Thursday, December 23, 2010

Growth vs. Population

Economists believe increasing population increases growth. It does increase gdp, but it does not generally increase gdp per capita. It can create larger markets and more specialization over time, but before it does so it also increases the supply of labor, lowers its income share, and diminishes the incentive for most technological advancement, labor saving rather than material saving. Population growth did not contribute to gdp per capita growth during the Malthusian Era. Only technology did that and population is better considered the result of growth than the cause of it.

The UK has had a stable population for over 30 years and has grown gdp per capita at rates greater than the US over that period. When population lags, investment in human capital becomes more attractive and takes up some of the slack. An aging population does slow demand growth, but still increases demand relative to supply of labor. They still need product even if they no longer need jobs. Growth slows but steadies. Transfers will rise, but government less transfers should steady or even fall with productivity as expansion is no longer necessary but sustainment still is. It does tend to be deflationary, but labor will do better than capital in such an environment. Nothing to fear, but something to expect. Need I say, deflation is (almost) always and everywhere a monetary phenomena?

In a world of more or less free trade, the question of whether population growth here is good is an anachronism. The real question lurking beneath the surface is if it were, why wouldn't population be growing on its own as a result? I am sure economists can come up with some excuses, but they fall flat in the face of evidence.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Welcome to the Antipodes

There is an argument that follows from the standard New Keynesian monetary model in cutting the payroll tax one should favor the employer over the employee. The reason being that current real wages are too high, so by lowering them to the employer, the employer will be encouraged to expand hiring, while increasing real after tax incomes of employees will just make them more high. Normally this would be correct, but not during a depression. The key element of a depression is the demand for money and its preference to the demand for goods. Cutting employer costs will increase their profits but their demand for money will override their demand for goods, investment or otherwise. They will not invest it unless they see demand increase which this won't do. Cutting employee costs will increase their take home cash and their demand for money would override their demand for goods, but they are frequently credit constrained. As they are more likely to be credit constrained, increasing their cash flow will lead to more demand for goods to which employers will respond. This is a demand, not supply problem, the demand for money. Giving money to those that need it most is most stimulative of demand. Given the regressiveness of the payroll tax, and the greater credit constraints of the employees, giving money to the employees is most effective. This would not be the case if demand were growing sufficiently, but will be until the demand for money is satisfied.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Employment for a Day

The problem as I see it, is unemployment. There are two approaches, blame the unemployed for their unemployment, saying what they produce is no longer desired and they must accept whatever they can find or go without resulting in deflation, or blame the employed, saying their wages are now too high and allow inflation to lower them and raise employment. The former attempts to preserve the value of debt but erodes the amount through default while the latter erodes the value of debt but preserves its amount. What do the employed owe the unemployed? What is the moral position and what will produce the best outcomes? Will real growth increase before inflation as well?

Deflation can work to a point, generally to the extent of productivity growth so nominal wages don't have to be reduced. Beyond that it doesn't. Deflation increases real debt faster than default can eliminate it. It is not effective in the face of high unemployment. Inflation can work to a point. That point is where most resources, or at least critical resources, are in use and it is anticipated. It is effective in the face of abundant unused resources. More inflation is warranted here and now.

Ideally, there is a middle ground that lets the most heavily indebted default, the burdened have their loads lightened, and promotes sufficient growth to ease unemployment. The same level of unemployment may not be reachable if the real output potential of the economy has fallen, but the only way high unemployment can be sustained is through both market failure and monetary failure.