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

Labor Market Slack and Weak Wage Growth

by Hale Stewart (originally published at Bonddad blog)

Labor Market Slack and Weak Wage Growth

From the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook:

Sluggishness in core inflation in advanced economies—a surprise in view of stronger than expected activity—has coincided with slow transmission of declining unemployment rates into faster wage growth. Real wages in most large advanced economies have moved broadly with labor productivity in recent years, as indicated by flat labor income shares (Figure 1.4, panel 6). As shown in Chapter 2, muted growth in nominal wages in recent years partly reflects sluggishness in labor productivity.1 However, the analysis also reveals continued spare capacity in labor markets as a key drag: wage growth has been particularly soft where unemployment and the share of workers involuntarily working part-time remain high. The corollary of this finding is that, once firms and workers become more confident in the outlook, and labor markets tighten, wages should accelerate. In the short term, higher wages should feed into higher unit labor costs (unless productivity picks up), and higher Sluggishness in core inflation in advanced economies—a surprise in view of stronger-than expected activity—has coincided with slow transmission of declining unemployment rates into faster wage growth. Real wages in most large advanced economies have moved broadly with labor productivity in recent years, as indicated by flat labor income shares (Figure 1.4, panel 6). 

     Consider the following chart from the Atlanta Fed:

For the longest time, I’ve been staring at the lower left-hand corner of that chart and thinking, “weak wages are really about low utilization.”  Let’s place that data into context:

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Silicon Valley is not your friend

Vis New York Times

Growth becomes the overriding motivation — something treasured for its own sake, not for anything it brings to the world. Facebook and Google can point to a greater utility that comes from being the central repository of all people, all information, but such market dominance has obvious drawbacks, and not just the lack of competition. As we’ve seen, the extreme concentration of wealth and power is a threat to our democracy by making some people and companies unaccountable.

In addition to their power, tech companies have a tool that other powerful industries don’t: the generally benign feelings of the public. To oppose Silicon Valley can appear to be opposing progress, even if progress has been defined as online monopolies; propaganda that distorts elections; driverless cars and trucks that threaten to erase the jobs of millions of people; the Uberization of work life, where each of us must fend for ourselves in a pitiless market.

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Precursor to Ecological Armageddon.

(Dan here…Stormy sends a reminder that the world has a real side as well…lifted from an e-mail))

Calling out the precursor to an Ecological Armageddon.

Thought you might like to see this study—also written up in Guardian.  Economists are totally irrelevant.   Profit and money are their game….and that game is ending within our children’s lifetime.

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas

See also:

Warning of ‘Ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

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Is This Why Wages Are Low?

by Hale Stewart (originally published at Bonddad blog)

Is This Why Wages Are Low?

These are two graphs from a post over at the Center for Equitable Growth. 

The top chart shows that the relationship between unemployment and wage growth isn’t as strong as you’d think.  Recent research highlighted by Fed President Bullard made the same observation.  But the bottom chart — now that’s what a tight correlation looks like!

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Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics

Via The Intercept

Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics

ICE confirmed to The Intercept that the handbook reflects the agency’s most up-to-date guidance on asset forfeiture. Agents under its instruction are asked to weigh the competing priorities of law enforcement versus financial profit and to “not waste instigative time and resources” on assets it calls “liabilities” — which include properties that are not profitable enough for the federal government to justify seizing. “As a general rule, if total liabilities and costs incurred in seizing a real property or business exceed the value of the property, the property should not be seized,” the document states.

The handbook also instructs ICE agents on the various ways laws can be used to justify the seizure of a property, and devotes a significant portion of its pages to the seizure of real estate. The manual instructs agents seeking to seize a property to work with confidential informants, scour tax records, and even obtain an interception warrant to determine whether “a telephone located on the property was used to plan or discuss criminal activity” in order to justify seizing the property.

The handbook acknowledges that civil forfeiture can be used to take property from a person even when there’s not enough evidence for a criminal indictment. There “may be third party interest that would prevail in a criminal case, but would not survive in a civil proceeding, making the civil proceeding essential to forfeiture,” the handbook states, referencing a property owner not officially implicated in a crime. “Those situations generally occur when a property owner is not convicted of a crime but is also not an innocent owner. Under criminal forfeiture, that property owner would be entitled to the return of the property. Under civil forfeiture, however, the owner would lose his or her interest to the Government.”

Noting that ICE is not alone among federal agencies in relying on asset forfeiture,

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Productivity in the short run is a residual.

 Ken Houghton retweeted this letter…from the Financial Times; Unused Capacity:

“My brothers and I run a relatively small family business with a turnover of below £20m. We could easily cope with a 20 per cent increase in business with no extra staff, and even a 50 per cent increase might require only a 10 per cent increase in staff. This would mean a huge growth in productivity, and I strongly the suspect the same is true for most smaller and even many larger businesses across the UK.

For most wholesalers and retailers it is much the same. Walk into practically any shop and it’s clear they could cope with more customers with few, if any, additional employees. Even on Oxford Street or in Brent Cross or Westfield, rarely would you have to wait so long for service or to pay that you would walk out. A few restaurants and hairdressers are always full, but the sectors as a whole have huge unused capacity and they represent a very large part of the economy.

The economic models currently in use have failed to explain why wages have not increased as unemployment has fallen so low. These same models are incorrect in their conclusions about productivity growth — indeed these two failures are linked.

My conclusion based on observing actual businesses is that if nominal demand were to continue to grow then both productivity and real wages would start to grow more quickly, and economists and statisticians would again be left scratching their heads wondering why their models were wrong.”

Howard BogodLondon W9, UK

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How Amazon’s Accounting Makes Rich People’s Income Invisible

By Steve Roth  (originally published at Evonomics)

How Amazon’s Accounting Makes Rich People’s Income Invisible

Image you’re Jeff Bezos, circa 1998. You’re building a company (Amazon) that stands to make you and your compatriots vastly rich.

But looking forward, you see a problem: if your company makes profits, it will have to pay taxes on them. (At least nominally, in theory, 35%!) Then you and your investors will have to pay taxes on them again when they’re distributed to you as dividends. (Though yes, at a far lower 20% rate than what high earners pay on earned income.) Add those two up over many years, and you’re talking tens, hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes.

You’re a very smart guy. How are you going to avoid that?

Simple: don’t show any profits (or, hence, distribute them as dividends). Consistently set prices so you constantly break even. This has at least three effects:

1. You undercut all your competitors’ prices, driving them out of business. Nobody who’s trying to make a profit can possibly compete.

2. You control more and more market share.

3. You build a bigger and bigger business.

Number 3 is how you monetize this, personally. The value of the company (its share price/market cap) rises steadily. Obviously, a business with $136 billion in revenues (2016) is going to be worth more than one with $10 or $50 billion in revenues — even if it never shows a “profit.” You take your profits in capital gains.

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