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Economics

Getting Back to Growth

By Lone Engbo Christiansen, Ashique Habib, Margaux MacDonald, and Davide Malacrino عربي, Español, 日本語, Português, Русский Producing and consuming more goods and services for the same amount of work sounds too good to be true. In fact,…

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By Lone Engbo Christiansen, Ashique Habib, Margaux MacDonald, and Davide Malacrino

عربيEspañol, 日本語, Português, Русский

Producing and consuming more goods and services for the same amount of work sounds too good to be true. In fact, it’s entirely possible. Higher productivity is one of the key ingredients to higher economic growth and incomes. It’s all about how workers become more productive.

For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and spend. The question is how these changes will affect our productivity, both now and into the future.

The pandemic accelerated the shift toward digitalization and automation.

While it’s difficult to forecast long-run productivity, particularly in the current environment, there are two key channels through which the pandemic might influence productivity: accelerated digitalization and a reallocation of workers and capital (e.g. machines and digital technologies) between different firms and industries. Our recent note examines how all this works.

Productivity boost

The pandemic accelerated the shift toward digitalization and automation, including through e-commerce and remote-work—and these trends seem unlikely to reverse.

These changes are likely to impact productivity. Recent investments in digital tools—ranging from video conferencing and file sharing applications to drones and data-mining technologies—can make us more efficient at our work. As shown in the chart below, for a sample of 15 countries over 1995–2016, a ten percent rise in intangible capital investment (which is where assets like digital technologies are captured in the national statistics) is associated with about a 4½ percent rise in labor productivity—likely reflecting the role of intangible capital in improving efficiency and competencies.

In comparison, a boost in tangible capital (such as buildings and machinery) is associated with a slightly smaller rise in productivity. As COVID-19 recedes, the firms which invested in intangible assets, such as digital technologies and patents may see higher productivity as a result.

However, the benefits will likely not accrue evenly to everyone. Because investment in intangibles is sensitive to credit conditions, intangible investment may decelerate if financial conditions tighten or firms’ balance sheets worsen as a result of the crisis. Such developments, along with the fact that many large, dominant firms (especially in digital services sectors) performed better than peers during the crisis, could contribute to a rise in market power, which could stifle innovation over time.

Additionally, some jobs vulnerable to automation may never come back, which could mean job losses, prolonged unemployment, and workers having to search for work in different sectors where their existing skills may not be well-suited. This would be the other, darker side of the coin of productivity gains through further digitalization.

Reallocation during the pandemic

With sectors impacted very differently by the pandemic, some degree of ‘resource reallocation’ is likely occurring—for example, shifts in workers across firms as they are laid off or hired. This is occurring for at least two (possibly related) reasons: (i) the churn of businesses entering and exiting the market and (ii) changes in consumer demand.

First, the flow of labor and capital toward more productive firms normally lifts productivity and can help cushion the blow of a recession (for example, if laid-off workers are re-hired by more productive firms). As shown in the chart below, an analysis based on firm-level data from 19 countries over 20 years shows that sectors with greater resource reallocation tend to experience a significantly smaller decline in total factor productivity during recessions and recover faster.

Policy actions may influence how much reallocation there is between firms, and thus productivity growth, but the direction is uncertain. For instance, broad-based fiscal support during a crisis could support productivity if it helps firms with the most potential to survive. However, it may also keep resources locked in less productive firms, which could hold back overall productivity growth. The degree to which these forces offset one another is not yet known and depends on how much labor and capital flow to firms that are most productive.

Second, the shift in demand away from in-person services where output per worker tends to be relatively low (e.g. restaurants, tourism, brick-and-mortar retail) toward digital solutions and sectors where output per worker is higher (e.g. e-commerce, remote work) suggests that resource reallocation across sectors may have lifted overall productivity. Yet, the lasting effects of all the shifts that have taken place during the pandemic are highly uncertain, with some sectors likely to rebound (e.g. tourism) and others likely to see more permanent changes (e.g. retail).

Policies can help

Ensuring an efficient reallocation of resources while protecting vulnerable groups can support a strong recovery. This can be achieved in multiple ways, including by:

  • Ensuring that capital in failed firms is quickly put to more efficient use, through policies such as improved insolvency and restructuring procedures.
  • Promoting competition to enable the exit and entry of firms to help curb market power.
  • Supporting displaced workers, by gradually refocusing policy support from retention to reallocation, to facilitate adjustment to the new normal as the recovery gains speed. Efforts to reskill workers, including through on-the-job training, will also help support inclusiveness as well as boost human capital and strengthen potential growth.

Finally, to reap the benefits for productivity of investment in intangibles, ensuring adequate access to financing for viable firms is essential.

Despite the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, investments in technology and know-how could help lift productivity. However, for this to materialize and be broadly shared, policies have a key role to play.

