Jan 13 2012

## Planet Money answers the question: “What is GDP?”

The folks at my favorite podcast, NPR’s Planet Money, recently produced a five minute video answering the questions, “What is GDP?”. This could be a good resource when introducing the topic to high school students:

Sep 30 2011

## Lesson Plan: Macroeconomic Indicators around the World

Directions: Macroeconomics is an area of study with precise goals attached to it. Macroeconomists generally agree that there are three primary goals towards which policies should be used to try and achieve:

Understanding the indicators used in macroeconomics to measure the success in these three areas is important. In the activity that follows, you will research, define, and explain the various types of inflation, unemployment and economic growth. You will also research and record examples of these indicators from several countries. Finally, you will investigate your OWN country, and determine what precisely makes up the total amount of economic activity in your country.

Part 1: Using your notes and your textbook (Welker’s chapters 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15), answer the following questions. Most of the country data you are asked to find can be found in the CIA World Factbook.

Define and explain the various types of each of the following:

1. Define inflation [2 marks]
1. Type 1 [1 mark]:
2. Type 2 [1 mark]:
3. Research and identify the current inflation rates in [3 marks]:
• Switzerland
• China
• United States
2. Define unemployment [2 marks]
1. Type 1 [1 mark]:
2. Type 2 [1 mark]:
3. Type 3 [1 mark]:
4. Research and identify the current unemployment rates in [3 marks]:
• The UK
• Germany
• Spain
3. Define Full Employment [2 marks]
4. Define economic growth and illustrate the concept of growth using a production possibilities curve [4 marks]
1. Research and identify the most recent GDP growth rates in
• Nigeria
• Greece
• Japan

Part 2:

1. Identify the four components of a nation’s aggregate demand and briefly explain two factors that affect each of the four components (this can be found in Welker’s chapter 12) [10 marks]
2. Research and identify the main macroeconomic indicators for your home country. Enter the information you find into THIS ONLINE FORM, and click submit when you’re done.
• From the CIA World Factbook you should be able to discover your country’s main macroeconomic indicators (GDP, GDP per capita, inflation rate
• Using the Eurostat website, you can find out what percentage of your country’s GDP is made up of government spending.
• If you are not from a European country, you may have to do a little more investigation to find the percentage of GDP made up of government spending.

Part 3: The Results : You can view the results of the form by clicking HERE

Discussion Questions:

1. Which of the countries appear to be doing the BEST job of meeting their macroeconomic objectives of low unemployment, low inflation and economic growth?
2. Which countries appear to be doing the WORST at meeting their macroeconomic objectives?
3. Which countries have the highest GDP growth rates? What do the highest growth countries have in common? What is different about them?
4. Which countries have the lowest unemployment rates? What do these countries have in common?
5. Which country experienced a recession in 2010? Discuss the possible relationship between economic growth and unemployment?

Nov 24 2008

## The Multiplier Effect as it applies to the Obama camp’s fiscal stimulus proposal

Below is the explanation of the “Multiplier effect” from our class wiki, as explained by my Econ students:

• The multiplier effect shows that an initial change in spending can cause a larger change in national income and output.
• The multiplier determines how much larger that change will be; it is the ratio of a change in GDP to the initial change in spending.
• It measures the effect that any change in expenditure (Investment, Government spending, Consumption, or Net exports) will have on GDP

Multiplier = 1/(1-MPC) = 1/MPS
Multiplier = change in real GDP/ initial change in spending
Change in GDP = mutlplier x the initial change in spending

Rationale: The multiplier is explained based on the following facts:

• The economy supports repetitive, continuous flows of expenditures and income
• Any change in income will vary both consumption and saving in the same direction as, and by a fraction of, the change in income
• Initial change in spending will set off a spending chain throughout the economy
• Chain of spending, although of diminishing importance at each successive step, will accumulate and result in a multiple change in GDP

Harvard Economist Gregory Mankiw has applied the concept of the spending multiplier to the proposal coming from Barack Obama’s economic transition team to inject as much as \$700 billion of goverment spending into the economy to stimulate aggregate demand and help America escape its recession. Mankiw quotes today’s Washington Post:

Facing an increasingly ominous economic outlook, President-elect Barack Obama and other Democrats are rapidly ratcheting up plans for a massive fiscal stimulus program that could total as much as \$700 billion over the next two years….Obama has set a goal of creating or preserving 2.5 million jobs by 2011.

