Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

• Has the Global Trade Engine Stalled? (Goods, perhaps. Services, maybe not)

Posted by Ron Robins on December 21, 2014

“For the first time in nearly half a century, trade between nations has grown slower than the global economy. Some economists believe trade may be at a peak, at least for a while. “Peak Trade” suggests the world could hit a long-term ceiling in terms of the effects of trade growth as an economic driver.”
— Has the Global Trade Engine Stalled? By Eric Justian, December 19, 2014, TriplePundit, U.S.A.

Commentary: Ron Robins
Buy local, make locally, is a major trend in all countries. The huge U.S. economic stimulus package of five years ago mandated domestic sourcing and production, wherever possible. In the U.S., as in many countries, there are large constituencies who see global trade as contributing to massive losses of high paying domestic jobs. Hence, like the U.S., countries around the world are emphasizing buy local, make locally.

Furthermore, renowned trends forecaster Gerald Celente of the Trends Research Institute predicts these trends growing globally together with an anti ‘made in China’ mindset among developed countries’ consumers.

Most of these trends likely apply mostly to the goods trade. But it remains to be seen if the services side of global trade is similarly constrained. My suspicion is that with the growth of the web and recently introduced simultaneous multi-lingual VOIP services such as Skype has inaugurated, services might yet see much further globalization. Services also constitute about 70% of global GDP.

For a more detailed understanding on the growth of the global services trade, read my post, Huge Migration of Service Jobs to Developing World Looming. That essay implies that over the long-term global trade in services — and due to lower cost structures particularly benefits the developing economies — could grow appreciably faster than world GDP.

From an Enlightened Economics perspective, the freer the trade, the better. There’s no better means to economic growth than for the ‘invisible hand’ of the market to function seamlessly and optimally.

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• Dubious Positive Biases in Revised U.S. Economic Statistics

Posted by Ron Robins on April 9, 2014

Why do most of the methodologically revised U.S. economic statistics tend to create a picture of a more positive looking economy? Do these revised statistics really give a better—or illusory—understanding of economic activity? And is it coincidental that the benefits flowing from these more positive looking statistics largely accrue to powerful elites who also have the muscle to influence the statistical methodologies? Now those who should be investigating and informing us of these concerns, our economists and media, fail to do so.

We see this ‘positive bias’ appearing in the most important economic statistics, including unemployment rates, payroll numbers, the consumer price index (CPI), savings rates, and gross domestic product (GDP).

Considering the unemployment rates and payroll numbers, we find that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has implemented many changes that have resulted in lower unemployment rates and higher payroll numbers.

One particular change in 1994 to the unemployment rate was most significant. At that time the BLS decided to exclude the long-term (over one-year) unemployed discouraged workers from measurement. The chart below, from ShadowStats, shows that revised rate, now referred to as the Official U3 rate, as the red line.

The unemployment rate including these long-term unemployed discouraged persons is the ShadowStats blue line. The broadest government unemployment rate U6 is the gray line, which ShadowStats says, includes “short-term discouraged and other marginally attached workers as well as those forced to work part-time because they cannot find full-time employment.”

Using March 2014 unemployment data, notice the huge difference in unemployment rates between the pre 1994 methodology, which ShadowStats estimates at 23.2%, and the much-publicized Official U3 rate of just 6.7% and U6 at 12.7%!


With reference to the BLS payrolls data, John Williams, ShadowStats founder, has regularly spotted “spurious revisions used to spike payroll employment levels.” He said of the March 2014 payroll report, that, “[The] increase of 192,000 was bloated heavily by concealed and constantly shifting seasonal adjustments… [that the] numbers remain of horrendous quality… generally not comparable with earlier reporting.”

Methodological changes to the CPI are also worrisome. Some non-government consumer price indices show exactly how much the government CPI has understated inflation that’s relevant to most people’s everyday experience. One such index is Guild Investment Management’s (GIM), Guild Basic Needs Index (GBNI). GIM says that because the BLS, “periodically alters its [CPI] content, making adjustments to the weighting of the components, and smoothing seasonal patterns. [That,] such tinkering with data… usually results in an understatement of the inflation rate and creates an unreliable, misleading cost of living index.”