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Government

Pentagon Boss ‘Clarifies’ Russia & China Pose Biggest Threats After Biden Says It’s Climate Change

Pentagon Boss ‘Clarifies’ Russia & China Pose Biggest Threats After Biden Says It’s Climate Change

On Wednesday, President Biden told US troops stationed in the UK that the Joint Chiefs told him "the greatest threat facing America" is…

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Pentagon Boss 'Clarifies' Russia & China Pose Biggest Threats After Biden Says It's Climate Change

On Wednesday, President Biden told US troops stationed in the UK that the Joint Chiefs told him "the greatest threat facing America" is "global warming" - a curious pivot from "white supremacy."

On day later, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs 'corrected' Biden, asserting instead that the biggest threats facing the US are China and Russia, according to US News, (and who allegedly had a big role in scamming half of pandemic unemployment funds to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars).

"Climate change does impact, but the president is looking at a much broader angle than I am," Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional panel Thursday morning in response to a question by Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) "I'm looking at it from a strictly military standpoint. And from a strictly military standpoint, I'm putting China, Russia up there."

Milley then backpedaled a bit, saying "Climate change is a threat. Climate change has a significant impact on military operations, and we have to take that into consideration."

"Climate change is going to impact natural resources, for example," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee,adding, "It's going to impact increased instability in various parts of the world, it's going to impact migrations and so on."

When asked how his assessment that Russia and China pose the biggest threats, Milley said "This is not, however, in conflict with the acknowledgement that climate change or infrastructure or education systems– national security has a broad angle to it. I'm looking at it from a strictly military standpoint."

On Wednesday, Biden spoke to US forces at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall, where he recounted an alleged discussion which took place while he was Vice President with the Joint Chiefs in their cloistered "tank" meeting room at the Pentagon.

"This is not a joke. You know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming," he claimed.

In response to Biden's Wednesday comments, former President Trump issued a statement.

"Biden just said that he was told by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Climate Change is our greatest threat. If that is the case, and they actually said this, he ought to immediately fire the Joint Chiefs of Staff for being incompetent," said Trump.

Tyler Durden Fri, 06/11/2021 - 19:20

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Spread & Containment

Middle-aged Americans in US are stressed and struggle with physical and mental health – other nations do better

Adults in Germany, South Korea and Mexico reported improvements in health, well-being and memory.

Middle age was often a time to enjoy life. Now, it brings stress and bad health to many Americans, especially those with lower education levels. Mike Harrington/Getty Images

Midlife was once considered a time to enjoy the fruits of one’s years of work and parenting. That is no longer true in the U.S.

Deaths of despair and chronic pain among middle-aged adults have been increasing for the past decade. Today’s middle-aged adults – ages 40 to 65 – report more daily stress and poorer physical health and psychological well-being, compared to middle-aged adults during the 1990s. These trends are most pronounced for people who attained fewer years of education.

Although these trends preclude the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19’s imprint promises to further exacerbate the suffering. Historical declines in the health and well-being of U.S. middle-aged adults raises two important questions: To what extent is this confined to the U.S., and will COVID-19 impact future trends?

My colleagues and I recently published a cross-national study, which is currently in press, that provides insights into how U.S. middle-aged adults are currently faring in relation to their counterparts in other nations, and what future generations can expect in the post-COVID-19 world. Our study examined cohort differences in the health, well-being and memory of U.S. middle-aged adults and whether they differed from middle-aged adults in Australia, Germany, South Korea and Mexico.

A middle-aged woman looking sad sitting in front of artwork.
Susan Stevens poses for a photograph in her daughter Toria’s room with artwork Toria left behind at their home in Lewisville, N.C. Toria died from an overdose. Eamon Queeney/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

US is an outlier among rich nations

We compared people who were born in the 1930s through the 1960s in terms of their health and well-being – such as depressive symptoms and life satisfaction – and memory in midlife.

Differences between nations were stark. For the U.S., we found a general pattern of decline. Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s experienced overall declines in well-being and memory in middle age compared to those born in the 1930s and 1940s. A similar pattern was found for Australian middle-aged adults.

In contrast, each successive cohort in Germany, South Korea and Mexico reported improvements in well-being and memory. Improvements were observed in health for each nation across cohorts, but were slowed for Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s, suggesting they improved less rapidly than their counterparts in the countries examined.

Our study finds that middle-aged Americans are experiencing overall declines in key outcomes, whereas other nations are showing general improvements. Our cross-national approach points to policies that could could help alleviate the long-term effects arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will COVID-19 exacerbate troubling trends?

Initial research on the short-term effects of COVID-19 is telling.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragility of life. Seismic shifts have been experienced in every sphere of existence. In the U.S., job loss and instability rose, household financial fragility and lack of emergency savings have been spotlighted, and children fell behind in school.

