfish model of consumption to maximise consumer surplus and production to maximise profit should be rejected. Instead, the environment should be internalised into decision making.
What is more, there should be an integral ecology which brings together a wide range of disciplines, including economics, in analysing the functioning of societies and economies. Rather than being seen merely as a resource to be exploited, respect and care for the environment should be incorporated into our whole decision-making process, along with protecting societies and cultures, and rejecting economic systems that result in a growing divide between rich and poor.
In his latest encyclical, On care for our common home, Pope Francis considers integral ecology, not just in terms of a multidiciplinary approach to the environment but as an approach that integrates the objectives of social justice and care for the environment into an overarching approach to the functioning of societies and economies. And central to his message is the need to change the way human action is perceived at a personal level. Decision making should be focused on care for others and the environment not on the selfish pursuit of individual gain.
With a change in heart towards other people and the environment, what would be seen as externalities in simple economic models based on rational self-interested behaviour become internal costs or benefits. Care and compassion become the drivers for action, rather than crude self interest.
A key question, of course, is how we get here to there; how society can achieve a mass change of heart. For religious leaders, such as the Pope, the approach centres on spiritual guidance. For the secular, the approach would probably centre on education and the encouragement for people to consider others in their decision making. But, of course, there is still a major role for economic instruments, such as taxes and subsidies, rules and regulations, and public investment.
G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuels by end of centuryEU Observer, Peter Teffer (8/6/15)
Integral Ecology Approach Links ‘Welfare of God’s People and God’s Creation’ Catholic Register (11/6/15)
President’s Corner Teilhard Perspective, John Grim (May 2015)
In his encyclical on climate change Pope Francis reveals himself to be a master of scientific detail Washington Post, Anthony Faiola, Michelle Boorstein and Chris Mooney (18/6/15)
Pope Francis Calls for Climate Action in Draft of Encyclical New York Times, Jim Yardley (15/6/15)
Pope Francis letter on climate change leaked: Draft Vatican encyclical released three days early Independent, Kashmira Gander and Michael Day (15/6/15)
The Pope is finally addressing the gaping hole in the Judaeo-Christian moral tradition Independent, Michael McCarthy (15/6/15)
Pope Francis warns of destruction of Earth’s ecosystem in leaked encyclical The Guardian, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and John Hooper (16/6/15)
Explosive intervention by Pope Francis set to transform climate change debate The Observer, John Vidal (13/6/15)
Pope Francis’ Leaked Encyclical Draft Attributes Climate Change To Human Activity Huffington Post, Antonia Blumberg (15/6/15)
Pope Francis’ Integral Ecology Huffington Post, Dave Pruett (28/5/15)
Pope Francis: Climate change mostly man-made BBC News, Caroline Wyatt (18/6/15)
Pope urges action on global warming in leaked document BBC News, Chris Cook (16/6/15)
- What do you understand by ‘integral ecology’?
- Is an integrated approach to the environment and society consistent with ‘rational’ behaviour (a) in the narrow sense of ‘rational’ as used in consumer and producer theory; (b) in a broader sense of making actions consistent with goals?
- Can cost–benefit analysis be used in the context of an integrated and cross-disciplinary approach to the environment and society?
- What types of incentives would be useful in achieving the approach proposed by Pope Francis?
- Why do many companies publicly state that they pursue a policy of corporate responsibiliy?
- To what extent does it make sense to set targets for the end of this century?
- In what crucial ways might GDP need to be adjusted if it is to be used as a measure of the success of the approach to society, the economy and the environment as advocated by Pope Francis?
Over the weekend of the 5 and 6 February, the finance ministers of the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA) met to discuss the state of the world economy. They agreed that the recovery was still too fragile to remove the various stimulus packages adopted around the world. To do so would run the risk of plunging the world back into recession – the dreaded ‘double dip’.
But further fiscal stimulus involves a deepening of public-sector debt – and it is the high levels of debt in various countries, and especially the ‘Piigs’ (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), that is causing worries that their debt will be unsustainable and that this will jeopardise their recovery. Indeed, the days running up to the meeting had seen considerable speculation against the euro as worries about the finances of various eurozone countries grew.
Of course, countries such as Greece, could be bailed out by other eurozone countries, such as Germany of France, or by the IMF. But this would create a moral hazard. If Greece and other countries in deep debt know that they will be bailed out, this might then remove some of the pressure on them to tackle their debts by raising taxes and/or cutting government expenditure.
Group of 7 Vows to Keep Cash Flowing New York Times, Sewell Chan (6/2/10)
Forget cuts and keep spending, Brown told Independent, Sean O’Grady (9/2/10)
European debt concerns drive dollar higher during past week Xinhua, Xiong Tong (6/2/10)
G7 prefers to stay on stimulants Economic Times of India (7/2/10)
G7 pledges to maintain economic stimulus Irish Times (8/2/10)
Mr. Geithner, On What Planet Do You Spend Most of Your Time? Veterans Today (6/2/10)
Gold Price Holds $1,050 – Gold Correction Over? Gold Price News (8/2/10)
Darling ‘confident’ on economic recovery at G7 meeting BBC News (7/2/10)
Britain has to fight hard to avoid the Piigs Sunday Times (7/2/10)
Europe needs to show it has a crisis endgame Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (7/2/10)
Speculators build record bets against euro Financial Times, Peter Garnham (8/2/10)
The wider financial impact of southern Europe’s Pigs Observer, Ashley Seager (7/2/10)
Medicine for Europe’s sinking south Financial Times, Nouriel Roubini and Arnab Das (2/2/10)
Yes, the eurozone will bail out Greece, but its currency has taken a battering Independent on Sunday, Hamish McRae (7/2/10)
- What is meant by a ‘double-dip recession? How likely is such a double dip to occur over the coming months?
