Financial FAQs

If we need any more evidence that Janet Yellen should be the next Federal Reserve Chairperson, it was the decision by the Fed Governors to continue their easing at the conclusion of their September 18 FOMC meeting, just 3 days after Larry Summers withdrew his candidacy for Fed Chairman.  Their action was basically an endorsement of Yellen’s policies as the Fed’s current Vice Chairperson that confounded the pundits who were sure the Fed would begin it’s ‘taper’ of bond purchases in September. 

In a word, Dr. Yellen has always been pro-job creation, and that is the big change in economic policymaking that should make this economic recovery self-sustaining, as opposed to Republican Paul Ryan’s latest budget proposal that is in fact anti-jobs. Instead, he wants to focus on reducing the budget deficit by cutting entitlement benefits for the elderly in return for lifting some of the sequester (i.e., Budget Control Act) spending cuts. 

But that doesn’t reduce the current debt or boost hiring directly, although lifting spending cuts and ending the government shutdown will bring back all those furloughed workers.  Labor’s share of national income has been steadily falling, which reduces the buying power of consumers who power 70 percent of economic activity, and so the overall demand for goods and services.

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Graph: Economix

           Economist Jared Bernstein said as much in a recent New York Times column, illustrated in the Economix graph from 1995 to Q3 2012:  “In fact, as many inequality watchers have noticed, profits as a share of income are at or near record highs while the compensation share is around a 50-year low.” And as Robert Samuelson also reported in the Washington Post, “…labor’s share has plunged in the past decade. In 2013, it’s 57 percent (vs. 63 percent in 2000). This shifts about $750 billion annually from labor to capital.” 

The so-called supply-side policies of smaller government and lower taxes that have favored producers over employees are out of touch with the real economic problems today.  It is mainly a lack of demand, rather than the supply of goods and services that has stunted this recovery.  We are in fact awash in cheap goods produced globally.

The best sign that we have a demand problem that no longer requires lowest taxes for the producers and corporations is almost no sign of inflation and record low worldwide interest rates.  These indicators signal the sluggish circulation of money and so reduced demand.  Most of it is being saved, or hoarded.  Banks have almost $1 trillion in excess reserves that would normally be loaned out or invested, while corporations have more than $2 trillion in cash and cash ready reserves not being invested.

Why?  Because labor has been left out of the recovery as almost everyone knows.  Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez have documented that 95 percent of the wealth created since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent, while household incomes have fallen.  That is why debt is even a problem.  Simply put, debt can’t be paid down unless tax revenues increase.  Paul Ryan and the Tea Party stalwarts have it all wrong.  Cutting back on government spending directly translates to fewer jobs and less tax revenues, as the current shutdown illustrates.

How to right the imbalance in order to boost growth?  Raise the minimum age for starters, as I’ve said in past columns, and raise some of the tax rates. Or, close those tax loopholes that have the wealthy such as Mitt Romney and Warren Buffet with lower tax rates than their employees. Our policymakers and politicians have enough choices, if they choose to act.

But until such happens, we have only the newly nominated Janet Yellen to rely on to keep interest rates low enough to create a sustainable recovery.

Harlan Green © 2013

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