Putin and the Russian Economy

Below is a very informative interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker and the historian Steve Kotkin discussing Vladimir Putin and how authoritarian regimes are pushed into misguided foreign wars. Although the interview is mainly focusing on Russian history there is a mention of the Russian macro economic policy and sanctions. Well worth a listen when you think of what is happening in the Ukraine currently.

It’s a military-police dictatorship. Those are the people who are in power. In addition, it has a brilliant coterie of people who run macroeconomics. The central bank, the finance ministry, are all run on the highest professional level. That’s why Russia has this macroeconomic fortress, these foreign-currency reserves, the “rainy day” fund. It has reasonable inflation, a very balanced budget, very low state debt—twenty per cent of G.D.P., the lowest of any major economy. It had the best macroeconomic management. The New Yorker

The shock is that so much has changed, and yet we’re still seeing this pattern that they can’t escape from,” Stephen Kotkin – Russia expert

For more on Transition Economies view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

How Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club.

I can recommend listening/subscribing to the David McWilliams podcast – an Irish economist who popularises economics and explains quite complex issues in understandable language. I might be a bit bias here being Irish. He recently held a live podcast to a sold out audience of 1,200 in the 3Olympia theatre in Dublin. This theatre is more used to rock concerts, plays etc so for an economist to have a sold-out gig is quite impressive. Colin Peacock of Radio New Zealand recently interviewed him on Radio New Zealand

A recent podcast looked at Russia and how the oligarchs got their money – he used the example of Chelsea Football Club owned by Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich. Below is a mind map and a timeline of events.

  • 1990 – Germany reunites – fall of Berlin Wall
  • 1991 – Yeltsin – first president of Russian Federation
  • 1992 – ‘Shock therapy’ economic reforms – spiralling inflation
  • 1992 – Massive privatisation programme of state assets- every citizen 10,000 ruble voucher
  • 1993 – Oligarchs bought vouchers off confused public – very cheap
  • 1996 – Yeltsin offers oligarchs (22 individuals) key state assets (40% of country) for media support and financing re-election
  • 1997 – Government tries to curtail ‘sweetheart deals’ with oligarchs
  • 1997 – Oligarchs get money out of Russia – buy yachts, property, companies, football teams etc
  • 1999 – Yeltsin steps down and Putin becomes prime minister – the rest is history

Estimates of oligarchs worth outside Russia

  • $920bn of net private Russian wealth located offshore
  • $2bn stake in the London property market
  • $11bn in Swiss bank accounts500
  • Russian multimillionaires living in the UK

2020 report from the Atlantic Council on Russian dark money, Vladimir Putin and his closest associates control around one-quarter of the estimated $1 trillion worth of assets stashed away in the West and beyond Russia’s borders. Source: David McWilliams Podcast

For more on economic systems view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

COVID-19 and the Universal Basic Income debate.

Here Martin Sandbu of the FT  discusses the UBI as part of his Free Lunch on Film – taking unorthodox economic ideas that he likes and putting them to the test. He looks at both sides of the UBI argument with examples from Alaska and Finland where results showed that there was little reduction in working hours when people received the UBI. Good discussion and well presented.

Why has the UBI become such a popular talking point?

  • The coronavirus pandemic has seen wage subsidies – a no-strings attached regular cash transfers to just about everyone in the economy.
  • The automation of a lot of jobs has left people very concerned about redundancy.
  • The modern economy can’t be expected to provide jobs for everyone
  • The UBI is easy to administer and it avoids paternalism of social-welfare programmes that tell people what they can and can’t do with the money they receive from the government.

Concerns

  • Potentially drives up wages and employees will compare their wages with the UBI.
  • Easier for people to take risks with their job knowing there is the UBI to fall back on.
  • It takes away the incentive to work and lowers GDP
  • UBI – not cheap to administer and would likely cost 13% of GDP in the US

Positives

  • In the Canadian province of Manitoba where the UBI was trialled, working hours for men dropped by just 1%.
  • The UBI would make it easier for people to think twice about taking unrewarding jobs which is a good consequence.
  • In the developing world direct-cash grant programs are used very effectively – Columbian economist Chris Blattman.
  • In New Jersey young people with UBI were more likely to stay in education

If the U.B.I. comes to be seen as a kind of insurance against a radically changing job market, rather than simply as a handout, the politics around it will change. When this happens, it’s easy to imagine a basic income going overnight from completely improbable to totally necessary. 

