Archive for April, 2012

Is it the financial sector?

April 29, 2012 4 comments

A commenter, ‘david’, says

If you want to contend that there was a real shock, identifying one is not difficult: the economy of the City is heavily involved in finance.

So, if this is right, we’d expect London to be worse affected by the rest of the country, and finance to be especially badly affected. But this does not appear to be the case, based on the ONS’ “Gross Value Added at current basic prices” stats at a regional and industry level (I used the ‘workplace-based’ figures):

Now, Andrew Haldane thinks measuring GVA in the financial sector is problematic. Maybe the data is all wrong. Here’s contributions to GDP growth for 2006-10:

What this seems to suggest was that ‘Business services & finance’ was *incredibly* important to UK growth before 2008, but the reduction in the GDP was slightly more shared around. Here’s the growth in output year-on-year by those sectors:

There are lots of things one could say here. Construction is obviously important. Extraction is not surprising (think ever falling North Sea oil production). But I look at this and see stagnation in manufacturing, utilities, agriculture and (yes) government/other since well before the recession and these sectors took proportionally larger hits in 2009. I think there may be a bigger story, here.

And if I can find a better breakdown for ‘business services and finance’, that may shed a lot of light. But that’s enough from me, for now.


[Update: I added in some missing labels from the first GVA chart. The ever so slight discrepancy between the London total between the two graphs is because the first is ‘Headline’ GVA and the other is just ‘GVA’. In the notes to the stats, it says “The headline regional GVA series for this publication have been calculated using a five-period moving average.”]

Categories: Economics

Is it the VAT?

April 29, 2012 2 comments

A commenter ‘Alex’ over at Interfluidity directs me towards Paul Krugman, debunking the idea that the UK inflation has been worse than the US when you take into account the change in VAT. Here is the graph Krugman shows:

But what happens if you extend this graph back to 2009*:

What you have to remember is we initially cut VAT before we increased it (and had stimulus before we had austerity). And so you can see my point about how to interpret the recession as a whole. Many thanks to all those who have made comments and provided links about debt dynamics. I will read, ponder and get back to you. But for now I’m sticking to my contention that (given tracking NGDP with the US) the UK experienced a real as well as a nominal shock. As Steve Waldman has pointed out in the comments below at my previous post, the effect this would have on real wages would exacerbate the problems caused by a desire to deleverage on the part of UK households, and of course these two stories are not mutually exclusive.     


*File under: Department of Yikes

Categories: Economics

Is it the debt, Ctd

April 28, 2012 26 comments

Compare the following two charts, again from the Debt and Deleveraging report by the McKinsey Global Institute:

And I remind you again of UK and US Nominal GDP:

I look at these charts and think: “Sorry, which economy is supposed to be experiencing stagflation, and which one is supposed to be in recovery?”

I’m not saying that deleveraging doesn’t matter, I’m saying that it isn’t obvious to me how it is supposed to explain the discrepancy.

Categories: Economics

Andy Harless, on recessions

April 28, 2012 7 comments

From the comments section over at Modeled Behavior:

I’m with you up to “something is wrong with prices,” but where did we get the premise that the price that has something wrong with it must be the real wage.  I would suggest the possibility that real wages are a side show and that the price that is out of whack is the real interest rate.  Inflation targeting sets a floor on the real interest rate, so if the natural interest rate goes below the negative of the inflation rate, the central bank will (and rightly so, because the cure would be worse than the disease) strongly resist any movement toward equilibrium via adjustments in current prices relative to expected future prices.  In theory maybe you could work around this problem by having a huge decline in the real wage, but that would throw other things out of whack.  The underlying problem is excessive patience.

If you don’t already, you should follow him on Twitter. Here’s a post from him back in November, making the same point. Here is Karl Smith on the logistical difficulties of saving, my favourite post of the year.

Categories: Economics

Yet more on the UK

April 28, 2012 6 comments

Steve Waldman (of the indispensable Interfluidity blog) has answered my plea for an explanation of the UK’s economic woes, offering a ‘Post-Keynesian’ description of the crisis. I highly recommend you go and read the whole thing before reading the rest of this post.

