Category Archives: Growth

Degrowth – is life better with less?

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. Increasing GDP has been the indicator of a healthy economy but is it time for degrowth? This CNBC video looks at whether degrowth is the way forward and should we priorities social and ecological well-being? Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand have focused on well-being rather than economic growth. New Zealand’s recent ‘well-being’ budget indicated this. Good video for the future direction of macro policies and where we are going as a society.

New Zealand benefiting from high commodity prices.

New Zealand’s commodity prices have increased by 17% this year and is expected to increase by 22% by December 2021. What has caused this increase in prices? With Covid restrictions lifted in many countries this has seen an increase in demand especially from China and South East Asian countries. Dairy, horticulture and forestry commodity prices have been the big winners. Kiwi fruit returns are expected to be the highest on record and log prices have increase over 20% in the last 6 months. Furthermore with the opening up of restaurants in the northern hemisphere the demand for meat will undoubtedly increase which is a good omen for sheep and beef farmers. At this time of year lamb prices normally fall but prices have actually increased over April and May.

Shipping costs have been very high of late but as they start to come down with more supply this will be a further boost to exporters especially bulky exports like forestry. It is expected that wood export volumes will be approaching record high levels over 2021 and 2022. The strong return from commodity prices will mean higher national incomes and will support the strength of the NZ$ and interest rates.

This could be a honeymoon period for New Zealand exporters as supply will eventually catch-up with demand and bring down prices. From a longer-term perspective, environmental constraints are biting on global food production. New Zealand’s dairy sector is at the coal face and the demands by government for fencing and other environmental restrictions means that there is less land being used and lower stock numbers. Other dairy exporters in Europe are also experiencing the same restrictions and it is the consumer who is likely to bear the increase in costs with higher retail prices.

Source: Economic Overview. Reshaping the world. May 2021

Natural Resources v GDP

The Economics of Biodiversity by Sir Partha Dasgupta was published in February this year and was a wake up call for all of us. Sir Partha says nature must be recognised as an asset and that our traditional measure of economic prosperity – Gross Domestic Product – is no longer fit for purpose. Basically all 7.8 billion of us is on a collision course with the planet.

“The problem with GDP is that it doesn’t include the depreciation of capital and one of the natural capital, or nature, which is somewhat different from buildings and roads in that you can really depreciate it very fast.”

Between 1992 and 2014 there was a 40% fall in the stock of natural capital per person – water, food, air etc. See graph below.

Global Wealth Per Capita, 1992 to 2014

Source: The Economics of Biodiversity by Sir Partha Dasgupta

Since 1950 the global economy has grown 14 fold and with the increase in prosperity has come the cost to our natural environment. With our current consumption we need an earth that is 1.6 times larger. Although there has been moves to slow the rate of climate change the progress needs to be accelerated. Larry Elliott in The Guardian looked at three ways:

  • Firstly you could simply stop the burning of fossil fuels or international travel now or in the near future.
  • Secondly you leave the issue of climate change to the markets: governments could stop subsidising the use of fossil fuels but otherwise leave it to inventiveness of the private sector to come up with solutions.
  • A third approach is to have a partnership between the government and the private sector. A previous example of this was the announcement by President Kennedy in 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Larry Elliott quotes Mariana Mazzucato’s new book ‘Mission Economy’ in which she states that by focusing on the immense power of governments to shape markets, capitalism itself can be remade. Mazzucato aims to infuse capitalism with public interest rather than private gain.

Below is a recent video from CNBC about climate change which is already taking a financial toll on the planet, with extreme weather events costing the global economy $146 billion in 2019, according to insurer Swiss Re. Also an interview with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva about how governments and business can fight back.

European Super League and so much for Joseph Schumpeter

Economist Joseph Schumpeter talked about creative destruction in that to survive capitalists continually seek more profits through the pursuit of new markets. With the presence of new markets this brings about more innovation removing the old businesses and opening opportunities for the new.

The free market, in which business is supposed to thrive, is based on weak barriers to entry, competition and less regulatory constraints. The extreme of this theory is perfect competition although in football we don’t have homogeneous products in that all teams are different. However the market does give teams the chance to gain promotion from lower divisions in English Football. Take for instance Leicester City winning the EPL and before them teams like Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest – the latter winning the league having just been promoted from the Second Division (in those days). These teams used innovation, coaching, strategically delving into the transfer market (not with the funds that some clubs have today) etc to form a successful team.

