The BLS Employment Situation Summary for November 2013

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 9th, 2013

Economics 101

There was Much Spending in November where People Gathered to Celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday

The Bureau of Labor Statistics November’s Employment Situation Summary is out.  The government is trumpeting the 203,000 jobs created and the fall in the unemployment rate from 7.3% in October to 7.0%.  Proof they say that the economy is turning around.  And that their economic policies are working.  So everything is coming up roses.  If you stop reading the Employment Situation Summary there, that is.  For if you read further the economy is still horrible.

A big part of this improvement was the furloughed federal workers returning to work after the government shutdown.  And the Thanksgiving Holiday.  With retail hiring seasonal employees and stocking their shelves for the kick off of the Christmas shopping season.  This year starting on Thanksgiving Day for many retailers.  So you would expect a gain in employment connected to the Christmas shopping season.  Which there has been.  Retail trade employment added 22,000 jobs.  And leisure and hospitality, employment in food services and drinking places added 18,000 jobs.  And air transportation added 3,000 jobs.  Thanks to the biggest travel day of the year falling in November.

So there was much spending where people gathered with friends and family to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  And the mad rush to the stores to begin their Christmas shopping.  There was much traveling, shopping and dining in November.  As there always is.  Though some years are better than others.  There was also new hiring in the automobile and construction industries.  Probably more due to the near-zero interest rates thanks to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing.  Basically printing money to drive down interest rates.  To encourage people to buy big ticket items like cars and houses.  Even though they had no plans to do so.

It is only the Decline in the Number of People in the Labor Force that gives us an Improving Unemployment Rate

So new jobs in these areas don’t reflect on the overall economic climate.  Because once Christmas is over business will lay off those they hired for those seasonal jobs.  And once the Federal Reserve stops ‘printing money’ those interest rates will rise.  Perhaps compounded by runaway inflation from so much printing.  So these aren’t good indicators of the economy.  We can gain a better understanding by looking at the higher stages of production.  Where there are large capital outlays required to hire and expand business.  Industries that look at the long-term.  So if they’re not hiring they’re not optimistic about the long-term economic picture.

A lot of economic activity has to happen before a retail store can sell anything.  Raw material industries have to pull resources out of the environment.  Industrial processors have to transform these raw materials so manufacturers can use them.  And once manufacturers build things wholesalers buy them and resell them to retailers.  That’s a lot of costs these industries have to incur to produce things that may sell 6-9 months later.  Or longer.  And if the economy is looking anemic to them they are not going to incur these costs.  Which is what happened in November with some of these higher stages of production.  Mining, logging and wholesale trade showed little to no change.

The civilian labor force declined by 720,000 in October.  With the government shutdown blamed for a lot of these lost jobs.  So when the government opened for business again in November we should have seen a large increase in the civilian labor force.  But we didn’t.  The civilian labor force only increased by 455,000 in November.  Which means that if you factor out the government shutdown there was still a decline in the number of jobs.  And it is only this decline in the number of people in the labor force that gives us an improving unemployment rate.  For once people give up and quit looking for a job because the economy is so bad the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stops counting them.  Skewing the real unemployment rate.

The Current Economic Recovery is a False One created with the Smoke and Mirrors of Low Interest Rates

This gets to the crux of the Obama economic recovery.  Or, rather, the absence of any recovery.  The government trumpets the creation of 195,000 new jobs per month this year.  But they don’t tell us how many jobs we lost per month this year.  Which we can calculate.  In January of this year there were 89,009,000 people not in the labor force.  In November that number rose to 91,273,000.  A total loss of 2,265,000 jobs this year.  Or a loss of 205,909 each month.  So while they cheerfully report the creation of 195,000 new jobs per month we actually lost 205,909 jobs each month.  If you count those people who left the labor force the BLS doesn’t count when calculating the unemployment rate.  In fact, if you look at the trends this year you can see the trends are going in the wrong direction.

