Tag Archives: nicholas kaldor

Anthony Thirlwall’s Lecture At Kaldor Conference

There was a conference in honour of Nicholas Kaldor on 30th September last year at the Cornivus University in Budapest, Hungary 🇭🇺. Kaldor was born in Budapest. Anthony Thirlwall gave the keynote lecture at the conference. The video has been made available now.

click to see the video on YouTube

Article 50 To Be Triggered. Nicky Kaldor Would Have Been Happy

The UK Prime Minister’s Twitter account tweeted this picture of Theresa May signing the letter to trigger Article 50 tomorrow, starting the process for the UK 🇬🇧 to leave the EU 🇪🇺.

click the picture to see the Tweet on Twitter

Nicholas Kaldor wrote a lot on this in the 1970s before the United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum in 1975. In his Collected Economics Essays, Volume 7, he wrote (Introduction, page xxvi, October 1977) :

The final section of this volume, Part III, reproduces papers written in the course of the “Great Debate” on the question of British Membership of the Common Market in 1970 and 1971, and includes as a postscript a lecture on Free Trade written in 1977. As this debate came to an end when Britain entered the market, a decision which was later confirmed in popular referendum with a 2:1 majority, the reproduction of these papers may strike as otiose and serving little purpose other than somewhat ignoble one of self-vindication in the eyes of future historians. However, if the long-run effects of our membership turn out to be as disastrous as I feared they would be in 1971—and nothing that has happened has caused me to change my views—I think it is of the utmost importance that the true arguments against membership should be accessible to successive generations of students, the more so since the political debate continues to be dominated by issues (such as our effects of membership on the cost of food, on our agriculture, or the net budgetary cost of membership) which I regard as secondary and which could be brushed aside if the long-run effects on Britain’s manufacturing industry and on our capacity to provide employment were favourable.

 

So Nicky Kaldor would have been happy, had he been alive today.

Economists’ predictions about leaving the European Union (“Brexit”) went wrong. Real GDP in the H2 2016 rose faster than H1, while they were predicting a recession. Not that the road will be simple ahead for Britain. Let’s see!

Robots, Globalization, Unemployment, Etc

Worker: I am losing my job because of globalization.

Economist: No, you are losing it because of automation.

[Plus calling them ‘losers’, such as by saying, “losers of globalization should be compensated”]

This is not just unhelpful but wrong too! Actually, saying it is wrong is underplaying it. It’s okay to be wrong sometimes—everyone is wrong sometimes—but how bad can getting it precisely the opposite every time? Anyone throwing darts at the dartboard can hit the bulls eye by fluke but what is it like throwing darts in the opposite direction?

Economists should be more modest and remind themselves of what Keynes said about workers in The General Theory:

… workers, though unconsciously, are instinctively more reasonable economists than the classical school

There is some irony to all this. Economists have played down the notion of technological unemployment. If production is constant and productivity rises, there’s a fall in employment because less labour is required to produce the same output. So output has to rise to keep employment from falling because of “automation”. In Post-Keynesian economics, the principle of effective demand matters both in the short run and the long run. So technological unemployment is a real possibility. New Consensus economists concede that John Maynard Keynes rules in the short run but assume that Jean-Baptiste Say rules in the long run. The irony hence is that New Consensus economists seem to show worry about automation these days.

In my opinion, this is because the sacred tenet of free trade must be defended by economists at all costs. So they make a concession about loss of employment to robots. Unfortunately that’s not right either. Globalization—both because of competition by international producers and offshoring of jobs via global supply chains—has led to the loss of livelihood for many in the Western world.

Political parties with fascistic tendencies have noticed this huge error at the heart of the New Consensus economics and the liberal political parties to whom these economists advise. They have understood that by pointing out that globalization—under the current rules of the game—can destroy jobs. They have seen support from people. It’s true that the political movement is not likely to deliver much but at the same time, liberal leaning political parties should try to understand this to regain lost ground.