The GBNI includes food, clothing, shelter and energy, covering 50-80% of most people’s expenditures. From the chart below see how over the five years to January 31, 2014, the annual increase in the GBNI was 4.7%, versus 2.1% for the CPI.

ShadowStats has re-worked the CPI as the BLS measured it with a fixed basket of goods in 1990 (see below), and in 1980 (not shown). Using the 1990 measure annual inflation in February 2014 was running at about 5%, blue line, versus under 2%, red line, for the Official CPI-U.

Changes to the personal savings rate methodology are of concern too. Negative personal savings rates in the past decade became positive. For instance, the personal savings rate (as a percentage of disposable personal income) in 2006 and 2007 was about -2% but has become +3% after revisions. Methodological changes in personal incomes and certain pension benefits, etc., had the effect of enhancing personal savings rates.

Regarding GDP, we see it has benefited from arguably bureaucratically lowered inflation rates. To arrive at ‘real’ U.S. GDP, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reduces nominal (current prices) GDP by BEA’s own inflation measure. According to Mr. Williams, this measure shares many similarities to the CPI. One example is that it includes “quality-adjusted price indexes to deflate goods and services.” Hence, if a new computer has the same price as one several years ago but is many times more powerful, its price would now be deemed much, much lower, thereby lowering BEA’s price index and thus increasing real GDP.

To see exactly how these methodologies upwardly bias GDP, consider that BEA reported real GDP for 2013 at 1.9%. However, using the SGS-Alternate GDP that eliminates, as ShadowStats says, some of the “distortions in government inflation usage and methodological changes that have resulted in a built-in upside bias to official reporting,” real 2013 GDP would be about 4% lower and negative at around -2%!

These questionable brighter-looking statistics could be creating the illusion of a better economy. Coincidentally, such a possibly falsified, better-looking economy, greatly benefits some key political and financial elites who just happen to have disproportionate power to influence government statistical methods.

ShadowStats gives examples of the Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush (first) and Clinton administrations engaging in acts to alter various economic statistics so as to put their respective administrations in a brighter light.

And the economic elite benefiting most from these more positive looking statistics pumping up the bond and stock markets are the ultra rich. Moreover, it is they who have an out sized influence on legislators and government policies and perhaps the most interest in adding gloss to the statistics.

Regrettably, those who should be critiquing and providing insight for the public about the meaning and consequences of the methodological changes to the statistics, our beloved economists, are missing-in-action. Economists, believing they are quasi-physicists of the economics realm, should be ashamed at their apparent near total public acquiescence to government statistical methods and methodological changes.

Sadly, the financial media is just as irresponsible too, parroting the statistical information spoon-fed to them by government. This is a situation suited to a dictatorship rather than an enlightened democracy.

When methodological changes to government economic statistics nearly always create a picture of a more positive economic reality, we have to doubt their integrity—especially when particularly powerful political and financial elites benefit the most from them. Alas, economists and financial journalists studiously avoid publicly critiquing the changing statistical methodologies. They treat government statistics as if they come down from God and written in stone. We deserve better in this enlightened age.

So, are these dubious, positively biased economic statistics providing improved insight into economic reality–or are they created to proffer the impression of a healthy economy?

© Ron Robins 2014

Posted in Economic Measurement, Economics, Statistics, Unethical Statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

• The Coming 21st Century Global Trade War?

Posted by Ron Robins on December 9, 2010

By Ron Robins. First published August 6, 2010, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

A ‘long depression’ is starting in the US unless massive new stimulus measures are taken to increase consumption and China forced to mark up its currency. This is what renowned Nobel economics laureate Paul Krugman believes. Since any new massive stimulus action is unlikely soon, and if we are to believe what Mr Krugman is saying, then with a depression occurring the ranks of American unemployed could swell by millions more. They, together with the uproar of US unions and politicians, will blame China and others for their woes.

The US Congress would then enact trade tariffs and restrictions beginning round one of the 21st Century Global Trade War!

