The pros and cons of globalisation

The rhetoric around globalisation has been very much how beneficial it is to the global economy. Economists in general have been very much in favour of the interconnectedness of economies making goods and services more competitive to the consumer. So what are the pros and cons of globalisation?

Volvo Ocean Race and the Multiplier Effect.

I am quite an avid watcher of the Volvo Ocean Race with the daily race updates and the excellent graphics on their website – currently they are in Auckland before setting sail for Itajaí in Brazil. Most days they have news on the current positions of the yachts and who has made gains and losses in the last 24 hours. A recent race update dealt with the economic impact that the race has had on the Spanish economy and it just happens that I am covering the multiplier with my A2 Economics class.

The Multiplier Explained

Consider a $300 million increase in business capital investment. This will set off a chain reaction of increases in expenditures. Firms who produce the capital goods that are ultimately purchased will experience an increase in their incomes. If they in turn, collectively spend about 3/5 of that additional income, then $180m will be added to the incomes of others. At this point, total income has grown by ($300m + (0.6 x $300m). The sum will continue to increase as the producers of the additional goods and services realise an increase in their incomes, of which they in turn spend 60% on even more goods and services. The increase in total income will then be ($300m + (0.6 x $300m) + (0.6 x $180m). The process can continue indefinitely. But each time, the additional rise in spending and income is a fraction of the previous addition to the circular flow.

The value of the multiplier can be found by the equation ­1 ÷ (1-MPC)
You can also use the following formula which represents a four sector economy

Source: CIE Revision Guide by Susan Grant

Impact of Volvo Ocean Race on Spanish Economy

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) conducted a study measuring the impact of the Volvo Ocean Race on the Region of Valencia and Spain. Some their findings are:

  • The impact in the Region of Valencia has grown to 68.6 million euros in GDP and 1,270 full-time equivalent jobs.
  • Hotels, restaurants and local business were the sectors to benefit the most.
  • Alicante received 345,602 visitors from October 11 to 22, 2017, (10.3% more than in 2014-15 and 17.6% more than in 2011-12).
  • The Volvo Ocean Race had a significant positive effect on national tax revenue, adding more than 41 million euros.
  • The media value directly linked to coverage mentioning the Alicante brand over the period of the race start exceeds 36 million euros.

The Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 has added 96.2 million euros to the Spanish Gross Domestic Product (GDP), an increase of 7.6% over the 2014-15 edition. The race also generated the equivalent of 1,700 full time jobs in Spain, according to an economic impact study delivered by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) measuring the impact of the Volvo Ocean Race on the Region of Valencia and Spain.

The impact in the Region of Valencia grew to 68.6 million euros of GDP, a 3.3% increase on the 2014-15 edition. The sectors of activity that benefited the most were local businesses and restaurants, each by more than 10 million euros. In terms of employment, the equivalent of 1,270 full-time jobs were generated, a figure similar to the last edition.

The PwC study estimates a positive effect on tax collection in Spain of more than 41 million euros as a result of an increase in economic activity and employment generated by the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18.

The actual value of the multiplier is not mentioned in the report but from all accounts the Volvo Ocean Race has had a very positive impact on Valencia.

Is the Natural Rate of Unemployment in the US lower than economists think?

The natural rate of unemployment is the difference between those who would like a job at the current wage rate – and those who are willing and able to take a job. In the above diagram, it is the level (Q2-Q1).


The natural rate of unemployment will therefore include:
Frictional unemployment – those people in-between jobs
Structural unemployment – those people that don’t have the skills that fit the jobs that are available.

It is also referred to as the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) – the job market neither pushes up inflation nor holds it back.

US Labour Market – tight but little wage growth.

The recent (February 2018) US Federal Reserve Monetary Policy Report stated that the US labour market appears to be near or a little beyond full employment. In theory this should suggest major labour shortages which ultimately end in higher wages for workers. Although employers report having more difficulties finding qualified workers, hiring continues apace, and serious labour shortages would likely have brought about larger wage increases than have been evident to date. The unemployment rate appears to be below most estimates of the natural rate.

