The UK productivity decline is over

July 6, 2014 1 comment

The ONS has published new data on British productivity. These show that the unprecedented 5% productivity decline has to quite an extent a lasting nature as it was mainly located in finance and the oil industry, which means that potential GDP also declined with the same amount. According to the ONS,

New analysis of industry contributions to productivity movements since the economic downturn shows large negative contributions from production industries other than manufacturers and from the financial services industry.

See also my take on this from a year ago (including productivity graph). Look also here. Productivity has however started to increase again, which means that potential GDP, though lower than before 2008, is increasing again (Okun’s law) while the surprising increase of British employment is not due to special productivity lowering British labour market mechanics (the British labour market is not special, despite flexibility) but to buoyant demand in non-financial, non-oil sectors (possibly to an extent caused by lower income inequality):

UK labour productivity was little changed in the first quarter of 2014, as growth of labour inputs broadly matched the expansion of economic output. Output per hour grew by 0.2% in the first quarter in service industries, and by 0.5% in production industries

The rise in productivity was to be expected.
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Categories: Uncategorized

Investors — people knowing almost nothing whatever about what they are doing

July 5, 2014 3 comments

from Lars Syll

How far the motives which I have been attributing to the market are strictly rational, I leave it to others to judge. They are best regarded, I think, as an example of how sensitive – over-sensitive if you like – to the near future, about which we may think that we know a little, even the best-informed must be, because, in truth, we know almost nothing about the more remote future …

6a00e551f080038834019101e7a534970cThe ignorance of even the best-informed investor about the more remote future is much greater then his knowledge … But if this is true of the best-informed, the vast majority of those who are concerned with the buying and selling of securities know almost nothing whatever about what they are doing … This is one of the odd characteristics of the Capitalist System under which we live …

It may often profit the wisest to anticipate mob psychology rather than the real trend of events, and to ape unreason proleptically … (The object of speculators) is to re-sell to the mob after a few weeks or at most a few months. It is natural, therefore, that they should be influenced by the cost of borrowing, and still more by their expectations on the basis of past experience of the trend of mob psychology. Thus, so long as the crowd can be relied on to act in a certain way, even if it be misguided, it will be to the advantage of the better informed professional to act in the same way – a short period ahead.

 

 

Categories: financial markets, Keynes

Internal *revaluation* in the Baltics

For quite some time Latvia was an austerity and internal devaluation poster child. Lately, however, the voices lauding ultra-unemployment and the crushing of already very low wages have silenced – as wages are rising rapidly. For a time I suspected, cynically, that this wage shock might be a cunning plan of these sly Baltics – once they joined the Euro they increased their wage level (Latvia business economy wages increased at a healthy 7% rate, 2014 Q1 (Eurostat), directly after Latvia joined the Euro), to obtain a free Bratwurst.

Bratwurst

But this was probably not the case. According to a new NBER working paper by Cavallo, Neiman and Rigobon, market forces might be at work. Joining the Euro seems to lead to a fast convergence of price levels:

Does membership in a currency union matter for prices and for a country’s real exchange rate? The answer to this question is critical for thinking about the implications of joining (or exiting) a common currency area. This paper is the first to use high-frequency good-level data to demonstrate that the answer is yes, at least for an important subset of consumption goods. We consider the case of Latvia, which recently dropped its pegged exchange rate and joined the euro zone. We analyze the prices of thousands of differentiated goods sold by Zara, the world’s largest clothing retailer. Price dispersion between Latvia and euro zone countries collapsed swiftly following entry to the euro. The percentage of goods with nearly identical prices in Latvia and Germany increased from 6 percent to 89 percent. The median size of price differentials declined from 7 percent to zero.

Categories: Uncategorized

Clockwork Justice?

July 4, 2014 6 comments

from Peter Radford

One of the central beliefs held by people who advocate a market based worldview is that, somehow, markets are apolitical, they are antiseptic, they are objective. This is nonsense. It is dangerous nonsense.

That markets work according to rules does not make them objective or even impersonal. Rules are human constructs. Ergo markets are simple extensions of base human attitudes and are thus fraught with all the frailties that encumber all human activity.

The sanitization of markets, by which I mean the constant effort to make them appear “natural” or “neutral” and thus “fair”, is an ideological cover that market ideologues desperately, and successfully, propagate. It is a cover to mask the consequences of this supposed naturalness and to give it the imprint of ethical cleanliness. After all if the outcomes of a market are simply those of nature working her course, who are we too argue?

