By Simon Johnson
President Obama is embarked on a major charm offensive with regard to the business sector, as seen for example in the appointments of Bill Daley (ex-JP Morgan; now White House chief of staff) and Jeff Immelt (still head of GE, now also the president’s top outside economic adviser). This should not be an uphill struggle – much of the corporate sector, particularly bigger and more global businesses, is doing well in terms of profits and presumably C-suite remuneration.
But when exactly will this approach deliver jobs and reduce unemployment? And it store up risks for the future?
Republican rhetoric over the past two years was relentless on one point – that the Obama administration was anti-business. Supposedly this White House attitude undermined private sector confidence and limited investment.
In reality, the opposite was the case. Continue reading
By James Kwak
From Peter Goodman’s story about long-term unemployment in The New York Times.
For those wondering, U.S. population in 1982 was about 232 million; today it’s about 307 million, or about 33% more.
By James Kwak
Yes, Mark Thoma is generally Democratic-leaning when it comes to policy. But his blog is justly popular because it presents a wide range of views through extensive quotations and relatively little editorial commentary. So I think it’s revealing that he provides the following postscript to an article by Jamie Galbraith:
“Every day that goes by with unemployment higher than it needs to be means that people are struggling needlessly. People need jobs. And not at some point in the future when Congress gets around to it (if they ever do), this can’t wait another day. It should have been done months and months ago.
“Congress ought to have the same urgency in dealing with the unemployment problem as it had when banks were in trouble. Collectively the unemployed are too big to remain jobless, and the millions of individual struggles among the unemployed shouldn’t be tolerated. But Congress doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to do anything about it, or give any sign that it much cares.”
There has been a lot of talk about the financial crisis over the past year and a half, and I obviously think that will remain an important subject, at least until we have a truly reformed financial system. Preventing the next financial crisis should be high on our society’s priority list. But as the months and years wear on, I suspect we will see more articles like Don Peck’s recent 8,000-word article in The Atlantic, “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America.”
Peck’s article is not about what caused the recent crash and recession, but what its societal consequences will be. And the article is almost unremittingly bleak. Even before 2008, we had already lived through a decade of stagnant median income and sluggish job growth; the recession pushed some unemployment levels, such as the underemployment rate (people out of work, working part-time for economic reasons, or too discouraged to look for work) to levels not seen since the Great Depression. It’s not particularly clear where growth will come from, as manufacturing remains in decline, services are becoming increasingly outsourceable, and other countries take the lead in the most plausible major new industry (alternative energy). According to Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps, “the new floor for unemployment is likely to be between 6.5 percent and 7.5 percent (for several reasons, including “a financial industry that for a generation has focused its talent and resources not on funding business innovation, but on proprietary trading, regulatory arbitrage, and arcane financial engineering”).
But, I hear you saying (and emailing) after my last few posts, higher taxes are bad for the economy because people don’t work as hard, making the pie smaller for everyone.
Yes, that’s what it says in the textbook. But the issue is more complicated than that. Look at this, for example:
One of the scary things about this fall’s descent into economic chaos was the failure of economic forecasters to keep pace. Every week economists would predict what they said were terrible things, and then the data would come in much worse, reinforcing the overall impression that no one knew what was going on.
Buried in all the negative reports about the December jobs data was one fact that was a tiny bit encouraging: the December job losses were almost exactly what forecasters expected, on average. This indicates that it’s possible that the macroeconomic community has come to grips with the magnitude of the downturn; if you’re feeling particularly giddy, you might even infer that this means that their GDP forecasts are in the right ballpark, which means (according to the WSJ) that the economy should start growing in Q3.
I wouldn’t go that far, though, and I think that Q3 forecast is too optimistic. It takes time to plan and execute a layoff (I’ve been there), so December layoffs are based on revenue projections based on data from October and maybe November. Because sales continued to fall faster than expected in November, companies will find they have to lay off more people than they initially expected, and that will drag into the new year. Furthermore, no one really knows how much the American household will shift from consumption to saving, and my sneaking suspicion is that it will be more than most people expect.
So all I can offer is a tiny sliver of optimism, that the people in the forecasting business are at least on the same planet as the rest of us. But still no one is sure what planet we’re on.