Last Friday (December 4, 2015), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the latest – Employment Situation Summary – November 2015 – which showed that “Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 211,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.0 percent”. According to the press reports the data was above expectations and will probably help the US Federal Reserve Bank decide to increase the policy interest rate when it next meets on December 15 and 16. The revised data for September and October also indicated that the US economy had added (net) employment above what had originally been reported. On average, the US labour market has added 237,000 net jobs per month over the last 12 months. What I was curious about was whether these were predominantly low paid jobs or not. I found that the jobs lost in low-pay sectors in the downturn have more than being offset by jobs added in these sectors in the upturn. However, the massive number of jobs lost in above-average paying sectors have not yet been recovered in the upturn. In other words there is a bias in employment generation towards sectors that on average pay below average weekly earnings.
Its my Friday lay day blog and I am working on various projects today so I will cut this blog relatively short. Two things came up this week that I thought were interesting but only require a noting by way of blog entry. The first was a report about a mini-Job Guarantee type program in the New Mexico city of Albuquerque, which is demonstrating that public job creation programs can change peoples’ lives for the better when there is no hope and no other opportunities. The second story I read that was interesting was the Wolf Street Report (October 24, 2015) – Barcelona Threatens to Print Parallel Currency, Madrid Seethes – which discussed the plan by “Barcelona’s left-wing city council plans to roll out a cash-less local currency that has the potential to become the largest of its kind in the world”. The austerity-mavens in Madrid and their puppet masters in Brussels will be having conniptions at the prospect.
Its my Friday lay day blog and I am catching up on things that I put to one side while I was away in Finland. But I have been doing some research on the impacts of the massive refugee flows into Northern Europe from the military conflicts in the Middle East. A more detailed analysis will appear later. The very difficult problem facing Europe, in particular, at present, and the World, in general is how to cope with the millions of people that are being displaced from their homelands by war, terrorism and/or environmental degradation. It is no easy task to deal with. The seemingly unending flow of refugees into Turkey and then greater Europe is challenging the archaic decision-making processes of the European Union. Once again it brings into relief the need for a ‘federal’ European government that can make binding decisions across the Member State space and provide fiscal backup to ensure those decisions are viable from a resource perspective. There was a Reuters report (October 15, 2015) – Refugee spending will drive our economy, Germany says – which noted that the refugee flows could underpin an economic boom in Germany, the first nation to announce it would settle large numbers of the asylum seekers. Here is part of the framework I am developing to consider this issue.
Last week (September 17, 2015), the European Commission announced – Long-term unemployment: Europe takes action to help 12 million long-term unemployed get back to work. The press release summarised the latest proposal from the European Commission – On the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market – which outlines a series of initiatives that aim to “to better help long-term unemployed return to work”. I studied the proposal in detail and came to a stark conclusion – there is nary a job in sight!
Its my Friday lay day blog. So a rather short blog but with a research trail that can occupy the reader for hours if they pursue all the links. It seems that the mainstream American is rather progressive. Who would have thought given that public opinion is being continually drowned out by the deafening shrieking from the conservative think tanks and their media bully boys. In March 2013, a research paper from Northwestern and Princeton academics – Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans – demonstrated the vastly different policy preferences held by high income Americans (in this case the top 1 per cent of the income distribution) relative to the general public. The research was motivated by the observation that the “wealthy exert more political influence than the less affluent do” and so if their preferences were not representative of American society in general then that would be “troubling for democratic policy making”. The authors find that the high income earners in the US are not only very active politically but hold ultra conservative views “concerning taxation, economic regulation, and especially social welfare programs” that are not remotely shared by the general public. The results might surprise people.
There are still those who criticise the concept of a Job Guarantee. I have received a lot of E-mail’s lately about a claim that the introduction of a Job Guarantee would be de-stabilising in a growth phase unless there is some time limit put on the jobs or the wage is flexible. Apparently, in a growing economy, the stimulus provided in the form of Job Guarantee wages (relative to what occurs when unemployment buffer stocks are deployed) will drive the economy into an inflationary spiral, which will then necessitate harsher than otherwise fiscal and monetary policy contraction. Further, the Job Guarantee is claimed to limit the size of the private sector relative to a system of unemployed buffer stocks and this distorts resource allocation and would undermine our overall material standards of living. The criticisms have been dealt with before – there appears to be a cyclical sort of pattern where newcomers seize on past criticisms and recycle them, without bothering to read the original literature on employment buffer stocks, which includes my work and several other authors. That literature considered all these possible issues – 15-20 years ago.
