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.

The Sharing Economy: Mobilizing Underutilized Assets or Degradation of Quality of Life in Times of Job Scarcity and Income Stagnation?

SOURCE ITEMS

PAUL SOLMAN: A peak efficiency economy, that is, putting idle resources to work, like a car, or your own idle time. Cook a meal for strangers on Feastly or work a freelance gig in your downtime on oDesk or Elance.

And speaking of idle, how about that empty space in your house? The app DogVacay lets you rent it out to bored canines. One of the most popular sharing economy platforms extends that idea to humans, Airbnb, now turning the hospitality industry on its head.

The new ‘sharing economy’ can enrich micro-entrepreneurs but at what cost? PBS NewsHour, October 10, 2014.

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Our indicators of leisure quality show that, despite increases in the quantity of leisure over this period (as reported by Aguiar and Hurst [2007 ] and others, and confirmed in Section 5 below), the quality of leisure has decreased for all groups.

Almudena Sevilla Sanz, José Ignacio Giménez, Nadal Jonathan Gershuny, Leisure Inequality in the US: 1965-2003, Sociology Working Papers, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford.

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But this is not by virtue of people wanting to work less — it’s by virtue of people being able to work less.

That’s an important distinction: being able to make a living and support your family by working 40 hours a week versus 80 hours a week.

Peter Diamandis, Evidence of Abundance #1: More Leisure, Less Work, Forbes, June, 27, 2014.

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Specifically, the allocation of time for less‐educated and highly educated adults started to diverge in 1985 (panel B of Table 6) and was dramatically different by 2003 (panel C of Table 6).
Taken together, the results of Table 6 and Figures 6a and 6b document an increase in the dispersion of leisure favoring less educated adults, particularly in the last 20 years. This corresponds to a period in which wages and consumption expenditures increased faster for highly educated adults.

Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades, Working Papers, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, January 2006.

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In economics, capital goods, real capital, or capital assets are already-produced durable goods or any non-financial asset that is used in production of goods or services. … Homes and personal autos are not usually defined as capital but as durable goods because they are not used in a production of saleable goods and services.

Capital (economics), Wikipedia, Accessed 10/11/2014.

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Around the world, working-age people with full-time jobs (and therefore weekends and distinct non-work time) are now a minority: According to a new survey of 136,000 people in 136 countries by Gallup, 26 per cent of working people “worked full-time for an employer in 2013.” In India, nearly three of four are informally employed, according to the national statistics agency, either doing day-by-day piecework or buying and selling things.

Doug Saunders, Work? Leisure? It’s all a blur these days, The Globe and Mail, Aug. 30 2014.

COMMENTS

The positive spin on the sharing economy is that people have unused assets they can turn into capital and income.  A spare room in the house or a car that is not always in use can be transformed into capital for a business. Non-work time can be turned into work time and thus into income.

But, what does it say about the quality of life when everything you own is seen as capital or potential capital and every waking hour is seen as potential work time? Only a generation ago, being middle class was understood to include owning things just for the pleasure of having and using them and to include having lots of time not a work to spend with family and friends enjoying our spacious homes, our comfortable cars, our hobbies, and our many wonderful toys.

The rise of the sharing economy must be put in the proper context: the globalization of competition for jobs and income, the technological destruction of higher end jobs, the permanent slow down in the growth of global wealth, and the steady increase in the world’s working age population. These forces brought the growth of middle class incomes in affluent countries to a halt over the last several decades, even while costs associated with middle class life continued to rise rapidly – costs for college, good health care, and higher end consumer goods.

The sharing economy seems new to many of us in affluent nations, but it has been a staple of human societies all along. It’s the technologies that Uber, Airbnb, and other sharing economy enterprises use that fool us into thinking the sharing economy is a modern or postmodern model of economic activity. For most of human history, people have engaged in peer to peer economic activities within the small populations their communication and transportation technologies could knit together.  For most of human history people have necessarily used every available asset. They have necessarily done work in the places where they live and seen their own time and the time of their children as potential income.  They have made almost no distinction between work and leisure.  Ironically, what we are now calling a different and promising future is in fact just a continuation of what has historically been typical.

