Sobre a estagnação de rendimentos da classe média

Sobre desigualdade, uma entrada que vale a pena ler: A brief history of middle class economics, por Jason Furman. O artigo está cheio de factos estilizados muito interessantes para quem segue o assunto.

Starting in 1973 and running through 1995, two of the three factors that had been driving middle-class incomes derailed. Labour productivity growth slowed dramatically to only 1.4% annually, in part due to the exhaustion of pent-up innovations from WWII, reduced public investment, dislocations associated with the breakup of the Bretton Woods international monetary system, and the oil shocks of the 1970s. Not only did the economy grow more slowly in these years, but these smaller gains were distributed increasingly unequally – the share of national income that went to the top 1% nearly doubled, while the share that went to the bottom 90% fell accordingly. As a result, productivity gains did not boost middle-class incomes, and average income in the bottom 90% declined by 0.4% a year during these years. One important factor that prevented a larger fall in middle-class incomes was greater labour force participation. The share of dual-income households rose as women surged into the labour force even faster than in the Age of Shared Growth.

Some alternative and likely more accurate measures of middle-class income show slight increases during these years. Real median household income as measured by the Census Bureau rose by 0.2% a year from 1973 to 1995. And after including employer-paid health premiums and adjusting for changing family size, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that median income climbed 0.4% a year, and 0.7% a year after taxes and transfers. But regardless of how it is measured, middle-class income growth clearly slowed dramatically over this period.

O output gap nos EUA

Um post relevante para o que andou a ser discutido ali em baixo (I, II, III). Inflation, unemployment, ignorance, por Paul Krugman.

The basic point here is that ever since the 1970s we’ve been teaching a story in which an economy with excessive unemployment is one in which inflation should keep falling. Since inflation today is roughly where it was a dozen years ago, this story suggests that we’ve been on average at full employment over that period. But we know that this period was marked by weak expansions and a terrible slump, so that can’t be true. Something is wrong.

I’ve argued that the data are more consistent with a paleo-Keynesian Phillips curve in which unemployment determines the level, not the rate of change, of inflation — which could make sense given anchored expectations and downward wage rigidity. But that’s an educated guess at best, and somewhat post hoc.

The thing is, however, that this is not a new problem. There was nothing like a Phillips curve, let alone an accelerationist Phillips curve, during the Great Depression. Here’s wages:

Wages fell as the economy was slumping, but bounced back thereafter even though unemployment was high. Applying modern arguments to these data one could easily have concluded that the economy was near capacity in, say, 1939 — and in fact many economists argued at the time that most unemployment was structural, due to the mismatch between skills and the requirements of the modern economy, and could not be cured with more demand.

But then came massive fiscal stimulus in the form of rearmament and war — and it turned out that there was plenty of slack in the economy, and American workers were just fine.

O colapso do dólar e o fim da Fed

Karl Whelan comenta Maintaining Central-Bank Solvency under New-Style Central Banking, um paper de Ricardo Reis e Robert Hall que tem dado que falar. Is the Fed going to go bust? é mais um artigo acerca de uma questão que tem gerado polémica entre os economistas: pode um banco central ir à falência?

In particular, Hall and Reis are concerned about the Fed’s ability to pay interest on the reserve accounts that banks hold with it. Payments made to Fed ultimately arrive via deductions from various reserve accounts that institutions such as private banks or the Treasury hold with it while interest paid on reserves to banks takes the form of additions to the relevant bank reserve accounts.

Given this structure, if the interest payments made to the Fed don’t cover the interest payments it makes on reserves, then the total stock of reserves will increase. Hall and Reis express a concern that this process of additional money creation stemming from such an increase in the stock of reserves would result in higher inflation. (Exactly how this gets so bad that the currency ends up being dissolved is a little unclear to me.)

So it turns out that Hall and Reis are not actually concerned about the Fed going bust in the usual sense of being unable to meet its obligations. Rather they express a concern the Fed might only be able to meet its obligations by creating a quantity of money that generates high inflation.  Alternatively, they discuss a scenario in which the Fed keeps the interest rate on reserves low to restrict the growth in total reserves but this low interest rate results in a loss of control of the price level.