January US unemployment rate = 4.1%
Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) current estimate of the natural rate = 4.6%

The Unemployment Gap

The unemployment rate gap is the unemployment rate minus the CBO’s estimate of the natural rate of unemployment. The shaded bars indicate periods of business recession.

The median of Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants’ estimates of the longer-run normal rate of unemployment and the CBO’s estimate of the natural rate of unemployment have both been revised down by about 1% over the past few years, one indication of the substantial uncertainty surrounding estimates of the “full employment” rate of unemployment.

The US Fed have suggested that with many advanced economies experiencing such low inflation that more persistent factors may be restraining price growth therefore the NRU could be lower in some countries than many economists think. Prices in many industries have been subdued due to technological changes – internet shopping which allows easy comparison – which restricts businesses ability to demand higher prices.

What could be the reasons for less wage growth?

• Employees need less compensation as the inflation rate has been low
• An increase in part-time employment
• Spare capacity in the labour market
• Employees keen on job security so put less emphasis on wage bargaining
• Increasing number of people participating in the labour force.
• Shorter working week
• Ageing and declining working age population

Although in the US there have been labour shortages in some areas of the economy, this hasn’t flowed through into the aggregate labour market. However speculation of higher inflationary pressure through higher wages has alerted markets that the US Fed may increase interest rates although they will remain reluctant to tighten too aggressively.

Source: US Federal Reserve Monetary Policy Report – February 2018.

Trump – why is he really putting tariffs on steel and aluminum?

Donald Trump announced on 2nd March that the US will impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff and aluminum imports. A tariff protects domestic firms against overseas competition and raises revenue for the government. A tariff is a tax placed (or levied) on imports that raises the price of imported goods thereby making locally-made products relatively more price competitive. This may protect jobs and/or improve the balance of payments but it can cause resentment overseas. High tariffs on imports may cause a country’s trading partners to retaliate and follow suit by placing tariffs on exports of foreign made goods. Notice on the graph below how a tariff reduces the quantity of imports from 6m bottles to 2m bottles and the domestic supply increases from 2m to 4m bottles.

For many years US producers have found it hard to compete with cheap imports and this has led to many steel plants closing down with thousands of workers losing their jobs. Two main factors have caused this:

  1. Global steel and aluminum production has increased significantly over the last 15 years which has created excess capacity.
  2. Chinese firms have been widely accused of pricing below the cost of production in order to get rid of excess stock

Previous Tariffs – nothing new here.

The US is not the only country or group to impose tariffs on foreign products. The EU has done the following:

  • Put a tariff of 28.5% on certain types of steel pipes and tubes made in China after it was found that the prices were artificially low.
  • Imposed 43 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures, 20 of which are on products originating from China

The Obama Administration also was active in counteracting alleged Chinese dumping.

  • March 2016 – they put a 265.79% on imports of cold-rolled steel, used to make auto parts, appliances and shipping containers, from seven countries including China.
  • May 2016 – to clampdown on the glut of steel imports the US imposed anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties of up to 450% on corrosion-resistant steel form China.

What is the difference between previous tariffs and Trumps announcement?

The difference here is that Trump’s tariffs would apply to all products rather than targeting particular areas of steel and aluminum production. Trump seems to be threatening action against any nation that runs trade surpluses with the United States. He tweeted last week:

“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,”

“Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore—we win big. It’s easy!”

The EU maintain that the key problem is as mentioned above is global over capacity caused by non-market production – producing the output even though there is no demand for it. They are of the belief that this can be dealt with at the source – i.e. those countries over producing. The oil industry seems to work in a similar way with OPEC where production can change with negotiations between oil producing countries. However if a trade war does eventuate Europe has warned the US to expect imports tariffs on American icons like Harley-Davidson, Levi’s jeans and Kentucky bourbon.

China is not the big importer into the US

It seems that in a lot of his communication he singles out China as being the problem especially with the trade deficit the US has with that country. However China only supplies 2.9% of US steel imports – see below:

Top steel exporters to the United States with their corresponding percentage of total U.S. steel imports:


Canadian steel producers, like their U.S. counterparts, have been complaining about Chinese firms dumping products in the domestic market. Sensitive to these complaints, the Canadian government has long imposed protective duties on some Chinese exports, such as hot-rolled steel plate. On Thursday, the Canadian International Trade Tribunal indicated that these duties would remain in place. On this issue, at least, the United States and Canada should have been able to find common ground. Instead, Canada, like the E.U., is threatening to retaliate against Trump’s plan.



