Note: This post was originally published in August of 2010. It is being reposted today to support a lesson on fiscal policy in my year 2 IB Economics class.
In the seemingly endless and currently ongoing debate over the role of the government in the macroeconomy, there are two main camps: Those who think the governments of the developed economies have not done enough to get their economies out of recession, and those who think they have already done too much, and therefore need to start rolling back stimulus and reducing deficits.
At the heart of this debate are the two macroeconomic schools of thought, the Keynesian demand-side theories and the classical, supply-side theories. Two intellectuals have emerged in the last several years representing the two sides of the macroeconomic debate. On the demand-side, representing the Keynesian school of thought, is 2008 Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Representing the classical, supply-side school of thought is Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson. These two have squared off in many forums over the last three years, Krugman arguing for more and continued fiscal stimulus to prop up and increase demand in the economy, Ferguson arguing for smaller deficits, lower taxes and less government spending to increase private sector confidence and thereby supply in the economy.
During our long summer break the two squared off once again in the aftermath of a G20 meeting in which the governments of several major economies from Europe and North America announced plans to begin rolling back the stimulus spending they embarked on throughout 2008 and 2009. The reason for increased “austerity measures” (policies that reduce the budget deficit and slow the growth of national debt), argue global leaders, is to reduce the chances of more countries experiencing debt crises like that experienced in Greece this spring.
International investors realized earlier this year that Greece's budget deficits were a much larger percentage of its GDP than previously thought, and very quickly decided that Greek government bonds were an unsafe investment. Almost overnight the cost of borrowing in Greece shot up above 20%, bringing investment in the economy to a halt and forcing the government to cut its budget, leading to higher unemployment and reduced social benefits for the people of Greece. If investors were to look at the growing budget deficits in other developed countries and then suddenly lose faith in other government's ability to pay back their debts, then a similar crisis could occur in much larger economies, including the UK, Germany and the United States. Hence these country's apparent desire to begin reducing deficits and rolling back stimulus spending; measures that may just plunge these economies into an even deeper recession than that which they have experienced over the last two years.
The videos below show the leading intellectuals on both sides of the stimulus/austerity debate presenting their arguments. Below each video are discussion questions to help guide your understanding of their views. Watch the videos and respond to the discussion questions in the comment section below.
On February 6 my IB year 2 Economics classes welcomed Dr. Irene Forichi, former Research Officer for Zimbabwe's Ministry of Agriculture, and former Regional Emergency Agronomist for the Food and Agriculture Organization for Southern Africa. Dr. Forichi spoke with our classes about the role of agricultural productivity in contributing to human development and economic growth in Southern Africa.
For students or teachers who are interested, she delivered an excellent presentation about the agriculture-related obstacles to and strategies for economic development in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Her presentation can be viewed here, or the PowerPoint she presented can be viewed below.
As we study economic development in year 2 IB Economics, we examine different models for economic growth. Growth in GDP is not the only determinant of economic development, which in order to be measured effectively must account for human welfare determinants such as life expectancy, literacy rates, child mortality rates, distribution of income, and so on. However, it has been shown throughout history that economic growth, or the increase in real output and income, correlates directly with improvements in development factors like those above.
The reason? Increases in national income usually mean at least some levels of improvement in access to basic necessities for the average citizen in a developing country. Also, higher incomes mean more savings, which means greater access to capital for investment by entrepreneurs. More investment leads to greater productivity and rising incomes for those who join the emerging industrial and service sectors that usually accompany economic growth. Furthermore, rising incomes mean more tax revenue for governments, whose spending on public goods like education, health care, and infrastructure result in real improvements in standard of living for not just the emerging upper and middle classes, but the poor as well.
Of course, the following models can be observed to varying degrees among the world's developing economies today. Some of these models will fail to play out if the institutional and political environment fails to create a stable atmosphere for savings and investment. What you should notice, however, is the underlying importance of savings in all three models. Poor countries suffering from low savings and, even worse, capital flight, are doomed to a cycle of poverty, where funds for investment leading to productivity increases are never made available due to instable institutions like banking and politics. To put a poor country on a path towards economic growth and development, a strategy is needed. Such strategies will be covered in a later post. For now, let's look at the models:
Harrod-Domar Growth Model:
The model suggests that the economy's rate of growth depends on:
the level of saving
the productivity of investment i.e. the capital output ratio
The Harrod-Domar model was developed to help analyse the business cycle. However, it was later adapted to 'explain' economic growth. It concluded that:
Economic growth depends on the amount of labour and capital.