James Surowiecki – New Yorker – 20th June 2016

Chinese property, the output approach and triple counting

Over the last couple of decades property has been a significant driver of Chinese growth. The dependence on real estate is shown below and it is interesting to note that China was more dependent on housing construction than Ireland and Spain prior to the Global Financial Crisis.

Real estate related activities’ share of GDP by country, 1997-2017

Source: Rogoff and Yang

Real estate has impacted consumer spending, employment of workers, investment and demand for raw materials. Investment in property has increased by 5% of GDP in 1995 to 13% in 2019 – 70% of which was residential. As for household consumption 23% is spent on real estate. How do you work out the value of output for residential investment and is there a problem with double counting?

GDP and the Output Approach

Gross domestic product (GDP) is defined as the value of output produced within the domestic boundaries of a country over a given period of time, usually a year. It includes the output of foreign owned firms that are located in that country, such as the majority of trading banks in the market. It does not include output of firms that are located abroad. There are three ways of calculating the value of GDP all of which should sum to the same amount since by identity:

NATIONAL OUTPUT = NATIONAL INCOME = NATIONAL EXPENDITURE

The output approach is the value of output produced by each of the productive sectors in the economy (primary, secondary and tertiary) using the concept of value added.

Value added is the increase in the value of a product at each successive stage of the production process. For example, if the raw materials and components used to make a car cost $16,000 and the final selling price of the car is $20,000, then the value added from the production process is $4,000. We use this approach to avoid the problems of double-counting the value of intermediate inputs. GDP will, therefore, be equal to the sum of each individual producer’s value added.

The Economist look at a simple example of calculating the output approach using a house. House is built and makes up the whole economy. It is made of steel which is made from iron ore.

House is sold – $1m
Steel is sold – $600,000
Iron ore is sold – $500,00

How significant is the construction industry? As the builders add $400,000 to the value – 40% of GDP. But if the whole economy is the house is it 100% as the iron ore is an ingredient of the steel that is bought by the builder.

The Economist mention a paper by Kenneth Rogoff and Yuanchen Yang “Has China’s Housing Production Peaked?” in which they take a different view on calculating the value of property. They use the input-output total requirement matrix with the economy divided into 17 industries – manufacture of machinery, construction, transport etc. The coefficients indicate the production required directly and indirectly in each sector when the final demand for domestic production increases by one unit. By adding up the coefficients corresponding to the construction industry they found that 1 unit of increase in the construction sector requires 2.12 units of inputs from forward (other contractors) and backward (raw materials) industries. In breaking down the construction and installation as part of Chinese real estate, investment is RMB 7,630 bn. Thus 2.12 x 7,630 = RMB 16,176 which is the total value.

Therefore in the original option the Rogoff and Yang model would include the iron ore and not the value of the house or the $400,000 value added by the construction industry. Therefore:

Steel $600,000 + Iron ore $500,00 – $1.1m

There way of removing double counting is unusual as if you add the construction output $1m, steel output $600,000 and iron ore output $500,000 there is a double and triple counting:

x2 = Steel – counted twice – purchase of steel and when house is sold
x3 = Iron ore – counted three times – purchased in raw material form, when used to produce steel and when house is sold.

The way that is normally talked about in textbooks is to only count the added value at each stage of production. Iron ore $500,000 + steel $100,000 + $400,000 construction costs – $1m = 100% of GDP in a one-house economy.

Sources:
China & World Economy / 1–31, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2021. Has China’s Housing Production Peaked? Kenne
th Rogoff, Yuanchen Yang

The Economist: Free Exchange – A universe of worry. November 27th 2021

AS Economics Revision – Transition Economies

With the CIE AS essay paper on Monday next week here are some notes on the issues confronting transition economies – this topic is in Unit 1 of the syllabus. What have been the formidable challenges facing eastern European countries (command) embracing capitalism? Here are some thoughts as well as an informative video from the IMF:

  • In planned some goods are provided free but not in a market economy
  • Corruption – widespread in communist countries in eastern Europe – Oligarchs
  • Inflation ↑ – privatised firms began to charge prices that reflected high costs
  • Lack of entrepreneurial experience
  • Rising unemployment as owners of businesses try to make them more efficient.
  • Labour relations – Poor as workers are in a new environment – Job security?
  • Consumer sovereignty – some industries decline/expand
  • Resources – surplus and shortage
  • Self-Interest – fewer merit goods and more demerit goods
  • Time Gap before framework of government controls can be developed
  • Expansion of industry – potentially for greater externalities
  • Old/disabled – vulnerable with the change of government role
  • Welfare system – limited support for unemployed etc. will take time to develop
  • Provision of public services – disruption to police and other public services
  • Moral Hazard – the state insure workers against risks of losing their job

