Labour Market – notes for NCEA Level 2

Wage Rate:- The price of labour as determined by market supply and demand.
The demand for labour is said to be derived demand: – the demand for labour is dependent on the demand for the goods & services produced.
Key factors that affect the quantity of labour supplied:-

  • age of population
  • non-wage factors
  • wages
  • Difficulty in acquiring qualifications – eg. doctors
  • social attitudes to employment
  • discrimination

Change in Demand for labour Change in Supply of labour

Wages
A more realistic version of the market model measures the price of labour in real wages rather than in nominal or money wages. The difference is that nominal wages are the actual dollars that are paid for any job while real wages are a measure of the ability of those dollars (earnings) to buy goods and services. Therefore real wages consider the purchasing power of your income.

Sticky Wages
Actual wages will rise much more easily than they will fall. Labour markets are extremely rigid when it comes to reducing wage levels. Several factors encourage wages to stick at higher levels and so prevent the market from clearing, as shown in ‘Supply and Demand Applications’ and below.

Equilibrium and Real Wages

A = Employed B = Involuntary Unemployment C = Voluntary Unemployment

Some of these factors occur through the natural operation of the labour market.

  • Strong trade unions can operate as ‘monopoly suppliers’ of labour. This keeps wages above the equilibrium equilibrium. Fewer workers are hired.
  • Hiring cheap labour may backfire on employers. This labour may not have the same level of skills as that of the firm’s existing workforce. This will increase costs for the firm if it has to provide too much training. Existing workers therefore hold the balance of power and can demand higher wages.
  • The idea that a job has a certain worth, an intrinsic value regardless of the action of demand and supply, can keep wages above equilibrium.
  • The influence of humanity values can be strong. It is easy to pay less for resources other than labour.

Some factors are imposed on the market by the government.

  • Legislated minimum wages prevent the market from clearing. Although these wages aim to protect the incomes of those in the lower paid jobs, the result is fewer jobs for those same workers.
  • Welfare benefits can be over-generous and this may discourage the unemployed from seeking jobs.

Inflation and potential drivers

Interesting set of charts here that I picked up from Mauldin Economics. The left hand chart shows annually from 2019 and 2021 inflation change against the change in government disbursements. Countries with larger stimulus packages tended to experience greater inflation acceleration. Compared to other countries New Zealand had the largest fiscal stimulus with a disbursements gap of approximately 19% indicating that government spending and transfers increased sharply relative to pre-pandemic trends.

The right panel of that graphic plots inflation vs. the change in employment. A positive
unemployment gap implies that a country’s labour market has yet to recover from the pandemic recession. Across countries, the size of the inflation acceleration is negatively correlated with the unemployment gap, suggesting that differences in labour market slack account for a significant part of the cross-country variation in inflation acceleration.

Source: Mauldin Economics

Is there stagflation in the global economy?

Below is an interesting graphic from the FT which shows GDP and Inflation over the last couple of years in New Zealand – you can select other countries as well and it is good to compare different parts of the world. Note that NZ’s inflation and GDP is lower than the global average. You would normally experience stagflation when the stagnant growth is accompanied by high levels of unemployment – NZ has 3.3% unemployment. However the labour markets globally are very tight with just today British Airways cancelling 10,000 flights due to labour shortages.

If you look at Japan you will see very little difference between GDP and Inflation and you could say they may be eventually coming out of a deflationary period.

The site is very good and has various interactive graphs – Global Inflation Tracker

Causes of recessions and how do you manipulate the economy for a ‘soft landing’?

Below is a very good video from CNBC that covers the main causes of recessions – overheated economy, asset bubbles and black swan events. Good analysis of soft and hard landings as well as the wage price spiral effect.

