The Implications of Flat or Declining Real Wages for Inequality

Michael Stephens | July 24, 2014

by Julie L. Hotchkiss, a research economist and senior policy adviser at the Atlanta Fed, and Fernando Rios-Avila, a research scholar at the Levy Institute

A recent Policy Note published by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College shows that what we thought had been a decade of essentially flat real wages (since 2002) has actually been a decade of declining real wages. Replicating the second figure in that Policy Note, Chart 1 shows that holding experience (i.e., age) and education fixed at their levels in 1994, real wages per hour are at levels not seen since 1997. In other words, growth in experience and education within the workforce during the past decade has propped up wages.

Chart 1_Actual and Fixed Real Wages

The implication for inequality of this growth in education and experience was only touched on in the Policy Note that Levy published. In this post, we investigate more fully what contribution growth in educational attainment has made to the growth in wage inequality since 1994. continue reading…

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Predatory Capitalism and Where to Go from Here

C. J. Polychroniou | July 23, 2014

Contemporary capitalism is characterized by a political economy that revolves around finance capital, is based on a savage form of free market fundamentalism, and thrives on a wave of globalizing processes and global financial networks that have produced global economic oligarchies with the capacity to influence the shaping of policymaking across nations.[1] As such, the landscape of contemporary capitalism is shaped by three interrelated forces: financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization. All three of these elements constitute part of a coherent whole which has given rise to an entity called predatory capitalism.[2]

On the Links between Financialization, Neoliberalism, and Globalization

The three pillars on which contemporary predatory capitalism is structured—financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization—need to be understood on the basis of a structural connectivity model, although it is rather incorrect to reduce one to the other. Let me explain.

The surge of financial capital long predates the current neoliberal era, and the financialization of the economy takes place independently of neoliberalism, although it is greatly enhanced by the weakening of regulatory regimes and the collusion between finance capital and political officials that prevails under the neoliberal order. Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on corporate power, deregulation, the marketization of society, the glorification of profit and the contempt for public goods and values, provides the ideological and political support needed for the financialization of the economy and the undermining of the real economy. Thus, challenging neoliberalism—a task of herculean proportions given than virtually every aspect of the economy and of the world as a whole, from schools to the workplace and from post offices to the IMF, functions today on the basis of neoliberal premises—does not necessarily imply a break with the financialization processes under way in contemporary capitalist economies. Financialization needs to be tackled on its own terms, possibly with alternative finance systems and highly interventionist policies, which include the nationalization of banks, rather than through regulation alone. In any case, what is definitely needed in order to constrain the destructive aspects of financial capitalism is what the late American heterodox economist Hyman Minsky referred to as “big government.” We shall return to Minsky later in the analysis. continue reading…

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Wray on Why Money Matters

Michael Stephens | July 21, 2014

Randall Wray did a guest post at FT Alphaville as part of a series devoted to the upcoming Mission-Oriented Finance conference.

In his post, Wray counters the conventional story about the nature and significance of money with an alternate view drawing on Schumpeter’s notion of bankers as the “ephors” of capitalism:

Bank and central bank money creation is limited by rules of thumb, underwriting standards, capital ratios and other imposed constraints. After abandoning the gold standard, there are no physical limits to money creation. We cannot run out of keystroke entries on bank balance sheets.

This recognition is fundamental to issues surrounding finance. It is also scary.

[...]

It is difficult to find examples of excessive money creation to finance productive uses. Rather, the main problem is that much or even most finance is created to fuel asset price bubbles. And that includes finance created both by our private banking ephors and our central banking ephors.

The biggest challenge facing us today is not the lack of finance, but rather how to push finance to promote both the private and the public interest — through the capital development of our country.

Read the post here.

