The link between job growth and economic growth is one of the most solid relationships that you will find in economics. The reason is that it is almost definitional.
If we hold the length of the average work year constant (it doesn't change quickly -- although perhaps it should), then the rate of economic growth is equal to the rate of productivity growth plus the rate of job growth. (Yes, there is a multiplicative element here for serious nerds, but it doesn't matter for what we are talking about.) This means that if the economy grows more rapidly, then we will see more rapid job growth, unless productivity just surges for some reason.
Faster productivity growth is in general good news. This means that we are getting richer, producing more in each hour of work. We can adjust to this either by further boosting demand or by shortening workweeks or providing longer vacations.
However as a practical matter, we don't just see booms in productivity growth. There are erratic movements in productivity around business cycles, however periods of greater than trend productivity growth are inevitably offset by slower than trend productivity growth, as for example happened when productivity surged in 2009 only to be followed by slower growth in 2010 and 2011.
In short, the link between economic growth and job growth is rock solid. That means the Walter Kiechel was spewing nonsense in the Washington Post when he criticized Governor Romney's plan to create jobs by getting the economy going:
"Savvy consultants also know that the data indicate a sneakier problem with 'just get the economy going again' as an answer to unemployment. As you can read, for example, in a 100-page report from the McKinsey Global Institute, the link between economic recovery and job creation in the United States has been growing weaker for at least the past 20 years. While employment was harder hit in the most recent recession, the recoveries after the 1990 and 2001 downturns also featured slower rates of job growth than the historical norm. As the report states, 'In the years from 2000 to 2007, the United States recorded its weakest employment growth for any comparable period since the Great Depression.' And that was during a Republican administration, one hell-bent on reducing unnecessary regulation and further kneecapping unions."
There is good reason to question whether Governor Romney's tax cutting and business friendly regulation strategy will lead to strong economic growth. But if it did, there is little doubt that it would create jobs.
The NYT had an article on how Spain is struggling to both reduce its deficits to address its debt crisis and try to simultaneously promote growth. It would have been worth pointing out that Spain's debt crisis is almost entirely a result of the European Central Bank's policy.
By explicitly refusing to act as a lender of last resort and imposing austerity conditions on Spain and other euro zone countries, the ECB has raised questions in financial markets about Spain's ability to pay its debt. Spain had been running budget surpluses before the crisis and its debt to GDP ratio remains below that of the UK, the United States and many other countries that have no difficulty borrowing in financial markets.
An article in the NYT on a proposal by French presidential candidate Francois Hollande to raise the top marginal tax rate on people earning more than $1.3 million a year to 75 percent told readers:
"Many economists argue that a 75 percent tax bracket — compared with the current top bracket, 48 percent — would be self-defeating, driving high-paying jobs and the spending that comes with them to countries like Britain and Switzerland."
It is unlikely that many economists complained about the prospective loss of spending associated with rich people leaving the country. While most countries (including France) are suffering from inadequate spending at the moment, economists are more typically concerned with too much spending in an economy, hence the obsession with deficit reduction.
Private sector spending on current consumption pulls away resources from investment in the future in the same way that public sector spending on consumption does. If rich people opted not to spend, most economists would argue that the resources would be freed up for investment.
A Washington Post article on the weak state of Ireland's economy began by telling readers:
"Of all Europe’s crisis countries, Ireland has been perhaps the most adamant about pushing ahead with the budgetary, banking and other steps urged by its international lenders.
"Yet more than a year into its bailout, economic growth is lagging, high unemployment seems entrenched, and households and banks remain weighed down by the debts accumulated during a heady real estate boom."
The second sentence would have been more accurate if it said:
"As a result, more than a year into its bailout, economic growth is lagging, high unemployment seems entrenched, and households and banks remain weighed down by the debts accumulated during a heady real estate boom."
The poor performance of Ireland's economy is not a surprise to people who know economics. Sharp cutbacks in government spending in the middle of an economic downturn are expected to lead to weaker growth. Ireland's economy is doing badly precisely because it has been following the ECB-IMF program so closely.
