IMF: World’s Economic Recover Stalls at End of 2011; Global Policy Coordination Needed (Addendum to January 22, 2012 Post)

ITEMS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

Note: WEO refers to the IMF's World Economic Outlook report.

“For the United States, the growth impact of such spillovers is broadly offset by stronger underlying domestic demand dynamics in 2012. Nonetheless, activity slows from the pace reached during the second half of 2011, as higher risk aversion tightens financial conditions and fiscal policy turns more contractionary.

Importantly, not all countries should adjust in the same way, to the same extent, or at the same time, lest their efforts become self-defeating. Countries with relatively strong fiscal and external positions, for example, should not adjust to the same extent as countries lacking those strengths or facing market pressures. Through mutually consistent actions, policymakers can help anchor expectations and reestablish confidence.”

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

COMMENTS

Most economists say (and the record of job growth during 2011 shows) that the U.S. must have GDP growth over 3 percent for a long period of time to substantially reduce the unemployment rate and bring discouraged workers back into the labor force (which will raise incomes).  Surely,  the U.S.  will not achieve the needed level of employment growth without working closely with other nations to implement a coordinated global policy approach to fixing the world economy and increasing global demand for workers.

Click this link to see related items and more comments on this topic:

The World Economy’s Demolition Derby of Competing and Overlapping Economic Policy Making Entities, January 22, 2012

Overheated Global Competition Drives Job Growth Down

Estimated Job Shortage 2012-13
Estimated Job Shortage 2012-13

Table presented in World of Work Report 2011, International Labor Organization, October 31, 2011, Pg. 9.

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“Non-financial firms have increasingly invested in financial assets at the expense of physical assets. … This is particularly the case with firms in advanced economies, but in recent years, developing and emerging economies have started to exhibit similar trends. …   Empirical evidence shows that rising profitability in the financial sector has played an important role in drawing in investment from the non-financial sector towards the financial sector.”

World of Work Report 2011, ILO, October 31, 2011, pg. 41.

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“The great thing about the new I.T. revolution, says Jeff Weiner, the C.E.O. of LinkedIn, is that ‘it makes it easier and cheaper than ever for anyone anywhere to be an entrepreneur’ and to have access to all the best infrastructure of innovation.”

Thomas Friedman, One Country, Two Revolutions, New York Times, October 22, 2011.

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“… technology investments are playing an increasingly larger role in mid-market companies’ bottom line. Business process automation and technology improvements are the two top contributing factors to the jump in mid-market productivity; new hiring ranked fifth overall. …

“’Technology is on the mind of most mid-market executives,’ said McGee [Tom McGee, national managing partner, Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services, Deloitte LLP].  ‘ … 74 percent of respondents believe globalization is forcing U.S. companies to become more productive to stay competitive … and set themselves apart from the pack ‘”

Deloitte: Mid-Market Executives Increase Long-Term Investments Despite Economic Uncertainty, Deloitte Press Release, Oct. 10, 2011.

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“Despite representing only … 19 percent of employment [in 2007], multinational companies contributed 41 percent to overall productivity growth from 1990 to 2007.”

James Manyika et al, Growth and renewal in the United States: Retooling America’s economic engine, McKinsey Global Institute, February 2011.

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“His solution is to offer a new and altogether different kind of TV set, although in typical CEO fashion, he refuses to elaborate on what that might involve. He simply offers the assurance that a great deal of R&D investment is going into designing a new TV that could reverse Sony’s fortunes.”

Vlad Savov, Sony CEO Howard Stringer: Every TV set we make loses money, Washington Post (originally published in The Verge), Friday, November 11.

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“First, in a global economy, we need to be thinking more about the sources of apparent productivity growth. It matters greatly for wages and employment whether rising value-added per worker is being driven by domestic production improvements, supply chain efficiencies, or by productivity gains abroad. …

Second, government policies designed to increase incentives for business investment, such as accelerated expensing, may have the effect of increasing supply chain efficiency rather than domestic productivity. …

Third, we are effectively flying blind in terms of the effect of the global economy on US workers.”

Michael Mandel and Susan Houseman, Not all productivity gains are the same. Here’s why, What Matters, McKinsey & Company,  June 1, 2011.

