Mar 21 2008

Growing pains

OECD Cuts Growth Forecast to Below 2% –

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts a global slowdown in growth. Among its 30 member nations, the OECD predicts growth of below 2% for 2008.

The [OECD] cut its forecast for expansion this year in its 30 member nations to “less than” 2 percent, the weakest since 2003. This “will be a difficult year of lower growth and some more unpleasant surprises,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said in an interview in Oslo. “We have revised downwards a number of our projections.”

Okay, 2% isn’t that bad, right? I mean, it’s still growth. In fact, the OECD believes the strongest growth will be in emerging economies such as China and India, which it predicts will grow at 6.9%. The US and Europe may not enjoy such comfortable rates of expansion in this time of restricted credit, low consumption and investment and dwindling optimism among households and firms.

Jean-Luc Schneider, deputy director of the OECD’s economics department, said the agency is “not yet completely convinced there will be a recession” in the U.S., though it will be “flirting” with contraction. That will affect other OECD economies, especially those in Europe, said Gurria.

While European growth won’t be as “uncomfortable” as in the U.S., it’ll “probably be worse than we know today…”Keynesian AD/AS

In times of macroeconomic weakness as described above, an active role for government may be required in order to stimulate consumption and investment, increase aggregate demand and restore a healthy rate of economic growth.

Keynesian economists advocate an active role for government and central banks in times of recession. The Keynesian school of economics rests on the theory of downwardly inflexible wages and prices, the implication being that in times of declining demand (low investment and consumption), the economy slides into recession characterized by rising unemployment and slow or negative growth. (as illustrated in the graph here)

The classical view of recession, however, holds that as employment and output decline, the price level will fall due to weak aggregate demand. This “flexible price” theory leads classical economists to argue that if left alone, the economy will self-correct because workers will eventually accept lower wages, leading firms to hire more workers, increase output, and restore full-employment (as shown in the graph on the left). No government intervention is needed in such a scenario.

Classical AD/AS recessionKeynesians argue that “flexible prices” are a myth, that in times of recession prices may remain high or even rise (in the case of a supply-shock as illustrated in the graph below). Due to the “sticky prices”, workers are not willing to work for lower wages, thus firms are not able to increase their employment in a time of weak aggregate demand. Without downwardly flexible wages, aggregate supply will not adjust outwards to restore full employment output.

Keynesian economists therefore support action by the government and central banks in times of slow or negative growth. In America today, the mainstream view adopted by most macroeconomic policy makers is still rooted in Keynesian theory, which explains the government’s recent fiscal stimulus package and expansionary monetary policies undertaken by the Fed.

Expansionary policies like a tax rebate, the Fed’s buying of bonds on the open market, and the lowering of the discount rate are aimed at shifting Aggregate Demand outward to restore full employment. The problem is that in addition to weakextended-as_2.jpeg demand, the world economy is simultaneously experiencing rising costs of production as a result of record energy and food prices.

Cost-push inflation and rising unemployment pose a whole new policy challenge for central bankers and politicians. To combat recession in the face of rising prices is tricky, as the trade-off between unemployment and inflation is tenuous. The Phillips Curve illustrates the inverse relationship between the inflation rate and the unemployment rate. To understand the logic of this model it is useful to examine the current challenge face by the Fed.

Both unemployment and inflation are rising in the US right now. The reason for this is the rising costs faced by firms due to a weak dollar combined with high energy and food prices. Normally, a Keynesian approach to recession alleviation would be in order to restore full employment. Stimulating spending through expansionary policies, however, will only worsen the inflation problem.

The “supply shock” faced by America today has caused both unemployment and inflation to increase, which is illustrated by an outward shift in the Phillips Curve. The best policy action in this scenario may, in fact, be to allow the US to enter aPC recession; in other words, no policy, or laissez faire.

If the US and European economies are allowed to experience a significant slowd0wn or contraction in growth, the global demand for commodities such as fossil fuels, minerals, and other raw materials for production should decline, putting downward pressure on these commodity prices. In addition, rising unemployment should eventually result in workers accepting lower wages. The combination of falling commodity prices and wages should encourage firms to increase output, shifting aggregate supply outward and the Phillips Curve inward, restoring full-employment and price level stability.

In all likelihood we will not see the above scenario transpire. Governments and central bankers are already making moves to maintain growth and low unemployment, even in the face of rising prices. The Keynesian/classical debate, however, will continue. For now, at least, it seems as if the Keynesians are still winning the battle of the hearts and minds of political and economic leaders today.

About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

One response so far

One Response to “Growing pains”

  1. Edgar Stordahlon 30 Nov 1999 at 1:00 am

    Dave Matthews has one song, which they play over and over. Once is enough. Same mopey mush ad infinitum. It’s like Jackson Browne. He had one song “Doctor My Eyes” and the rest of his career was trying to ride the wave of that one flash in the pan.