Gross Domestic Product is basically Consumer Spending and Government Spending
In the 1980 presidential campaign Ronald Reagan said, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” A powerful statement. And one that proved to be pretty much true. But don’t look for these definitions in an economics textbook. For though they connect well to us the actual definitions are a little more complex. And a bit abstract.
There is a natural ebb and flow to the economy. We call it the business cycle. There are good economic times with unemployment falling. And there are bad economic times with unemployment rising. The economy expands. And the economy contracts. The contraction side of the business cycle is a recession. And it runs from the peak of the expansion to the trough of the contraction. A depression is basically a recession that is really, really bad.
But even these definitions are vague. Because getting an accurate measurement on economic growth isn’t that easy. There’s gross domestic product (GDP). Which is the sum total of final goods and services. Basically consumer spending and government spending. Which is why the government’s economists (Keynesians) and those in the Democrat Party always say cutting government spending will hurt the economy. By reducing GDP. But GDP is not the best measurement of economic activity.
Even though Retail Sales may be Doing Well everyone up the Production Chain may not be Expanding Production
One problem with GDP is that the government is constantly revising the numbers. So GDP doesn’t really provide real-time feedback on economic activity. The organization that defines the start and end points of recessions is the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). And they often do so AFTER the end of a recession. One metric they use is GDP growth. If it’s negative for two consecutive quarters they call it a recession. But if there is a significant decline in economic activity that lasts a few months or more they may call that a recession, too. Even if there aren’t two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. If GDP falls by 10% they’ll call that a depression.
There’s another problem with using GDP data. It’s incomplete. It only looks at consumer spending. It doesn’t count any of the upper stages of
production. The wholesale stage. The manufacturing stage. And the raw commodities stage. Where the actual bulk of economic activity takes place. In these upper stages. Which Keynesian economists ignore. For they only look at aggregate consumer spending. Which they try to manipulate with interest rates. And increasing the money supply. To encourage more consumer spending. But there is a problem with Keynesian economics. It doesn’t work.
When economic activity slows Keynesian economic policies say the government should increase spending to pick up the slack. So they expand the money supply. Lower interest rates. And spend money. Putting more money into the hands of consumers. So they can go out and spend that money. Thus stimulating economic activity. But expanding the money supply creates inflation. Which raises prices. So consumers may be spending that stimulus money but those businesses in the higher stages of production know what’s coming. Higher prices. Which means people will soon be buying less. And they know once these people spend their stimulus money it will be gone. As will all that stimulated activity. So even though retail sales may be doing well everyone up the production chain may not be expanding production. Instead, wholesalers will draw down their inventories. And not replace them. So they will buy less from manufacturers. Who will buy fewer raw commodities.
The continually falling Labor Force Participation Rate suggests the 2007-2009 Recession hasn’t Ended
So retail sales could be doing well during an economic contraction. For awhile. But everything above retail sales will already be hunkering down for the coming recession. Cutting production. And laying off people. Making unemployment another metric to measure a recession by. If the unemployment rate rose by, say, 1.5 points during a given period of time the economy may be in a recession. But there is a problem with using the unemployment rate. The official unemployment rate (the U-3 number) doesn’t count everyone who can’t find a full-time job.
U-3 only counts those people who are looking for work. They don’t count those who take a lower-paying part-time job because they can’t find a full-time job. And they don’t count people who give up looking for work because there just isn’t anything out there. Getting by on their savings. Their spouse’s income. Even cashing in their 401(k). People doing this are an indication of a horrible economy. And probably a pretty bad recession. But they don’t count them. Making the U-3 unemployment rate understate the true unemployment. A better metric is the labor force participation rate. The percentage of those who are able to work who are actually working. A falling unemployment rate is good. But if that happens at the same time the labor force participation rate is falling the economy is still probably in recession. Despite the falling unemployment rate.
