Paradigm Premises and Insights into Stagnating Global Economic Growth

SOURCE ITEMS

Why does political instability afflict Europe and the United States? The answer is that just as the great transformation of the world economy between 1850 and 1890 generated political instability, so too does the globalization of the present era. In addition, the second great transformation of the world economy is larger than the first, and thus, not surprisingly, generates greater churn. … Those countries able to keep unemployment and inequality within bounds will be more stable. The greater the levels of inequality and unemployment, the greater the political instability and the smaller the chance of achieving stable economic growth.

David W. Brady, Globalization and Political Instability, The American Interest, March 8 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016.

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Political instability reduces the likelihood of defining and implementing a reasonably comprehensive, coherent, and sustained economic-policy agenda. The resulting persistence of low growth, high unemployment, and rising inequality fuels continued political instability and fragmentation, which further undermines officials’ capacity to implement effective economic policies.

Michael Spence and David Brady, Economics in a Time of Political Instability, Project Syndicate, March 23, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016.

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We tend to focus on the problem of the moment — the subprime crisis, the euro crisis, the China slowdown, the oil bust. But surely these events are connected. What threads link them? I’ve been collecting possible story lines for a while now. … Put these all together, and what do you get? A Great Muddle, perhaps. Some stories overlap. At least two of them contradict each other. They don’t all add up to any kind of consistent narrative.

Justin Fox, Eight Story Lines Explain the Global Economic Crisis, BloombergView, March 10, 2016, Accessed March 24, 2016.

COMMENTS

Statements about what can be done and should be done in a particular arena of human activity rest on foundation premises about how that part of our world works. These premises establish a paradigm for gathering and interpreting data about the world. They pull certain things into view and push other things out of view.

Professor Brady says we are in an era of transformation in the world economy.   Everyone knows that things are changing rapidly and in big ways and Brady is far from alone in concluding that a transformation is underway. This is an important development because the term transformation connotes change that reaches past surface phenomena, change that runs deep into the machinery of a system.

Such deep-running change often exposes weaknesses in a paradigm that worked well in the past. This is the case for theories of economic growth.

The field of economics is in turmoil because of the unpredicted crisis of 2008 and the persisting economic growth stagnation. In the search for answers, the paradigmatic premise that humans act rationally is now widely questioned. But, other premises should be getting more attention.

One premise worth questioning is that systemic continuity is a given. This premise is embraced across the fields of economics and politics. It is reflected in two assertions that are widely made and widely accepted.

The first is that this time is really not different. Although a few economists have argued that the financial crisis of 2008 is unusual, the dominant view is that it is not fundamentally different from numerous other financial crises in the history of capitalism. Brady affirms this view by comparing the transformation of the world economy in our time to the transformation in the 19th century. He sees it as more destabilizing, but not fundamentally different. After the transformation has played itself out, life can return to what we call normal.

The second assertion is that government policy interventions can restore world economic growth. In the past, economic growth has stagnated and stalled, but in every case it was sooner or later restored. Now is no different. By adopting the appropriate economic policies, governments can restore economic growth to levels that restore full employment and steadily increase human wealth and well-being.

The concepts of transformation and systemic continuity do not sit together well. This is a telling juxtaposition to which economists should be giving more attention. Perhaps as I have been arguing in this blog, it isn’t bad policies that are limiting global economic growth; perhaps it is existential limits to economic growth that make all policy interventions fall short.

Perhaps economists, including Brady himself, should set aside the premise of continuity and explore all the implications of applying the concept of transformation to our current circumstances.

A Return to Full Employment With Mixed Signals: This Time is Different for the World of Employment

SOURCE ITEMS

Chart-Employed Full Time Trend

St. Louis Federal Reserve, Accessed December 13, 2015.

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The Netherlands seems to be undergoing a sort of industrial revolution in reverse, with jobs moving from factories to homes. The Dutch labor market has the highest concentration of part-time and freelance workers in Europe, with nearly 50% of all Dutch workers, and 62% of young workers, engaged in part-time employment – a luxury afforded to them by the country’s relatively high hourly wages.

Sami Mahroum and Elif Bascavusoglu-Moreau, Is Jobless Growth Inevitable? Project Syndicate, March 25, 2015. Accessed December 13, 2015.