There's an old story about a drunk who is looking by the curb for his car keys in the middle of the night. A bystander offers to help and asks the drunk where he lost his keys. The drunk tells him that he dropped them in the bushes. The bystander asks the drunk why he is looking by the curb if he dropped his keys in the bushes, to which the drunk replies, "the light is better here."
That seems to be the logic that the NYT discovered in a piece that looked at job training programs. It notes several instances in which governments have cut back funding for training for positions where there is a recognizable shortage of workers. Instead they are funding training for jobs where there is already a glut of applicants. It seems that the reason is that the latter type of training is cheaper.
That's not good policy.
The Washington Post told readers that the euro zone crisis stemmed from governments living beyond their means in an article on an EU summit to deal with the region's economic crisis. The lead sentence is:
"The leaders of 25 European countries on Friday signed a new treaty designed to prevent the 17 members of the eurozone from living beyond their means and avoid a repeat of the region’s crippling debt crisis."
Of course the crisis was not caused by governments spending beyond their means (the purpose of the treaty). The crisis was caused by speculative housing bubbles that drove much of Europe's economy until 2008. There is nothing in this treaty that will prevent the sort of housing bubble that led to enormous distortions in the economies of the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain and elsewhere across Europe.
The crisis has been worsened by the refusal of the European Central Bank to act as a lender of last resort for the eurozone countries. This has driven up interest rates, creating fiscal crises in several countries. This treaty also does nothing to address that problem.
The Washington Post had an article celebrating the fact that the public is confused about the causes of higher oil prices. This is sort of like a fourth grade teacher being delighted that his students don't know arithmetic.
Undoubtedly much of the public is confused about the cause of higher oil prices because of articles like this one. It treats the issue as a he said/she said dispute, at one point quoting President Obama:
"the amount of oil we drill at home doesn’t set the price of gas on its own. That’s because oil is bought and sold in a world market. And just like last year, the biggest thing that’s causing the price of oil to rise right now is instability in the Middle East — this time in Iran."
This is not just something that President Obama says, this is true. The price of oil is determined in the world market. If the price of oil plummeted in the U.S. because we drilled everywhere, all the time, then we would lose supply from the rest of the world, because no one will sell us oil at below the world market price.
There is no remotely plausible story where the U.S. could become energy independent (even if we drilled everywhere), but even if we no longer needed imports oil prices would still be determined on the world market. Oil companies would export their oil if they could a higher price in Europe or Asia then they were getting in the United States.
When the media report the truth as a debatable point, it is not surprising that the public is confused about the cause of the rise in the price of oil.
If the Post felt a need to be bipartisan it could have told readers that President Obama's plan to end subsidies to the oil industry would have almost no impact on the industry. The $4 billion in subsidies that President Obama claims is at stake comes to about 4 cents per gallon of gas. It might make sense to end these subsidies, but it will have relatively little consequence for either consumers or the oil industry.
Actually, it wasn't secret, it's right here on the Census Bureau's website, but for some reason no one in the media thought it was worth reporting a drop in durable goods orders of 4.0 percent in January. I am always the first to say that we should not make too much of any single report. Monthly data are often erratic and if one report seems out of line with most other data, odds are that the report was driven by some flukish factor or just sampling error.
Nonetheless, this is a big drop that can't be explained by the usual suspects. New orders excluding transportation (airplane orders are especially erratic) fell by 3.2 percent. Excluding military goods, new orders fell by 4.5 percent, so this is not a result of the peace dividend. The weather goes the wrong here since January was unusually warm this year meaning that businesses were not shut by snow storms. New orders for non-defense capital goods (i.e. investment) fell by 6.3 percent, or 4.5 percent if we exclude aircraft.
In short, this is an unambiguously bad report. My view is that it is probably an anomaly. We will perhaps see upward revisions in the second report for January or a big bounceback in the February numbers. But, this report definitely deserved some attention. It might seem rude to spoil the celebrations over our 3.0 percent growth rate last quarter, but that is what reporters are supposed to do.
