Tag Archives: economics

The Danger From Low-Skilled Immigrants: Not Having Them

My Comments: To Make America Great Again, the presumably well intentioned mantra for those leading the GOP these days, someone has to overcome ignorance of economics and start paying attention to reality.

A positive corporate bottom line is the driving force for a healthy US economy. To reach that goal, we need people willing to spend time in the trenches doing whatever grunt work is necessary. Despite machines that increasingly automate the grunt work, a supply of young people has to match the demand created until artificial intelligence takes over.

The supply of labor is not going to miraculously appear. A greater number of us are old and fragile, and fertility rates among young men are declining. Exactly who is going to look after all us old folks because we refuse to hurry up and die?

We should be encouraging immigration and refugees. Yes, there is a potential security threat, which implies applying resources to screen and maintain a reasonable level of security. And yes, someone is probably going to get killed or maimed or whatever when someone nefarious sneaks through.

The laws of supply and demand are well known. Right now we have an increasing demand for labor, which can only stabilize with either more people being allowed into the country, or a large increase in the cost of labor to force more of into the trenches. Either that or starve, in which case you die. Some would have that happen since dead people are less likely to vote against those wanting to restrict immigration.

Eduardo Porter \ August 8, 2017

Let’s just say it plainly: The United States needs more low-skilled immigrants.

You might consider, for starters, the enormous demand for low-skilled workers, which could well go unmet as the baby boom generation ages out of the labor force, eroding the labor supply. Eight of the 15 occupations expected to experience the fastest growth between 2014 and 2024 — personal care and home health aides, food preparation workers, janitors and the like — require no schooling at all.

“Ten years from now, there are going to be lots of older people with relatively few low-skilled workers to change their bedpans,” said David Card, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is going to be a huge problem.”

But the argument for low-skilled immigration is not just about filling an employment hole. The millions of immigrants of little skill who swept into the work force in the 25 years up to the onset of the Great Recession — the men washing dishes in the back of the restaurant, the women emptying the trash bins in office buildings — have largely improved the lives of Americans.

The politics of immigration are driven, to this day, by the proposition that immigrant laborers take the jobs and depress the wages of Americans competing with them in the work force. It is a mechanical statement of the law of supply and demand: More workers spilling in over the border will inevitably reduce the price of work.

This proposition underpins President Trump’s threat to get rid of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country. It is used to justify his plan to cut legal immigration into the country by half and create a point system to ensure that only immigrants with high skills are allowed entrance in the future.

But it is largely wrong. It misses many things: that less-skilled immigrants are also consumers of American-made goods and services; that their cheap labor raises economic output and also reduces prices. It misses the fact that their children tend to have substantially more skills. In fact, the children of immigrants contribute more to state fiscal coffers than do other native-born Americans, according to a report by the National Academies.

Income Inequality and Local Politics

My Comments: As an economist, I’ve talked consistently about the threat to society posed by income inequality. My rantings make zero difference at the national level, where if this issue is not addressed, there will be rioting in the streets.

A friend and I talked this morning about the apparent collapse of societal norms he and I have used to navigate our lives for the past 60 years. Our hope now is that with the antics of 45 now a daily happening, the backlash from within the GOP and Democratic party, coupled with inevitable demographic changes, we’ll come out OK. Unfortunately, “hope” is rarely an effective management strategy.

Meanwhile, I’ve also become more engaged with elected people at the local level. And so while I can do little more than talk about it, I’m sharing this article with people I enjoy spending time with who might collectively be called progressives.

Thursday, Dec 29, 2016 \ Theo Anderson

In 1980, the top 1 percent earned 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Now, they earn 81 times more

The income gap between the classes is growing at a startling rate in the United States. In 1980, the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Today, they earn 81 times more.

The widening gap is “due to a boom in capital income,” according to research by French economist Thomas Piketty. That means the rich are living off of their wealth rather than investing it in businesses that create jobs, as Republican, supply-side economics predicts they would do.