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Inequality, exclusion, and duality became more marked in countries where skills were poorly distributed and many services approximated the textbook “ideal” of spot markets. The United States, where many workers are forced to hold multiple jobs in order to make an adequate living, remains the canonical example of this model.

Dani Rodrik, The Evolution of Work, Project Syndicate, December 9, 2015. Accessed December 13, 2015.

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Forced labor permeates supply chains that stretch across the globe, from remote farms in Africa and the seas off Southeast Asia to supermarkets in America and Europe. Almost 21 million people are enslaved for profit worldwide, the UN says, providing $150 billion in illicit revenue every year.

Erik Larson, These Lawyers Want Slave Labor Warnings on Your Cat Food, Bloomberg, December 10, 2015. Accessed December 13, 2015.

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Over all, the Labor Department data painted a picture of an economy that is growing steadily and creating jobs at a healthy pace, even as wage gains remain subdued and many Americans are still stuck on the sidelines of the recovery.

Nelson D. Schwartz, Robust Jobs Report All but Guarantees Fed Will Raise Rates, New York Times, December 4, 2015. Accessed December 13, 2015.

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In reality, the 35-hour workweek has become mostly symbolic, because a multitude of loopholes allow companies to work around the law. French employees work an average of 40.5 hours a week — more than the 40-hour average in the European Union — and have high productivity.

Liz Alderman, Smart Car Standoff Pits Social Progress Against Global Competition, New York Times, December 12, 2015. Accessed December 13, 2015.

COMMENTS

A question emerged after 2008 that unsettled the field of economics and is still unanswered: is this time different? Was the financial crisis of 2008 an economic crisis of a unique kind in the history of capitalism; or was it just a very severe version of a routine kind of economic crisis?

This phrase gained currency from the publication of the book, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, by Carmen Reinhart Kenneth Rogoff.[1] They argue that the financial crisis of 2008 is not different. But others disagree.

In a 2012 article, Lawrence King et al make the argument that this time is different because it is the result of a level of financial liberalization and a degree of free market economics that did not exist before the 1970s.[2]

A few of our world’s best and brightest economists expressed their uncertainty and sense that this time is different in this way:

“As a world economic crisis developed in 2008 and lasted longer than most economists predicted, it became increasingly clear that beliefs about macroeconomics and macroeconomic policy needed to be thoroughly examined. … we knew that we had entered a brave new world…”[3]

Different Seems More Likely Than the Same

After 2008 optimism about a return to robust economic growth has been the rule. But actual economic growth has not rewarded that optimism. A few economists have been trying to explain this poor record.

Robert J. Gordon, professor of economics at Northwestern University, recently asserted that “It is time to raise basic questions about the process of economic growth, especially the assumption – nearly universal since Solow’s seminal contributions of the 1950s (Solow 1956) – that economic growth is a continuous process that will persist forever.” He went on to propose that U.S. economic growth may grind to a halt because the kinds of technological innovations that drove rapid U.S. economic growth are not on the horizon.[4]

Professor Gordon was speaking only about the U.S., but the logic would apply to all of the world’s affluent nations.  Moreover, the World Bank and other global institutions have repeatedly warned of below par levels of global economic growth, in some cases for years to come.

Weighing anecdotal evidence, some discernible trends, and expert opinion, it seems reasonable to conclude that this time is different for economic growth.

That means this time is almost certainly different for the world of employment.

A Different World of Employment

In mainstream theories of economic development, the future of work is directly tied to the future of economic growth. Economic growth is the engine that pushes us toward the ever expanding prosperity goals that make for widespread affluence: high profits, high wages, and full employment. When economic growth slows down something has to give in the world of employment.  We are trapped in a long period of slow economic growth, so the employment trends of the past cannot continue.

We can be fairly certain that workers in the U.S. and other affluent nations will not experience the kind of return to full employment with high wage conditions we have known in the past. In the context of global competition and slow economic growth,  the world’s economic and political leaders are pressing hard to cap and reduce wage bills at all levels of employment. We have entered into an era of global degradation of employment.

