Where is global inflation?

The Economist had an article in its Finance and Economics section on the fact that after record low interest rates and extended quantitative easing global inflation seems stubbornly low – see graph. In order to explain this you need to consider the model that central banks use to explain inflation. There are three elements to this model:

1. The price of imports. As the price of imports increase whether it is raw materials or finished products, the price of local goods become more expensive which increase the general price level. Also if a country finds that its exchange rate depreciates the price of imports rises. Oil is a very inelastic import and with a barrel of oil below $30 in 2016 there was little pressure on the CPI. Where inflation has been higher is in those countries that have withdrawn price subsidies and also had sharply falling currencies – Argentina 24% and Egypt 32%.

2. Public Expectations. In recent years more attention has been paid to the psychological effects which rising prices have on people’s behaviour. The various groups which make up the economy, acting in their own self-interest, will actually cause inflation to rise faster than otherwise would be the case if they believe rising prices are set to continue.

Workers, who have tended to get wage rises to ‘catch up’ with previous price increases, will attempt to gain a little extra compensate them for the expected further inflation, especially if they cannot negotiate wage increases for another year. Consumers, in belief that prices will keep rising, buy now to beat the price rises, but this extra buying adds to demand pressures on prices. In a country such as New Zealand’s before the 1990’s, with the absence of competition in many sectors of the economy, this behaviour reinforces inflationary pressures. ‘Breaking the inflationary cycle’ is an important part of permanently reducing inflation. If people believe prices will remain stable, they won’t, for example, buy land and property as a speculation to protect themselves. In Japan firms and employees have become conditioned to expect a lower rate of inflation. Prime minister Shinzo Abe has called for companies to raise wages by 3% to try and kick start inflation.

3. Capacity pressures. This refers to how much ‘slack’ there is in the economy or the ability to increase total output. If capacity pressures are tight that means an economy will find it difficult to increase output so there will be more pressure on prices as goods become more scarce. Unemployment is the most used gauge to measure the slack in the economy and as the economy approached full employment the scarcity of workers should push up the price pf labour – wages. With increasing costs for the firm it is usual for them to increase their prices for the consumer and therefore increasing the CPI. However many labour markets around the world (especially Japan and the USA) have been very tight but there is little sign of inflation. This assumes that the Phillips curve (trade-off between inflation and unemployment) has become less steep. Research by Olivier Blanchard found that a drop in the unemployment rate in the US has less than a third as much power to raise inflation as it did in the mid 1970’s.

This flatter Phillips curve suggests that the cost for central banks in higher inflation of delaying interest-rate rises is rather low. See graph below showing New Zealand’s Phillips Curve

Scandinavia the place to go for social mobility

A HT to colleague David Parr for this article from the World Economic Forum site. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book ‘The Spirit Level’ (2009 – although a bit old it does make for interesting reading) goes about providing evidence that almost everything – from life expectancy, social mobility, violence – is affected not by how wealthy society is, but how equal it is.

Income Inequality and Social Mobility

Chapter 12 in the book addresses the link between high levels of income inequality and low levels of social mobility – see graph below. The graph below shows that countries with bigger income differences tend to have much lower social mobility. In the USA there is a lack of social mobility compared to other nations as well as there being high income inequality. The opposite applies to the Scandinavian countries where Norway, Sweden, Finland and especially Denmark have low income inequality but very high social mobility. The authors do alert the reader to be cautious as there is no data that allow to estimate social mobility for each state and test the relationship with inequality independently in the USA. But other variables such as public spending on education, changes in geographical segregation lend plausibility to the graph below.

Research from the The State of Working America 2006/7 report shows the power of the father’s income to determine the income of their sons. The lower percentage indicates that a fathers’ incomes are less predictive of sons’ incomes – therefore more mobility. A high percentage indicates that rich fathers are more likely to have rich sons and poor fathers to have poor sons – therefore less social mobility. The figures below show the declining social mobility.

1980 – 11% of sons’ income explained by fathers’ income.
2000 – 34% of son’s income explained by fathers’ income.

Social Mobility and Education

Education is generally seen as one of the vehicles for increasing social mobility. Wilkinson and Pickett found that public expenditure on school education is strongly linked to the degree of income equality.