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Modi’s Budget and the New Macroeconomic Policy Consensus in India

Lekha Chakraborty |

What has struck me about Modi’s maiden budget is not the fiscal arithmetic, but the framework. And while this note confines itself to analyzing the budgetary framework rather than the numbers, it should be noted that the effectiveness of the fiscal arithmetic has gone for a toss with the announcement of token provisions on too many programmes with too little money. The underlying framework of the speech revealed the thematic priorities of the Modi government, which were twofold: (i) growth revival and (ii) macroeconomic stability. This sets the track.

The general budget was simultaneously ensuring “continuity” and “change.” The continuity elements in the budget may be designed to ensure a bipartisan approach in tackling issues of national interest, especially in the case of fiscal consolidation and the “rights-based” public policy decisions (e.g., employer of last resort, food security) of earlier governments. However, the changes suggested in the budget, in terms of monetary framework, are disturbing. continue reading…

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Greece: The Impact of Austerity on Migration

Gennaro Zezza | July 11, 2014

Greece. Population
The chart above documents another striking feature of the impact of the recession on Greece.

The Hellenic Statistical Authority (ElStat) has recently released the new quarterly data on employment and the labor force, which includes a measure of the population aged 15 or more (Table 1). While the series published in the previous release exhibited a stable upward trend (reported in green in the chart), the new estimates show that population peaked at 9.437 million at the end of 2008, and then started declining, reaching 9.296 million in the first quarter of this year, i.e. it went back to its 2004 level. (The reasons for the change in the series are due to ElStat incorporating the latest census data: details are available in the ElStat web site).

As ElStat does not publish an up-to-date measure of net migration, we assume this could be measured by the distance between the pre-crisis population trend and the actual values. We therefore computed a simple linear trend on the 2001-2008 data, which shows that population would have now been at 9.686 million, had the previous trend continued. The difference between this value and the population reported for the first quarter of 2014 is thus approximately 390,000 people (4 percent).
Greece. Population by age group
ElStat makes available the detail by age groups (Table 2), reported in our second chart, which shows that younger Greeks are declining steadily in number – a trend which is common to many developed countries who chose to reduce the average number of kids per family – while the number of older people is steadily increasing – again a trend common to many countries, linked to longer life expectancy. Summing up the 15-29 groups to the 45+ groups, we find that the decline in the younger population accelerated after 2007, compensating the increase in the number of Greeks aged 45 and over, so that the inverted U-shape of the population in our first chart can largely be attributed to the decline in Greek residents aged 30-44, who are now 2.442 million against a peak of 2.544 million at the end of 2008.

We have no complete information to know if this decrease is due to Greeks in this age cohort migrating abroad, or to a smaller number of immigrants. However, the OECD migration database contains some (incomplete) statistics on immigrants by country (the figures largely under-estimate total migration, as some major European countries such as France and Italy do not report any figures to the OECD).

As the next chart shows, and how it should be expected looking at the respective unemployment rates, the main destination of Greek emigrants is Germany, and the number of migrants has almost doubled from 2010 to 2011 (the last available year).
Greece. Emigrants from Oecd database
The other portion of the fall in population is given by migrants to Greece, which have fallen from 65.3 thousands in 2005 to 33.3 thousands in 2010 and 23.2 thousands in 2011.

It is to be expected that migration of Greeks abroad, and the decline in immigrants to Greece, continued on the same paths after 2011, given the size of the unemployment rate in Greece (still at 26.8 percent in March 2014, seasonally adjusted). Using the economists’ jargon, this is another loss of human capital for the Greek economy which will make a recovery more difficult. And, in addition, balance of payments statistics published from the Bank of Greece do not show any improvements in payments made from abroad which could be related to migrants’ remittances: both the compensation of employees received by Greece from abroad, and current transfers to the private sector have actually declined since the beginning of the crisis.

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Predatory Capitalism and the System’s Denial in the Face of Truth

C. J. Polychroniou | July 7, 2014

Contemporary capitalism is characterized by a political economy which revolves around finance capital, is based on a savage form of free market fundamentalism, and thrives on a wave of globalizing processes and global financial networks that have produced global economic oligarchies with the capacity to influence the shaping of policymaking across nations.