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The transformations in communications, transportation, transnational trade and investment flows, geopolitics, and access to advanced technologies that we summarize with the term globalization have greatly multiplied the number of businesses in every sector of the world economy competing for customers.

Moreover, companies are competing for a stagnant number of consumers and consumer dollars.   Although the buying power of working families is growing in the countries experiencing rapid economic growth (called the emerging economies), it is declining or barely growing in many of the advanced economies and in many other parts of the world.  This is greatly intensifying the competition among the worlds much larger number of competing business enterprises.

This environment of overheated competition puts enormous downward pressure on global job growth.  It drives the owners and managers of almost every business enterprise to pursue strategies that are good for the business but destructive to the world’s labor force much more aggressively than would be the case in an environment of moderated competitive pressures.  These strategies include:

  • Investments in financial assets as a way to park money that can’t be profitably invested in production of goods and services
  • Large investments in technologies that reduce work hours without reducing the capacity to meet existing customer demand
  • Large investments in product innovations designed to displace similar products rather than to create new products that meet new needs
  • Large investments in ad campaigns designed to lure current consumers to change consumption activities (e.g., switch from watching TV to playing video games)

The impact of these strategies on employment is fairly straight forward:

  • Profitable investment opportunities are in short supply, so money parked in financial assets is more likely to help generate financial bubbles than to generate new jobs
  • Productivity gains eliminate jobs when demand for products and services is not growing
  • Investments that only lure consumers to replace one product for another, to replace one consumer activity with another, and/or to buy the same product from a different company only move consumers around in the market place; the net effect on the labor force is job churning not job growth.

Overheated global competition will continue to do harm to global job growth until a global policy response creates a mechanism for market sharing and puts boundaries on the use of competitive strategies.  Without that response,  global rates of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and political upheaval will continue to increase.  And the U.S. will not avoid sharing in these miseries.

Fragmented and Weakened Global Governance Perpetuates the World’s Employment Crisis

“A second conclusion is that the multilateral system lacks coherence; that is, comparable and consistent disciplines in closely connected areas of international economic interaction. This is particularly notable between trade and finance. The existing system of global economic governance lacks effective multilateral disciplines over exchange rate, macroeconomic and financial policies, or for redress and dispute settlement regarding the negative impulses generated by such policies. In this respect, governance in money and finance lags behind that for international trade. This is a main source of strains in the trading system.”

 Yilmaz Akyüz, Global Rules and Markets: Constraints over Policy Autonomy in Developing Countries, Working Paper No. 87, Policy Integration and Statistics Department, International Labour Office, June 2008

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“Economic integration and interdependence in the world today have reached an unprecedented level. As a result, the globalized economy cannot function for the benefit of all without international solidarity and cooperation. This was highlighted by the global financial and economic crisis that followed the collapse of big financial institutions, and it has underlined the need for developing approaches to new forms of global collaboration.”

Trade and Development Report, 2011: Post-crisis policy challenges in the world economy, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

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“Global investors increasingly view risk in binary terms: When things are looking calmer on the global economic front, stock markets rise across the world; when things look scarier, they fall. Instead of differentiating among the economies in the United States, Europe and Japan, market measures are moving closely in tandem.

Moreover, because major U.S. companies have operations around the globe, executives are more likely to try to offset weakness in their overseas operations by pulling back on hiring and capital investment domestically, even if the U.S. economy is proceeding apace.”

Neil Irwin, U.S. fortunes increasingly determined in Brussels, Frankfurt, Political Economy Blog,  Washington Post 09/06/2011

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“Concurrent with the shift in power among nation-states, the relative power of various nonstate actors—including businesses, tribes, religious organizations, and criminal networks—is increasing. The players are changing, but so too are the scope and breadth of transnational issues important for continued global prosperity.

The diversity in type of actor raises the likelihood of fragmentation occurring over the next two decades, particularly given the wide array of transnational challenges facing the international community.”

By 2025, the international community will be composed of many actors in addition to nation-states and will lack an overarching approach to global governance.

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council, PDF version, November 2008

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“Today, some 50,000 multinational enterprises and their 450,000 affiliates employ over 200 million people throughout the world. Their impact is felt in virtually every facet of industry, trade, services and business activities.”