As LDCs often have an abundant supply of labour it is a lack of physical capital that holds back economic growth and development.
More physical capital generates economic growth.
Net investment leads to more capital accumulation, which generates higher output and income.
Higher income allows higher levels of saving.
Lewis Structural Change (dual-sector) Model:
Many LDCs have dual economies:
The traditional agricultural sector was assumed to be of a subsistence nature characterised by low productivity, low incomes, low savings and considerable underemployment.
The industrial sector was assumed to be technologically advanced with high levels of investment operating in an urban environment.
Lewis suggested that the modern industrial sector would attract workers from the rural areas.
Industrial firms, whether private or publicly owned could offer wages that would guarantee a higher quality of life than remaining in the rural areas could provide.
Furthermore, as the level of labour productivity was so low in traditional agricultural areas people leaving the rural areas would have virtually no impact on output.
Indeed, the amount of food available to the remaining villagers would increase as the same amount of food could be shared amongst fewer people. This might generate a surplus which could them be sold generating income.
Those people that moved away from the villages to the towns would earn increased incomes:
Higher incomes generate more savings.
Increased savings meant more fund available for investment.
Increased investment meant more capital and increased productivity in the industrial sector, higher wages, more incentive to move from low productivity agriculture to high productivity industry, the circle continues…
Rostow's Model – the 5 Stages of Economic Development:
In 1960, the American Economic Historian, WW Rostow suggested that countries passed through five stages of economic development.
According to Rostow development requires substantial investment in capital. For the economies of LDCs to grow the right conditions for such investment would have to be created. If aid is given or foreign direct investment occurs at stage 3 the economy needs to have reached stage 2. If the stage 2 has been reached then injections of investment may lead to rapid growth.
The most important graph used in Macroeconomics today is almost certainly the Aggregate Demand / Aggregate Supply (AD/AS) model. This graph can be used to illustrate most macroeconomic indicators, including those objectives that policymakers are most interested in achieving:
The AD/AS model, on its surface, is a very simple diagram, showing the total, or aggregate demand for a nation's output and the total, or aggregatesupply of goods and services produces in a nation. It is very similar to the microeconomics supply and demand diagram, except that instead of comparing the quantity of a particular good to the price in the market, the AD/AS model plots the national output (Y) against the average price level (PL). The model shows an inverse relationship between aggregate and price level, and a direct relationship between aggregate supply and price levels.
What makes this seemingly simple model so interesting, however, is that there are two wildly different opinions among economists on one of the its two primary components. Some economists, whom we shall refer to as Keynesians, believe that the AS curve is horizontal whenever aggregate demand decreases, and vertical whenever AD increases beyond the full employment level of output. On the other side of this debate is whom we shall refer to as the Hayekians who believe that AS is vertical, regardless of the level of demand in the nation. The two views of AS can be illustrated as follows.
Underlying the two models above are very different ideas about a nation's economy. The Keynesian AS curve implies that anything that leads to a fall in a nation's aggregate demand (either household consumption, investment by firms, government spending or net exports) will cause a relatively mild fall in prices in the economy but a significant decline in the real GDP (or the total output and employment in the nation). The neo-classical AS curve, on the other hand, being vertical (or perfectly inelastic), implies that no matter what happens to AD, the nation's output and employment will always remain at the full employment level (Yfe).
Behind these two models of AS are two schools of economic thought, one rooted in Keynesian theories and one rooted in the theories of an intellectual rival and contemporary of John Maynard Keynes', Friedrich Hayek. Keynes and Hayek were the most pre-eminent economists of their era. Both lived in the first half of the 20th century, and rose to prominence in between the two World Wars. Both economists saw the world fall into the Great Depression, but each of them formulated their own distinct theory on the best way to deal with the Depression. The episode of Planet Money below goes into some detail about the lives and the theories of these to most influential economists.
