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OECD – GDP per capita – New Zealand falls to 22nd.

New Zealand has enjoyed a high standard of living and solid economic growth in recent years. However, during this period New Zealand has also exhibited a comparatively low level of productivity growth relative to our OECD peers. Broad-based evidence of this can be seen in New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) per capita. This metric measures output per New Zealander and is standardised into US Dollars for all countries. On this metric, New Zealand has consistently trailed the United States, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, France, Japan and the OECD average.

In 2017, New Zealand was ranked 22 of 48 countries surveyed by the OECD, compared with 9th place in 1970 and 20th in 1993. Over the last 50 years the world has seen much stronger growth in exports of manufactured products and slower growth in exports of primary products. And New Zealand’s competitive advantage is still in primary products. We are now on the brink of a technological revolution that will alter the way we live and work. The fourth industrial revolution is all about embracing the digital revolution. Our low productivity levels are a bit of a conundrum and the reasons for this are varied and subjective. Source – ANZ Bank

OECD GDP PER CAPITA (2017)

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”)

A2 Economics – Wage Price Spiral and the Long Run Phillips Curve

Phillips CurvePart of the CIE A2 macro syllabus focuses on the wage price spiral which relates to the Phillips Curve. Here are some excellent notes that I picked up from Russell Tillson in my early days teaching at Epsom College. As from previous posts, the Phillips Curve analysed data for money wages against the rate of unemployment over the period 1862-1958. Money wages and prices were seen to be strongly correlated, mainly because the former are the most significant costs of production. Hence the resulting curve purported to provide a “trade-off’ between inflation and unemployment – i.e. the government could ‘select’ its desired position on the curve.

During the 1970’s higher rates of inflation than previously were associated with any given level of unemployment. It was generally considered that the whole curve had shifted right – i.e. to achieve full employment a higher rate of inflation than previously had to be accepted.

Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Phillips Curve denies the existence of any long-run trade off between inflation and unemployment. In short, attempts to reduce unemployment below its natural rate by fiscal reflation will succeed only at the cost of generating a wage-price spiral, as wages are quickly cancelled out by increases in prices.

Each time the government reflates the economy, a period of accelerating inflation will follow a temporary fall in unemployment as workers anticipate a future rise in inflation in their pay demands, and unemployment returns to its natural rate.

The process can be seen in the diagram below – a movement from A to B to C to D to E

Friedman thus concludes that the long-run Phillips Curve (LRPC) is vertical (at the natural rate of unemployment), and the following propositions emerge:

1. At the natural rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation will be constant (but not necessarily zero).

2. The rate of unemployment can only be maintained below its natural rate at the cost of accelerating inflation. (Reflation is doomed to failure).

3. Reduction in the rate of inflation requires deflation in the economy – i.e. unemployment must rise (in the short term at least) above its natural rate.

Some economists go still further, and argue that the natural rate has increased over time and that the LRPC slopes upwards to the right. If inflation is persistently higher in one country that elsewhere, the resulting loss of competitiveness reduces sales and destroys capacity. Hence inflation is seen to be a cause of higher inflation.

Rational expectations theorists deny Friedman’s view that reflation reduces unemployment even in the short-run. Since economic agents on average correctly predicted that the outcome of reflation will be higher inflation, higher money wages have no effect upon employment and the result of relations simply a movement up the LRPC to a higher level of inflation.

AS Economics – Hyperinflation causes and ends

Starting with a definition. In 1956 Phillip Cagan, an economist working at America’s National Bureau of Economic Research, published a seminal study of hyperinflation, which he defined as a period in which prices rise by more than 50% a month.