Those in Labor Force vs Unemployment Rate thru November 2013 R1

The most shocking thing about this chart is that there are over 91 million people not in the labor force.  The labor force is the sum of the employed and unemployed persons.  So these are people who could be in the labor force but aren’t.  Because they don’t have a job.  For whatever reason.  On welfare, collecting disability, early retirement, just can’t get a job because the economy is so bad, etc.  So there will always be people out of the labor force.  And a large number is bad.  Because these people aren’t helping to create economic activity.  Which is why the Obama recovery is so anemic.

What’s also shocking about this chart are the trends.  The official unemployment rate has been falling.  Good news, yes?  Well, as it turns out, no.  Because the number of people not in the labor force has been rising during the decline in the unemployment rate.  Making the unemployment numbers questionable at best.  For you can’t have less unemployment if people continue to leave the workforce because they can’t get a job.  And the employment picture isn’t getting better.  It’s getting worse.  And it’s going to keep getting worse until those higher stages of production start hiring.  Which they won’t do until they see a real economic recovery.  And not a false one created with the smoke and mirrors of low interest rates.

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Microeconomics and Macroeconomics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 10th, 2012

Economics 101

Keynesians cannot connect their Macroeconomic Policies to the Microeconomic World

Economics can be confusing.  As there are actually two genres of economics.  There’s microeconomics.  The kind of stuff most people are familiar with.  And is more common sense.  This is more of the family budget variety.  And small business budget.  Where if costs go up (gasoline, commodities, food, insurance, etc.) families and businesses make cuts elsewhere in their budget.  When revenue falls (a decline in sales revenue or a husband/wife loses their job) people cut back on expenses.  They cancel the family vacation.  Or cancel Christmas bonuses.  Straight forward stuff of living within your means.

Then there’s macroeconomics.  The big economic picture.  This is the stuff about the national economy.  GDP, inflation, recession, taxes, etc.  Things that are more abstract.  Unfamiliar.  And often defy common sense.  Where living beyond your means is not only accepted.  But it’s national policy.  And when some policies fail repeatedly those in government keep trying those same policies expecting a different outcome eventually.  Such as using Keynesian economic policies (stimulus packages, deficit spending, printing money, etc.) to get an economy out of recession that never quite works.  And then the supporters of those policies always say the same thing.  Their policies only failed because they didn’t spend enough money to make them work.

Keynesian economics focuses on macroeconomics.  And cannot connect their macro policies to the micro world.  There is a large gap between the two.  Which is why Keynesians fail.  Because they look at the macro picture to try and effect change in the micro world.  To get businesses to create jobs.  To hire people.  And to reduce unemployment.  But the politicians executing Keynesian policy don’t understand things in the micro world.  Or anything about running a business.  All they understand, or all they care to try to understand, are the Keynesian basics.  That focus on the demand side of economics.  While ignoring everything on the supply side.

When the Economy goes into Recession the Fed Expands the Money Supply to Lower Interest Rates

Keynesians have a few fundamental beliefs.  And one of the big ones is the relationship between interest rates and GDP.  In fact, it’s the center of their world.  High interest rates discourage people from borrowing money.  When people don’t borrow money they don’t build things (like factories).  And if they don’t build things they won’t create jobs and hire people.  So the higher the interest rates the lower the economic output of the nation (GDP).

Low interest rates, on the other hand, encourage people to borrow money.  So they can build things and create jobs.  The lower the interest rates the more people will borrow.  And the greater the economic output of the nation will be.  This was the driving factor that caused the Great Recession.  The central bank (the Fed) kept interest rates so low for so long that people bought a lot of houses.  A lot of expensive houses.  The demand for housing was so great that buyers bid up prices.  Because at low interest rates there was no limit to how much house you could buy.  All this building and buying of houses, though, oversupplied the market with houses.  As home builders rushed in to fill that demand.  They built so many houses that there were just so many houses available to buy that buyers had a lot of choice.  Making it a buyers’ market.  So much so that people had to slash their asking price to sell their house.  Which popped the great housing bubble.

