Since the Great Recession, and among the world’s richest economies, pay growth in the UK has been historically weak. The Economist magazine reported on 20th April that the pay squeeze in the UK has eased during the last year or two, but is by no means over.
Nominal wages are now growing at around 3.5% year, while real wages (adjusted for inflation) are growing at 1.5%. In a way, this slight improvement is to be expected, with employment at a high level and unemployment relatively low, creating a tightening labour market, and shifting bargaining power from employers towards workers.
Another piece of good news is that more of the jobs now being created have higher pay. To put it another way, the composition of the workforce is changing. As The Economist put it, “strawberry-pickers have made way for stock-pickers”. Continue reading →
An excerpt from a chapter by my old tutor at SOAS, Mushtaq Khan, who has written extensively on industrial policy in a range of late-industrialising countries, analysing case-studies with a range of outcomes in terms of development, successful or otherwise. Here he considers both the differences and the similarities with an industrial policy in the UK, which needs to innovate, rather than simply emulate already existing technologies and catch-up with the richest countries:
“For an advanced country like the UK, industrial policy clearly has to support both innovation and the development of competitive production capabilities that can convert ideas and knowledge into marketable products. There is no question therefore that industrial policy must have a focus on supporting innovation and the development of new knowledge. This involves investment in public bodies such as universities as well as in networks linking public and private players engaged in innovation. Countries such as the UK still have a lead over most emerging Asian countries in the organization of innovation, though there may be particular strategies of financing or organizing innovation that may be worth looking at. However, the second plank of any effective industrial policy has to be the development of competitive manufacturing capabilities so that good ideas and technologies can be converted into competitive products. Here the UK can learn a lot about the types of problems countries can face when they try to acquire (or, in the case of the UK, re-acquire) firm-level competitive capabilities. Britain’s gradual loss of manufacturing competitiveness after the Second World War was exacerbated after the 1980s in the context of rapid de-industrialization. The country lost much of the tacit knowledge embedded in the organizational routines of manufacturing firms, and as a result fell even further behind in terms of its capacity to regain a broad base of competitive firms. The experience of Asian industrial policy shows that the achievement of competitiveness in new sectors and technologies can be a difficult problem to crack. The two planks of industrial policy are closely connected because without a broad base of firms that can organize production competitively, a successful innovation strategy will simply result in the offshoring of manufacturing somewhere else.”
Mushtaq Khan (2015), The Role of Industrial Policy- Lessons from Asia, in David Bailey, Keith Cowling, and Philip R. Tomlinson, New Perspectives on Industrial Policy for a Modern Britain, Oxford University Press, p.80.
The UK’s productivity problem continues. Output per worker has barely grown since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. Why is this a problem? Because if we want rising living standards, we must have rising productivity over time.
In theory, rising productivity in our economy gives us choices between increased income and increased leisure time. We can choose on a spectrum between more income for the same hours worked and the same income for fewer hours worked, in other words, more leisure time. Depending on how we in society value work and leisure, increased productivity should make possible increases in human welfare.
Today, output per hour worked in the US is at a similar level to that in France and Germany. However, total hours worked per head in the US have tended to outstrip those in the latter two countries, meaning that output per head remains higher there.
Americans are on average richer (although greater inequality means that many of them are not), but they achieve these greater riches by working longer, while their French and German counterparts have more leisure time, including a shorter working day and longer holidays. This is down to collective economic and social choices, although these are also necessarily political in nature, and far away from simple choices freely made by individuals, as some might choose to believe. Continue reading →
The BBC reported on Tuesday that government borrowing for the 2017-18 financial year fell to its lowest level in eleven years, at £42.6bn. This was lower than forecast and represents 2.1% of GDP. However much of this reduction is accounted for by reduced spending rather than increased tax revenue. This is because economic growth remains sluggish, at 0.1% in the first quarter of 2018 according to the latest figures, and is failing to generate buoyant tax receipts.
So austerity continues, while growth is faltering. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, claimed today that “our economy is strong and we have made significant progress.” This is surely breathtaking arrogance. The deficit may be down, but the economy is struggling.
According to economist and entrepreneur John Mills, the UK economy could be doing much better and significant imbalances remain, which are constraining growth and improvements in productivity and wages. Continue reading →
Last year the UK government published its industrial strategy, which, broadly speaking, aims to improve the country’s economic performance, from productivity and wage growth to job creation and regional imbalances.
This strategy, which seems to consciously avoid the more traditional term, ‘industrial policy’, is welcome. But does it go far enough, and what of importance is missing from the strategy?
There are some significant blind spots in the new strategy. One of the most glaring is the neglect of macroeconomics and the level of the exchange rate. Another is, remarkably, the neglect of the manufacturing sector itself, and a necessary focus on reindustrialisation. Continue reading →
Immigration can be a divisive but also a sensitive issue. Arguments surrounding last year’s referendum here in the UK on EU membership could not avoid it. Media hysteria, particularly from the right, has focused mainly on the negative impacts, and rational debate has been drowned out. The right seemed to shout loudest, and the left often ended up talking to itself.
The overall findings of the study suggest that, at least in the UK, the overall net economic and fiscal (tax and public spending) outcomes from large-scale immigration are small when compared with the effects of more rapid population growth. Rowthorn argues that considerations of the latter should play a more important role when deciding future government policy. Continue reading →
The UK general election votes have been cast, and the results are nothing short of remarkable. Contrary to the early predictions of disaster for the main opposition Labour party, and for its leader Jeremy Corbyn, it was instead Theresa May’s Conservative party that suffered a heavy blow. The conservatives lost 12 seats in parliament and […]