Nottingham Forest – Div 1 Champions 1977-78

The proposed ESL was all but free-market capitalism with an American style franchise system with 12 teams guaranteed a place in the competition – significant barriers to entry and not conducive to competition. So much for Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction with a group of elite clubs protecting their market and the owners being rentier capitalists. The ESL’s proposed move is similar to what has been happening in the market place – a structure of businesses taking huge debt and taking little interest in competition as long as they are making money. Manchester United, probably the most famous club in the world, got knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage but are still making a lot of money for the owners. It seems that the desire to win trophies has been superseded by profit – the proposed ESL avoids competition as member clubs are protected against the risk of failure. Not to say this is not already happening as the EPL and many other leagues in Europe are dominated by a small number of clubs which have significant funds available. This makes it near impossible for the other clubs to be competitive – remember Wimbledon winning the FA Cup in 1988 with the ‘crazy gang’. They had the worst stadium, poorly paid players and the lowest gates. It is hard to see supporters of less wealthy clubs being too enthusiastic about the excitement of victory.

The ESL has demonstrated that global capitalism operates on the basis of rigged markets not free markets, and those running the show are only interested in entrenching existing inequalities. It was a truly bad idea, but by providing a lesson in economics to millions of fans it may have performed a public service. Larry Elliott – The Guardian – 22-4-21

Are we heading into Stagflation?

Currently teaching macro conflicts with my CIE A2 class and we have been discussing the late 1970’s and the stagflation period – see graph below. Since the days of stagflation in the US and UK in the 1970’s inflation has been the number one target for central bankers. The main cause of inflation during this period was the price of oil –

  • 1973 – 400%↑ – supply-side– Yom Kippur War oil embargo
  • 1979 – 200%↑ – supply-side – Iran Iraq War
Source: The Economist

US President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to follow Keynes’s formula and spend his way out of trouble were going nowhere and the newly appointed Paul Volcker (US Fed Governor in the 1970’s) saw inflation as the worst of all economic evils. Below is an extract of an interview from the PBS series “Commanding Heights”

“It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon.”

The policy of the time was Keynesian – inject more money into the system in order to get the economy moving again. This was also the case in the UK in the early 1970’s but Jim Callaghan’s (Labour PM in the UK ousted by Thatcher in 1979) speech in 1976 had reluctantly recognised that this policy had run its course and a monetarist doctrine was about to become prevalent. Below is an extract from the speech.

“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment. That is the history of the last twenty years”

With this paranoia about inflation central bankers began to implement a monetary policy targeting inflation in the medium term. In NZ the Reserve Bank Act 1989 established “price stability” as the main objective of the RBNZ. “Price stability” is defined in the PTA (Policy Target Agreement) as keeping inflation between 1 to 3% (originally 0-2%) – measured by the percentage change in CPI. Around the world central banks were adopting a more independent approach to policy implementation and with targeting inflation a new prevailing attitude seemed to be like an osmosis and suggesting that low prices = macro-economic stability as well. Also, raising interest rates is an unpopular political move and governments could now blame the central bank for this contractionary measure.

So are we now concerned that we will be entering another period of stagflation? Like the 1970’s we do have a supply-side issue (although not oil based) and expansionary demand side. The following are concerns:

Demand Side
– excessive fiscal stimulus for an economy that already appears to be recovering faster than expected.
– excessively accommodative with policies that combine monetary and credit easing
– monetisation of fiscal deficits will put pressure on inflation

Supply Side
– Rising protectionism
– Supply bottlenecks – container shortages and the Suez blockage
– Reshoring of FDI from low-cost China to higher-cost locations

However in saying this will the global supply side be positively influenced by better use of technological innovation in artificial intelligence and the return to normality on global supply distribution networks. Also will demand pressure eventuate especially when the threat of unemployment is ever present?

New Zealand Regional GDP and GDP per capita in charts

Below are a couple of graphs that might be useful for showing the regional differences in New Zealand GDP and the GDP per capita – Year end 31 March 2020.

  • The value of the New Zealand economy is $323,142m whilst the average income in the country is $64,079.
  • 14 of the 15 regions experienced an increase in GDP (the West Coast was the only region that experienced a contraction in GDP).
  • The Auckland region has the largest regional GDP at $122,557 million.
  • Economic output in the North Island accounted for just under 78 percent of total economic output in New Zealand, with the South Island providing just over 22 percent.
  • Taranaki has the highest GDP per capita at $76,715
  • Northland has the lowest GDP per capita at $42,711

Important to note that these figures are pre Covid-19

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).

Results
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.

Note:

  • 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.