In affluent nations they  are forcing working people to choose between fewer jobs and fewer hours at higher compensation levels or more jobs and more hours with lower wages and less valuable benefits.  In the rest of the world, where such a choice has seldom existed in any meaningful sense,  global competition and slow economic growth mean an end to the dream of jobs that will deliver better lives.  Everywhere, employment rights and workplace protections are falling away.

What we don’t know quite yet is how the ongoing degradation of the world of employment will play out in national and global politics. At the moment it appears that the world’s political and economic leaders have chosen to promote a free-for-all battle struggle among working people by defining rights to crumbs from the capitalist table using the old reactionary lines of difference – race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and nation. And, at the moment, too many workers in affluent nations are falling into this trap, as shown by the rise of Trumpism in the U.S., the growth of reactionary movements across Europe, and the destruction of governing institutions that embody common interests, and the rise of militaristic movements intent on redrawing national boundaries.

Intentionally engendering antagonisms can’t solve the fundamental problems for global economic growth, so the right wing policies can have only one ultimate outcome – a global catastrophe in multiple forms. Hopefully, this  will become clear to the world’s working people well before such a catastrophe becomes unavoidable.

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[1] Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Princeton University Press, 2009.

[2] Lawrence King, Michael Kitson, Sue Konzelmann and Frank Wilkinson Making the same mistake again—or is this time different? Cambridge Journal of Economics 2012, 36, 1–15 doi:10.1093/cje/ber045.

[3] From the Preface: Olivier J. Blanchard, David Romer, A. Michael Spence and Joseph E. Stiglitz, In the Wake of the Crisis: Leading Economists Reassess Economic Policy, MIT Press, 2012.

[4] Robert J. Gordon, Is US economic growth over? Faltering innovation confronts the six headwinds, VOX, September 11, 2012. http://www.voxeu.org/article/us-economic-growth-over.

Crisis and Recovery Work: the Future of Jobs in the World Economy

 

SOURCE ITEMS

Pipes carrying Flint River water are opened; the Detroit supply is shut off. The switch was made as a cost-saving measure for the struggling, black-majority city. Soon after, residents begin to complain about the water’s color, taste and odor, and report rashes and concerns about bacteria. … Flint urges residents to stop drinking water after government epidemiologists validate Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s finding of high lead levels. Mr. Snyder orders the distribution of filters, the testing of water in schools, and the expansion of water and blood testing.

Jeremy C.F. Lin, Jean Rutter and Haeyoun Park, Events That Led to Flint’s Water Crisis., New York Times, January 21, 2016. Accessed January 22, 2016.

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Health care employment expanded by 475,000 in 2015, compared with a gain of 309,000 in 2014.Chart-Job Growth by Sector 2015

 

Source: Current Employment Statistics Highlights, December 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2016. Accessed January 22, 2016.

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Air, sea and land transport networks continue to expand in reach, speed of travel and volume of passengers and goods carried. Pathogens and their vectors can now move further, faster and in greater numbers than ever before. Three important consequences of global transport network expansion are infectious disease pandemics, vector invasion events and vector-borne pathogen importation.

Tatem, A.J., D.J. Rogers, and S.I. Hay. Global Transport Networks and Infectious Disease Spread. Advances in parasitology 62 (2006): 293–343. PMC. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

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Thus, the net gain in jobs in New Jersey over the four year period would be 270,000 (281,000 construction-related jobs less 11,000 Travel and Tourism-related jobs). Of the 281,000 construction-related jobs, about 218,000 will be direct construction jobs. …

If all of this money is spent on reconstruction, the influx of new spending will generate $53.1 billion in new total output in those 13 counties and about 352,000 new jobs. About 299,000 jobs will be construction jobs.

Economic Impact of Hurricane Sandy, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, September 2013

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Future warming will bring a more volatile, dangerous world, even if the world manages to keep temperature rises within a 2C limit to which governments have committed, Fischer’s research found. On average, any given place on Earth will experience 60% more extreme rain events and 27 extremely hot days.

Karl Mathiesen, Extreme weather already on increase due to climate change, study finds, The Guardian, U.S. Edition, April 27, 2015.

COMMENTS

Safe water is one of those items of wealth that comes to us as both natural wealth and fabricated wealth. We sip water purified by nature from natural springs and we sip water purified by factories from our water taps.