The NBER sifts through a lot of data to decide whether the economy is in recession or not. Do politics enter their decision-making process? Perhaps. For they said the 2007-2009 recession ended in 2009. The U-3 unemployment rate had fallen. And GDP growth returned to positive territory. But the labor force participation rate continued to fall. Meaning people were disappearing from the labor force. Indicating that the 2007-2009 recession hasn’t really ended. In fact, one could even say that we have been in a depression. For not only did a lot of our neighbors lose their jobs. A lot of us lost our jobs, too. And because the president who presided over the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression didn’t lose his job in 2012, there has been no recovery. So given our current economic picture the best metric to use appears to be what Ronald Reagan told us in 1980. Which means things aren’t going to get better any time soon.
Tags: business cycle, consumer spending, contraction, depression, economic activity, expansion, GDP, GDP growth, government spending, gross domestic product, inflation, interest rates, Keynesian, Keynesian economics, labor force, labor force participation rate, money supply, Reagan, recession, recovery, Retail sales, Ronald Reagan, stages of production, stimulus, unemployment
Week in Review
Before the early 20th century we looked at economics differently. We looked at it correctly. We understand the importance of savings to capital formation. And we understood the stages of production. How economic recovery didn’t happen until it reached the higher stages. Those stages the farthest away from retail sales. The raw material industry. The manufacturing industry. Who make the components the assembly plants use to build consumer goods. When these higher stages businesses recover then there is an economic recovery. Because it takes time for those higher stages goods to make it down to the retail level. So they don’t invest until they know there is a real economic recovery.
This is why Keynesian stimulus spending doesn’t work. When central banks increase the monetary base it can create a surge of economic activity. But it also depreciates the currency. And raises prices. Higher prices lead to an economic slowdown. It’s just a matter of time. Which is why the higher stages of production don’t respond to economic stimulus because by the time their new goods reach the retail level the higher prices will already be slowing down economic activity. Meaning there will be no demand for their expanded production. So they will have to lay off employees and shutter facilities. Resulting in another recession. Or just a resumption of the previous one. Only worse. Because the depreciated currency leaves consumers with less purchasing power. So they can’t buy as much as they once did. Creating further excess capacity. Further layoffs. And a worsening of the recession they tried to end with that Keynesian stimulus spending.
The Chinese are all Keynesians when it comes to economic policy. So when their economic activity slowed they went to the go-to Keynesian solution. Expand the monetary base (see China Slowdown Seen Longer Than 2009 by Government Researcher by Bloomberg News posted 9/20/2012 on Bloomberg).
With the 2008 crisis, China enacted a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion at the time) stimulus and opened up bank lending to revive expansion. Year-over-year growth, after decelerating for seven quarters, bottomed at 6.2 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and accelerated to 11.9 percent a year later…
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who pledged last week to employ monetary and fiscal policies to spur growth, has accelerated infrastructure-project approvals while refraining from introducing a stimulus package on the scale of the one during the financial crisis.
There was a burst of economic activity following the stimulus. Something all Keynesians in the United States point to. Saying the reason why the American stimulus didn’t work was because it wasn’t big enough. Like it was in China. (They say this even though the Chinese spent less than the Americans.) Where it worked so well that they need to spur growth with new monetary and fiscal policies this year. After the new economic growth that began about 2 years ago fizzled out. Which was far better than the American stimulus that provided no economic growth. Even though they spent more. Proving that Keynesian stimulus policies don’t end recessions. They just offer false hope.
Tags: China, depreciated currency, economic activity, economic recovery, Keynesian, Keynesian stimulus spending, monetary base, recession, Retail sales, stages of production, stimulus, stimulus spending
A High Savings Rate provides Abundant Capital for Banks to Loan to Businesses
Time. It’s what runs our lives. Well, that, and patience. Together they run our lives. For these two things determine the difference between savings. And consumption. Whether we have the patience to wait and save our money to buy something in the future. Like a house. Or if we are too impatient to wait. And choose to spend our money now. On a new car, clothes, jewelry, nice dinners, travel, etc. Choosing current consumption for pleasure now. Or choosing savings for pleasure later.