In another form, the sharing economy could offer a promising future. In its present form, it is only another of the many ways in which the world’s middle income people adapt to their ongoing economic decline by undercutting each others’ wages.

The world’s peoples do have to adapt to emerging limits to the growth of affluence, but we should choose to implement new technologies in ways that create real forms of economic sharing not new forms of all against all competition.

Job and Earnings Churning Is Not Job and Earnings Growth

Paul robs Peter, then Peter robs Paul.  Round and round and round.  And we all fall down.

SOURCE ITEMS

At the price of a doubling in unemployment and near-10 percent plunge in labor costs, the so-called peripheral euro nations are reviving manufacturing and trade. In Spain, exports reached a record 222.6 billion euros ($287 billion) in 2012.

Joblessness already tops 25 percent in both Spain and Greece…

Ford Motor Co. (F) (F) said at the end of last year it will increase capacity near Valencia as it shuts plants in the U.K. and Belgium. Peugeot (UG), which is cutting workers in its home market of France, is also lifting output in Spain and Portugal.

Simon Kennedy, Even Greece Exports Rise in Europe’s 11% Jobless Recovery, Bloomberg, March 21, 2013.

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Barely two years ago, Brazil’s rapid economic growth and expanding middle class made it the darling of financial markets …. With slow growth and stalled economic reforms, financial markets were about to write off Mexico as a lost cause.

So Brazil has become the star that disappoints, while Mexico is the underperformer that suddenly shines.

Andres Velasco, A Tale of Two Countries, Project Syndicate, March 14, 2013.

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Mexico’s minimum wage commission set the increase for 2012 at 4.2% for all three of the country’s geographic zones…

The increase brings the minimum wage in Mexico to 62.33 pesos ($4.60) a day for zone A, which includes Mexico City. The minimum wage is slightly lower in other geographic zones.

What is the minimum wage in Mexico?,Maquila Reference website.

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Perry sent letters to 26 gun and ammunition manufacturers earlier this month inviting them to consider a move to Texas if the states they currently operate in impose “restrictive laws” on their industry, according to a copy of the letter and list of the manufacturers provided to ABC News by the governor’s office.

“As you consider your options … you may choose to consider relocating your manufacturing operations to a state that is more business-friendly.  There is no other state that fits the definition of business-friendly like Texas,” Perry wrote, pointing out financial incentives the state offers companies.

Arlette Saenz, Rick Perry Invites Gun Manufacturers to Set Up Shop in Texas, ABC News, February 22, 2013.

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We find that products systematically tend to co-appear, and that product appearances lead to massive disappearance events of existing products in the following years…. This is an empirical validation of the dominance of cascading competitive replacement events on the scale of national economies, i.e. creative destruction.

Peter Klimek, Ricardo Hausmann, and Stefan Thurner, Empirical confirmation of creative destruction from world trade data, arxiv, December 13, 2011.

COMMENTS

A few years back, business was booming in Ireland and experts were hailing it as the land of smart policy.  Then things went south.  Overnight, the land of smart policy became the land of dumb policy.

The problem for the world’s nations isn’t whether a nation adopts smart policy or dumb policy. The problem is that the world economy is a system of trade and competition in which nations, provinces, states, and local governments design and implement policies to steal jobs and earnings from other nations, provinces, states, and local governments.  As a result, there is much less actual job and earnings growth in the world economy and much more inter-territorial migration of jobs and earnings (churning) than is typically claimed by the champions of global capitalism.

This has always been the case, but decades ago this reality was much less visible to Americans and Western Europeans because the churning took place at a much slower pace and the winners and losers were not so intimately connected to each other through global systems of communication and transportation.  Moreover, we were usually winners in the global job churning system, so we had little incentive see the churning.