I am not convinced by the Post-Keynesian story. Waldman discussed the fact that the UK has not stabilised the path of nominal income, and this is true. However, here is a comparison of Nominal GDP for the UK and the USA:

Now, it is true that debt levels are much higher here, but (at least according to the recent ‘Debt and Deleveraging’ report from the McKinsey Global Institute) the country currently undergoing deleveraging is the US:

I grant that if the Post-Keynesian story is correct, it seems plausible we should expect the country with the higher debt to have larger (real) problems given equal deviation from the trend in nominal income. The flip side of this (as we are holding NGDP constant) is that inflation must be higher. But I’m not sure how to tie this whole story together with the fact that the US is deleveraging and we, apparently, have not even started (as of Q2 2011). So, you can colour me confused on this one.

I really hope Waldman is wrong, because I put the probability of nominal income returning to trend as basically zero. NGDP-level targeting may make for economic equilibrium, but I seriously doubt that it is a political one too.

Categories: Economics

Britain is not your standard AD story – a follow up

April 27, 2012 24 comments

So, I thought I would pen (or, rather, dictate as I am using the latest Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, which is excellent by the way) a quick follow up to an email I sent to Tyler Cowen, which he then posted (with my permission) on Marginal Revolution.

First, I would like to make clear I am not ‘pro-austerity’ – not in the UK and certainly not in Europe. But we control our own monetary policy here and that makes all the difference. If you have a problem with the level of aggregate demand in the UK, please take it up with Mervyn King, or with our monetary policy objective which is much more heavily biased towards stable prices than full employment.

Second, there are an enormous number of people in the world who are suffering right now due to deficient aggregate demand. I am one of those people who has a problem with Mervyn King and our monetary policy objective. More aggregate demand, please.

However, I am becoming steadily less convinced that this is the whole story, at least for the UK. Back in November, Karl Smith made the clearest statement I have ever read of the New Keynesian explanation of a recession:

I can’t hammer this home enough. A recession is not when something bad happens. A recession is not when people are poor.

A recession is when markets fail to clear. We have workers without factories and factories without workers. We have cars without drivers and drivers without cars. We have homes without families and families without their own home.

Prices clear markets. If there is a recession, something is wrong with prices.

Right now, unemployment remains at over 8% in the UK while real wages are lower than they were 7 years ago and are continuing to fall. Yes, you read that correctly. Which immediately leads one to ask: on this explanation of a recession as expounded by Karl, how much further do real wages have to fall to eliminate disequilibrium unemployment?

I am not a political person, I’m trying to ask an intellectual question here. As an interested observer of (and, I stress, not remotely an expert on) the economy, I am finding the aggregate demand narrative an increasingly unsatisfying explanation of all that is happening in the British economy. Supply-side suffering is suffering too, and I think we need to take very seriously the chance that it is happening.


Categories: Economics

The interest rate is not the price of money

April 22, 2012 8 comments

(Just a quick one, on a topic I am still highly uncertain and confused about. So be nice.)

I’ve been taught no less than three times that the interest rate is the price of money: once at school, once at college and once again at CFA class. And that doesn’t seem right to me.

First, consider a world without money. I offer you one sheep in exchange for two this time next year. The interest rate is 100%. It expresses the rate at which consumption can be shifted through time.

Second, consider a world where everyone adhered to Polonius’ admonition to neither a borrower nor a lender be. There is still money in this world. It is traded for goods and services. The price of money is the rate at which it is traded for goods and services. That is to say, it is what we normally call ‘the price level’.

So money is not essential to the existence of interest rates, and interest rates are not essential to the existence of money. As the medium of exchange, the price of everything is expressed in terms of money. There is no more a case for the price of future consumption being “the” price of money than the price of kumquats. A price is nothing more and nothing less than the rate at which things are exchanged, and money can be exchanged for anything. Considering this, I find it hard to see why setting an interest rate is the ‘essence’ of monetary policy, because it’s just one price among many. That we do it this way just seems like a historical accident.

This is also by way of saying that while I understand the zero-lower-bound issue under the current monetary system, the reason why it’s an issue at all is because normal monetary operations revolve around exchanging an asset that, under certain circumstances, becomes highly substitutable with money*.

Maybe we should choose a different one.


*This is also the only way I have been able to understand the ‘QE is just an asset swap’ objection, but that could be as much to do with my feeble brain as the quality of explanation on offer

Categories: Economics