Economists, or at least orthodox economists, are the great cheerleaders of this ruse to get us all to accept our fate. Over the course of the development of economics much work has been put in to the elucidation of the mechanics of markets. There is an overpowering sense of determinism in the result. Start here, crank the machinery, and let the outcomes just flop out. The market is such that any outcome is “correct”, because left untouched market machinery always hones in on the superior outcome. Thus the current distribution of income “must” be the correct one: the market created it and the market is always, unerringly, right. Read more…

Just published: the scientific answer of the ECB to the crisis

The ECB published a report on the results of the Macro Prudential Research Network. It’s the scientific answer of the ECB to the crisis: what has to change in our view of the economy? Considering the subject the paper, basically a dense abstract of post 2008 ECB research on this subject, is well written, though it’s clearly not intended for people who haven’t finished economics 101 (or 202).

I have read only a few of the many reports cited in this paper. Based upon the little I’ve read and the paper itself the next things can be stated about this potential pathbreaking (it’s intended to be pathbreaking!) piece of economics:

It’s a step away from rational expectations and general equilibrium: good.  It tries to model the financial sector using insights of people like Minsky and Kindleberger: good. It does not just pay attention to the flow economy but also to the stock economy (debts, assets like houses): good. It tries to model a financial sector: good. Despite the fact that the monthly monetary statistics of the ECB are totally endogenous by nature and based upon the idea that credit and money are two sides of the same coin (of course they are, as they try to measure the real world), endogenous money still seems to be a bridge too far: bad (but I, or the person who wrote the abstract, might have missed something). Not enough attention is given to the ECB reports on international trade, which again and again show that lowering wages is not the way towards buoyant exports. Lower wages do decrease imports, as domestic expenditure goes down (duh….). But they do not lead to any noticeable break in the long run pattern of export growth (Spain!). The reader should be aware that a ‘VAR’ is a multidimensional moving average. Caveat (again): I did read only a few of the research papers behind this impressing document.

The policy take away: money (and monetary credit) matters. It’s not just a ‘veil’ over the real economy. To be precise: it’s not a ‘classical’ veil. Read Minsky (1992) about this (who bases his view on Schumpeter (1933), Fischer (1934), Keynes (1936), Kindleberger (1978). The insights above are, when push comes to play not exactly fresh and pathbreaking – but a rediscovery of received wisdom. Not too little – but too late. As millions of needless unemployed in the Euro Area can testify.

Categories: Uncategorized

Uncertainty & reflexivity — implications for economics

July 3, 2014 2 comments

from Lars Syll

Almost a hundred years after John Maynard Keynes wrote his seminal A Treatise on Probability (1921), it is still very difficult to find mainstream economists that seriously try to incorporate his far-reaching and incisive analysis of induction and evidential weight into their theories and models.

The standard view in economics – and the axiomatic probability theory underlying it – is to a large extent based on the rather simplistic idea that “more is better.” But as Keynes argues – “more of the same” is not what is important when making inductive inferences. It’s rather a question of “more but different.”

Variation, not replication, is at the core of induction. Finding that p(x|y) = p(x|y & w) doesn’t make w “irrelevant.” Knowing that the probability is unchanged when w is present gives p(x|y & w) another evidential weight (“weight of argument”). Running 10 replicative experiments do not make you as “sure” of your inductions as when running 10 000 varied experiments – even if the probability values happen to be the same. Read more…

Low interest rates? What low interest rates (3 graphs)! The BIS is very wrong about the Euro Area.

Is the BIS right to warn about the long run dangers of long-term ultra accommodative monetary policies? Yes. But the BIS is wrong about the Eurozone. Interest rates policies in the Eurozone are not ultra-accommodative. They are only starting to become normally ‘accommodative’ – and not even for everyone. Also, not that long ago (the summer of 2012), ultra tight monetary policy almost led to the disorderly break up of the Euro Area. Eurozone monetary policy has not (repeat: not) led to ‘ultra accommodative’ interest rates and we’re only starting to recover from grave policy mistakes which induced tightening in the midst of the most severe post WW II recession to date.

* though banks have been paying low rates for quite some time now (and even these were increased, back in 2011…)
* it is has only been since some months that the same holds for the governments of, for instance, Spain, Italy and Greece. Rates paid by these countries were, totally unnecessary, immorally and destructively high and a main cause of the present Euro Area mess (graph 1 – as can be seen government rates were 7%-points higher in Italy than in Germany – while at that time inflation and government debt in both countries was about equal

Graph 1. Spread between italian and Spanish government rates and German rates. Courtesy: Erwan Mahé.

