Category Archives: Productivity slowdown

28/2/18: San Francisco Fed Research: Secular Stagnation Confirmed

This blog has been consistently warning about the continued pressures on the U.S. (and global) economy. In fact, bringing together two strands of research my a range of economists, I defined the term 'twin secular stagnations' to describe a trend of structural long term decline in the potential growth rates on

  • The supply side of the U.S. economy (productivity growth and technological progress slowdowns, along with monopolization trends in the economy, or the supply side secular stagnation), and 
  • The demand side  (excessive leverage, growing asymmetry in distribution of productive capital ownership, and ageing-induced changes in savings, consumption and investment, or the demand side secular stagnation).
The topic has not gone away, even though media commentariate in the U.S. and elsewhere have been fully consumed by the waves of optimism stemming from the tale of a 'robust growth' cycle.

Well, guess what: the 'spectacular' or 'tremendous' (using White House terminology) growth is largely a cyclical phenomena, as the latest research from the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco indicates.  You can read the full note here: The core is in this chart:

You can see the flattening out and the decline in the cyclically-adjusted growth rate (the blue line).  This line shows us the rates of growth smoothing out the effects of growth-and-recessions cycles. Secular stagnation is still here: "As expected, the cyclical adjustment removes the sharp drop in actual output associated with the recession. But since then, the trajectory of the blue line is nowhere close to a straight line projection from the 2007 peak. Rather, cyclically adjusted output per person rose slowly after 2007 and then plateaued in recent years."

The authors link this worrying development to supply-side slowdown in productivity growth, and they clearly state that this slowdown in productivity growth pre-dates the Great Recession. In other words, the collapse in productivity growth is structural, not cyclical.

"The seeds of the disappointing growth in output were sown before the recession in the form of slow productivity growth and a declining labor force participation rate. Quantitatively, relative to the recoveries of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, cyclically adjusted output per person has grown about 1¾ percentage points per year more slowly since 2009. According to our analysis, about a percentage point of this is explained by the shortfall in productivity growth and about ¾ percentage

point is explained by the shortfall in labor force participation."

The latter is shocking!

So no, folks, the U.S. economy has not been doing 'ugely' well since 2009. It has not been doing better, either, than in the pre-crisis period. In fact, the U.S. economy has lost a lot of its long run economic growth potential. And so far, there is absolutely nothing anyone in Washington is willing to do about changing that long-term decline, because doing so will require deep reforms and rebalancing of the economy away from oligopolistic and monopolistic competition, away from rent seeking, away from rewarding physical capital at the expense of human capital, as well as reducing massive drags on demand side, including healthcare and education costs, debt overhang in households (especially younger cohorts), abating skyrocketing rents & property inflation in key urban locations, and so on. 

Care to suggest any party in Washington willing to tackle these?..

24/11/15: Europe’s Dead Donkey of Productivity Growth

Remember the mythology of European productivity miracles:

  1. The EU is at least as competitive as the U.S. (with Lisbon Agenda completed, or rather abandoned);
  2. The EU growth in productivity is structural in nature (i.e. not driven by capital acquisition alone and not subject to cost of capital effects); and
  3. The EU productivity growth is driven by harmonising momentum (common markets etc) at a policy level, with the Euro, allegedly, producing strong positive effects on productivity growth.
Take a look at this chart from Robert J. Gordon's presentation at a recent conference:
The following observations are warranted:
  • EU convergence toward U.S. levels of productivity pre-dates major policy harmonisation drives in Europe and pre-dates, strongly, the creation of the Euro;
  • EU productivity convergence never achieved parity with the U.S.;
  • EU productivity convergence was not sustained from the late 1990s peak on;
  • The only period of improved productivity in the EU since the start of the new millennium was associated with assets bubble period (interest rates and credit supply).
Darn ugly!

But it gets worse. Since the crisis, the EU has implemented, allegedly and reportedly, a menu of 'structural' reforms aiming at improving competitiveness.  Which means that at least since the end of the crisis, we should be seeing improved productivity growth differentials between Europe and the U.S. And the EU case for productivity growth resumption is supported by the massive, deeper than the U.S., jobs destruction during the crisis that took out a large cohort of, supposedly, less productive workers, thereby improving the remainder of the workforce levels of productivity.

Here is a chart from the work by John Van Reenen of LSE:

Apparently, none of this happened:
  • EU structural reforms have been associated (to-date) with much lower productivity growth post-crisis than the U.S. and Japan;
  • EU jobs destruction during the crisis has been associated with lower productivity increases than in the U.S. and Japan;
  • All EU programmes to support growth in productivity, ranging from the R&D supports to investment funding for productivity-linked structural projects have produced... err... the worst outcome for productivity growth compared to the U.S. and Japan.
And the end result?

I know, I know... a Genuine Productivity Union, anyone?...