“History teaches us that recessions are inevitable,” said David Wessel, a senior fellow in economic studies at The Brookings Institution. “I think there are things we can do with a policy that makes recessions less likely or when they occur, less severe. We’ve learned a lot, but we haven’t learned enough to say that we’re never going to have another recession.” As the nation’s authority on monetary policies, the Federal Reserve plays a critical role in managing recessions. The Fed is currently attempting to avoid a recession by engineering what’s known as a “soft landing,” in which incremental interest rate hikes are used to curb inflation without pushing the economy into recession.

Are we actually in recession and is a wage-price spiral on the cards?

For the majority of textbooks a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP. Whilst a lot of economies might technically go through this objective measure in the next year it is a rather strange economic environment that we live. I don’t recall a recession that coincides with record level unemployment, high consumer spending and a huge number of job openings which in turn has led to wage increases. Recession is usually associated with the opposite – high unemployment, low to nil wage growth and little spending. Therefore the economy isn’t in the usual boom-bust cycle but more of an intentional slowdown. Central banks need to get inflation under control by reducing aggregate demand through higher interest rates. Consumer prices, especially in food and energy, rising faster than wages but with wages rising there is a risk of a wage-price spiral. In order to get the inflation down most central banks only have the tools of interest rates and bank liquidity with both currently in the tightening phase.

New Zealand Employment Data – 3rd August 2022

Today’s figures labour data statistics in New Zealand were interesting to say the least. Although unemployment went up 0.1% to 3.3% against expectations it was wage growth of 7% that really stood out and reflected a really tight labour market almost matching the CPI of 7.3%. This is a major concern for the RBNZ the labour market appears to be the major driver of inflation and the threat of a wage-price spiral is very real. A self-perpetuating inflation cycle could cause domestic inflation in New Zealand to remain high, even if global pressure start to ease. In previous periods of inflation the RBNZ got help in the form of redundancies that forced numbers of consumers to cut their spending. This is unlikely in such labour market conditions and what can be sure is that the OCR will be on the rise again and is likely to increase to 4% by the end of the year.

Theory behind the wage-price spiral

As from previous posts, the Phillips Curve analysed data for money wages against the rate of unemployment over the period 1862-1958. Money wages and prices were seen to be strongly correlated, mainly because the former are the most significant costs of production. Hence the resulting curve purported to provide a “trade-off’ between inflation and unemployment – i.e. the government could ‘select’ its desired position on the curve. During the 1970’s higher rates of inflation than previously were associated with any given level of unemployment. It was generally considered that the whole curve had shifted right – i.e. to achieve full employment a higher rate of inflation than previously had to be accepted.

Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Phillips Curve denies the existence of any long-run trade off between inflation and unemployment. In short, attempts to reduce unemployment below its natural rate by fiscal reflation will succeed only at the cost of generating a wage-price spiral, as wages are quickly cancelled out by increases in prices.

Each time the government reflates the economy, a period of accelerating inflation will follow a temporary fall in unemployment as workers anticipate a future rise in inflation in their pay demands, and unemployment returns to its natural rate.

The process can be seen in the diagram below – a movement from A to B to C to D to E

Friedman thus concludes that the long-run Phillips Curve (LRPC) is vertical (at the natural rate of unemployment), and the following propositions emerge:

1. At the natural rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation will be constant (but not necessarily zero).

2. The rate of unemployment can only be maintained below its natural rate at the cost of accelerating inflation. (Reflation is doomed to failure).

3. Reduction in the rate of inflation requires deflation in the economy – i.e. unemployment must rise (in the short term at least) above its natural rate.

Some economists go still further, and argue that the natural rate has increased over time and that the LRPC slopes upwards to the right. If inflation is persistently higher in one country that elsewhere, the resulting loss of competitiveness reduces sales and destroys capacity. Hence inflation is seen to be a cause of higher inflation.

Rational expectations theorists deny Friedman’s view that reflation reduces unemployment even in the short-run. Since economic agents on average correctly predicted that the outcome of reflation will be higher inflation, higher money wages have no effect upon employment and the result of relations simply a movement up the LRPC to a higher level of inflation.