At the start of the pandemic the focus was rightly on the safety of older adults. Older adults were most vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19, which included mortality, social isolation and loneliness. Indeed, older adults were at higher risk, but an overlooked component has been how the mental health risks and long-haul effects will likely differ across age groups.

Yet, young adults and middle-aged adults are showing the most vulnerabilities in their well-being. Studies are documenting that they are currently reporting more psychological distress and stressors and poorer well-being, compared to older adults. COVID-19 has been exacerbating inequalities across race, gender and socioeconomic status. Women are more likely to leave the workforce, which could further strain their well-being.

A older women hugs her daughter.
Middle-aged people often have parents to take care of as well as children. Ron Levine/Getty Images

Changing views and experiences of midlife

The very nature and expectations surrounding midlife are shifting. U.S. middle-aged adults are confronting more parenting pressures than ever before, in the form of engagement in extracurricular activities and pressures for their children to succeed in school. Record numbers of young adults are moving back home with their middle-aged parents due to student loan debt and a historically challenging labor and housing market.

A direct effect of gains in life expectancy is that middle-aged adults are needing to take on more caregiving-related duties for their aging parents and other relatives, while continuing with full-time work and taking care of school-aged children. This is complicated by the fact that there is no federally mandated program for paid family leave that could cover instances of caregiving, or the birth or adoption of a child. A recent AARP report estimated that in 2020, there were 53 million caregivers whose unpaid labor was valued at US$470 billion.

The restructuring of corporate America has led to less investment in employee development and destabilization of unions. Employees now have less power and input than ever before. Although health care coverage has risen since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, notable gaps exist. High numbers of people are underinsured, which leads to more out-of-pocket expenses that eat up monthly budgets and financially strain households. President Biden’s executive order for providing a special enrollment period of the health care marketplace exchange until Aug. 15, 2021 promises to bring some relief to those in need.

Promoting a prosperous midlife

Our cross-national approach provides ample opportunities to explore ways to reverse the U.S. disadvantage and promote resilience for middle-aged adults.

The nations we studied vastly differ in their family and work policies. Paid parental leave and subsidized child care help relieve the stress and financial strain of parenting in countries such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Research documents how well-being is higher in both parents and nonparents in nations with more generous family leave policies.

Countries with ample paid sick and vacation days ensure that employees can take time off to care for an ailing family member. Stronger safety nets protect laid-off employees by ensuring that they have the resources available to stay on their feet.

In the U.S., health insurance is typically tied to one’s employment. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic over 5 million people in the U.S. lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs.

During the pandemic, the U.S. government passed policy measures to aid people and businesses. The U.S. approved measures to stimulate the economy through stimulus checks, payroll protection for small businesses, expansion of unemployment benefits and health care enrollment, child tax credits, and individuals’ ability to claim forbearance for various forms of debt and housing payments. Some of these measures have been beneficial, with recent findings showing that material hardship declined and well-being improved during periods when the stimulus checks were distributed.

I believe these programs are a good start, but they need to be expanded if there is any hope of reversing these troubling trends and promoting resilience in middle-aged Americans. A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that paid family leave has a wide range of benefits, including, but not limited to, addressing health, racial and gender inequities; helping women stay in the workforce; and assisting businesses in recruiting skilled workers. Research from Germany and the United Kingdom shows how expansions in family leave policies have lasting effects on well-being, particularly for women.

Middle-aged adults form the backbone of society. They constitute large segments of the workforce while having to simultaneously bridge younger and older generations through caregiving-related duties. Ensuring their success, productivity, health and well-being through these various programs promises to have cascading effects on their families and society as a whole.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

Frank J. Infurna receives funding from the National Institute on Aging and previously from the John Templeton Foundation. The content is solely his responsibility and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

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Economics

Inflation In Context: A Liquidity Adjusted CPI Index

First, folks, please send your prayers, thoughts, good feelings, positive energy, miracles, healing touch, whatever you got, and whatever it takes to GMM’s beloved Carol K., who keeps battling, never giving up against a serious disease in Boston at…

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First, folks, please send your prayers, thoughts, good feelings, positive energy, miracles, healing touch, whatever you got, and whatever it takes to GMM’s beloved Carol K., who keeps battling, never giving up against a serious disease in Boston at one, if not the best hospital in the world.  Even in her critical condition, she contributed to this post — though she may not agree with all its final points.  She’s truly an amazing and incredibly strong human being.  Semper Fi and Godspeed, CK.  

We had a few requests to write up something about today’s hot U.S consumer price inflation data. So we put together a quick note in honor of our friend from down in the Land of Oz, GMac, one of the most decent human beings on earth. He is one proud father of a super studly 18-year son, who is an incredible surfer and someday wants to surf Mavericks.  God. Bless. His. Soul.