There seems to be common patterns when hyperinflation occurs in an economy. These include:

  1. Fiscal pressure – cost of funding a war, increased social welfare payments, corrupt officials taking money from the budget.
  2. Dependence of a particular resource – the resource curse. Some economies rely on exports of oil, iron ore or other resources to fund its spending. This has the effect of increasing the value of the currency and although this will make imports cheaper once the resource runs out or global prices start to drop the overvalued currency falls causing a large increase in imported prices. Furthermore governments come to depend on revenue from oil and a sudden drop in prices saw a massive drop in tax revenue – 90% of Venezuela’s revenue came from oil.
  3. Printing money – like Bolivia in the 1980’s, Venezuela overcame their shortfall in income by printing more money. The increase in the supply of money pushes up inflation. But what makes it worse is, as the inflation rate impacts the real value of government revenue, they continue to print money to finance the budget deficit which in turn exacerbates the problem – bigger budget deficit and further inflation.
  4. Exchange rate – at some stage the exchange rate will collapse as people lose confidence in the currency. Imports become ever increasingly expensive and feed into the inflation calculation.
  5. 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. This is evident in Venezuela as people become accustomed to higher prices and expect them to continue which makes inflation likely 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.

Hyperinflation tends to end in two ways.

  1. The paper currency becomes so utterly worthless that it is supplanted by a hard currency. This is what happened in Zimbabwe at the end of 2008, when the American dollar took over, in effect. Prices will stabilise, but other problems emerge. The country loses control of its banking system and its industry may lose competitiveness.
  2. The second, hyperinflation ends through a reform programme. This was very much the case in Bolivia in the 1980’s – Government spending was slashed. Price controls were scrapped. Import tariffs were cut. Government budgets were balanced. Therefore this typically involves a commitment to control the budget, a new issue of banknotes and a stabilisation of the exchange rate—ideally all backed with confidence-inspiring foreign loans. Without such reform, Venezuela’s leaders, though scornful of America, may find that its people are forced eventually to adopt its dollar anyway.

Sources:

  • The Economist “The half-life of a currency” September 15th 2018
  • The Economist “The roots of hyperinflation” February 12th 2018

New Zealand’s Terms of Trade – Milk Powder v Oil

The recent history of New Zealand’s terms of trade has been largely linked to dairy product export prices although in a longer-term context the price of imported oil has been paramount. Today we can see that the price of powdered milk (export) and the price of brent crude oil (import) are heading in the wrong directions. Powdered milk prices are falling and brent crude oil prices are rising which makes for an unfavourable terms of trade – see graph. This is not a good sign for the terms of trade which reached its peak in March this year.

What is the Terms of Trade.
The terms of trade index measures the value of a unit of exports in terms of the number of imports it can buy, or the purchasing power of our exports. This is similar to comparing the number of sheep exports that will buy a typical imported family car, from one time to another. The formula is:
Formula: Terms of Trade (TOT) =

Export Price Index (Px)           x   1000 (base year)
Import Price Index (Pm)

  • An increase in the TOT (e.g. from 1050 to 1200) is called “favourable”
  • A decrease in the TOT (e.g. from 1050 to 970) is called “unfavourable”

A “favourable” (increase) in the TOT may come about because the average:

– export price rose and import price stayed the same
– export prices rose faster than import prices
– export prices stayed the same and import prices fell
– export prices fell but import prices fell faster

The index number that results tells us whether merchandise export price movements have been favourable relative to import price movements. An increase in the terms of trade from 1000 to 1100 represents an increase in the purchasing power of our exports of 10% which means, other things being equal, we would be able to buy 10% more from overseas. As a country we would be wealthier. A decline in the terms of trade would result in the opposite situation.

Limitations of the Terms of Trade

Terms of trade calculations do not tell us about the volume of the countries’ exports, only relative changes between countries. To understand how a country’s social utility changes, it is necessary to consider changes in the volume of trade, changes in productivity and resource allocation, and changes in capital flows.

The price of exports from a country can be heavily influenced by the value of its currency, which can in turn be heavily influenced by the interest rate in that country. If the value of currency of a particular country is increased due to an increase in interest rate one can expect the terms of trade to improve. However this may not necessarily mean an improved standard of living for the country since an increase in the price of exports perceived by other nations will result in a lower volume of exports. As a result, exporters in the country may actually be struggling to sell their goods in the international market even though they are enjoying a (supposedly) high price. An example of this is the high export price suffered by New Zealand exporters since mid-2000 as a result of the historical mandate given to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand to control inflation.

