Ever since the November election, when Donald Trump eked out a victory in the Electoral College, I have been trying to understand the significance of his win. Of course it has a lot to do with populism and anti-elitism as I have said previously.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal the economics journalist, Gregg Ip, makes a strong argument that what is happening has more to do with globalism than with globalization:
Globalization refers to people, capital and goods moving ever more freely across borders. Globalism is the ideology that globalization should lead to global governance over national sovereignty. This refers to such global structures as the European Union, the World Trade Organization, NATO, the United Nations and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The problem is not globalization itself, which just means specialization and trade across borders, but rather the damage which breakneck globalization has inflicted on ordinary workers. Since China joined the WTO in 2000 a wave of Chinese imports wiped out 2 million American jobs, with no equivalent boom in the U.S. from exports to China.
Globalists have been blind to the nationalist backlash because their world – entrepreneurial, university-educated, ethnically diverse, urban and coastal – has thrived as the whiter, less-educated hinterlands have stagnated.
Globalists should not equate concern for cultural norms and national borders with xenophobia. Large majorities of Americans welcome immigrants so long as they adopt American values, learn English, bring useful skills and wait their turn. Opposition to open borders does not imply racism.
Conclusion. Says Avik Roy, President of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, “There is a middle ground between a nationalist and globalist approach.” This is what we should be looking for.
I look at a lot of books and every once in a while I find one that I really like. Such is the case for “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper” by Robert Bryce, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute.
The book starts out: “We are besieged by bad news. Climate change, pollution, famine, water shortages, war and terrorism, the mess at Fukushima, political gridlock, and the ongoing debt problems and economic malaise in Europe and the United States are dominating the headlines.” This leads some people to embrace “collapse anxiety,” the feeling that our problems are so great that our prosperous Western lifestyle cannot be sustained and soon may crash. “This pessimistic worldview ignores an undeniable truth: more people are living longer, healthier, more peaceful, lives than at any time in human history. Amid all of the hand wringing over climate change, etc. the plain reality is that things are getting better, a lot better, for tens of millions of people around the world.”
“Dozens of factors can be cited for the improving conditions of humankind. But the simplest explanation is that innovation is allowing us to do more with less. We are continually making things Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper.” Computers are becoming smaller and faster. Nearly everything we use is getting lighter. Our engines and farms are getting denser. Innovators are driving down costs and making goods and services cheaper.
For example, how does the SFLDC perspective apply to energy use?
In July 2012 blackouts hit northern India leaving 600 million people without electricity, even though India’s coal use doubled between 2002 and 2012. India relies on coal for 2/3 of its electricity production and has enough coal reserves to last a century. In India and worldwide, coal use will almost surely continue to increase.
Consider the following power densities (footprints) of various forms of energy:
i) biofuels: .3 watts per square meter
ii) wind energy: 1 watt per square meter
iii) solar photovoltaic panels: 6 watts per square meter
iv) oil well: 27 watts per square meter
v) natural gas: 28 watts per square meter iv) nuclear plant: 50 watts per square meter
Conclusion: From a power density point of view biofuels are a very inefficient source of energy and wind energy isn’t a whole lot better.
What is the best energy policy going forward? Stay tuned!
The Brookings Institution’s Martin Baily has an informative article, “what’s wrong with U.S. manufacturing policy,” in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal. Says Mr. Baily, “Of the 5.7 million manufacturing jobs that disappeared in the 2000s, only 870,000 have returned so far, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the claim that millions more are coming back is nothing more than a myth. … If the U.S. is serious about promoting a recovery in manufacturing, it will stop measuring success by the number of people employed in the sector and start supporting the technological advancements that are making factories more productive, competitive and innovative.” According to Mr. Baily the technological shift taking place is powered by three developments:
The internet of things in which machines are able to communicate with each other.
Advanced manufacturing including 3-D printing, new materials and more accurate digital logistics.
Distributed innovation in which crowdsourcing is used to find solutions to technical challenges more quickly.
