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No wages breakout in sight in US labour market

The latest news from the US, other than the regular counts of the number of times the President has lied on any particular day, is that there is a wages breakout looming. Yes, you read that correctly. The CNN report (February 2, 2018) – America gets a raise: Wage growth fastest since 2009 – was representative of the media responses to the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on the same day. We read that “Economists say its time to take note of how strong , or ‘tight’ the U.S. job market is”. One bank economist quoted claimed that “It’s too early to call this a trend but the breakout [in wage growth] is very welcome news”. Is that fake news? I am an economists and I don’t see any wages breakout or anything remotely like it. On February 2, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – January 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 200,000 in January. The Labour Force Survey data also showed a relatively strong net employment gain (409 thousand (net) jobs were created) in January 2018. The labour force was estimated to have risen by 518 thousand with participation constant. The BLS thus estimated that unemployment rose by 108 thousand and the official unemployment rate rose slightly from 4.09 to 4.15 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis. But as I show below there is no wages breakout going on despite claims to the contrary.

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Planning public works – history has a lot to say if we listen properly

A few weeks ago, in my three part series answering questions about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), I addressed the issue often raised about the fiscal policy emphasis in MMT, that it is difficult to time government spending injections to match the cyclical need. These criticisms go back a long way and were used by the likes of Milton Friedman to build up his case against discretionary fiscal activism in favour of monetary rules. Of course, that was an ideological preference, given the Monetarists wanted ‘small’ government and technocrats implementing economic policy. The basic precepts of Monetarism have not stood the test of time and the GFC and its aftermath have showed, beyond doubt, that monetary policy is an ineffective means of stimulating aggregate spending and that fiscal policy is the best way to counter non-government spending collapses. In those blogs, I outlined several ways in which fiscal policy could overcome ‘timing’ issues and deliver prompt stimulus when needed and be able to contract the stimulus in a timely manner once non-government confidence and spending had recovered. The points I raised are not new and have been discussed and made operational many times in the past. A tweet from my MMT colleague Stephanie Kelton last week reminded us of this again when the US National Resources Planning Board (NPP) was mentioned with a link to the The Internet Archive is a “non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more” and is a fabulous resource for researchers. Reading the Report from the NPP is like music to the ears! History has a lot to say if we listen properly.

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Older workers in the US dominate employment growth – troubles ahead

The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis published a very interesting article earlier this month (January 15, 2018) – Older Workers Account for All Net Job Growth Since 2000 – which was written by William Emmons, the Lead Economist with the Bank’s Center for Household Financial Stability. The Center focuses on the “balance sheets of struggling American families” and was launched in May 2013 in response to the GFC. It seeks to investigate factors that impact on the fragility of household finances. The research paper finds that since 2000, workers older than 55 have captured almost all the net employment growth leaving the prime-age workers (more than a million) languishing. This abnormal pattern is not predicted to continue for much longer but that is disputable. Further, even if the domination of older workers ends within the decade, the lack of opportunities that are apparent for those who are moving through the prime-age years now spells a looming disaster in a decade or more in the form of increased poverty rates and disadvantage. Then you will hear the screams that the US government cannot afford the income support that will be needed. But at the same time, without that income support the situation will get worse. Something needs to be done now to interrupt this trend.

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US labour market reality debunks mainstream view about structural impediments

An enduring myth among mainstream economists is that so-called ‘structural’ impediments in the labour market prevent aggregate spending initiatives from government being an effective solution to mass unemployment. According to this view, if the government attempts to reduce the unemployment rate below some ‘natural rate’ then accelerating inflation will be the only outcome. The ‘natural rate’ can, in turn, only be reduced by structural policies – attacks on trade unions, welfare state retrenchment, cutting the minimum wage, and the rest of the litany of neoliberal policies. And, in this view, the unemployed are to blame for their own state – a lack of effort on their part to adequately present themselves to the labour market. The prior view that mass unemployment is a systemic failure to create enough jobs is rejected. A piece of this fiction is that one of long-term unemployed (and other disadvantaged workers) are not capable of being absorbed into employment without extensive re-training and other personal rehabilitation and this also prevents the unemployment rate from falling quickly. The problem with all of these related propositions is that reality interferes and generates outcomes that contradict the assertions. It is quite obvious that if the economy is run at high pressure then firms are forced to scrap prejudice for disadvantaged groups and offer on-the-job training to them to ensure they can maintain market share. In other words, the long-term unemployed do not present an impediment to growth. Events in the US labour market at present are demonstrating this reality.

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US labour market steady but some distance from full employment

On January 5, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – December 2017 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 148,000 in December, well down on the 228,000 rise in November. While the payroll data showed a fairly strong employment outcome, the Labour Force Survey data estimated a that 104 thousand (net) jobs were created in November, up from the weaker rise in employment (57 thousand) in November. The labour force was estimated to have risen by 64 thousand with participation constant. The BLS thus estimated that unemployment fell by 40 thousand and the official unemployment rate fell slightly from 4.12 to 4.09 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis.