1xx

). Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

“But surely not every member of the profession has sold out?”

Here are some highlights from a strong post from Steve Denning on Forbes blog that condemns Joseph Stiglitz for shielding the “villains”.

Joseph Stiglitz, who this week offers his final entry in the New York Times’ series, The Great Divide, with the conclusion that inequality is not inevitable. The United States that was once a “shining city on a hill” has now become, he writes, “the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality.” In effect, it’s a choice that our society can make one way or the other. As a result of the actions of many individuals, our society has chosen inequality.

And Stiglitz names those responsible for this choice. They include CEOs, bankers, private equity titans, venture capitalists, politicians, deregulators, lobbyists, the Supreme Court, and those who run corporate welfare, the prison system, the high-price justice system and the unequal health system.

 

The missing villains: economists

Yet there is one category of actor curiously missing from Stiglitz’s list of villains: his fellow economists.

Read more…

Full employment and the path to shared prosperity (3 graphs)

July 2, 2014 7 comments

from Dean Baker and  Jared Bernstein

There are many policies that can reduce inequality, but there is none as straightforward conceptually and as difficult politically as full employment. The basic point is simple: at low rates of unemployment, the demand for labor allows workers at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution to achieve gains in hourly wages, annual hours of work, and thus income.

Levels of unemployment are not the gift or curse of the gods; they are the result of conscious economic policy. The decision to tolerate high rates of unemployment is a choice. It is one that has enor-mous implications not just for the millions of people who are needlessly unemployed or underemployed but also for tens of millions of workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution whose bar-gaining power is undermined by high unemployment.

Unemployment and Wage Growth

In discussions of inequality and low wages, many on both the left and the right claim that what we need is a better educated workforce. Their argument is that because educated workers are more productive and workers’ pay reflects their productivity, they will earn more if we can persuade them to get more education. However, while more education is generally associated with higher wages, this is just part of the story. In most jobs, the value of workers’ labor depends on the demand for their labor. A retail clerk in a store or a waiter in a restaurant is far more productive, meaning they are generating far more revenue, when business is strong than when it is weak. This means that, in a strong economy, employers can afford to pay a worker with the same level of education and training a higher wage.  Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

US wealth inequality increased significantly from 2003 through 2013 (2 charts)

from David Ruccio

According to a new study by Fabian T. Pfeffer, Sheldon Danziger, and Robert F. Schoeni,

Through at least 2013, there are very few signs of significant recovery from the losses in wealth experienced by American families during the Great Recession. Declines in net worth from 2007 to 2009 were large, and the declines continued through 2013. These wealth losses, however, were not distributed equally. While large absolute amounts of wealth were destroyed at the top of the wealth distribution, households at the bottom of the wealth distribution lost the largest share of their wealth. As a result, wealth inequality increased significantly from 2003 through 2013; by some metrics inequality roughly doubled.

Read more…

An open letter to Brussels

July 1, 2014 3 comments

from Steve Keen

The European Stability and Growth Pact is based on the principle that stability and growth are enhanced when government deficits are either minimised or eliminated. I want you to dispassionately consider an argument that reaches a different conclusion. It may sound like something you have heard before from others and already dismissed. But bear with me.

When considered from a strictly monetary point of view, an economy can be regarded as having five major sectors: households, firms, the government, the banks, and the external sector. To focus on money flows, I will diverge from mainstream economic theory by treating households as consisting exclusively of workers, while I will combine firms and their owners into the firm sector, and do likewise with banks and their owners. I also treat the central bank as part of the government sector, and I ignore capital and income flows between nations in this simple exposition.

Neither households nor firms can produce money, while the other three sectors are potential sources of money. As is now well known (though this fact is still contested by academic economists), banks create money by making loans:

Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money. (Bank of England Quarterly Report 2014 Q1, Money creation in the modern economy.)

Governments can also create money by running a deficit (if it is financed by the central bank, or by bonds sold to banks in return for excess reserves). Money can also be created by running a balance of payments surplus (which in this simple exposition is exclusively a balance of trade surplus).

Read more…

Categories: The Economy

Can economists explain much?