Keynes believed in what we today call demand-management. The idea that through well planned economic policies, governments and central banks could intervene in a nation's economy during periods of economic downturn to return the economy to its full-employment level, or the level of output the nation would be producing at if everyone who was willing and able to work was actually working. Keynes believed that aggregate demand was the most vital measure of economic activity in a nation, and that through its use of fiscal and monetary policies (changes in the tax rates, the levels of government spending, and the interest rates in the economy), the government and central bank could provide stimulus to a depressed economy and create demand for the nation's resources that would help move a depressed economy back towards full employment.
Hayek and his disciples, on the other hand (sometimes referred to today as the supply-siders) had a different interpretation of the macroeconomy. Hayek was what many today refer to as a libertarian. He believed that the government's best strategy for handling an economic downturn was to get out of the way. Any attempt by the government to influence the allocation of resources through “stimulus projects” would only reduce the private sector's ability to quickly and efficienty correct itself. The free market, argued Hayek, was always superior to the government when it came to allocating resources towards the production of the goods and services consumers demanded, so why allow government to intervene in the economy at all. All a government should do, argued Hayek, was provide a few basic guidelines to allow the economy to function. A legal system of property rights, for instance. The government need not provide anything else. The free market would take care of health care, education, defense, security, infrastructure, and anything else the market demanded.
During depressions, Hayek believed that government could only make things worse by trying to intervene to restore full employment. At any and all times, government's best action would be to lower taxes, reduce its spending on goods and services, and thereby encourage private entrepreneurs to provide the nation's households with the output they demand. Any regulation of the private sector, including minimum wages, environmental regulations, workplace safety laws, government pensions, unemployment benefits, welfare payments, or any other measures by government to redistribute wealth or promote equality or social welfare would reduce incentives for individuals in society to achieve their full productivity and strive to maximize their potential output. By minimizing the government's role in the economy, argued Hayek, a nation would be likely to recover swiftly from a 1930′s style Depression, and output can be maintained at a level that corresponds with full employment of the nation's resources.
The graphs below show how the two competing ideologies view the effects of a fall in aggregate demand in the economy.
On the left we see the Keynesian model, which shows output (real GDP) falling with a fall in AD. The fall in output corresponds with a fall in employment, and therefore a recession (or Depression). To return to full employment, aggregate demand must move back to the right (or increase). To facilitate this, Keynes and his contemporaries believed that government should increase its spending, decrease taxes (to encourage households and firms to spend) and lower interest rates (to make saving less appealing). All that is needed, say the Keynesians, is a dose of stimulus to get back to full employment (Yfe).
In the Hayekian model, no government intervention is needed at all when aggregate demand falls. In fact, in an economy with very limited government, a fall in AD will have little or no effect on output and employment. Without minimum wages or laws making it difficult or expensive for firms to reduce wages or fire and hire workers, firms faced with falling demand will simply lower their employees' wages and reduce the prices of their products to maintain their output. If there is no more demand for some products, those firms will shut down and their workers will go to work for firms whose products are still in demand, at whatever wage rate the market is offering. Wages and prices are perfectly flexible in the Hayekian view, because there is no government interfering, demanding workers for big government projects, competing wages up, enforcing a minimum wage, or paying unemployment benefits to those out of work: all policies that make it difficult for wages to adjust downwards during a recession. Without government intervention, wages and prices rise and fall with the level of demand in the economy, but output remains constant at its full employment level.
The two models could not be more different. In one (Keynes') recessions will occur anytime demand falls below the level needed to maintain full employment. In the other (Hayek's), recessions are impossible as long as government gets out (and stays out) of the way.
Which models is the right model? For most of the last 100 years, most Western economies have demonstrated more of the characteristics of the Keynesian model. As the last several years show, recessions certainly are possible. Wages and prices have NOT fallen as much as Hayek's model suggest they should, and economic output has declined in many Western nations and remains below the levels achieved in 2007 in many places. Most economists would argue that this prolonged recession is likely due to a weak level of aggregate demand. And the economic policies of many Western nations have reflected the Keynesian belief that government can “fix the problem” through stimulus plans involving tax cuts, spending increases, and low interest rates.
