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Keynes v Hayek with Chinese characteristics.

December 3, 2016 Leave a comment

You will no doubt have heard about the battle of ideas – Keynes v Hayek. In the 1930’s this was probably the most famous debate in the history of economics – the battle of ideas -government v markets.

Now there is Chinese version of the debate:

Justin Lin (Keynes) versus Zhang Weiying (Hayek) – both are Professors at Peking University. Lin is on the right of the image below.

lin-v-zhangTheir latest debate is about industrial policy and the concept that the government can set the example of how to run successful industries – in the 1980’s textiles and today renewable energy. Although China’s growth record would seem to justify this some have seen these state run industries produce little innovation. Lin believes that countries that have a comparative advantage should receive help from the government whether it be in the form of tax cuts or improved infrastructure. Furthermore, because resources are limited the government should help in identifying industries which have earning  potential. This assistance includes subsidies, tax breaks and financial incentives — aimed at supporting specific industries considered crucial for the nation’s economic growth.

Zhang sees this industrial policy as a failure in that he believes government officials don’t know enough about new technologies.  He uses the example in the 1990s, when the Chinese government spent significant money on the television industry only for the cathode ray tubes to become outdated. He is also concerned about industrial inertia with local officials following the central government’s direction which tends to lead to an overcapacity. Zhang, however, credited the free market — not politically motivated government subsidies — with game-changing innovations that benefit society eg. James Watt and the steam engine, George Stephenson’s intercity railway, and Jack Ma’s innovative online marketplaces under Alibaba.

China’s ongoing transition to a market-based economy has relied on labour, capital and resource-intensive industries. But the transition’s negative side effects have included structural imbalances and excess capacity in certain sectors. Moreover, some state-owned enterprises such as telecoms have been challenged by disruptive innovators, such as social networks.

Zhang said industrial policy can foster greed. For example, companies may collude with government officials to win special favours. And policymakers can make mistakes, given that even the most well-informed intellectual cannot always predict market trends. Other economists have contributed to the debate stating that a lot of the most successful companies have not had any government assistance in their early years.

However the debate is sure to continue – what works best ‘Markets or Governments’?

Sources:

The Economist – 5th November 2016

CaixinOnline 

A2 Economics – Actual versus potential growth in national output

October 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Remember to mention the output gap when doing an essay that involves the business cycle. The output gap is the difference between demand and the economy’s capacity to supply. This is the difference between the ‘actual’ level of output (GDP) and the economy’s ‘potential’ level of output (potential GDP).

If the economy is running above capacity (GDP > potential GDP) the output gap is positive. Conversely, if the economy is running below its full capacity (GDP < potential GDP) the output gap will be negative.

Remember that ‘potential’ output is not an upper limit on the level of output. Rather, think of potential GDP as the economy’s efficient level of output. Running the economy below potential GDP is inefficient because there are some resources that are not employed. Running the economy above potential GDP is also inefficient because resources are over-utilised (eg, machinery is being made to work too hard causing it to wear out too quickly).

While it is efficient to have the economy running at potential, quite often it does not. Resources can be over- or under-utilised, which will translate into inflationary or disinflationary pressure (over-utilisation will push future inflation up, while under-utilisation pushes future inflation down).

Business Cycle.png

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New Zealand and Global Economy Update for exams.

October 10, 2016 Leave a comment

It is important that you are aware of current issues to do with the New Zealand and the World Economy. Examiners always like students to relate current issues to the economic theory as it gives a good impression of being well read in the subject. Only use these indicators if it is applicable to the question.

Indicators that you might want to mention are below. Notice how low global interest rates are as economic conditions have warranted greater borrowing and spending in the world economy.