As a result, contemporary advanced capitalist societies are plagued by dangerous levels of income and wealth inequality, mass unemployment, rising poverty rates, social polarization, and collapsing social provisions. Furthermore, democracy and the social contract are under constant attack by the current system and there is an ongoing pressure by the corporate and financial elite to convert all public goods and services into private goods and services.

The rising inequality in advanced capitalist countries is well documented. Most recently, Thomas Piketty’s publishing sensation Capital in the Twentieth-First Century, translated into English and published by Harvard University Press, provides massive data showing a widening gap between the rich and the poor, thus questioning not only the claim that the capitalist economy works for all but also underscoring the point of how dangerous the current system is to democracy itself. Indeed, a few years ago, Larry M. Bartels’s Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, published by Princeton University Press, pointed to the same gap between the rich and poor in the United States under Republican administrations.

The way wealth has changed in the United States over the last few decades, with those in Generation X and Generation Y accumulating “less wealth than their parents did at the same age 25 years ago”, is also demonstrated in a study produced by Eugene Steuerle, et. al. on behalf of the Urban Institute in Washington DC. And in a recent Strategic Analysis released just this past spring by the Levy Economics Institute with the title “Is Rising Inequality a Hindrance to the US Economic Recovery?”, the authors, Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, et al., demonstrate through macro modeling simulations that the current processes of inequality in the United States are unsustainable and that, if they continue, will result in weak growth and increased unemployment.    

As for the problem of mass unemployment, the facts speak for themselves. continue reading…

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Stiglitz, Galbraith, and Milanovic on Inequality

Michael Stephens | July 3, 2014

From Columbia University’s Heyman Center for the Humanities:

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Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark: The Rise of Monetary Cranks and Fixing What Ain’t Broke

L. Randall Wray | June 30, 2014

Horatio:  He waxes desperate with imagination.

Marcellus:  Let’s follow. ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.

Horatio:  Have after. To what issue will this come?

Marcellus:  Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Horatio:  Heaven will direct it.

Marcellus:  Nay, let’s follow him.

 Hamlet Act 1, scene 4

Marcellus is right, the Fish of Finance is rotting from the head down. It stinks. As Hamlet remarked earlier in the play, Denmark is “an unweeded garden” of “things rank and gross in nature” (Act 1, scene 2). The ghost of the dead king appears to Hamlet, beckoning him to follow. In scene 5, the ghost tells Hamlet just how rotten things really are.

Denmark, is of course Wall Street or London. Far more rotten than anyone can imagine.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, we all wax “desperate with imagination,” looking for explanation. For solution. For retribution!

The financial system is rotten. Our banking regulators and supervisors failed us in the run-up to the crisis, they failed us in the response to the crisis, and they are failing us in the reform that we expected in the aftermath of the crisis.

Heaven will not save us, either. The Invisible Hand is impotent. Just wait for Scene 5!

In times like these, we thrash about, desperate for ideas, for imagination, for leadership. There’s nothing unusual about that. Read the entry, monetary cranks, by David Clark in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, First Edition, 1987, Edited by John Eatwell, Murray Milgate and Peter Newman.

You’ll find many of the same proffered reforms bandied about now. Many of them make sense, or at least partial sense. I’ve always used that entry in my money and banking courses as an example of sensible ideas being rejected by the mainstream, labeled “crank” to discredit them.

When I use the term monetary cranks, I use it as a term of endearment. We need some cranky ideas because all the respectable ones failed us. continue reading…

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End of Week Links 6/27/2014

Michael Stephens | June 27, 2014

Ann Pettifor, “Out of thin air — Why banks must be allowed to create money

“In his regular column, Martin Wolf called for private banks to be stripped of their power to create money. Wolf’s proposals are radical, and would give a small committee – independent of the state – a monopoly on money creation. … Furthermore, Wolf argues, private commercial banks would only be allowed to: ‘…loan money actually invested by customers. They would be stopped from creating such accounts out of thin air and so would become the intermediaries that many wrongly believe they now are.’