Mankiw, the Econ teacher that he is, applies the basic formula for the Spending Multiplier to the numbers coming from the Obama camp, and finds the following:

Dividing one number by the other, that (the \$700b of government spending) works out to \$280,000 per job.

What is going on here? Logically, it must be one of three possibilities:

1. The fiscal stimulus is going to be much smaller than is being reported.
2. The new administration is setting a low bar for itself when it comes to job creation.
3. The Obama team believes in very small fiscal policy multipliers.

Let me amplify the last point. The average weekly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers is about \$600, or about \$60,000 over a two-year period. Granted, labor income is only about two-thirds of national income, and we have to add a few supervisors into the mix.

So let’s say each job created means \$100,000 of extra national income. If we are generating \$100,000 of income with \$280,000 of government spending, the multiplier is only 100/280, or 0.36. Traditional Keynesian models suggest a multiplier closer to 2.0.

What Mankiw has found, using simple economic analysis understood by anyone who has studied AP or IB Economics, is that if we believe in the numbers given by the Obama camp itself, then government spending package of \$700 billion will result in roughly \$250 billion of new income for the nation.

How did we find this? Simply by applying the forumula given on our wiki above: Multiplier = change in real GDP/ initial change in spending, and plugging in the numbers calculated by Mankiw:

• Multiplier = 0.36.
• Change in spending = \$700b.
• Therefore, the change in national income (or GDP) equals \$700b x 0.36 = \$252 billion

Perhaps Mr. Obama needs to consider the basic economic principle of the Spending Multiplier before he goes around throwing out numbers about the jobs that will be created or preserved from a new fiscal stimulus package. Clearly, 2.5 million jobs grossing an average of \$100,000 each over two years, while SOUNDING good, in reality represents a truly unbelievable squandering of wealth and income by the US government.

May 26 2008

## It may not be a recession, but it sure feels like one…

FT.com / Columnists / Wolfgang Munchau – Inflation and the lessons of the 1970s

It seem that everyone’s speculating about the US economy today. Recession or no recession, that is the question. The economy has even surpassed the Iraq War as the number one issue in the US presidential race! John McCain, who has publicly admitted that economics is not his strong suit, may just find himself in trouble in a general election where the most important concern among voters is the economic situation.

So what IS that situation, anyway? Is the US in a recession? In other words, has real gross domestic, or total output in the US economy, actually declined over the last six months? Technically, the answer is no. My fellow blogger, Steve Latter, explains this clearly here. What is true, on the other hand, is that the current situation shares many similarities to the global economic slowdown that did occur in the 1970s.

In 1973 OPEC, the newly formed oil cartel consisting at the time of only Arab states, reduced its output of oil and cut off exports to the United States in response to US support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War, in which the Israelis officially occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza and seized the Golan Heights from the sovereign nation of Syria. To punish the US for its position on this conflict, OPEC cut off supplies of oil to the west, driving gas and energy prices upwards by 70%, triggering a supply shock characterized by a decline in total output and an increase in both unemployment and inflation, a phenomenon known as stagflation: a macroeconomic policy maker’s worst nightmare.

Recently the world has seen a similar (albeit of a different cause) rise in the price of oil and energy prices. Today the rise in energy prices is driven primarily by rising demand, rather than reduced supply (since the 1970s the OPEC cartel has grown to include many non-Arab nations, making it harder to achieve collusion to restrict output and drive up oil prices). Global demand for oil has risen steadily, driven ever higher due to rapid growth in China and other developing nations, and exacerbated by the falling value of the dollar, the currency in which oil prices are denominated.