In the interceding decades, the rate of inter-territorial movement of jobs and earnings has been accelerating.  Global communications and transportation systems have expanded and improved markedly, facilitating ever rising numbers of inter-territorial financial transactions and deal closings. In turn, job and earnings churning has and continues to accelerate.

As the churning accelerates, it is becoming more visible to Americans and Europeans.  One reason is that the same communications and transportation systems that are accelerating churning are also connecting the peoples affected by the churning more closely together.  More importantly, though, Americans and Europeans are now more often finding themselves on the losing side of the churning.  Seeing the churning has become more likely because not seeing the churning only leads to policies that work only over a short period of time that is growing increasingly shorter.

The best policy move for everyone is for the world’s leaders to put an end to global job and earnings churning.  In the U.S. we certainly must put an end to interstate job and earnings churning, or our political gridlock and policy floundering will likely pull us deeper into an accelerating spiral of economic and political disasters. 

The ‘All’ in ‘We’re All in This Together’ Is the Whole World

ITEMS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

… that if you just “work hard and play by the rules” you should expect … a decent life and a chance for your children to have a better one. There is just one problem: It’s out of date.

… when Clinton first employed his phrase in 1992, the Internet was just emerging, virtually no one had e-mail and the cold war was just ending. In other words, we were still living in a closed system, a world of walls, which were just starting to come down. It was a world before Nafta and the full merger of globalization and the information technology revolution, a world in which unions and blue-collar manufacturing were still relatively strong, and where America could still write a lot of the rules that people played by.

That world is gone. It is now a more open system.

 Thomas Friedman, New Rules, New York Times, : September 8, 2012.

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Anybody with an idea and a little expertise can set assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop. A few days later, a prototype will be at their door, and once it all checks out, they can push a few more buttons and be in full production, making hundreds, thousands, or more….“Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.

Voilà, a Factory in Your Garage, Reading File, New York Times, February 6, 2010.

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Both cyclical and structural effects appear evident in the recession, suggesting that some features of the U.S. economy can benefit from stimulatory monetary and fiscal policy, while others are more permanently damaged and unlikely to respond to such policies.

 Eric Swanson, Structural and Cyclical Economic Factors, Economic Newsletter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, June 11, 2012.

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After all, borders are not impermeable. On the contrary, globalization – the immense flow across borders of people, ideas, greenhouse gases, goods, services, currencies, commodities, television and radio signals, drugs, weapons, emails, viruses (computer and biological), and a good deal else – is a defining reality of our time. Few of the challenges that it raises can be met unilaterally; more often than not, cooperation, compromise, and a degree of multilateralism are essential.

Richard N. Haass (Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), To the Victors Go the Foils, Project Syndicate, Apr. 25, 2012.

COMMENTS

When there are no limits to competition, competition destroys the commons – whether that commons is arable land, fish stocks in the ocean, the earth’s breathable air, or the economy in which all the world’s working people must earn an income sufficient to support a family and contribute to the well-being of their communities.

Structural factors that rob working people of living wage jobs are not confinedto the U.S., are not confined to any nation. There are national and local variations, but, fundamentally, the structural problems are global in scope and must be addressed through globally coordinated efforts.

A global system in which one nation outdoes others for a few years, and then another nation outdoes others for a few years, while the global trend is greater hardship for the greater number, is not one the American people should want and it is not one in which a high standard of living can be sustained.

Accumulating Evidence Shows That the World’s Nation-Centered Economic Policy Making Paradigm is Obsolete

ITEMS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

Chart-Global GDP Growth 2007-13, IMF

World Economic Outlook Update: Global Recovery Stalls, Downside Risks Intensify, International Monetary Fund, January 2012.

