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The Big Myth on Inequality: It Just Happened

The standard line in policy circles about the soaring inequality of the last four decades is that it is just an unfortunate outcome of technological change….

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The standard line in policy circles about the soaring inequality of the last four decades is that it is just an unfortunate outcome of technological change. As a result of developments in technology, education is much more highly valued, and physical labor has much less value. The drop in relative income for workers without college degrees is unfortunate, and provides grounds for lots of hand wringing and bloviating in elite media outlets, but hey, what can you do?

Manufacturing plays a central role in this story, since it had historically been the major source of high-paying jobs for workers without college degrees. Manufacturing jobs offered a pay premium of almost 17.0 percent in the 1980s. This had fallen sharply by the start of the last decade, and had largely disappeared in more recent years.

This decline in the wage premium has coincided with a plunge in unionization rates in manufacturing. Close to 20 percent of manufacturing workers were unionized at the start of the 1980s. In 2021 just 7.7 percent of manufacturing workers were unions, only slightly higher than the private sector average of 6.1 percent.

The media endlessly hits us with the line that this is just an unfortunate outcome of technological progress. Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell gives us the latest rendition this morning. The highlight is this graph showing that manufacturing had been seeing a steady decline in employment shares for the six decades from 1950 to 2010.

 

 

This is the basic, “nothing to see here” story.

There is another graph that shows a very different story. The graph below shows employment in manufacturing not as a share of total employment, but in absolute numbers. This one gives a very different picture.

 

 

 

From the start of 1970 to the middle of 1998 manufacturing employment has only a modest decline. There are cyclical ups and downs, but total job loss over this 28-year period was about 800,000, from 18.4 million in 1970 to 17.6 million in 1998, a decline of 4.4 percent.

However, the story becomes very different over the next decade. From the middle of 1998 to December of 2007, manufacturing lost almost 4 million jobs. This means that, after seeing a drop in employment of just 4.4 percent over 28 years, manufacturing saw a decline in employment of more than 22 percent in less than a decade. That looks like there is something to see here. (It lost another 2 million jobs in the Great Recession, which began in December of 2007.)

The item to see in this graph is the explosion in the trade deficit in this decade, with the deficit on goods peaking at more than 6.0 percent of GDP during this period. In short, a huge increase in the trade deficit coincided with a massive and unprecedented loss in manufacturing jobs. Can we hear again how those workers are stupid for blaming trade for their problems?

It Took More than Trade to Screw the Country’s Workers

But trade is not the whole story of the upward redistribution of the last decade. We also made government granted patent and copyright monopolies longer and stronger. We also encouraged the financial sector to become bloated, giving big paychecks to Wall Street types at the expense of the rest of us. And, we have a corrupt corporate governance structure which allows CEOs and other top management to line their pockets and rip off the companies they work for. And, we also made sure that highly paid professionals, like doctors and dentists, are protected from the same sort of competition that their less educated counterparts face.

This is the topic of Rigged [it’s free]. It’s also the focus of a video series I recently did with the Institute for New Economic Theory, How to Unf*ck America. (Coming soon to a theater near year.)

Perhaps what is most striking about the inequality just happened story is how deeply ingrained it is among people in policy circles. When we make policy decisions that are virtually guaranteed to redistribute income upward, the implications for inequality do not even get raised.

At the start of the pandemic the government paid Moderna $450 million to develop a coronavirus vaccine. It then paid another $450 million for its large-scale phase 3 testing. We then gave Moderna control over the intellectual property associated with the vaccine. The result was that we got at least five Moderna billionaires.

More recently Congress passed the CHIPS Act, which will involve tens of billions of dollars of subsidies to manufacturers of semiconductors and other cutting-edge products. Again, there seems to have been no debate about who will own the intellectual property.

Naturally, it will be the companies that get the contracts. This is like paying a company to build a factory and then letting them keep the factory. Oh well, as a consolation prize we will get more opportunities for rich liberals to whine about inequality.