New Zealand labour market post COVID

Below are figures and a graph for the NZ labour market from 2020 – 2022. Although the unemployed figures have fallen to 3.2% of the working population, the drop in those actively looking for work – participation rate – have fallen by a similar amount. The number of those employed increased although matched by the change in the working age population. This gives the impression that people who were previously unemployed in 2020 have not got a job, but are not making themselves available for work. Notice the difference in the graph between the growth in employment and the unemployment rate from 2020 onwards. Also the majority of extra jobs in the economy have been full-time roles as employers struggled to find labour.

Below is a flow chart that shows how you calculate the participation rate, unemployment rate etc with some older figures. This is important for MCQ as well as essays on the labour market.

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Unemployment. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

The Beveridge Curve and COVID-19

There are those that see the problem of unemployment in most economies (but especially the US) as a structural issue. This refers to the mismatch between the jobs that are available and the skills that people have. Cyclical unemployment can be reduced by boosting demand – dropping taxes and increasing government spending (fiscal policy) and lowering interest rates (monetary policy). However, if unemployment is mainly structural patience is needed to wait for the market to sort things out, and this takes time.

The Beveridge curve is an empirical relationship between job openings (vacancies) and unemployment. It serves as a simple representation of how efficient labour markets are in terms of matching unemployed workers to available job openings in the aggregate economy. Economists study movements in this curve to identify changes in the efficiency of the labour market. It is common to observe movements along this curve over the course of the business cycle. For instance, as the economy moves into a recession, unemployment goes up and firms post fewer vacancies, causing the equilibrium in the labor market to move downward along the curve (the red arrows in the figure above). Conversely, as the economy expands, firms look for new hires to increase their production and meet demand, which depletes the stock of the unemployed – see graph below.

Careful analysis of Beveridge Curve data by economists Murat Tasci and John Lindner at the Cleveland Federal Reserve shows that it’s behaving much the way it has in previous recessions: there are as few job vacancies as you’d expect, given how desperate people are for work – see graph below. The percentage of small businesses with so-called “hard-to-fill” job vacancies is near a twenty-five-year low, and open jobs are being filled quickly. And one recent study showed that companies’ “recruiting intensity” has dropped sharply, probably because the fall-off in demand means that they don’t have a pressing need for new workers.

The Beveridge Curve and COVID

The graph below shows the Beveridge Curve pre and post covid. The pre-covid curve is a typical which relates to theory above, however the post-covid curve has become a lot steeper in showing that changes in the unemployment rate are not as responsive to changes in the vacancies. If the matching process between workers and firms becomes less efficient,  employers need to post more vacancies to fill a given number of positions. In terms of the model, an outward shift of the Beveridge curve can therefore be explained by a decline in match efficiency. Since match efficiency has declined, any reduction in unemployment now requires a much higher job opening rate than before the pandemic. During the pandemic, job creation has become more difficult, and firms have had to recruit more aggressively to find workers. Looking forward, a reduction of the unemployment rate to pre-COVID levels would require job openings to be at twice the level they were before.

Beveridge Curve Covid

Source: Revisiting the Beveridge Curve: Why has it shifter so dramatically. Economic Brief October 2021

 

Global Economic Outlook

Below is a look at economic conditions in leading global economies. Unemployment is surprising low and with the rise in the cost of living (see inflation figures) this should put pressure on wages. The unemployment rate within the OECD area fell to 5.2% in February, the first time it has fallen below the pre-pandemic unemployment rate (which was recorded in February 2020). The unemployment rate within the OCED had peaked at 8.8% in April 2020.

Inflation, Unemployment and Interest Rates
Annual inflation within the OECD area rose to 8.8% in March 2022, its highest annual increase since 1988. Energy prices have risen by over a third during the past year, while food prices have risen by ten percent within the OECD area. Most central banks have already commenced a tightening programme with the on-going threat of inflation. The Australian Reserve Bank commenced tightening their cash rate in early May, increasing the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.35%. It is expected that the RBNZ will increase the OCR by 50 basis points next week.