The Fed lowers interest rates by increasing the money supply.  They create new money and inject it into the economy.  By giving it to bankers.  Banks have more money to lend.  So more people can borrow money.  This is what lowers interest rates.  Things that are less scarce cost less.  More money to borrow means it’s less scarce.  And the price to borrow it (i.e., the interest rate) falls.  If the Fed wants to increase interest rates they pull money out of the economy.  Which makes it a little harder to borrow money.  Because more people are trying to borrow the limited amount of funds available to borrow.  And this is the basics of monetary policy.  Whenever the country enters a recession and unemployment rises the Fed expands the money supply to encourage businesses to borrow money to expand their businesses and create jobs that will lower unemployment.

Keynesian Economic Policies hurt the Higher Stages of Production where we Create Real Economic Activity

If low interest rates create greater economic activity why in the world would the Fed ever want to raise interest rates?  Because of the dark side of printing money.  Inflation.  Increasing the money supply gives people more money.  And when they have more money they try to buy what everyone else is buying.  As the money supply grows greater than the amount of economic output there is more money trying to buy fewer goods and services.  Which raises prices.  Just like those low interest rates did in the housing market.  The fear is that if this goes on too long there will be an economic crash.  Just like after the housing bubble burst.  From boom to bust.  Higher prices reduce consumer spending.  Because people can’t buy as much when prices are high.  As consumers stop spending businesses stop selling.  Faced with overcapacity in a period of falling demand they start cutting costs.  Laying off people.  People without jobs can buy even less at high prices.  And so on as the economy settles into recession.  This is why central bankers raise interest rates.  Because those good times are temporary.  And the longer they let it go on the more painful the economic correction will be.

This is why Keynesian stimulus spending fails to pull economies out of recession.  Because Keynesians focus only on the demand curve.  Consumption.  Consumer spending.  Not supply.  They ignore all that economic activity in the higher stages of productions.  That activity that precedes retail consumer sales.  The wholesale stage (the stage above retail).  The manufacturing stage (above the wholesale stage).  And the furthest out in time, the raw commodities stage (above the manufacturing stage).  As economic activity slows inventories build up.  Creating a bulge in the middle of the stages of production.  So manufacturing cuts back.  And because they do raw commodities cut back.  These are the first to suffer in an economic downturn.  And they are the last to recover.  Because of all that inventory in the pipeline.  When Keynesians get more money into consumers’ pockets they will increase their consumer spending.  For awhile.  Until that extra money is gone.  Which provided an economic boost at the retail level.  And a little at the wholesale level as they drew down those inventories.  But it did little at the higher stages of production.  Above inventories.  Manufacturing and raw material extraction.  Who don’t expand their production or hire new workers.  Because they know this economic activity is temporary.  And because they know all that new money will eventually create inflation.  Which will increase prices.  Throughout the stages of production.

The Keynesian approach focuses on the macro.  By playing with monetary policy.  Policies that ultimately hurt the higher stages of production.  At the micro level.  Where we create real economic activity.  If they’re not hiring then no amount of stimulus spending at the retail level will get them to hire.  Because giving the same amount of workers (i.e., consumers) more money to chase the same amount of goods and services only causes higher prices in the long run.  And it’s the long run that raw commodities and manufacturing look at.  They are not going to invest to expand their businesses unless they expect improving economic conditions in the long run.  All the way up the stages of production to where they are.  When new economic activity reaches them then they will expand and hire people.  And when they do they will add a lot of new consumers with real wages to go out and spend at the retail level.

One of the most efficient ways to achieve this is with tax cuts.  Because cuts in tax rates shape economic activity in the long run.  Across the board.  Unlike stimulus spending.  Which is short term.  And very selective.  Some benefit.  Typically political cronies.  But most see no benefit.  Just higher prices.  And continued unemployment.  Which is why Keynesian policies fail to pull economies out of recessions.  Because politicians use them for political purposes.  Not economic purposes.

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