Rampell’s colleague, Andrew Van Dam, had a piece a couple of weeks back that inadvertently showed how inequality is just taken for granted in policy circles. The highlight was where Van Dam gave us the “optimistic” view of how the increased globalization of many higher end jobs (jobs where people can work remotely) would turn out.

“Many economists are optimistic that American workers will land on their feet amid a gradual transition from a world in which they compete with a few dozen locals for each new job to one in which they compete with a few million professionals worldwide. But economists were optimistic about Y2K-era globalization as well, and it seems wise to keep a wary eye on the possible downside.”   

Okay, let’s get out eyes on the ball here. How is it “optimistic” that the pay of more educated workers is not depressed as a result of international competition, as happened when their less-educated counterparts were subjected to international competition with low-cost labor?

As Rampell rightly points out in her piece, protecting domestic manufacturing means higher prices for manufactured goods. These higher prices are paid by everyone, which is a bad story when it comes to getting people to buy electric cars and solar panels. Getting these items from lower cost labor, whether from foreign sources, or domestic labor that has to take pay cuts due to competition, is good for consumers.

So why wouldn’t Van Dam see it as an optimistic story that we can get everything from accounting and legal services to medical consulting, at much lower cost due to increased international competition? Sure, our accountants, lawyers, and doctors would get lower pay, but this will mean lower prices for consumers and more economic growth. How could any self-respecting policy wonk see this as a bad thing?

As a practical matter, I am sympathetic to many of the points Rampell makes. Since the manufacturing wage premium has largely disappeared, it doesn’t make sense to put a major focus on getting back manufacturing jobs. (The politics may argue otherwise.)

But, if we want to improve the situation of less-educated workers in our economy, we have to reverse the ways we have structured the market to redistribute so much income upward. Unfortunately, this is a topic that is largely not considered suitable for discussion in the Washington Post and other elite media outlets.

 

 

The post The Big Myth on Inequality: It Just Happened appeared first on Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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What Is Helicopter Money? Definition, Examples & Applications

What Is Helicopter Money?What’s a surefire way to encourage spending, and thus, spur growth? How about dropping money from the sky? As far-stretched…

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Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke describes helicopter money as a “money-financed tax cut.”

Public DomainPictures from Pexels; Canva

What Is Helicopter Money?

What’s a surefire way to encourage spending, and thus, spur growth? How about dropping money from the sky?

As far-stretched as this idea seems, it actually has credence in schools of economic thought, particularly during times of recession or supply shocks. Helicopter money policies inject large sums into the monetary supply either through increased spending, direct cash stimulus, or a tax cut.

This policy has two goals in mind:

1. Expand the supply of money, which improves liquidity

2. Spur economic growth

Economists consider helicopter money to be an option oflast resort, after other measures, such as lowering interest rates or quantitative easing, have either failed to lift an economy out of recession or because interest rates are already as low as they can get. This conundrum is known as a liquidity trap, when the economy is at a standstill because people are hoarding their savings instead of spending.

Since the practice of helicopter money also tends to foster inflation, it typically works best during periods of deflation, when prices, along with overall monetary supply, contract without a corresponding decrease in economic output. One relevant example is the Great Depression. Bank runs resulted in a reduction in both the monetary supply as well as in the overall prices of goods and services.

It takes a whole lot to lift an economy from such dire straits, and in such cases, helicopter money can be a viable option.

Example of Helicopter Money: The COVID-19 Recession

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the stock market crashed, and GDP nosedived, thrusting the economy into recession. While the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates and instituted a new round of quantitative easing measures, the U.S. government responded with helicopter money.

  • Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), the Trump administration authorized two rounds of direct-to-taxpayer stimulus payments, of $1200 and $600 per person, in 2020.
  • In addition, as part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), payroll loans were offered to thousands of small businesses—and many were quickly forgiven. The Federal Reserve also provided increased liquidity to banks so that they could offer loans to businesses to help them stay afloat.

Who Coined the Term Helicopter Money?

In a 1969 paper entitled “The Optimum Quantity of Money,” economist Milton Friedman coined the term “helicopter drop” as a method to increase monetary policy during times of economic stress. He wrote:

“Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over [the] community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community. Let us suppose further that everyone is convinced that this is a unique event which will never be repeated.”