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Chart-World Trade Volume 2000 - 2011

Trade and Development Report, 2011: Post-crisis Policy Challenges in the World Economy, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

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“Last year alone the daily volume of currencies traded was 220 per cent higher than that in 2001, and 65 per cent of the transactions were cross-border ― up from 54 per cent in 1998. Since 1990 foreign direct investment increased more than six fold.”

Moisés Naím, The Dangerous Cocktail of Global Money and Local Politics, Financial Times, November 18, 2011, (published on Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website).

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“Assuming a cyclic dynamics of national economies and the interaction of different countries according to the import-export balances, we are able to investigate … the synchronization phenomenon of crises at the worldwide scale. … The results support the theory of a globalization process emerging in the decade 1970–1980, the synchronization phenomena after this period accelerates and the effect of a mesoscopic [intermediate in size] structure of communities of countries is almost dissolved in the global behavior.”

Pau Erola, Albert Diaz-Guilera, Sergio Gomez, Alex Arenas, Modeling international crisis synchronization in the World Trade Web, arXiv.org, January 10, 2012.

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“In today’s financial architecture, as with other supply chains, interdependent networks tend to concentrate in powerful hubs. For example, just two financial centers, London and New York, dominate international finance, and only 22 players conduct 90% of all global foreign-exchange trading.”

Andrew Sheng, Global Finance’s Supply-Chain Revolution, Project Syndicate, January 5, 2012.

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“So the degree of synchronisation has evolved fitfully. It is only in the most recent 1973-2006 period that we can speak meaningfully of anything resembling an international business cycle.”

Paul Ormerod, Random matrix theory and the evolution of business cycle synchronisation 1886-2006, arXiv, July 11, 2008. 

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“Globalization has made frontiers more porous. We see how one country’s policies, whether pertaining to work, the environment, public health, taxation, or myriad other issues, can have a direct impact on others. And we see such interdependence even more clearly in their economic performance: China’s annual GDP growth rate, for example, will slow by two percentage points this year, owing to sluggishness in the United States and the EU.”

Javier Solana, Whose Sovereignty?, Project Syndicate, March 12, 2012.

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“At the news conference Monday, Mr. Zhou said China was especially worried about Europe and its chronic sovereign-debt crisis … The world economy is highly globalized with a very active flow of capital worldwide,” he said. “All of these factors will have an impact on our monetary policy.’”

Ian Johnson, China Talks of More Lending but Less Currency Growth, New York Times, March 12, 2012.

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“Undoubtedly politicians should do a much better job of explaining to their constituents’ that what happens beyond the borders of their country-or city has implications for what happens inside their homes.”

Moisés Naím, The Dangerous Cocktail of Global Money and Local Politics, Financial Times, November 18, 2011 ( published on Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website).

COMMENTS

It is becoming increasingly clear that merging the world’s 20th century national economies into our 21st century world economy has raced ahead of merging national economic policy making institutions into a global economic policy making system.  The consequences of this lag in the development of global policy making institutions for the people of the U.S. and other nations are enormous.

National employment and income growth efforts are often ineffectual or only effective for a short time because of the ongoing policy push and shove of nations competing for advantage in the world economy.  What one nation does to improve its position in the world economy and grow jobs and incomes, other nations work quickly to undo.

For the world economy as a whole, this push and shove of nation-centered economic policy making produces a high level of economic instability and a high level of policy incoherence.

One glaring and maddening consequence of this combination of reduced national policy effectiveness and global policy incoherence is that the recovery from the financial crisis of 2008-2009 has proceeded in fits and starts and seems too frequently to be on the verge of collapsing back into crisis.  Global job and income growth is being held back and governments are being denied the tax revenues they need to protect economically vulnerable people from the ravages of poverty.

Most U.S. economists and policy makers continue to hold out hope for a much more robust economic recovery than we have had.  But, one has to wonder whether a more robust recovery is possible while the world’s economic house is so geopolitically divided.