New Zealand

The New Zealand economy expanded by 2.8 percent over the year ended in the June quarter driven mainly by an increase in household consumption of 1.9 percent over the quarter, while exports of goods and services rose by four percent. The construction industry expanded by a further five percent in the quarter, while the retail, hiring, and real estate services industry expanded by 1.3 percent. The annual current account deficit totalled $7,383 million in the year ended June 2016, equivalent to 2.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). nz-economy-oct-16

Global Economy 

The OECD in its September Interim Economic Outlook comglobal-growth-and-unemp-ratesmented that the world economy remained “in a low-growth trap”, with GDP growth of 2.9 percent predicted for 2016, before rising slightly to 3.2 percent in 2017. Subdued economic growth is forecast for the major advanced economies, with growth for the United Kingdom expected to drop from 1.8 percent in 2016 to one percent in 2017. The Chinese economy is expected to grow by 6.5 percent in 2016, easing to 6.2 percent in 2017 as it moves from an investment-led to a consumption-led growth model. In mid-2009, the unemployment rate for both the Euro area and the United States was approximately ten percent. Since then the unemployment rate for the United States has fallen to 4.9 percent, while the unemployment rate for the Euro area peaked at over 12 percent in 2013, and currently sits just above 10 percent.

Low interest rates internationally have resulted in asset price inflation, particularly in share and house prices. Monetary policy can only do so much but with global interest rates at approximately zero there needs to be the support of the politicians to enlist a much more stimulatory fiscal policy.

central-bank-rates-oct-16

Source: Monthly Economic Review: New Zealand Parliamentary Library

Inequality and the Elephant Curve – but is it correct?

October 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Below is a very interesting video from the FT about the Globalisation and Income Inequality. Globalisation is often held responsible for the problems of inequality in the world today. The elephant chart seems to explain why globalization has been blamed – see below. The chart shows income growth across the globe from 1988-2008 and how middle income people across the world (e.g.China) have had a significant growth in income as have the super rich. However some income groups have suffered namely the lower middle classes who have experienced almost no growth over the last 30 years.

elephant-curve

However the Resolution Foundation in the UK produced a paper entitled “Examining an elephant: globalisation and the lower middle class of the rich world” which focused on whether and to what extent the conclusions from the graph are justifed, by digging into the data underpinning the elephant curve.

Policy makers and commentators looking to understand how income growth has actually been experienced risk drawing the wrong, or overly- strong, conclusions without a detailed understanding of what lies behind the elephant curve. Their analysis of the underlying data shows:

  1. Overall income growth is understated because of changing country selection. The chart is not about the income growth rates of particular people. For example, the globally poor in 1988 and those in 2008 are not necessarily the same groups of people – so growth doesn’t refer to individuals. But furthermore, different countries are included in the 1988 and 2008 datasets that underpin the elephant curve.
  2. Uneven population shifts suppress the recorded income growth of parts of the global distribution. Population changes, rather than just income changes, have driven the income growth distribution in the elephant curve. Because the population of poorer countries has grown disproportionately, and the population share of mature economies has shrunk, average incomes have been dragged down.
  3. The aggregate data hides big variation between developed economies. Further exploring the apparent losers of globalisation, the weak figures for the mature economies as a whole are driven by Japan (reflecting in part its two ‘lost decades’ of growth post-bubble, but primarily due to likely awed data) and by Eastern European states (with large falls in incomes following the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1988).

 

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Weaning countries off coal won’t be easy.

September 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Coal UsageGermany, the greenest of green countries, and probably the world’s most enthusiastic investor in renewable energy, is finding it very hard to breakaway from coal fired plants. The German government were all set to impose a levy on the coal industry but instead gave a subsidy of 1.6 billion euros to mothball eight coal-fired plants and shut them down permanently by 2023. The main cause of this change of policy was that there was significant pressure from labour unions and local governments in the coal industry. The resistance in the greenest of green countries is indicative of workers and retirees, local economies and communities still depend on coal.

So from Germany to India, strategies to increase the share of renewable energy in the power mix have relied on a coal base. Although governments worldwide are focused on cleaning up energy sources that cause significant emissions, there needs to be some regard for displaced workers from traditional energy sources like the coal industry. Coal miners skills will hardly be transferable to other occupations – structural unemployment.

