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US labour market showing further signs of slowdown

Last Friday (September 3, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 315,000 jobs (a major slowdown) and an official unemployment rate rose 0.2 points to 3.7 per cent. The participation rate also rose (somewhat reversing last month’s decline) and the broad labour underutilisation rate (U6) rose by 0.3 points, largely due to the rise in unemployment. The other interesting aspect of this data is that real wages continued to decline in all industry sectors – they have systematically fallen each month since March 2022. I note some commentators are trying to claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation. That conclusion is untenable given the data. The US labour market is still producing employment but it is hardly booming. Further, most of the net jobs created since the pandemic have gone to workers in occupatinos that pay above-median earnings.

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Elites using monetary policy to deal with paranoid fears that power might shift towards workers

What a world we live in where we are snowed with propaganda from the elites about how the only way forward is that we accept “pain” or “sacrifice” to prevent some inflationary catastrophe from accelerating out of control and that if workers dare seek some cost-of-living redress as corporations go for broke in their margin push, then the pain the policy makers will inflict will be greater. The annual gathering of the elites at Jackson Hole in Wyoming over the last days has been one of those ‘can you believe this lot’ moments. First, we had the US Federal Reserve boss almost joyfully telling Americans that he will inflict pain on them because “these are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation”. At the same event, the ECB Board member Isabel Schnabel told the gathering that the central banks had to inflict higher unemployment rates to control inflation to stop wages getting driven by inflationary expectations. And then we look at wages growth in Europe and see that real wages are in free fall (dropping 5.9 per cent in the June-quarter 2022).

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Where are all the economists? Its lucky they have gone AWOL

It’s Wednesday and so I write less on the blog to allow me to write more elsewhere. And, we get a chance to savour some music – today some of the best vibraphone playing that was recorded. Simon Jenkins wrote a column in the UK Guardian on Monday (August 8, 2022) – Who knows if Truss or Sunak is right on the cost of living crisis – where are all the economists? – which runs the line that my profession has gone to ground as the two Tory leadership hopefuls come out with diametrically opposed views as to how to fix the ‘cost of living crisis’ in the UK. Well, he could have answered his own question. Who would want the opinion of the ‘economists’ by which I mean the mainstream macroeconomists given they have an appalling record of prediction anyway. The majority are supporting the Bank of England’s kamikaze interest rate increases because they think monetary policy is an effective solution to inflationary pressures and they agree that unemployment should be a policy tool rather than a policy target. He might also have noted in his article that who gets a platform in the public debate about economic matters is heavily biased against those who might offer an alternative view. Try getting an Op Ed in the UK Guardian, for example, if you are non mainstream and not part of the ‘progressive, pro-Europe’ network in London. And on those cost of living pressures, no mainstream economist that the UK Guardian is likely to publish would propose nationalising energy supply, public transport, water supply and telecommunications anyway. Which is the best long-term solution to protect workers and low-income consumers. Further, the latest data from the US indicated that inflation has peaked and inflationary expectations are falling sharply. Did anyone mention the word ‘transitory’ around here?

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US Labour Market – creating work but participation and real wages falling

Last Friday (August 5, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 528,000 jobs and an official unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent. Many commentators immediately claimed that the labour market was tightening as a result of the decline in the official unemployment rate, but that was all down to a decline in the participation rate – less people looking for work – which is a sure sign that job opportunities are becoming harder to access. When the hires data comes out soon, we will be able to be more definitive on that. The other interesting aspect of this data is that real wages continued to decline in all industry sectors – they have systematically fallen each month since March 2022. I note some commentators are trying to claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation. That conclusion is untenable given the data. The US labour market is still producing employment but it is hardly booming.

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Corporate profit greed is driving inflationary pressures

Despite all the hysteria about the current inflationary pressures and the reversion of central bank policy committees to the New Keynesian norm – interest rates have to rise to kill off inflation otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling process where wage demands are made in ‘expectation’ of more inflation and firms (passively in their view) have to pass on the higher unit costs, I remain of the view that this period is transitory. That doesn’t win me any friends (other than my true friends). It also leads to another hysterical line of Twitter-type statements that the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) have gone silent because they were wrong about fiscal deficits not causing inflation and are too ashamed to admit it. I haven’t gone silent. I have been continuous in my advocacy both privately and publicly. The rise in fiscal deficits during the pandemic and the central bank bond purchases have had little to do with this inflationary episode. Covid, sickness of workers, War, natural disasters (floods, fires) and noncompetitive cartels and energy markets are the reason for the inflation (variously in different countries) and interest rate increases won’t do much at all to target changes in those driving factors. New ECB research (released August 3, 2022) in their Economic Bulletin (Issue 5, 2022) – Wage share dynamics and second-round effects on inflation after energy price surges in the 1970s and today – reinforces my assessment of the situation.

