The Luddite Fallacy

luddite-fallacy

The Luddite fallacy is the simple observation that new technology does not lead to higher overall unemployment in the economy. New technology doesn’t destroy jobs – it only changes the composition of jobs in the economy. Historical background The Luddites were a group of English textile workers who violently destroyed machines. They broke up power …

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European unemployment crisis

eurozone-unemployment
Unemployment in many European countries has risen sharply due to the credit crunch and global recession. The worst hit countries include Spain (ES) and Greece (EL), who both have unemployment rates of over 24%. In the past few months, there has been a slight reduction in European unemployment, but the prolonged period of mass unemployment is leaving significant social and economic problems for the whole Eurozone.
  • Unemployment rate in the Eurozone area: 11.5% (July 2014)
  • EU-28 Unemployment is slightly lower at 10.2% (July 2014)
  • Total unemployment in the EU-28 is 24.850 million (July 2014)
  • The Eurozone  (EA-18) jobless total is now 18.409 million. (link) The highest since records began.
  • Youth unemployment rates in the EU 27 is 21.8% (July 2014)
  • The lowest unemployment rates are in Austria (4.9 %) and Germany (4.9 %). The highest rates are in Greece (27.2 % in January 2014) and Spain (24.5 %).
  • By comparison, unemployment in Japan is 3.6%, and in US 6.8%. UK unemployment is 6.5%
  • Eurostat unemployment figures

EU unemployment

Source: ECB

 Causes of European unemployment crisis

After falling to 7.5% in 2008, the prolonged recession of 2008-13, has caused a sharp rise in unemployment.  The continent seems to be stuck in a deflationary spiral and is facing a prolonged double-dip recession. Hardest hit debtor countries, such as Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy are facing stringent budget cuts – which are depressing demand.

Will Eurozone break up?

But, in the Eurozone, there is little relief available to boost demand. Countries are unable to devalue. Monetary policy set by the ECB has been unflinching in targeting low inflation and offering little monetary easing – despite the prolonged recession. Also, depressed demand throughout the region is making it difficult to grow through increasing exports. Even northern Europe, which has had large current account surpluses are engaging in modest austerity. The result is that demand has remained depressed across Europe.

Despite its potentially damaging social and economic impact, throughout the 2008-13 European crisis, unemployment has had a relatively low profile –  European policymakers have always given the impression they are more concerned about appeasing bond markets and low inflation than tackling the more pressing problem of unemployment. There has been a reluctance to tackle the fundamental deficiency of aggregate demand which is leading to lower growth and falling employment. Efforts to reduce unemployment have centred on talk of more flexible labour markets. This may be part of the solution for structural unemployment, but increasing labour market flexibility alone cannot deal with the cyclical unemployment.

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The depth of the European recession

Interesting graph which shows the depth of the EU recession compared to the great depression of the 1930s.

depth-euro-recession Source stats | via Krugman

UK recession compared

This graph is from the start of 2013. Since, then the UK economy is showing signs of  picking up. But, it is still worth bearing in mind the length of the decline in GDP since the start of the recession.

recessions-different-recoveries

Comparing different recessions

For the first 15 months, the decline in real GDP is comparable to the great depression of the 1930s. The great depression shows a bigger fall in GDP (-8.0%) from peak. But, during the 2008- recession, GDP stagnated the longest. 

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UK Unemployment Target

The new Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, has implemented a type of unemployment target.

As part of forward guidance, the Bank of England state that:

Interest rates won’t rise from 0.5% until unemployment falls below at least 7%.

Essentially, the bank are committing to expansionary (loose) monetary policy until there is a stronger economic recovery and unemployment has fallen. The hope is that the commitment to low interest rates will encourage firms to invest and consumers to spend.

However, this unemployment target of 7% has a few caveats.  The unemployment target and forward guidance on interest rates can be ignored if:

  • Inflation is forecast to breach a 2.5% target over a 24 month horizon.
  • If there is a sharp rise in the public’s expectations of inflation
  • If low interests are likely to imperil the stability of the financial system, e.g. low interest rates could fuel an asset bubble.

UK unemployment-past-5-years-percent

Under the Bank of England’s latest targets, it does not expect unemployment to fall below 7% until 2016. According to the ONS, unemployment is currently 7.8%. It would require the creation of nearly 750,000 new jobs for the rate to fall below 7%

Equilibrium Unemployment

The Bank of England also mentioned the term ‘equilibrium unemployment’. They believe the equilibrium unemployment rate is around 6.5%. The equilibrium rate means that if unemployment falls below 6.5% it might start causing inflation (e.g. competition for employers pushes up wages). If unemployment is above the equilibrium rate of 6.5% then there is slack in the economy (demand deficient unemployment) and this will keep inflation low.

This equilibrium rate of 6.5% is therefore composed of structural factors / supply side factors (the natural rate of unemployment)

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Did Generous Welfare Payments Cause the Recession and Unemployment?

Casey B. Mulligan, from the University of Chicago suggests a theory for a major cause of the great recession and the rise in US unemployment post 2008. – Higher welfare payments.

..Redistribution, or subsidies and regulations intended to help the poor, unemployed, and financially distressed, have changed in many ways since the onset of the recent financial crisis. The unemployed, for instance, can collect benefits longer and can receive bonuses, health subsidies, and tax deductions, and millions more people have became eligible for food stamps.

Economist Casey B. Mulligan argues that while many of these changes were intended to help people endure economic events and boost the economy, they had the unintended consequence of deepening-if not causing-the recession.

The Redistribution Recession
– Oxford University Press

us unemployment
US Unemployment – was it caused by generous benefits?

There is also an article here at the NY Times (paywall): A Keynesian Blind Spot.

The decline of home construction is not the primary reason that our labor market remains depressed: Keynesian policies are

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Econ Growth and Unemployment Stats – Countries with Own Currency

Readers Question I was wondering if you have any graphs plotting UK GDP and Unemployment against other economies which have monetary independence and their own currency. I often see graphs comparing the US with the UK. Are there any which include Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and other countries?

econ-growth-table-aus-nor-swe-swit-uk-us

click to enlarge

Economic growth rates for selected countries.

  • Australia has weathered the global recession well. Helped by strength of its commodity export market.
  • Sweden experienced one of the deepest recession (-5.0% in 2009), but also one of the quickest recoveries with very strong growth since 2010.
  • The Eurozone went back into recession in 2012, and the growth forecasts for 2013 may prove over-optimistic.

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