How to write AS and A2 essays in Economics

With the AS exam going ahead here in NZ I thought it appropriate to put post some revision material over the next few days. Here is another mindmap on economic systems (market economy) which could be useful as an essay plan. I have also attached a document on writing Economics essays – goes through the important aspects of what Cambridge are looking for – Knowledge, Application, Analysis and Evaluation. Click below:

Source: CIE A Level Revision – Susan Grant

Evergrade and China’s dependency on building stuff.

Since the economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping over 30 years ago the Chinese economy has relied on investment growth to drive its economy. The World Bank has estimated that China’s annual growth rate over the last ten years has averaged approximately 9.8% of which expenditure on investment accounts for 6-8%. For future growth China cannot be dependent on this model of investment growth as, not only is it unsustainable, but the carbon footprint will become increasingly intolerable.

Between 1995 and 2010 China’s average growth rate was 9.9% but total investment in infrastructure and real-estate projects rose on average by 20% each year accounting for approximately 42% of GDP. In 2018 as a % GDP (5.57%), China’s average infrastructure spending in 2018 was 10 times higher than that of the United States and significantly higher than anywhere else in the world. What also has been increasing China’s investment rate is the declining efficiency of investment capital which is reflected in its high incremental capita-output ratio – annual investment divided by annual output growth.

Too much supply
With the increased investment by companies too, there is an issue with overproduction in which producers tend to look to international markets as domestic demand has been exhausted. This assumes that the international market for goods and services is buoyant, but the impact of global financial crisis in 2008 resulted in surplus products, lower prices and falling profits. As with many developed countries, China has expanded credit in order to maintain demand, but this can lead to a repeat of what caused the crisis originally.

Evergrande
Corporate sector debt in 2011 was 108% of GDP but this increased to over 160% in 2020. Most of the debt been brought about by new development including housing. This sounded alarm bells as the return on this investment will take a lot longer than planned when you consider that the occupancy rate of apartments is approximately 25%.

But an even more important reason behind the continued insistence on superblock planning is the reliance of Chinese city governments on land lease revenue. Sincethe tax-sharing reform of 1994, cities have been obliged to fork over an enormous percentage of their tax revenue to the central government. In order to generate enough revenue to cover social services and other costs, cities have come to rely heavily on China’s land-lease mechanism that allows the city to rent parcels of land to private developers for a period of 70 years. Thoughts from the Frontline

Evergrande and similar building developments have maintained social order and geared the revenue that officials have wanted. Capitalism with Chinese characteristics?

Unfortunately this building boom has led to many Ghost Cities in China where apartments lay empty and have done so for many years. Below you can see what one developer did when he ran out of money in 2013 – the empty towers were imploded in Kunming this year.

Final thought

In a response to changes in both domestic and international economic developments, China will need to create a new growth model and ensure that development is based on improved quality and performance. An integral part of this development is to support and guide the private sector and ensure that it can enjoy an equal chance of success in competing against government-run organisations. By enlarging domestic demand and science and technological innovation there is more likelihood of acquiring a sustainable economic model that is not dependent on infrastructure development, housing and export markets.

Source: Thoughts from the Frontline – Xi’s Changing Plan. John Mauldin – 2-10-21

Doc Martens – from anti-capitalist punk movement to London Stock Exchange

In the 1970’s Doc Marten boots were a symbol of youth culture, inner rebellion and an essential part of the uniform. However last week the company floated on the London Stock Exchange which sort of sums up the unequal environment that we live in as it seems that everything can be repackaged, commodified and resold – e.g. US housing market and subprime mortgages.

The story of Doc Martens is the story of the financialisation of the global economy. It is a tale of credit cycles, access to capital and a winner-takes-all form of capitalism that undermines our social fabric. The story is a microcosm of much that is problematic with late-stage, 21st-century financial engineering. Some key points about the financialisation of Doc Martens:

  • 1945 -Klaus Märtens a doctor in the German army injured his ankle whole skiing. Designs a better boot.
  • 1947 – now with investor partner Herbert Funck they start to make good sales
  • 1959 – R. Griggs group Ltd (UK shoe manufacturer) bought patent rights
  • 2013 – Griggs family sell the company to private equity company Permira for £300 million
  • 2021 – Permira plans to float Doc Martens at a valuation of $4 billion.