The water crisis in Flint Michigan illustrates the extent to which we humans have damaged the natural production of many forms of wealth and been forced to replace natural wealth with fabricated wealth. Therein lies the story of job growth in the 21st century.

During the expansive years of capitalism (roughly the 16th century through the first half of the 20th century), we increasingly used fossil fuels to transform natural wealth into fabricated wealth. We had our eyes on the growing stock of fabricated wealth and failed to see the costs in natural wealth. Now we are beginning to see that there is no free lunch. The notion that humans figured out how to add to the total stock of wealth on the planet (the notion of creating fabricated wealth at no cost to natural wealth) has turned out to be an accounting sleight of hand.

We have never been able to increase net total wealth (natural wealth + fabricated wealth). By defining nations as economies, we externalized all costs to other nations and to nature and counted only what we wanted to: fabricated wealth. Our riches seemed to grow without end. Now we can no longer expand the stock of fabricated wealth fast enough to stay ahead of normal wear and tear and a rising tide of social, geopolitical, and ecological disasters.

The work we want to do is steadily being replaced by the work we must do. Steadily, our working hands and minds are being turned to the task of fixing damage inflicted on our fabricated wealth by domestic conflicts, wars, climate events, and just plain old wear and tear; and to the task of fixing the damages we have inflicted and continue to inflict on natural wealth.

The rate at which the world’s fabricated and natural wealth are being damaged is growing fast, so more and more our jobs will be in industries that repair our bodies (and replace body parts), that repair and replace our essential fabricated items of wealth (e.g., homes, tools, transportation equipment, educational facilities, health care technologies) and that repair the planetary systems we have damaged. The proportion of jobs that produce goods and services that can be counted as net new fabricated wealth will go down.

Into the 20th century, job growth was associated with expanding the production of net new fabricated wealth. That era is over. Job growth is now becoming associated with survival goals in place of greater affluence goals.

Rose Colored Job Growth Glasses Hide the Main Story

 

SOURCE ITEMS

For all of 2015, the nation added 2.65 million jobs, capping a two-year, back-to-back gain that was the best since the late 1990s, the government reported on Friday.

Patricia Cohen, Robust Hiring in December Caps Solid Year for U.S. Jobs, New York Times, January 8, 2016.

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Ratio of Working Age Population to Jobs Created

Best Two Years of 1990s (1997-98)

Years 2014-2015

Jobs Created in Two Year Period

6.5 million

5.8 million

Working Age Population (ages 18-64) 2000 and 2015 (estimated)

174.1 million

198.9 million

Ratio, Working Age Population to Jobs Created

26.8

34.3

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau.

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After more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it. … a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground, Pew Research Center, December 9, 2015.

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The decrease in labor force participation lowers incomes independently of wage trends. During an era when employment rates are trending downward, wages will grow faster than household incomes.

Salim Furth, Stagnant Wages: What the Data Show, Backgrounder #3074 on Labor, The Heritage Foundation, October 26, 2015.

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Stock Market Closing Prices

 

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Nasdaq Stock Market

S&P 500

December 31, 2014

17823.07

4736.05

2058.90

December 31, 2015

17425.03

5007.41

2043.94

Source: Dow Jones Close.

COMMENTS

But these rose colored glasses/That I’m looking through/Show only the beauty/’Cause they hide all the truth – Lyrics by John Conlee
 

To say that job creation in 2014-15 has been the best since the late 1990s is misleading and not only because making that statement implies that job growth is now the same as it was in the late 1990s.   It sidesteps an important and related issue: the loss of wealth in American households.

Fewer and fewer American families now have the wherewithal to live middle class lives and real wage growth, even if positive, is so modest that it will never restore the middle class prosperity Americans became used to in the post-WWII decades.

Yet, given the threats from global warming and the increasing flows of goods, information and people from place to place on this earth, we have to ask whether returning to the kind of prosperity that marked the 1960s in America is what we should expect or even want. Perhaps we should not expect it because the rest of the world now reaches into America enough to successfully demand a fairer (and therefore larger) share of the global pie. And, perhaps we should not want it because that way of affluence imposed an enormous cost in wealth and lives on most of the world’s peoples and, as we know so well now, is making the earth unfit for habitation.