Piketty played a pivotal role in pushing income inequality to the center of public discussions in 2013 with his book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” In a new working paper, he and his co-authors report that the average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States between 1980 and 2014. But only the highest earners benefited from that growth.

For those in the top 1 percent, income rose 205 percent. Meanwhile, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of workers was basically unchanged, stagnating “at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation,” the paper reads.

It notes that this trend has important political consequences: “An economy that fails to deliver growth for half of its people for an entire generation is bound to generate discontent with the status quo and a rejection of establishment politics.”

But the authors also note that the trend is not inevitable or irreversible. In France, for example, the bottom 50 percent of pre-tax income grew by about the same rate — 32 percent — as the overall national income per adult from 1980 to 2014.

The difference? In the United States, “the stagnation of bottom 50 percent of incomes and the upsurge in the top 1 percent coincided with drastically reduced progressive taxation, widespread deregulation of industries and services, particularly the financial services industry, weakened unions and an eroding minimum wage,” the paper reads.

Piketty and Portland

President-elect Donald Trump’s administration promises at least four years of policies that will expand the gap in earnings. But a few glimmers of hope are emerging at the local level.

The city council of Portland, Oregon, for example, recently approved a tax on public companies that pay executives more than 100 times the median pay of workers. The surtax will increase corporate income tax by 10 percent if executive pay is less than 250 times the median pay for workers, and by 25 percent if it’s 250 and over. The tax could potentially affect more than 500 companies and raise between $2.5 million and $3.5 million per year.

The council cited Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” in the ordinance creating the tax. Steve Novick, the city commissioner behind it, recently wrote that “the dramatic growth of inequality has been fueled by very high compensation of a few managers at big corporations, as illustrated by the fact that 60 to 70 percent of people in the top 0.1 percent of income in the United States are highly paid executives at large firms.”

Novick said that he liked the idea when he first heard about it because it’s “the closest thing I’d seen to a tax on inequality itself.” He also said that “extreme economic inequality is — next to global warming — the biggest problem we have in our society.”

Investing in children

There is also hopeful news in the educational realm. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics at the University of Chicago who has spent much of his career studying inequality and early childhood education, recently published a paper that lays out the results of a long-term study.

In “The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” Heckman and others report that high-quality programs for children from birth to age 5 have long-term positive effects across a range of metrics, including health, IQ, participation in crime, quality of life and labor income.

Predictably, perhaps, the effects of the programs weren’t limited to children. High-quality early childhood education also allowed mothers “to enter the workforce and increase earnings while their children gained the foundational skills to make them more productive in the future workforce,” a summary of the paper reads.

“While the costs of comprehensive early childhood education are high, the rate of return of [high-quality programs] imply that these costs are good investments. Every dollar spent on high quality, birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13 percent per annum return on investment.”

The research is important because early childhood education has bipartisan support. Over the summer, the Learning Policy Institute released a report that highlighted best practices from four states that have successful early childhood education programs. Two of them — Michigan and North Carolina — are swing states in national politics. The others are Washington and a solidly red state, West Virginia.

Although it isn’t a substitute for other policy tools to address inequality, like progressive taxes, early childhood education has strong bipartisan support because it produces measurable payoffs for both children and the economy. One study found, for example, that the economic benefit of closing the educational achievement gaps between children of different classes would be $70 billion each year.

Early childhood education fosters an “increasingly productive workforce that will boost economic growth, provide budgetary savings at the state and federal levels, and lead to reductions in future generations’ involvement with the criminal justice system,” the Economic Policy Institute recently noted. “These benefits will, of course, materialize only in coming decades when today’s children have grown up. But the research is clear that they will materialize — and when they do, they are permanent.”

Capitalism’s excesses belong in the dustbin of history. What’s next is up to us

My Comments: Some of you will not bother to read this. Like when you’re in the car looking for a radio station and you hear classical music or country & western; you can’t stand either so you just move on.

But we all have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren. So, in my opinion, we need to better understand what we don’t like. Especially when their economic future is at stake.

So, do yourself a favor, especially those of you who recoil at the term ‘socialism’. There are forces at work like the tides at the beach. No amount of yelling will cause them to stop.