But have we not learned from the 1930s that a trade war can lead to a depression? Mr Krugman disputes that finding. In a July 10 New York Times post he says that it was not the trade restrictions of the Smoot-Hawley bill that created the depression. The depression had already started and, “protectionism led to falling exports! Indeed. Also falling imports. It’s not at all clear what effect all this had on overall demand. Insofar as it did, it was because tariffs were a form of tax increase — but in that case you should be focusing on the whole range of fiscal actions, not just the tariff hikes.”

As indicated, currently there is little likelihood of Mr. Krugman’s proposal of enacting massive new stimulus measures—he mentions around $1 trillion—as well as for China marking up its currency significantly against the dollar. However, he may still get his way if unemployment or economic stagnation—or worse—takes hold.

If the stimulus is enacted it is highly debatable if it would work any better than previous ones in firing up consumption and investment. Already over the past two years or so, the US government and the Federal Reserve have poured about $4.5 trillion into the American economy. In rough figures, this comprises about $3 trillion in US government deficits and over $1.5 trillion from the Federal Reserve as it bought bonds and other assets to increase cash in the financial system and promote lending. Then there are of course the trillions more in guarantees to various financial and industrial entities such AIG, GM etc.

However, the Federal Reserve also says it stands ready to act should the economy weaken further. Would it spend another $1, 2 or 3 trillion? If the trillions spent so far by it and the US government have not worked, how much more will be needed?

Furthermore, the additional government deficits and Federal Reserve actions might alarm holders of US dollar denominated assets about America’s solvency, encouraging them to sell such assets. In fact, China’s new debt rating agency Dagong says the US government is already insolvent.

So, additional stimulus actions might also crash the US dollar. If that were to happen, it would cause dramatically rising prices for oil and other goods. A significant increase in living costs amidst high or growing unemployment will promote social unrest and add further impetus to growing calls for protectionism.

A dollar crash would create conditions for ‘competitive currency devaluations.’ In 2009, when the euro was trading as high as $1.50, Europeans became alarmed. Henri Guaino, right-hand man of President Nicolas Sarkozy remarked, “the euro at $1.50 is a disaster for the European economy and industry… ”

Would Europe stand idly by and see their euro go into the stratosphere as the dollar crashed against it? Would the European Union then enter into a currency war with the US? Would Japan be silent seeing its currency rise substantially against the dollar? Of course Japan is famous for intervening in currency markets to lower the yen’s value against the dollar in previous difficult times. Unfortunately, competitive currency devaluations would add fuel to a trade war.

Already Global Trade Alert counts 650 protectionist measures implemented between the advent of the financial crises in 2008 and the June 2010 G20 Toronto meeting.

According to the International Business Times, the G20 communiqué “included a ritual promise to ‘refrain from raising barriers or imposing new barriers to investment or trade in goods and services.’ But missing from the final declaration… was a sentence reportedly included in an earlier draft of the communiqué: ‘Where any protectionist measures have been enacted in the context of the economic crisis, we agree that these should be lifted.’ Somehow that sentence, pledging a rollback of protectionist trade barriers erected during the Great Recession [2008 to today], disappeared sometime between when the draft declaration was leaked to the media by Greenpeace and when the final declaration was released to the press with solemn summit fanfare.”

Furthermore, the G20 in Toronto took off its agenda setting a further date for completing the vital Doha round of global trade talks that have been stuck in neutral for several years. Perhaps the US already staked out its real position – remember the ‘buy American only’ clause in its $787 billion stimulus package.

The woes of the US stem from failing to see its years of over consumption were a problem. Now, economists like Mr Krugman want even more money from their financiers like China, so they can further increase consumption, while blaming China for their overconsumption.

Unfortunately, an extended double dip down recession-depression is increasingly probable and with it rising unemployment. In a few weeks or months, the pressure for more action to stem the economic decline could impel the US government and the Federal Reserve to spend more, much more—and to what effect? The alarm of all this might cause holders of dollar assets to sell, culminating in a dollar crash—and further incite a 21st century global trade war.

Copyright alrroya.com

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