See my related comments in:  The World Economy’s Demolition Derby of Competing and Overlapping Economic Policy Making Entities, January 22, 2012

The World Economy’s Demolition Derby of Competing and Overlapping Economic Policy Making Entities

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ITEMS

“Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked. …Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. ‘Those jobs aren’t coming back,’ he said, according to another dinner guest. … ‘We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries,’ a current Apple executive said. ‘We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.'”

Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work, New York Times, January 21, 2012.

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“… we demonstrate that an individual country’s role in crisis spreading is not only dependent on its gross macroeconomic capacities, but also on its local and global connectivity profile in the context of the world economic network. … These results suggest that there can be a potential hidden cost in the ongoing globalization movement towards establishing less-constrained, trans-regional economic links between countries, by increasing the vulnerability of global economic system to extreme crises.”

Kyu-Min Lee, Jae-Suk Yang, Gunn Kim, Jaesung Lee, Kwang-Il Goh, In-mook Kim, Impact of the topology of global macroeconomic network on the spreading of economic crises, version 2, arXiv.org, April 2011.

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“Open feedback mechanisms ensure a supply chain’s ability to respond to a changing environment, but, in the case of financial supply chains, feedback mechanisms can amplify shocks until the whole system blows up. The Lehman Brothers collapse triggered just such an explosion … Since a complex network comprises linkages between many sub-networks, individual inefficiencies or weaknesses can have an impact on the viability of the whole.”

Andrew Sheng, Global Finance’s Supply-Chain Revolution, Project Syndicate, January 5, 2012.

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“Asian economies are exposed to China. Latin America is exposed to lower commodity prices (as both China and the advanced economies slow). Central and Eastern Europe are exposed to the eurozone. And turmoil in the Middle East is causing serious economic risks – both there and elsewhere …The US … faces considerable downside risks from the eurozone crisis.”

Nouriel Roubini, Fragile and Unbalanced in 2012, Project Syndicate, December 15, 2011.

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“Undoubtedly politicians should do a much better job of explaining to their constituents’ that what happens beyond the borders of their country-or city has implications for what happens inside their homes. … Despite all these problems, we have no choice: we must make local politics more attuned to global imperatives and make global finance more responsive to local needs.

Moisés Naím, The Dangerous Cocktail of Global Money and Local Politics, Financial Times, November 18, 2011, published on Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website.

COMMENTS

On paper it all sounds good: in a system of global free markets, nations, provinces, states, cities and corporations pit their resources and their people’s skills and smarts against each other. As unfettered competition sorts out comparative strengths and weaknesses, each competing economic unit finds its proper role in the world economy, makes its economic contribution efficiently, and earns its share of global wealth.  And the winner is … everybody!

The reality is a global demolition derby of competing and overlapping national, transnational, sub-national, and corporate economic policy making that routinely litters the planet with the wreckage of businesses, communities, families and even whole nations.

Many of us get our images of global competition from the world of sports, but those images are disastrously mistaken.  In the sports world participation is voluntary and competition is highly choreographed.  The umbrella of rules under which teams and individual athletes face each other is comprehensive and well enforced.  The wholeness of the game dominates the individual interests and actions of the competing teams and their players.  As a result, certain teams and players seldom become permanent victors and the consequences of losing are relatively benign.

Teams and players do not bring their own rules to the field of competition; teams and athletes with big differences in competitive resources are not pitted against each other (heavyweight fighters are not pitted against welterweight fighters and minor league baseball teams are not pitted against major league teams); the ratio of referees to players is very high and referees have the power to ensure that the choreographed competition designed into the game is not destroyed by rule breakers; all players get paid whether they win or lose; competitive encounters don’t leave losing teams and players permanently broken and maimed.

This is not the case for competition in the world economy.  Participation is not voluntary and competition is chaotic and brutal.  A comprehensive umbrella of rules does not exist and the rules that do exist are not well enforced.  Global social and economic goals cannot dominate the interests and actions of the thousands of governmental and private sector competitors.  Certain competitors win and maintain dominance over all others for many decades; other competitors become chronic losers.  The consequences of losing are often devastating and extremely long-term.