Such advances must be supported even if it means putting robots in place of workers. It follows that:
there will still be good jobs in manufacturing for those with big data, programming and other specialized skills
a shortage of qualified workers means we want highly qualified immigrants to stay in the U.S. instead of returning to their home countries
propping up uncompetitive jobs with tax breaks and subsidies won’t work for long and just interferes with introducing a lower corporate tax rate to drive new investment
new trade agreements strengthen U.S. manufacturing by reducing foreign barriers to U.S. goods
Displaced workers Should be supported with retraining programs especially through community colleges
Government can further help with infrastructure improvements and expedited permitting processes.
Conclusion: U.S. manufacturing will continue to thrive in a rapidly changing environment as long as it is properly supported with intelligent government policies.
Globalization is having a dramatic effect on income distribution around the world as I discussed in a previous post. Middle incomes in the developed world are stagnating while at the same time they are growing rapidly throughout much of the rest of the world.
At the same time as western world economies are stagnating, turmoil and instability are breaking out elsewhere, especially in eastern Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. Fortunately the U.S. and its allies are stepping in with military force to help maintain local order in many parts of the world where it is breaking down.
In short, at the same time, whether connected or not, the postwar geopolitical system is breaking down and the economic stability of the Great Moderation has given way to the Great Recession and its aftermath of macroeconomic volatility.
An interesting article by Chrystia Freeland in the latest issue of The Atlantic, “Globalization Bites Back” addresses both of these issues together. She says “I believe that capitalist democracy has proved itself to be the only compelling, universalist vision of how to live the good life. But the stable world order many of us assumed this thesis foretold has not come to pass.” As the above chart shows, one very positive result of this messy process is likely to occur. The middle class worldwide is predicted to grow from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 4.9 billion in 2030. All of this enormous growth in the size of the middle class will occur outside of North America and Europe.
The implications for the continued prosperity and world leadership of the U.S. are clear. We need to get our own economy back on track, growing at a faster rate. We also need to get our fiscal house in order so that the dollar will continue to be the international currency of choice.
Our dominant role in world affairs is beneficial to all but it is by no means assured without much effort on our part.
This is what I hear over and over again from my liberal-minded friends. Their solution is to raise taxes on the rich and give to the poor. This might help a little but not nearly enough.
The best way to help middle- and lower-income people is to give them more opportunities for self-advancement by providing more upward mobility in society. Right now the middle class is being “hollowed out” as shown in the chart just below. There are three major reasons for this:
Economic Globalization which provides low cost goods from around the world and thus puts pressure on low- and semi-skilled workers in the U.S.
Rapid technological advancement which puts a higher premium on educational attainment and advanced skill acquisition.
Slow economic growth averaging only 2.3% since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009.
Globalization and technological advancement are strong worldwide forces likely to continue indefinitely. We will simply have to adapt to them with long term strategies such as improved educational outcomes at all levels (early childhood, K-12 and post-secondary). But speeding up economic growth is under our direct control with tried and true methods which are not being fully utilized at the present time. Such as:
Tax Reform. We should lower tax rates for individuals across the board, paid for by shrinking deductions for the wealthy. This will give middle- and lower-income workers, as well as new entrepreneurs, more money to spend, thereby boosting both supply and demand in the economy.
Increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit paid for by using some of the increased revenues from shrinking deductions for the wealthy. This would encourage more people to take and hold onto entry level jobs, thus boosting the economy by increasing the size of the workforce.
In other words, much can be done to reduce income inequality. Redistribution of tax revenue is fine as long as it is done in a way which increases economic growth, rather than just punishing the rich.
As I remind readers from time to time, this blog is focused on the fiscal and economic problems of the U.S. Our biggest fiscal problem is not having enough tax revenue to pay our bills. Our biggest economic problem is a stagnant economy which leaves too many people unemployed or underemployed.
My last three post have been on the subject of climate change. This is a worldwide problem which has a huge effect on the U.S. There’s going to be a cost in cutting way back on carbon emissions. But there will soon be a much greater cost if we don’t cut back and therefore suffer the growing adverse environmental effects.