The Washington Post is absolutely obsessed with the costs of an aging population and it refuses to let arithmetic stand in the way. Today it ran an editorial complaining about China's "premature social aging process, saddling China with a large dependent elderly population before it’s truly rich enough to support it."
As the piece correctly notes, China has had very slow population growth over the last three decades by deliberate design, primarily its one child policy. While some results of this policy have been horrible (e.g. infanticide of girls by parents who wanted a boy), the slower population growth has been a huge plus helping China to sustain rapid economic growth with less damage to the environment than would otherwise have been the case.
China's economic growth has been so rapid that it can easily support an aging population. Those familiar with arithmetic can see this by comparing the experience of China with Mexico, our NAFTA partner whose economic policies have frequently been touted by the Post.
If we look at the IMF's data, we see that per capita GDP has risen by 740 percent over the last 25 years while Mexico's per capita GDP has risen by just over 26 percent [warning: more arithmetic ahead]. Now let's assume that China's per capita income doesn't rise at all over the next decade (absolutely no one expects this), while Mexico's continues to grow at the same pace as it has over the last quarter century. This means that in 2020, per capita GDP in China will still be 740 percent higher than it was in 1985, while in Mexico per capita GDP will be 38.6 percent higher.
Let's suppose that China's ratio of workers to retirees fell from 5 to 1 to just 2 to 1 over this time horizon (a more rapid decline than actually is taking place). Let's assume that in Mexico the ratio remains unchanged at 4 to 1. Then let's assume that retirees consume 80 percent as much as workers. We will ignore children to make the calculation more favorable to the Washington Post's beloved country.
In this story, China's workers will be able to enjoy living standards in 2020 that are almost 7 times as high as they were 35 years earlier, even though they will be supporting a much larger population of retirees. This will be the case even though the implicit tax on their wages will have risen from 13.8 percent to 28.6 percent. China's retirees will also be enjoying a standard of living at age 70 that is more than 5.5 times as it high as it was when they were 35.
By comparison, Mexico's workers will have seen their after-tax pay increase by just 38.6 percent over this period. The income for a 70 year-old retiree will be just 10.9 percent higher than it was when they were a 35-year old worker.
If there is a problem in this story for China, it is difficult to see what it is. China's extraordinary growth over the last three decades is sufficient to ensure large increases in living standards for its whole population, if it is evenly distributed. If the Post meant that China can't support its retirees at U.S. living standards, it's absolutely right. However, it's not clear why on earth they would be thinking about this comparison.
The Washington Post told readers that local government officials complained about the monopolistic nature of U.S. financial markets in an article on the Volcker Rule. The article reported that a number of local government officials complained that the Volcker Rule would force them to pay higher interest rates on their bond issues.
While the article never discussed the issue of monopolistic markets, this is what the complaints by these officials imply. If the markets were highly competitive, then it would make very little difference whether or not banks opted to buy the debt they issued. Even a small increase in interest rates would cause other investors to swoop in and grab up their debt.
Also, if the financial system were reasonably competitive, we would expect that independent investment banks -- which are not subject to the Volcker Rule -- would be created to take advantage of these high yielding bonds, bringing up their price and pulling interest rates down.
The article should have asked the question of why, if these local government officials are correct in what they claim, financial markets are not working as they are supposed to.
It is striking that the reporters can write about recommendations from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund to China about sustaining its growth, without any comment on the irony. These institutions have been making policy recommendations for six decades that have often not resulted in much growth at all. In some cases, most notably the situation of Argentina following its default in 2001, they have been astoundingly wrong. Therefore it is impressive that Washington Post can report on a set of recommendations from the World Bank to China, whose growth has averaged more than 8 percent annually over the last three decades, without ever noting this irony.
It is also worth noting that the graphs accompanying this article show that China's productivity growth is projected to average close to 6 percent annually over the next two decades. Many news outlets (including the Post) have argued that China will face a problem supporting a larger population of retirees as its work force ages. If this productivity growth projection proves accurate, both China's workers and retirees will be able to see their standard of living double on the next two decades, even as the ratio of workers to retirees falls sharply.
