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US labour market moderated in November and considerable slack remains

Last week’s (December 7, 2018) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2018 – showed that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 155,000 and the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 3.7 per cent. Participation was steady. While the US labour market is reaching unemployment rates not seen since the late 1960s, the participation rate is still well below the pre-GFC levels and a substantial jobs deficit remains. Other indicators suggest there is still considerable slack in the labour market, especially outside the labour force (marginal workers) and among the underemployed. Taken together, the US labour market moderated in November but remains some distance from full employment.

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US labour market continues to improve but questions remain

Today is the mid-term elections in the US and it seems that the media is focused on how many seats the Democrats will win. As a progressive this doesn’t particularly interest me much given that the claims the Democrats have been making in the last few months about fiscal policy. Trump is out there demonstrating what expansionary fiscal policy can do when there is idle capacity. And last week’s (November 2, 2018) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – October 2018 – showed the employment impacts of that fiscal approach. Total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by a very strong 250,000 and the unemployment rate was steady at 3.5 per cent. Inflation remains subdued. The strong employment growth has also stimulated participation, which meant that the growth in the labour force has outstripped the strong employment growth and unemployment rose slightly in October. But that is the sort of dynamic that a high pressure economy exhibits and eventually the cyclical participation effects exhaust and the strong employment growth starts mopping up the last of the cyclical unemployment and underemployment. There is still some way to go for that to be the case. While the US labour market is reaching unemployment rates not seen since the late 1960s, the participation rate is still well below the pre-GFC levels and a substantial jobs deficit remains. There has also been a hollowing out of the occupational employment structure around the median pay occupations which confirms the bias towards low-pay jobs in the recovery. The employment-population ratio rose by 0.2 points in October. Taken together, the US labour market continued to improve in October but remains some distance from full employment.

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US growth robust but doubts remain

Last Friday (October 26, 2018), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published their latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product, 3rd quarter 2018 (advance estimate) , which tells us that the annualised real GDP growth rate for the US remains strong at 3.5 per cent (down from 4.2 per cent in the June-quarter 2018). Note this is not the annual growth over the last four-quarters, which is a more modest 3 per cent (up from 2.9 per cent in the previous quarter). As this is only the “Advance estimate” (based on incomplete data) there is every likelihood that the figure will be revised when the “second estimate” is published on November 28, 2018. The US result was driven by a growing household consumption contribution (2.7 points) with the personal saving rate falling by 0.4 points. Further, the government spending contribution was also strong (0.6 points up from 0.4) with all levels of government recording positive contributions. Real disposable personal income increased 2.5 percent, the same increase as in the second quarter. While private investment was strong it was mostly due to unsold goods (inventories). Notwithstanding the strong growth, the problems for the US growth prospects are two-fold: (a) How long can consumption expenditure keep growing with slow wages growth and elevated personal debt levels? Most of the consumption growth is coming because more people are getting jobs even though wages growth is flat. (b) What will be the impacts of the current trade policy? It is a work in progress.

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Left-liberals and neoliberals really should not be in the same party

This week’s theme seems to be the about how the so-called progressive side of the economic and political debate keeps kicking ‘own goals’ (given a lot of this is happening in Britain where they play soccer) or finding creative ways to ‘face plant’ (moving to Europe where there is more snow). Over the other side of the Atlantic, as America approaches its mid-term elections, so-called progressive forces who give solace to the New Democrats, aka Neoliberal Democrats are railing against fiscal deficits and demanding that the left-liberals in the Democratic Party be pushed out and that the voters be urged to elect candidates who will impose austerity by cutting welfare and health expenditure and more. And then we have progressive think tanks pumping out stuff about banking that you would only find in a mainstream macroeconomic textbook. This is the state of play on the progressive side of politics. The demise of social democratic political movements is continuing and it is because they have become corrupted from within by neoliberals. And then we had a little demonstration in London yesterday of the way in which the British Labour Fiscal Rule will bring the Party grief. The Tories are just warming up on that one.

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Progressive political leadership is absent but required

One of the themes that has emerged in the discussions of the British Labour Party Fiscal Credibility Rule (which should be renamed the Fiscal Incredulous Rule) is when is the right time for a political party to show leadership and start educating the public on new ideas. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) project has been, in part, about educating people even if our ideas have been strongly resisted by the mainstream. The mainstream (New Keynesian) paradigm in economics is degenerative (meaning it has little empirical validation) and eventually it will fade into historical obscurity. For many of us that cannot come quickly enough. The defenders of the Rule argue that progressive politicians have to tread carefully or else the amorphous financial markets will turn on them and destroy their initiatives. The problem is that by kowtowing to the City or Wall Street, the progressive political forces become captured and redundant. Witness the electoral demise of social democratic parties over the last several decades. The conditions are ripe (see below) for a courageous head-on attack on these financial market elites and educate the public so that they allow elected governments to legislate for all rather than serving the interests of the elites, which has become the norm over the last several decades. The problem is that progressive political forces are also taking advice from mainstream economists who use the tools of neoliberalism. The upshot is that progressive political leadership is absent but desperately required.