We call this time preference. And everyone has their own time preference. Even societies have their own time preferences. And it’s that time preference that determines the rate of consumption and the rate of savings. Our parents’ generation had a higher preference to save money. The current generation has a higher preference for current consumption. Which is why a lot of the current generation is now living with their parents. For their parents preference for saving money over consuming money allowed them to buy a house that they own free and clear today. While having savings to live on during these difficult economic times. Unlike their children. Whose consumption of cars, clothes, jewelry, nice dinners, travel, etc., left them with little savings to weather these difficult economic times. And with a house they no longer can afford to pay the mortgage.
A society’s time preference determines the natural rate of interest. A higher savings rate provides abundant capital for banks to loan to businesses. Which lowers the natural rate of interest. A high rate of consumption results with a lower savings rate. Providing less capital for banks to loan to businesses. Which raises the natural interest rate. High interest rates make it more difficult for businesses to borrow money to expand their business than it is with low interest rates. Thus higher interest rates reduce the rate of job creation. Or, restated another way, a low savings rate reduces the rate of job creation.
The Phillips Curve shows the Keynesian Relationship between the Unemployment Rate and the Inflation Rate
Before the era of central banks and fiat money economists understood this relationship between savings and employment very well. But after the advent of central banking and fiat money economists restated this relationship. In particular the Keynesian economists. Who dropped the savings part. And instead focused only on the relationship between interest rates and employment. Advising governments in the 20th century that they had the power to control the economy. If they adopt central banking and fiat money. For they could print their own money and determine the interest rate. Making savings a relic of a bygone era.
The theory was that if a high rate of savings lowered interest rates by creating more capital for banks to loan why not lower interest rates further by just printing money and giving it to the banks to loan? If low interests rates were good lower interest rates must be better. At least this was Keynesian theory. And expanding governments everywhere in the 20th century put this theory to the test. Printing money. A lot of it. Based on the belief that if they kept pumping more money into the economy they could stimulate unending economic growth. Because with a growing amount of money for banks to loan they could keep interest rates low. Encouraging businesses to keep borrowing money to expand their businesses. Hire more people to fill newly created jobs. And expand economic activity.
Economists thought they had found the Holy Grail to ending recessions as we knew them. Whenever unemployment rose all they had to do was print new money. For the economic activity businesses created with this new money would create new jobs to replace the jobs lost due to recession. The Keynesians built on their relationship between interest rates and employment. And developed a relationship between the expansion of the money supply and employment. Particularly, the relationship between the inflation rate (the rate at which they expanded the money supply) and the unemployment rate. What they found was an inverse relationship. When there was a high unemployment rate there was a low inflation rate. When there was a low unemployment rate there was a high inflation rate. They showed this with their Phillips Curve. That graphed the relationship between the inflation rate (shown rising on the y-axis) and the unemployment rate (shown increasing on the x-axis). The Phillips Curve was the answer to ending recessions. For when the unemployment rate went up all the government had to do was create some inflation (i.e., expand the money supply). And as they increased the inflation rate the unemployment rate would, of course, fall. Just like the Phillips Curve showed.
The Seventies Inflationary Damage was So Great that neither Technology nor Productivity Gains could Overcome It
But the Phillips Curve blew up in the Keynesians’ faces during the Seventies. As they tried to reduce the unemployment rate by increasing the inflation rate. When they did, though, the unemployment did not fall. But the inflation rate did rise. In a direct violation of the Phillips Curve. Which said that was impossible. To have a high inflation rate AND a high unemployment rate at the same time. How did this happen? Because the economic activity they created with their inflationary policies was artificial. Lowering the interest rate below the natural interest rate encouraged people to borrow money they had no intention of borrowing earlier. Because they did not see sufficient demand in the market place to expand their businesses to meet. However, business people are human. And they can make mistakes. Such as borrowing money to expand their businesses solely because the money was cheap to borrow.