Instead, we see writing such as The Productivity Paradox by Ryan Avent of The Economist. It’s only a paradox if you view it using the lens of the New Consensus Economics. He himself seems to appreciate others’ claims that:

the robot threat is totally overblown: the fantasy, perhaps, of a bubble-mad Silicon Valley — or an effort to distract from workers’ real problems, trade and excessive corporate power.

Not sure why the Silicon Valley gets the blame, and not economists themselves, but anyway, that is some conceding.

Remember the concept of technological unemployment is a race condition.

If productivity rises a lot and demand not much, we have unemployment. If the latter rises fast, we have more employment.

In fact productivity rises in the Western world has been quite low recently and we should embrace robots. This is because measured productivity is likely to rise if output rises. Productivity rise (as per the Kaldor-Verdoon Law) is due to two things: an exogenous component and an endogenous component which depends on the rise in output. Also, remember Keynes talked of autonomous and induced expenditures as component of effective demand, which drives output. So if governments around the world design policy in which demand rises fast, then “automation” can not just be welcomed, it will be a cause of it, i.e., higher production leading to more automation because of learning-by-doing. But economists will continue to get it backward!

Noah Smith On Free Trade

In an article The Man Who Made Us See That Trade Isn’t Always Free for Bloomberg View, Noah Smith says this about David Autor:

So, I asked, how should trade policy be changed? Autor’s answers again surprised me. He suggested that the process of admitting China to the World Trade Organization back in 2000 should have been slowed down significantly. That would have given American workers and industries time to prepare for, and adjust to, China’s competitive onslaught.

He told me that the U.S. government should focus attention on manufacturing industries, and even use industrial policy to bolster the sector.

Traditionally, economists have looked down their noses at “manufacturing fetishism,” but Autor says he thinks the sector is underrated.

Of course, heterodox economists have known this for long. As Nicholas Kaldor said in his 1980 articleFoundations And Implications Of Free Trade Theory, written in Unemployment In Western Countries (probably my most favourite quote in this blog):

Owing to increasing returns in processing activities (in manufactures) success breeds further success and failure begets more failure. Another Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal called this’the principle of circular and cumulative causation’.

It is as a result of this that free trade in the field of manfactured goods led to the concentration of manufacturing production in certain areas – to a ‘polarization process’ which inhibits the growth of such activities in some areas and concentrates them on others.

Of course Smith saying all this isn’t exactly heresy as economists are known to make mea culpa all the time and then backtrack. Nonetheless, this article is still revealing. Smith also talks of the importance of empirical work. In heterodox literature, there is of course the work of Anthony Thirlwall, John McCombie and others. See Models Of Balance of Payments Constrained Growth: History, Theory And Empirical EvidenceSoukiazis, E., Cerqueira, P. (Eds.).

There’s also evidence from Ricardo Hausmann and César A. Hidalgo of Harvard University. See this Nature article.

John McCombie in the above quoted book, Models of Balance Of Payments Constrained Growth, in his chapter, Criticisms and Defences Of The Balance Of Payments Constrained Growth Model: Some Old, Some New, recognizes the work of Hausmann, Hidalogo, et al. :

Hausmann et al., (2007) have also stressed the importance of the sophistication of a country’s exports for its rate of output growth. They measure the sophistication of a particular export in terms of an index of the weighted per capita income of the countries that export that good, where the weights correspond to the revealed comparative advantage of the countries producing that good (PRODY). Then the average productivity of a country’s export basket is measured using this productivity index together with the relative shares of exports of the country concerned (EXPY). They found that EXPY was a statistically significant explanatory variable of per capita GDP growth in a regression which also included control variables.

These theoretical and empirical works go so much against the economist case for free trade, the most sacred tenet in economics.

Francis Cripps And Marc Lavoie’s Short Biography Of Wynne Godley

There’s a new bookThe Palgrave Companion To Cambridge Economics which features among other things biographies of Wynne Godley, Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor and other notable Cambridge economists. Wynne Godley’s biography—Wynne Godley (1926-2010)—is by his closest collaborators – Francis Cripps and Marc Lavoie (pp. 929-953)

You can access the book on Springer, if you have subscription or preview it on Google Books.