Competitors do bring their own rules to the global fields of competition.  The more powerful governments and corporations create rules to serve their own interests, regardless of consequences for the good of the whole or consequences for the losers, and then impose them on the less powerful governments and corporations.  Referees in the world economy are vastly outnumbered by competitors and they don’t have sufficient powers of enforcement to reign in rogue competitors.

For almost all the world’s peoples who count themselves as winners, or at least survivors, a consequence of this global demolition derby is chronic and frightening employment and income insecurity.   For losing nations and communities the consequences are often profoundly devastating: high levels of infrastructure loss, permanently broken social institutions, widespread and chronic unemployment and impoverishment, and enormous losses of life to famines, wars, preventable disasters and curable diseases.

Almost certainly, the world’s people will be much better off if we actually do make global economic competition much more like competition in sports.

The Transition To A Clean And Sustainable World Economy Will Change Job Descriptions, But It Will Not Increase Global Job And Income Growth

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ITEMS

“While there are conflicting views about whether any changes in total employment would be positive or negative, there are likely to be quite significant impacts in terms of shifting employment patterns between sectors as economic development shifts from “brown” to “green” economic sectors.”

Green Growth Studies: Energy, Preliminary Version, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2011.

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“Across the range of issues to be addressed, policy initiatives should be designed in terms of: cost-effectiveness, adoption and compliance incentives, and ability to cope with uncertainty and provide a clear and credible signal to investors.”

Towards Green Growth, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2011. 

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“Many countries are using a menu of policy incentives instead of a single policy approach. Policy makers realize that these incentives need to be coherent, stable and designed for the long-term to be able to attract the necessary funds for robust deployment and strong markets that ultimately will reduce the cost of renewable energy.”

Report of the Secretary-General – Promotion of new and renewable sources of energy (Advance unedited copy), UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, August 15, 2011.

COMMENTS

Global job and income growth are in trouble whether the world makes the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable economy slowly or quickly.  If the transition is done slowly the world will suffer large job and income losses due to the negative impact of environmental pressures on economic growth.  Losses will also occur because of a poorly designed “green” investment strategy.

If the transition is done quickly, job and income losses due to environmental pressures will be reduced, but more losses will be caused by the “green” investment strategy itself.

The current strategy for transitioning to a clean and sustainable global economy relies heavily on market competition and traditional governmental policy tools to put downward pressures on the costs of producing cleaner energy and to motivate business enterprises to create alternatives to resources that are being depleted.  Thus, the current strategy leaves the institutional forces that are slowly eroding global employment and income levels in tact.

At the core of those institutional forces are the scope and intensity of competition among business enterprises and governments.  Global scale communications, trade agreements, investment flows, and commodity flows now bring many more investors and business enterprises virtually face to face in the same markets.

Faced with many more competitors, business enterprises invest heavily in finding ways to reduce labor costs.  Moreover, governments abet these efforts by helping their domestic business enterprises with policy structures and financial subsidies that encourage investments in machines rather than workers.  In this economic environment, job destruction and wage reductions in some sectors and regions of the world economy generally outpace job creation and wage growth in other sectors and regions of the world economy.

An accelerated “green” transition will exacerbate the gaps between job creation and job destruction, wage growth and wage decline.  It will shift more investment funds to the energy sector, which is very machine and technology intensive.  More investment funds will also go to enterprises engaged in the development and production of resource alternatives, enterprises that tend to be more highly automated and employ fewer workers that the enterprises they replace.  The net result will be a further decline in global demand for workers and lower wages.

The transition to a clean and sustainable world economy can be done without harm to employment and income growth, but only by simultaneously reducing system wide downward pressures on job and income growth.  This can be done by making increased governmental management of global market forces and the increased use of governmental employment and income programs (to supplement private sector employment and compensation levels) components of the “green” transition strategy.