Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Do “high pressure” low unemployment economies lead to more capital investment?

by New Deal democrat

Do “high pressure” low unemployment economies lead to more capitalinvestment?

The Atlanta Fed’s Macroblog has an interesting article today on whether a “high pressure” low unemployment economy leads to more capital investment. At least based on surveys, they answer in the negative, with companies pulling out the old chestnut of being unable to find qualified help “(at the wage we want to pay”).

But the article reports on one survey only, and does not delve into any long term historical data. So of cuorse I did.

Here’s what I found.  Annual data on real private fixed nonresidential data, and U-3 unemployment, can both be found back to 1948.

The first graph compares the YoY% change in investment vs. the YoY% change in the unemployment rate:

There is a high correlation, but there is no apparent leading relationship. In fact they look coincident. At best it appears that investment continues to expand even as the unemployment rate holds steady in mature expansions.

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Larry Summers: genius economist, failure at Psychology 101

by New Deal democrat

Larry Summers: genius economist, failure at Psychology 101

One of my recurring themes is how macroeconomic theory, no matter how elegant mathematically, consistently errs because it fails to take into account basic psychology — i.e., how the human animal actually works.

A big component of this failure is that humans, like other primates and apparently like just about every other social species, are hard-wired to inflict punishment on “winners” from inequitable distributions, even at cost to themselves. For a hilarious example of this, see what happens when an experimenter rewards one monkey with a cucumber while feeding another a delicious grape.
One such failure to take into account elementary psychology was on display in an article a few days ago, wherein Larry Summers, in the course of lambasting the rubes for trying to undermine global trade, concluded:

A strategy of returning to the protectionism of the past and seeking to thwart the growth of other nations is untenable and would likely lead to a downward spiral in the global economy. The right approach is to maintain openness while finding ways to help workers at home who are displaced by technical progress, trade or other challenges.

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Do healthier longevity and better disability benefits explain the long term decline in labor force participation?

by New Deal democrat

Do healthier longevity and better disability benefits explain the long term decline in labor force participation?

A few weeks ago I took another deep dive into the Labor Force Participation Rate.  There are a few loose ends I wanted to clean up (at least partially).

One of the most noteworthy things about the LFPR in the long term is that, for men, it has been declining relentlessly at the rate of -0.3% YoY (+/-0.3%) for over 60 years! Here’s the graph, normed to 100 in 1948, showing the long term decline (blue) and also normed to 100 in 1948, showing the YoY% change +0.3% (red):

Once we add +0.3% to the YoY change, the LFPR always stays very close to 100.

But what is the *reason* for this very steady decline that has already lasted a lifetime.

I want to lay down a hypothesis for further examination later.  I believe the secular decline in the LFPR for men, paradoxically, can be explained by two improvements in disability benefits and health:

1. expansions to the definition of disability; and

2. (a) better health care, leading to (b) an increased life span.

Here’s the thesis: 60 years ago, men (whose life expectancy from age 20 was only to about 67 years old to begin with) went from abled to disabled to dead over a shorter period of time.  Now at age 20 they can expect to live to about age 76, and if they get disabled, better health care will keep them alive for a much longer period of time.  And more conditions can qualify them for disability.  This means that a greater percentage of men qualify for disability, and once on it, they survive beyond working age. (Note that if somebody dies at say age 50 while on disability, they – ahem – are no longer part of the population).

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The “Cutz & Putz” Bezzle, Graphed by FRED

by Sandwichman
The “Cutz & Putz” Bezzle, Graphed by FRED

anne at Economist’s View has retrieved a FRED graph that perfectly illustrates the divergence, since the mid-1990s of net worth from GDP:

The empty spaces between the red line and the blue line that open up after around 1995 is what John Kenneth Galbraith called “the bezzle” — summarized by John Kay as “that increment to wealth that occurs during the magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it.”

In Chapter 8 of The Great Crash, 1929, Galbraith wrote:

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Wages and household income vs. housing

by New Deal democrat

Wages and household income vs. housing: which leads which?

Sometimes I look into a relationship that doesn’t quite pan out, but it’s still useful to flesh out the process. That’s the story of real wage growth vs. housing.

In the last few months I ‘ve pointed out that real wage growth has been slowing. In January, it went negative YoY.  Since, all else being equal, having less money to save for a downpayment, or to pay the montly mortgage ought to lead to fewer new housees being built, So has that been the case historically?

Well, first of all, here are real wages (blue, left scale) vs. housing permits (red, right scale):

It’s hard to see any consistent relationship.  If anything, it might be that housing permits turn before real wages.  So let’s look at the YoY relationship, below:

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Fool me once again?

From the Roosevelt Institute comes this graphic on the overall reality of macro policies:

The Republicans’ underlying assumption—that corporations invest more and create more jobs only when they are relieved of burdensome tax rates—is false. American businesses already enjoy a historically low cost of capital, and they have more than enough cash on hand to invest, raise wages, and create jobs. Corporations are choosing to make dividend payments and stock buybacks instead of investing because they face a lack of competitive pressure—itself the result of power and wealth shifting toward rich shareholders. Another tax cut for the rich will only make the problem worse.


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