Excerpt:

One interpretation of Godley’s theoretical work is that it is a quest for the Holy Grail of Keynesianism. Keynesians of all stripes had for a long time mentioned the need to integrate the real and the monetary sides of economics. Integration was all the talk, but for a long time, little seemed to be achieved … The main purpose of the Godley and Cripps’s 1983 book is to amalgamate the real and the financial sides, providing a theory of real output in a monetary economy …

Godley believed that Keynesian orthodoxy ‘did not properly incorporate money and other financial variables’ (ibid.: 15). Godley and Cripps and their colleagues ‘found quite early on that there was indeed something deficient in most macroeconomic models of the time’, including their own, ‘in that they tended to ignore constraints which adjustments of money and other financial assets impose on the economic system as a whole’ (ibid.: 16). Interestingly, Godley was aware of the work being carried out at about the same time by Tobin and his Yale colleagues, as well as by others such as Buiter, Christ, Ott and Ott, Turnovsky, and Blinder and Solow, who emphasized, as Godley and Cripps (ibid.: 18) did, that ‘money stocks and flows must satisfy accounting identities in individual budgets and in an economy as a whole’. Still, Godley thought that the analysis of the authors in this tradition was overly complicated, in particular because they assumed some given stock or growth rate of money, ‘leaving an endogenous rate of interest to reconcile’ this stock of money with the fiscal stance (Godley 1983: 137). Godley and Cripps (ibid.: 15) were also annoyed by several of the behavioural hypotheses found in the work of these more orthodox Keynesians, as they ‘could only give vague and complicated answers to simple questions like how money is created and what functions it fulfils’. The Cambridge authors thus wanted to start from scratch, with their own way of integrating the real and the financial sides, thus avoiding these ‘tormented replies’ (ibid.) …

Ultimately, Godley’s desire to present a definitive treatise based on consistent macroeconomic accounting gave rise, nearly 25 years later, to the Monetary Economics book (Godley and Lavoie 2007a) …

The Kaldor-Verdoorn Law In Action

The Kaldor-Verdoorn Law conjectures that the causality is mainly from GDP to productivity. It’s not obvious to most economists. They do observe that GDP rises fast when productivity is rising fast but don’t see the direction of causality and assume it’s from the latter to the former. Some do see some connection, such as Lawrence Summers who talks of the damage to the supply side because of the economic crisis. However they are thinking of it as an exception than a general rule.

I came across this chart from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics showing how productivity growth has suffered.

A recent example of someone failing to see the casuality is Jon Cunliffe, the Deputy Governor for Financial Stability, Bank of England. In a recent speech he said:

Productivity has been disappointing since the financial crisis. … Weak productivity growth has almost certainly been one of the main reasons for the weak growth in pay we have seen in the UK since the crisis. Over the last decade real earnings have grown at the slowest rate since the mid-19th century

Cunliffe fails to recognize that the slow growth is mainly due to the tight fiscal stance of the U.K. government. Had it relaxed fiscal policy, growth in GDP would have been higher, and productivity would have also risen and so would have pay, since productivity rise can be said to be one of the causes for wage rises. In other words, he is thinking of productivity rise as exogenous when pinpointing the blame of weak pay rise.

Still, productivity rise is important. Although production rise is demand-led, if productivity doesn’t rise or doesn’t rise fast enough, output is more constrained. Large rises in productivity would imply that output has more scope to be expanded. So we have path dependency and super-hysteresis.

Dean Baker On Economists’ Contradictions On Productivity

Dean Baker has been writing some of the best articles about the U.S. economy in the past few weeks. I have already linked to his articles on this blog. If you have missed them, follow the tag with his name at the end of this post.

His analysis has been about economists’ incorrect narrative about productivity and U.S. trade. This narrative simply is that workers are losing jobs because of automation and not because of U.S. trade and globalization. Dean Baker shows that it’s quite the opposite.

In his latest post, he points out the inconsistency of economists stands. One on the one hand, economists seem to be saying that productivity rises will be large because of automation and on the other hand saying that productivity won’t rise much.