Norway – 97.8% of money spent on school education is part of public expenditure
USA – 68.2% of money spent on school education is part of public expenditure

This is likely to have a substantial impact on social differences in access to higher education.

Some points from the World Economic Forum video:

  • America now has lower social mobility than Denmark, France and Germany.
  • In unequal societies, young people from poor families are more likely to drop out of school
  • More parents struggle with mental health problems, long working hours and debt
  • Income inequality in the USA is 0.39 (1 is complete inequality – 1 person owns all the income of the country) Denmark is 0.25

What does Denmark do?

  • University education is free and childcare is well funded
  • The biggest boost to social mobility is wealth distribution. The Personal Income Tax Rate in Denmark stands at 55.8%. It averaged 60.66 percent from 1995 until 2017.

Across the West rising inequality hampers innovation and entrepreneurship. A study of 21 countries showed that as inequality rose the number of patents fell. Reducing inequality is one of 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Below is an interesting TED Talk by Richard Wilkinson.

Foreign Aid – where does it come from?

Below is an informative clip from The Economist on foreign aid. Useful for A2 students looking at developing economies and foreign aid.

Rich countries are giving away more in aid than at any other time on record. In 2016 more than $140bn was distributed around the world. According to the latest breakdown in 2015 America gave the most money away – nearly $31bn to at least 40 countries and organisations such as the world bank. This included $770m to Pakistan and $250m to Mexico. This may sound generous but the United States has the largest economy in the world. American foreign aid spending in 2015 was only 0.17% of the gross national income. Far less than other rich countries. Sweden and Norway are the biggest givers, donating over 1% of their gross national income to foreign aid. The biggest receivers of aid in 2015 were Afghanistan, India, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Afghanistan received $3.8bn and India $3.1bn. Despite being the second biggest economy in the world, China received $1.5bn in development aid in 2015. This included around $750m from Germany and $67m from Britain. The total amount of foreign aid is at an all time high – up 9% in 2016. This is largely down to the generosity of six countries who meet or exceed the United Nations foreign aid target, donating more than 0.7% of gross national income.

Norway sovereign wealth fund takes an ethical stance

Norway’s soveriegn-weatlh fund surpassed US$11trn in assets on September 19th this year. With its significant revenue from North Sea oil and gas getting invested overseas it is likely to get even bigger to the extent that Norway can start to shape ideas abroad. It is increasingly speaking out on ethical behaviour of companies and is an increasingly activist shareholder. The ethics watchdog for the fund recommends that it excludes several firms in oil, cement and steel industries for emitting too much greenhouse gas. This may seem hypocritical in that Norway produces significant amounts of oil but it operates under its own ethical guideline set by parliament.

Source: The Economist – 23-9-17

Missing out on billions of dollars

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has share in 9,000 companies, 1.3% of the entire world’s listed equity. It has lost out on billions of dollars of revenue by its government prohibiting any investment in tobacco companies and manufactures of certain weapons. The fund is forbidden by law from investing in firms that produce nuclear weapons or landmines, or are involved in serious and systematic human rights violations, among other criteria. These include Boeing, Airbus, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris. Last year the council looked into the construction industry in Qatar – host of the 2022 soccer World Cup – and neighboring countries, after reports of abuse by human rights groups. Since then new regulations have been implemented which protect the rights and living and working conditions of labour in the construction industry. This includes the right of immigrant workers to hold onto their passport. There is a broad consensus in Norway that the fund should not make money from companies that take people’s lives.

Norway and coase theorem

Another way Norway is trying to influence global warming is by using its sovereign wealth fund to change behaviors of other countries. Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. An example of this was the a deal between Liberia and Norway. Norway will give $150m in aid in return for Liberia stopping the destruction of its forests.

Stick and Carrot

The stick approach of trying to force Liberia to stop cutting down its trees might give way to a more effective carrot approach by paying Liberia to do so. This makes both sides better off. Liberia still gets the aid and Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change.

5 or 6 more China’s

The reality is that the planet can’t stand another 5 or 6 China’s but developing countries still need to grow and, like their developed country counterparts, it will involve greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to curb global emissions developing countries will have to leapfrog to new technologies as the burning of traditional fossil fuels will just exacerbate the problem. However developing countries have neither the resources nor the incentive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels on their own as their main focus is economic growth. Whilst developed countries have a lot to lose from developing-world emissions it is in their interest to pay the latter to curb emissions e.g. Norway paying Liberia not to chop down its trees. Although this looks a simple enough policy politicians will not be so enthused by it as money that is paid overseas to cut climate change is not very popular with the electorate and therefore the government.