The ABC – Four Corners – program tonight will highlight the corruption and inefficiency within Australia’s privatised labour market services sector. The program – The Jobs Game – will screen at 20:30 Eastern Standard Time. I participate in the program although the extent of that participation is at the time of writing not known. I did about 2 hours of filming for it in December. Unfortunately, the ABC geo-blocks its iView service which allows Australians to watch past programs via the Internet. If the program is available via YouTube I will post a link. The flavour of the program is summarised in this promotion piece published by the ABC News service today (February 23, 2015) – Government recovers over $41 million worth of false claims after ‘rorting’ of Job Services Australia scheme. The Guardian newspaper will also publish an article based on this blog for tomorrow’s edition (sometime during the day). So the issue is getting out there finally after successive Governments have been trying to hide the issues. After all, its ideological baby is terminally ill and they don’t want to admit that.
Australia hosted the recent G20 Meeting in Brisbane and showcased our embarrassing political leadership. Leading into the summit, our Prime Minister had said he would “shirt front” Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Instead he met with the Russian and together they cuddled a native animal (Koala). Then at the opening address, our Prime Minister was humiliating when he told the other 19 world leaders how bad Australians were for rejecting his $7 a visit private contribution to doctor consultations as part of his plan to get the fiscal balance back into surplus. A few days after the US-China signed a major carbon reduction pledge and the rest of G20 nations were working to ensure the final statement of the meetings re-affirmed the World’s desire to address climate change, our Prime Minister was telling the World leaders how tough his government was in getting rid of the Carbon Tax and repeating his mantra that Coal was our future. At least, the Australian government’s insistence that climate change not be on the G20 meeting agenda was ignored by the other nations much to the embarrassment of our leaders. These dorks think they are big time. All the proved was how unsophisticated the political leadership in this country is. The Tea Party Republicans in the US make our lot look like fools! The assessment is that our self-trumpetted ‘macho man’ PM came out with sand kicked in his face looked liked “a coward and a weakling” (Source). And if that wasn’t enough we had the ordeal of watching our Treasurer strutting the world stage with the ‘Finance Ministers’ demonstrating how unqualified he is for that important national job.
The weeks go by quickly when you have fun and its my Friday lay day blog again, which brings some relief because I don’t feel quite as squeezed for time. Denmark seems to know a thing or two that other governments do not. They clearly stood their ground after the population failed to ratify the Maastricht Treaty and forced the European Council to create a special appendix exempting the nation from having to adopt the euro as their currency. Staying out of the Eurozone was very wise. This week, we learned that unlike other governments such as the Australian government, which is legislating to jail any citizen who goes to fight for various Muslim fighting units in and around Syria, Denmark’s approach is to offer them a job to restore their sense of hope in the Danish society and avoid a sense of alienation and social exclusion.
There was an interesting piece of analysis presented on the US Economic Policy Institute (EPI) site a few weeks ago – Labor Market Weakness Is Still not due to Workers Lacking the Right Skills – which showed the “the number of unemployed workers and the number of job openings by industry” as a means of evaluating the nature of the job cycle in the US. The conservatives, who want to build arguments against any fiscal activism, try to explain the massive and persistent unemployment in the US and elsewhere in terms of structural constraints including skill shortages and mismatches. The EPI analysis showed that “unemployed workers dramatically outnumber job openings across the board” and in the individual industries. The conclusion – “the main problem in the labor market is a broad-based lack of demand for workers”. I had been working on a similar story myself since the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data came out on October 7, 2014. Here is what I found, which is a little different to the EPI outcomes but similar and doesn’t alter the facts.
Eurostat released the latest – Employment – data for July 2014 last week (September 12, 2014) and announced that total employment was up by 0.2 per cent in the euro area. For those that study the data closely you will not be confused. But for the casual observer you might have cause to puzzle. Has this been a sudden turnaround given that last quarter employment growth was firmly negative in Europe? The clue is that Eurostat publish two different measures of employment. The first (published last week) is derived from the National Accounts estimates whereas the other is derived from the Labour Force Survey. The latter doesn’t paint a very rosy picture at all. But whatever these data nuances, the European Commission is still facing a disaster and their latest policy response will do nothing much to alleviate the problem. But then why should we be surprised about that?