Now there is another looming problem. The journal Science has just published the article “World population stabilization unlikely this century,” reporting that world population, now 7.2 billion, is likely to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. Much of the increase will take place in Africa due to higher fertility rates because of a recent slowdown in the pace of fertility decline. The implications of a growing world population are huge:
First of all, it will add even more stress to an environment which is already being increasingly stressed by global warming.
Secondly, it will aggravate a slowdown in middle-income wage growth throughout the developed world. This is very evident in the above chart. What is happening is that the force of globalization is shifting lower skilled work to lower paid workers in the developing world. A larger population in the developing world will simply exacerbate this trend.
The noted economist, Tyler Cowen, has a different perspective on this problem, “A Strategy for Rich Countries: Absorb More Immigrants,” in today’s New York Times. But Mr. Cowen’s approach is untenable for the long run. The idea that you can offset an increase in the elderly population with an even bigger increase in the younger population will lead to an ever-growing overall population.
What then is the answer to over-population? It is either more birth control or less sex. Take your pick!
The Economic Policy Institute has just issued a provocative new report, “Raising America’s Pay: Why It’s Our Central Economic Policy Challenge”. It is based on the now widely accepted view, as summarized in the chart below, that wages for the typical (i.e. median, not average) American worker have been stagnant since the early 1970’s, even though productivity has continued to increase at its historical rate. First of all, the authors make reasonable arguments that:
The slumping of hourly wage growth for the vast majority explains the overall trends in income inequality.
Wage stagnation stalls progress in reducing poverty.
Wages are the root of economic security for the vast majority. This includes the fact that Social Security benefits depend upon wage earnings before retirement.
Then they ask: “Why has wage growth faltered for the vast majority, and what can be done?” Here is where the report becomes controversial!
The authors do agree that globalization of markets and technological change have contributed to the wage growth slowdown but argue that this overlooks the impact of labor market and tax policy and business practices as follows:
Falling top tax rates have increased the income share of the top 1 percent.
The Federal Reserve has prioritized low rates of inflation over low rates of unemployment in recent decades and high unemployment suppresses wage growth.
The erosion of the inflation adjusted minimum wage and the share of the workforce represented by a union explain much of the entire rise of wage inequality over this time period.
The authors are completely correct that stagnant wages for American workers is a critical, even “central,” problem facing the economy at the present time. The question, of course, is how to address this problem most effectively. In my opinion, the authors have completely neglected to take into account how a faster rate of economic growth would contribute to a solution of the problem and how this could be accomplished. I will address this question in my next post in a couple of days.
They conclude by saying that this report is only the first in a multiyear research and public education initiative of the EPI. We have a lot to look forward to!
The occasion of the publication of Timothy Geithner’s book “Stress Test,” giving his version of the financial crisis, has led to a number of newspaper articles looking back at the Great Recession and its aftermath. The New York Times’ economics reporter David Leonhardt has such an analysis “A Rescue That Worked, But Left a Troubled Economy” in today’s NYT. “The Great Depression created much of modern American government and reversed decades of rising inequality. Today, by contrast, incomes are rising at the top again, while still stagnant for most Americans. Wall Street is flourishing again.”
“The financial crisis offered an opportunity to change this dynamic. But the (Dodd-Frank) law seems unlikely to transform Wall Street, and the debate over finance’s huge role in today’s economy will now fall to others. Should the banks be broken up? Should the government tax wealth? Should the banks face higher taxes?”
In my opinion, the real problem is not our financial system but the strong headwinds which are slowing down the economy.
Globalization of markets which creates huge pressure for low operating costs.
Labor saving technology which also puts downward pressure on wages.
Women and immigrants having entered the labor market in huge numbers, and therefore greatly increasing the labor supply.
The loss of wealth in the Great Recession also means that even people with good jobs have less money to spend. What we sorely need is faster economic growth to create more jobs and higher paying jobs. How do we accomplish this?