This is the stand of Paul Krugman whom Baker cites. In his column On Economic Arrogance for The New York Times, Krugman argues that it’s impossible for the U.S. to grow at 3-3.5% in the next decade. Krugman says:

The only way we could have a growth miracle now would be a huge takeoff in productivity — output per worker-hour. This could, of course, happen: maybe driverless flying cars will arrive en masse. But it’s hardly something one should assume for a baseline projection.

Now, it’s quite possible that Donald Trump, being the erratic person he is, can mess thinks up. You can’t be sure what he is up to. He may come up with a large fiscal expansion or not. But the more important question is about the possibility. Would Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders been able to achieve the growth rate of 3-3.5% had they been the President? According to Krugman it’s simply unlikely because he thinks productivity growth will be low.

The same kind of argument was given by Krugman when Bernie Sanders released his economic plan. See John Cassidy’s article Bernie Sanders And The Case For A New Economic Stimulus Package in The New Yorker from for a good analysis, written February 2016. In the article Cassidy reminds us of the Kaldor-Verdoorn Law according to which faster GDP growth leads to faster productivity rises.

To break out of this low-growth trap, the economy needs policies designed to boost demand and push it onto a higher growth path: one in which rising investment, higher levels of productivity, rising rates of participation in the labor force, and higher wages all reinforce each other. With these conditions in place, companies would have more of an incentive to make capital investments, and as the price of labor rises they would also have an incentive to innovate and move up the value chain. Realistically, we can’t expect 5.3-per-cent G.D.P. growth and 3.3-per-cent productivity growth to persist for a decade. But we don’t necessarily have to settle for the 2.1-per-cent G.D.P. growth we’ve become accustomed to, or even the 2.3-per-cent rate that the Council of Economic Advisers has identified as its long-term potential. The U.S. economy has the resources and the ingenuity to do better than that.

As [Gerald] Friedman points out, the idea that faster G.D.P. growth generates higher productivity growth (and higher wages) has historical support. Back when I was an undergraduate, it was associated with Nicholas Kaldor, the British Keynesian, and with P. J. Verdoorn, a Dutch economist. (In a footnote, Friedman cites both of them.) More recently, in the late nineteen-nineties we saw rapid rates of G.D.P. growth and productivity growth appear in tandem. Some analysts would claim that the latter generated the former, rather than vice versa, but that argument isn’t convincing. In a Kaldorian virtuous cycle, G.D.P. growth spurs productivity growth, which, in turn, spurs G.D.P. growth. Causation goes both ways.

So the U.S. economy has a lot of scope for growth in the next decade. There are ways:

  • The U.S. GDP can grow without productivity rising simply because there’s huge unemployment. The U-6 unemployment rate is currently 10.1%. Because of Okun’s law which says that a growth of 1.65% will reduce unemployment by 1% (see estimation of this parameter for the U.S. by Matias Vernengo here.)
  • Rise in the workforce. Over time, work force also rises, (depending on demographics), this adds to the capacity of the economy. A notable thing during the crisis is the fall in the workforce in the U.S. Am not sure about details around this. Seems this is not captured in U-6. One would have expected the labour force to have not dropped and unemployed being captured in U-6. In other words, it’s possible that there’s more potential labour available.
  • As above, because of Kaldor-Verdoorn law, higher production leads to higher productivity. The Verdoon coefficient is 0.63 as per the paper cited above. So a growth of 1% will lead to a rise in productivity by 0.65%. Higher productivity implies that it takes less labour to produce the same amount of things. This in turn implies that the labour can be employed elsewhere or to produce more of the same stuff. So rise in productivity increases production capacity.

So these three points are enough to prevent the U.S. economy from hitting full capacity for a long time. Scarcity is a thought which needs to go from economics.

At any rate, the main purpose of this post was to point out the contradictory things economists say. Economists seem to be saying that automation will rise, which translates to rise in productivity. At the same time they are also saying that productivity will be low. Further Dean Baker has also pointed out how the Federal Reserve is on the path to raise interest rates. If they are worried about automation killing jobs, why aren’t they worried about the Federal Reserve’s rate hikes destroying jobs?

Why NAIRU is “zOMG HYPERINFLATION”

Does employment and inflation have a relationship? Yes of course. Can a wage-price spiral happen? Yes it can. A lot of economists exploit this possibility to incorrectly argue for NAIRU.