When you inflate the money supply you depreciate the dollar. Because there are more dollars in circulation chasing the same amount of goods and services. And if the money is worth less what does that do to prices? It increases them. Because it takes more of the devalued dollars to buy what they once bought. So you have a general increase of prices that follows any monetary expansion. Which is what is waiting for those businesses borrowing that new money to expand their businesses. Typically the capital goods businesses. Those businesses higher up in the stages of production. A long way out from retail sales. Where the people are waiting to buy the new products made from their capital goods. Which will take a while to filter down to the consumer level. But by the time they do prices will be rising throughout the economy. Leaving consumers with less money to spend. So by the times those new products built from those capital goods reach the retail level there isn’t an increase in consumption to buy them. Because inflation has by this time raised prices. Especially gas prices. So not only are the consumers not buying these new goods they are cutting back from previous purchasing levels. Leaving all those businesses in the higher stages of production that expanded their businesses (because of the availability of cheap money) with some serious overcapacity. Forcing them to cut back production and lay off workers. Often times to a level below that existing before the inflationary monetary expansion intended to decrease the unemployment rate.
Governments have been practicing Keynesian economics throughout the 20th century. So why did it take until the Seventies for this to happen? Because in the Seventies they did something that made it very easy to expand the money supply. President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold (the Nixon Shock). Which was the only restraint on the government from expanding the money supply. Which they did greater during the Seventies than they had at any previous time. Under the ‘gold standard’ the U.S. had to maintain the value of the dollar by pegging it to gold. They couldn’t depreciate it much. Without the ‘gold standard’ they could depreciate it all they wanted to. So they did. Prior to the Seventies they inflated the money supply by about 5%. After the Nixon Shock that jumped to about 15-20%. This was the difference. The inflationary damage was so bad that no amount of technological advancement or productivity gains could overcome it. Which exposed the true damage inflationary Keynesian economic policies cause. As well as discrediting the Phillips Curve.
Tags: businesses, capital, capital goods, central banks, consumption, depreciate the dollar, difficult economic times, dollar, economic activity, economic growth, employment, expand the money supply, fiat money, gold standard, high interest rates, inflation, inflation rate, inflationary policies, interest rate, job creation, Keynesian, Keynesian economics, Keynesian economists, low interest rates, monetary expansion, money, money supply, natural rate of interest, new money, Nixon Shock, Phillips Curve, prices, printing money, rate of consumption, rate of savings, recession, Retail sales, savings, savings rate, Seventies, stages of production, time preference, unemployment, unemployment rate
Before a Business Earns any Sales Revenue they have to Spend Cash to Build an Inventory
To sell something a business needs to have it on hand first. Because when it comes to manufactured goods we rarely custom manufacture things. No. When businesses sell something it’s something they already have in their inventories. So how do they get things into inventory? With cash. Businesses buy goods and place them in their inventories. They exchange some of their cash for the goods they hope to sell at a later date. And the bigger the inventory they maintain the more cash it will take. Cash they have to spend before they sell these goods. Which requires financing. Each large business, in fact, has a finance department. That works to raise cash. So the businesses can buy inventory (and pay their operating and overhead expenses) before they start selling anything.
This is how the retail stores work. For manufacturers it’s a little different. They make things. Out of other things. Things that go through various stages of production before becoming a finished good. So to make these things requires different types of inventories. Raw goods. Work in process. And finished goods. When they pull raw goods out of inventory and begin working with them they become work in process inventory. When finished goods come off the final production line they enter finished goods inventory. The finance department secures the cash to buy the raw materials. And for the equipment and labor used through the stages of production to produce a finished good. Which enters finished goods inventory until they sell and ship these goods.