Outlook
If you look at conditions in the major economies you find the following:

  • China – limited growth potential with severe lockdowns
  • USA – higher interest rates could lead to a bust scenario
  • Euro Zone – cost of living crisis
  • Emerging markets – food crisis / famines.

With the indicators looking at recessionary conditions the best news for the global economy would be a withdrawal from Ukraine by Russian troops and an end to a zero-Covid strategy in China. These actions should reduce food and energy prices and therefore save government spending on raising benefits and subsidising food and energy. Economists are fairly optimistic that we will avoid a recession in 2022 as they still have the tools to stimulate if things get worse. However with no end in sight for the Ukraine conflict and interest rates on the rise a recession is on the cards.

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Inflation and Unemployment. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

Plenty of jobs but no workers.

The COVID pandemic has been prevalent in the global economy for just over two years now but although there seems to be plenty of job opportunities where is the available labour? According to a recent report from the IMF there are various reasons for this:

  • Reduced labour force participation: disadvantaged groups, the low-skilled, older workers, or women with young children—have yet to fully return to the labour market.
  • The pandemic: health concerns and favourable pension plan valuations have contributed to a lot of older workers departing the labour force
  • Worker preference: workers are moving away from some low-pay jobs. A lot workers in contact -intensive, physically strenuous and less flexible jobs are moving into other areas or have left the labour force.
  • Occupational mismatch: due to COVID some industries and firms have cut back on production due a lack of demand for their products/services or can’t function in the pandemic environment. As a result in a mismatch between those that are looking for work and the requirements of the labour market.
  • Border restrictions means limited immigration: this has led to large shortages of labour especially in primary industries and other low-paid jobs
  • Changing job preferences: COVID-19 affected hospitality work in particular and although the industry maybe recovering health concerns may be discouraging workers from keeping such jobs and job seekers from taking them up, leaving many vacancies unfilled
Source: Deloitte Insights – The global labor shortage

For more on Unemployment 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.

Could war in Ukraine lead to economic crisis?

From Al Jazeera – Counting the Cost. Main discussion points:

  • Ukraine and Russia are expected to experience a severe recession this year. But the sanctions imposed on Russia and the increasing energy price can inflict inflation on other countries.
  • IMF to cut its growth forecast on the Global Economy.
  • Russia to turn to the Chinese Yuan to survive and are counties dumping the US$ as the global reserve currency?

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Inflation and Exchange Rates. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

Stagflation – 1970’s v Today

The Financial Times had a good piece about the current state of the global economy and the likeness of the stagflation of the 1970’s. Using that article and other sources I have attempted to differentiate between what was happening then and the current situation with the war in the Ukraine. With oil still having an impact in an economy today this could be the catalyst needed for more greener technologies but this is not going to help in the short-term. Therefore, for global oil prices to stabilise there needs to be an increase in the output of OPEC countries and the likes of Venezuela which could add 400,000 bpd to oil output – the US has been in talks with President Maduro. However, there is a dilemma here in that you may reduce oil prices by getting Venezuela to increase production but you are also assisting an authoritarian regime that is closely linked with Russia.

Source: War brings echoes of the 1970s oil shock. FT 12th March 2022

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Inflation. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

Economic Theory v Economic Reality

Invariably I get the question in class “Does this economic theory actually happen in the real world?” We then proceed to discuss upward sloping demand curves, trickle down theory, the GFC and the fact that few economists saw it coming and how Japan ran a massive stimulus programme but inflation was stagnant.

Most theories in economics rest on the premise that people, companies, and markets behave according to the abstract, two-dimensional illustrations of an introductory economics textbook, even though the assumptions behind those diagrams virtually never hold true in the real world. To understand economics you have to understand human nature.

Below is a table that I found in James Kwak’s book “Economism”. It takes theories found in most introductory economics textbooks and suggests what actually might happen to these theories in the real world.

For more on secondary school economics courses 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.