The advantage to firms like Permira is that they can borrow money at virtually 0% interest and deals like this normally involve a small amount of equity, carrying a significant amount of debt.

This means that if the debt-to-equity ratio of the original deal was 90/10, the return on committed equity could be more than 100 times the original cash investment. It is not difficult to see why, at times of very low interest rates, the return to the already wealthy and financially literate goes through the roof. Financial engineering that benefits the extremely rich, converts an everyday shoe company into a gold mine. (We are talking Doc Martens here, not a life-saving Covid vaccine.) David McWilliams

Inequality statistics from the USA:

  • Top 10 per cent of wealthiest families in the US hold 76 per cent of total household wealth.
  • Bottom 50 per cent held just 1 per cent of the nation’s wealth.
  • Top 1 per cent of families account for 40 per cent of all wealth.
  • Between 1979 & 2015, households in the top 1 per cent saw their incomes grow five times as fast as the bottom 90 per cent,
  • Earnings of the top 0.1 per cent grew 15-times faster than the bottom 90 per cent.

In 1941, US supreme court justice Louis Brandeis noted: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

Source: What a Doc Martens boot can teach us about the wealth gap

Transition of East Germany and the level of happiness

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1990 there was the predictable euphoria amongst the population in eastern block countries and although you can change a political system overnight, an economic system takes many years. That is why economies in the transition phase usually use this period of happiness amongst the population to implement economic policies which will be very unpopular in the short-term but potentially have long-term benefits for the economy. However were East Germans happier after this freshly regained freedom in 1990?

Research has shown that is took over 25 years after transition for the level of happiness to be higher than in a June 1990 survey taken when East Germany was still a socialist state. Happiness declined sharply from 1990 to 1991 as unification occurred and recovered to about where it was before the transition to capitalism began. The decline in satisfaction was accompanied by a decline in output equating to about one-third of GDP with high levels of unemployment as numerous firms go bankrupt. Unemployment reduces happiness but also impacts those in employment as the threat of losing their job increases. In East Germany the unemployment rate was 14.8% in 1994 and it peak at 18.4 in 2004 – see graph below.

As well as unemployment the social safety net was a factor that influenced the level of happiness in East Germany. Satisfaction with health care, childcare and work were all surveyed from 1990 onwards, and all decline noticeably in the transition to capitalism. Under socialism jobs tended to be assured and employers provided sufficient childcare and financed comprehensive healthcare. With the shift to the capitalist systems a lot of these benefits disappeared. An East German respondent to a survey commented that:

The unification process is costuming me personally DM400 each month. I include in this higher rental and transport costs, as well as social costs. There are problems at all levels: traffic, crime, rent refugees, health care, social security. For me personally it is a vast and serious problem. People have lost old structures and certainties, and don’t know how to cope. I know that we here in the East have to go through a transition process, but it is difficult and for many no longer makes sense.

When asked about their level of happiness people focus on their immediate personal circumstances rather than the political environment. This includes having a job, making a living, caring for their family and ensuring good health. Only around 1 person in 25 members broad systemic issues such as the form of government or political and civil rights.

Many economists assumed that the transition of East Germany to capitalism would make everyone vastly happier. Pre-transition conditions in East Germany show that to increase people’s level of happiness, job security and a strong social welfare system were paramount. Happiness in most Eastern European countries has been on the increase but it is still likely to be short of where it had been prior to transition. However it is not just policies in socialist countries that increase the level of happiness, capitalist countries can achieve similar results.

Source: An Economist’s Lessons on Happiness. Farewell Dismal Science by Richard A. Easterlin (2021)

AS Economics – Mixed Economy Mindmap

About to start AS Level revision with my class and Unit 1 of the CIE course looks at Economic Systems. Here is a mind map of a mixed economy which might be useful for revision purposes. It looks at the advantages and disadvantages of the mixed system which is usually asked for in the discuss question of an essay.