In my search for new terminology and descriptors I am no longer going to use “minimum wage” to describe the wage that a currency-issuing government should pay when implementing a Job Guarantee (JG). In the past I have written that to avoid disturbing private sector wage structure and to ensure the JG is consistent with stable inflation, the JG wage rate is best set at the minimum wage level. I have also indicated that the minimum wage should not be determined by the capacity to pay of the private sector, but should, rather be an expression of the aspiration of the society of the lowest acceptable standard of living. My view is that any private operators who cannot “afford” to pay the minimum should exit the economy. I also have proposed that the JG wage should be supplemented with a wide range of social wage expenditures, including adequate levels of public education, health, child care, and access to legal aid. Finally, I have stressed for many years that the JG does not replace conventional use of fiscal policy to achieve appropriate social and economic outcomes. In general, the JG would be accompanied by higher levels of public sector spending on public goods and infrastructure. I have written several times, in various outlets (academic, Op Ed, blog), that I see the JG as part of a fundamental transformative agenda to broaden the concept of work and to allow all people to receive a dignified and appropriate access to the distribution system. That message doesn’t seem to get through. So from now on the JG wage will be referred to as the living wage. Further, recent discussions of the JG reveal that commentators who criticise it do so from a standpoint of ignorance – a problem that is engendered by the blogosphere, which should be a liberating force, but in my view seems to unfortunately spawn narrow-mindedness and an anti-intellectual approach to policy debates.
Today marks the beginning of – Anti-Poverty Week – in Australia and elsewhere. The overwhelming reason people are poor is because they are unemployed (or underemployed). There are related reasons associated with poor housing etc, but the fact remains that if we eliminate mass unemployment by providing enough work for all those who desire it and ensure there are jobs for those with multiple disadvantages then we will reduce poverty overnight. While poverty is persistent, it wasn’t always thus. I have been to many meeting where policy makers, usually very well adorned in the latest clothing, plenty of nice watches and rings, and all the latest gadgets (phones, tablets etc), wax lyrical about how complex the poverty problem is. I usually respond at some point (trying my hardest to disguise disdain) by suggesting the problem is relatively simple. The federal government can always create enough work any time it chooses at a decent wage to ensure that no-one needs to live below the poverty line. Read: always! It can also always pay those who cannot work for whatever reason an adequate pension. Read: always. If we run out of real resources which prevent those nominal payments (wage and pensions) translating into an adequate standard of living, then the government can always redistribute the real resources by increasing taxes on those who have “too many” resources at their disposable. Too many is a relative concept in this context. The so-called complexity of the problem is just code for an unwillingness of the policy makers to use the capacity they have as currency issuers. There is nothing complex about announcing that the government will pay a living wage to anyone who wants to work – just turn up tomorrow and the wage begins. If that announcement was made then we would know who wants to work for a wage and those who do not. For Anti-Poverty Week – the best thing the government can do is announce the unconditional job offer.
Even though the US government has shutdown, the BLS is still open for data downloads. That is something. More on that data another day. Today I have been working on a formal academic paper (to be presented at a conference in December) which examines the concept of “capacity-constrained” unemployment. This concept says that capacity constraints may create bottlenecks in production before unemployment has been significant reduced (this would be exacerbated if there are significant procyclical labour supply responses). In this case any expansion in government demand may have insignificant real effects – that is, the real output gap is not large enough to allow all the unemployed to gain productive jobs. This argument is often use to attack the Job Guarantee. It can be shown that while private sector investment, which is government by profitability considerations can be insufficient (during and after a recession) to expand potential output fast enough to re-absorb the unemployed who lost their jobs in the downturn, such a situation does not apply to a currency-issuing government intent on introducing a Job Guarantee. The point is that the introduction of a Job Guarantee job simultaneously creates the extra productive capacity required for program viability.
Today, among other things, I have been analysing the fantastic dataset produced by the US Census bureau – Business Dynamics Statistics – which allows us to understand in much more detail, the underlying drivers of employment growth in the US by age and size of firm across sectors. I have done a lot of work on this topic in the past and this sort of dataset is a gold mine. It allows us, for example, to examine the veracity of the oft-repeated claims by conservative politicians and lobbyists that small business is the employment engine of the modern economies and all sorts of concessions and deregulation (mostly directed at underlying job security, wages and conditions for workers) are required to allow small business to do its work. The simple conclusion of today’s data analysis is that the age of the firm is more important in understanding net job creation in the US than the size of the firm. Here are some tentative results that may or may not be of interest.