Before a business earns any sales revenue they have to spend huge amounts of cash first to move material through these inventories. Cash they can’t use for anything else. Like paying their overhead expenses. Or servicing their debt. So it’s a delicate balancing act. You need inventory to produce revenue. But if you run out of cash you can’t produce any inventory. Or pay your bills. A large inventory creates a large variety of things for customers to buy. But if customers aren’t buying that large inventory will consume cash leaving a business struggling to pay its bills. If they become so cash-strapped they will cut their prices to unload slow moving inventory. Cut back on production rates. Even cut back on expenses. As in cost-cutting. And lay-offs.
Good Inventory Management is Crucial for the Financial Health of a Business
A business doesn’t start generating cash until they start selling their finished goods. Sales numbers may sound high but most sales revenue goes to pay for the costs of producing inventory. A firm’s accounting department records these revenues. And matches them to the cost of goods sold. Which in a retailer is what they paid to bring those goods into inventory. A manufacturer may use a term like cost of sales. Which would include all the costs they incurred throughout the stages of production from bringing raw material into the plant. To the labor to process that material. To the energy consumed. Etc. Everything that was an input in the production process to place a finished good into inventory. So from their sales revenue they subtract their costs of goods sold (or cost of sales). The number they arrive at is gross profit. Which has to pay for everything else. Rent, utilities, marketing and advertising, non-production salaries and benefits, insurances, taxes, etc. And, of course, interest on the cash their finance department borrowed to start everything off.
There is a unique relationship between inventories and sales. There are countless things that happen in a business but what happens between inventories and sales receives particular attention. A business’ greatest cost is the cost of goods sold. Or cost of sales. Everything that falls above gross profit on their income statement (the financial statement that shows a firm’s profitability). This cost is a function of inventory. The bigger the inventory the bigger the cost. The smaller the inventory the smaller the cost. This is a direct relationship. You move one the other follows. Whereas the relationship between sales and inventory is a little different. The higher the sales revenue the bigger the inventory cost. Because you have to have inventory to sell inventory. However, there is no such corresponding relationship for falling sales. As sales can fall for a variety of reasons. And they can fall with a falling inventory level. They can fall with a steady inventory level. And they can fall with a rising inventory level.
In business sales are everything. There are few problems healthy sales can’t solve. It can even overcome some of the worst cost management. So rising sales revenue is good. While falling sales revenue is not. There are many reasons why sales fall. But the reason that most affects inventories is typically a bad economy. When people scale back their purchases in response to a bad economy a firm’s sales fall. And when their sales fall their inventories, of course, rise. Until management scales back production to reflect the weaker demand. Because there is no point building things when people aren’t buying. Those who don’t scale back production will see their sales fall and their inventories rise. Creating cash problems. Because sales aren’t creating cash. And a growing inventory consumes cash. Making it difficult to meet their daily expenses. Such as payroll and benefits. As well as paying interest on their debt. Which can lead to insolvency. And bankruptcy. So good inventory management is crucial for the financial health of a business.
If Retail Sales are Falling and Inventories are Rising Bad Times are Coming
Businesses target specific inventory levels. During good economic times they increase inventory levels because people are buying more. During bad economic times they decrease inventory levels because people are buying less. And they monitor changes in the actual sales and inventory levels continuously. Adjusting inventory levels to match changes in sales. To balance the need to have an inventory flush with goods to sell. While keeping the cost of that inventory to the lowest level possible. All businesses do this. And if you track the aggregate of the inventory levels of all businesses you can get a good idea about what’s happening in the economy.
John Maynard Keynes used inventory levels in his macroeconomics formulas. The ‘big picture’ of the economy. Looking at inventories tied right into jobs. If sales are outpacing inventory levels then businesses hire new workers to increase inventory levels. So sales growing at a greater rate than inventory levels suggest that businesses will be creating new jobs and hiring new workers. A good thing. If inventory levels are growing greater than sales it’s a sign of an economic slowdown. Suggesting businesses will be reducing production and laying off workers. Not a good thing.