The point was that the easiest way to lift an economy out of troubled times would be to give its population a direct injection of money. This would both expand the monetary supply and as well as increase the disposable income of the populace, resulting in greater consumer spending and increased economic output.

Who Made the Concept of Helicopter Money Popular?

In the 1990s, Japan was facing a deflationary crisis. Its central bank had implemented crippling rate hikes to calm its housing bubble—to disastrous economic effects.

In a 2002 speech to the National Economists Club, then-Fed Governor Ben Bernanke proposed that Japan’s central bank could have re-started the country’s economy through fiscal programs:

“A broad-based tax cut, for example, accommodated by a program of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to increase, would almost certainly be an effective stimulant to consumption and hence to prices. Even if households decided not to increase consumption but instead re-balanced their portfolios by using their extra cash to acquire real and financial assets, the resulting increase in asset values would lower the cost of capital and improve the balance sheet positions of potential borrowers. A money-financed tax cut is essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman's famous "helicopter drop" of money”

However, critics interpreted Bernanke’s words as his way of authorizing indiscriminate money printing, and the moniker “Helicopter Ben” took hold.

Bernanke would go on to chair the Federal Reserve from 2006–2014, and many of his theories were put into practice during the Financial Crisis of 2007–2008 and subsequent Great Recession. In fact, President Barack Obama credited Bernanke’s leadership during the crisis with averting a second Great Depression.

Helicopter Money vs. Quantitative Easing

While helicopter money and quantitative easing are both monetary policy tools, and both increase the monetary supply, they actually have different effects on a central bank’s balance sheet.

Through quantitative easing, a central bank buys trillions of dollars’ worth of long-term securities, such as Treasury securities, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, or even stocks. This increases its reserves and expands its balance sheet. These purchases are also reversible, meaning the central bank can swap out its assets if it chooses.

Helicopter money, on the other hand, involves fiscal stimulus: distributing money to the public. It has no impact on a central bank’s balance sheet. The practice of helicopter money is irreversible, which means it is permanent—and cannot be undone.

In effect, helicopter money is less a long-term economic solution than it is a “one-time” or short-term operation.

Pros of Helicopter Money

In a 2016 blog post written for the think-tank Brookings Institution, Bernanke admitted that his helicopter money reference gave him some bad PR. In fact, he said that their media relations officer, Dave Skidmore, had warned Bernanke against using the term, saying “It’s just not the sort of thing a central banker says.”

But Bernanke insisted, and the moniker stuck.

To this day, Bernanke continues to believe in the practice of helicopter money as a tool the Fed could use in response to a slowdown in the economy. His successor at the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, agreed, stating that helicopter money “is something that one might legitimately consider.”

Other central bankers support the concept, particularly in Europe, which suffered from debt crises that mired its economy throughout the 2000s, igniting deflationary pressures like low demand and weak lending, and made recovery exceedingly difficult.

Cons of Helicopter Money

The biggest drawback of helicopter money is the inflation it tends to ignite. And since inflation is notoriously difficult to manage, once the inflationary fires have been stoked, what’s to prevent them from growing out of control—and fostering hyperinflation? That’s what happened in countries like Argentina and Venezuela, when their central banks printed money and gave it to their governments, who in turn gave it to the people. Inflation surged.

Helicopter money also leads to weakened currencies, because as more and more money is printed, its value decreases significantly. It could also deter currency traders from making long-term investments if the practice is prolonged.

Clearly, helicopter money is not a practice a central bank should undertake lightly.

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Arsenal’s $55.9M Loss An Improvement Over Previous Fiscal Year

Arsenal took a heavy loss but saw reasons for optimism.
The post Arsenal’s $55.9M Loss An Improvement Over Previous Fiscal Year appeared first on Front…

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As a team in transition, Arsenal saw some losses in its last`fiscal year — but also saw signs of hope.

The Premier League team took an operating loss of $55.9 million in the fiscal year ending May 2022.

  • That figure was a significant improvement on last year’s $131.9 million loss.
  • The team saved around $39 million in wages compared to the previous year.
  • But broadcasting revenue dropped from $225 million to $178 million.