Is there an alternative way of affluence? Yes, but we have to invent it.

The Broken Capitalist World Economy and the Future of Good Jobs

SOURCE ITEMS

But things are changing. Longer-term shifts—such as declining middle-class jobs, a continued fallout from the global financial crisis, but also a shrinking global workforce—are shaping labor markets worldwide. Whereas the problem today seems to be a glut of workers, in coming years the global labor force will shrink. These shifts could constrain growth, but they should also help correct some of the current labor market imbalances that have prevented workers from sharing in productivity gains. The beneficiaries, however, will mainly be high-skilled workers. The prospects for lower-skilled workers are less hopeful, which is bad news not only for them, but for efforts to reduce inequality.

Ekkehard Ernst, The Shrinking Middle, Finance & Development, International Monetary Fund, March 2015, Vol. 52, No. 1. Accessed September 19, 2015.

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“It has become clear that we are really dealing with a different kind of economic recovery than anyone has experienced since World War II,” says Mr. Hammond, chief executive officer of Hammond Power Solutions Inc., a Guelph, Ont. company that makes electrical transformers for industrial clients around the world. … “This is far different from any recession I have seen.” … Seven years after Europe and the United States slipped into what would become the one of the deepest global recessions in history, and five and a half years since the North American economy returned to growth, the recovery remains a perplexing, inconsistent and frustratingly elusive work in progress.

David Parkinson, Richard Blackwell and Iain Marlow, The 7-year slump: Why the global economy can’t seem to get started. The Globe and Mail, January 23, 2015. Accessed September 19, 2015.

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Many have characterized the U.S. economy’s inability to grow robustly as an expected after- effect of a severe cyclical downturn. Such interpretation is well past its sell-by date. It’s time to recognize that globalization has brought with it issues that defy cyclical economic prescriptions.

Daniel Alpert, Why the US economy can’t seem to shake off the Great Recession, BusinessInsiDer.com, May 21, 2015.

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Climate change threatens to provoke a new ecological panic. So far, poor people in Africa and the Middle East have borne the brunt of the suffering. … Climate change has also brought uncertainties about food supply back to the center of great power politics. China today, like Germany before the war, is an industrial power incapable of feeding its population from its own territory, and is thus dependent on unpredictable international markets.

Timothy Snyder, The Next Genocide, New York Times, Sept. 12, 2015. Accessed September 19, 2015.

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Together with his team of designers and engineers, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is working on a prototype of a Smog Free Tower, that would create a clean air zone outside. … This smog solver is meant to move to other major cities too. So everyone can get acquainted with it. This way, Roosegaarde wants to bring NGO’s, concerned citizens and designers together in smog-free bubbles, to work on healthy cities around the globe.

Daan Roosegaarde’s clean air zones, Rotterdam City Blog, July 28, 2015. Accessed September 19, 2015.

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The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries.” They are the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

Joel Achenbach, Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’, Washington Post, January 15, 2015. Accessed on August 27, 2015.

COMMENTS

An abundance of good jobs is one of the core features of societal prosperity and it is an article of faith for most of the peoples in affluent societies that capitalism is the engine of growing prosperity.

However, it is quite clear to almost everyone that global capitalism is malfunctioning. Economists who write for the media and journalists who cover economic matters routinely refer to the fact that the world economy has still not recovered from the financial traumas of 2008 and that global employment trends are not good one.

There is much more to the problems afflicting the world economy than a cyclical downturn and poor national policy choices. The world economy has entered an era of declining wealth accumulation that is irreversible. Without increasing prosperity, the world economy will not be able to generate the growing stock of good jobs for the world’s working people.

The few good jobs the world economy has to offer are found almost exclusively in the affluent cities and nations in the world economy. And even in those affluent areas very large proportions of workers are consigned to jobs that pay low wages and benefits, expose them to health risks, and offer no employment security.

The reason is straight forward: good jobs are expensive to create and maintain. Not only do good jobs garner premium wages and benefits, they also require high cost work environments (expensive machines, high volumes of consumable supplies, expenditures on training and workplace safety), and expensive public and private oversight and enforcement activities. Thus, for the world economy to continue to produce and maintain good jobs, the wealth of the world’s people must continue to grow. But, it can’t.  The world economy has hit a wealth production wall.