The best way to boost the economy is with broad-based tax reform to achieve the lowest possible tax rates to put more money in the hands of the working people who are the most likely to spend it. Such lower rates can be offset by closing the myriad tax loopholes and at least shrinking, if not completely eliminating, tax deductions which primarily benefit the wealthy.
Lowering corporate tax rates, again offset by eliminating deductions, providing a huge incentive for American multinational companies to bring their profits back home for reinvestment or redistribution.
With millions of unemployed and underemployed workers, reviving our economy with a faster rate of growth should be one of the very top priorities of Congress and the President. Survey after survey show that this is what voters want. Why isn’t it happening?
The economist and public lecturer, Richard Wolff, gave an address in Omaha NE last night, entitled “Capitalism in Crisis: How Lopsided Wealth Distribution Threatens Our Democracy”. His thesis is that after 150 years, from 1820 – 1970, of steadily increasing worker productivity and matching wage gains, a structural change has taken place in our economy. Since 1970 worker productivity has continued to increase at the same historical rate while the median wage level has been flat with no appreciable increase. This wage stagnation has been caused by an imbalance of supply and demand as follows:
Technology has eliminated lots of low skill and medium skill jobs in the U.S.
Globalization has made it less expensive for low skill jobs to be performed in the developing world at lower cost than in the U.S.
At the same time as jobs were being replaced by technology and disappearing overseas, millions of women entered the labor force.
A new wave of Hispanic immigration has caused even more competition for low skilled jobs.
In addition, stagnant wages for the low skilled and medium skilled worker have been accompanied by an increase in private debt through the advent of credit cards and subprime mortgage borrowing. This enormous increase of consumer debt led to the housing bubble, its bursting in 2007-2008, and the resulting Great Recession.
Five years after the end of the recession in June 2009, we still have an enormous mess on our hands: a stagnant economy, high unemployment, massive and increasing debt and a fractious political process. How in the world are we going to come together to address our perilous situation in a rational and timely manner?
Mr. Wolff believes that capitalism’s faults are too severe to be fixed with regulatory tweaks. He also agrees that socialism has proven to be unsuccessful where it has been tried. He proposes a new economic system of “Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises” as an alternative.
I agree with Mr. Wolff that capitalism is in a crisis but I think that it can be repaired from within. The challenge is to simultaneously give our economy a sufficient boost to put millions of people back to work and to do this while dramatically shrinking our annual deficits in order to get our massive debt on a downward trajectory as a percent of GDP. How to do this is the main focus of my blog, day in and day out!
The subject of income inequality has generated much interest and concern in recent months. Now we will also be hearing a lot about wealth inequality, based on the highly credible new work, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by the French economist, Thomas Piketty. The New York Time’s Eduardo Porter, summarizes the basic message in his recent column “A Relentless Widening of Disparity in Wealth”, which is clearly displayed in the two charts below. The value of private capital as a percentage of national income worldwide has been growing steadily since about 1950 and Mr. Piketty predicts that this trend will continue indefinitely. The trend is equally true, not only in the U.S., but also in other developed countries as is illustrated in the chart. It happens because the income from wealth, i.e. return on investment, typically grows faster than wages and GDP.
As Mr. Porter says, “It means future inequality in the United States will be driven by two forces. First of all, a growing share of national income will go to the owners of capital. Of the remaining labor income, a growing share will also go to the top executives and highly compensated stars at the pinnacle of the earnings scale.”
This trend has now been in effect ever since 1870, with the exception of the period between World War I and World War II, when a massive amount of wealth was destroyed. The forces of globalization and growth of technology are contributing to both types of inequality, especially in the developed world (see my post of January 23), and these forces will almost surely continue unabated. So the wealth and income inequality gaps are just going to keep getting worse.
How much inequality can exist in a democracy? The number of losers (the low income, the poor, and even the struggling middle class) will gradually get bigger and bigger and will become more and more frustrated and express their discontent at the ballot box. This threatens the future of capitalism and free enterprise, the economic principles on which our way of life is founded.
Something has to be done! Stay tuned for my next post!