In his column today, which argues for responsible fracking, telling readers that there can be enormous gains from using cleaner techniques in fracking. In discussing the importance of reducing fracking related methane emissions Nocera comments:
"How big a difference will it make to the environment if industry can minimize methane leaks? A lot. ... Suppose, for instance, the current leak rate turns out to be 4 percent. Suppose we then reduce it in half. That would mean an immediate reduction in overall U.S. greenhouse gases by — are you sitting down for this? — 9 percent. If the leaks are reduced to 1 percent, the decrease in greenhouse gases jumps to 14 percent."
While Nocera does not make this point, but if cutting the methane emissions from fracking in half would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent, then the methane emissions must come to close to 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. If methane emissions are actually 6 percent, as indicated by a study Nocera cites, then fracking would account for more than one quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Nocera may have his numbers completely wrong, but the implication of the evidence presented in his piece is that fracking is an incredibly dirty process from the standpoint of greenhouse gas emissions. If his numbers are right, he makes a compelling case for banning fracking unless it can be done far more cleanly than is currently the case.
The New York Times badly misled readers by repeatedly referring to a report of the deficit reduction commission led by former Senator Alan Simpson and Morgan Stanley Director Erskine Bowles. There was no report from this commission.
The report discussed in this article was exclusively the report of the co-chairs. It did not receive the necessary support of 14 members of the commission that would have made it an official commission report, a point noted only in passing toward the end of the piece.
This mis-characterization is extremely important in the context of the piece, because the main point of the article is that President Obama ignored the report of a commission he appointed. Since this commission did not approve a report, the premise of the article is wrong.
The piece also misled readers when it asserted that, "benefits for an aging population soon would increase deficits to unsustainable levels." In fact, the main problem is rising private sector health care costs that were projected to make Medicare and Medicaid unaffordable. The increased costs due to aging alone are quite gradual and affordable.
It is also worth noting that much of the projected long-term deficit would disappear if the Affordable Care Act is as successful in containing costs as projected by the Medicare Trustees.
Adam Davidson has an interesting piece about how many low-paying jobs have a sort of lottery component where people are willing to accept low wages for a period of time in the hope that they will end up having a very high-paying job in the future. The best example of this sort of lottery system is probably the motion picture industry in Hollywood, where many people will spend years working in low-paying jobs in the hope that at some point they will make it big as an actor or director.
The piece then points out that many other occupations have a similar, if less extreme, lottery component. For example, lawyers are expected to work very hard as associates, but then can expect much higher pay if they get promoted to partner. Similarly, non-tenured faculty can face serious pressures to produce large amounts of research, before getting to enjoy the good life as a tenured faculty member.
Taking this view more broadly, most jobs have some sort of lottery component in the sense that there is a benefit to staying with a firm for a long period of time that workers lose if they leave, either by their choice or their employers. In more mundane jobs, the benefit might just be a pension, job security, and perhaps above-market pay for workers as they near retirement. The logic is that workers might get below-market pay when they are young and energetic, but if they stay with a firm long enough the situation is reversed as they slow down and their wage rises with seniority.
This point is interesting because it implies an obvious way that firms can increase their profit, at least in the short-term: take away the lottery prize. The savings on the prize is a pure short-term gain. In the case where a firm is keeping older, less productive, workers on the payroll and paying them a premium for seniority, ending the lottery prize (i.e. firing the workers) is a pure short-term gain. (This is of course a caricature -- older workers are not necessarily less productive.) In the longer term it may not be a profit maximizing strategy, since younger workers will not make a commitment to mastering firm specific skills if they do not expect to be able to stay at the firm.
An article by Larry Summers and Andre Shliefer argued that breaking commitments of this sort was at the heart of the better-than-normal profits that private equity companies were able to earn. They argued that by breaking implicit contracts with workers and other stakeholders, private equity companies could increase profit at least in the short-run. If their intention is to sell out their stake at a profit, then a short-run gain would suit their purposes, even if the strategy might be harmful to the company and the economy in the long-run.
Correcting Thomas Friedman can keep anyone busy. Today he is excited about the prospect of the United States joining the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. That sounds like a great idea for a country that imports close to 9 million barrels of oil a day.