This post is a continuation of a recent post Simon Wren-Lewis, NAIRU And TINA in which I argued that NAIRU is not a useful concept and is counterproductive.

That wage-price spirals can happen isn’t a proof for NAIRU itself. NAIRU is defined as the unemployment rate Ubelow which prices start accelerating (or inflation starts to rise indefinitely). But the NAIRU hypothesis is a hypothesis of certainty. Economies are complex dynamical systems and just because wage-price spirals may have happened in the past doesn’t imply that it will always happen.

In the last mentioned how stock-flow consistent models, full employment can be achieved with no rising inflation, just higher inflation when parameters about wage-bargaining aren’t changing or if intervals between settlements shorten.

As I said in my previous post, NAIRU advocates think that a fraction of the workforce should be kept unemployed to keep inflation under control. By claiming that there exists a NAIRU or an unemployment rate below which prices necessarily start accelerating, they do a huge disservice to not just Economics but also to the welfare state. Any politician reading about NAIRU is likely to take away the incorrect notion that if unemployment is pushed too low, hyperinflation can happen. Hence the politician responsible for taking decisions is likely to postpone or abandon the pursuit for full employment.

So one can cogently believe all three of the following:

  • there is a relationship between employment and inflation
  • wage-price spiral can occur
  • NAIRU is wrong.

In other words, NAIRU proponents exploit the possibility to claiming a certainty. Wage-price spirals happened in the 70s and Joan Robinson even saw it coming. But wage-spiral is not NAIRU. Conflating the two is vile.

What are the solutions if a wage-price happens? There is a lot of literature for an “incomes policy” from economists such as Nicholas Kaldor. For the purposes of this post, it’s not necessary to go in that direction as it’s not needed in current times at least in the advanced economies.

Dani Rodrik On Free Trade

In a recent article for Foreign Policy, Dani Rodrik makes this claim:

Meanwhile, economists rightly point out that trade is only weakly implicated in the major economic problems of the day — deindustrialization and income inequality. They are correct that the distributional consequences of trade are better addressed with safety net programs and nontrade remedies. But they have systematically downplayed these consequences — especially when the requisite compensatory programs have remained on paper. And they seem unable to grasp the valid core of the public’s concern about social dumping.

It’s a bit disappointing that Dani Rodrik who presents himself as a dissenter is towing the line of the New Consensus. The new trade theory, which is a part of the new consensus says that free trade is fine as long as losers are compensated. In this article Rodrik states the same but just takes issue on the latter part, i.e., compensation.

This line of argument is deeply flawed. An individual country’s growth has a deflationary bias because free trade puts a rein on fiscal policy to achieve full employment. So who is there to compensate? Moreover, it’s not comparative advantage which governs economic dynamics but absolute advantage via Gunnar Myrdal’s principle of circular and cumulative advantage . As Nicholas Kaldor says, “success breeds further success and failure begets more failure.”

Moreover it’s the the whole world economy which has a deflationary bias because of free trade as pointed out by Nicholas Kaldor in his 1980 article Foundations And Implications Of Free Trade Theory

In a recent article on the ‘Causes of Growth and Recession in World Trade’,1 T. F. Cripps has demonstrated that a country is not ‘balance of payments constrained’ if its full employment imports, M*, are less that its import capacity M̅ (as determined by its earning from exports). Such a country is free to choose the level of domestic demand which it considers optimal for its own circumstances,2 whereas the other countries from whom M* > M̅, must, under conditions of free trade, reduce their output and employment below the full employment level, and import only what they can afford to finance. He then shows that the sum of imports of the ‘unconstrained’ countries determine the attainable level of production and employment of the ‘constrained’ countries, and the remedy for this situation requires measures that increase the level of ‘full-employment’ imports or else reduce the export share of the ‘unconstrained countries’. The ‘rules of the game’ which would be capable of securing growth and stability in international trade, and of restoring the production of the ‘constrained’ countries to full employment levels, may require discriminatory measure of import control, of the type envisaged in the famous ‘scarce currency clause’ of the Bretton Woods agreement.