 

Adapted from: CIE A Level Revision Guide

The Supercycle and MMT

I listened to a very good interview on the David McWilliams podcast in which he talks with Dario Perkins the super cycle and the end of neoliberalism. A lot of the discussion was around the paper that Dario Perkins had written – A New Supercycle Running on MMT – in which he sees MMT as delivering a superior fiscal-monetary mix.
The fact that fiscal policy must take over from monetary policy has been the apparent with the range of policies that were implemented after the GFC. Since the late-19th century the super cycle can be placed into three phases of Capitalism influenced by macro-financial-political regimes – see chart below. MMT could provide the intellectual rationale for a new form of capitalism – Capitalism 4.0. Over the last century the pendulum has swung between extreme fiscal and extreme monetary policy with the global economy primed for another change.

1920’s – Monetary policy dominated but ineffective during the Great Depression
1930’s – Fiscal policy dominated as there was a need for government intervention to get the economy moving after the Great Depression
1940’s – 1960’s – Fiscal Policy – with the 2nd World War and the recovery process post-war.
1970’s – Stagflation and fiscal policy is no longer effective and Keynesian economics as government spending just causes higher inflation and higher unemployment.
1980’s – Monetary policy gains traction and inflation is brought under control. Central Banks become independent and fiscal policy and government intervention is seen as a restriction to growth. With Reagan and Thatcher Neoliberalism was the ideology of the day

Source: A New Supercycle Running on MMT

Have we reached a new regime – Capitalism 4.0?
The GFC was a warning that capitalism in its present form was not working and there was potential for a new regime change. However governments adopted austerity and QE which made inequality worse. The issue was that there was no alternative to the neoliberalism Capitalism 3.0 but with the arrival of COVID-19 governments have been forced to spend up large and there is a belief that the old system doesn’t work and that maintaining Capitalism 3.0 will not make the situation any better. Stephanie Kelton, author of The Deficit Myth, argues that we need to rethink our attitudes towards government spending.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)
MMT states that a government that can create its own money therefore:Cannot default on debt denominated in its own currency;

  • Can pay for goods, services, and financial assets without a need to collect money in the form of taxes or debt issuance in advance of such purchases;
  • Is limited in its money creation and purchases by inflation, which accelerates once the economic resources (i.e., labor and capital) of the economy are utilised at full employment;
  • Can control inflation by taxation and bond issuance, which remove excess money from circulation, although the political will to do so may not always exist;
  • Does not need to compete with the private sector for scarce savings by issuing bonds.
  • Within this model the only constraint on spending is inflation, which can break out if the public and private sectors spend too much at the same time. As long as there are enough workers and equipment to meet growing demand without igniting inflation, the government can spend what it needs to maintain employment and achieve goals such as halting climate change.

It will be interesting to see if MMT can enjoy the same presence in economic policy that monetarism and Milton Friedman experienced in the post-stagflation time period. Back then there was a political revolution primed to embrace monetarism and neoliberal ideas and an electorate that had experienced a serious economic crisis – stagflation. Subsequently the influence of MMT will come down to politics.

Joe Biden seems to have embarked on a more radical macro-economic policy which has various instruments that are found in MMT. Will there be other political leaders who embrace this paradigm like Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980’s with Friedman and monetarism?

Source: A New Supercycle Running on MMT

China and its journey to be a superpower

Useful video from DW which looks at China which over 40 Years ago opened up its economy to the rest of the world. Although Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to press ahead with economic reforms he made it clear that Beijing will not deviate from its one-party system or take orders from any other country. China has a system of market socialism in which the political system of communism exists in parallel with market capitalism and private ownership. The Irish Times Beijing correspondent Clifford Coonan makes some very good points.

Models of Capitalism – LMEs vs CMEs during COVID-19

The Economist Free Exchange recently ran an article looking at the various taxonomies that are used to categorise models of capitalism. The book entitled “Varieties of Capitalism” (2001), distinguished between liberal market economies (LMEs) and co-ordinated market economies (CMEs).

LMEs’ rely on market mechanisms to allocate resources and determine wages, and on financial markets to allocate capital. E.G. America, Britain and Canada
CMEs, like social organisations such as trade unions, and of bank finance. E.G. Germany, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands

Western economies tend to sit on a continuum between these two models – below is a table outlining the main criteria each:

Source: Wikipedia

Which system is better during a pandemic?

During the pandemic, CMEs have generally had a more sound strategy for containing the spread of the virus. This may be generated by unity and consistency than by the strength of the intervention that is chosen. Some countries, e.g. Sweden, avoided lockdowns completely but seemed to get a lot of public support and relied on voluntary social distancing. New Zealand implemented a lockdown policy from the outset and relied a lot on contract tracing as well as strict system of managed isolation. LMEs such as the USA and the UK have had a policy which have been on the whole disorganised and not taken the virus seriously.