Multinational Enterprises web page, International Labor Organization

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Over the last several decades, the world’s distribution of economic power has shifted along several dimensions.

  • The distribution of power among nations has become more decentralized (the number of nation-states in the world has doubled since 1950, a number of weaker nations – notably the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – have substantially increased their positions of power in the world economy, and with the cold war over, the most powerful nations have less ability to dictate foreign and domestic policies to weaker nations).
  • The number of economically competing geopolitical units in the world economy has increased dramatically (increasing numbers of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements have exposed more and more of the world’s local businesses to global competitors; advances in transportation and communications technologies have brought more and more of the world’s state, provincial, and urban governments into virtual face-to-face competition for investments and jobs)
  • The distribution of economic power between the world of national and multinational governing institutions and the world of global business enterprises has shifted in favor of the business enterprises (.the expansion of the number of competing geopolitical actors in the world economy has increase the number and diversity of investment opportunities available to corporations and investors, increasing their power to play off one geopolitical entity against another and thus limit the willingness of governments at all levels to manipulate flows of capital and goods to favor their own citizens).

These shifts in power have wrought a destructive change in the global environment for job creation.

Business enterprises operate under very different mandates than do governments.  The core mandate for every business is to gain market share, not share market gains; to maximize profits for owners and shareholders, not to maximize general welfare.  In the pursuit of that core mandate business enterprises cannot increase employment, pay higher wages, create safer working conditions, pay taxes, or invest in parts of the world where the greatest need for jobs exist, if doing so will alter the balance of competitive advantages in favor of competitors.    Incurring avoidable costs seldom enhances competitiveness; cutting costs often does.

In a world in which governing institutions lack the power to organize and moderate competition so that it serves the general interest and in which the growth of markets is stagnant, fiercely combative and norm-breaking waves of competition among the world’s 50,000 global corporations and among the world’s millions of globally exposed local businesses and governments are inevitable.  Unrestrained job slashing frenzies in pursuit of lower costs are inevitable.  Waves of hiring that manage to materialize cannot be sustained.  High levels of unemployment and underemployment become the permanent state of affairs.

No Real U.S. Job Growth Until the World’s Middle and Lower Income Families See Real Income Growth

The distance between the richest and poorest countries has widened to a gulf. The richest country today (Liechtenstein) is three times richer than the richest country in 1970. The poorest country today (Zimbabwe) is about 25 percent poorer than the poorest country in 1970 (also Zimbabwe). It is sobering to see, amid enormous material prosperity in developed countries, that the real average income of people in 13 countries in the bottom quarter of today’s world income distribution is lower than in 1970.”

Human Development Report 2010 – 20th Anniversary Edition, The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, p. 42.

Even with the economy in a funk and many Americans pulling back on spending, the rich are again buying designer clothing, luxury cars and about anything that catches their fancy. … Many high-end businesses are even able to mark up, rather than discount, items to attract customers who equate quality with price.

Stephanie Clifford, Even Marked Up, Luxury Goods Fly Off Shelves, New York Times, August 3, 2011.

Trends U.S. Blue Collar Earnings in Manufacturing

Chart source: Richard Wallick, Auto Industry Labor Costs in Perspective,  Bureau of Labor Statistics, Originally Posted: April 22, 2011.

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Increased global spending on yachts, private planes, high end sports cars, multi-million dollar homes, $200 per person meals, and other luxury items does produce a number of new jobs in the world economy – but not many.

Income growth for the world’s middle and lower income working people does the heavy lifting for global job creation.  Increases in spending by middle and lower income families send huge numbers of the world’s global corporations, neighborhood businesses, and governments looking for new employees.

No real income growth for the world’s middle and lower income families translates into insufficient growth in demand for the increasing volumes of goods and services that can be produced by the world economy, and from there almost directly into no progress in the U.S. on reducing unemployment and underemployment.

The U.S. is deeply enmeshed in a demand starved world economy and U.S. economic policy does not directly address that aspect of our situation.

Pending Trade Pacts Will Continue the Downward Trends in Number and Quality of U.S. Jobs

Pending U.S. – South Korea Trade Agreement

“Most strikingly, KORUS will open Korea’s service market to U.S. exports, allowing the United States to exploit its competitive advantages in financial services, education and information and communications technologies.