The basis for his excitement is that the United States is becoming somewhat less dependent on foreign energy imports. The main reason for this is the increased production of natural gas from shale deposits. However it is not clear how long these shale gas deposits will last since it seems that earlier estimates of reserves were seriously overstated. Furthermore, there is almost no plausible story in which increased natural gas supplies and domestic oil production, plus aggressive conservation measures, will cause our demand for imported oil to drop from 9 million barrels a day to zero any time in the foreseeable future.
Of course even if the U.S. miraculously became energy independent it would not free us of concern about events in the Middle East, as Friedman contends, since we are still in a global economy. This means that if war or revolution in the Middle East led to a sharp drop in world oil production it would still have an enormous impact on the U.S. economy.
To see this, imagine that there were severe droughts in Africa and Asia that caused the world price of wheat to quadruple. Guess what would happen to the price of wheat in the United States? That's right, it would also quadruple. The reason is that wheat producers would export their wheat to take advantage of the higher prices available elsewhere in the world, so we would have to match the world price in what we paid for the wheat consumed in the United States.
Since the United States is a net exporter of wheat, the country as a whole would come out ahead in this story. However, since most people do not own wheat farms, they would end up as big losers, paying much more for their bread and other wheat products.
It would be the same story with oil if democratic revolutions temporarily stopped production in Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies. We would see the price of gas double or triple. Exxon-Mobil and the other oil companies would see corresponding gains in profits, but those of us who don't own lots of stock in these companies would still end up as big losers. In principle the government could tax the windfalls and redistribute them --- okay, we don't have to talk about such silliness.
Anyhow, it's still fun to see Thomas Friedman get excited. I remember an earlier energy episode back in 2006 when he had Nancy Pelosi send a letter to President Hu in China, just after she won control of the House in the November elections. The letter Friedman drafted for her was about how the U.S. would produce clean technology products and export them to China.
The NYT told readers that a shortage of rental housing is driving up rents. This is wrong and wrong.
The NYT story is that the flood of foreclosures has forced people out of their homes and led them to look for rental housing. While this is true to some extent (homeownership rates have fallen), former homeowners would have discovered that there was a glut of rental housing.
Furthermore, ownership units can become rentals and vice-versa. This is true even for multi-family units, but 30 percent of rental properties nationwide are single family homes. These obviously can be converted very quickly to ownership units or more have been ownership units in the recent past.
So, if we look at the data on rental vacancy rates, we find that in the fourth quarter of 2011 the vacancy rate was 9.4 percent. This is down from the peak of 11.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009, but it is higher than any rate recorded in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s.
Turning to rents, the best measure to use is the Bureau Labor Statistics (BLS) measure for owner occupied housing. This measure will have some inertia, since it included all units, not just units that have been on the market. (There is more variation in price on units that are placed on the market.) However, it is more desirable than other measures because the BLS controls for quality changes and also because it only includes the rental value of the unit itself. It pulls out utilities which can have a large effect on rents, if they are included in a lease.
Year over Year Change in Owner Equivalent Rent
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As can be seen, rents are increasing somewhat more rapidly than they were at the trough of the downturn, but they are still just rising pretty much in step with the rate of inflation. In fact the current rate of increase is lower than the rate of increase at any point in the decade prior to the beginning of the recession. While there may be some cities where rents are rising especially rapidly, or some narrow markets within cities, clearly this is not generally the case.
The NYT did some heavy-duty he said/she said reporting on the issue of gas prices and energy production. It devoted an article to President Obama's efforts to counter Republican complaints about high gas prices.
The article told readers:
"The president said that the United States is producing more oil now than at any time during the last eight years, with a record number of rigs pumping."
President Obama did not just say this, it also happens to be true. There are reasons that people may not be happy that the United States is producing more oil (anyone hear of global warming?), but it happens to be true.
The article then went on to tell readers that:
"But Mr. Obama warned that no amount of domestic production could offset the broader forces driving up gas prices, chief among them Middle East instability and the ravenous energy appetite of China, which he said added 10 million cars in 2010."
