Category Archives: Growth

Countries with early lockdown top the list for GDP in 2020

Below is a useful graph looking at the 2020 GDP levels in most developed countries. New Zealand had a quick rebound with its elimination strategy, a supportive fiscal response and an expansionary monetary policy. The 2020 GDP figures considered the scale of lost activity from the COVID-19 lockdown as well as the rebound when restrictions were lifted. There seemed to be the trend that early lockdowns led to better GDP figures. Taiwan (2.98%) and China (2.3%) were the only countries to experience positive growth levels with New Zealand down 2.9% compared to 2019. Taiwan’s investment into public health infrastructure pre-COVID-19 enabled them to avoid a national lockdown. Early screening, effective methods for isolation/quarantine, digital technologies for identifying potential cases and mass mask use led to a much more controlled environment. China did experience a positive growth rate (2.3%) but this was well below 7% which they have been averaging since 2010.

However it is important to be aware that some countries were more impacted by COVID-19 than others, not only because of their hesitation to lockdown but also their reliance on certain sectors for GDP growth. Countries like Spain, who are very dependent on the tourist industry were hit hard by the pandemic. Many emerging and developing countries were already experiencing weaker growth before the pandemic struck.

Source: Westpac Bank

Minimal monetised societies and happiness

For less developed countries economic growth is often assumed to improve the happiness of the population although this relationship has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent times. A new study shows that people in societies where money plays a minimal role can have a level of happiness comparable to those living in Scandinavian countries which typically rate highest in the world. An interview with Eric Galbraith (McGill University, Canada) on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Sunday’ programme caught my attention in which he discusses the research undertaken in the Solomon Islands and Bangladesh. The paper is entitled:

Happy without money: Minimally monetized societies can exhibit high subjective well-being

Public policy that has focused on GDP growth fails to capture other aspects such as income inequality, the depletion of natural resources, environmental concerns etc. However subjective well-being (SWB) is an indicator that is more associated with the variables that matter to people. Galbraith et al question the role of money in determining SWB and reference the Easterlin Paradox (see below) which found that people don’t tend to get happier when their income goes up – see graph below.

What is the Easterlin Paradox?

Easterlin Paradox
  1. Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.
  2. But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies (or not by much).
  3. As countries get richer, they do not get happier. Easterlin argued that life satisfaction does rise with average incomes but only up to a point. One of Easterlin’s conclusions was that relative income can weigh heavily on people’s minds.

It is generally believed that people in less developed countries that have minimally-monetised economies have low that SWB. However the fact that happiness has a universal feeling suggest that income may be just a substitute for other sources of happiness, an assumption that is easier to notice in settings where money has little or no use. They used three independent measures to assess complementary but distinct psychological dimensions of SWB.

  1. Cognitive life evaluation – this asks about a person’s satisfaction with life and questions are phrased in a few different forms.
  2. Affect balance – asks what emotions they had experienced throughout the previous day, and calculated as the difference between positive and negative emotions.
  3. Momentary affect – data was obtained by querying subjects by telephone at random times about their emotional state.

Researchers selected four sites in two countries:

Solomon Islands – round 80% of the population live in rural subsistence communities and it has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.546 (rank 152 in the world). The sites were Roviana Lagoon (rural site) and Gizo (urban site)

Bangladesh – 35.9% of it being urban, and has an HDI of 0.608 (world rank 136). The sites were Nijhum Dwip (rural) and Chittagong (urban).

The graph below shows that the 4 sites, although are minimally monetised societies,
do experience high levels of SWB which challenge the prevailing view that economic growth is a reliable pathway to increase subjective well-being. While the data presented here were collected only in two countries and four sites this is the first study to that systematically compares standardised SWB measures in minimally monetised, very low-income societies.

A2 Economics – The Accelerator

Just been covering this topic with my A2 class. The accelerator will come up either as a multiple-choice question or part of an essay. The accelerator theory states that investment is determined by the RATE AT WHICH INCOME, AND HENCE OUTPUT, CHANGES OVER TIME. The principle states simply that unless the rate of increase in consumption is maintained, the previous level of investment will not be maintained.

