UK Unemployment figures for the July to September period have just been published. Perhaps surprisingly, the rate has fallen to 7.8% from 8.0% in the previous 3-month period. What is more, there have been similar 0.2 percentage-point falls in each of the two 3-month periods prior to that (see chart below).
This would normally suggest that the economy has been growing strongly and faster than the growth in potential output. But, despite positive economic growth in quarter 3 (see A positive turn of events?), the economy has been experiencing a prolonged period of low or negative growth.
So what is the explanation for the fall in unemployment? (For a PowerPoint of the chart, click here)
One reason is a greater flexibility in the labour market than in previous recessions. People are more willing to accept below inflation wage increases, or even nominal wage cuts, in return for greater job security. Others are prepared to reduce their hours.
The other reason is a fall in productivity (i.e. output per hour worked). One explanation is that people are not working so hard because, with a lack of demand, there is less pressure on them to be productive; a similar explanation is that firms are ‘hoarding’ labour in the hope that the market will pick up again.
Another explanation is that employment growth has often occurred in the low productivity industries, such as labour-intensive service industries; another is that when people leave their jobs they are replace by less productive workers on lower wages; another is that workers are making do with ageing equipment, whose productivity is falling, because firms cannot afford to invest in new equipment. An range of possible explanations is given on page 33 of the Bank of England’s November 2012 Inflation Report.
But with many predicting that growth will be negative again in 2012 quarter 4, the fall in unemployment may not continue. Britain may join many other countries in Europe and experience rising unemployment as well as falling output.
Government hails fall in jobless total The Guardian, Hélène Mulholland (14/11/12)
UK unemployment figures: analysis The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/11/12)
Jobless claims rise as Olympics effect wanes The Telegraph, Rachel Cooper and Louisa Peacock (14/11/12)
UK unemployment falls to 2.51 million, ONS says BBC News (14/11/12)
Unemployment continuing to fall BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (14/11/12)
Britain’s recession: Harsh but fair? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (17/10/12)
The UK productivity puzzle (cont’d) BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (20/9/12)
UK jobs: The plot thickens BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (15/8/12)
Unemployment: the key UK data and benefit claimants for every constituency Guardian Data Blog
Labour Market Statistics, November 2012 ONS
Video Summary: Latest on the Labour Market, November 2012 ONS
Labour Productivity, Q2 2012 ONS
International Comparisons of Productivity, First estimates for 2011 ONS
- What possible explanation are there for the latest fall in unemployment?
- What has been happening to employment, both full time and part time?
- What are the different ways of measuring productivity? Why will they be affected differently by a fall in the average number of hours worked?
- Why might it be in firms’ interests to maintain the level of their workforce despite falling sales?
- Assume that there has been a fall in aggregate demand. Compare the resulting effect on consumption of (a) a fall in wages rates; (b) a rise in unemployment. How might the design of the benefit system affect the answer?
Countries differ considerably in terms of the number of hours people work.
Despite the criticisms levelled at Greece, with some claiming that Greek workers are ‘lazy’, according to 2010 figures, the average worker in Greece worked 2109 hours per year – more than in any other European country. The average German worker worked 1419 hours and the average Dutch worker only 1377.
Internationally, amongst developed countries, Korea has the highest number of working hours per worker at 2193 per year. In the USA, the figure is 1778 hours and in the UK it’s 1647. (Click on chart below for a larger version.)
But working long hours does not mean working more productively. Generally the countries in which people work longer hours have lower output per hour.
The following podcast and articles look at the relationship between hours worked and productivity and consider which way the causality lies. They also look at related issues such as the proportion of part-time working and the length of annual paid holidays.
Hardest Working Nations (also at) More or Less: BBC Radio 4, Tim Harford talks to Jon Messenger from the ILO (18/5/12)
Who works the longest hours? BBC News Magazine, Wesley Stephenson (23/5/12)
Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe? BBC News Magazine, Charlotte McDonald (26/2/12)
Working Time around the World ILO, Sangheon Lee, Deirdre McCann and Jon C. Messenger (Routledge, 2007)
International Comparisons of Productivity – 2010 – Final Estimates: Statistical Bulletin ONS (6/3/12)
International Comparisons of Productivity – 2010 – Final Estimates: Data ONS (6/3/12)
Productivity Statistics OECD
Table 8: Average annual working time: Hours per worker Employment and Labour Markets, OECD
- Which countries tend to work the longest hours?