This is also a statement that can be verified. The United States currently produces around 6 million barrels a day. The world market for oil is a bit less than 90 million barrels a day.
It is the world market that determines prices, not domestic production. We're going to say that a few more times just in case any reporters are reading this.
It is the world market that determines prices, not domestic production. It is the world market that determines prices, not domestic production. It is the world market that determines prices, not domestic production.
The point is that we can only affect the price of gas in the United States if we can affect world prices. See, if we had lower prices in the United States than the rest of the world, oil companies like Exxon Mobil and British Petroleum would export oil from the United States to the rest of the world.
This is known as "capitalism." Companies try to make as much money as possible, which means that you sell your products where they can get the highest price. This means that the price of oil in the United States can only fall if the price of oil in the world also falls.
Okay, so now let's get back to domestic production. Suppose we drill everywhere -- underneath Yellowstone, the Capitol building, your backyard and favorite place of worship. Let's say we can increase domestic production by 2 million barrels a day, or roughly one third. This would increase the world supply by approximately 2.2 percent.
Under normal assumptions of elasticity of supply and demand, this would lead to a drop in prices of around 6 percent. That might be nice, but it won't get us from $4.00 a gallon gas to Newt Gingrich's $2 a gallon.
Furthermore, we will not be able to sustain this higher pace of production for long. The Energy Information Agency estimates that total U.S. reserves are around 20 billion barrels of oil. At the current production rate of roughly 6 million barrels a day, this stock will last around 10 years. If we upped production to 8 million barrels a day then we have around 7 years supply. That would mean that production would have to slow sharply before the end of President Drill Everywhere's second term.
In short, President Obama was making assertions about gas prices and energy that are true and can be proven. The NYT obviously assumed that readers have more time than its reporter to go to the web and look these things up, but that may not always be true.
The Post committed the same sin, telling readers:
"Obama’s position reflects the White House’s belief that gasoline prices are subject to cyclical spikes due to forces largely outside its control, including the rise in Chinese and Indian oil demand."
Yes, the White House believes that, "gasoline prices are subject to cyclical spikes due to forces largely outside its control, including the rise in Chinese and Indian oil demand," in the same way that it probably believes that the earth goes around the sun and gravity causes things to fall down. This happens to be true.
David Brooks tells readers that, if we count tax expenditures, the United States has a larger welfare state than many European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, and Finland. This is true, but it is important to understand what is being measured.
Brooks is looking at what we pay for social welfare expenditures, not what we get. This can be very different, as is most obviously the case with health care. As a share of its GDP, if we add in tax expenditures (e.g. the deduction for employer provided health insurance), the government in the United States commits a larger share of GDP for health care than almost anyone. (If we count government granted patent monopolies on prescription drugs and medical equipment, add in another percentage point of GDP.) Yet, unlike the European welfare states, the United States is still far from providing universal health insurance coverage.
In health care and other areas the United States is clearly paying for a welfare state. It is debatable whether it is getting one.
Allan Sloan is a conscientious columnist with whom I occasionally have serious disagreements. The finances of Social Security is one of those occasions.
Sloan's Fortune column this week provides one of those occasions. The focus is the deterioration in the near-term projections for Social Security. Sloan compares the 2011 Social Security Trustees report with the 2012 projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and finds a worsening of $300 billion in the projected cash flow of the trust fund over the next five years. He argues that this strengthens the case for measures to shore up the program's finances. There are three slightly technical points on Sloan's analysis that are worth making and then one substantive point.
First, Sloan compares sources that use somewhat different assumptions when comparing the Trustees numbers with the CBO numbers. The 2011 CBO numbers would have shown a somewhat worse picture than the 2011 Trustees numbers. If we compare the 2012 CBO numbers with the 2011 CBO numbers we can see the extent to which the situation has deteriorated due to a worsening economic outlook.
