Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Acceptance No Answer to US Economic Turmoil

Mark Thoma takes issue with economist Mark Spence’s determinative view that Americans must not only consume less, but expect less. Spence feels that international distributional effects have left little room in the low- and middle-class job market, and people must accept it. Thoma argues that while the pre-2008 bubble was responsible for gilding expectations, it is the poor investment of monies and resources into the financial market that is the true distribution problem. According to Thoma, the proper investment of wasted billions back into the jobs market could create growth and employment. For more on this continue reading the following article from Economist’s View.

Michael Spence:

The Global Jobs Challenge, by Michael Spence, Commentary, Project Syndicate: ...The third challenge is distributional. As the tradable part of the global economy (goods and services that can be produced in one country and consumed in another) expands, competition for economic activity and jobs broadens. That affects the price of labor and the range of employment opportunities within all globally integrated economies. Subsets of the population gain, and others lose, certainly relative to expectations – and often absolutely.
Many advanced countries – in fact, most of them – have experienced limited middle-income growth. ... In the United States, income inequality has risen as the upper end of the income and education spectrum benefits from globalization, while the rest experience declining employment opportunities in the tradable sector. ...
What does it mean – for individuals, businesses, and governments – that structural adjustment is falling further and further behind the global forces that are causing pressure for structural change?
Above all, it means that expectations are broadly inconsistent with reality, and need to adjust, in some cases downward. But distributional effects need to be taken seriously and addressed. The burden of weak or non-existent recoveries should not be borne by the unemployed, including the young. In the interest of social cohesion, market outcomes need to be modified to create a more even distribution of incomes and benefits, both now and in inter-temporal terms. ...
None of this will be easy. ... Nevertheless, the unemployed and underemployed, especially younger people, expect their leaders and institutions to try.

I don't like the call to accept that things will be worse in the future, and to get used to it. It is generally based upon the idea that much of our growth was due to the bubble - it was false growth -- and hence led to the perception that we can grow faster than is actually possible.

But if the resources hadn't have been invested in the financial industry, they wouldn't have been wasted, they would have gone elsewhere. If we had taken all the resources (and talent) that went into the financial sector and directed it elsewhere, it would have promoted growth and employment -- and likely of a far more stable and broad-based variety. In my view the challenge is to redirect these resources into productive uses, and to fix the mal-distribution of income gains. But simply accepting that expectations need to adjust downward -- that the fate of the middle and lower classes is a diminished future -- is not acceptable. We can do better than that.

This blog post was republished with permission from Mark Thoma.

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