However in such situations and because of their innovative nature LMEs are more likely to focus on treatments and vaccines.

Of 34 vaccine candidates tracked by the World Health Organisation
CMEs = 4
LMEs = 13
(AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish drugmaker working with Oxford University, straddles both categories).

CMEs are likely to have a lower death count but LMEs seem to hold the upper hand with regard to a vaccines. Maybe a global coalition and co-ordination is needed in future to get the best of both systems.

Source: The Economist – Which is the best market model? 12th September 2020

Ludicrous regulations of the US Airline Industry and Contestable Markets

With Auckland now at COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and schools operating online we continued going through the A2 syllabus and discussed Contestable Markets using Webex. I used this clip from Commanding Heights to show how regulated the US airline industry was during the 1970’s. Regulations meant that major carriers like Pan Am never had to compete with newcomers. However an Englishman named Freddie Laker was determined to break this tradition and set-up Laker airways to compete on trans-atlantic flights. He offered flights at less than half the price of what Pan Am charged. Alfred Kahn was given the task by the then President Jimmy Carter to breakup the Civil Aeronautics Board (the regulatory body) and he wanted a leaner regulatory environment in which the market was free to dictate price. There is a piece in the clip that shows how ludicrous some of the regulations were:

When I got to the Civil Aeronauts Board, the biggest division under me was the division of enforcement – in effect, FBI agents who would go around and seek out secret discounts and then impose fines. We would discipline them. It was illegal to compete in price. That means it was illegal to compete in the discounts you offer travel agents. So we regulated travel agents’ discounts. Internationally, since they couldn’t cut rates, they competed by having more and more sumptuous meals. We actually regulated the size of sandwiches. Alfred Kahn

When the CAB was closed down competition was the rule and the industry had vastly underestimated the demand for air travel at lower prices – a very elastic demand curve – see graph below.

In the A2 course contestable markets is a popular essay question and is usually combined with another market structure.

What is a contestable market?

• One in which there is one firm (or a small number of firms)
• Because of freedom of entry and exit, the firm faces competition and might operate in a way similar to a perfectly competitive firm
• The threat of “hit and run entry” from new firms may be sufficient to keep the industry operating at a competitive price and output
• The key requirement for a contestable market is the absence of sunk costs – i.e. costs that cannot be recovered if a business decides to leave a market
• When sunk costs are high, a market is more likely to produce an price and output similar to monopoly (with the risk of allocative inefficiency and loss of economic welfare)
• A perfectly contestable market occurs only when entry and exit into and out of a market is perfectly costless
• Contestable markets are different from perfect competitive markets
• It is possible for one incumbent firm to dominate the industry
• Each existing firm in the market produces a differentiated product (i.e. goods and services are not perfect substitutes for each other)

There are 3 conditions for market contestability:

• Perfect information and the ability and or legal right to use the best available technology
• Freedom to market / advertise and enter a market
• The absence of sunk costs

Example
• Liberalisation of the US Airline Industry in the 1970’s and the European Airline Market in late 1990s
• Traditional “flag-flying” airlines faced new competition
• Barriers to entry in the industry were lowered (including greater use of leased aircraft)
• New Entrants – easyJet- Ryanair

NZ Government Spending by Political Parties

The GDP of a country is made up of four things: C+I+G+(X-M).

C = Private Consumption
I = Business Investment
G = Government Demand
(X-M) = Net Exports

With government spending being very liberal and effective in creating growth there is a need for the other components of GDP to do their part – Private Consumption, Business Investment and Net Exports.

It is interesting to look at government spending as a % of GDP in New Zealand over the last 30 years. It follows a familiar pattern that relates to the Government of the day. As with most economies a government that is more left wing tends to spend more and a government that is right wing tends to spend less. However the graph can be a bit misleading as although spending went down under a National Government as a percentage of GDP, it could mean that spending could have been increasing but overall GDP going up at a much higher rate.

Source: Westpac

A major factor that will support GDP growth over the coming years is the large increase in fiscal spending including:

  • Approx $1.5bn of spending per annum on transfers to low and middle-income households as part of the Families Package.
  • Approx $8.5bn of spending over the coming four years in areas like health, education and infrastructure.