Arsenal benefitted from the lifting of pandemic restrictions, with matchday revenue rising by around $51.6 million to $453.7 million.

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Streak Snapped

The club failed to qualify for any European competitions in the 2020-21 season for the first time since 1994-95, which led to heavy spending on player contracts. 

“This investment recognises that the Club has not been where it wanted to be in terms of on-field competitiveness and that, as a minimum, qualification for UEFA competition needed to be regained, as a prerequisite to re-establishing a self-sufficient financial base,” the club wrote.

Arsenal credited owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment for its willingness to invest in the team.

The move has borne fruit this season with Arsenal’s return to the Europa League, the second-tier competition to the UEFA Champions League. The team has already earned $8.4 million for its appearance there, with total potential earnings up to $22.1 million.

The post Arsenal’s $55.9M Loss An Improvement Over Previous Fiscal Year appeared first on Front Office Sports.

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FDA’s drug shortages leader wants companies to start reporting increases in demand

It is no secret that drug shortages have been prevalent in 2022. Several major drug products, such as amoxicillin and Adderall, have been in short supply…

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It is no secret that drug shortages have been prevalent in 2022. Several major drug products, such as amoxicillin and Adderall, have been in short supply for several months and have led to members of Congress applying pressure on the FDA and HHS to resolve the situation.

Valerie Jensen

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, Valerie Jensen, the associate director of the FDA’s Drug Shortage Staff, noted both the rise in quality-related issues and increased demand for some products. She called on companies to report such demand increases, even though they are not currently required to do so.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, she said, the agency has seen new challenges mainly related to these increases in demand.

“During the pandemic as well, we had competition on manufacturing lines and that’s still occurring due to vaccine production and other Covid products,” Jensen said. “So, the same products are being made on those lines that are making the vaccines and Covid-related products, and then that creates a competition situation.”

Jensen added that an increase in demand for manufacturing commodities due to large-scale vaccine production is also leading to shortages. Items such as glass, filters and vial hoppers are in short supply. And now the increased demand is centered around the increase in drugs to counter respiratory illnesses.

She said the physical number of drug shortages currently sits at 123, which is “a little above normal,” but there have been around 100 shortages at any given time over the past seven years. Some of those can be chalked up to companies not producing the volumes required to meet market demand. She also added that there were 38 new shortages in 2021, but the FDA is still dealing with them this year.

For some temporary solutions, Jensen said that she has been coordinating with international regulatory authorities more often, to find out what is being marketed and to see if they can import a drug in short supply in the US. She is also coordinating experts to try to mitigate the situation, providing the public with widely available information as well as expediting the review of anything that manufacturers need to boost supplies.

However, Jensen said that the increase in the demand for drugs is not something that will be going away anytime soon.

“One thing that we really see going forward are these demand increases, this is something that is fairly new to us. It’s something that we’re looking at closely,” she said. “We would really want companies to inform us if they’re seeing spikes in demand because that’s currently not required.”

While producers do need to let the FDA know of supply disruption, companies do not need to let the FDA know of spikes in demand, and Jensen would like to see this changed. Also, she would like to apply different uses for supply chain data to look for signals or patterns and ultimately predict shortages.

Jensen added that in some cases it is impossible to prevent a shortage, but she stresses that better notification of when companies are seeing a spike in demand can be a key solution:

In those cases, when we can prevent (a shortage), we are using those same tools to prevent it. So, we’re expediting review, we’re looking at potential ways that we can use flexibility to allow a product to be on the market while the company fixes a problem. All of those tools are really the same for prevention and mitigation. But I think that really the key is early notification. The earlier companies let us know about an issue the earlier we can deal with it.

With the uptick in respiratory illnesses and shortages of drugs such as amoxicillin, Jensen noted that it’s a matter of reaching out and monitoring the market to see what manufacturers are contending with. Also, Jensen will look to work with pharmacy associations and other trade groups to see what is occurring at the pharmacy level and then “put all of those pieces together” to try and help end the shortage.

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