In the real world of over 200 nations trading hundreds of thousands of products, terms of trade calculations can get very complex. Thus, the possibility of errors is significant.

Evaluation

  • A decline in the terms of trade is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, a decline in the terms of trade may occur due to a devaluation in the exchange rate. This devaluation may enable a country to regain competitiveness and increase the quantity of exports.
  • The impact of a decline in the terms of trade will depend on the elasticity of demand. If demand is elastic, the lower price of exports will cause a bigger % increase in demand.
  • Some Less Developed Countries (LDCs) have seen an improvement in terms of trade because of rising price of commodities and food post 2008. It is not always LDCs who see a decline in the terms of trade.
  • It is important to distinguish between a short term decline in terms of trade and a long term decline. A long term decline is more serious for reflecting a fall in living standards.

Unemployment – a ‘luxury good’ in the developing world

Image result for unemployment in developing countriesFollowing from my last post about the welfare state, the lack of jobless benefits in developing countries has led to very low unemployment levels as workers simply cannot afford not to work. In order for them to survive they need to be prepared to do any sort of job. Even if unemployment benefits are available a lot of the time they are not worth the effort. In Thailand, for example, payments last six months and range from 1,650 baht per month ($52) to 15,000. To be eligible, a Thai worker must register with the social-security office. But only one in three does so.

Therefore if they have lost their job what do they do? A laid-off factory worker might lend a hand on the family farm, become a casual day labourer, or sell trinkets on the street. When Annan Chanthan left his job as a graphic designer in Bangkok five years ago, he thought about collecting unemployment benefits, but never bothered. He now earns more money selling lottery tickets next to Hua Lamphong railway station than he did in his former profession.

But the situation can be complicated in developing countries, with their large informal sectors, which offer a relatively easy way for unemployed people to pick up some income — undetected by the government — while they continue to receive jobless benefits. However the level of the unemployment benefit influence the duration of the period of unemployment, but it doesn’t really help workers find better jobs (such as those that pay a higher wage). However, the level of the benefit does seem to improve wages somewhat, although not the unemployment duration.

In poor countries, unemployment is paradoxically concentrated among the better off and better educated. They can afford to wait a bit for a job that matches their aspirations and qualifications. Their behaviour may also explain unemployment’s curious stability but when times are bad, they may settle for a worse job or stop looking, rather than wait longer, which would add to the rate of unemployment.

Source: The Economist June 9th 2018 – The luxury of unemployment

 

 

Repairing the Welfare State

Back in July The Economist had an article in its ‘International’ section on updating or repairing the welfare state. They identified 3 major challenges faced by welfare states in rich countries.

  1. Ageing population
  2. Immigration
  3. Adapting to changing labour markets

1. Ageing Population

Image result for old age dependency welfare stateThe rapid increase in life expectancy over the past century has become an issue for governments around the world in terms of financing pensions, social care, and health care – see graph. With the political opposition to a reduction of public services a solution could be to increase the tax base by mobilising the potential workforce so that a greater share of those of working age actually work, while another can be found in productivity growth. Yet another route is raising the retirement age in response to longer and healthier life expectancy. The challenge of funding the pension system appears particularly daunting, with an increasing share of the population spending a longer period of time in retirement. Although immigration is a problem it may be a solution to ageing as economic research from the UK and Denmark has shown that since 2002 EU migrants have contributed much more in taxes than they have cost in public services.

2. Immigration

Immigration poses another challenge to the welfare state. In 1978 Milton Friedman argued that you could have open borders or generous welfare states open to all, but not both, without swamping the welfare system. Moreover, taxpayers are more tolerant of benefits that are seen to look after “people like them”. Evidence suggests that there has been tension between diversity and generosity.

Welfare chauvinism has been evident in many countries – France, Sweden, Denmark – have curbed the rights to benefits of non-EU migrants since 2002. Reforms in the USA in 1990s limited illegal immigrants’ access to benefits and of late Sweden has limited paid parental leave for new immigrants and cut support payments to some asylum-seekers. Moreover, attitudes towards immigrants are volatile and swayed by the political climate. In 2011, for example, 40% of Britons said immigrants “undermined” the country’s cultural life, and just 26% said they enriched it. By last year, in the wake of the Brexit vote, only 23% went for undermined, compared with 44% for “enriched”.