The agreement also will lead to increased imports from Korea, which in turn will help the United States achieve greater economic specialization. The likely effects of more specialization—and of increased Korean investment in the United States—include greater U.S. efficiency, productivity, economic growth and job growth. Meanwhile, U.S. investors will gain new opportunities in the increasingly active Asia-Pacific region.

KORUS supports market access for U.S. investors with investment protection provisions, strong intellectual property protection, dispute settlement provisions, a requirement for transparently developed and implemented investment regulations and a similar requirement for open, fair and impartial judicial proceedings.”

Pending U.S. – Columbia Trade Agreement

“COL-US improves the investment climate in Colombia by providing investor protections, access to international arbitration and improved transparency in the country’s legislative and regulatory processes. These provisions will reduce investment risk and uncertainty.

With considerable investments, Colombia would be able to compete with East Asia for these higher quality jobs, swaying people away from black markets and other illicit activities.”

Pending U.S. – Panama Trade Agreement

“Panama’s $21 billion services market for U.S. firms offering portfolio management, insurance, telecommunications, computer, distribution, express delivery, energy, environmental, legal and other professional services.

A fair legal framework, investor protections and a dispute settlement mechanism, all features of the PFTA, are almost certain to increase U.S. investments in Panama.”

All quotes from Mauricio Cárdenas and Joshua Meltzer, Korea, Colombia, Panama: Pending Trade Accords Offer Economic and Strategic Gains for the United States, Policy Brief Series, # 183, The Brookings Institution, July 2011.

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About improved investment climates.  These agreements add three more places in the world where U.S. corporations can invest with confidence.  U.S. banks, mutual funds, and other financial institutions will find it easier to use the money in our savings accounts and retirement funds to expand economic activities and create jobs outside the U.S.

By some estimates, U.S. corporations are sitting on about $2 trillion in cash and banks have returned to profitability, so a lot of money is sitting idle, waiting for profitable investment opportunities.  Economists have noted that there is considerable evidence that the growth of consumer demand is too anemic in the U.S. to spur much investment here, so the investment eye is on the emerging markets of the world where real incomes and consumer demand are growing.

About increased access to service sector markets.  The list of U.S. industries that will benefit include industries that are critical to increasing a nations competitive position in the world economy, and thereby nourish economic growth and enterprise profitability.  Thus, expansion of service sector sales will complement U.S. capital investment in South Korea, Columbia, and Panama, helping to insure the profitability of both U.S. and local investments and thus helping to insure that competitiveness and job growth increase in those nations.

About increased economic specialization in the U.S.  The impact of increased economic specialization on jobs in the U.S. will be a further narrowing of the base of industries and thus a further narrowing of the range of jobs available to U.S. citizens.  This means more workers will have to go through the emotionally painful, family disrupting, and financially costly process of being displaced and retrained for other work because their existing skills are no longer needed.

The record for career displacement and re-employment in a new industry is not good.  Far too many of the new jobs displaced workers end up with pay less and offer lower value in benefits.  Incomes and family welfare decline.

Likely Impact on Global Job Growth. Under existing global conditions of increasing numbers of competing businesses and stalled expansion of global consumer demand, large parts of the new investments to be facilitated by these trade pacts will very likely go into labor saving production, distribution, and management technologies.

Global productivity will increase, so jobs gained in South Korea, Columbia, and Panama will not be greater than the jobs lost in those nations from which South Korea, Columbia, and Panama win market shares.  More likely, the net effect on global employment will be negative.

Likely Impact on U.S. Jobs and Income.  Although jobs will be added in select U.S. industries, and thus in limited parts of the U.S., the net effect will be negative because profitability in sectors of the U.S. economy that have to contend with stronger competition from South Korea, Columbia, and Panama (and all the other nations where U.S. capital is nourishing productivity growth) will decline.  Investment in those sectors will further decline in response, putting more people out of work.

More people competing for work globally and more Americans competing for jobs in the U.S. can only put more downward pressure on U.S. wage and benefit levels.