July 1, 2014 12 comments

from Peter Radford

Greg Clarke ends his book “A Farewell to Alms” with a not too encouraging summation about the ability of economists to explain much. Allow me to give you three lengthy quotes:

“In economics, however, we see instead that our ability to describe and predict the economic world reached a peak around 1800. In the years since the Industrial Revolution there has been a progressive and continuing disengagement of economic models from any ability to predict differences of income and wealth across time and across countries and regions.”

“Since then economics has become more professional. Graduate programs have expanded, pouring out a flood of talented economists armed with an ever more sophisticated array of models and statistical methods. But since the Industrial Revolution we have entered a strange new world in which the rococo embellishments of economic theory help little in understanding the pressing questions that the ordinary person asks of economics.”

“Our economic world is one that the deluge of economics journal articles, working papers, and books – devoted to ever more technically detailed studies of capital markets, trade flows, tax incidence,sovereign borrowing risk, corruption indices, rule of law – serves more to obscure than to illuminate. For the economic history of the world constructed in these pages is largely innocent of these staples of the discipline. The great engines of economic life in the sweep of history – demography, technology, and labor efficiency – seem uncoupled from theses quotidian economic concerns.”

It must be frustrating to try to stay within the boundaries of economics and end up having to admit that fully three-quarters of all growth since the Industrial revolution crops up in the standard models of growth as a “residual”. That residual being, as Moses Abromovitz suggested, being a measure of the ignorance of economists.  Read more…

Will India be the Uber of the Pharmaceutical Industry?

June 30, 2014 3 comments

from Dean Baker

Many self-styled libertarians have been celebrating the rise of Uber. Their story is that Uber is a dynamic start-up that has managed to disrupt the moribund cab industry. The company now has a market capitalization of $17 billion.

While Uber’s market value probably depends mostly on its ability to evade the regulations that are imposed on its competitors, the company has succeeded in transforming the industry. At the least we are likely to see a modernized regulatory structure that doesn’t saddle cabs with needless regulations and fees.

Unfortunately, the taxi industry is not the only sector of the U.S. economy that can use modernization. The pharmaceutical industry makes the taxi industry look like cutting edge social media. The government imposed barriers to entry in the pharmaceutical industry don’t just raise prices by 20 or 30 percent, as may be the case with taxi fares, they raise prices by a factor or ten, twenty, or even one hundred (that would be 10,000 percent).  Read more…

Categories: health

Paul Krugman — a case of dangerous neglect of methodological reflection

June 30, 2014 4 comments

from Lars Syll

rosenbergAlex Rosenberg — chair of the philosophy department at Duke University, renowned economic methodologist and author of Economics — Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminshing Returns? – had an interesting article on What’s Wrong with Paul Krugman’s Philosophy of Economics in 3:AM Magazine the other day. Writes Rosenberg: Read more…

‘Just desert’ and neoclassical income distribution theory

June 29, 2014 5 comments

from Lars Syll

Walked-out Harvard economist Greg Mankiw has more than once tried to defend the 0.1 % by invoking Adam Smith’s invisible hand:

[B]y delivering extraordinary performances in hit films, top stars may do more than entertain millions of moviegoers and make themselves rich in the process. They may also contribute many millions in federal taxes, and other millions in state taxes. And those millions help fund schools, police departments and national defense for the rest of us …

[T]he richest 1 percent aren’t motivated by an altruistic desire to advance the public good. But, in most cases, that is precisely their effect.

negotiation1When reading Mankiw’s articles on the “just desert” of the 0.1 % one gets a strong feeling that Mankiw is really trying to argue that a market economy is some kind of moral free zone where, if left undisturbed, people get what they “deserve.”

Where does this view come from? Most neoclassical economists actually have a more or less Panglossian view on unfettered markets, but maybe Mankiw has also read neoliberal philosophers like Robert Nozick or David Gauthier. The latter writes in his Morals by Agreement:

The rich man may feast on caviar and champagne, while the poor woman starves at his gate. And she may not even take the crumbs from his table, if that would deprive him of his pleasure in feeding them to his birds.

Now, compare that unashamed neoliberal apologetics with what three truly great economists and liberals — John Maynard Keynes, Amartya Sen and Robert Solow — have to say on the issue: Read more…

The gap in the USA between the rate of growth of productivity (now at 11.4 percent) and that of wages (1.5 percent) continues to widen

June 28, 2014 3 comments

from David Ruccio

productivity-growth

The gap between the growth of productivity (now 11.4 percent higher than in January 2007) and that of wages (only 1.5 percent higher) continues to widen (according to Reuters).

Is it any wonder, then, that income inequality continues to rise?