Martin Kirk/Aug 1, 2017

It’s time to dethrone capitalism’s single-minded directive and replace it with a more balanced logic, laying the foundations for a better, more equitable world

Back in February, a college sophomore called Trevor Hill stood up during a televised town hall meeting in New York and put a simple question to the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi.

Citing a study by Harvard University that showed that 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer support capitalism, Hill asked if the Democratic party would contemplate moving farther left and offering something distinctly different to dominant rightwing economics? Pelosi, visibly taken aback, said: “I thank you for your question,” she said, “but I’m sorry to say we’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.”

The footage went viral on both sides of the Atlantic. It was powerful because of the clear contrast: Trevor Hill is no hardened leftwinger. He’s just your average millennial – bright, well-informed, curious about the world and eager to imagine a better one. By contrast, Pelosi, a figurehead of establishment politics, seemed unable to even engage with the notion that capitalism itself might be the problem.

It’s not only young voters who feel this way. A YouGov poll in 2015 found that 64% of Britons believe that capitalism is unfair, that it makes inequality worse. Even in the US it’s as high as 55%, while in Germany a solid 77% are sceptical of capitalism. Meanwhile, a full three-quarters of people in major capitalist economies believe that big businesses are basically corrupt.

Why do people feel this way? Probably not because they want to travel back in time and live in the USSR. For millennials especially, the binaries of capitalism v socialism, or capitalism v communism, are hollow and old-fashioned. Far more likely is that people are realizing – either consciously or at some gut level – that there’s something fundamentally flawed about a system that has as its single goal turning natural and human resources into capital, and do so more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment.

Because that is what capitalism is all about; that’s the sum total of the plan. We can see it embodied in the imperative to increase GDP, everywhere, at an exponential rate, even though we know that GDP, on its own, does not reduce poverty or make people happier and healthier. Global GDP has grown 630% since 1980, and in that same time inequality, poverty and hunger have also risen.

The single-minded focus on the growth of the capital supply is why, for example, corporations have a fiduciary duty to grow their stock value before all other concerns. This prevents even well-meaning chief executives from voluntarily doing anything good, such as increasing wages or reducing pollution, when doing so might compromise the bottom line – As the American Airlines CEO, Doug Parker, found earlier this year when he tried to raise workers’ salaries and was immediately slapped down by Wall Street. Even in a highly profitable industry – which the airlines are, despite many warnings – it is seen as unacceptable to spread the wealth. Profits are seen as the natural property of the investor class. This is why JP Morgan criticized the pay rise as a “wealth transfer of nearly $1bn” to workers.

It certainly doesn’t have to be this way, and we don’t need to look backwards to socialism, or any other historical system, as an prebaked alternative. Instead, we need to evolve. The human capacity for innovation and fresh thinking is boundless; why would anyone want to denigrate that capacity by believing that capitalism is the final system we can come up with?

Martin Luther King spoke of a “higher synthesis”, that takes the best of historical systems, draws on this boundless capacity, and creates something new. There is no shortage of ideas. We can start by changing how we understand and measure progress. As Bobby Kennedy said, GDP “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. We can change that. We can adopt regenerative agricultural solutions to help us to live in balance with the environment on which we all depend for our survival. We can introduce potentially transformative measures like a crypto-currency-based universal basic income that could fundamentally improve the money system.

Measures like these and many others could dethrone capitalism’s single-minded prime directive and replace it with a more balanced logic. If done systematically enough, they could consign one-dimensional capitalism to the dustbin of history.

We need our political and business leaders to go from clinging on to the myth that growth will solve all our problems, to joining the conversations that social movements, progressive forces, and young people like Trevor Hill are having about how we can lay the foundations for a better, safer, more equitable post-capitalist world. ■

The Business Case for Fighting Growing Inequality

My Comments: I consider income inequality the greatest existential threat to our democracy. It manifests itself as a shrinking middle class in these United States.

It has the potential to erode what we think of as rational and peaceful co-existence among nations globally. It’s what continues to drive the tensions and conflict in the Middle East where income inequality overwhelms the average young person and their hopes for the future.