Global Stagflation and the threat to democracy.

In my economics classes this week one cannot get away from what is happening in Ukraine and the impact of that geopolitics will have on the global economy. Already I wrote a blog post on Russian interest rates and the collapse of the rouble but what are the challenges ahead for the global economy?

Before the invasion central banks worldwide were tightening monetary policy (interest rates) to reduce the increasing inflation pressure in their economy’s. The price of oil has increased to over US$105 adding to the inflationary problem as policy makers still have to deal with the slow recovery from the COVID pandemic. However the US Federal Reserve (US Central Bank) and the European Central Bank (ECB) have indicated that they intend to continue with their tightening policy of 25 basis points (0.25%) increase in interest rates this month but may have to be less aggressive in their future tightening. Their major concern now is that the war in Ukraine has increased the chances of a period of stagflation – stagnation and inflation at the same time. Therefore it is important that central banks are more sensitive to tightening their monetary policy as adding the Ukrainian crisis (with higher oil and food prices) to the present supply chain issues would increase the chances of stagflation and a significant downturn in the global economy.

Stagflation
In economic textbooks there are two main cause of inflation – Demand Pull and Cost Push (see graph below).

Source: Eleareconomics

The inflation that New Zealand is mainly experiencing is of a cost push nature especially when you look at the recent CPI figure of 5.9%. The major driver of this inflation is:

  • 30.5% rise in the cost of petrol
  • 15.7% rise in the associated cost in buying a new dwelling.
  • 4.1% increase in the food group

What you notice from the graph is that when the AS curve shifts left not only does inflation increase but also output and employment decrease. The last major stagflationary period was during the oil crisis years of 1973 (oil price up 400%) and 1979 (up 200%) – see video below from the Philadelphia Fed.

But when will these cost pressures ease in New Zealand? With a 5.9% inflation rate employees will put significant pressure on employers for wage increases and this is when there is already a very tight labour market (3.2% unemployment).

Final thought
2022 is going to be a very difficult year for the economy with both demand and supply issues:
Demand: higher inflation will mean a tightening of interest rates which will reduce spending and increase the debt burden.
Supply: higher energy costs, supply chain problems, increase in material costs and availability of parts for industry.

Add to this the war in Ukraine and we are in for a rocky ride. However the possible suffering is necessary if it nullifies the threat on global democracy.

For more on Stagflation 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.

OCR – LSAP – FLP = New Zealand’s Monetary Policy Toolkit

Below is a useful flow diagram from the ANZ bank which adds Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP) and Funding for Lending Programme (FLP) to the Official Cash Rate (OCR – Base Rate)

LSAP – this is the buying of up $100 billion of government bonds – quantitative easing
FLP – this gives banks cheap lending based on the Official Cash Rate – could be about $28 billion based on take up
OCR – wholesale interest rate currently at 0.75%. Commercial banks borrow at 0.5% above OCR and can save at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) at 1% below OCR.

With FLP and more LSAP this will mean lower lending rates and deposit rates. This should provide more stimulus in the economy and allay fears of future funding constraints making banks more confident about lending. Add to this a third stimulus – an OCR of 0.75%. Although there is currently a tightening policy the rate is probably still stimulatory. The flow chart shows the impact that these three stimulus policies have on a variety of variables including – exchange rates – inflation -unemployment – consumer spending – investment – GDP. Very useful for a class discussion on the monetary policy mechanism.

For more on Monetary Policy 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 tight is the New Zealand labour market?

The New Zealand unemployment rate of 3.2% doesn’t reflect how tight the labour market is – there were 93,000 people unemployed in the December quarter in seasonally adjusted terms. In setting the Official Cash Rate (OCR) the RBNZ consider the labour market and look at a number of indicators. The figure below shows the range of indicators and how they have been performing since 2000.

Note:
Yellow (inner) circle = worst outcome since 2000,
Orange (outer) circle = best outcome since 2000,
Dark blue = current outcomes,
Light blue = 2019 Q4, when the RBNZ saw employment as “at or slightly above” maximum sustainable employment.