Source: Wood Mackenzie

Why is Trump really doing this?

As with any politician it is all about popularity. Part of his rhetoric on the election campaign was to make America great again and to revive the heavy industry in areas such as Pennsylvania (steel production) a normally very safe seat for the Republicans – in fact the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in the last election. However, Trump voters are disappointed with his presidency and, with the Democrats fielding a candidate, the forthcoming special election in western Pennsylvania is too close to call. An upset victory by the Democrats, or even a narrow loss, would make the midterm elections a very close contest as the Democrats try to retake control of the House of Representatives.

The big question is will Trump go ahead with the tariffs or back down as he has done with immigration etc.

Source: New Yorker – Will Trump Really Start a Broad Trade War? by John Cassidy

Big Mac Index January 2018 – Worksheet

The Big Mac index was invented by The Economist in 1986 as a lighthearted guide to whether currencies are at their “correct” level. It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), the notion that in the long run exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services (in this case, a burger) in any two countries.

Here is something that I put together using the the Big Mac index from The Economist website. Students have to complete the table below and answer the questions that follow. It makes for a good discussion of PPP amongst countries

The Big Mac Index – January 2018

* Estimated figures

1. Complete the table above. In which country was their actual exchange rate on January 2018 closest to their Big Mac exchange rate?

2. Which country’s currency is suggested by your calculations above as being
a) the most undervalued against the dollar, and

b) the most overvalued against the dollar?

3. What factors could have an influence on exchange rate values on a given date as shown in the table above?

4. Differences in the prices of hamburgers could exist in the real world for a number of reasons. Suggest one reason relating to a) supply and b) demand which could lead to apparent deviations from equilibrium exchange rate values.

The avocado market – prices up by 143%

The current avocado market has seen the wholesale price of a box of 48 avocados increase by 143%.

US$34.45 in September 2016
US$83.75 in September 2017

The reasons can be explained by simple Supply and Demand.


There have been droughts, storms, wildfires and strikes in various growing areas including California, Chile and Mexico

California – production down 44%
Mexico – production down by 20%

This has a huge impact on supply with the supply curve shifting to the left – S1 – S2 therefore increasing scarcity and putting up the price.


Annual consumption in the US has increase from about 0.5 kg in 1989 to 3.5 kg in 2016.

In 2016 total consumption was 1.15 billion kg. Demand curve shifts to the right – D1 – D2 therefore increasing the price.

A lot of demand has been driven by trends like avocado toast and the growth of fast-casual Mexican chains like Chipotle. There has also been higher avocado consumption in China and Europe as health-conscious consumers in the world’s most populous nations show an interest in the “heart-healthy” avocados.

Venezuela’s hyperinflation and collapsing currency

I have blogged in the past about the ongoing problems in Venezuela of hyperinflation, food shortages and social unrest. One of the consequences of hyperinflation is the loss of confidence in its economy which leads to an outflow of money and a lack of foreign investment. The result of these events is the fall in the Venezuelan currency – the bolívar. One way of monitoring its decline is the use of The Economist’s Big Mac index – it is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity, the notion that a dollar should buy the same amount in all countries. The Big Mac PPP is the exchange rate that would mean hamburgers cost the same in America as abroad – the video explains PPP and shows how undervalued / overvalued an exchange rate is relative to a Big Mac exchange rate.