This article explains why it’s also bad for business and how business would be well served to address this growing problem. It serves no purpose to build a business empire if what you sell is not affordable.

Guy Miller, Zurich Insurance, June 30, 2017

Despite the current recovery, the global economic outlook remains beset by structural issues as the fallout of the financial crisis continues to be felt a decade later. As policymakers search for solutions, social unrest and the resurgence in populism have focused attention on how economic gains are distributed. International institutions are urging governments to target more inclusive and sustainable growth.

Global concern about economic risks is underlined by the interconnections with other risks: unemployment increases pressure on state social protection systems, for example, while inequality feeds political polarization. Many economic problems undermine social cohesion. In doing so, they also contribute to conditions that are bad for future economic prospects. Business leaders should recognise that these are issues for them, as well as for politicians and economists. Spending power is squeezed, while wasted potential dampens productivity and innovation.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals include “decent work for all”. But the latest Economic Outlook of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows this remains a distant ambition. While global employment indicators are improving, productivity and wage growth “remain subdued”. The report upgrades the global growth forecast for 2017 from 3.3 percent to 3.5 percent but attributes this to modest cyclical expansion.

In January, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) World Employment and Social Outlook forecast that 3.4 million more people would find themselves unemployed this year (a rise from 5.7 percent to 5.8 percent). With the rapid global growth in people looking for work, the number in vulnerable jobs is expected to rise by 11 million. Policymakers clearly have their work cut out. But as the private sector looks to mitigate economic risks, it should also play its part in creating inclusive 21st Century growth models.

Profit Sharing and Productivity

According to the OECD, the gap between rich and poor in OECD countries is the highest for 30 years and continues to grow. Changing this trend will require more equitable profit sharing. The OECD says labor’s share of income declined from 66 percent to under 62 percent in advanced economies between 1990 and 2009.

Guy Miller, Chief Market Strategist & Head of Macroeconomics, Zurich Insurance Group, said today’s high capital share may be linked to underinvestment in training and measures to improve productivity. Governments could use taxation initiatives or partnerships to encourage private investment in these areas that would also benefit the macro economy, he added.

The slowdown in productivity growth has spread to emerging markets after affecting 90 percent of OECD countries this century. Hopes that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will raise productivity have not been realised so far. Instead, technological change and the growing capture of rents by frontier firms are causing some regions in developed nations to be left behind. Christian Kastrop, Director of the Policy Studies Branch at the OECD Economics Department, said while automation will cause job losses, it could also create new jobs. “Reskilling or upskilling must become normal, so people feel included even if they lose their jobs,” he said. “Governments must take action with concrete interaction with civil society, and fostering good working relationships between business and trade unions is imperative.”

The Labor Force Learning Imperative

As growth is increasingly driven by automation and the knowledge economy, workforces will need to become more dynamic and flexible. Automation is now a threat not only to low-skilled workers but also to “mid-tier and even higher-tiered knowledge workers”, said Mr Miller. Economies need a new emphasis on life-long learning if they are to adjust.

Automation’s potential impact on unemployment, along with structural changes like the rise of the sharing economy, should focus policymakers’ minds. Employers must also recognise how funding training is likely to reap rewards in time. “A sense of learning how to learn must be more deeply embedded in our culture and throughout the career cycle,” said Steven Tobin, Team Leader of the ILO’s Labour Market Trends and Policy Evaluation Unit.

Skills mismatch is already a persistent problem in many countries. When workers lack the skills the market demands, it is a “lose-lose-lose” situation, said Steven Kapsos, Head of the ILO’s Data Production and Analysis Unit. “Workers are less productive, firms less profitable, and overall economic growth suffers,” he said. Policies that promote economic activity among women and older workers would stimulate growth in countries with ageing populations, he argued.

Closer collaboration between the public and private sectors on training and active labor market programs is vital, said Mr Tobin. “Far too often, public sector training and skills programs have been designed without consulting social partners, notably the private sector.”