3. Adapting to changing labour markets

Recent research by the OECD in seven of its members estimated that 60% of the working-age population had stable full-time work. Of the other 40%, no more than a quarter met the typical definition of unemployed: out of a job but looking for one. Most had dropped out of the labour market or worked volatile hours. In many countries when the jobless do find work, their benefits are withdrawn in such a way as to create a high effective marginal tax rate. Nearly 40% of the unemployed in the OECD face a marginal rate higher than 80% on taking a job. Welfare recipients also often suffer from bureaucratic traps. For example, some have to wait weeks between losing a job and receiving benefits.

Universal basic income (UBI) may be one way to avoid such problems. It takes many very different forms, but at its heart it replaces a plethora of means-tested benefits with a single, unconditional one, paid to everyone. Scotland and the Netherlands are running experiments involving UBI and many others are set to follow. But in no country is it yet the foundation of the benefits system for working-age adults.

The OECD recently modelled two forms of basic income. Under the first, countries’ spending on benefits was divided equally among everyone—a revenue-neutral reform. Under the second, everyone would receive benefits equal to the current minimum-income guarantee, and taxes would rise to pay for it, if necessary.

Welfare Policy – Trilemma

The results, as ever in welfare policy, reveal a “trilemma” between:

1. The overall cost,
2. How much it alleviates poverty
3. Its effect on work incentives.

They also show that the effects of introducing basic income vary hugely based on what welfare system it would partly replace. Countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Austria and Poland all spend more on welfare for the richest 20% than for the poorest. For them, spreading benefits more evenly would benefit the poor, even under a revenue-neutral model. But in countries that target welfare spending on the poor (such as Britain), UBI would either lead to large tax rises, to maintain a minimum income for everyone, or see benefits cut for the worst-off.

A more realistic alternative for many countries may be a negative income tax (NIT). Championed by Friedman, the NIT means that, below a certain income threshold, the taxman pays you. As you earn more, tax kicks in, tapering your income. The effect is similar to a basic income, especially since most UBI models assume that rich people would have to pay more tax to afford them. A NIT, however, is more efficient in that it does not give the rich a stipend only to take most of it back in tax.

Versions of a NIT have been part of welfare policy in Britain and America for decades, in the form of tax credits that are paid to those working on low incomes. Britain’s Universal Credit, a (sputtering) attempt to merge six working-age benefits into one, takes the approach further. A recent analysis by the OECD finds this a better way at targeting the poor than UBI.

Source: The Economist – Repairing the safety net – The welfare state needs updating. July12th 2018

AS Revision – Income Elasticity of Demand graph

Currently taking CIE revision classes this holiday and was working through Unit 2 and income elasticity of demand. Quite a few of the class had never come across this graph which is popular in multiple-choice questions. It is important that you read the axis.

Usefulness of Income Elasticity of Demand

Knowledge of income elasticity of demand for different products helps firms predict the effect of a business cycle on sales. All countries experience a business cycle where actual GDP moves up and down in a regular pattern causing booms and slowdowns or perhaps a recession. The business cycle means incomes rise and fall.

Luxury products with high income elasticity see greater sales volatility over the business cycle than necessities where demand from consumers is less sensitive to changes in the economic cycle

The NZ economy has enjoyed a period of economic growth over the last few years. So average real incomes have increased, but because of differences in income elasticity of demand, consumer demand for products will have varied greatly over this period.

Over time we expect to see our real incomes rise. And as we become better off, we can afford to increase our spending on different goods and services. Clearly what is happening to the relative prices of these products will play a key role in shaping our consumption decisions. But the income elasticity of demand will also affect the pattern of demand over time. For normal luxury goods, whose income elasticity of demand exceeds +1, as incomes rise, the proportion of a consumer’s income spent on that product will go up. For normal necessities (income elasticity of demand is positive but less than 1) and for inferior goods (where the income elasticity of demand is negative) – then as income rises, the share or proportion of their budget on these products will fall. See table below for a summary of values.