According to the Big Mac index the price of Big Mac in
Caracas = 145,000 bolívars
USA = US$5.28

Purchasing Power Parity
Purchasing power parity (PPP) is when an amount of money in one country can be exchanged for a quantity of foreign currency, and the two amounts will buy identical baskets of products in both countries. So if we take the above example the PPP exchange rate is:

145,000 bolívars ÷ US$5.28 = 27,462 bolívars

However the Big Mac index seems to underestimate the slide in the Venezuelan currency as the black market is estimated to be around 260,000 bolívars. A US based website called DolarToday provides black market exchange rates that are updated daily for Venezuelans who cannot exchange currencies with the Venezuelan government for the dwindling supply of the US dollar. According to DolarToday, the estimated exchange rate is 230,228.36 VEF/USD in Venezuela’s free market as of 21 February 2018, which makes it the least valued circulating currency in the world – see graph from Wikipedia. Notice the reduced time for the bolívar to lose 90% of its value.

The company bases its computed exchange rates of the Venezuelan bolívar to the Euro or the United States dollar from the fees on trades in Cúcuta, Colombia, a city near the border of Venezuela. Currently, with no other reliable source other than the black market exchange rates, these rates are used by Reuters, CNBC, and several media news agencies and networks.

Therefore traders in Caracas check the DolarToday rate before presenting the bill to their customers. But local goods have no reference price and don’t keep up with the collapsing value of money – a monthly mobile phone tariff is 38,000 bolivars = 15 cents and a haircut is 25 cents. The minimum wage has increased regularly and it now stands at 800,000 bolívar = less than US$4 at the black market exchange rate.

If wages were perfectly indexed, it would serve only to speed up inflation. But their slow and uneven adjustment means the pain of hyperinflation is shared haphazardly. As Juan Perón of Argentina supposedly said, if prices take the lift, wages cannot take the stairs.

The Economist – Hyperinflation in Venezuela – January 27th 2018
Wikipedia – Venezuelan bolívar

Full v Fulfilling Employment

Just going through the Natural Rate of Unemployment with my A2 class and I remembered a post I did last year. Free Exchange in The Economist had an article which looked at the change in terminology used by Janet Yellen ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve. In a statement last year she alluded to the US economy near maximum employment and that rate rises could ensue. However only 69% of American adults have a job.

Full employment has normally been the concept that has been used to describe a situation where there is no cyclical or deficient-demand unemployment, but unemployment does exist as allowances must be made for frictional unemployment and seasonal factors – also referred to as the natural rate of unemployment or Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU). If a central bank wishes to stimulate demand below this level there is the concern that inflation will increase therefore they take a guess as to what is the natural rate of unemployment – the lowest rate of unemployment where prices don’t accelerate. Maximum unemployment is the same in that it refers to the labour market being as tight as it can be without increasing prices. Natural rates in the US have varied – around 5.3% in 1950 and then peaking at 6.3% in the stagflation period before falling 4.9% in 2008 and then rising to 5.1% after the GFC, see graph below.

NRU and its causes

The NRU mainly depends on the level of frictional unemployment – defined as those who are in between jobs. This number can vary as at different times of the business cycle as there can be a delay in matching those looking for work with the vacancies themselves – a mismatch sometimes referred to as Structural Unemployment. The increase in frictional unemployment in the 1970’s and 80’s was largely due to the decline in manufacturing jobs with the advent of automation and more right wing policies (Reagan and Thatcher). Workers would stay unemployed in the hope that good high paid manufacturing jobs would reappear.

Unions can also influence the NRU with protecting workers jobs and pushing up wages so that employers find it too costly to employ more labour. However the fall in the 1990’s could be due to the advent of technology in the hiring process and the growth of part-time jobs which assisted those workers facing a career change.

Another influence on the NRU is wage growth as with the higher wages you attract more of the labour force to engage in actively looking for work.

A central bank will have to use trial and error to make a decision on how much spare capacity there is in an economy. Only when prices start to increase do they have an idea how capacity is running.

Quality not Quantity

As alluded to by The Economist the goal of full employment must consider the quality of jobs as well. With the acceleration of technology over labour, maximum employment should consider more than capacity constraints or inflationary pressure.

Rather, governments need to consider the options available to workers: not just how easily they can find jobs they want, but also how readily they can refuse jobs they do not. By lifting obstacles to job changes and giving workers a social safety net that enables them to refuse the crummiest jobs, societies can foster employment that is not just full, but fulfilling.

Sources: The Economist 28th January 2017, St Louis Federal Reserve – Natural Rate of Unemployment

Are smartphones causing a loss of productivity?