We typically use the word ‘wealth” to refer to human made goods and services, yet we know, at least intuitively, that such things as the oxygen rich air we breath and zones of moderate temperature that support agriculture are forms of wealth that nature produces. What we have yet to fully acknowledge is that these two worlds of wealth creation are inextricably interconnected.

The capitalist world economy is the human part of an inclusive world economy that includes nature’s wealth production processes. The human world economy is a massive economic machine that takes forms of wealth produced by nature and converts them into different forms of wealth – the goods and services that define affluent society. In so doing, the capitalist world economy extracts and uses flows of energy and stocks of living and non-living resources that nature would otherwise use in its own production processes.

As a totality, this inclusive world economy of humans and nature is a single economic system. The only real input is the energy from the sun (discounting the miniscule meteorite contributions to the mass of the earth). We can process one form of wealth (say soil and water) into another form of wealth (crops), but we cannot make net additions to the earth’s total store of wealth.

The point here is that the human part of the inclusive world economy grows at the expense of the natural part. Conversely, the natural part expands at the expense of the human part (in the forms of rust, rot, and natural disasters). Human economies have always used nature, just as all living things do, but the capitalist world economy is the first human economy to press against the fixed stock and regenerative limits of the entire earth. This is a crucial and overlooked reason the human world economy is trapped in dysfunction.

The capitalist world economy grew and thrived on an earth where yet another pristine forest, yet another stock of game fish, yet another unspoiled river, yet another abundance of fertile land, yet another source of cheap labor, was just an explorer and a military conquest away. It was an era in which yet another technological innovation would solve a problem and increase human wealth. That was the era in which some parts of the world became extraordinarily affluent and good jobs were created.

Fossil fueled industrialization was the driving force in that period. It provided the means for accelerating the diversion nature’s supply of energy and resources into human economic activities and it provided the means by which certain parts of Europe and North America incorporated the rest of the world into the world economy, primarily as suppliers of labor and resources and more often than not through economic and military coercion. Affluent European, North American, and allied nations became more affluent and good jobs became abundant and set the standard for the world’s people.

That limitless earth disappeared over the course of the 20th century. The era of global geopolitical economic incorporation of “foreign” lands and peoples has come to an end. It is no longer possible for human wealth to increase as it did in the past. Thus, it is no longer possible to add to the stock of good jobs in the world economy and maintain them all.

The scale of the human world economy is now so enormous that the costs for maintaining human wealth are demanding an increasing proportion of the productive capacity of the world economy.

First, the scale of damage done to nature’s wealth production by the human world economy has become enormous and keeps growing, so more and more of our human economic activities must be devoted to repairing the damages and compensating for the damages we can’t yet repair (industrial cleaning of air and water because nature’s regenerative capacity has been overwhelmed). Second, the massive stock of human wealth (including people – human capital) that we have accumulated over the last several centuries gets older every day and, as we well know, with age comes deterioration and death. A large and growing proportion of human economic activity must now be devoted to maintaining this large stock of wealth and to replacing those items of wealth that are lost to rust, rot, and irreparable damage.

As the world’s population continues to grow and the world’s rulers continue to invest in massive urban infrastructures, the energy and resource conflicts between the human and natural parts of the inclusive world economy will increase. Our technologies will not save us because they were and continue to be designed to divert evermore energy and resources from nature’s wealth production processes. Nature will prevail and force an irreversible decline in human wealth and a loss of good jobs as that happens.

The world’s leaders continue to talk about restoring global economic growth and moving more and more of the world’s people into good jobs, but the actual trends in both parts of the inclusive world economy expose this as empty rhetoric. The leaders of affluent nations have already begun to dismantle the stock of good jobs available to their peoples and most people in the poor areas of the world know they have almost no chance of ever working at a good job.

The kind of affluence and the configurations of good jobs the peoples of the west became comfortable with in the 20th century can no longer be offered to the rest of the world; nor can they be retained for the majority of people in the now affluent nations. We must invent a new definition of affluence and a new kind of good job for a new kind of world. We won’t do that until the world’s economists and policy leaders acknowledge that the world has hit the ceiling on net wealth growth and incorporate this knowledge into economic and policy theory.