Because of the stages of production changes in finished goods inventories can create or destroy a lot of jobs. For if the major retailers are cutting back on inventory levels due to weak demand that will ripple all the way through the stages of production back to the extraction of raw materials out of the ground. Which makes inventory levels a key economic indicator. And when we combine it with sales you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about the economy. For if retail sales are falling and inventories are rising bad times are coming. And a lot of people will probably soon be losing their jobs. As the economy falls into a recession. Which won’t end until these economic indicators turn around. And sales grow faster than inventories. Which indicates a recovery. And jobs. As they ramp up production to increase inventory levels to meet the new growing demand.
Tags: bad economic times, bad economy, Business, cash, cost of goods sold, cost of sales, debt, economic indicator, finance department, financing, finished goods, good economic times, goods, gross profit, inventories, inventory, inventory cost, inventory level, inventory management, jobs, manufactured goods, production, production rates, raw goods, Retail sales, revenue, sales, sales revenue, stages of production, work in process, workers
Week in Review
Here is a economics lesson in supply and demand and the role of prices as people in China try to buy the new Apple iPhone 4S (see Apple to halt sales of latest iPhone in China retail stores by Terril Yue Jones and Lucy Hornby posted 1/13/2012 on Reuters).
“We’re suffering from cold and hunger,” a man in his 20s shouted to Reuters Television. “They said they’re not going to sell to us. Why? Why?”
“I got in line around 11 p.m., and beyond the line, the plaza was chock full with people,” said Huang Xiantong, 26, from northeastern Liaoning province.
“Around 5 a.m. the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt. The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling.”
Clearly Apple created something that people want. Which has often been the case with Apple. Building things people have to have. Even before the people knew what these things were or that they would one day have to have them. This is supply-side economics. This economic activity was generated by supply. Apple’s new product. Created by creative human capital and the entrepreneurial spirit. This is what businesses do. If we let them. And not burden them with excessive taxes and regulations.
Of course a Keynesian will point out that Apple did exactly that. Created their products despite excessive taxes and regulations. True. They did that. But Apple is a giant now. They can hire lawyers and tax accountants to navigate these excessive taxes and regulations. The new entrepreneur can’t. Like other Steve Jobs trying to start out now by creating something new that the people will discover that they must have. Many of who will not get past the excessive taxes and regulations to get where Steve Jobs did. Falling along the wayside of ingenuity and possibility because of those excessive taxes and regulations.
Of course, others will point out that if it wasn’t for those excessive taxes and regulations corporations would just put profits before people and charge whatever prices they want. Selling whatever inferior quality they want. Well, regarding the quality I refer you to the Reuters article about iPhones going on sale in China. As regard to prices…
Apple’s latest iPhone, with features including responding to commands with its own voice, was introduced in China and 21 other countries on Friday. Prices ranged from 4,988 to 6,788 yuan ($792 to $1,077).
Apple, in a statement, said its other stores had sold out.
Are prices ranging from $792 to $1,077 fair? Based on the long lines and stores selling out, I believe the people have spoken. And they say, yes, these prices are fair. Perhaps even too fair. If they were a little more expensive those who truly wanted one and were willing to pay a higher price probably would have been able to buy one before the stores sold out.
This is an example of Say’s law. Supply creates demand. These ingenious smartphones were not created in response to demand. Apple created them and explained why people must have them. Which they did. This is how you stimulate economic activity. Supply-side economics. You make it as easy as possible for people to bring ingenious things to market. Not the Keynesian way. Giving more money to people through tax and spend policies. Which only allows people to buy what’s on the market now. It doesn’t stimulate the creativity of entrepreneurs. Who bring the next great things to market.
Tags: Apple, Apple iPhone 4S, China, demand, economic activity, Economics, entrepreneur, excessive taxes and regulations, iPhone 4S, Keynesian, prices, regulations, Retail sales, retail stores, role of prices, Steve Jobs, supply, supply and demand, supply-side, Supply-side economics, taxes