The Cost of ‘Quarterly Capitalism’

Daryl Brewster is CEO of U.S.-based CECP, a CEO-led coalition of more than 200 major companies, founded “to create a better world through business”. Its members represent USD 7 trillion in revenues and USD 18.6 billion in societal investment. But Mr Brewster said 86 percent of the coalition’s CEOs feel they are too focused on what he calls “quarterly capitalism”. McKinsey Global Institute’s Corporate Horizon Index shows that companies with long-term approaches outperform peers. And CECP has launched its own initiative to enable CEOs to present long-term plans to long-term investors.

“We think it could help change the narrative from a slash and burn approach to one of building sustainable societies,” said Mr Brewster. “By taking a longer term horizon with regular updates, companies will attract better employees, enjoy more stable societal situations, and have more customers who can afford their products.”

Balancing Fiscal and Monetary Policy

A low interest rate, low yield environment has become the norm for many economies that have become reliant on central banks for economic stimulus. But mixed results have led to an increasing number of dissenting voices. The ILO argues that coordinated fiscal stimulus could “jump-start” the global economy. In doing so, it could cut unemployment and raise investment demand.

Zurich’s Mr Miller said monetary policy has disproportionately favoured the asset rich. Greater efforts are needed to show where fiscal spending is most likely to deliver high multiplier effects and long-term impact, he added. “It‘s important that when the next downturn emerges, a combination of both fiscal and monetary tools are used, ideally in a coordinated manner across regions,” Mr Miller said. He also suggested that “temporary fiscal transfers between debtor and creditor nations” should be considered in the Eurozone. Mr Kastrop said the Eurozone is an exception to the need to end reliance on monetary policy, since a change might favor Germany over weaker nations.

An Era of Equitable Growth?

The global economy may be experiencing a cyclical upturn. But the OECD says it is not “good enough to sustainably improve citizens’ well-being”. Achieving that will require concerted actions by policymakers, while Mr Brewster is also clear about the role business can play.

He said the recent socio-political climate should be a “wake-up call” for business, adding “Having more of the world participating in the economy rather than fighting against it is in companies’ best interests.”

This is true because it is often impossible to separate economic risks from social and political risks. If people feel the economy no longer offers them a fair chance, these feelings will soon come to the surface in other areas. Getting closer to the UN goal of decent work for all would surely lower the rising risk of political polarization. It would also favour international cooperation over a return to protectionism.

What is at stake goes far beyond stimulating short-term growth or meeting the next performance targets. The current recovery, combined with changes in corporate culture, offer a window of opportunity for reforms that could enable an era of more equitable growth. Both policymakers and business leaders must recognise that they have a clear interest in creating stronger economies for all.

Key takeaways

• While automation is nothing new, the pace and breadth of current change is striking. It is no longer just the low-skilled that are at risk from automation, but also many mid-tier and even high-tiered knowledge workers.

• Having a flexible workforce and one that is trained in the latest thinking and techniques can create a dynamic and proactive culture that is more suited to a changing competitive landscape. This means investing in people as well as in capital.

• Life-long learning will be vital in the digital age and the public sector must therefore consult more closely with the private sector, especially in relation to the skills companies want.

• Businesses that target long-term performance and help drive inclusive economic growth can boost their bottom line as well as social cohesion.

The Next Recession

My Comments: It’s a given there will be a ‘next recession’. People much smarter than me say it’s not many months away. It’s a normal event and we’ll most likely survive.

What we may not survive, however, apart from a random collision with an asteroid, are the effects of income inequality across the planet and the massive debt overhang facing us in this country. Combine those two forces and you know there’s going to be chaos down the road.

Olivier Garret, Forbes Contributor / Jun 26, 2017

In the coming years, we will have to deal with the largest twin bubbles in history. It’s global debt (especially government debt) and the even larger bubble of government promises.

Together, these twin bubbles make up what investor John Mauldin calls “The Great Reset.” Nobody can tell how this crisis will play out, but one thing is for sure, it will affect everyone in a big way.