This doesn't change the picture hugely, but it does make the deterioration somewhat less severe. The difference in the projected shortfall for the years 2012-2016 is $240 billion rather than the $300 billion using the 2011 Trustees numbers as the basis for comparison. (The Disability Trust Fund is projected to be depleted in 2016, so CBO does not project revenue and spending in that year. I have imputed a shortfall of $45 billion, the same as the prior two years.)
A second item worth noting is that the deterioration is mostly on the revenue side. Sloan attributes the problem to higher-than-projected cost-of-living adjustments that resulted from the jump in oil prices. While this is a factor, most of the story is on the revenue side.
Source: CBO 2011 and 2012.
This matters because the main reason that revenue is projected to be lower in 2012 than in 2011 is that unemployment is now projected to be higher and wage growth is projected to be lower. This once again shows the importance for Social Security of having adults in charge of managing the economy. When the economy does badly, Social Security's finances do badly (repeat 256,000 times).
The third point worth noting in this story is the extent to which the deterioration in the projections from 2011 to 2012 is due to the disability portion of the program. With my imputation for 2016, the worsening finances of disability accounted for $49 billion of the $240 billion deterioration in the program's projections from 2011 to 2012. This means that a program that receives just 14.5 percent of the program's revenue accounted for 20.4 percent of the deterioration in finances.
This is not a new story. The cost of the disability program has been rising considerably more rapidly than had previously been projected throughout this downturn. There are not conclusive answers as to why this is the case, but it seems pretty clear that a prolonged period of high unemployment is a big part of the story. In a strong economy, people who have various physical and psychological problems may be able to hold onto their jobs until retirement. (Most of the disabled are older workers.) In a weak economy many of these people may lose their jobs and be unable to find new ones. The moral of the story is again the need to have adults running the economy.
Finally there is the substantive issue about the urgency of a Social Security fix. I see little urgency for two reasons. The first reason is that at a time when we are still down close to 10 million jobs from where the economy should be, the first, second, and third priority of policymakers should be job creation. In principle, Congress and the president can do more than one thing at a time, but this is Washington that we are talking about.
The second reason why I see no urgency for a Social Security fix is that the program is still fundamentally sound. According to the latest projections from CBO we still have more than a quarter-century before the fund will first face a shortfall. Even after that date the program would still be able to pay more than 80 percent of projected benefits, which would be more than current beneficiaries receive.
The eventual fix for Social Security will inevitably involve some mix of revenue increases and benefit cuts. There has been a well-financed campaign over the last few decades to convince the public that the program's finances are far worse than is in fact the case. (A payroll tax increase equal to one-twentieth of projected wage growth over the next four decades would be more than enough to keep the program fully solvent past the end of the century.)
The lack of confidence in Social Security's finances created by this misinformation campaign may cause the public to accept much larger cuts than if they realized the program's true financial state. Therefore it makes sense to delay any major changes in the hope that the public will be better informed about the program in the future. (Peter Peterson will eventually run out of money.)
So the word for the day is "relax" – Social Security is fine for long into the future. Folks should instead spend their time yelling about the lack of adequate stimulus, insufficient measures from the Fed, and an over-valued dollar.
Germany, like many other countries, restricts the ability of businesses to operate on Sunday and holidays. One of the main reasons for such restrictions is to ensure that workers will have the opportunity to spend time on these days with their families.
The New York Times is very unhappy about such policies. It devoted a major news article to criticizing this sort of "overregulation" in the German economy.
While it is arguable that Germany would be better off without restrictive hours for business operation and some of the other regulations cited in the article, these regulations do serve a purpose. Remarkably the article did not include the views of a single person defending these regulations. This is especially strange, since obviously the regulations all have a substantial base of support within Germany, otherwise they would not still exist.
This article also misled readers about Germany's unemployment rate, reporting it as 7.3 percent. This is the unemployment rate using a German government measure that counts part-time workers as being unemployed.
The OECD publishes a harmonized unemployment rate that is calculated along the same lines as the unemployment rate in the United States. According to the OECD measure, the unemployment rate in Germany is 5.5 percent.
There is no excuse not to use the OECD measure when reporting on Germany's unemployment rate. Using the German government measure without an explanation of the difference in methodology is grossly misleading and should never be done.