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Low US unemployment does not negate the conclusion that the US economy is now in recession

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest US National Accounts data last week (July 28, 2022) – Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2022 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that the US economy is now in technical recession – two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. After recording a contraction of 1.6 per cent in the March quarter in real GDP, the advance estimates for the June quarter show a further contraction of 0.9 per cent. Many commentators are, however, denying the recession narrative because they are pointing to the low unemployment rate (of 3.6 per cent). It is true, that the GDP figures are often revised and when the final, second-quarter estimates are available, they might record positive growth. But there is a puzzle emerging. We have long held the view (based on Okun’s Law – see below), that when GDP growth declines, the unemployment rate rises. This is a long-held stylised fact that has until Covid stood the test of time. But Covid has changed things and at present the US (and other nations) are experiencing a major slowdown in the growth of their working age population as a result of quite alarming rises in long-term disability as a result of the enduring impacts of Covid infections (and repeated infections). That has meant that unemployment rates are lower than they otherwise would have been as a result of worker shortages. On the one hand that is good for the employed. But, on the other hand, it is disastrous for workers who are now disabled. So the meagre fact that unemployment is low does not negate the conclusion that the US economy is now in recession, which has been deliberately created first by a massive fiscal contraction, and then, by the irresponsible conduct of the Federal Reserve Bank.

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First signs of a slowdown in the US labour market

Last Friday (July 8, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 372,000 jobs and an official unemployment rate of 3.6 per cent. While it might seem that the June and May results were steady as she goes, the reality is that the June figures reveal the first signs of a slowdown in the US labour market. The labour survey employment measure fell as did the participation rate. There was a fall in the employment-population ratio, a fairly reliable measure that the demand-side is lagging behind the supply-side. The US labour market is still 524 thousand payroll jobs short from where it was at the end of May 2020, which helps to explain why there are no wage pressures emerging. Real wages continued to decline as the supply disruptions and the greed of increased corporate profit margin push sustain the inflationary pressures. Any analyst who is claiming the US economy is close to full employment hasn’t looked at the data. The justification by the US Federal Reserve for pushing up interest rates to quell wages pressure does not stack up with the evidence.

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Why has Japan avoided the rising inflation – a more solidaristic approach helps

A few years ago, various policy makers, but mostly central bankers were keen to disabuse anyone of the notion that they were ‘doing’ Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Some were aggressive in denial, such as US Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell, who on February 26, 2019 announced to the US Senate Banking Committee that MMT was ‘just wrong’. There was a general pile on from other central bankers and commentators. No way, they were doing MMT. Okay, they were right, one doesn’t ‘do’ MMT, given it is an analytical framework (see below). But, curiously, now, the commentators are falling over themselves claiming that MMT is dead in the water given that it has been tried over the course of the pandemic to date and failed because inflation is out of control. Hilarious really. But what is interesting is Japan (as always). And I wonder whether any of these MMT critics now have considered why the Bank of Japan has not followed the lead of the other central banks that are rushing to exacerbate the temporary inflation spike by deliberately creating unemployment. It seems that there are different paths that policy makers can take within a capitalist monetary economy. They can allow corporations to profit gouge at the expense of the workers and then turn on the workers (creating unemployment) or they oversee a system where all parties (workers and corporations) take real income hits as a result of imported price pressures and wait it out. Japan is in the second category to its credit.

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Unaccountable central bankers once again out of controls

On August 27, 2020, the US Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell made a path breaking speech – New Economic Challenges and the Fed’s Monetary Policy Review. On the same day, the Federal Reserve Bank released a statement – Federal Open Market Committee announces approval of updates to its Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy. I analysed that shift in this blog post – US Federal Reserve statement signals a new phase in the paradigm shift in macroeconomics (August 31, 2020). It appeared at the time, that a major shift in the way central banking policy was to be conducted in the future was underway. A Reuters’ report (August 28, 2020) – With new monetary policy approach, Fed lays Phillips curve to rest – reported that “One of the fundamental theories of modern economics may have finally been put to rest”. At the time, I didn’t place enough emphasis on the ‘may’ and now realise that nothing really has changed after a few years of teetering on the precipice of change. The old guard is back and threatening the livelihoods of workers in their usual way.

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New Keynesian inflation model is unfit for purpose

It’s Wednesday – a day for a few short comments and then relaxing to music. Today I consider some statements from the Bank of International Settlements, which suggest that the mainstream inflation approach, based on the New Keynesian Phillips curve is subjected to “serious practical shortcomings”. In other words, it is unfit for purpose, which means you should not be surprised that central banks are hiking rates to stifle a transient supply-side inflation burst. Quackery leads to quackery. I also consider some recent evidence that supply disruptions are easing. And, then, we learn that that the British Labour Party no longer things workers should strike. And if that has driven you mad, then we restore calm with some great music from Jiro Inagaki.

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