The Debt Burden Is at a Breaking Point

The mere existence of these bubbles has profound economic implications, as research shows high debt levels weigh heavily on economic growth.

The total debt-to-GDP ratio is at 248% today. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects it will rise to 280% by 2027. And that’s assuming nominal GDP grows at 4% per annum.

Despite the post-election optimism, nominal GDP growth in 2016 was just 2.95%—making it the fifth-worst year on record since 1948. There are no signs it will pick up soon either.

That means the reality may be even gloomier than what the CBO projects.

If a higher debt burden means lower growth, the recovery from the next recession, whenever it arrives, will be even slower than the last.

Now Count in Government Promises

Those sky-high debt-to-GDP ratios don’t factor in the unfunded liabilities—pensions, Medicare, and Social Security, which the US Government has promised to millions of Americans. Those total about $100 trillion today.

The chart below shows that by 2019 those unfunded liabilities, along with defense and interest, will consume ALL tax revenue:

Last year, the first baby boomers turned 70. The average boomer has just $136,000 in retirement savings. If that individual lives for 15 years after retirement, his annual income comes to just $9,000.

Because boomers are living longer and need income, they’re staying in the job market longer. The fastest employment growth now is among people 65 and older.

However, with 1.5 million boomers turning 70 every year for the next decade, a huge strain will be put on government finances in the form of pensions and Social Security.

But the pension crisis isn’t just in the US.

A Citibank report shows that the OECD countries face $78 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities. That is at least 50% more than their total GDP.

Pension obligations are growing faster than GDP in most, if not all, of those countries. Those obligations sit on top of a 325% global debt-to-GDP ratio.

Prepare in Advance

Politicians and central bankers could try to “fix” these problems in several ways.

They could default on the debt and pension obligations, or they could print money to fund them. There is no way of knowing ahead of time how these bubbles play out.
What we do know is the chosen approach will bring a different type of volatility and effect on the markets.

For investors, this will be a period of enormous volatility.

That’s why it’s essential to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to deal with this volatility ahead of time.

“…the Nature of Capitalism”

My Comments: There are changes afoot, and 45 and his cronies seem to have few clues. Or, more likely, they don’t give a damn.

The disparity between those at the top of the economic food chain and the rest of us not at the top, is called ‘income inequality’. The different approach taken by the two primary political parties, assuming there is a motivation to govern, is that ‘income inequality’ results from laziness and social giveaways, while the other party argues there are pressures whose origins are beyond the capacity for anyone to influence.

The disparities show up now as anemic job growth numbers across the nation, to the rise in disaffected people who show up at Trump rallies, to the tension in so many communities between law enforcement and the people they are supposed to be protecting, to the tension between rural and urban populations, and on and on and on.

There are huge implication for people with years of retirement left to navigate. This is a good read and very thought provoking.

by Oscar Williams-Grut | November 5, 2016

Lord Adair Turner, the former vice chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe and ex-head of the Britain’s financial watchdog, is “increasingly worried” that advances in technology are undermining capitalism and stopping the global economy recovering from its “post-crisis malaise.”

In an interview with Business Insider, Lord Turner said: “We have an economic malaise where the capitalism system is not delivering as well or to enough people to maintain its legitimacy.

“There’s a certain sort of equality of citizenship that requires that everybody does OK. I think that may breakdown. I think it may breakdown because of the fundamental nature of technology. You have to be aware that the way that capitalism works will vary depending on the different stages of technology that we’re in.”

‘Huge returns for them and relatively low and precarious returns for an increasing percentage’

Lord Turner ran the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in the mid-1990s, before becoming vice chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe from 2000 to 2006. He then served as head of the UK’s former financial watchdog the Financial Service Authority from 2008 to 2013, taking the jobs on the eve of the global financial crisis sparked by the US mortgage security bubble.