The Slow-Growth World Economy and the Degradation of Formal Wage Employment

SOURCE ITEMS

“We think of the ‘new neutral’ as a natural evolution from the ‘new normal’,” Executive Vice President Richard Clarida said in a telephone interview, likening the firm’s new outlook to a car stuck in neutral gear. “The ‘new neutral’ looking forward is a story about a global economy that isn’t recovering, it’s a global economy that’s converging to trend rates of growth that will be sluggish.”

Mary Childs, Pimco’s ‘New Normal’ Thesis Morphs Into ‘New Neutral’, Bloomberg, May 13, 2014.

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What is new – and distressing – is that developing economies’ low-productivity segments are not shrinking; on the contrary, in many cases, they are expanding.

Dani Rodrik, The Growing Divide Within Developing Economies, Project Syndicate, APR 11, 2014.

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Formal employment creation in Colombia is taxed with social security contributions and payroll taxes that equal roughly 60% of the base salary for each worker.

Domingo Cavallo and Rodrigo Botero, Proposal – Incentives to Formal Employment: A Proposal for Colombia, Global Economic Symposium 2014.

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But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings and floors that protected people are also disappearing.

Thomas Friedman, It’s a 401(k) World, New York Times, April 30, 2013.

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America’s shadow economy includes activities that are actually illicit — prostitution and drug dealing — and more benign jobs like working construction for a day for cash, or even the $2 a kid that Kalmes gets for walking neighborhood children to the bus. Added together, economists estimate $2 trillion could be involved.

Joshua Zumbrun, Shadow Economy Shows Joblessness Less Than Meets U.S. Eye, Bloomberg, March 20, 2013.

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A study for the Small Business Administration, a government body, found that regulations in general add $10,585 in costs per employee.

Over-regulated America, The Economist, Feb 18th 2012.

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Informal employment in Californian construction has increased by 400 percent since 1972. The ranks of the informal swell with each economic recession, but most recently a larger share of workers have stayed in the informal sector because formal sector jobs have not been recovered. Four years after the end of the Great Recession, the industry has recovered only 66 percent of the jobs lost in the formal sector. –

Yvonne Yen Liu, Daniel Flaming, Patrick Burns, Sinking Underground: The Growing Informal Economy in California Construction, Economic Roundtable, September 2014.

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The result has been a downsizing of expectations. By almost two to one — 64 percent to 33 percent — Americans say the U.S. no longer offers everyone an equal chance to get ahead, according to the latest Bloomberg National Poll. The lack of faith is especially pronounced among those making less than $50,000 a year, with close to three-quarters in the Dec. 6-9 survey saying the economy is unfair.

Rich Miller and Michelle Jamrisko, Americans on Wrong Side of Pay Gap Run Out of Means to Cope, Bloomberg.com, By December 30, 2013.

COMMENTS

The legitimacy of a formal wage employment system for working people comes from an implicit guarantee that workers get a fair share of national income. This guarantee is necessarily implicit because to make it explicit would require imposing substantial constraints and costs on the owners and managers of business enterprises. Public policy would have to define the primary and overriding obligation of the private sector to be providing employment or income to all working people in place of the existing mandate to provide maximum income to investors.

In most of the world’s low wealth political jurisdictions, opposition to creating and strengthening formal wage employment systems is generally very strong, especially among the rich and powerful of those jurisdictions.   Both the rich and a majority of workers in those jurisdictions understand that their profits and jobs can be quickly eliminated in a world economy in which businesses and workers in other jurisdictions will underbid them if given the opportunity.

In the post World War II decades, the rich and powerful in the world’s affluent nations were less often actively opposed to high cost formal wage employment systems, preferring the cost of accommodation to the cost of ruthless government suppression of conflict.

This accommodative stance has been disappearing as economic globalization has dramatically increased the competition for resources and markets faced by owners and investors in wealthier jurisdictions like the U.S. In recent decades, the accommodative stances common to business communities across the affluent nations of the world have been replaced with aggressive political campaigns to substantially reduce the high costs of the formal wage employment systems. Working people in the world’s affluent nations have lost benefits, suffered wage reductions, lost union organization protections, lost funding for government agencies charged with monitoring workplace conditions and labor market practices, and become more exposed to exploitative and unsafe working conditions.