The supply shocks of today have combined with falling aggregate demand in the US due to weak consumer spending to slow real growth rates to nearlry 0%. So technically, the US has avoided a recession, but the effect on American workers and consumers may be just as painful as the real recession of the 1970s. In order to prevent the “r” word from becoming a reality today, central banks (including the US Fed) have eased money supplies, lowering interest rates, fueling even greater increases in the price level.

…the global weighted average inflation rate will be 5.4 per cent this year, while the global money market interest rate is currently only 4.3 per cent. This means that global short-term real interest rates are negative – at a time when inflation is rapidly accelerating. As monetary policy has been excessively accommodating for more than a decade, inflationary pressures have built up in the global economy.

Central bankers like Ben Bernanke have to make tough decisions sometimes, weighing the trade-off between unemployment and inflation, and determining their monetary policies based on whatever they deem to be the “lesser of two evils”. Rising energy prices have forced firms to cut either cut back their production and raise the price of their products, both actions that result in less overall spending and output in the economy. Falling house prices have led consumers to cut back their own spending, further reducing demand for firms’ output. These factors have all pushed the unemployment rate from around 4.8% a year ago to 5.1% today, which combined with an estimated additional 3-5% of American workers having dropped out of the workforce, (referred to by the Department of Labor as “discouraged workers”) paints a pretty ugly picture of the reality for the American worker today.

The harsh reality of the weak labor market has led Mr. Bernanke and the Fed to pursue an expansionary monetary policy aimed at avoiding further increases in the unemployment rate and decreases in the GDP growth rate. Expansionary monetary policy means lower interest rates, with the goal being increased consumption and investment, both factors that could worsen the inflation problem already experienced thanks to the global supply shock. Evidence indicates that the inflation problem, even in the US where slow growth usually leads to lower price levels, is not going away:

In the US, a survey-based measure of inflationary expectations recently showed an increase to more than 5 per cent. I would estimate there are now several hundred basis points of difference between the current Fed funds rate and an interest rate that would be consistent with price stability in the medium term.

…meaning the Fed, in its attempt to avoid recession and rising unemployment, has created a condition where real interest rates are actually negative, a highly inflationary condition. All this wouldn’t be so bad if wages in the US were rising along with the price level. This however, does not appear to be happening:

The main difference between the situation in the 1970s and now is today’s absence of wage inflation, which explains why absolute inflation rates are a little more moderate. I guess this is probably because of some combination of deregulated labour markets and globalisation. But the lack of wage-push inflation is not necessarily good news. Falling real wages mean falling disposable income and tighter credit conditions mean less borrowing for consumption.

Rising prices for energy, transportation and food have put American households in a tough situation. In the past, periods of inflation have often been characterized by rising wages, meaning the full brunt of nominal price level increases was not entirely born by the American worker. Today, on the other hand, a recession has thus far been avoided, but the combination of record numbers of “discouraged workers”, rising unemployment and inflation may make the pain of our current economic situation just as real as recessions of the past.

In the words of billionaire investor and economic sage Warren Buffett just today:

“I believe that we are already in a recession… Perhaps not in the sense as defined by economists. … But people are already feeling the effects of a recession.”

“It will be deeper and longer than what many think,” he added.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is the difference between nominal and real GDP? Which must decline in order for the economy to be in a recession?
2. What impact do rising energy prices have on the behavior of individual firms?
3. Why are low interest rates likely to make the inflation problem even worse?

Mar 09 2008

## Unemployment and inflation: understanding the Fed’s balancing act

Job losses worst in five years – Mar. 7, 2008

The news late last week out of Washington was not what the White House was hoping for only a couple of weeks after the passing of a fiscal stimulus package meant to achieve exactly the opposite of what has happened. The US Labor Department released its latest numbers on employment on Friday:

There was a net loss of 63,000 jobs, which is the biggest decline since March 2003 and weaker than the revised 22,000 jobs lost in January. Economists had forecast a gain of 25,000 jobs…

“Based on today’s Employment Report, if we are not in a recession, it is a darned good imitation of one,” said Kevin Giddis, managing director of fixed income at Morgan Keegan.