These increases in fiscal expenditure will see Government consumption spending growing by around 4% per annum through 2019 and the early 2020s. That’s roughly double the pace seen over the previous decade, and will see the Government’s share of economic activity rising from around 18% at present to over 20% in the early 2020s. The impact of this spending will be seen across the economy and will help to support employment growth.

Source: Westpac Overview February 2019

China’s ghost cities – there needs to be another plan

Below is a very good report from 60 Minutes Australia that gives you an update on China’s ghost cities. Roughly 22 percent of China’s urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study. That adds up to more than 50 million empty homes, he said. One solution that the government could use is property or vacancy taxes to try to counter the issue, but neither appears imminent and some researchers, including Gan, say what actually counts as vacant could be tricky to determine.

For so long China has relied on major infrastructure projects including building cities to drive growth figures in their economy. Historically China’s economic model was based on export-led growth, massive government injections into the economy and access to cheap money. This is not sustainable and although you can keep blowing up bridges and build cities that nobody lives in at some point it becomes unsustainable. Furthermore since the global financial crisis economies have increased protectionist policies to look after their own economy and this has been followed with by the potential trade war with the USA. Therefore the Chinese government need to refocus the growth of the economy on domestic consumption rather than building things – Gross Fixed Capital Formation. So much more C than I in the GDP Expenditure equation. EG:

GDP = C↑+ I↓+ G + (X-M)

Scandinavian countries most expensive but happy

Another good video here with Tom Chitty from CNBC – outlines why the cost of living is so high in Scandinavia – Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These countries on average have some of the highest tax rates (see graph) in order to fund a large welfare state. Expenditure in social welfare is one of the highest as a % of GDP and eventhough it is very expensive to live in these countries they rank as some of the happiest.

Capitalism with accountability

HT to my learned colleague David Parr for this piece from vox.com. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rolled out a big idea to challenge how we think about inequality and the fundamental structure of the economy. She has been concerned with the current structure of capitalism which since the 1980’s has really focused on the interests of shareholders and executives at the expense of employees further down a company’s ‘pecking order’. Reagan and Thatcher started the recent privatisation trend in the 1980’s and, with great success, a lot of the commanding heights of the economy were up for sale. This put any left wing political opposition in a quandary. Do they renationalise these industries and payout shareholders or just start to move their ideology further right on the continuum. The latter was the only real option with the expense of buying back the industries and also upsetting their maybe voters who had bought shares for saving purposes.

Warren with other Democrats is proposing the Accountable Capitalism Act in order to alter the balance of interests in corporate decision-making and giving voices to workers in corporate boardrooms. The legislation would:

  • reduce the huge financial incentives that entice CEOs to lush cash out of shareholders rather than reinvest in businesses
  • curb political activities – using lobbying funds
  • ensure workers and not just shareholders get a voice on big strategic decisions.
    bring about more meaningful career ladders for workers and higher pay
  • ensure that Corporations act like decent citizens who uphold their fair share of the social contract and not like sociopaths whose sole obligation is profitability — as is currently conventional in American business thinking.
  • limit corporate executives’ ability to sell shares of stock that they receive as pay — requiring that such shares be held for at least five years after they were received, and at least three years after a share buyback.

Business executives, like everyone else, want to have good reputations and be regarded as good people but, when pressed about topics of social concern, frequently fall back on the idea that their first obligation is to do what’s right for shareholders. A new charter would remove that crutch, and leave executives accountable as human beings for the rights and wrongs of their decisions.

More concretely, US corporations would be required to allow their workers to elect 40 percent of the membership of their board of directors. Since 80 percent of the value of the stock market is owned by about 10 percent of the population and half of Americans own no stock at all, this has been a huge triumph for the rich – see graph.

Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared as executive compensation has been redesigned to incentivize shareholder gains, and the CEOs have delivered. Gains for shareholders and greater inequality in pay has led to a generation of median compensation lagging far behind economy-wide productivity, with higher pay mostly captured by a relatively small number of people rather than being broadly shared. The graph below show the share of wealth with the top 1% owning 38% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 90% holding only 19% of wealth.

This kind of huge transfer of economic power from rich shareholders to middle- and working-class employees would provoke fierce resistance. But reform of corporate governance also has some powerful political tailwinds behind it.

I am on holiday now and out of internet range – back on the 8th January. Have a good xmas and new year.

Source: Top House Democrats join Elizabeth Warren’s push to fundamentally change American capitalism. Vox