Lord Turner is now chairman of George Soros’ economic think thank the Institute for New Economic Thinking and this year authored “Between Debt and the Devil” on the global financial crisis. (There are those on the right who claim George Soros, despite his billions, it really a communist, interested in destroying capitalism – TK)

He told Business Insider that businesses like Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb are focusing huge amounts of wealth in the hands of relatively few people and generating fewer jobs than previous technological breakthroughs. This is undermining the fundamental promise of capitalism that advances in technology and the wider economy will bring some benefit to everyone.

He said: “Look at Facebook — it now has a market cap of about $370 billion. It only employs 14,000 people and it had to do very little investment in order to get there. The reason is this technology has this extraordinary feature that once you develop one copy of software, the next billion copies don’t cost you anything.

“There’s zero marginal cost of replication. That is just completely different from the world of electromechanical machinery. Once Henry Ford had built one factory, if he wanted another he’d have to build it all over again. He had to put in lots of millions of stock.”

Technological innovations, such as industrialisation, have traditionally generated more jobs than they destroyed. But research by Citi and Oxford University earlier this year found a “downward trend in new job creation” from the 1980s onwards, with technology generated fewer, lower-skilled jobs than past revolutions.

The World Economic Forum has already forecast that 5 million jobs could be eradicated by technology by 2020 and 57% of all jobs across the OECD are at risk of automation, according to research by Citi and Oxford University.

Lord Turner says: “The problem is this: I think we probably are on the verge of a wave of automation and robotisation and the application of big data etc., which will tend to create an economy of huge returns for the people clever enough to create the software, do the big of data analytics, create the computer game, create the new business model or the data system that sits at the centre of Airbnb or Uber.

‘One of the things is it does seem to be driving inequality’

Multi-billion dollar tech platforms like Airbnb and Uber pitch themselves as part of the “gig economy,” which they say helps people earn extra money through either flexible work or renting out their assets.

But British economist Guy Standing argues that most of the people who work on these types of platforms are part of what he terms the “precariat” — low-paid workers with precarious job security. He claims these types of platforms that connect workers with employers are part of a wider trend of low-paid agency work.

Tech platforms’ role in society has been in focus recently, with a British employment tribunal ruling that Uber drivers were in fact staff rather than freelancers on the platform. As a result, they are legally be entitled to things like holiday pay and sick pay.

Lord Turner says: “I think we’re just at the beginnings of understanding what deep things this [technological change] does. One of the things is it does seems to driving of inequality. This information and communication technology enables huge wealth creation with very little investment for some categories of people in the economy and creates jobs that are very low pay for others.”

Lord Turner thinks this tech-driven inequality has contributed to the popular resentment for elites and mainstream politics that drove the Brexit vote and support from Donald Trump in the US elections.

He says: “I think we may be at a turning point in the nature of capitalism. Our assumption for the last 200 years has been that although there are ups and downs year by year, broadly speaking decade-by-decade capitalism delivers an increase in GDP per capita and although it’s not an equal system, some people do better than others, on average over a couple of decades everybody does OK.”

‘I am increasingly convinced and worried there are more fundamental forces at work’

Lord Turner suggested that a solution the tech-driven equality could be a universal basic income — a flat wage paid to all citizens that is enough for them to live on. Experiments with this are being carried out in Holland and Kenya.

An alternative could be that the government ensures people are paid a “living wage” for essential human roles such as health and social care, Lord Turner says.

He told BI: “There are many jobs that we need to do in our society, care etc., that you can’t automate and you wouldn’t want to automate. They need to be done but it may be that if you leave those entirely to the private sector or the state in trying to buy them, using competitive bidding processes to continually drive the price down, those things where we do need people to do the job will be at rates so low that it doesn’t give people enough income and dignity.

“Does that mean that we just have to accept that the state has to say through the social care system and health care system it’s going to employ people and pay people at a rate which it considers reasonable — a living wage or whatever — rather than at the lowest rate at which it can put it out to competitive bidding?”

But Lord Turner added: “I think it’s a fundamental social issue that we will increasingly have to debate and I think we don’t really know what the policy levers there are.”
Lord Turner believes that finding a solution to the problems presented by the new tech economy are essential not just to repairing global trust in capitalism but also in repairing the global economy itself.