Working people have been nudged into and forced into less desirable forms of employment (including informal sector employment, family employment, self-employment in petty trades, coerced employment, and employment in illegal activities). In a reversal of trends a few decades ago, formal wage employment now accounts for a declining share of total employment.

This trend is likely to continue because global ecological and institutional conditions impose a structural ceiling on the global rate of growth. As a result, global competition will intensify and national economic policy efforts to restore high rates of economic growth will fail much more often than they succeed. Adopting accommodative relationships with working people will not reemerge as an option for even the most successful of the world’s businesses.

Formal wage employment standards will continue to deteriorate because the world’s business owners and investors will put more pressure on governments to cut tax revenues and weaken labor market and workplace regulations as they fight for global market shares. Working people in various places will attempt to resist but will mostly lose these battles because they are, at heart, global political battles in which owners and investors have a massive advantage.

At the moment, the world’s working people are fragmented and disorganized, both across and within nations. Despite global business competition, the world’s owners and investors are much better organized into a global political force. They fund large transnational organizations to develop and pursue shared goals (e.g., more trade, easier money, lower costs) to a far greater extent than do the world’s working communities.

In the long run, this could change, but not unless the world’s working people find ways to politically checkmate the world’s owners and investors. That may or may not happen. What is certain is that the future of work is up for grabs.

(For a perspective on the slowdown in global economic growth see my article, Replacing the Concept of Externalities to Analyze Constraints on Global Economic Growth and Move Toward a New Economic Paradigm.)

This Is No Time for Irrational Exuberance about Jobs at Living Wages – We’re in a New World of Work

SOURCE ITEMS

Eurozone GDP still hasn’t gotten back to its 2007 level, and doesn’t look like it will anytime soon. Indeed, it already wasn’t clear if its last recession was even over before we found out the eurozone had stopped growing again in the second quarter. And not even Germany has been immune: its GDP just fell 0.2 percent from the previous quarter.

Matt O’Brien, Worse than the 1930s: Europe’s recession is really a depression, Washington Post, August 20, 2014. Web 9/5/2014.

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Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 142,000 in August … Manufacturing employment was unchanged in August, following an increase of 28,000 in July. Motor vehicles and parts lost 5,000 jobs in August, after adding 13,000 jobs in July. Auto manufacturers laid off fewer workers than usual for factory retooling in July, and fewer workers than usual were recalled in August. Elsewhere in manufacturing, there were job gains in August in computer and peripheral equipment (+3,000) and in nonmetallic mineral products (+3,000), and job losses in electronic instruments (-2,000).

Employment Situation Summary, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 5, 2014. Web 9/5/2014.

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Today’s report also included revisions to first-quarter personal income. Wages and salaries rose by $131.3 billion, revised down from an initially reported $135.1 billion gain. They climbed by $103.6 billion in the second quarter.

Shobhana Chandra, Economy in U.S. Expands 4.2%, More Than Previously Forecast, Bloomberg, August 28, 2014.

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Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. … Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises and over 2 million by the state or rebel groups. … Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.

Facts and Figures, Forced labour, human trafficking and slavery, International Labour Organization, Web 9/5/2014.

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Comparing the first half of 2014 with the first half of 2007 (the last period of reasonable labor market health before the Great Recession), hourly wages for the vast majority of American workers have been flat or falling. And even since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline…

Elise Gould, Why America’s Workers Need Faster Wage Growth—And What We Can Do About It, Economic Policy Institute, August 27, 2014. Web 9/5/2014.

COMMENTS

The U.S. is deeply tied to the rest of the world economy and the world economy is plagued by contradictory national economic policies, geopolitical instability, extreme weather conditions, and rising prices. These are chronic conditions that will continue to prevent the world economy from achieving a steady rate of economic growth high enough to grow jobs and incomes.

Slow economic growth combined with high levels of global income and wealth inequalities can only produce a steady stream of domestic and geopolitical disasters. Slow economic growth is probably a permanent feature of the 21st century world economy, so we have to learn to live with it. We can, however, do a lot to reduce economic inequalities.