- Would cutting working hours, either through legislation or by agreement with companies, allow more people to be employed? Explain why it might be more complicated than this.
- What is the relationship between labour productivity per hour and the average number of hours worked per worker? Do people work longer hours because they are less productive or are they less productive because they work longer hours?
- Why factors determine labour productivity?
- Why may average hours worked be deceptive in terms of assessing how hard people are working?
- Why do US workers work more hours per year on average than UK workers?
How much value do you place on that wonderful long weekend that a Bank holiday brings? The extra lie in; the ensuing 4 day week; the time you spend with your family. Some would say it’s invaluable – you can’t put a price on it. But those some people would not be economists! Each Bank holiday is worth about £2bn – at least that’s how much it costs the economy.
According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, if the UK got rid of its Bank holidays, GDP would increase by approximately £18bn.
Some businesses will do well out the Bank holidays, but according to the research, the sectors of the economy that suffer are far greater, causing losses in productivity and hence in GDP. Indeed, the extra Bank Holiday we had last year for the Royal Wedding is thought to have been part of the cause for the slow down in growth to 0.1% during the second quarter of 2011.
Based on this data, there are unsurprisingly concerns that the extra Bank holiday this year for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee could also cost the economy. Not particularly good news, considering how vulnerable the economy currently is. Although the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee will undoubtedly generate huge amounts of spending, it is thought that this will be more than offset by the sectors that are expected to lose out because of the loss in working hours and hence productivity.
Given the cost of Bank holidays to the economy, the CEBR says that they should be spread more evenly throughout the year. Is this the solution &ndash if one is needed – or should they be abolished altogether! The following articles consider the issue.
Do we really need bank holidays? Asks CEBR Telegraph, Emily Gosden (30/10/11)
Bank holidays ‘cost economy £18bn’ Independent, John Fahey (9/4/12)
Bank holiday costs UK economy £2.3bn Sky News, Tadhg Enright (9/4/12)
Bank holidays ‘cost economy £19bn’ BBC News (9/4/12)
Bank holidays cost UK economy £18bn and ‘should be spread out’ Mail Online (9/4/12)
- How could we use marginal utility theory to measure the ‘value’ of a Bank holiday?
- Which sectors will generally benefit from Bank holidays?
- Which areas of the economy are likely to contribute towards lost output because of a Bank holiday?
- Why does CEBR suggest that spreading out Bank holidays more evenly across the year would be less costly for economic growth?
- How can the value of lost output during one day be calculated?
- Does a Bank holiday add to somebody’s well-being? How could we measure this?
“There are ‘incredible economies of scale in cloud computing’ that make it a compelling alternative to traditional enterprise data centers.” According to the first article below, cloud computing represents a step change in the way businesses are likely to handle data or use software. Rather than having their own servers with their own programs, they use a centralised service or ‘public cloud’, provided by a company such as Microsoft, Google or Amazon Web Services. The cloud is accessed via the Internet or a dedicated network. It can thus be accessed not only from company premises but by mobile workers using tablets or other devices and thus makes telecommuting more cost effective.
There are considerable economies of scale in providing these computing services, with the minimum efficient scale considerably above the output of individual users. By accessing the cloud, individual users can benefit from the low average costs achieved by the cloud provider without having to invest in, and frequently update, the hardware and software themselves.
In the case of large companies, rather than using a public cloud, they can use a ‘private cloud’. This is hosted by the IT department in the company and achieves economies of scale at this level by removing the need for individual departments to purchase their own software and servers. Of course, the costs of providing the cloud is borne by the company itself and thus the benefits of lower up-front IT capital costs are reduced. This is clearly a less radical development and is really only an extension of the policy of many companies over the years of having centralised servers holding data and various software packages.