Lord Turner argued in his book, “Between the Debt and the Devil”, that the global economy’s painfully slow recovery from the 2008 crisis has been caused by the huge debt overhang created by a half century of loose credit conditions in the run up to the crash.

But he told BI: “Whereas soon are 2008 I felt our problem was fundamentally just an enormous debt overhang generated by an out of control credit boom, I am increasingly convinced and increasingly worried that there are some more fundamental forces at work which is why it’s taking so long to get out of, and why we’re still not out of, this post-crisis malaise.”

Bull Market Complacency Calls for Caution—and Action

My Comments: Today is Monday, when I post something about investments. Scott Minerd is not only a global figure in this environment, he has the ability to reduce complex ideas to where even I can understand them. His message, as I understand it, is continue to ride the bull, but be prepared to panic at any time.

  June 09, 2017 | By Scott Minerd, Global CIO

By many measures, the stock and bond markets have rarely been more expensive and more stable, and that has me worried. High-yield bonds and mortgage-backed securities are both trading near their narrowest-ever spreads relative to Treasurys, and they have been hovering around these levels for months. At the same time, U.S. stock market indexes are continuing to make new highs while the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX), which measures option-implied S&P 500 volatility, is near its lowest level since 1993. The amount of complacency built into the markets argues for caution.

Plenty of events clustered around this summer and fall could potentially spell disappointment for the markets. In Europe, Emmanuel Macron may have handily won the presidential election in France, but there remains the French parliamentary elections next week. These elections may result in what the French call “cohabitation,” a term that describes when the president and the majority of the members of the French parliament represent two different parties, which has not happened in France since the 1997 election. Meanwhile, the U.K. election results have hobbled Theresa May’s mandate and created a cloud of uncertainty over the timing and direction of Brexit negotiations. German federal elections, due to take place in September, will test Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc.

In Washington, the focus is on the Senate version of the healthcare bill, which is unlikely to be finalized before the August recess. This delay could push back the timeline for enacting tax reform to 2018. This says nothing of the political uncertainty in Russia, North Korea, or in the Middle East.

As this realization settles in, I think some of the hope underpinning the markets will slowly erode this summer. History suggests that there is a high likelihood we will get some sort of shock in the second half of the year, which would lead to tightening financial conditions and widening credit spreads. I have seen it happen a number of times in my career: The stock market crash of 1987 and the Asian crisis in 1998 were both unexpected events late in a lengthy economic expansion that led to a brief but violent repricing of risk assets. Both events, however, were followed by at least two more years of an expanding economy.

Today we are on pace to set a record for the longest expansion in U.S. history, thanks in large part to the slow post-crisis recovery and accommodative monetary policy. The current upward slope of the yield curve offers no indication that it will end soon, but eventually it will, given the Federal Reserve’s indications that further tightening is needed. I believe we will see two more rate hikes in 2017, the next one occurring later this month, and at least three increases in 2018. I also expect that the Fed will announce in September a change to its balance sheet strategy that will involve a gradual tapering of reinvestments in 2018. This should put upward pressure on yields at the short end and the belly of the curve, where most of the new Treasury issuance is likely to come.
Even as conditions call for a healthy dose of caution, there is no need to panic longer term. There is still significant ongoing stimulus coming from the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan.

The combination of these conditions argues for taking certain near-term portfolio actions. Investors should consider upgrading credit quality whenever possible while reducing exposure to high-yield bonds and stocks. Holding some dry powder* for opportunities that should arise amid a pickup in volatility later this year would be a wise move. With spreads near record tights, fixed-income investors simply are not being compensated for the risk they incur in the hunt for yield. Investors should remain disciplined and not chase returns now. It may not be the most exciting message, but no one ever took a loss by booking a gain.

As I see more life left in this economic expansion, I believe there will be opportunities later in the year to make up for any near-term underperformance. The coming correction might not happen tomorrow, but current conditions bring to mind the legendary response of Baron Rothschild, who, when asked the secret of his great wealth, said he made his fortune by selling early. It might be wise to follow Baron Rothschild’s example and take some chips off the table.