Category Archives: Macro

What causes a recession? TED-Ed

Showed this to my IGCSE class today – great video which is well put together with good examples that explain a recession and its causes. Particularly apt for today’s economic environment. Makes good use of supply and demand graphs as well as supply side and demand side variables. Detailed explanation of the business cycle. Useful for NCEA Level 2 growth standard.

Macroeconomic Policies – Mind map

Just covering macro policies / conflicts with my A2 Economics class and produced this mind map in OmniGraffle (Apple software). I found it a useful starting point for students to discuss the effectiveness of each policy and the conflicts within macro objectives. This is a very common essay question in CIE Paper 4.

My question would be what policies has the government in your country implemented since Covid-19 and how successful have they been in meeting macro economic objectives?

Adapted from Susan Grant – CIE AS and A Level Revision

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

Just covering this topic with my A2 class. Part 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.

Post coronavirus policy with new normals: low interest rates and liquidity trap

I blogged yesterday regarding the shape of recovery after the coronavirus pandemic and have been reading Paul Krugman who suggests that conventional monetary policy can’t offset an economic shock like coronavirus.. 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 (see graph below) for 8 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.

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

  • First, 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.
  • Second, 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.
  • Thirdly, there’s fairly strong evidence of hysteresis — temporary downturns permanently or semi-permanently depress future output (Fatás and Summers 2015). Again, by avoiding these effects a sustained fiscal stimulus would partially pay for itself. Put these things together and they probably outweigh any fiscal effect due to stimulus raising interest rates.

Can the Japanese experience tell us anything?

The policies proposed are similar to those by Japan in the 1990’s but the environment there was unique from what most other developed economies are experiencing. Krugman makes two points:

  1. Japan allowed itself to slide into deflation, and has yet to convincingly exit.
  2. Japan’s potential growth is low due to extraordinarily unfavourable demography, with the working-age population rapidly declining.

As a result, Japan’s nominal GDP has barely increased over time, with an annual growth rate of only 0.4% since 1995. Meanwhile, interest rates have been constrained on the downside by the zero lower bound. Even with this Japan still faces no hint of debt crisis.
Therefore according to Krugman, with negative shocks to economies becoming more prevalent it maybe better to implement a productive stimulus plan instead of trying to come up with some short-term measures every time there are shocks to our economy.

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

Covid-19 – The economic recession is a public health measure

No doubt you will have heard in most government press conferences the aim of flattening the curve. In trying to flatten the epidemic (epi) curve there will be a trade-off with reduced economic activity. By having a lockdown you reduce the exposure of people to the virus but it also means less employment and consumption.

The graph above shows the following:

  • steep red curve shows – (medical outcome) without some sort of lockdown
  • latter blue curve – impact on cases of the virus with a lockdown
  • flatter red curve shows – the impact on economic activity if there was no lockdown
  • steep blue curve shows – impact on economic activity if there was a lockdown

Therefore if you flatten the infections curve you steepen the recession curve.

This unavoidable trade-off is surely behind some leaders delaying containment policies – not wanting to experience a severe recession especially in US as it is election year. It seems that if you don’t act to contain early you pay for it later

These desperate times call for desperate measures – a version of shock therapy. Society has a pressing need for a massive increase in government spending but what we don’t want to happen is a COVID-19 recession gradually turning into a COVID public debt crisis.

Source: Mitigating the COVID Economic Crisis: Act Fast and Do Whatever It Takes. Edited by Richard Baldwin and Beatrice Weder di Mauro

Japanification – how to cope with low interest rates.

Economists use the term Japanification as shorthand for the situation where economic growth remains stagnant even with significant monetary easing – lower interest rates and increased government spending. With interest rates already at record low levels it seems that a lot of economies are going the same way as Japan. However as discussed in the video below from the FT, Japan is a nice place to live and has a very high life expectancy. The concern for central banks is what other policy instruments do they have after really low interest rates – they are running out of ammunition. To boost growth in the USA is a lot different than in Japan according to Ben Friedman. He states that Japan does not have the problems of widening inequality and the stagnation of the middle income groups.

The question is why Japanese society seems to cope with an economy that doesn’t respond to very low interest rates and increase government spending? The FT look to Robert Pringle’s book ‘The Power of Money’ and suggest three reasons:

  • Long established business – 5500-odd companies that are 200+ years old, more than 3,000 are Japanese. They are much more resilient to change and have less of a focus on short-term profits but too service, patience and a disdain for pecuniary motives.
  • Immaterialism – unlike a lot of western countries (US in particular) money in Japan is less significant in showing success. Therefore there is less social conflict.
  • Japanese version of capitalism – US = individualism and democracy. Japan = individual is part of a group and discourage competition = a stable society.