But two years of Keynesian policies are now being reversed. US President Obama's latest attempt at a Keynesian-style stimulus (his $447 billion “American Jobs Act”) has been rejected by the US Congress. Across Europe, government spending is being slashed and taxes are being raised, both policies that threaten to further reduce aggregate demand. Deregulation is the battle cry of the Republican Party in the United States one year before the next presidential election. Presidential candidates are promising to “cut taxes, cut spending and cut government”, which sounds like a Hayekian battle cry. Less government will lead to more competition, greater efficiency, more employment and a stronger economy, goes the thinking. Government cannot solve our problems, government is our problem.
This debate is not a new one. It has been going on since the 1930s when two scholars, one an Englishman from Cambridge, the other an Austrian at the London School of Economics, went toe to toe on the role of government in a nation's economy. The two models of aggregate supply above survive to this day, and 80 years later, in the midst of what may be the second Great Depression, economists and politicians still haven't figured out which theory is correct. Part of our problem is that in our Western democracies in which economic policies are determined by politicians who are often only in office for two to four years, we have not had the opportunity to truly put either economic theory to the test. Less than three years ago Barack Obama, freshly elected, embarked on the greatest experiment in Keynesianism since Franklin Roosevelt's “New Deal”, which was widely credited with getting the US out of the Depression. Now, with another election looming, we have politicians promising to bring America back to economic prosperity in a truly Hayekian fashion, by “cutting, cutting and cutting”.
Sometimes when I read the news, I wonder what it would be like to NOT understand basic economics, and then I realize how much of what goes on around us can be explained by two simple concepts: demand and supply. The NPR story below talks about how the construction of two proposed coal exporting facilities on America's west coast could, indirectly, lead to a greener future for America. Listen to the story then read on for more analysis:
China, already the world's largest coal consumer, continues to build new coal burning electricity plants at an alarming rate. Its appetite for the “black gold” has driven the world price up to $100 per ton, as it has demanded increasing quantities from its own coal producers, but also those in other coal rich areas like Australia and the United States.
However, because of America's lack of coal transporting and shipping infrastructure, US coal producers have been unable to sell their abundant coal to the Chinese, who are willing to pay 500% the equilibrium price in the US. The US market has remained isolated from the world market, not due to any explicit, government-imposed barriers to trade, rather due to fact that they simply can't get their coal to the Chinese energy producers who demand it most.
Graphically, this situation can be illustrated as follows:
If the export facilities on the West coast of the US are not constructed, it will remain difficult for US coal producers to sell their output to China at the high price of $100, and the domestic quantity (Q2) will continue to be produced and sold for $20 per ton. But with the new port facilities, US energy producers will now have to compete with Chinese energy producers for American coal, and the US price will be driven up to the world price, since demand now includes thousands of Chinese coal-fired power plants. As the price rises from $20 to $100, the domestic quantity demanded in the US will fall to Q1, as domestic energy producers seek alternative sources of energy, switching instead gas, solar, or wind power.
The irony is that through increasing the ease with which American coal producers can sell their product to China, the US may reduce its own consumption of coal and its emissions of greenhouse gasses. Overall coal production in the US will rise with increased trade, but overall consumption within the US will fall.
Now, this may sound great if you're the kind of person who thinks only locally. Air pollution will be reduced in the US, health will be improved, our electricity production will be greener and more sustainable. But globally, by making its coal available to China, the US market will contribute to the continued dependence on carbon-intensive energy production, and delay any progress among Chinese energy producers towards a transisttion to greener fuel sources.
The podcast also points out the fact that if the US did undertake the construction of the new coal-exporting facilities, it could be that the current high price of coal will have led to the entrence of several other large coal prodcuing countries into the world market, reducing China's demand for US coal, reducing the price at which American producers can sell to China and thereby off-setting any domestic environmental benefit that may have resulted from the large decrease in quantity demanded among US producers at the current price of $100 per ton.