Today, I was (perhaps) going to discuss the Federal coalition’s so-called budget costings, which they have released this afternoon a day and a half before the federal election is held. The major policy proposals are not costed and the whole exercise makes a mockery of their claims to transparency. The Coalition hired three so-called experts to validate the “costings” (after the debacle in the last election when their were major mistakes in the arithmetic revealed) and those characters should be ashamed of themselves for giving their imprimatur to such a shoddy process. Even from the pittance of information they have released it is clear they do not understand the macroeconomic reality and will damage overall growth. So that is all I intend to say about that matter. But in the last few days I have done a few media interviews (radio) on an article that appeared in the local Fairfax press, but was originally published in the Strike! Magazine as – On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by LSE anthropologist, David Graeber. The title in the local article had changed to “nonsense jobs” – a sign of the conservatism of our press. The interviews I did were interesting because the article brings together a number of strands that further expose the weakness of the economic theory taught to students in most universities. That is much more interesting to write about here than the tawdry realities of Australian politics at present which can be described as indecent ignorance.
The other day – in this blog – The British agenda to bring workers to their knees is well advanced – I considered the recent British Trades Union Congress (TUC) report (July 12, 2013) – The UK’s Low Pay Recovery – which shows that “eighty per cent of net job creation since June 2010 has taken place in industries where the average wage is less than £7.95 an hour”. The Report also showed that the middle-pay jobs were being shed and the bifurcation in the British labour market between an increasing number of (self-employed) low-paid jobs with precarious working conditions and future and the high pay jobs, which seemingly avoided much of the negative impacts of the recession, has intensified. The middle in Britain is being hollowed out and replaced by an increasing number of low paid workers. In Australia, 84 per cent of jobs created in the last 6 months have been part-time and underemployment has risen since February 2008 (the low-point in the last cycle) from 666.3 thousand (5.9 per cent) to 908.6 thousand (7.4 per cent). The question I look at in this blog, is the wage impacts of these employment trends in Australia. Are we also seeing the same hollowing out as is clearly occurring in Britain. Of those 84 per cent of jobs, what proportion are low-paid, medium-paid and high-paid. Clearly, if most of them are at the bottom end of the wage distribution then the raw figure of 84 per cent sits on top of an increasing disaster for the prosperity of working families.
The fiscal austerity imposed on the southern European nations such as Greece and Spain has been imposed by the Troika with two justifications. First, that the private sectors in these nations would increase spending as the public sector cut spending because they would no longer fear the future tax hikes associates with rising deficits (the Ricardian argument). The evidence is clear – they haven’t. The second argument was that massive cost cutting (the so-called internal devaluation) would improve the competitiveness of the peripheral nations, close the gap with Germany and instigate an export bonanza. It was all about re-balancing we were told. The evidence for that argument is clear – it was a lie. The massive impoverishment of these nations and the millions of jobs that have been lost and the destruction of a future for around 60 per cent of their youth (who want to work) has all been for nothing much. As was obvious when they started.
Last night, the Federal Government brought down the – 2013-14 Budget – claiming it was a responsible response to the circumstances it faced (declining world growth, declining terms of trade and persistently high exchange rate) and that it emphasised growth and jobs. Neither claim is remotely correct. It is a pro-cyclical budget – that is, a contractionary budget that builds on the contractionary fiscal shift in 2012-13, which by its own arithmetic reduces growth and causes the unemployment rate to rise. It will damage employment growth and increase poverty rates. It reflects a failure to acknowledge the state of the economy (4 per cent output gap) and to implement the correct counter-cyclical fiscal response (a significant rise in the projected budget deficit). It might have some education and disability spending in it. But even in those areas the spending is inadequate and, in the case of education, based on a neo-liberal view that the federal government should be funding the private schools, which, in general, educate the children from wealthy and high-income families. Overall, a destructive fiscal plan given the state of the economy.
This is a background blog which will support the release of my Fantasy Budget 2013-14, which will be part of Crikey’s Budget coverage leading up to the delivery of the Federal Budget on May 14, 2013. This blog will provide a detailed analysis of the investment the federal government would have to make to introduce a Job Guarantee. You will see how surprisingly small that investment is.