Sinais dos tempos

Base monetária (moeda e notas em circulação, mais depósitos no banco central) versus agregado monetário M2 para os Estados Unidos. O Banco Central apenas controla o primeiro, pelo que um desvio entre os dois indicadores sinaliza (ou pode sinalizar) a incapacidade da autoridade monetária de manter tracção à economia real.

Sem Título

Por falta de dados, não é possível comparar este período com a Grande Depressão.

Fact checking à hipótese da inovação

Os americanos inovam, e os nórdicos copiam. Esta é uma ideia muito em voga, que explica por que é que os países do Norte da Europa conseguem taxas de crescimento económico elevadas apesar do grande peso do sector público. Segundo esta perspectiva, estes países limitam-se a parasitar a investigação de ponta que apenas o ‘puro’ capitalismo americano consegue providenciar.

Em Are the Nordic countries really less innovative than the US?, Niku Mattanen, Mika Maliranta e Vesa Virihala contestam esta ideia, argumentando que os factos estão, pura e simplesmente, errados. Os economistas mostram como os dados que estão na base desta hipótese são débeis e propõem uma série de outros indicadores, segundo os quais até sãoos países nórdicos que aparecem melhor na fotografia: % do PIB gasto em I&D, produtividade no sector industrial, densidade de investigadores e taxas de realocação de sectores entre empregos.

In their related working paper, Acemoglu et al. (2012a) use two measures to argue that the US is more innovative than the Nordic countries: the number of US patents and GDP per capita. Neither of these is a very good comparative measure of innovation.

It is quite understandable that US companies dominate patent filings in the US. For an international comparison, the so-called triadic patents – i.e. patents filed for the same invention in the US, EU and Japan – are a more suitable measure. By this indicator, US innovation activity lags behind that of Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The same result obtains when comparing some of the most frequently used indicators of innovation inputs, such as business expenditure on research and development, the share of researchers in total employment, and even the stock of venture capital as a share of GDP (Table 1). In Table 1, we don’t present statistics for Norway and Iceland because, arguably, they are special cases due to their large natural resources.

As Acemoglu et al. (2012a, 2012b) stress, innovation requires risk-taking. In a very innovative economy, one would therefore expect to find intensive job creation and job destruction, as firms that are successful in innovative activities expand rapidly while others are forced to exit the market.

The available data do not suggest that the US economy is unambiguously more dynamic than the Nordic economies (Bassanini and Marianna 2009, OECD 2004). In Denmark, worker reallocation is more intensive, and in Finland almost as intensive as in the US (Table 1). Moreover, time series from the US indicate a marked decline in job and worker flows since the late 1990s (Davis et al. 2012), whereas – at least in Finland – both flows have stayed intensive (Ilmakunnas and Maliranta 2011).

O desemprego não é estrutural

Tem havido um debate intenso nos Estados Unidos acerca das razões por detrás da subida do desemprego. Enquanto economistas como Paul Krugman apontam para factores cíclicos, outros, como Raghuram Rajan, defendem que o estado deprimente do mercado laboral pode ser mais bem explicado por factores estruturais, como skill mismatch ou elementos demográficos. As duas perspectivas têm implicações muito diferentes; se o desemprego for estrutural, aumentar a procura, via banco central ou Orçamento do Estado, não permitirá reduzir a taxa de desemprego.

Edward Lazear, economista de Stanford e antigo conselheiro de George Bush, mergulhou no tema e produziu, em co-autoria com James Spletzer, The United States Labor Market: Status Quo or a new normal?. Os autores concluem que as explicações estruturais não se encaixam nos dados disponíveis.

During the recent recession, unemployment rates rose to very high levels and then started to retreat. At the same time, some industries, like construction, manufacturing, and retailing, experienced disproportionately large increases in unemployment. But the patterns observed on the way up were mirrored on the way down. Those industries that contributed much to the increase in unemployment between 2007 and 2009 were the same that accounted for decreases in unemployment since 2009.

The same is true for mismatch, which measures the difference between vacancies and unemployed in an industry, occupation, or location. Industrial mismatch rose substantially during the recent recession, but retreated just as quickly even as unemployment rates have remained high. What happened on the way up happened symmetrically on the way down. Additionally, the current recession does not appear fundamentally different from prior ones, except that it is worse.