America’s Cup and Cost Benefit Analysis

There has been a lot talk about the impact of the America’s Cup and the economic impact it will have on the Auckland economy. Consultancies have suggested that the Cup could generate up to $1billion injected into the NZ economy, thousands of jobs created, a return of more than seven dollars on every dollar invested in new wharf facilities. These figures have come under criticism by Tim Hazeldene in the NZ Herald.

As for the value-added injection and the jobs created: to a first-order approximation, the net number of new jobs created in Auckland, with its already stretched construction and tourism industries, will be about zero. The workers needed will be bid away from other jobs, or imported as new immigrants. As a result, there will be no significant real output increases, the extra spending will be soaked up in higher prices.

Higher prices are harmful for domestic New Zealand customers and travellers but beneficial to the bottom lines of New Zealand and foreign owned businesses. It’s a trade-off. My expectation is that, overall, there will be net economic benefits from holding the Cup in Auckland but that they will be quite small — below the costs to which national and local government are being asked to contribute.

The economic impact is based a lot on the multiplier effect but the use of cost benefit analysis also considers those external costs and benefits which are not easily convertible into a monetary value.

Evaluation of CBA
It is clearly more efficient for public spending to be subject to rigorous analysis, rather than based on the whims of politicians. However, there are a number of criticisms of CBA, including:

1. It is often very costly to undertake, though usually this forms a very small proportion of total project spending.
2. Assessing the monetary value of external costs and benefits is often very difficult. What precisely is the value of the congestion that would be reduced if a new bi-pass were built around a busy town? How much extra tourist revenue will actually be gained from a new airport? How long will the building be used as a venue, as in the case of the Viaduct area in Auckland for the 2020 America’s Cup. One solution to this problem is shadow pricing, where analysts attempt to place a value on the costs and benefits of a decision or a project where an actual market price does not exist.
3. Changing circumstances can make initial projections appear grossly inaccurate. The Wembley Stadium project in London went considerably over-budget, and the majority Olympic Games are far more costly than originally estimated. For instance the Montreal Olympics in 1976 was eventually paid off in December 2006. Higher interest and inflation rates, and falling exchange rates can all dramatically affect costs.
4. Actual costs can also rise above planned costs as a result of moral hazard, where project managers go over budget because they expect that those who fund the project will make extra funds available, providing an insurance against their over-spending.
5. Ultimately, decisions to go ahead with projects are only guided by CBA, leaving politicians to make the final decision. Politicians are free, of course, to ignore the results of an appraisal.

If you have read the book Circus Maximus you will no doubt be aware that most big sporting events run over budget and in some cases don’t generate the benefits until well after the event if at all. So just because an event runs over budget is that enough to say that we shouldn’t go ahead with the event. There are a great many other benefits of hosting an event like the Americas Cup which are not measured by GDP. The sense of community and wellbeing that comes from New Zealanders performance whether it be in rugby or at the Olympics. It tends to bring people together feel a sense of belonging which has external benefits. More recently the NZ government have introduced the Treasury Living Standards Framework – LSF

The Living Standards Framework

The Treasury Living Standards Framework draws on international work to supplement income based on measures of well being. So as well as GDP – which tends to be the standard indicator as to the health of an economy – other indicators such as:

Natural Capital – land, soil, water, plants and animals
Human Capital – skills, knowledge and physical and mental health
Social Capital – Trust, rule of law, cultural identity
Financial and Physical Capital – Houses, roads, buildings, hospitals etc.

So how will the above be impacted by the America’s Cup in Auckland?

Spotting a financial crisis

Below is another great video from PunkFT. Financial crises start with significant increases in asset prices followed by a severe correction and a collapse. But with more debt and more credit the market is unstable and although they have never been higher the yields have never been lower.

Thanks to more and more debt driving yet more and more credit, making everything more and more unstable. Today, for example, markets have never been higher. Yields have never been lower.

The early warning signs
These economic crises are easy to spot and they follow a familiar pattern. The warning signs are:

1. A bank grows very quickly and issues poor quality loans against nominal yields. It uses leverage to do this and fails to be aside reserves for possible future losses.