Borio and Disyatat: beware, money matters (and not just because of debts)

June 28, 2014 1 comment

Claudio Borio and Piti Disyatat are concerned about low interest rates. Hmmm… At this moment, the Euro Area is deleveraging – despite ultra low interest rates, the German economy is doing only moderately well, at best, despite ultra low-interest rates, while the level of unemployment in countries like Greece and Spain is almost 20%-point above the level where any meaningful ‘Phillips curve’ (i.e. a relation between unemployment and nominal wages) still exists – despite ultra low interest rates (well, not for Greek and Spanish companies, of course). And at the moment house prices are, on average, slowly declining, while before 2009 dislocating house price inflation was arguable not so much caused by lower interest rates but by lending deregulation.

Still, their warnings should be taken serious – as there is no such thing as a natural rate of interest. As an example of ‘malinvestments’ during the boom phase associated with a subsequently unsustainable debt overhang as well as idle capital, a graph of house completions in Ireland (how could Irish economist ever miss that bubble, why do mainstream economists sometimes still argue that bubbles do not exist – read Borio and Disyatat) is added (house completions in the entire UK reached a peak level of 219.000 in 2006/2007). See also the latest J.W. Mason blogpost about interest rates, which more or less states that people are not searching for yield – but use their trust in money, the monetary system, the guarantee of the cyclical dynamics of money as well as prevailing monetary yields as a foundation to act upon (possibly guided, to an extent, by ‘animal spirits’, M.K.?) – which fits into the Borio/Disyatat story (or the other way around).  Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

11th out of 11

June 27, 2014 1 comment

from David Ruccio

Davis_Mirror_2014_ES1_for_web

The U.S. healthcare system ranks dead last out of 11 countries studied by the Commonwealth Fund [ht: ja]. Read more…

Categories: Decline of the USA, health

Anti-austerity links, ‘economists hate to say ‘I should have told you so” edition

June 27, 2014 3 comments

A) Greece: past Dickens. Supposed to happen when the monetary system fails you. See below.

B) The British consumption conundrum: not foretold but supposed to happen, considering the change in the income distribution. Conundrum solved. See below.

C) Voxeu: Eurozone austerity is self-defeating (A) - self-fulfilling crisis edition. It’s not different, this time.

D) Voxeu: Eurozone austerity is self-defeating (A) – debt deflation edition. Which we have known since the thirties (Irving Fisher actually already warns about ‘debt deflation’ in the beginning of the twenties (second edition of this)). The tens of billions which the Greek government was forced to borrow to recapitalize the banks, which was needed to plug their government debt restructuring induced capital shortage are not mentioned.

E) (No) investments in Greece, graph below. Investment in new dwellings declined to 10% of the peak level. Well, that was slightly unexpected – but in Ireland this happened, too.

Ad A) From Zero hedge and based upon a labour union investigation(h/t: David Taylor): this is what real, Great Depression like deflation looks like. The Greek are forced to use barter and to reinvent kinds of money and it’s not a pretty sight (for those who still believe the assumption of quite some neoclassical models that all companies use the same technology and only compete on (wage)costs: read recent ECB studies on competitivety, which are entirely consistent with the empirical findings from Salter in the sixties (in fact: fifties, it was published in 1960)):  Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Your tax dollars at work: charities that make the rich richer

June 26, 2014 2 comments

from Dean Baker

We usually think of charities as being a story where money flows down from those on top to those who are most in need. But in our vibrant 21st century economy, charity often flows in the opposite direction, with rest of us subsidizing the incomes of very rich. That is the implication of several recent news stories.

For example, we have John Sexton the president of New York University. The university was recently in the news because of a story reporting that workers building its Abu Dhabi campus are often beaten and have their wages stolen. This campus is part of an ambitious expansion plan designed by Sexton, who reportedly makes $1.5 million a year and stands to pocket a “longevity bonus” of $2.5 million if he stays into 2015.

The University of Chicago is another school where the president, Robert Zimmer, appears to be doing rather well financially. Mr. Zimmer’s compensation for 2013 was reportedly $1.9 million after having spiked to $3.4 million the prior year. This compensation comes in spite of the fact that the school has an operating deficit and may be at risk of a credit downgrade.

A study by the Institute for Policy Studies found that student debt and low-paid faculty increased more rapidly at the universities with the 25 highest paid presidents than the national average. At the very least this suggests high presidential pay is not associated with scoring well in terms of either holding down student debt or minimizing the share of adjunct faculty. Read more…

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