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An MMT response to Jared Bernstein – Part 3

This is the third and final part of my response to an article posted by American political analyst Jared Berstein (January 7, 2018) – Questions for the MMTers. In this blog I deal with the last question that he poses to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists, which relates to whether currency issuing governments have to raise revenue in order to “pay for public goods” and whether prudent policy requires the cyclically-adjusted fiscal balance to be zero at full employment to ensure “social insurance programs” are protected. The answer to both queries is a firm No! But there are nuances that need to be explained in some detail. While Jared Bernstein represents a typical ‘progressive’ view of macroeconomics and is sympathetic to some of the core propositions of MMT, this three-part series has shown that the gap between that (neoliberal oriented) view and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is wide. I hope this three-part series might help the (neoliberal) progressives to abandon some of these erroneous macroeconomic notions and move towards the MMT position, which will give them much more latitude to actually implement their progressive policy agenda. For space reasons, I have decided to make this a three-part response. I also hope the three-part series have helped those who already embrace the core body of MMT to deepen their knowledge and render them more powerful advocates in the struggle against the destructive dominant macroeconomics of neoliberalism.

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An MMT response to Jared Bernstein – Part 2

This is the second part of my response to an article posted by American political analyst Jared Berstein (January 7, 2018) – Questions for the MMTers. Part 1 considered the thorny issue of the capacity of fiscal policy to be an effective counter-stabilising force over the economic cycle, in particular to be able to prevent an economy from ‘overheating’ (whatever that is in fact). Jared Berstein prescribes some sort of Monetarist solution where all the counter-stabilising functions are embedded in the central bank which he erroneously thinks can “take money out of the economy” at will. It cannot and its main policy tool – interest rate setting – is a very ineffective tool for influencing the state of nominal demand. In Part 2, I consider his other claims which draw on draw on the flawed analysis of Paul Krugman about bond issuance. An understanding of MMT shows that none of these claims carry weight. It is likely that continuous deficits will be required even at full employment given the leakages from the income-spending cycle in the non-government sector. Jared Bernstein represents a typical ‘progressive’ view of macroeconomics but the gap between that (neoliberal oriented) view and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is wide. For space reasons, I have decided to make this a three-part response. I will post Part 3 tomorrow or Thursday. I hope this three-part series might help the (neoliberal) progressives to abandon some of these erroneous macroeconomic notions and move towards the MMT position, which will give them much more latitude to actually implement their progressive policy agenda.

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An MMT response to Jared Bernstein – Part 1

There was an article posted by American political analyst Jared Berstein yesterday (January 7, 2018) – Questions for the MMTers – which I thought was a very civilised exercise in engagement from someone who is clearly representative of the more standard Democratic Party view, that the US government has to move towards balancing its fiscal position and reducing government debt in order to meet the social security challenges posed by an ageing population and the accompanying increase in dependency ratios. He is sympathetic to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), given that he wrote “there’s no distance between my views and a core principal of MMT: the need for deficit spending when the economy is below full employment”. In other words, he notes that “MMT or whomever else argues on behalf of expansionary fiscal policy is correct”. But that is a fairly standard ‘progressive’ position when the economic cycle is below full capacity. This position typically alters quite dramatically when so-called longer terms considerations are brought into the picture. Jared Bernstein worries about the inflationary consequences of fiscal policy (so do MMT economists by the way) and thinks central banks should be the primary macroeconomic policy makers (MMT economists reject this). He also thinks that if the government doesn’t sell bonds to match its deficits then there will be “currency debasing”. MMT economists have pointed out the fallacies of that proposition but he is still in the dark about it. And he also things that fiscal position should be balanced at full employment. MMT economists do not agree with that proposition pointing out that it all depends on the state of saving and spending decisions in the non-government sector. It is likely that continuous deficits will be required even at full employment given the leakages from the income-spending cycle in the non-government sector. So while his queries are conciliatory and written in an inquiring fashion, the gulf between this typical ‘progressive’ view of macroeconomics and MMT is rather wide. This is Part 1 of a two-part series that responds to the questions that Jared Bernstein raises and hopefully puts the record a bit straighter.

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Infrastructure report for the US – dire degradation of public infrastructure

I recently wrote about the degraded infrastructure in Europe as a result of years of unnecessary fiscal austerity – see Massive Eurozone infrastructure deficit requires urgent redress. Not only is the public amenity degraded but when transport cannot access key international trading routes (for example, bridges across the Rhine), then industrial prosperity and exports are undermined. The Eurozone nations are sinking into a mire of both human and physical infrastructure decay and the negative consequences will reverberate for decades to come. This is a global phenomenon. Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its – 2017 Infrastructure Report Card – for the US and the results are dire. This Report comes out every four years and provides a good guide to the “condition and performance of American infrastructure”. It gives grades (like “a school report card”) “based on the physcial condition and needed investments for improvements”. Overall, the US, the richest country in the World, was awarded a D+, which means “Poor at Risk” or mostly below standard and “approaching the end of their service life”. You don’t really have to be an engineer to appreciate this. Any drive or walk through a US city these days will allow you to see this decay. It is totally unnecessary, totally preventable and very damaging to the well-being of the people and firms that rely on the public infrastructure for their own activities. Myopic and ridiculous.

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US labour market steady but low wage bias continues

On December 8, 2017, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2017 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 228,000 in November, slightly less than the October net increase. While the payroll data showed a fairly strong employment outcome, the Labour Force Survey data estimated a weaker rise in employment (57 thousand) in November. The labour force was estimated to have risen by 148 thousand after October’s results showing a sharp contraction. The BLS thus estimated that unemployment rose by 90 thousand and the official unemployment rate rose slightly from 4.07 to 4.12 per cent. There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis. I also update my ‘low-wage jobs bias’ to November 2017 and conclude that in the recovery, there has been a bias towards low wage and below-average wage job creation.

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