Free Exchange in The Economist had an article which looked at the change in terminology used by Janet Yellen chairman of the Federal Reserve. In a recent statement she alluded to the US economy near maximum employment and that rate rises could ensue. However only 69% of American adults have a job.
Full employment has normally been the concept that has been used to describe a situation where there is no cyclical or deficient-demand unemployment, but unemployment does exist as allowances must be made for frictional unemployment and seasonal factors – also referred to as the natural rate of unemployment or Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU). If a central bank wishes to stimulate demand below this level there is the concern that inflation will increase therefore they take a guess as to what is the natural rate of unemployment – the lowest rate of unemployment where prices don’t accelerate. Maximum unemployment is the same in that it refers to the labour market being as tight as it can be without increasing prices. Natural rates in the US have varied – around 5.3% in 1950 and then peaking at 6.3% in the stagflation period before falling 4.9% in 2008 and then rising to 5.1% after the GFC, see graph below.
NRU and its causes
The NRU mainly depends on the level of frictional unemployment – defined as those who are in between jobs. This number can vary as at different times of the business cycle as there can be a delay in matching those looking for work with the vacancies themselves – a mismatch sometimes referred to as Structural Unemployment. The increase in frictional unemployment in the 1970’s and 80’s was largely due to the decline in manufacturing jobs with the advent of automation and more right wing policies (Reagan and Thatcher). Workers would stay unemployed in the hope that good high paid manufacturing jobs would reappear.
Unions can also influence the NRU with protecting workers jobs and pushing up wages so that employers find it too costly to employ more labour. However the fall in the 1990’s could be due to the advent of technology in the hiring process and the growth of part-time jobs which assisted those workers facing a career change.
Another influence on the NRU is wage growth as with the higher wages you attract more of the labour force to engage in actively looking for work.
A central bank will have to use trial and error to make a decision on how much spare capacity there is in an economy. Only when prices start to increase do they have an idea how capacity is running.
Quality not Quantity
As alluded to by The Economist the goal of full employment must consider the quality of jobs as well. With the acceleration of technology over labour, maximum employment should consider more than capacity constraints or inflationary pressure.
Rather, governments need to consider the options available to workers: not just how easily they can find jobs they want, but also how readily they can refuse jobs they do not. By lifting obstacles to job changes and giving workers a social safety net that enables them to refuse the crummiest jobs, societies can foster employment that is not just full, but fulfilling.
Sources: The Economist 28th January 2017, St Louis Federal Reserve – Natural Rate of Unemployment
Here is a good overview of President Obama’s economic legacy from PBS’s Paul Solman. Did his efforts to turn the country around after the 2008 financial crisis constitute a robust recovery, or too little, too late? Economics correspondent Paul Solman assembled a panel of economic experts to discuss employment across racial groups, the types of jobs created and the obstacles the president faced in enacting his economic agenda. Some of the comments are as follows:
- He saved us from a great depression.
- Over 15 million jobs have been added; 22 million more people have health insurance coverage than they did before.
- If we characterise an economy as being in a catastrophe at unemployment rates greater than 8 percent, the black unemployment rate is still above 8 percent. So, frankly, black Americans are still in a great depression, or great recession at the very least.
- The failure by the Obama administration to focus on economic growth.
- A long-term infrastructure program would have made a great deal of sense, and frankly still does today. But that’s not what the Obama administration proposed. I think we need to have a more holistic structural agenda for lower-income Americans, rather than just treating it as a problem of recession and recovery.
- We needed bolder, stronger, more fundamental, not tinkering, ideas to really structurally change the U.S. economy.
Below is a useful graph from the National Australia Bank’s 2017 Outlook. It shows the inflation relative to the central target rate – so for New Zealand the current inflation rate is 0.4% but the policy target agreement is 1 – 3% with a target of 2%. Therefore NZ is 1.6% short of their inflation target.
Inflation globally has been a record lows and according to the IMF “cyclical unemployment and weaker import (commodity) prices can account for the bulk of the deviation of inflation from (central bank) targets …..but other unexplained factors have been playing an increasingly larger role”
In 2017 it is predicted that higher commodity prices and wages will lift global inflation. With the US Fed raising interest rates there is the sense that inflation could be on its way up. Also spare capacity is forecast to reduce in most advantage countries with the US already at full employment.
A Trump policy of protectionism and expansionary fiscal policy would definitely mean a more hawkish US Fed. If he does follow this agenda the US will initially experience some kind of stagnation environment, but given the chance for trade retaliation this could quickly lead to a global recession which could eventually push the world close to a secular stagnation scenario of low growth, low inflation, and low productivity. Below is a very informative matrix from NN Investment Partners.
I posted on this issue last year when Kim Hill (Radio NZ) interviewed Paul Mason – author of Post Capitalism (now out in paperback). Mason makes the point that we are going to live through a long transition from capitalism – the state and the market to post capitalism which is the state, the market and the shared collaborative economy. With technology taking a lot of the jobs in traditional industries in the UK he states that further development in this sector is not the way of creating new jobs. He talks about delinking work from wages by just paying people to actually exist – rather than tax to exist.