The whole conversation about the coal industry is somewhat depressing when the environmental costs of the industry are considered. Another NPR show, Planet Money, ran a story this week about the “gross external damages” caused by the production of coal-powered electricity.
They cited a study which found that the damages caused by coal to human health and the environment outweight the benefits enjoyed by society from the generation of cheap electricity by around $10 billion in the United States alone. This means that if the US shut down every coal-powered energy plant in the country immediately, total welfare in the US would increase by $10 billion. There's no doubt that energy prices would rise, but the gains in human and environmental health would outweight the added costs of electricity generation by $10 billion. If a similar analysis were undertakein in China, I would guess the potential welfare gain of transitioning to alternative energies would be far greater for the Chinese people.
Here's the chart from Planet Money's blog showing the net welfare loss of coal-generated electricity and other economic activities in the United States.
*GED = Gross external damages from pollution
Notice that although generating electricity by burning coal adds nearly $25 billion of value to America's economy, its negative environmental externalities create nearly $35 billion in damage to the US economy. The net effect of using coal to make electricity, therefore, is around -$10 billion. America would be better off without coal-generated electricity, if we include environmental and health factors in our measure of well-being. Unfortunately, the negative environmental and health costs of coal-electricity generation are currently externalized by the industry, indicating that this industry may be experiencing a market failure.
How would the construction of two coal-exporting facilities on America's West coast ultimately lead to a cleaner environment in the United States? Do you think this prediction is realistic?
Who stands to gain the most if the coal-exporting facilities are constructed? Who would suffer? In your opinion, should the facilities be constructed? Why or why not?
Interpret the colorful diagram above. What do the green bars represent? What do the yellow and red bars represent? According to the graphic, which type of activity is most harmful to American society? How do you know?
True, false, or uncertain. Explain your reasoning. “The burning of coal to make electricity should be completely banned in China, since China is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter.”
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:
Define inflation[2 marks]
Type 1 [1 mark]:
Type 2 [1 mark]:
Research and identify the current inflation rates in [3 marks]:
Define unemployment [2 marks]
Type 1 [1 mark]:
Type 2 [1 mark]:
Type 3 [1 mark]:
Research and identify the current unemployment rates in [3 marks]:
Harvard Economist Niall Ferguson appeared on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria over the weekend. Ferguson has stood out among mainstream economists lately in his opposition to the US fiscal stimulus package, an $880 billion experiment in expansionary Keynesian policy. While economists like Paul Krugman argue that Obama's plan is not big enough to fill America's “recessionary gap”, Ferguson warns that the long-run effects of current and future US budget deficits could lead the US towards economic collapse. This blog post will attempt to explain Ferguson's views in a way that high school economics students can understand.
Government spending in the US is projected to exceed tax revenues by $1.9 trillion this year, and trillions more over the next four years. An excess of spending beyond tax revenue is known as a budget deficit, and must be paid for by government borrowing. Where does the government get the funds to finance its deficits? The bondmarket. The core of Ferguson's concerns about the future stability of the United States economy is the situation in the market for US government bonds. According to Ferguson:
One consequence of this crisis has been an enormous explosion in government borrowing, and the US federal deficit… is going to be equivelant to 1.9 trillion dollars this year alone, which is equivelant to nearly 13% of GDP… this is an excessively large deficit, it can't all be attributed to stimulus, and there's a problem. The problem is that the bond market… is staring at an incoming tidal wave of new issuance… so the price of 10-year treasuries, the standard benchmark government bond… has taken quite a tumble in the past year, so long-term interest rates, as a result, have gone up by quite a lot. That poses a problem, since part of the project in the mind of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is to keep interest rates down“
There's a lot of information in Ferguson's statements above. To better understand him, some graphs could come in handy. Below is a graphical representation of the US bond market, which is where the US government supplies bonds, which are purchased by the public, commercial banks, and foreigners. Keep in mind, the demanders of US bonds are the lenders to the US government, which is the borrower. The price of a bond represents the amount the government receives from its lenders from the issuance of a new bond certificate. The yield on a bond represents the interest the lender receives from the government. The lower the price of a bond, the higher the yield, the more attractive bonds are to investors. Additionally, the lower the price of bonds, the greater the yield, thus the greater the amount of interest the US government must pay to attract new lenders.