- Why has there been speculation against the euro? Who gain and who lose from such speculation?
- Why might the ‘gold correction’ be over? Why might gold prices change again?
- What is meant by ‘moral hazard’? Does bailing out countries, firms or individuals in difficulties always involve a moral hazard?
- What is the case (a) for and (b) against a further fiscal stimulus to countries struggling to recover from recession?
- Would there be any problems in pursuing a tight fiscal policy alongside an expansionary monetary policy?
The International Monetary Fund is made up of 186 countries, which together strive for global monetary co-operation, financial stability, the facilitation of international trade, as well as promoting high employment and sustainable economic growth. At the same time, the IMF and the World Bank also aim to reduce poverty around the world. Some task! – especially with the current financial crisis putting strains on even the richest of countries. In its annual meeting on the 2nd October 2009, the ‘rescue’ of more than 12 governments has already been organised by the IMF.
But it is not just countries who are suffering. The World Bank has said that it could run out of money within the next year and the IMF’s Managing Director has also suggested that it will run out of money for its low-income-country loan facility, which loans money to low-income countries at zero interest rates. However, France and Britain have stepped up with a $4 billion allocation to the IMF to help poorer countries, which may lead to other countries doing the same.
Meanwhile, Alistair Darling continues to fight to keep Britain’s seat at the IMF, as some suggest that Europe has too many seats and should give them up to make room for growing economies. This comes at a time when Britain is also facing the prospect of being side-lined from a new group of economic superpowers that would include the US, Japan, China and the Eurozone countries. The following articles consider the role of the IMF and the WB, as the global economy continues to face financial turmoil.
Doubts remain over global power of IMF Financial Times, Alan Beattie (3/10/09)
Pledge for more IMF help for poor BBC News (4/10/09)
World Bank could run out of money ‘within 12 months’ Telegraph, Edmund Conway (2/10/09)
Will tough new G20 measures work? BBC News (26/9/09)
France, UK to loan IMF$4 billion for poor nations Bloomberg, Sandrine Rastello (3/10/09)
Darling rejects call for UK to lose permanent seat on IMF Guardian, Larry Elliot (4/10/09)
Alistair Darling battles to keep UK on the world’s economic top table Telegraph, Edmund Conway(3/10/09)
World Bank Homepage
- How do the roles of the IMF, the World Bank, the G7 and the G20 differ and overlap? Do we need all of them?
- What are the arguments for less European representation at the IMF? How may this affect decision-making?
- If the G4 does go ahead, with the Eurozone as one of its members, why will the UK be sidelined?
- It is often mentioned that all countries are interdependent, but what do we mean by international policy harmonisation and why is it desirable?
- The BBC News article and the Telegraph article talk about money shortages at the IMF and the WB. What does this mean for the poorer countries and also for the UK and France which have allocated $4 billion to the IMF?
On the eve of the September 5/6 G20 meeting of Finance Ministers in London, the OECD published an interim forecast of the macroeconomic and financial performance of the G7 economies. According to the OECD, “Recovery from the global recession is likely to arrive earlier than had been expected a few months ago but the pace of activity will remain weak well into next year.” So is it time to start reversing the various fiscal and monetary stimuli adopted around the world? Or should governments and central banks continue to stimulate aggregate demand in order to maintain the fragile recovery? The following news releases, speeches and articles look at answers given to these questions by various countries and international institutions.
Recovery arriving quicker than expected but activity will remain weak, says OECD OECD News release (3/9/09)
What is the economic outlook for OECD countries? An interim assessment OECD Economic Outlook, Interim Assessment (3/9/09)
IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn sees Renewed Stability but remains cautious about Global Economic Recovery, notes need for Continued Policy Actions IMF press release (4/9/09)
Beyond the Crisis: Sustainable Growth and a Stable International Monetary System Speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (4/9/09)
Brown urges further G20 spending (video) Gordon Brown on BBC News (5/9/09)
America’s Timothy Geithner says it’s ‘too early’ to withdraw economic stimulus Telegraph (3/9/09)
Finance chiefs warn against early end to state support for eurozone economies Guardian (3/9/09)
Keep spending – Darling warns G20 against complacency Independent (3/9/09)
Brown’s agenda deserves a hearing Financial Times (1/9/09)
Tories join Germany and France in call for exit strategy from G20 bailout Times Online (3/9/09)
UK recession: Why are we lagging our neighbours? Telegraph (3/9/09)
Reflections after the conference:
After the shock, challenges remain BBC News (7/9/09)
The G20 has saved us, but it’s failing to rein in those who caused the crisis Observer (6/9/09)
The world is as one on not endangering recovery Times Online (t/9/09)
- Why is the pace of recovery in the G7 countries likely to be modest for some time?
- Why have unemployment rates risen much more rapidly in some countries than in others (see page 19 of the OECD report)?
- Referring to the OECD report, how would you summarise changes in the global financial situation over the past few months?
- Assess the arguments put forward by France and Germany for reining in their expansionary fiscal and monetary policies.
- Why is the UK economy, according to the OECD, likely to be the last of the G7 countries to pull out of recession?