This theory assumes that firms try to maintain some constant relationship between the level of output and the stock of capital required to produce that output. In other words, we assume a constant capital-output ratio which can be expressed in either physical terms or money terms. The accelerator helps us to understand how small changes in demand in one sector can be magnified and spread throughout the economy. The example below assumes that the firm starts with 8 machines each year and 1 machine wears out each year and that each machine can produce 100 units of output per year. In the second year, demand rises for capital goods rises by 200% (from 1 to 3). When the rate of growth of demand for consumer goods slows in year 4, demand for capital goods falls. In year 6 demand drops and they is no requirement for any investment.

Limitations of Accelerator:

* Firms can meet output with stocks – may not need investment
* Changes in technology may mean firms don’t need to invest in as much capital as before
* Firms need to be convinced that demand is long-term to warrant investment
* Limited supply of technology available

Adapted from CIE AS and A Level Economics Revision Guide by Susan Grant

Global GDP levels June 2019 – December 2020

A recent publication from the ANZ looked at the GDP in a range of economies. Useful for discussion in class if you are doing GDP and business cycles.


  • China has rebounded well
  • UK and Euro area had the more severe downturns
  • New Zealand has the steepest rebound from a lockdown period
  • Interesting to note that the bottom of the downturn in all countries is in June 2020 with the exception of China.

Global GDP levels (Q4 2019= 100)

Source: New Zealand Weekly Data – 19th March 2021.

The America’s Cup: multiplier effect and cost-benefit analysis

Source: RNZ

I was fortunate enough to be out in the spectator fleet for yesterday’s America’s Cup racing between Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rosa Prada Pirelli – honours were even in the two races. As with most events, analysts attempt to work out the multiplier effect and the impact it will have on an economy. In 2017 forecast, predicted that the America’s Cup would add between $600 million and $1 billion to the New Zealand economy. Employment would be boosted and in the longer term for every $1 put into infrastructure would generate $7.50 of economic activity. However with the impact of COVID-19, New Zealand will suffer a loss on the $249.5 million it invested in the America’s Cup, but there maybe benefits over time.

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

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 2020/21 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 Zealander’s 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.

Economic growth becoming a malignancy – Dr Mike Ryan WHO

Most economics courses will include the topic of limitations of Gross Domestic Product as an indicator of standard of living. US senator Robert F Kennedy pointed out 50 years ago that GDP traditionally measures everything except those things that make life worthwhile. I was very taken by Dr Mike Ryan’s (WHO) recent speech about how Covid 19 is a wake up call to how we live our lives. A lot of references to the fact that we can’t keep just focusing on economic growth. Well worth a look.

Global Economic Data as of February 2021

I always encourage students to be aware of what is happening in the global economy as well as their own. Below are growth, unemployment and interest rates for the main economies. Note the high rates of quarterly economic growth which indicates a bounce back from the previous quarter when most of the world was in a serious lockdown. The unemployment rates you would expect to be a lot higher with COVID-19 and a 4.9% rate in NZ was a surprise. An area of employment growth in the December quarter was Construction, along with many government-dominated industry types. Monetary policy been very accommodative and although rates have been very low note that in Japan and the Euro zone areas it has been like this since 2016. These figures could be used for discussion purposes in you class.

Quarterly Economic Growth Rates

Unemployment %
Global Interest Rates

Source: Monthly Economic Review – February 2021 – NZ Parliamentary Service

Covid-19 stimulus vs GFC stimulus

Below is a useful diagram from McKinsey & Company that compares the money used to assist the economies after the outbreak of Covid-19 and the GFC in 2017. Governments allocated US$10 trillion for economic stimulus in just two months—and for some countries, their response as a percentage of GDP was nearly ten times what it was in the financial crisis of 2008–09.

Countries in Europe have allocated around US$4 trillion which is approximately 30 times than that of the Marshall Plan in today’s value – the Marshall Plan was valued at $15bn in 1948. The size of government responses are unprecedented and they, with central banks, are moving into new territory. Global debt is estimated to reach US$300 trillion by the March quarter in 2021 with global GDP taking a huge hit. However unlike the GFC there seems to be an end point once an effective vaccine has been found but many jobs and businesses have gone and it will take time before new ones appear.