Ferguson says that the price of US bonds has “taken a tumble”. The increase of supply has lowered bond prices, increasing their attractiveness to investors who earn higher interest on the now cheaper bonds. Below we can see the impact of an increase in the quantity demanded for government bonds on the market for private investment.
But crowding out is not Ferguson's only concern. The increase in interest rates caused by the US government's issuance of new bonds could lead to a decrease in private investment in the US economy, inhibiting the nation's long-run growth potential. But the bigger concern is one of America's long-run economic stability. If the Obama administration does not put forth a viable plan for balancing its budget very soon, the demand for US government bonds could fall, which would further excacerbate the crowding-out effect, and eliminate the country's ability to finance its government activities. In other words, such a loss of faith could plunge the United States into bankruptcy.
Fareed Zakaria asks Ferguson:
“Is it fair to say that this bad news, the fact that we can't sell our debt as cheaply as we thought, overshadows all the good news that seems to be coming?”
The green shoots that are out there (referring to the phrase economists and politicians have been using to describe the signs of recovery in the US economy) seem like tiny little weeds in the garden, and what's coming in terms of the fiscal crisis in the United States is a far bigger and far worse story.
Finally Fareed asks the question everyone wants to know:”What the hell do we do?”
One thing that can be done very quickly is for the president to give a speech to the American people and to the world explaining how the administration proposes to achieve stabilization of American public finance… the administration doesn't have that long a honeymoon period, it has very little time in which it can introduce the American public to some harsh realities, particularly about entitlements and how much they are going to cost. If a signal could be sent really soon to the effect that the administration is serious about fiscal stabilization and isn't planning on borrowing another $10 trillion between now and the end of the decade, then just conceivably markets could be reassured.
Ferguson is saying that only if the Obama administration begins taking serious steps towards balancing the US government's budget can it hope to stave off an eventual loss of faith among America's creditors (and thus a fall in demand for US bonds). It will be a while before tax revenues are high enough to finance the US budget. But if the country does not begin working towards such an end immediately, it may find itself unable to raise the funds to pay for such public goods as infrastructure, education, health care, national defense, medical research, as well as the wages of the millions of government employees. In other words, the US government could be bankrupt, and its downfall could mean the end of American economic power.
The power of the bond market should not be underestimated. America's very future depends on continued faith in its financial stability and fiscal responsibility.
Why do you think the US government has such a huge budget deficit this year? ($1.9 trillion) Previously, the largest budget deficit on record was only around $400 billion.
How does the issuance of new bonds by the US government lead to less money being available to private households and firms?
Do you think investors will ever totally lose faith in US government bonds? Why or why not?
In what way is the government's huge budget deficit a “tax on teenagers”? In other words, how will today's teenagers end up suffering because of the federal budget deficit?
To learn more about the power of the bond market, watch Niall Ferguson's documentary, The Ascent of Money. The section on the bond market can be viewed here:
Surprising statistic: In the midst of the worst recession in a generation or more, with 13 million people unemployed, there are approximately 3 million jobs that employers are actively recruiting for but so far have been unable to fill. That's more job openings than the entire population of Mississippi.
Sound like good news? It's not. Instead, it's evidence of an emerging structural shift in the U.S. economy that has created serious mismatches between workers and employers. People thrown out of shrinking sectors such as construction, finance, and retail lack the skills and training for openings in growing fields including education, accounting, health care, and government. At the same time, the worst housing bust in decades has left the unemployed frozen in place. They can't move to get work because they can't sell their homes.
In IB and AP Economics we teach that there are three types of unemployment an economy may experience, ranked roughly in order from the least undesirable to the most undesirable (from a macroeconomic perspective):
Frictional unemployment: This accounts for people who are “in between jobs” or fresh out of college looking for their first jobs.
Structural unemployment: This is caused by the changing structure of an economy. As America's manufacturing sector shrinks and its education and health care sectors grown, those whose skills lie in manufacturing become structurally unemployed.