Looking at the number of average hours worked the lockdown has seen employers reduce hours of work rather than laying off workers which puts them in a good position for when the country changes alert levels. With COVID restrictions easing unemployment could have further to fall (forecast 3%) and this can only serve to increase the wage negotiating power of the employee. As well as the fact that labour will be more scarce, the level of inflation is on the way up and employees will want to maintain their purchasing power. These factors will most likely lead to higher wages. While there is no shortage of downside risks on the demand side of things as interest rates rise (globally) and the housing market cools, there’s also no quick fix on the labour supply front. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the labour market tends to lag activity by quite some months.

Source: ANZ Bank New Zealand Weekly Data Wrap – 5th November 2021

New Zealand increases minimum wage to $21.20 but will it have an impact?

From 1st April this year the minimum wage in New Zealand will increase from $20 to $21.20 as the Labour government stay true to their election pledge of commitment to supporting employees. Currently inflation at its highest level for 30 years at 5.9% and unemployment is at a record low of 3.2%. In theory the minimum wage increase should see consumers spending more of their income and thereby supporting businesses. However the living wage, the rate at which someone would need to afford the necessities of life and participate as an active citizen, increased to $22.75.

Theory behind the minimum wage
On the graph above a minimum wage of W1 means that the level of employment has fallen but those prepared to work but are involuntary unemployed has increased. However the people still employed are better off as they are paid more for the same work; their gain is exactly balanced by their employers’ loss. The jobs that someone would have been willing to do at less than the wage of We and for which some company would have been willing to pay more than We.

Does the theory of the minimum wage apply in reality?
In reality the theory of the minimum wage explained above is not as simple as it is made out to be. From records in the USA there is no obvious relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment: adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage was highest from 1967 through 1969, when the unemployment rate was below 4%. One study (whose authors won the Nobel Prize in Economics) in 1994 by David Card and Alan Krueger evaluated an increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage by comparing fast-food restaurants on both sides of the New Jersey – Pennsylvania border. They concluded, “contrary to the central prediction of the textbook model … we find no evidence that the rise in New Jersey’s minimum wage reduced employment at fast-food restaurants in the state.”

The idea that a higher minimum wage might not increase unemployment goes against the the theory in textbooks as if labour becomes more expensive firms will take on less employees. But there are several reason why this might not be the case:

  • The standard model states that firms will replace labour with machines if wages increase, but what happens if labour saving technologies are not available at a reasonable cost.
  • Some employers may not be able to maintain their business with fewer workers especially in service based industries. Therefore, some companies can’t lay off employees if the minimum wage is increased.
  • Small firms are traditionally labour intensive and can’t afford large capital investment. Therefore the minimum wage doesn’t have the impact of laying off workers.
  • If employers have significant market power that the theory of the supply and demand for labour doesn’t exist, then they can reduce the wage level by hiring fewer workers (only those willing to work for low pay), just as a monopolist can boost prices by cutting production (think of an oil cartel, for example). A minimum wage forces them to pay more, which eliminates the incentive to minimize their workforce.
  • Even though a higher minimum wage will raise labour costs many companies can recoup cost increases in the form of higher prices; because most of their customers are not poor, the net effect is to transfer money from higher-income to lower-income families. In addition, companies that pay more often benefit from higher employee productivity, offsetting the growth in labor costs.
  • Higher wages boost productivity as they motivate people to work harder, they attract higher-skilled workers, and they reduce employee turnover, lowering hiring and training costs, among other things. If fewer people quit their jobs, that also reduces the number of people who are out of work at any one time because they’re looking for something better. A higher minimum wage motivates more people to enter the labor force, raising both employment and output.
  • Higher pay increases workers’ buying power. Because poor people spend a relatively large proportion of their income, a higher minimum wage can boost overall economic activity and stimulate economic growth, creating more jobs.