2. Normally the share price of these banks would plummet but in fact the opposite happens – the share price is driven up. As the bank takes more and more risk to generate more return, the market gets giddy, and they drive up the share price.

3. We don’t learn from our mistakes. The Global Financial Crisis suggests that the economy is following the contours of typical recession but that it is more severe. Subsequently forecasters who have tried to make resemblance to post-war US recessions are “barking up the wrong tree” and are of the belief that conventional tools like expansionary fiscal policy, quantitative easing and bailouts are way to go. The real problem is that the global economy is badly leveraged and there is no quick fix without a transfer of wealth from creditors to debtors. Ken Rogoff (co-author of ‘This Time is Different’) suggests that the ‘Second Great Contraction’ is a more realistic description of the current crisis in the global economy. The “First Great Contraction” was the Great Depression of 1929 but the contraction applies not only to output and employment, as in a normal recession, but to debt and credit, and the deleveraging that typically takes many years to complete.

If everybody else is doing it and getting rich, why, the CEO asked himself, shouldn’t I? The real cause of banking failures and systemic collapse lies with ethics at the top. And human nature tells us that bad ethics drive out good ethics.

What are the highest paid sports leagues?

NBA basketball has the highest average salary of any sports league followed by IPL cricket with baseball coming in third. Over half of the highest paid leagues were football with the EPL and the Bundesliga being above US$2 million. It is interesting that La Liga is third within the Football category even though a Spanish team has won the Champions League 5 times in the last 7 years.

In cricket the Twenty20 format has proved to be very popular with television viewers and gets very good attendances most notably in the IPL (India), Big Bash (Australia) and T20 Blast (England). In September this year IPL signed a five year contract worth US$2.55bn (US$510m per year) for broadcast and digital rights with Star India – a TV network owned by 21st Century Fox. The IPL competition involves just 60 matches which equates to US$8.5m per game which is 400% higher than the NBA per game and 66% greater per game than that of the EPL.

Cricket in the USA
Although cricket is globally very popular it has very limited uptake in the USA – both players and spectators. Sport in the USA has a high income elasticity of demand which means a change in income results in a greater percentage increase in demand. An Indian Media firm – Times of India Group – are hoping to tap into the American market and put on high profile cricket matches with the leading players in the game. The games generally take place in baseball stadiums but the firm is considering building cricket stadiums.

Highest paid sports leagues 2014-2015 season.

Top paid sports leagues.png

Source: CIE AS & A Level Revision Guide by Susan Grant

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury

I came across this new album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) – The Punishment of Luxury. For those of you are unfamiliar, OMD are a band from Merseyside Liverpool and have been long remembered for their hits “Electricity”, in 1979 and the 1980 anti-war song “Enola Gay”. The band achieved broader recognition via their seminal album Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three singles, all of which were international hits.

The “Punishment of Luxury” album is specifically about the global divide. Today the world is more unequal than at any time in world history which is due largely to the fact that 200 years ago everyone was poor. But the increasing wealth of the higher income group has been alarming – America’s top 10% now average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90%. The fact that people are much better off materially doesn’t seem to translate into a better mental condition – they seem to be unhappy. If you are in this situation you have undoubtedly got on the hedonic treadmill and the marketing people have got under your skin. It seems that if you don’t have the latest brand of a product you are less worthy of being recognized by your peer group and have less self-respect.

It seems that the very wealthy have the same problems as the rest of us but only on a much larger scale. A research paper from Boston College entitled “Secret fears of the super-Rich found that the top fears of the rich are:

  • The rich need increasing amounts of money to make them feel financially secure.
  • They feel isolated and don’t share their concerns or stress as they will sound ungrateful.
  • Thy worry that their children will become spoilt by inheriting so much wealth or resentful if its too little.
  • You are unsure if your friends genuinely like you or your money
  • There is constant dissatisfaction with consumption as something better / new is always being launched. They can’t get off the hedonic treadmill
  • Parents are concerned that money will rob their children of ambition and getting a job.

The title track is below. It is very OMD for those of you who are familiar with the sound of the band.