America today is clearly experiencing all three types, but due to the particular circumstances of the recession, the American worker is finding it it harder than ever to match his skills with an appropriate job. Below are some of the industries with the most and the fewest job openings today:
Energy (such as wind, oil, natural gas)
“Analytics” (i.e. business data analysis by firms such as IBM)
Unfortunately for the large numbers of unemployed construction and factory workers, the kinds of skills required to work in the fields with the most job openings are prohibitively different from those learned in their previous industries. In addition to a mismatch of skills between the industries in which jobs are being lost and those in which labor is in demand, there is also a geographic mismatch in the labor market. Below are the states with the least and the most job openings:
Most job vacancies (states with large energy sectors: oil, natural gas and windmills)
Least job vacancies (states with large manufacturing and construction sectors)
Historically, the geographic factor has not posed an issue to American workers, and when jobs opened up in one part of the country, Americans would pack up and move where necessary to find work. Today, however, with the collapse of house prices, more and more Americans find themselves stuck with a house they can't sell in a part of the country where they can't find a job.
To paraphrase the podcast above, “the US in danger of looking like Europe. The European job market has been described as 'sclerotic'; people don't respond to want ads because of the generous long-term unemployment benefits offered by European governments. Europeans have historically been geographically immobile due to nationalist ties to their home countries.” Today, the US job market reflects some of the same “sclerosis” as that of Europe.
America is facing the perfect storm of unemployment. At the same time that the economy is undergoing its most significant structural change since the Industrial Revolution brought millions of American workers from the farm fields into factories, it is facing the most significant decline in private sector spending (consumption, investment and exports) since the great depression. Put this together with the relative immobility of the American worker caused by the housing crisis, and unemployment has climbed to its highest level in three decades.
This interesting story ends with a glimmer of hope for the American worker:
To fight this sclerosis, the White House is using $3.5 billion of the stimulus for training, while boosting support for community colleges. Classes for factory workers seeking entry-level health-care careers have shown some success.
The truth is, displaced workers may have to move down a few rungs as they switch careers because their skills are irrelevant in their new roles… Many laid-off Wall Street financial engineers still haven't absorbed that, says Fred Wilson, a partner in Union Square Ventures, a New York venture capital firm. “For them to take a job that pays a lot less, they have to make a meaningful change in their lifestyle. And that is an issue.”
Employers need to bend as well, recognizing that the candidates they're seeking may not exist. Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXRoads, a staffing strategy consulting firm in Kendall Park, N.J., tells employers: “You're hiring potential….You've got to train them.”
A mismatch of work and workers is never a good thing. But smart policy—combined with realism on the part of employers and job seekers—can minimize the disruption.
In what way may structural unemployment be a sign of a healthy economy, rather than a sick one?
Part of the Obama stimulus package includes increased benefits for unemployed Americans. How may this pose an obstacle to reducing unemployment in America?
The February 9th edition of the excellent NPR show, Planet Money reported on a letter sent from the director of the Congressional Budget Office to the Senate, forecasting the short-run and long-run macroeconomic effects of the House Stimulus Package.
It turns out the director of the CBO has his own blog on which he published his letter to the Senate. Here are some highlights:
CBO estimates that the Senate legislation would raise output by between 1.4 percent and 4.1 percent by the fourth quarter of 2009; by between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent by the fourth quarter of 2010; and by between 0.4 percent and 1.2 percent by the fourth quarter of 2011. CBO estimates that the legislation would raise employment by 0.9 million to 2.5 million at the end of 2009; 1.3 million to 3.9 million at the end of 2010; and 0.6 million to 1.9 million at the end of 2011…
Most of the budgetary effects of the Senate legislation would occur over the next few years. Even if the fiscal stimulus persisted, however, the short-run effects on output that operate by increasing demand for goods and services would eventually fade away. In the long run, the economy produces close to its potential output on average, and that potential level is determined by the stock of productive capital, the supply of labor, and productivity. Short-run stimulative policies can affect long-run output by influencing those three factors, although such effects would generally be smaller than the short-run impact of those policies on demand.