All the above add a range of variables that are not considered in the simple supply and demand model for labour. It maybe useful as a starting point in discussing the minimum wage but has its limitations in the more complex real world.

Source: Economism by James Kwak

New Zealand’s inflation rate will put pressure on wages

With 5.9% inflation and 3.2% unemployment there is the prospect of significant wage pressure with employees seeing a reduction in the real value of their wages and the increased scarcity of labour. The major driver of inflation is the 30.5% rise in the cost of petrol and a 15.7% rise in the associated cost in buying a new dwelling. The average wage is shown by the Labour Cost Index (LCI) and although this has been mainly hovering above the inflation rate (CPI) since 2011, the last year has seen a significant increase in prices which has not been matched by a subsequent increase in the average wage. Workers therefore are suffering from a reduction in real wages (nominal wages – inflation rate).

With this reduction in purchasing power from inflation and such low levels of unemployment employees have more bargaining power to command higher wages from their employers. This could result in workers moving between jobs where there is higher wages to keep up with inflation.

The situation is problematic for employers because they could experience a productivity loss from workers moving between jobs, as new workers take some time to adapt to their new roles. This would lead to employers incurring higher training costs.

Where company’s or sectors have union power this could have a damaging impact on a business as workers demand higher wages and threaten to strike if wage negotiations don’t come to fruition in their favour. Furthermore, with increasing the cost of living workers savings are losing value to inflation and reducing their ability to save. What is certain is growing tensions between employers and employees as they both try to lessen their losses introduced by inflation.

Source: BERL – Feb 2022

New Zealand inflation hits 5.9%. Potential for wage price spiral?

Consumer prices in New Zealand rose 5.9% annually in the December quarter.
Core inflation measures rose to 5.4% annually. Core inflation excludes certain items that are known for their volatility — namely, food and energy. With this figures it seems that ‘transitory’ inflation is not as relevant and inflation does have some momentum. There is a lot inflation coming in from abroad with Tradable inflation at 6.9%.

Domestic inflation was also strong with non-tradable inflation at 5.3%. Some of the main movers in the CPI:

  • Construction costs up by 15.7%annually – major supply chain issues here
  • Petrol prices up by 30.5% annually – reflects rises in oil prices globally and a weak NZ dollar making imports more expensive.
  • Food – annual change in food prices was 4.1% although the quarterly change was -0.1%
  • 40% of CPI is made up of imports and with inflationary pressure prevalent in the global economy this has led to higher import prices.

Higher inflation in a tight labour market – wage price spiral.
With a tight labour market comes pressure on wages and if they increase and are not accompanied by an increase in output/worker, companies have two choices. Either they absorb the higher costs or they put their prices up. Then with higher prices there is pressure on wages again as employees try to maintain their purchasing power which in turn could lead to a wage-price spiral.

Theory behind the wage-price spiral

As from previous posts, the Phillips Curve analysed data for money wages against the rate of unemployment over the period 1862-1958. Money wages and prices were seen to be strongly correlated, mainly because the former are the most significant costs of production. Hence the resulting curve purported to provide a “trade-off’ between inflation and unemployment – i.e. the government could ‘select’ its desired position on the curve. During the 1970’s higher rates of inflation than previously were associated with any given level of unemployment. It was generally considered that the whole curve had shifted right – i.e. to achieve full employment a higher rate of inflation than previously had to be accepted.

Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Phillips Curve denies the existence of any long-run trade off between inflation and unemployment. In short, attempts to reduce unemployment below its natural rate by fiscal reflation will succeed only at the cost of generating a wage-price spiral, as wages are quickly cancelled out by increases in prices.

Each time the government reflates the economy, a period of accelerating inflation will follow a temporary fall in unemployment as workers anticipate a future rise in inflation in their pay demands, and unemployment returns to its natural rate.

The process can be seen in the diagram below – a movement from A to B to C to D to E

Friedman thus concludes that the long-run Phillips Curve (LRPC) is vertical (at the natural rate of unemployment), and the following propositions emerge:

1. At the natural rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation will be constant (but not necessarily zero).