Let us preface our inflation note with one of our favorite quotes:

World War II was transitory – GMM

Recall our post in January, Ready For 4 Percent CPI By Mid-Year?, when we speculated the U.S. would be experiencing 4 percent inflation, possibly 5 percent by mid-year.  We were beaten down like a red-headed stepchild (I am at liberty to say that as I have been a ginger most of my life).

GMM was also one of the first to point out the base effects (12-month comps) would kick in April and May 2021 due to the deflation that troughed last year from the COVID crash.  But don’t be gaslighted the lastest few month-on-month core prints essentially negate the base effect excuse for high inflation as three-month core CPI is now running at 7.9 percent on an annual basis.

We don’t know for certain if inflation will stick and move higher or lower but as better folk we are taking the over, however.

Liquidity Tsunami

We do know the major global central banks have pumped in a shitload of high-powered money into the global financial system over the past year — as in around $10 trillion, close 50 percent increse of their collective balance sheets.   Here’s Dr. Ed’s excellent chart,

Moreover, banks now seem eager to start lending, thus creating more endogenous money on top of the trillions upon trillions of base money central banks have already injected.

Transitory?  Yeah, right.   

It’s not a question whether the Fed has the tools to reign it in, it’s do they have the ‘nads?  Given the multiple asset bubbles that would burst, and bust spectacularly, if the Fed draws it word,  we seriously doubt it. 

The following chart from Dr. Ed also illustrates not only has the digital printing press been working overtime, the credit system is just fine and dandy as deposits are expanding.  Don’t be confused by, yes, the base effect, as the money aggregates have a much large base to grow from they did a year ago before the pandemic.

Tough to beat comps after expanding over 25 percent 

Note, these are monetary aggregates, which include cash in circulation, bank deposits among near money and other short-term time deposits, not the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, though it does hugely influence the data.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is yardeni.png

Big spurts from the digital printing press without a credit crisis and an impaired financial system — as was the case after the Great Financial Crisis — will almost always generate inflationary pressures.   Stimulating demand without production during a supply shock is not optimal unless carefully targeted to those who need it most.   

It’s very amusing to us to see the FinTweets, “peak inflation has arrived.”  True, if the financial markets crash.  But what do they base their conclusion on?  A warm feeling in their tummy?   

Show me the money data, Jerry.  

Banks Itching To Lend

Banks now seem eager to start lending, thus creating more endogenous money on top of the trillions of base money central banks have injected.  

Loans are “starting to pick up,” and there’s plenty of borrowing capacity because companies have unused credit lines, {BofA CEO Brian ]Moynihan said. Loan growth has been a challenge across the banking industry because many consumers and businesses are sitting on cash from savings and stimulus during the pandemic. – Bloomberg, June 6

This should send shivers up the Fed’s spine, but we are not so sure.  We are also not so sure they are not flying blind and will again miss the next big one just as they have in the past. 

The Chart: Liquidity Adjusted Inflation. 

It’s late and we want to present the chart in honor of GMac. 

We have taken the non seasonaly adjusted year-on-year change of CPI and subtracted a scaled up version of the Chicago Fed’s  National Financial Conditions Index (NFCI), which measures how loose or tight monetary conditions are in the U.S..  It’s has been running at an extreme historical low — i.e., very loose financial conditions.   

You can see the 105 indicators it is based upon here.

We are trying to give context to the inflation data of how loose and accomodative finnancial market and monetary conditions are currently.   As you can see, today’s year-on-year CPI print less the NFCI is at the highest level since November 1990, which was in the middle of the first Gulf war, Where the Fed was facing spiking inflation due to the run-up in oil and a recession.  

Prior to that our adjusted inflation index hasn’t been so high since the high inflation late 197Os and early ‘80s.  Gulp. 

Clearly, it is a different environment in today’s economy.  In fact, just the opposite – the economy is ready to roar for the next several quarters as consumers are flush with cash, the supply chain is still a mess due to the “bullwhip effect” (more on this in a future post), and new businesses should be looking for credit and loans to rebuild and start new ventures.    

Most of all, folks, the central banks still have their pedal to the metal and balls to the walls, and as we all know (well some of us),

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output. – Milton Friendman 

The Upshot

Inflation is way too high given exremely easy financial and monetary conditions.  There will be blood. 

Finally 

Life is transitory. 

Inflation has eroded my purchasing power in my transitory life.  Bring back the $.35 Big Mac, which was only about 20 percent of the minimum wage.  Now?  About 40-50 percent.  Enough to spark a revolution. 

Finally, the Democrats should begin to worry.

Stay tuned. 

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