Addressing savings glut needs more than monetary policy

Today central banks have a limited toolkit and the powers to deal with the savings glut (see image below), lack of investment, climate change and income inequality. There is a lot of money in the system but the velocity of circulation is slow – MV=PT – and this is one reason why we have little inflation.

Velocity of circulation of money is part of the the Monetarist explanation of inflation operates through the Fisher equation:

M x V = P x T

M = Stock of money
V = Income Velocity of Circulation
P = Average Price level
T = Volume of Transactions or Output

Add to this COVID-19 and the impact it has had on especially developing economies and we have economic stagnation.

Source: Bloomberg Economics

Some economists have suggested the need for more expansionary fiscal policy as well as structural reform to achieve economic growth. The latter being a long-term policy can take the form of price controls, management of public finances, financial sector reforms. labour market reforms etc. Although the US Federal Reserve is adopting a flexible average inflation target to avoid a disinflationary environment it will not be enough to deal with secular stagnation.

Secular stagnation
Since the GFC in 2008 it is evident that low interest rates are the new normal and according to Larry Summers (former Treasury Secretary) we are in an era of secular stagnation. This refers to the fact that on average the ‘natural interest rate’ – the rate consistent with full employment – is very low. There can be periods of full employment but even with 0% interest rates private demand is insufficient to eliminate the output gap. The US was in a liquidity trap for eight of the past 12 years; Europe and Japan are still there, and the market now appears to believe that something like this is another the new normal.

Paul Krugman suggests that there are real doubts about unconventional monetary policy and that the stimulus for an economy should take the form of permanent public investment spending on both physical and human capital – infrastructure and health of the population. This spending would take the form of deficit-financed public investment. There has been the suggestion that deficit-financed public investment might lead to ‘crowding out’ private investment and also how is the debt repaid? Krugman came up with three offsetting factors

  1. When the economy is in a liquidity trap, which now seems likely to be a large fraction of the time, the extra public investment will have a multiplier effect, raising GDP relative to what it would otherwise be. Based on the experience of the past decade, the multiplier would probably be around 1.5, meaning 3% higher GDP in bad times — and considerable additional revenue from that higher level of GDP. Permanent fiscal stimulus wouldn’t pay for itself, but it would pay for part of itself.
  2. If the investment is productive, it will expand the economy’s productive capacity in the long run.This is obviously true for physical infrastructure and R&D, but there is also strong evidence that safety-net programmes for children make them healthier, more productive adults, which also helps offset their direct fiscal cost (Hoynes and Whitmore Schanzenbach 2018).
  3. There’s fairly strong evidence of hysteresis — temporary downturns permanently or semi-permanently depress future output (Fatás and Summers 2015).

Source: “The Case for a permanent stimulus”. Paul Krugman cited in “Mitigating the COVID Economic Crisis: Act Fast and Do Whatever It Takes” Edited by Richard Baldwin and Beatrice Weder di Mauro

Bloomberg Economics – Yellen, Summers Say Central Banks No Match for Savings Glut

OCR – LSAP – FLP = New Zealand’s Monetary Policy Toolkit

Below is a useful flow diagram from the ANZ bank which adds Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP) and Funding for Lending Programme (FLP) to the Official Cash Rate (OCR – Base Rate)

LSAP – this is the buying of up $100 billion of government bonds – quantitative easing
FLP – this gives banks cheap lending based on the Official Cash Rate – could be about $28 billion based on take up
OCR – wholesale interest rate currently at 0.25%. Commercial banks borrow at 0.5% above OCR and can save at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) at 1% below OCR.

With FLP and more LSAP this will mean lower lending rates and deposit rates. This should provide more stimulus in the economy and allay fears of future funding constraints making banks more confident about lending. Add to this a third stimulus – an OCR of 0.25%. The flow chart shows the impact that these three stimulus policies have on a variety of variables including – exchange rates – inflation -unemployment – consumer spending – investment – GDP. Very useful for a class discussion on the monetary policy mechanism.