A recent article on the Bank of England blog written by Dan Nixon caught my attention as it is something that I have long been concerned about – that is the amount of time we spend on our phones / devices and its impact on people’s productivity in the workplace.

Smartphone use and the amount of notifications that we get is enormous. Research in 2015 found that on average we check our 150 times a day – roughly 6½ mins – and spend 2½ hours each day on the phone, spread across 76 sessions. From this the ‘attention economy’ emerges as a scarce and valuable resource and is seen as one of the greatest problems of our time – American philosopher William James noted, our life experience ultimately amounts to whatever we had paid attention to.

The attention economy and the workplace.

The graph below makes for interesting interpretation – productivity growth has been very weak whilst shipments on smartphones has increase by 10 fold. You would expect that the output of a worker would depend on his/her ability to focus and be able to pay attention to the task in hand. However research into observing inner states (attention) and mapping those outcomes with attention (productivity) is fraught with difficulty.

Cyberslacking – The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation finds that people typically spend one hour of their workday on social media – rising to 1.8 hours for millennials. Another survey, meanwhile, found that traffic to shopping sites surged between 2pm to 6pm on weekday afternoons. An influx of emails and phone calls, for example, is estimated to reduce workers’ IQ by 10 points – equivalent to losing a night’s sleep.

Frequent distractions – might lead to a persistently lower capacity to work, over and above the direct effects. What is the argument for this being the case?

1. There’s habit formation – what we do is designed by smartphone apps which make us be as addictive as possible – to ‘hijack the mind’, as Tristan Harris puts it. The psychological mechanism at play here – “intermittent variable rewards” – is the same as the one that gets people hooked on slot machines.

2. The more choice of notifications we have the more time we will spend scanning them looking for instant gratification. Cal Newport goes so far as saying that media like email, far from enhancing our productivity, serve to ultimately deskill the labour force.

Algorithms and attention
Ultimately what we look at is determined by algorithms – so the more technology the less we make the decisions ourselves and our suggested we buy certain goods or services because of out previous behaviours. There has been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and machines that will be capable of an increasingly wide set of tasks. But most agree on the need to cultivate our distinctively human skills in order to differentiate ourselves from machines. And the human ability to empathise – central to the work of social workers, performers and nurses, among others

But is technology all bad?

IT does help business for the following reasons:

  • Speeds up communication
  • Allows documents to be shared remotely
  • Easier to find information own the Internet.

From the above productivity surged in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s as email, databases and the Internet have had a significant effect on the productivity of business processes.

Is the cause of weak productivity distraction?

Distraction is not the whole story with regard to weak productivity. Industries such as manufacturing and construction have had disappointing productivity rates but this can hardly be due to workers being on their smartphones. As pointed out by The Economist ‘Free Exchange’ productivity is also a consequence of the movement of workers from industries with relatively high rates of growth to more stagnant ones. For instance in the US productivity half of total employment growth since 2000 has been in low productivity areas such as education and health care.

Final thought

According to Dan Nixon constant notifications results in workers becoming less empathetic which is a serious side-effect in an economy where human connections with customers are cast as a defense against automation. Distraction also appears to reduce happiness which ultimately impact on worker productivity. Must end this post now – better check my email accounts, twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.



Dan Nixon – Bank Underground blog

Free Exchange – The Economist.


A2 Economics – Introducing Unemployment with UB40

I recently started teaching the Unemployment topic to my Year 13 A2 class and remembered that one of the first albums I bought was UB40 Signing Off – released in 1980 (see right). The front cover and reverse has been made to look like the UB40 unemployment benefit attendance card from which the band took their name. Their UK top-ten hit “One In Ten” was an attack on Thatcherism and is mistakenly cited as referring to the number of unemployed in the UK at that time. It is in fact a song about government statistics in general, and how politicians use them to de-humanise problems. Useful way to introduce the subject especially if the class like reggae. I found it useful to have two windows open and play the video along side the lyrics. Click here for the lyrics of the song and here to see UB40 perform on Top of the Pops in 1981.  I was surprise at how many of the class knew of the band.