Liam Dann (NZ Herald) wrote a piece about Amin Toufani’s presentation at SingualrityU summit in Christchurch where he talked about people in the labour force having to learn, unlearn, and learn again – unlearning should be core competency. However as there maybe many people who will struggle with this concept Toufani believes that a universal basic income (UBI) may need to be adopted – see RSA video below.
Recent events – UBI
- Switzerland held a referendum on a basic income in June this year but it was comprehensively turned down.
- Finland is going to run a U.B.I. experiment in 2018
- Y-Combinator, a Silicon Valley incubator firm, is sponsoring a similar test in Oakland USA.
Why has the UBI become such a popular talking point?
- 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.
- 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
- 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
A colleague alerted me to the Hays Global Skills Index. It is a complex, statistically-based report designed to assess the dynamics of skilled labour markets across 33 countries.
Seven indicators make up the Hays Global Skills Index
- Education flexibility – this indicator relates to how flexible the education system is to meet the changing demands of the labour market. Low score = more likely.
- Labour market participation – greater participation means more potential workers. Low score = larger pool of workers
- Labour market flexibility – this relates to government regulations around employing people. Low score = less red tape
- Talent mismatch – do the skills of the labour force match those of the jobs that are in the market place? Low score = employers find it easier to get labour with appropriate skills
- Overall wage pressure – skills shortages are an issue if wages are growing faster than the cost of living. Low score = wages are not rising quickly.
- Wage pressure in high-skill industries – Some industries require higher‑skilled staff and makes them more vulnerable to skills shortages. Low score = wages in high-skill industries are growing slower than wages in low-skill industries.
- Wage pressure in high-skill occupations – a rise is wages of high-skilled occupations means that there is a shortage. Low score = wages for high-skilled occupations are rising more slowly than those in low-skill occupations.
In looking at the figure below seven indicators above are given equal weight when calculating the overall Index score for each country. Each indicator measures how much pressure different factors are exerting on the local labour market.
Higher scores mean that a country is experiencing more pressure than has historically been the case.
Lower scores mean that a country is experiencing less pressure than has historically been the case.
Skilled labour market conditions vary markedly in different parts of the world. Grouped into large overarching regions, however, it is possible to discern some headline patterns. The overall Index score increased slightly from 2015, as changes in skilled labour market conditions in Europe and the Middle East (EME) more than offset a very slight loosening in the Americas and Asia Pacific. The annual change in Index scores should not mask the overall position that suggests skilled labour markets in the Americas and EME remain tight relative to the past, while Asia Pacific remains little changed from historic trends. Source: Hays Index
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.
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).
The OECD in its September Interim Economic Outlook commented 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.
Source: Monthly Economic Review: New Zealand Parliamentary Library
In 1894 New Zealand made history by being the first developed nation to introduce a minimum wage. The Economist had an article on minimum wages and the fact that they might in fact be good for an economy. Most economists believe that a higher minimum wages = the artificial increase in labour costs and therefore lower demand for labour.
Some economists have suggested that minimum wages can increase employment and obviously pay. However if employees have monopsony power as buyers of labour and are able to influence wages they can keep the wages lower below its competitive rate – see graph below.
Two economists (David Carr & Kruegger) found out in New Jersey that when the minimum wage was raised employment in fast-food restaurants actually increased. The Economist suggests that if firms are not reducing the number of their employees with higher minimum wages they must be employing a number of strategies such as raising prices of their goods/services or saving money from reduced revenue. The IMF state that a moderate minimum wage (30-40% of the median wage – see graph) doesn’t have a significant negative effect on employment numbers and may do some good.
Monopsony in the Labour Market
A monopsony occurs in the labour market when there is a single or dominant buyer of labour. The buyer therefore is able to determine the price at which is paid for services. Unlike other examples we have looked at, in this situation we are now dealing with an imperfect rather than a perfectly competitive market. The monopsonist will hire workers where:
Marginal Cost of labour (MCL) = Marginal Revenue product of labour (MRPL)
From the perspective of the monopsonist firm facing the supply curve directly, if at any point it wants to hire more labour, it has to offer a higher wage to encourage more workers to join the market – after all, this is what the ACL curve tells it. However, the firm would then have to pay that higher wage to all its workers so the marginal cost of hiring the extra worker is not just the wage paid to that worker, but the increased wage paid to all workers as well. So the marginal cost of labour curve (MCL) can be added to the diagram.
If the monopsonist firm wants to maximise profit, it will hire labour up to the point where the marginal cost of labour is equal to the marginal revenue product of labour. Therefore it will use labour up to level of Eq which is where MCL=MRPL. In order to entice workers to supply this amount of labour, the firm need pay only the wage Wq. (Remember that ACL is the supply of labour). You can see, therefore, that a profit-maximising monopsonist will use less labour, and pay a lower wage, than a firm operating under perfect competition.
In this situation the power of the employer in the labour market is of overriding importance and the employer can set a low wage because of this buying power.