Tax Cuts, Stimulus Spending, Low Interest Rates Do Little to Create Jobs

“In carrying out its QE2 purchases, the Fed had to follow standard operating procedure for “open market operations”: it took secret bids from the 20 “primary dealers”authorized to sell securities to the Fed and accepted the best offers. The problem was that 12 of these dealers — or over half — are U.S.-based branches of foreign banks (including BNP Paribas, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, UBS and others), and they evidently won the bids.

…According to Scott Fullwiler, Associate Professor of Economics at Wartburg College, the money multiplier model is not just broken but obsolete.”

Ellen Brown, Why QE2 Failed: The Money All Went Overseas,  Huffington Post, July 11, 2011,

In the past 60 years, job growth has actually been greater in years when the top income tax rate was much higher than it is now. … in years when the top marginal rate was more than 90 percent, the average annual growth in total payroll employment was 2 percent. In years when the top marginal rate was 35 percent or less—which it is now—employment grew by an average of just 0.4 percent. … if you ranked each year since 1950 by overall job growth, the top five years would all boast marginal tax rates at 70 percent or higher. The top 10 years would share marginal tax rates at 50 percent or higher.

Michael Linden, Rich People’s Taxes Have Little to Do with Job Creation, Center for American Progress, June 27, 2011,

“Of particular note, we find that fiscal policy is less effective in lifting recovery growth in more open economies. In open economies, fiscal stimulus may spill over to higher growth in partner countries by increasing demand for imported foreign goods and services. This finding suggests the need for more coordination in fiscal stimulus across countries, so that the spillover to other countries is offset by equivalent increases in foreign demand for domestic goods and services.”

Cerra, Valerie, Ugo Panizza, and Sweta C. Saxena, International Evidence on Recovery from Recessions, Working Paper, International Monetary Fund, 2009.

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In the current U.S. open economy environment (put into place over decades of pro-globalization policy shifts) neither larger tax cuts for consumers nor larger tax cuts for corporations nor lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans nor Federal Reserve actions to lower borrowing costs for banking institutions have had the positive U.S. job growth effects we desire.  Millions of working people are unemployed and most U.S. families are experiencing either stagnant income levels or falling incomes.

  • Consumers do buy more with their tax cuts, but a large part of the job creation effect goes to other parts of the world because so much of what we consume is imported
  • Banks do increase their lending, but a large part of the lending is used to finance projects outside the U.S.
  • The corporations do use their tax breaks to increase investments in new plants and facilities, but an increasingly large part of those investments go into emerging market areas of the world
  • Wealthier Americans do use tax savings to increase stock holdings, and thus contribute to the pool of investment funds, but more and more the wealthy purchase stocks in corporations that are expanding operations in emerging markets because that is where the highest returns are being obtained.

U.S. job creation and income distribution policies are out of date.  They were designed for the affluent manufacturing nations operating in the much less economically integrated world of the mid twentieth century.  Major changes in the U.S. policy approach to creating jobs and distributing income will be required to put things right for U.S. families.

Corporations and Their Tax Breaks

So, how are corporations using their tax breaks? 

Answer A. To actually hire more of the unemployed workers whose neighbors are paying for the tax breaks?

Answer B. To replace more U.S. workers with machines and hire more workers in the emerging markets around the world that all are competing for?

This question should be making a lot of policy makers a bit nervous!

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“To the extent they are hiring, companies like 3M and General Mills are adding more people abroad than domestically. [emphasis added] Connie Pautz, a spokeswoman for Hutchinson Technologies, which will cut about 600 people — or nearly half its Minnesota staff — over the next 12 months, said the company had automated much of its operations. ‘So we don’t need as many people,’ [emphasis added] she said.”

Motoko Rich, Encouraging Numbers, at First Glance,  New York Times, May 13, 2011 (May 14 print edition).

“Still, consumer spending in the United States has been surpassed by business spending.  ‘The recovery, such as it is in the United States, is really a commercially driven, as opposed to a consumer-driven thing [emphasis added],’ Timothy H. Murphy, the chief product officer for MasterCard, said at a recent investor conference.”

Christine Hauser, Recovery Seen in Rising Use of Credit Cards, New York Times, May 13, 2011 (May 14 print edition).