2. The rate of unemployment can only be maintained below its natural rate at the cost of accelerating inflation. (Reflation is doomed to failure).

3. Reduction in the rate of inflation requires deflation in the economy – i.e. unemployment must rise (in the short term at least) above its natural rate.

Some economists go still further, and argue that the natural rate has increased over time and that the LRPC slopes upwards to the right. If inflation is persistently higher in one country that elsewhere, the resulting loss of competitiveness reduces sales and destroys capacity. Hence inflation is seen to be a cause of higher inflation.

Rational expectations theorists deny Friedman’s view that reflation reduces unemployment even in the short-run. Since economic agents on average correctly predicted that the outcome of reflation will be higher inflation, higher money wages have no effect upon employment and the result of relations simply a movement up the LRPC to a higher level of inflation.

Source: ANZ Research December 2021 Quarter CPI Review

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

US Economy – potential for wage-price spiral

In the past expansionary monetary policy (low interest rates) would have acted as a catalyst to the real danger of a wage price spiral in which rising wages and prices become self-reinforcing, pushing inflation up. This was very apparent in the winter of 1974 in the US when inflation reached 12% and 15% by 1980. Is there the threat of another wage price spiral? Current employment conditions are very much in the favour of the employee. According to The Economist some combination of the following needs to happen to avoid inflation:

  • Rather than raising their prices firms absorb higher wages and have lower profits thereby not raising inflation.
  • The increase in real wages is matched by productivity growth – more demand is matched by more supply.
  • Workers return to the labour market therefore increasing supply and reducing the pressure on wages

Below is a very detailed look at the threat of a wage-price spiral in rhe US. Good discussion of labour market data and the impact of COVID on inflation. Is this inflation period is transitory or a more permanent fixture? Well worth a look

Theory behind the wage-price spiral

As from previous posts, the Phillips Curve analysed data for money wages against the rate of unemployment over the period 1862-1958. Money wages and prices were seen to be strongly correlated, mainly because the former are the most significant costs of production. Hence the resulting curve purported to provide a “trade-off’ between inflation and unemployment – i.e. the government could ‘select’ its desired position on the curve. During the 1970’s higher rates of inflation than previously were associated with any given level of unemployment. It was generally considered that the whole curve had shifted right – i.e. to achieve full employment a higher rate of inflation than previously had to be accepted.

Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Phillips Curve denies the existence of any long-run trade off between inflation and unemployment. In short, attempts to reduce unemployment below its natural rate by fiscal reflation will succeed only at the cost of generating a wage-price spiral, as wages are quickly cancelled out by increases in prices.

Each time the government reflates the economy, a period of accelerating inflation will follow a temporary fall in unemployment as workers anticipate a future rise in inflation in their pay demands, and unemployment returns to its natural rate.

The process can be seen in the diagram below – a movement from A to B to C to D to E

Friedman thus concludes that the long-run Phillips Curve (LRPC) is vertical (at the natural rate of unemployment), and the following propositions emerge:

1. At the natural rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation will be constant (but not necessarily zero).

2. The rate of unemployment can only be maintained below its natural rate at the cost of accelerating inflation. (Reflation is doomed to failure).

3. Reduction in the rate of inflation requires deflation in the economy – i.e. unemployment must rise (in the short term at least) above its natural rate.

Some economists go still further, and argue that the natural rate has increased over time and that the LRPC slopes upwards to the right. If inflation is persistently higher in one country that elsewhere, the resulting loss of competitiveness reduces sales and destroys capacity. Hence inflation is seen to be a cause of higher inflation.

Rational expectations theorists deny Friedman’s view that reflation reduces unemployment even in the short-run. Since economic agents on average correctly predicted that the outcome of reflation will be higher inflation, higher money wages have no effect upon employment and the result of relations simply a movement up the LRPC to a higher level of inflation.