In autumn 2010, EMC Computer Systems commissioned economists at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (cebr) to quantify the full impact that cloud computing will have over the years ahead. According to the report, The Cloud Dividend:
The Cebr’s research calculates that €177.3 billion per year will be generated by 2015, if companies across Europe’s five largest economies continue to adopt cloud technology as expected.
The Cebr found that the annual economic benefit of cloud computing, by 2015, will be:
• France – €37.4 billion
• Germany – €49.6 billion
• Italy – €35.1 billion
• Spain – €25.2 billion
• UK – €30.0 billion
Will the ability of cloud computing to drive down the costs of IT mean that a new revolution is underway? Just how significant are the economies of scale and are they likely to grow as cloud providers themselves grow in size and experience? The following articles look at some of the issues.
Reports and information
- What specific economies of scale are achieved through cloud computing?
- Why might the minimum efficient scale of cloud computing services be above the level of output of many companies?
- What are the downsides to cloud computing?
- How would you set about assessing the statement that we are on the brink of a fundamental revolution in business computing?
- Why are customer-heavy sectors, such as financial services, utilities, governments, leisure and retail, expected to buy into the concept fastest?
- How can product life cycle analysis help to understand the stages in the adoption of cloud computing?
The Labour government’s investment in education has been widely publicised since its rise to power in 1997 and there has been a significant increase in funding to match its ‘50% participation in higher education’ target. However, at the university level, this looks set to change. More than 100 universities face a drop in their government grants as a consequence of £450 million worth of cuts. 69 universities face cuts in cash terms and another 37 have rises below 2 per cent. Furthermore, increased funding is now going to those departments where research is of the highest quality, which means that whilst some universities will not see a cut in funding, they will see a reallocation of their funds.
Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of Hefce, said: “These are very modest reductions. I think it is quite likely that universities will be able to cope with these without in any way undermining the student experience.” Despite this reassurance, there are concerns that, with these spending cuts and growing student numbers, class sizes will have to increase, the quality of the education may fall and ultimately, it may mean a reduction in the number of places offered. The Conservatives have estimated that 275,000 students will miss out on a place. UCAS applications have grown by 23% – or 106,389 – so far this year, but the number of places has been reduced by 6000. This policy of cutting places is clearly contrary to the government’s target of 50% participation.
With the average degree costing students over £9000, it is hardly surprising that students are unhappy with these spending cuts and the fact that it could lead to a lower quality education. With the possibility of rising fees (in particular, as advocated by Lord Patten, who has called for the abolition of a “preposterous” £3,200 cap on student tuition fees) and a lower quality degree, this means that students could end up paying a very high price for a university education.
Universities fear research funding cuts Financial Times (18/3/10)
More students but who will pay? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
University cuts announced as recession bites Reuters (18/3/10)
How about $200,000 dollars for a degree? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
Liberate our universities Telegraph (17/3/10)
Universities should set own fees, say Oxford Chancellor Patten Independent, Richard Garner (17/3/10)
University budgets to be slashed by up to 14% Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (18/3/10)
Universities face cuts as Hefce deals with first funding drop in years RSC, Chemistry World (17/3/10)
University cuts spell campus turmoil BBC News, Hannah Richardson (18/3/10)
Universities told of funding cuts Press Association (18/3/10)
100 universities suffer as government announces £450 million of cuts Times Online, Greg Hurst (18/3/10)
HEFCE announces funding of £7.3 billion for universities and colleges in England HEFCE News (18/3/10)
- Why is there justification for government intervention in higher education? Think about the issues of efficiency and equity and why the market for education fails.
- What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against allowing universities to set their own tuition fees?
- Why is the government planning these substantial cuts to university funding, when it is still trying to increase the number of students getting places at university?
- Is the ‘50% participation in higher education’ a good policy?
- What are the benefits of education? Think about those accruing to the individual and those gained by society. Can you use this to explain why the government has role in intervening in the market for higher education?
- Is it right that more spending should go to those departments with higher quality research? What are the arguments for and against this policy?
- What are the costs to a student of a university education and how will they change with funding cuts and possibly higher tuition fees?