Nevertheless, coal remains one of the easiest and cheapest form of energy and this is very apparent in India where usage is about 62% of energy needs. India is the second largest consumer after China and ahead of the USA. Also coal consumption is growing about 7 percent a year to power the country’s economic catch-up. As China is going through a growth period similar to Europe many years earlier, their argument will be that European countries polluted the environment by a similar amount

Climate change activists have highlighted concerns of rising temperatures by 2100, however  are rising temperatures as significant when you consider the long-term implications of much higher unemployment?

Source: New York Times – 30th August 2016

After oil what’s next for Saudi Arabia?

August 3, 2016 Leave a comment

With oil prices being at historically low levels, oil exporting countries have been struggling to generate the revenue that was once apparent not so long ago. In Venezuela, for instance, oil accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and plummeting world prices have severely hit the government’s revenue stream. The Middle Eastern countries with their abundant supply of oil and the ease at which it extracts it, are starting to look at alternative revenue streams as the rent from oil is no longer sufficient to sustain public goods and services. As noted in The Economist the Arab world can be divided into three broad categories:

  1. Resource-rich, labour-poor – Gulf sheikhdoms with lots of oil and gas but few people;
  2. Resource-rich, labour-abundant – Algeria and Iraq, that have natural resources and larger populations;
  3. Resource-poor, labour-abundant – Egypt, that have little or no oil and gas but lots of mouths to feed (see chart).

Oil Rev Mid East.pngTo a degree the whole Arab world is an oil-driven economy: all three groups tend to rise and fall with the price of oil. However although some countries have significant reserves of wealth this does not offer an alternative to weaning them off their dependence on the oil industry.  Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 intends to be free of oil dependence by 2020 and among the proposals is a plan to launch a new defence company, combining Saudi industries under a single company and be floated on the Saudi Stock Exchange.

The country plans to list less than 5 per cent of Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Co), which is worth more than US$2 trillion. The sale of Armco would be big enough to buy Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. – the world’s four largest publicly traded companies. The plan is for the government to be a lot more prudent in its spending and making sure that the budget deficit doesn’t exceed 15% of GDP which is a very high figure. Furthermore using the private sector to provide education and health care as well as selling valuable land to developers, will reduce the burden of the State. But this will bring about significant social change that the population of Saudi Arabia may not be prepared for. As The Economist said:

A generation of men that expected to be paid for do-nothing government jobs will have to learn to work. The talents of women, who already make up the majority of new university graduates, will have to be harnessed better. But for now even the limited reforms to give women more opportunities have gone into reverse. To achieve its goals, Saudi Arabia will have to promote transparency and international norms, which will mean overcoming resistance from the powerful religious establishment and the sprawling royal family.

Source: The Economist – May 14th 2016

Resource Curse

For most economies that have natural endowments like oil (Saudi Arabia) or minerals, there is the risk of the economy experiencing the ‘resource curse’. This is when a natural resource begins to run out, or if there is a downturn in price, manufacturing industries that used to be competitive find it extremely difficult to return to an environment of profitability. According to Paul Collier, Nigeria has a resource curse of its own, the civil war trapin which 73% of the low income population have been affected by it, as well as a natural resource trap- where the so-called advantages of a commodity in monetary value did not eventuate – on average affecting only 30% of the low income population. It seems that in Nigeria there is a strong relationship between resource wealth and poor economic performance, poor governance and the prospect of civil conflicts. The comparative advantage of oil wealth in fact turns out to be a curse. governments and insurgent groups that determines the risk of conflict, not the ethnic or religious diversity. Others see oil as a “resource curse” due to the fact that it reduces the desire for democracy.

Click here for more on the Resource Curse from this blog

Are growth rates pivotal in comparing countries?

July 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Below is a very good video from the Marginal Revenue University. Specifically, you learn how variations in real GDP per capita can set countries leagues apart from one another. It takes a dive into the growth of the US economy over time and see how the economies of other countries stack up in comparison. The Indian economy now is like a trip back to the US of 1880. You’ll see why China today is like the America of the Jazz Age. They also explain why living in Italy today is related to a time when Atari was popular in the US.

 

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