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US labour market improves but GFC residue remains

On October 5, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by only 134,000. The labour force survey measures show that employment growth outstripped the growth in the labour force, which resulted in the unemployment rate declining by 0.2 points to 3.69 per cent. The US labour market is reaching unemployment rates not seen since the late 1960s, although the participation rate is well below the pre-GFC levels and a substantial jobs deficit remains. The employment-population ratio rose by 0.1 points in September. Taken together, the US labour market continued to improve in September but remains some distance from full employment.

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Fiscal space has nothing to do with public debt ratios or the size of deficits

The Project Syndicate is held out as an independent, quality source of Op Ed discussion. When you scan through the economists that contribute you see quite a pattern and it is the anathema of ‘independent’. There is really no commentary that is independent, if you consider the term relates to schools of thought that an economist might work within. We are all bound by the ideologies and language of those millieu. So I assess the input from an institution (like Project Syndicate) in terms of the heterodoxy of its offerings. A stream of economic contributions that are effectively drawn from the same side of macroeconomics is not what I call ‘independent’. And you see that in the recurring arguments that get published. In this blog post, I discuss Jeffrey Frankel’s latest UK Guardian article (August 29, 2018) – US will lack fiscal space to respond when next recession comes – which was syndicated from Project Syndicate. Frankel thinks that the US is about to experience a major recession and that its government has run out of fiscal space because it is not running surpluses. We could summarise my conclusion in one word – nonsense. But a more civilised response follows.

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US growth surprise will not last

Last Friday July 27, 2018), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published their latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product: Second Quarter 2018 (Advance Estimate), which tells us that the annualised real GDP growth rate for the US was a very strong 4.1 per cent in the was 3 per cent in the June-quarter 2018. Note this is not the annual growth over the last four-quarters, which is a more modest 2.8 per cent (up from 2.6 per cent in the previous quarter). As this is only the “Advance estimate” (based on incomplete data) there is every likelihood that the figure will be revised when the “second estimate” is published on August 29, 2018. Indeed, the BEA informed users that it has conducted a comprehensive revision of the National Accounts which includes more accurate data sources and better estimation methodologies. So I had to revise my entire dataset today to reflect the revisions. The US result was driven, in part, by “accelerations in PCE and in exports, a smaller decrease in residential fixed investment, and accelerations in federal government spending and in state and local spending.” Real disposable personal income grew at 2.6 per cent (down from 4.4 per cent in the first-quarter). The personal saving ratio fell from 7.2 per cent to 6.8 per cent. Notwithstanding the strong growth, the problems for the US growth prospects are two-fold: (a) How long can consumption expenditure keep growing with flat wages growth and elevated personal debt levels? (b) What will be the impacts of the current trade policy? rise is a relevant question. At some point, the whole show will come to a stop as it did in 2008 and that will impact negatively on private investment expenditure as well, which has just started to show signs of recovery. Government spending at all levels has also continued to make a positive growth contribution. But with rising private debt levels and flat wages growth the growth risk factors are on the negative side. When that correction comes, the US government will need to increase its discretionary fiscal deficit to stimulate confidence among business firms and get growth back on track.

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UBI advocates ignore the dynamic efficiencies of full employment

I have written about the concept of dynamic efficiency before. The most recent blog post on this theme was – The ‘truth sandwich’ and the impacts of neoliberalism (June 19, 2018) – which examined how social mobility across generations has been declining as a result of the decades of entrenched unemployment driven by neoliberal austerity biases. I also outlined the proposition in this blog post – US labour market reality debunks mainstream view about structural impediments (January 15, 2018). The point of all this is that establishing high pressure labour markets brings about more than just workers who want to work having jobs. It brings other major benefits that workers can enjoy and forces firms and governments to manage their affairs differently from when there is entrenched unemployment. The UBI proponents never really understand that point as they continue to surrender to the proposition that mass unemployment is inevitable and all the governments should do is keep people alive with some guaranteed income. All these dynamic efficiency gains are then not realised and capital has the run of the field.

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The neoliberal ‘progressives’ and their bankster mates are becoming rattled

You know, an Italian won the British Open golf championship yesterday (the first Italian to ever win a golf major) because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations. The causality is impeccable. I am sure about that, although it might take me a while to work it out. But if a British golfer cannot win their Open Championship (Rose tied for second, two shots back) then it must be because of Brexit. Everything else that goes wrong is, so why not the golf? It is the same when three former US policy makers, central bankers, Wall Street-types, claim that the US no longer “have to tools to counter the next financial crisis”. They know full well that that statement is a blatant lie. But they say it. To remain relevant as their stars dim? To do service to their conservative mates? All of the above and more. But the media grab the headline and the American public and the public in general is dealt another piece of neoliberal misinformation that helps entrench the hold on power by the elites. But things are changing, and these entrenched elites and the vested interests they serve don’t like it a bit.

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