In the absence of such measures all countries may suffer a slower rate of growth and a lower level of output and employment, and not only the group of countries whose economic activity is ‘balance-of-payments constrained’. This is because the ‘surplus’ countries’ own exports will be lower with the shrinkage of world trade, and they may not offset this (or not adequately) by domestic reflationary measures so that their imports will also be lower. Provided that the import regulations introduced relate to import propensities (i.e. to the relation of imports to domestic output) and not to the absolute level of imports as such, the very fact that such measures will raise the trade, production and employment of the ‘constrained’ countries will mean that the volume of exports and domestic income of the ‘unconstrained’ countries will also be greater, despite the downward change in their share of world exports.3

Footnotes:

1Cambridge Economic Policy Review (March 1978), pp, 37-43.

2Owing to the widespread view according to which a given increase in effective demand is more ‘inflationary’ in its consequences if brought about by budgetary measure than if it is the result of additional investment or exports (irrespective of any limitations of import capacity) the inequality or potential inequality in its payments balance may cause a surplus country to regard a lower level of domestic demand as ‘optimal’ in the first case than in the second case.

3In other words, if countries whose ‘full employment’ balance of payments shows a surplus because M* < α W (where M* is the level of full employment imports, α is the share of a particular country’s exports of in world trade W) after a reduction of α to α̂ (α̂ < α) through the imposition of discriminatory measures, the country will still be better off if α̂ W* > α W where W* is the volume of world trade generated under full employment conditions.

Of course, the solution is hard and in my opinion, international agreements to reach balanced trade is the correct way. Free trade is the most sacred tenet in all of macroeconomics and it’s not going to be easy to get rid of it.

Paul Krugman Flip-Flops

In two recent posts, I had mentioned how economists are shifting their positions because of politics:

  1. Opposing Principles Of Political Economy Just Because Donald Trump Supports It,
  2. The Soon-To-Be Conventional Wisdom: “Fiscal Policy Is Not So Good”.

Thanks to Kevin Glass on Twitter, I came across two headlines highlighting this.

Headline 1, post-election (click for the link)

Headline 2, pre-election (click for the link)

I am sure an apologist would go, “Can you read beyond the headline?”. Well, yes and the two articles mean precisely what the headlines imply.

Krugman says,

This diagnosis — shared by most professional economists — didn’t come out of thin air; it was based on well-established macroeconomic principles. Furthermore, the predictions that came out of those principles held up very well. In the depressed economy that prevailed for years after the financial crisis, government borrowing didn’t drive up interest rates, money creation by the Fed didn’t cause inflation, and nations that tried to slash budget deficits experienced severe recessions.

What changes once we’re close to full employment? Basically, government borrowing once again competes with the private sector for a limited amount of money. This means that deficit spending no longer provides much if any economic boost, because it drives up interest rates and “crowds out” private investment.

There are several things wrong with this:

  1. Krugman is trying to argue that fiscal expansion makes sense only in limited scenarios
  2. We are not really close to full employment. There are enough people unemployed, and underemployed. Even if the US economy were close to full employment, a fiscal expansion will raise production and hence productivity via the Kaldor-Verdoorn mechanism. So it’s not like supply-side constraints are exogenously given.
  3. “limited amount of money” is Monetarism. Paul Krugman claims that he is no longer a follower of Milton Friedman but that’s not really the case.
  4. “Crowd out” is just like “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Krugman himself debunked it:

    There is, however, a somewhat related doctrine — call it the doctrine of immaculate crowding out — which has now, I’d argued, achieved true zombiehood. That is, it keeps coming back no matter how many times you kill it.

But Krugman is not the only one. Simon Wren-Lewis is echoing him and so is Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke says:

There is still a case for fiscal policy action today, but to increase output without unduly increasing inflation the focus should be on improving productivity and aggregate supply—for example, through improved public infrastructure that makes our economy more efficient or tax reforms that promote private capital investment.

ignoring the fact that rise in production can lead to a rise in productivity.

It’s sad that all this happened. Orthodoxy needs to be fought harder.