11/1/18: Physical Mobility and Liberal Values: The Causal Loop

One of the key arguments relating the decline in the Millennials' support for liberal democratic values to socio-economic trends, identified in our recent paper on the subject (see Corbet, Shaen and Gurdgiev, Constantin, Millennials’ Support for Liberal Democracy Is Failing: A Deep Uncertainty Perspective (August 7, 2017): https://ssrn.com/abstract=3033949is the argument that reduced socio-economic mobility for the younger generation Americans (and Europeans) is driving the younger voters away from favouring the liberal economic system of resources allocation.

In this context, here is an interesting piece of supporting evidence, showing how the rates of physical migration across the states of the U.S. have declined in recent years - a trend that pre-dates in its origins the Great Recession: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-declining-domestic-migration-20171227-story.html.

In basic terms, two sets of factors are hypothesised to be behind the declining mobility in the U.S. and these can be related to the broader theses of secular stagnation:

  • On the demand side of the secular stagnation thesis, as the article linked above states, "social and demographic factors such as an aging population and declining birth rates; older people tend to stay put more and starting families often motivates people to go out on their own";
  • On the supply side of the secular stagnation thesis, "The decline in mobility is due partly to what has become a less-dynamic and fluid American labor market, some economists believe".
Note: I explain the two sides of secular stagnation theses here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2015/10/41015-secular-stagnation-and-promise-of.html.

On balance, these are troubling trends. Jobs churn has been reduced - by a combination of structural changes in the American economy (e,g. rise of corporatism that reduces rates of new enterprise formation, and lack of new business investment), as well as demographic changes (including preferences shifting in favour of lower mobility).  But there are also long-term cyclical factors at play, including rampant house price inflation in recent years in key urban locations, and the significant growth in debt exposures carried by the younger households (primarily due to student debt growth). There is also a structural demographic factor at work in altering the 'normal' dynamics of career advancement in the workplace: older workers are staying longer in their positions, reducing promotional opportunities available to younger workers. Finally, the rise of low-security, high-volatility types of employment (e.g. the GigEconomy) also contributes to reduced mobility.

In simple terms, lower mobility is a symptom of the disease, not the cause. The real disease has been ossification of the U.S. economy and the continued rise of the status quo promoting rent-seeking corporates. Lack of dynamism on the supply side translates into lack of dynamism on the demand side, and the loop closes with a feedback effect from demand to supply.