An abundance of wealth and a scarcity of capital: resolving the paradox

One of the major economic phenomena of our time seems to be an enormous accumulation of elite wealth amidst rising inequality within nations, even while output and productivity growth, particularly since the Great Recession, have been mediocre across much of the world.

In his book Capitalism without Capital, Alan Shipman draws together a wealth of economic ideas, from the theory of the global savings glut and the Cambridge controversies in the theory of capital to Thomas Piketty’s writings on inequality, to argue that we are living in an era of abundant ‘wealth’ alongside a shortage of real productive capital assets. It is growth in the latter which remains the driver of rising living standards for the majority. Continue reading

Intangibles, monopoly and the sluggish economy

The latest issue of the Cambridge Journal of Economics carries an interesting article on what the author, Özgür Orhangazi, calls the ‘investment-profit’ puzzle. He focuses his analysis on the US economy, and tries to account for the slowdown in investment and growth there since the early 2000s, and particularly since the crisis of 2008, despite a rise in the rate of profit.

The puzzle in question is the disconnect between rising profits and sluggish or falling rates of investment. It contributes to the literature blaming factors such as globalisation and financialisation for the disconnect. In particular, ‘investment’ in intangible assets in the high technology, healthcare, telecoms and non-durables sectors has risen relative to investment in tangible capital assets, cementing monopoly power and reducing some of the competitive stimulus for increasing investment in tangibles, thereby slowing economic growth. Continue reading

A Sputtering Car Goes into Reverse: The German Recession and its Consequences — flassbeck economics international

Heiner Flassbeck and Patrick Kaczmarczyk write that amidst global political and economic fragility, the downturn in the Germany economy adds to the uncertainty in a world that, as Paul Krugman put it, has a “Germany problem”. It not only raises questions and doubts over the future of the largest European economy but, …More …

via A Sputtering Car Goes into Reverse: The German Recession and its Consequences — flassbeck economics international

Richard Koo on global stagnation, globalisation and the trade war

In the short video below, Richard Koo, originator of the idea of balance sheet recessions, argues that the current global economic stagnation is largely due to private sector firms as a whole in most of world’s largest economies acting as net savers rather than net borrowers and investors, despite very low interest rates. This is weakening aggregate demand and is compounded by the failure of the other sectors in the major economies, namely households and governments, to compensate by borrowing and spending to counter this weakness.

Of course, the US government is running a budget deficit, which has sustained moderate growth there, but for the largest economies taken together, private sector saving is proving to be a drag on continued recovery.

Koo doesn’t go into the reasons for this behaviour, although he has argued elsewhere that the private sector in many countries is attempting to save in order to pay down high levels of debt, producing a balance sheet recession, or stagnation at best. Fiscal policies that boost demand as well as policies that increase private investment opportunities in general would help to counter this.

He also touches on the US-China trade war as adding to global weakness, and notes that it is unlikely to end anytime soon, due to the job losses in the US which decades of current account deficits have reflected. As Koo puts it, free trade has created enough losers economically to make it a political problem in the US, and one that contributed to the election of Trump.

Aside from the trade war, it is quite likely that rising inequality has contributed to global weakness. With much of the income from economic growth accruing to the already wealthy, who save a larger proportion of it than poorer groups, significant increases in consumption in advance of the financial crisis relied on higher household debt since it is less able to be supported by rising wages for the majority.

In economies such as Germany and Japan, the result has been weaker growth, rising public debt in Japan, and a soaring current account surplus in Germany, while in the US and UK the result has been higher household debt and current account deficits. These trends sustained each other for some time, but the resolution of such imbalances may well be the source of much of the current global turmoil which has followed the crisis of more than a decade ago.

This interpretation suggests a need for policies which reduce inequality and increase wages, boosting consumption in a more sustainable fashion, and therefore increasing private investment opportunities. Greater public investment in infrastructure would also help. In a number of countries this has been constrained by policies focusing on austerity and reducing public debt, which have in many ways proved economically and socially damaging.

For the least developed countries, revitalising multilateralism is life or death — Emergent Economics blog

By Daniel Gay and Kevin Gallagher

Few would deny that the international system governing the environment and economy is under pressure. Globalisation itself is wobbling, to the chagrin of governments in rich and emerging economies. What’s less talked about is the effect on the world’s 47 least […]

via For the least developed countries, revitalising multilateralism is life or death — Emergent Economics

Reflections on industrial policy – France and ‘Les Trente Glorieuses’

Les30Glorieuses‘The Glorious Thirty’ was originally coined by the French demographer Jean Fourastié in 1979 to describe his country’s unprecedented economic boom between 1945 and 1975. Lasting from the end of World War Two to the first oil shock of the 1970s,  it saw growth in output, productivity, wages and consumption faster than before or since, and significant structural change, as resources moved from the agricultural sector and luxury artisan products towards industry.

France rapidly closed the gap in living standards with the US over the period, more or less matched West Germany’s performance, and overtook the UK. It managed an average growth rate of 5.1% throughout the 1960s.

This was in many ways the heyday of state intervention in the major capitalist economies, and the use of various forms of industrial policy was widespread. Post-war France, as elsewhere in Europe, required a major rebuilding of infrastructure and industrial capacity after the damage wrought by conflict. These included transport, the utilities, capital goods and heavy industry.

Beyond this, the government felt that a high standard of living and strong national defence to preserve relative independence required industrialisation. It was decided that this could not be wholly left to the uncertain outcomes associated with market forces. After the experiences of economic planning in many countries during the war, state intervention was felt to be both necessary and effective for the purposes of accelerating recovery while preserving freedom, democratic institutions and private property as far as possible. Continue reading

Convergence and divergence – emerging markets, global value chains and industrial policy

Containers are loaded onto a container ship at a shipping terminal in the harbour in Hamburg

According to a recent piece in The Economist, economic convergence with the US among so-called emerging markets has slowed in the ten years since the great recession. The difference in the growth rate of GDP per capita has slipped since the 2000s from an average of over six percent in emerging Asia to about four percent. Emerging Europe has slowed less, but from a lower rate, while Latin America, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East are now beginning to fall behind again, at least on average.

This is disappointing for champions of economic theories of convergence resting on the globalisation of the world economy. It is also bad news for those still living in poverty in the countries slipping back. Of course, slowing convergence need not mean that absolute poverty is no longer falling. But it does mean that the prospects for reducing inequality between rich and poor nations and more widely-shared prosperity are for now receding. Given that the US has not grown particularly fast since it emerged from recession, it means that only emerging Asia continues to be a truly dynamic region in economic terms. And even this mantle may be under threat as growth slows in China, affecting supply chains throughout Asia. Continue reading