Paradox of Thrift – Great Depression & GFC

Although the paradox of thrift has been a regular part of the CIE A Level syllabus it is has only become more relevant since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). It has its origins in the 1714 book entitled ‘The Fable of Bees’ by Bernard Mandeville but it was John Maynard Keynes who really popularized this concept during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Classical economic theory suggests that greater levels of saving will increase the amount of loanable funds in the banks and therefore reduce the cost of money – interest rates. This allows people to put off consumption to a later date thereby avoiding the risk of taking on debt and thereby give people security if their jobs became threatened during a recessionary period

Keynes’ beliefs
Keynes argues that saving was not a virtue from a macroeconomic view as he believed that negative or pessimistic expectations during the Depression would dissuade firms from investing. Cutting the rate of interest is supposed to be the escape route from economic recession: boosting the money supply, increasing demand and thus reducing unemployment. He also suggested that sometimes cutting the rate of interest, even to zero, would not help. People, banks and firms could become so risk averse that they preferred the liquidity of cash to offering credit or using the credit that is on offer. In such circumstances, the economy would be trapped in recession, despite the best efforts of monetary policy makers. The graph below shows a liquidity trap. Increases or decreases in the supply of money at an interest rate of X do not affect interest rates, as all wealth-holders believe interest rates have reached the floor.

Liquidity Trap

All increases in money supply are simply taken up in idle balances. Since interest rates do not alter, the level of expenditure in the economy is not affected. Consequently, monetary policy under these circumstances is futile.

Keynes saw the 1930’s as a time when aggregate demand needed boosting – C+I+G+(X-M) – as the economy was in underemployment equilibrium. With the help of the multiplier, output and employment would increase – GDP. But with increased saving leading to reduced consumption and a fall in aggregate demand, a recession will worsen.

The fact that income must always move to the level where the flows of saving and investment are equal leads to one of the most important paradoxes in economics – the paradox of thrift. Keynes explains how, under certain circumstances, an attempt to increase savings may lead to a fall in total savings. Any attempt to save more which is not matched by an equal willingness to invest more will create a deficiency in demand – leakages (savings) will exceed injections (investment) and income will fall to a new equilibrium. In the graph below, the point of equilibrium is at E where the saving curve SS and investment curve II intersect each other. The level of income at equilibrium is OY and saving and Investment are equal at OH. When the aggregate saving increases, the saving curve shifts upwards from SS to S1S1. The new equilibrium point is E1 with OY1 level of income. Saving and investment are equal at point OT. As the level of saving increases, national income decreased from OY to OY1. Similarly, the volume of saving and investment also declined from OH to OT.

Paradox of Thrift

Negative Multiplier

People save more → spend less → another’s reduced income → negative multiplier → reduces demand → unemployment ↑ → incomes ↓ → AD↓ therefore planned increase in savings makes a recession worse.

Paradox of thrift today

The relevance of the paradox of thrift today is different from that during the Great Depression in the 1930’s. Back then consumers weren’t in as much debt as they are today and the government played a much smaller role in the economy with little or no welfare state to provide automatic stabilizers. Also the financial system wasn’t an interconnected as it is today and the financial engineering that evolved in the 2000’s allowed for the creation of instruments that had no real value to the economy – CDO and CDS. But after the GFC the expectations of consumers became very negative and as workers became fearful of losing their jobs what followed was an increase in savings as they wanted less exposure to debt, which negatively affected consumption.

AS Economics – Inflation Revision

With the Cambridge AS and A2 multiple-choice papers on Wednesday here are some revision notes on inflation and a diagram that I have found useful. As well as cost-push and demand-pull inflation remember:

Inflationary Expectations

In recent years more attention has been paid to the psychological effects which rising prices have on people’s behaviour. The various groups which make up the economy, acting in their own self-interest, will actually cause inflation to rise faster than otherwise would be the case if they believe rising prices are set to continue.

Workers, who have tended to get wage rises to ‘catch up’ with previous price increases, will attempt to gain a little extra compensate them for the expected further inflation, especially if they cannot negotiate wage increases for another year. Consumers, in belief that prices will keep rising, buy now to beat the price rises, but this extra buying adds to demand pressures on prices. In a country such as New Zealand’s before the 1990’s, with the absence of competition in many sectors of the economy, this behaviour reinforces inflationary pressures. ‘Breaking the inflationary cycle’ is an important part of permanently reducing inflation. If people believe prices will remain stable, they won’t, for example, buy land and property as a speculation to protect themselves.