So with a net loss of jobs, it may seem weird to hear that unemployment has actually fallen from 4.9% to 4.8%. How is this possible? In this case lower unemployment may indicate an even worse reality for the American economy:

The unemployment rate fell because of an increase of 450,000 people whom the government no longer counts as being part of the labor force for a variety of factors, such as that they are not currently looking for work. That drop in the size of the labor force allowed for the modest decline in unemployment, even as the household survey showed 255,000 fewer Americans with jobs than in January.

Discouraged workers point to a deep pessimism underlying households and workers in America, indicating that if we’re not already in a recession, it is only a matter of time. With the apparent failure of fiscal policy at achieving any immediate turnaround in consumer confidence, all eye’s are now on the Fed, America’s central bank, to see how Ben Bernanke will respond to the latest round of bad news.

“Even the silver lining of a falling unemployment rate has a little rust,” said Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research. He predicted that the central bank will cut rates by a half percentage point at both its March meeting and again on April 30.

But Yamarone and some other experts questioned whether additional Fed cuts would do much to improve the employment outlook.

“We’re not in a crisis because the cost of borrowing is too high, it’s because people are afraid of lending,” said Dan Alpert, managing director of Westwood Capital, referring to the ongoing credit crunch. “At the end of the day, the Fed cuts don’t really solve the problems. They’ve already cut allot; if jobs continue to decline in face of further interest rate cuts, it’s prima facie evidence cuts aren’t effective.”

But few experts were ready to suggest the Fed would stop cutting rates at this point, given the problems in the economy and financial markets.

“The Fed has to do what it can to provide remedy and not scare the market as well,” said Mike Materasso, a senior portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton.

Central bankers face difficult decisions in times like these. While unemployment and falling growth rates pose significant problems to the American economy, the third macroeconomic evil is certainly in the minds of policymakers when deciding how to deal with the first two: inflation.

In order to lower interest rates, the Fed first has to implement expansionary monetary policy. In other words, the central bank must increase America’s money supply. How does it do this, exactly? Most commonly, the Fed uses open market operations, which is a fancy way of saying the Fed buys and sells government securities (treasury notes, bonds, etc…) on the bond market. When the Fed wishes to lower interest rates, it must inject new money into the economy, which it does by buying government bonds from the holders of those securities; namely, the public.

American banks, households, and firms, as well as foreigners all hold government debt. When the Fed wants to expand the money supply, it simply starts buying these debt securities back from the public. The increase in demand for securities drives up their prices, encouraging holders of the debt to sell their securities to the Fed, for which they receive money in exchange. In effect, the public exchanges illiquid (unspendable) debt certificates for liquid money. Now consumers have more money in their pockets to spend, firms have more to invest, and banks have more to loan out to borrowers who want to spend and invest. How do banks get rid of their new liquidity? Yep, they lower their interest rates.

In a nutshell, that’s how monetary policy works. To combat a recession and rising unemployment, the Fed simply buys bonds on the open market, injecting liquidity into the economy, which should result in more borrowing and more spending, shifting aggregate demand out, leading to growth and rising employment.

But what about that third evil, inflation? Won’t more spending lead to demand pull inflation? Usually this is not a major concern in times of a slowdown, since rising unemployment indicates the economy is producing below its full employment level of output. Expanding aggregate demand should result in increased output and stable prices. Today, however, Americans are facing other inflationary pressures, including a historically weak dollar (meaning imported goods and raw materials are more expensive than ever), and skyrocketing food and energy prices due to rising global demand for such commodities.

This all makes the job of monetary policy exceptionally challenging for Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues at the Fed. Expand the money supply too much (i.e. lower interest rates too much) and you risk accellerating inflation. Keep rates too high, and we can expect even worse employment and output numbers in the next few months.

Next »

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