Because I am a vocal critic of the private finance sector, many assume that I would agree with Wolf and Positive Money on nationalising money creation. Not so. I have no objection to the nationalisation of banks. But nationalising banks is a different proposition from nationalising (and centralising) money creation in the hands of a small ‘independent committee’. Indeed, the notion to my mind is preposterous. It is an approach reminiscent of the misguided and failed monetarist policy prescriptions for controlling the money supply in the 1980s. Second, the proposal that only money already saved should be made available for lending assumes that money exists as a consequence of economic activity, and equals savings. But that is to get things the wrong way around.”

Related: Jan Kregel, “Minsky and the Narrow Banking Proposal: No Solution for Financial Reform

Jayati Ghosh, “Locking Out Financial Regulation

“This agreement [the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA)] is apparently supposed to be “classified” information – in other words, secret and unknown to the public that will be affected by it – for a full five years after it … enters into force or the negotiations are terminated!

That an international treaty that has binding and enforceable obligations can be treated as secret for five years after it comes into force is not only bizarre but almost unthinkable. The need for such secrecy would be inexplicable even if such agreements were actually in the interests of people whose governments are involved in such negotiations. That secrecy is sought would on its own be reason for concern, but the little that has been leaked out of the state of the negotiations suggests even more reasons for alarm, especially because such a deal would have far-reaching implications for financial stability and adversely affect everyone in the world.”

J. W. Mason, “Where Do Interest Rates Come From?

“What determines the level of interest rates? It seems like a simple question, but I don’t think economics — orthodox or heterodox — has an adequate answer.”

Noah Smith, “What I learned in econ grad school

“… this was back before the financial crisis, at the tail end of the unfortunately named “Great Moderation.” When the big crisis happened, I quickly realized that nothing I had learned in my first-year course could help me explain what I was seeing on the news. Given my dim view of the standards of verification and usefulness to which the theories I knew had been subjected, I was not surprised.”

Eric Schliesser, “Milton Piketty

“Piketty is the true heir of Milton Friedman. This claim might seem perverse if one focuses on policy. But if one looks at (a) methodology, and, crucially, (b) the conception of what economics might be about, ultimately, then Piketty’s book is an attempt to return economics to an approach that was never really dominant, but that can be book-ended between Adam Smith’s Digression on Silver (or Hume’s population essay) and Friedman’s (1963) Monetary History.”

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To Consolidate or Not to Consolidate, That Is the Question (or maybe it isn’t)

L. Randall Wray |

This is another short post on MMT, a sort of follow-up to my post from a couple of days ago. There was an interesting response to various comments on my piece, which was posted up on Mike Norman’s website.

We got the typical: “oh you MMTers always want to consolidate the Fed and Treasury, but really the Fed is a private institution that is not a part of government,” and “in reality the Treasury cannot spend unless the Fed will allow it to spend, otherwise it must get tax revenue before it can spend,” and hence “really, government spending is constrained by its revenue, just like a household or firm.”

In reality, what MMT has shown—from the very beginning of the creation of the approach—is that you can consolidate or deconsolidate and the balance sheets end up in exactly the same place. The MMT logic holds no matter how you do it: government creates a money of account, imposes a tax in that unit, spends currency denominated in the unit, and collects taxes paid in its own currency.

And, of course, the Fed is not a private institution but rather is a creature of Congress and no more independent of government than is the Treasury, the DOD, the DOT, or the IRS. The Fed is normally allowed to set the overnight interest rate target free from the everyday kind of politics—but all of these other branches of government also have some independence from party politics. Well, the IRS right now is being subjected to some of that.

Anyway, the response was by someone called Calgacus, who often makes quite interesting and thoughtful comments. I thought it would be worthwhile to repost the response here, along with a few comments of my own. The angle taken here on the “consolidation issue” is pretty novel. continue reading…

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