Source: How Japan has coped with Japanification

Paul Volcker – 1929-2019 – the slayer of inflation.

I first came across Paul Volcker in the ‘Commanding Heights’ series produced by PBS. Appointed to the position of Chairman of the US Federal Reserve in 1979 by the then President Jimmy Carter, Paul Volcker understood the problems of the Great Inflation in the US economy which was at around 11.5%. Up to this point Carter had attempted to follow Keynes’s formula to spend his way out of trouble by dropping taxes and increasing government spending. However this was not working. Below is an extract from the PBS series.

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. Paul Volcker

Volcker’s policy to tighten the money supply with increasing interest rates, which peaked at 21.5% but was not popular with Jimmy Carter who lost the election to Ronald Reagan. But in order to get prices down the economy had to experience a recession and the longer the inflation was out of control the worse the recession would be. Unemployment did hit 10% but could have been much worse. As Ronald Reagan said referring to a recession – ‘if not now when? If not us who?’

He saw the primary focus of central banker was to control inflation and preserve the value of money whether is be keeping prices stable or ensuring that there is not easy access to credit. Below is a tribute from Paul Solman of PBS.

A2 Economics – The Accelerator

This part of the syllabus 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

A2 Revision – Liquidity Preference

With the A2 multiple choice tomorrow here is a mind map on liquidity preference. The liquidity preference or the demand for money is the sum of the transactionary, precautionary and speculative demand for money. Only the speculative demand is inversely related to interest rates. It is the speculative demand that students find difficult to understand. This is money not held for transaction purposes but in place of other financial assets, usually because they are expected to fall in price.  Demand is interest elastic – i.e. is affected by changes in interest rates. Below is a mind map and some notes.

Adapted from CIE AS A Level Revision Guide by Susan Grant

Bond prices and interest rates are inversely related – Interest Rates ↑ = Bond Prices ↓ and Interest Rates ↓ = Bond Prices ↑. If a bond has a fixed return, e.g. $10 a year. If the price of a bond is $100 this represents a 10% return. If the price of the bond is $50 this represents a 20% return, i.e. the lower the price of the bond, the greater the return.

At high rates of interest, individuals expect interest rates to fall and bond prices to rise. To benefit from the rise in bond prices individuals use their speculative balances to buy bonds. Thus when interest rates are high speculative money balances are low.

At low rates of interest, individuals expect interest rates to rise and bond prices to fall. To avoid the capital loses associated with a fall in the price of bonds individuals will sell their bonds and add to their speculative cash balances. Thus, when interest rates are low speculative money balances will be high.

A2 Economics Revision – National Income

GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT (GDP) – Under new definitions introduced in the late 1990s, Gross Domestic Product is also known as Gross Value Added. It is defined as the value of output produced within the domestic boundaries of the NZ economy over a given period of time, usually a year. It includes the output of foreign owned firms that are located in NZ, such as the majority of Trading Banks in the market – ASB, Westpac, ANZ, BNZ etc. It does not include output of NZ firms that are located abroad. There are three ways of calculating the value of GDP  all of which should sum to the same amount since by identity:


1.       THE EXPENDITURE METHOD – This is the sum of the final expenditure on NZ produced goods and services measured at current market prices (not adjusted for inflation). The full equation for calculating GDP using this approach is: GDP = Consumer expenditure (C) + Investment (I) + Government expenditure (G) + (Exports (X) – Imports (M))

GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)

2.       THE INCOME METHOD – This is the sum of total incomes earned from the production of goods and services. By adding together the rewards to the factors of production (land, labour, capital and enterprise), we can see how the flow of income in the economy is distributed. The rewards to the factors of production can be loosely summarised by the following:

Land – Rent. Labour – Wages and Salaries. Capital – Interest. Enterprise– Profit.

Only those incomes generated through the production of a marketed output are included in the calculation of GDP by the income approach. Therefore we exclude from the accounts items such as transfer payments (e.g. government benefits for jobseekers allowance and pensions where no output is produced) and private transfers of money.The income method tends to underestimate the true value of output in the economy, as incomes earned through the black economy are not recorded.

3.  THE OUTPUT MEASURE OF GDP – This measures the value of output produced by each of the productive sectors in the economy (primary, secondary and tertiary) using the concept of value added. Value added is the increase in the value of a product at each successive stage of the production process. For example, if the raw materials and components used to make a car cost $16,000 and the final selling price of the car is $20,000, then the value added from the production process is $4,000. We use this approach to avoid the problems of double-counting the value of intermediate inputs. GDP will, therefore, be equal to the sum of each individual producer’s value added.

Below is a useful mindmap using OminGraffle software (Apple). It is adapted from CIE A Level Economics Revision Guide by Susan Grant