In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, the Senate legislation would reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates, as would other similar proposals. The principal channel for this effect is that the legislation would result in an increase in government debt. To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to “crowd out” private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy.
The negative effect of crowding out could be offset somewhat by a positive long-term effect on the economy of some provisions—such as funding for infrastructure spending, education programs, and investment incentives, which might increase economic output in the long run. CBO estimated that such provisions account for roughly one-quarter of the legislation’s budgetary cost. Including the effects of both crowding out of private investment (which would reduce output in the long run) and possibly productive government investment (which could increase output), CBO estimates that by 2019 the Senate legislation would reduce GDP by 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent on net.
The fascinating thing about this letter from the Congressional Budget Office to the Senate is that it mentions so many of the Macroeconomic principles we teach in both AP and IB Economics.
The nation's potential output (PPC) is “determined by the stock of productive capital, the supply of labor, and productivity”.
Fiscal stimulus' effects, while possibly significant in the short-run, may result in less long-run growth due to “crowding-out”of private investment as the public puts its savings into government debt and takes it out of the market for loanable funds.
A stimulus package should be made up of “funding for infrastructure spending, education programs, and investment incentives, which might increase economic output in the long run.” The negative effects of crowding-out could be offset through responsible government spending.
I find this letter to be surprisingly positive. The short-run forecast seems optimistic: as much as 3.6% GDP growth and as many as 3.9 million new jobs by the end of 2010. The negative growth effects of the stimulus resulting from increased government debt and the subsequent “crowding-out” of private investment are not predicted to set in until 2019.
I always tell my students that humans are “short-run creatures living in a long-run world”. I have to admit, this short-run creature is inclined to think that a stimulus package that puts nearly 4 million people to work and turns the US Economy back onto a path towards growth within two years is probably worth the long-run risk of sluggish growth ten years down the road due to the decline in private investment resulting from the debt-financed spending today.
This letter from the CBO also seems to address a debate recently undertaken in the AP Economics teacher email list: whether deficit-financed government spending affects the supply of or the demand for loanable funds in the economy.
To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to “crowd out” private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy.
This passage from the director's letter indicates that it is the supply, not the demand for loanable funds that shifts, driving up real interest rates in the economy. Savers will take their money out of banks and other lending institutions and put it in government bonds, reducing the amount of capital available for private investment. This can be illustrated as a leftward shift of the supply of loanable funds.
In evaluating the use of expansionary fiscal policy, we learn in IB Economics that the crowding-out of private investment will reduce the expansionary effect of increased government spending. Is crowding-out a problem during a recession? Why or why not?
Discuss the following statement: “In order to finance its budget deficit, the US government must borrow from the private sector.” How does the government borrow from the American people?
Will fiscal stimulus in the short-run lead to increased growth or decreased growth in the long-run? Discuss.
I love this discussion between John Stewart and former director of the National Economics Council Lawrence Lindsey. Stewart pitches his own version of a fiscal stimulus package to the economist, and is surprised when Lindsey agrees with the plan.
I find Lindsey's suggestion that a stimulus package should include subsidized mortgage rates to home owners fascinating. According to Lindsey, a homeowner with a $200,000 mortgage paying 6% interest on his loan would save $4,000 per year on interest payments if the government accommodated a refinanced rate of 4%. Millions of Americans currently struggling to meet all of their monthly debt obligations while continuing to put food on the table and participate in the consumer economy would benefit from such a scheme. In its current form, Obama's stimulus package with its $150 billion or so in tax cuts will only put approximately $500 per year for two years into taxpayers' pockets.
As a homeowner paying a 6% mortgage myself, I can personally say I'd prefer $4,000 in savings on my annual interest payments for the next 23 years (the time remaining on my mortgage) than I would $1000 in cash over the next two years. The mortgage relief plan would result in nearly $100,000 less in interest payments, freeing that income up to be spent on goods and services and contributing to real job creation.
And check out last night's “moment of Zen”. While Obama's stimulus package is not quite $1 trillion, it is darn close. Senator Mitch McConnell puts the vast size of the spending bill into perspective for us: